It may have been sloppy and, at times, uninteresting. But it's still Dolphins football - and a win.
The Dolphins opened their 2010 preseason at a rain-soaked Sun Life Stadium and were out-played, totaling over a hundred yards fewer than Tampa Bay - who were one of the worst teams in the NFL last year. Still, despite what some might want you to think, the sky is not falling. It's not time to panic. The season is not doomed.
So let's talk about both the positives and negatives from Saturday night's 10-7 win over the Bucs.
-Defensive tackle Paul Soliai looked like a different player on the field Saturday night. His insanely athletic "leap" to recover that fumble was impressive enough. But more importantly, he was virtually unblockable - even by two offensive linemen. He was also at his best when he wasn't asked to be the nose tackle, but rather lining up off the center as a defensive tackle. That's something to note as we see how Mike Nolan works Soliai into the defensive line rotation.
-Rookies Jared Odrick and Koa Misi were both very active in their first action a professionals. Odrick was being double-teamed more than nose tackle Randy Starks was. And he still displayed good power, standing up his man at the point of attack a couple of times. Misi, meanwhile, was active when he as on the field. We saw his coverage skills on display as well as a good power rush right at the offensive tackle, who probably had a good 40 pounds on Koa. It's still worth noting (and if you read Omar Kelly's work, then you are well aware) that though Misi did start, Ike Alama-Francis split action with him with the first-team defense.
-Cornerback Nate Ness is making a case to be on this team. He practically protected the win by himself with his two pass break-ups in the endzone and then the forced fumble that sealed the game. All told, Ness had 4 tackles, 3 pass break-ups, and 2 forced fumbles. Now that's a day's work. If the Dolphins keep a sixth cornerback as insurance considering Will Allen's knee issue, Ness made a strong case to be that guy.
-Rookie corner Nolan Carroll may become the favorite to return kickoffs after his one strong return of 27 yards on Saturday. Carroll is going to be on the team - which already gives him an advantage over a guy who would be just a return man like Tristan Davis. I'm thinking Carroll starts getting the bulk of the work in practice as the kick returner to see what he can do with more experience at the job.
-Receivers Patrick Turner and Marlon Moore both rose to the occasion as they battle to be the fifth receiver. But the edge goes to Turner if he keeps this play up because of the investment made by the Dolphins to him. Moore, Julius Pruitt, and Roberto Wallace all are practice squad options, too.
-Rookie right guard John Jerry quietly had a hell of a game. He displayed his pure strength on a couple of running plays, wiping out the man in front of him. I suspect Jerry will actually win the starting job, meaning Richie Incognito, Donald Thomas, Nate Garner, and Cory Procter will all be battling for the left guard job.
-Ronnie Brown looked strong out there. He ran for 16 yards on his first two carries since recovering from foot surgery. He didn't look hesitant at all - even on the mud. And he played the entire first half. Ronnie looks to be ready to go when some questioned if he'd be 100% by opening day.
-Cornerback Sean Smith did allow that one touchdown when he played too soft despite having safety help. He needs to be right up on the receiver in that situation. But he quietly had a good game. He showed improved tackling and picked off that long pass from Josh Johnson. It wasn't a tough interception - but he showed he can turn around and locate the football (I hope Vontae took notes).
-Defensive end Lionel Dotson had a solid game against Tampa's number two offensive line. He really owned his side all night.
-Punter Brandon Fields had a hell of a game. He averaged over 50 yards per punt, with three 60+ yarders. It may sound unimportant, but those kinds of punts can instantly change those field-position battles which greatly influence games.
-Receivers Brandon Marshall and Brian Hartline - the two starters - combined for one receptions and three drops. Marshall's second drop, in particular (pictured above) was rather disgusting. But let's all relax. Like Brandon said, he's caught over 300 balls the past three years. He hasn't suddenly forgotten how to catch. He'll be fine. Let's just move on.
-Cornerback Vontae Davis needs to show improvement at turning and locating the football. He had perfect position on that deep ball to Mike Williams. But he couldn't find the ball and Williams made the 30 yard reception. Not acceptable.
-Three penalties from the starting offensive line in just over a quarter? Really? Let's knock off the stupid mistakes.
-Offensive tackle Andrew Gardner had a rough night. His man beat him too many times. Right now, he's behind Lydon Murtha for that final OT spot.
-Center Jake Grove isn't going to win back his starting job by making poor snaps. Yes, the field conditions were terrible. But Joe Berger didn't have that problem, did he? Grove needs to get his act together quickly or he's going to be a back-up to start the year.
-Is it safe to say that quarterback Pat White is a long shot to make the roster? He played three snaps - a hand-off and two kneel-downs. But they were perfect kneel-downs, though.
-Safety Chris Clemons needs to improve his tackling. I was underwhelmed with his performance. He didn't lock up the starting spot like I thought he could with a good showing. Now the battle will continue into next week's game.
-Chad Henne wasn't as bad as people are making it seem. His throw to Brian Hartline on that 3rd & 10 was right on the money despite Henne having a defender coming right at his face. And his 5/11 line looks drastically different if those three drops are caught. How's 8/11 for 50+ yards sound? Not great, but much better. I know some of you are already going to start calling for Henne's head. But that's just ridiculous. Henne will be just fine.
-We didn't see any exotic blitzes from Mike Nolan. He's holding them back for the real games.
-I also think the offense held back with their play-calling, particularly with the starters. We'll see more down-field passing. Trust me.
-Yes, I agree with all of you. This coaching staff needs to let their team practice in less than ideal conditions (i.e. rain). Not all the time. But definitely some of the time.
-It was only one game and the starters played in poor conditions. So let's all take a step back from the ledge.