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
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
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.
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
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'
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.