By Jeremiah Thermidor
Miami is preparing for second-year starting QB Jake Locker, who Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak said will start in Sunday afternoon’s matchup at Sun Life Stadium. Locker hasn’t played in a full game since September 23, as he’s sat out five contests with a shoulder injury. Locker dislocated his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter during Tennessee’s Week 4 matchup against Houston. Matt Hasselbeck has started in his place since then, but two recent poorly-managed games by Hasselbeck made the decision to bring back Locker this week a no-brainer.
Before Locker’s injury against the Texans, he passed for 378 yards and two touchdowns in Tennessee’s spectacular 44-41 overtime victory versus the Lions, which gave the Titans their first win of the season. Locker, who was picked up by the Titans in the first round of the draft in 2011, was appreciated more for his overall athleticism than his passing abilities. However, over the past year, Locker has become more of an accurate passer, which has gained him respect as being a dual-threat quarterback.
“He’s certainly developing,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin on Thursday. “He’s taken excellent strides in his second year. The guy can make all the throws and he’s got mobility, he can extend plays.”
According to Philbin, Miami’s pass rush will have to step up and put pressure on the young quarterback. Miami’s secondary will also need to do a better job this week as it is facing off against big-play receivers such as Nate Washington and Kenny Britt. While Washington and Britt aren’t the NFL’s best, they’ll pose a problem to the Dolphins who are near the bottom at No. 28 in receiving defense – allowing 316.8 receiving yards per game. The Titans also have a capable tight end in Jared Cook who has made it clear over the past two weeks how much more he’d like to be involved in the offense. In fact, there were a lot of talks about Cook’s desire for a trade since he felt he wasn’t being used effectively. However, in early November, Cook abated all the trade chatter saying he’s happy with the role he’s playing in Tennessee but just wants to win more.
Miami’s defense is bracing for Tennessee star running back Chris Johnson. Johnson has definitely played better the last few games than he did at the start of the season, so, the momentum is definitely on his side. Despite his team’s loss, Johnson is coming off an incredible game against the Bears in which he rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He broke up the middle and then down the sidelines for an 80-yard run during the same contest, showing the explosiveness and speed which has made him a household name.
“I don’t know that there’s a better guy in the league, a home run hitter, than this guy at that position,” said Philbin regarding Johnson. “It will be a challenge. We’re going to have to play good, solid, sound run defense.”
As for the Dolphins, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is hoping to help his team bounce back from the loss against the Colts. He’s had a decent practice week and he’s shown in recent games how much more he’s trying to target different receivers. In the game against Indy, Tannehill targeted nine pass catchers and seven of them had receptions averaging eight yards or more per catch.
“I think his last four or five games have been better,” said Philbin. “I’m very pleased with his decision making at this stage.”
Tannehill is in good shape as he’s facing off one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Also favoring Miami in the matchup is the fact that the Titans have the third-worst rushing defense in the league. So, guys like Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas should anticipate having their very own Chris Johnson-like runs in this one.
The Miami Dolphins (4-4) will play host to the Tennessee Titans (3-6) on Sunday at 1 p.m. eastern.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.