The Miami Dolphins thankfully escaped preseason Game 4 without major injuries. This, above all else, was the most important outcome from a glorified scrimmage that was more annoyance and risk than benefit. With no more than a handful of roster spots in play, Head Coach Adam Case wisely held out a decent chunk of his talent and kept the gameplan strictly vanilla.
Thus ends the preseason, which was very revealing and sobering all at once. I don’t make season predictions and I won’t start now, especially given the heavy roster turnover, the abundance of youth, a new offensive system, and a green coaching staff. This combination of factors, by its very nature, demands that we keep our expectations in check. It will take time for all of this to come together. For now, here’s my assessment by unit.
Offensive Line (9): It will be better than last year’s sieve and should continue to improve as the season progresses. Losing C Mike Pouncey is a temporary setback, but Laremy Tunsil is already proving to be an upgrade at G and offers a solid fallback should the team lose Branden Albert or Ja’Wuan James again. Overall, the pass protection is ahead of the run blocking at this time but this will even out. Kraig Urbik, Jamil Douglas, Ulrick John and Sam Young are still in play for the final job if it doesn’t go to someone claimed off the waiver wire.
Quarterback (3): Ryan Tannehill should benefit from better protection from his OL. He seemed able to execute Gase’s offense with consistent accuracy. Tannehill’s deep ball certainly looks better than it did this time last year, which is a credit to his hard work. He still needs to demonstrate better blitz recognition, an issue for him last season that we couldn’t really evaluate with the basic schemes he faced in the preseason. And Tannehill needs to have better patience/creativity on passing downs when his receivers are covered but he is not under pressure.
Running Backs (5): This will be a committee approach. Jay Ajayi, who was given a clear path in asserting himself as the starter, did not do a convincing job. Ajayi is a power runner, but inexplicably danced and jigged his way through; this is not his game. Veteran Arian Foster flashed his usual brilliance in his limited action, but folks remain unconvinced in his ability to stay healthy. Isaiah Pead and Daniel Thomas showed more than was expected, while incumbent Damien Williams didn’t. Rookie Kenyan Drake finally overcame injury to play in the final preseason game; he is still largely an unknown. Strictly a mixed bag here, and Gase figures to utilize these talents in different ways as needs versus opponents dictate.
Tight Ends (3): It was a very pedestrian preseason by this group, of whom more was expected. Starter Jordan Cameron fought through an annoying case of the drops. Dion Sims once again showed well in the run game but had limited chances to catch passes. Veterans Marqueis Gray and Dominique Jones competed hard for a 3rd string job but neither made a clear case, while rookie Thomas Duarte is a candidate for the practice squad. Part of the issue here was Tannehill, who leaned early and often on familiar faces like WR Jarvis Landry and didn’t get the ball to his TEs much.
Wide Receivers (5): Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills should make a nice triumvirate, with a good mix of skills that will give defenses all sorts of problems. Parker needs to stay healthy, a challenge for him as a Dolphin. Rookies Jakeem Grant and Leonte Carroo will round out this corps, with Grant giving Landry a respite from kick return duties. Undrafted rookie Rashawn Scott seems a likely candidate for the practice squad; he has nice upside. Veteran Griff Whalen is in play if Gase decides to keep a sixth WR.
Defensive Line (9): The Dolphins enjoy great depth here and could afford to trade Chris McCain to the Saints for a conditional draft pick. No other group of players will have more to say about winning and losing this season than this multitalented bunch. The talent here is unquestioned, but what about the consistency? Their ability to stop the run will be an important indicator of their effectiveness.
Linebackers (6): Here’s where the wheels could start to come off the wagon. The hope here is that MLB Kiko Alonso solidifies this group, together with fellow returning starters Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much evidence of this in preseason. Alonso went through a case of missed tackles early on and seems to be thinking too much. Jenkins was injured (knee) against Atlanta and may not be ready for the season opener at Seattle. Misi was steady, but there is lingering concern as to whether or not he is fast enough to play OLB in a 4-3 scheme. Last year’s reserve dynamo Zach Vigil continues to languish on the Reserve/NFI list.
Secondary (10): With the exception of Reshad Jones, this group was generally unwatchable throughout the exhibition contests and could be shredded badly this season. Isa Abdul-Quddus is a clear improvement over last season, but the situation at CB is distressing. Byron Maxwell was adequate in coverage but far from a shutdown talent that adequately replaces what was lost when Brent Grimes was cut. Xavien Howard was injured and idle until the last preseason game, missing time a rookie can ill afford; drawing a starting assignment Week 1 seems like asking a lot. Second year man Tony Lippett struggled badly in Howard’s absence and just isn’t ready for heavy duty yet. Bobby McCain should be OK in the slot. Michael Thomas once again offers solid depth at S and as an extra DB when called upon, as will Walt Aikens. CB Chris Culliver will get a long look once he is healthy to practice again, while Shamiel Gray could sneak on as the 10th DB. The waiver wire will be scoured for quality upgrades.
Specialists (3): Incumbents P Matt Darr, LS John Denney, and K Andrew Franks will return.