Let's hope Justin Smiley, Jake Long, and David Martin play as big as they look tomorrow.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this Saturday's edition of Tony Sparano's Elimination Challenge at Land Shark Stadium! It's just like "Dancing with the Stars," except "dancing" means "bone-jarring physical punishment at the hands of the Carolina Panthers," and "the stars" means "your ability to feed your family at stake."
Last week saw the early exit of cornerback Eric Green; this week could see a linebacker or receiver get sent home -- or more, or no one! Only Sparano knows, and he's also got the small matter of the depth chart to determine in just two weeks. Which brings us to the first question:
Can Quentin Moses prove he belongs? Coaches don't really need to see what Jason Taylor's made of (answer: stainless steel, wiring, glory), Matt Roth is still annoying everyone by holding himself out, and Joey Porter's toe hurts. That gives linebackers Tearrius George and Moses an opportunity to strut their stuff. Moses had two tackles in Monday's game against Jax but must continue to make a case for keeps. This is his chance.
Will the offensive line get it together? One of the most expensive lines in the league played like poor people on Monday night, earning the Fins only 2.6 yards per carry in the first half. They'll have their work cut out for them Saturday in the shapes of Carolina's inside linebacker Jon Beason and Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers. On the side of angels, RG Donald Thomas has regained his starting spot but is still working his way back from injury; center Jake Grove and LG Justin Smiley need to help out a little more.
Will Chad Henne make better decisions? Henne did okay Monday, but he's had an inconsistent camp and needs to make a big leap if it's to be his team after the upcoming season. If he doesn't have much help from the offensive line tonight, how will he handle the Panthers' aggressive pass rush? Hopefully not with another pick and a half.
Vontae, Vontae, Vontae! Okay, it's not in the form of a question, but we say it like our mother would: scoldingly. Sure, Vontae Davis is a rookie, but he's also a first-round pick who looked like all upside and zero smarts Monday while racking up 36 yards of penalties. Will he set up camp in the doghouse or get his head straight? And will his better half Sean Smith show consistency after last week's stellar outing, or slump? Kids!
Who'll be the sixth man? If the Fins keep six receivers, there's a battle for the bottom brewing between veteran Brandon London and newbie Chris Williams. Williams looks to have the edge based on his 31.8-yard return average Monday, but if he struggles there tomorrow he's not enough of an asset elsewhere to keep around. London, at least, has a physicality that's attractive.
Subplots: can incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter fend off special import Connor Barth? Word is Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells were watching the two intently this week...Keep an eye on Jake Long, who had a bad game on Monday -- it's not that we're worried about him, we'll just sleep better if he returns to form sooner rather than later...Now that Eric Green is off to San Francisco, how will Jason Allen and Joey Thomas respond at corner?...Pat White did not look good under center Monday night -- watch for signs of improvement.
Janie Campbell just can't wait to hear the T-Pain song waft through the air again. Her work has appeared in irreverent sports sites around the Internet.