Coach hopes practices prepare Dolphins to be road warriors
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin figures an extended trip during the preseason might help his team win on the road this year.
The Dolphins will head to Spartanburg, South Carolina on Tuesday for two days of joint practice with the Carolina Panthers before the teams meet in an exhibition game Saturday night in Charlotte.
Philbin said the joint practices will be a first for him in 13 years as an NFL assistant and head coach. Panthers coach Ron Rivera proposed the extended get-together, and Philbin decided to give it a try in part because the Dolphins play seven of their first nine games this season away from Miami.
''As I told the team, we've got to get used to winning on the road,'' Philbin said Saturday. ''Let's be honest - that's going to be a key to our season. We're going to be semi-road warriors early in the year.''
Under Philbin, the Dolphins have been a pretty good road team, but they're eager to do even better. Each of the past two seasons, their home and away record has been an identical 4-4.
Philbin said three days of work against the Panthers will be especially beneficial for the Dolphins' guards. They earned favorable reviews in the first exhibition game Thursday at Chicago, but the position remains the team's most worrisome.
''It's going to be really good for them to go now to Carolina and practice against more of a four-man line,'' Philbin said. ''At times they were uncovered (against Chicago). We're going to get a lot more defenses where both guards are covered. That's going to be a really good next step for them.''
Starting guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner each took more than 20 snaps against the Bears. Turner was flagged for holding, but there were no other glaring mistakes by the guards, and they helped the Dolphins mount an 85-yard, 14-play touchdown drive on the opening possession.
''They did a good job,'' Philbin said. ''I thought they both competed hard. I thought they both had some really good plays on tape. Obviously it wasn't perfect.''
Thomas struggled in nine starts last year, and Turner saw little action last season after being drafted in the third round. The preseason gives the Dolphins a chance to gauge their need for Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis, who remains on the free agent market.
There's also uncertain at left tackle, where Branden Albert has been limited in practice as he recovers from right knee surgery in November. His workload increased slightly Saturday, and he squared off against Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake in a half-speed drill for the first time since his operation.
It remains undetermined whether Albert will play in any of the three remaining exhibition games.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine