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  Dolphins vs Buccaneers - Summary
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GAME SUMMARY:

The Dolphins opened the 2002 pre-season with a disappointing performance again the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday night, which ended in a 14-10 loss at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium.

The main problem that the Dolphins had was sloppy play by all of the starters in this game. The starting offense committed 2 penalties on the first 2 plays of the game and never seemed to get in sync. The Dolphins' running game never materialized as the run blocking was very poor. The passing game was better and featured Rob Konrad on several plays, but several opportunities were missed.

The starting defense was better, but didn't tackle well and allowed the Bucs to run the ball right down their throats after the first series. This was particularly disappointing because the Dolphins' run defense was supposed to be improved this year.

And, of course, the special teams allowed a touchdown on the opening kickoff. Later, Olindo Mare' missed two field goals (from 52 and 30 yards).

Once the starters left the field, however, things started to get better. The offense had two impressive drives in the 2nd quarter as Ray Lucas drove the team down the field with a series of passes on rollouts that were very accurate and well timed.

Lucas hit Dedric Ward for one touchdown and drove the offense to the Bucs' two yard line in a second drive before Travis Minor fumbled away the Dolphins' chance at a score.

The defense also improved with the 2nd stringers, sacking Bucs' quarterbacks a total of 3 times in the 2nd quarter and controlling the Bucs' passing game, although the Bucs' running game was still potent.

In the second half, with the 3rd string players in for both teams, the Dolphin defense played well, adding 4 more sacks, while the offense struggled under the guidance of Zak Kustok. Kustok did not have a good night and didn't do much to win a roster spot for himself.

Overall, the Dolphins' effort was marred by sloppy execution and luke-warm effort by the starters. The backups were better, but made their share of mistakes, also.

GOOD THINGS:

While the overall play of the Dolphins was poor, there were a number of good things to take away from this game.

First of all, the new offensive scheme of Norv Turner's appears to be effective when executed well. It involves all the offensive players to a greater degree than Gailey's did. In the first half, the Dolphins threw a lot more to the fullback than they have the last two years and it paid off dividends as Rob Konrad had several nice gains.

In executing that scheme, the Dolphins' offense had to contend with a Tampa Bay defense that appeared to be blitzing nearly every play. The Dolphins' offensive line handled those blitzes very well as neither Fiedler nor Lucas were sacked in this game and neither turned the ball over - although Fiedler did throw one lame-duck pass that should have been a pick.

But the Dolphins handled the Bucs' blitzes very effectively. If Fiedler had been a bit more accurate, the Dolphins would have had a couple of big plays from Chris Chambers on blitz pickups and the 2nd stringers did have several nice plays while defeating the Bucs' blitz.

Also, on offense, the passing game worked pretty well at first and very well in the 2nd quarter. Robert Baker caught 4 passes for 85 yards, Konrad caught 3 for 29 and Miami ended up with 235 total passing yards. The combination of good pass protection, good route-running and good hands by the receivers and good decisions by Fiedler and Lucas made the Dolphins' passing game effective.

Defensively, the pass coverage was very good, partly due to the defensive backs and partly due to the pressure from the defensive line. The Dolphins picked up 7 sacks in this game and limited the Bucs to less that 100 net yards passing. The Bucs' had no pass completions longer that 20 yards and only one over 15 yards. The net average gain per pass attempt for the Bucs was 2.3 yards.

This is even more impressive when you consider that the Bucs' receivers are Keenan McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson and that all of the quarterbacks on their roster that played on Monday have each started for at least 2 years in the NFL.

On special teams, the Dolphins' first and second stringers did a good job returning punts and kickoffs. Albert Johnson, in particular, had a 33 yard kickoff return and a 15 yard punt return and didn't have any trouble fielding the ball.

THINGS TO WORK ON:

The overriding problem of the team on Monday was sloppiness. For the offense, 3 penalties on the first series killed any chances they had of getting a rhythm going. And they were illegal motion or false start penalties, which are simply a lack of concentration on the part of the players.

The running game was very poor, not so much because of any problems with the running backs, but because the offensive line did not open any holes to run through. The Dolphins' runners were getting gang tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage for much of the game. It may be time for a shakeup of the offensive line personnel.

On the other side of the ball, the defense did not play well against the run. The defensive linemen were getting sealed inside and when players did make contact with the running backs, they were not making solid tackles, allowing the Bucs' runners to break through.

Turnovers were a problem for Miami as well, with Travis Minor fumbling at the Bucs' two yard line, which killed a potential scoring drive and Zak Kustok throwing 2 interceptions, although 1 was negated by a penalty.

Before the Dolphins can start the regular season, they have to eliminate the problems they had last night with execution.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES:

The Dolphins' first string offense was the same one they've had all the way through training camp, with Mark Dixon and Todd Perry retaining their starting spots at guard, Brent Smith staying at left tackle and the other players remaining where they've been since day 1 of camp.

On defense, Jay Williams started at left defensive end, but that was because David Bowens was sidelined with a groin injury. Otherwise, the starting group was the same as it's been.

QB Jay Fiedler played in the first quarter for Miami and looked uninspired. He did complete 4 of 6 passes for 36 yards, but one of his misses was very short and should have been an interception and the other was way over the head of Chris Chambers down the sideline, with Chambers open for what could have been a big gain.

In contrast, backup Ray Lucas looked terrific as he guided the Miami offense on several drives, including one 80 yard drive for a touchdown and one 60 yard drive that ended at the Bucs' one. He completed 11 of 15 passes for 136 yards and 1 TD, without an interception. Norv Turner rolled him out frequently and Lucas' passes were accurate and strong.

Zak Kustok got a chance to play the entire 2nd half, but didn't do much. He completed 6 of 13 passes for 63 yards, with 1 interception and threw a second ball that would have been picked off if not negated by a penalty. He scrambled pretty well, but had trouble putting his throws on target.

Ricky Williams played the first 2 series, but only ended up with 9 yards on 5 carries. This was really not his fault as he had nowhere to run.

Behind Ricky, Travis Minor played the rest of the 1st half, picking up 27 yards on 9 carries, but fumbling away the ball at the Bucs' 2 yard line, costing Miami a possible touchdown. Neither Ricky nor Travis caught any passes.

Leonard Henry played most of the 2nd half at running back, but because the offensive line was not doing a very good job run blocking, he didn't get much of a chance to really run. He carried 12 times for just 16 yards. He didn't really show anything special on any of his runs, but then again, neither did any of the Dolphins' running backs.

Rob Konrad showed some nice moves catching the ball out of the backfield and picked up 29 yards on 3 catches. He's going to be very important to the offense this year as a receiver.

Deon Dyer and Ayanbadejo both got in the game, but neither did much to impress.

The offensive line did a decent job pass blocking and an excellent job picking up the blitz, but could not make any room to run the ball. None of the offensive linemen stood out in any exceptional way, although Seth McKinney did get plenty of playing time in place of Tim Ruddy at center.

This could be significant, because it appeared to me that the best Dolphins' run blocking happened when McKinney was at center, flanked by Nails and Searcy. Of course, this was against the Bucs' second string, but it will be interesting to see if there are any lineup changes after this game.

At wide receiver, Chris Chambers, Oronde Gadsden, James McKnight and Dedric Ward each caught either 1 or 2 passes, with Ward catching the only touchdown of the day for Miami. None of them did anything that special, but all were effective.

Two other wide receivers did stand out, though. Robert Baker, who has been trying to make the team for the last 3 years, had 4 catches for 85 yards, including a beautiful reaching grab of a slightly overthrown ball from Ray Lucas that helped set up Miami's only touchdown. Baker did an excellent job getting open and catching the ball.

Albert Johnson, who sat out last year with an injury, also had a very good night, returning kickoffs and punts. While he didn't break anything wide open, he looked quick and elusive on the returns and clearly outclassed his main competitor Sam Simmons.

Speaking of Simmons, he mishandled one punt return and didn't do much else on Monday night.

Randy McMichael was the only other offensive player that stood out, even though he only caught one pass. He made a nice catch over the middle and made an extra effort to get to the endzone. Even though he didn't get in, it was an impressive effort and the only reception by a Miami tight end during the game.

On defense, none of the starters really stood out with any kind of exceptional playing-making, except for Zach Thomas, who was just his normal self.

Jamar Fletcher got lots of playing time at nickel back and later as the cornerback for the 2nd and 3rd strings, but did not stand out. I did not see him get burned badly, but he didn't make any special plays, either. He did tackle McCardell immediately after a 3rd down completion, preventing a first down, but otherwise was pretty silent - which is, overall, a good thing.

Of the defensive backups, Adewale Ogunleye stood out the most, getting 4 sacks during the game. While Ogunleye gets a lot of credit for his effort, much of his success was attributible to excellent coverage downfield, allowing him the time to get to the quarterback.

Jermaine Haley, Henry Taylor and linebacker Scott Shields also had sacks during the game.

Linebacker Scott Shields ended up leading the team in tackles with 5 solo tackles and a sack. Shields played safety in NFL Europe this year, but was converted to linebacker because of his size (6'4" and 229 pounds).

Linebacker Joshua Symonette, another converted safety, also had 5 total tackles and a pass defensed, but was flagged for a penalty on a punt early in the game.

Trent Gamble, who is competing for a final backup safety spot with Scott McGarrahan, had 5 total tackles and one particularly crunching hit on special teams where he nailed the Bucs' punt returner just as he caught the ball.

Speaking of McGarrahan, he had 1 tackle and knocked a pass away from a Bucs' receiver in the endzone, preventing a touchdown. He also had a crunching tackle on punt coverage, but that play was called back for a penalty (on Symonette), so that tackle won't appear in his stats.

None of the other defenders stood out much. Justin Seaverns was disappointing in his lack of production, getting only one tackle.

On special teams, Olindo Mare' had a bad day, missing two field goals (from 52 and 30 yards), while making one.

Mark Royals started the punting and did fairly well, placing the ball where he wanted to, but not getting a lot of height or distance on the ball.

Casey Roussel got to punt once and had an average punt of 43 yards.

As I already pointed out, Albert Johnson was impressive as the kick and punt returner, while Sam Simmons did not play particularly well. In punt coverage, both Trent Gamble and Scott McGarrahan made one outstanding play each, so they can be considered nearly even for the final safety spot.

COMMENTS:

This was a disappointing game for me. I had hoped that the Dolphins would be sharper and execute better after several weeks of training camp, but that didn't happen.

Both the starting offense and the starting defense looked sloppy and unprepared. While it's true that the Dolphins did not game-plan this game, they should have been able to avoid the kind of simple mistakes that plagued them.

For the offense, I did see flashes of potential to be a lot more powerful than they've been in a long time. But I was hoping for more than flashes....

For the defense, the obvious concern is the run defense, because that's what sank the defense at the end of last year. The run defense didn't look one bit better last night and they're going to need to be better if they're going to beat teams like the Jets and the Patriots.

However, it is important to remember that this is only the first pre-season game and should not be taken as a guarantee of things to come. The coaches certainly have plenty of work to do, but now they have actual game film to help them do it.

And I don't think there's any doubt that the coaching staff will be working very hard to eliminate the mistakes - especially the simple ones - that dogged the team yesterday. I don't think that the coaching staff - especially Norv Turner - are very happy with the team's play and will be "opening a can of whoop-ass" this week.

As for possible changes to the roster before Thursday's game against the Saints, I do think it's possible that we'll see some shifts on the offensive line before the Dolphins face New Orleans. I wouldn't be at all surprise to see both Jamie Nails and Leon Searcy get time with the first string offensive line in place of Dixon and Perry on Thursday.

And hopefully, we'll get to see some of Robert Edwards on Thursday. He deserves a real chance to play and make the roster.

     
   
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