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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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There are different perspectives on the preseason.

 

Coaches want to evaluate individual players, and combinations of players, without losing anyone to major injury. They’ll put in a plan for one game to see how the whole functions together. Winning is secondary.

 

Players want to hone their games and make the final roster, all while avoiding injury.

 

Fans want to see their team in midseason form.

 

Broadcasters barely tolerate the whole thing; they don’t want to have to work one second of overtime.

 

I guess this means that everyone came away happy in the Dolphins’ 11-10 win over the Chiefs.

 

The most important thing for the Dolphins was to demonstrate some improvement on offense, especially with the starters, both at an individual and unit level.

 

Against the Chiefs, they accomplished that.

 

QB Trent Green was more accurate than he had been, with every single pass in a catchable spot. He was victimized on the first drive by drops, but it was clear he had his stuff. So clear, in fact, that Cam Cameron pulled him after just two drives; he had seen all he needed, and the benefit versus the risk of playing him further just wasn’t there.

 

Cleo Lemon relieved Green and performed adequately, though it’s fair to question if John Beck is now challenging Lemon for the back-up job. One gets the sense that the so-called open starting quarterback competition will have an all-too-predictable ending.

 

RB Ronnie Brown got the ball quite a bit for a preseason game (15 touches), even seeing action as a kick returner. On the ground he racked up 57 yards on 13 carries and almost broke one for a score.

 

More and more, it seems as though Brown could fully realize his potential in this new offense. It bears repeating that he is the team’s best offensive player. Running, catching, blocking…he does it all and does it well.

 

Of course the offensive line will have a lot to say about Brown’s effectiveness, and they also played better this week. Quarterbacks had ample time to throw, and runners had lanes to exploit. Thus far into the preseason, it seems as though the starting five will end up being Vernon Carey (LT), Chris Liewienski (LG), Samson Satele (C), Rex Hadnot (RG), and Anthony Alabi (RG). Liewienski has looked much better than rookie Drew Mormino, who just isn’t ready for prime time.

 

One big question mark (in the literal sense) is L.J. Shelton. If Shelton can get his weight back under control, he could easily get himself back into the starting mix.  Alabi needs to stay sharp if he wants to keep his job.

 

Back to Carey for a moment, because he’s acquitted himself pretty well thus far and seems to be justifying the faith placed in him to guard Green’s blindside. Against the Chiefs, Carey was quick, used his arms well, and showed good strength in the run game. He wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as he was when he first tried to play LT.

 

It’s not a stretch to say that, right now, Carey is the team’s best offensive lineman. If he can continue to improve, the line will be much better than it was last year. The signs thus far are most encouraging.

 

Chris Chambers and Marty Booker were very quiet in this game. In fact, no WR caught more than one ball apiece. What this means is not entirely clear, though it could just be that Cameron is keeping all but the most basic elements of the offense under wraps for the time being.

 

TE David Martin dropped a ball early but made up for it with some solid blocking and a couple of nice catches. Martin looks better in the ground game than some people suggested he would. Credit Martin for working hard, but also give credit to TE coach Mike Mularkey (who knows a little bit about playing the position).

 

FB Cory Schlesinger is a load inside as a blocker; linebackers have a tough time shedding him. As a game wears on, he will be a difference maker.

 

The next major milepost for the starting offense is August 25 when they face the Buccaneers at Dolphin Stadium. Cameron is likely to implement a formal gameplan for this third preseason game. We’ll see how the starters handle it.

 

OK, let’s move on to the defense. We’re not quite a month into it, yet it is hard not to be impressed with the level of play given the absence of Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Keith “Truck” Traylor, and Joey Porter. All but Porter are being held out to avoid injury.

 

What’s really stood out is the play of the defensive line sans Taylor and Truck. At defensive tackle, Vonnie Holliday has picked up right where he left off last year. He looks terrific, a real pain-in-the-neck to block. He and Traylor are going to be one of the best DT tandems in the league, giving the Dolphins great flexibility to show multiple 4-3 looks in addition to the 3-4. This will be very tough for opponents to prepare for.

 

Depth-wise, rookie Paul Soliai is proving that he has the goods. It’s still early, but he may be the best rookie interior lineman we’ve seen since Daryl Gardener. He’s very active.

 

Steve Fifita, Chase Page, and Kevin Vickerson are also proving they can play. Page, in particular, was disruptive against the Chiefs. Cameron and Dom Capers will have some very tough choices to make here when cutdowns are due.

 

At DE, depth behind starters Taylor and Matt Roth continues to be a concern. But again, young prospects appear to be stepping up to the challenge.

 

With Taylor sitting out, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila has been getting the starting nod. He’s held his own very well, recording three tackles and, with Holliday, contributing to a sack of old friend Damon Huard. The only blemish was a roughing penalty on Huard in the second quarter, though it’s hard not to salute AKB’s aggressiveness on the play.

 

Rodrique Wright has proven that he is all the way back from his shoulder surgery. Last year’s second seventh round pick looks quick and shows good power and leverage against the run. He had two solo tackles.

 

The biggest surprise, however, has been the emergence of another seventh round pick, rookie Abraham Wright. He has already drawn extraordinary praise from veterans with his ability to rush the passer. His burst off the edge is very obvious. For now, expect that Abraham Wright will be worked into the rotation at times as a situational pass rusher and special teamer while the rest of his game matures.

 

On special teams, the Dolphins appear to be in good shape at kicker and punter. Jay Feely seems to be very accurate and shows good distance on kickoffs. Rookie Brandon Fields got a lot of work in the game (7 punts). His leg strength is most impressive, especially the hang time he gets on his kicks. However, he is still refining his technique, which he loses at times, and needs to improve the speed of his release.

 

Coverage teams are a bit disappointing right now, but that will change once cuts start happening and better players take up those positions.

 

What won’t be changing are the kick and punt returners. Cameron has made up his mind to use Jesse Chatman and Brown as his kick returners, while utilizing Ted Ginn, Jr solely as a punt returner. Given Ginn’s proficiency as a returner, this decision is pretty surprising.

 

Then again, it makes perfect sense if the idea is to give Ginn a lot of reps on offense once the season begins.

 

For now, one thing Ginn must remember is that, as fast as he is, it is very difficult to outrun NFL players to the edge. He would be much better off going north and south. It would also help if his blockers would actually block somebody.

 

Ginn will improve, as will his teammates. At the midpoint of the exhibition season, the Dolphins took an important step in developing into a good team. Three more weeks of solid progress, and then the real fun can begin.

 
 
 
     
   
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