For me, this preseason has been all-too-predictable.
We knew the Dolphins would have a potentially
explosive offense. We knew there were some issues on defense that needed attention.
And we worried about the special teams, an annual ritual in the Tony Sparano era.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Saturday, in a
rain-soaked and lightning-delayed affair, the offense began showing off its
ample arsenal of weapons. As expected, things are starting to come together now
with QB Chad Henne getting into sync with his playmakers. The latest validation
was 17 points in a little more than a quarter and a half of work.
WR Brandon Marshall showed us a glimpse of what to
expect from him, and it was exciting. He is obviously a very difficult
one-on-one match-up and a tough guy to get on the ground. But what really
caught my eye against Jacksonville
was his downfield blocking. Yes there was the highlight reel block on Anthony
Fasanoís 55 yard catch and run, where Marshall
blocked his man and cleverly took out a second, allowing Fasano to score
untouched. But there were a lot of other plays as well where he used his size
and strength to unselfishly eliminate his man.
For me, this was the best part of his work.
Am I exaggerating when I say Marshall is the best blocking WR the Dolphins
have had since Paul Warfield? Iím sure yet, but I do know this quality in Marshall is a very good
thing for the Dolphins.
In the backfield, Ronnie Brown continues to look much
better than expected in coming off last seasonís serious foot injury. I liked
how he ran with power and quickness against the Jaguars, both as ball carrier
and a receiver. And Ricky Williams showed us yet again that he is still a
force, even at 33 years of age. I think the Dolphins would be crazy not to
bring him back for another season.
And then thereís Henne. At the start of preseason, I
wrote that he needed to show improvement in his decision making, his footwork,
and his touch passing. I was expecting to see positive results with the first
two, but was apprehensive about the third. What we can say is that Henne appears
to have made some improvement with his touch. A lot of this is from his
improved footwork, but itís also an extra micro-second of gathering himself and
focusing on delivering the ball with proper fundamentals and with the proper
pace. Itís still deliberate, but it is better than what we saw last season.
Against the Jaguars, Henne was 11 of 14 but should
have been 13 of 14 but for two drops (Marshall, Brian Hartline). It was a very
solid effort, not only with the short stuff but in getting the ball into the
middle third of the field where his arm gives him a decided advantage. He had
151 yards overall, with 2 touchdowns and no turnovers before Chad Pennington
relieved him with about three minutes to play in the half.
As for Pennington, he simply reinforced what weíve
suspected all along. Firstly, that he still has the goods. Secondly, that he
will be Henneís back-up. And thirdly, that he is not going to be traded away.
What does this mean for Tyler Thigpen, who played the
entire second half and earned a bottle of Advil for all the shots he took?
His fate has yet to be determined, as does Pat Whiteís.
All I can say right now is that the Dolphins arenít keeping four QBs; this
flies in the face of Sparanoís philosophy of maximizing his roster flexibility
on gamedays. With all the predictions of doom for White in the air, it would do
well for us to consider that Thigpen has trade value to a team in need of
quality QB depth. There are several needy teams, and decent QBs always command
a premium. So donít be surprised if White stays, whether he deserves to or not.
One further word on White: for someone in danger of
being cut, he is acting very nonchalant about it; is there more to his story
than is known? Stay tuned.
As for the ongoing battle for the starting Center job,
it was clear to me that Jake Grove outplayed Joe Berger last Saturday. Grove
was consistently driving his man off the ball and holding his ground in pass
pro. While Berger played well, I felt he had trouble in power situations.
Against the likes of Kris Jenkins and Vince Wilfork, he will be a liability. As
Iíve said throughout the preseason, a healthy Grove will start on opening day.
Defensively, Iím sure Sparano is pleased with the
quality of line play thus far. Randy Starks, in particular, has looked good in
his new role as a full time Tackle. His quickness really lends itself well to
the three technique style he is being asked to play (think Warren Sapp). And
Charles Grant adds quality depth in the rotation; his 2nd quarter
hit on QB David Garrard forced him from the game.
I also think Sparano is very pleased with the
situation at safety. Chris Clemons has all but won the job at free safety, and
Pro Bowl SS Yeremiah Bell looks as good as ever.
Thatís the good news.
The concerns begin at linebacker. While inside
linebackers Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder are the least of Sparanoís worries,
outside linebackers Koa Misi and Cam Wake are another story.
Rookie Misi is clearly going through some growing
pains; he is still thinking way too much. This is normal for a rookie, and
Sparano has decided to put up with it for now. Dolfans should get into a like
frame of mind and cut Misi some slack now because heís going to screw up.
As for Wake, he had a tackle for a loss against Jacksonville but I wasnít
impressed with his work against the run. Donít be surprised if Sparano rotates
him out when the situation dictates; he still isnít a complete player.
Sparano hopes that cornerback isnít going to be
another worry, not with the lofty expectations that the team has in Vontae
Davis and Sean Smith. Yet the signs thus far are not good. Whatís worse, Will
Allen is out again with a balky knee and hyped rookie Nolan Carroll doesnít
seem ready for prime time.
Against Jacksonville, Davis played like his
feet were stuck in cement before leaving with some sort of abdominal injury. Davis
and Smith were roasted alternately by Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas
throughout. Sims-Walker is another one of those big receivers that the Dolphin
DBs have struggled with in the past; he racked up 64 yards of receptions (long
of 35) in just a half of work. Watching him tear up Davis and Smith left an
ominous impression on me.
One bright spot at CB has been Jason Allen. He has
been around the ball throughout camp, and his special teams work has been
stellar (one forced fumble against Jacksonville).
Undrafted rookie Nate Ness has also played well and consistently.
Last, and certainly least, are the special teams.
As I mentioned earlier, it is becoming a sad annual ritual
watching John Bonamegoís poor coverage teams work. Against the Jaguars, the
Dolphins surrendered almost 28 yards per return and allowed another blocked
punt. If not for a penalty against Jacksonville
for an illegal wedge, negating a 47 yard return, that average would have been
Aside from the obvious need for a fix, it is fair to
wonder if Bonamego is the man for the job. This is the third year now that his
dogs arenít eating the dog food.
Up next is the critical third preseason game at home
against the Falcons. Expect the starters to play into the third quarter.