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The defense is ready. The offense has issues. That about sums up the status of the Miami Dolphins with the regular season opener now less than two weeks away.
Are there concerns? Sure there are. The offensive line is healthy again but appears rusty, there is still the matter of replacing Dustin Keller at tight end and nobody is making a strong statement at running back.
Clearly, the strength of this offense, at least right now, is Ryan Tannehill throwing to Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline. Tannehill has played well this preseason, has shown undeniable improvement in his accuracy and appears ready for a breakthrough regular season. That’s the big storyline and one that rightfully should overshadow everything else.
Still, Tannehill needs help. From the offensive line that hasn’t exactly had a stellar preseason, but at least now has John Jerry back at right guard. From running back where Lamar Miller appears to have won the starting job over Daniel Thomas, but has done little to separate himself.
And finally from tight end, clearly my major worry at this juncture. Charles Clay has done little this preseason and both Michael Egnew and Kyle Miller are untested. Check all the top teams. They have difference-makers at tight end. The Dolphins had one in Keller, but he is now long gone. Something has to give here over the next few weeks.
The defense, meanwhile, hasn’t been giving up much of anything. Playing only the first half against the Bucs, this defense gave up 63 yards and just six first downs. What more do you need to know? Why, the front seven could be as good as any in the league, and I know that’s a powerful statement. At this point, I honestly don’t have a single concern about the starting defense.
I only wish I could say the same for the offense.
In my column last Friday, I focused on 10 things I wanted to see in this game. Let’s revisit them and see how it worked out.
1. It all starts, as always, with Ryan Tannehill. Not as sharp as he was in the previous two preseason games, Tannehill got a late first half touchdown pass and once again avoided major mistakes. That’s good. Two things that still trouble me: He sometimes holds the ball too long in the pocket and he seems reluctant to go deep down the field. He must improve upon both.
2. This is a huge game for the offensive line: Finally, the starting five was the starting five. With Jerry’s return from an injury, the line was whole for the first time this preseason. The five starters played the entire first quarter together until Josh Samuda replaced Jerry. My reviews are mixed. Some decent pass protection. Some decent run blocking. But nothing overly impressive.
3. Who’s going to start at running back? The job seems to belong to Miller, partly because he has started every preseason game and partly because he has played slightly better than Daniel Thomas. But he has yet to make an overpowering case for himself. You see the ability. You see the speed. You just don’t see it often enough.
4. Who’s going to replace Dustin Keller? No definite answer surfaced against the Bucs. Clay got the start and saw most of the action with the first-team while rookie Dion Sims had one nice catch down the middle. But nobody appears ready to fill Keller’s void. At this point, you’ve got to wonder whether the Dolphins will claim a tight end once teams begin cutting down their rosters.
5. I want to see more of the first-team defense. I saw all I needed to see in one half against the Bucs. In fact, the regular season can’t start soon enough for this defense. They are healthy, clearly in sync and have a relentless style that you’ve got admire.
6. Settling on the rotation at cornerback: Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson are secure in their starting roles. The third cornerback Nolan Carroll had a forgettable first half against Tampa Bay. Does that open a small crease for rookie Will Davis? Will Jamar Taylor stay healthy enough to be a factor? Still more questions to be answered.
7. How special will the special teams be? Two turnovers on special teams were a huge downer; one coming on a Marcus Thigpen fumble, the other after the punt hit blocker Nolan Carroll. Thigpen redeemed himself with a nice 38-yard gain, but the damage had been done. This is not the performance the Dolphins wanted to see in the most important game of the preseason.
8. Pressure kicks: Caleb Sturgis was three-for-three on field goals and had some excellent kickoffs. But he didn’t attempt a kick with the game on the line and, until he does, will we really know?
9. Clean up the mistakes: Four turnovers, two on special teams and two by the offense, left Joe Philbin shaking his head. Five penalties and some dropped passes were a concern as well. Not the cleanest of games.
10. Which young players will contribute? Derrick Shelby continues to make plays on the defensive line and it’s hard to imagine him not making this team. Marvin McNutt had a nice catch against the Bucs and looks to have a legitimate shot. Running back Jonas Gray didn’t help his long shot bid with a crucial fourth quarter fumble. Things, I am sure, will sort out quickly this week.
Tuesday morning A.C. in the A.M. looks at the AFC East and wonders whether it is now up for grabs.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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