The Miami Dolphins and
Dallas Cowboys kicked off the start of preseason in what could be termed a
glorified scrimmage. Take away the cameras, high school sized crowd, and
peripherals, and the whole affair would have resembled one of those intersquad
rumbles that Don Shula used to set up back in the day.
Remember those? The
Saints or some other NFC team would come into Miami for three days of head banging
before their formally scheduled preseason game. It was useful, full contact
work against fresh bodies at a time when the friendlies were tired of hitting
Thatís the proper way for
us to consider last nightís game. It had about the same level of proficiency
and the same level of progression, only Shula didnít insist on full install of
the playbook quite this early in training camp.
Thatís one big difference
between the Hall of Fame coach and current boss Joe Philbinís respective ideas
on how training camp should be conducted. With Philbin, the younger players
feel like they are drinking out of a fire hose; the idea being that forcing the
learning curve is the best way to get your team ready faster.
This is our second year
watching Philbin go about it, and while I am not fully convinced his way is the
best one, it immediately reveals the gaps his players have in getting to the
desired state. It also reveals much earlier who is ahead of the curve and deserving
of more opportunity.
Against the Cowboys, the
Dolphinsí glitter and gaps were easy to spot.
The biggest takeaway was
that the Dolphin defense will be very good this year. When you consider the
performance of the likely contributors who lined up last night, plus the known qualities
of the guys who didnít, thereís real reason for optimism. One could go as far
as saying this could be a Top 5 bunch and not come across as insane.
Everything starts up
front and down the middle, and this is where the strength of this unit will be.
The defensive line was already going to be among the best in football, but rookie
DE Dion Jordan is going to take that up to elite level.
Yeah, heís that good.
Jordan applied constant
pressure to Cowboy QBs off the edge, and was generally disruptive even as a MLB.
On one first half series, he tossed aside a tight end like a rag doll. On
another in the second half, when defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle employed him
beyond just third down, he single handed ended a drive with difference making contributions
on first, second, and third down to force a punt when the final score was still
Can one practice game
tell us a lot? Sometimes, yes.
There seems to be little
doubt that the tandem of Jordan and All-Pro Cam Wake will be a problem for the
opposition. Together with the known talents of Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Olivier
Vernon and Jared Odrick, the defensive line will be the spearhead this year in
front of good linebackers and improved defensive backs.
The other big takeaway is
that the offense is still a work-in-process. Thatís not unexpected this early
in preseason, as history teaches us, especially when starting WRs (Mike Wallace
and Brian Hartline) didnít play.
Yet one thing we wanted
to see was an accurate Ryan Tannehill, even with Wallace and Hartline inactive.
Unfortunately, we didnít get
that. Not this week anyway.
The other thing we wanted
was reassurance that the team was right in letting LT Jake Long and RB Reggie
Bush leave in free agency. Both are good players, and proven consummate pros.
You never want to let good players like that get away in free agency, unless
you know you have better waiting in the wings.
GM Jeff Ireland took a big
risk, but was it the right one? We didnít see any clues to that either.
First, left tackle. Jonathan
Martin hasnít been terrible, but he continues to have trouble with speed
rushers. It showed up again versus Dallas. And his back-up, rookie Dallas
Thomas, was very uneven with his pass protection. When Thomas was disciplined
with his technique, he seemed to do just fine; when he got too high in his
posture, he lost leverage and his man.
For both Martin and
Thomas, more reps and coaching will help. These next four weeks matter the most
to them and the other young offensive linemen. Remember, Martin is a second
year player with less than one full season at left tackle, while Thomas is a
raw rookie. They are still learning and developing.
On that note, RB Lamar
Miller drips with potential. But he must show it on the field consistently, and
that hasnít happened yet. Miller started the game and promptly fumbled away his
first handoff, leading to a Cowboys TD. That wonít win confidence with Philbin
or teammates. While he did rebound to rip off a couple of nice runs, they didnít
offset the costly turnover.
Consistently good outings
for Miller are what will earn him confidence and a starting job. And ďgoodĒ
means more than just yards gained; it means knowing what to do, solid pass
protection, and protecting the football. All of this matters if he is to be the
full time starter.
This is even more of an
urgent matter for third year RB Daniel Thomas, who didnít make the case for the
starting job either. In fairness to Thomas, the line afforded him little room
to do much in this contest. Nevertheless, this is his boon/bust season, and we
are correct and fair to begin judging the wisdom of his selection, a player
Ireland traded up for in the second round.
One RB who did help
himself was rookie Mike Gillislee. He showed quick feet, vision, elusiveness,
and power. Gillislee has earned first team consideration, behind front line
blocking, to see if he can take a next step. That will be interesting to watch.
Jonas Gray led the team in rushing (7 carries, 41 yards), but 29 of it came on
one run. He has good power but is still on the outside looking in.
Finally, with the team
losing probable 4th WR Armon Binns for the season with a knee
injury, we wanted to see who would step up to the opportunity. Two guys
emphatically did: Chad Bumphis and Keenan Davis. Bumphisís game reminds us a
bit of old friend Davone Bess, with 85 yards on 7 catches. Davis had two fine
fourth down receptions in the fourth quarter with the game still up for grabs,
one for a TD.
Our takeaway here is
simple: keep calm and keep watching the movie. Thereís a lot to like, but some
big questions that still need to be answered.