The Miami Dolphins earned their first victory of the preseason Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yes, this is the definition of a moral victory as it doesn't count for anything, but these games are important for evaluation and practice. These games also give us a sneak peak into what we can expect from the team, both positive and negative.
The Dolphins showed promise in a few areas and weaknesses in others. Here are my eight thoughts following the Dolphins first victory of the preseason.
1. Matt Moore proved himself to be the Dolphins back up with great play vs. the Bucs
Moore completed 13 of his 19 attempts for 158 yards and a touchdown and led three of the Dolphins' four scoring drives. Moore looked sharp against the Bucs second team defense and proved that how important the insurance he provides is to this team.
Helping Moore's case is the fact that Brady Quinn didn't play particularly well, though it's worth noting that's he's only been on the team for less than a week. Even so, the notion that Quinn had a chance to outplay Moore for the Dolphins' backup quarterback spot was a farfetched idea to begin with. It's likely that Quinn was brought in simply to give the Dolphins a third option at quarterback who is more experienced and talented than Seth Lobato.
Either way, Moore proved that he is a fine "break in case of emergency" option if Ryan Tannehill were to ever suffer an injury.
2. Dallas Thomas was an issue
Thomas was matched up against All-Pro Gerald McCoy, one of the best defensive tackles in the league, for most of his time in the game. McCoy did exactly what you'd think a top DT would do to a guard starting his second NFL game. Mauled him. It was tough to watch at times as McCoy would violently break through Thomas' attempted block or push Thomas yards into the backfield to disrupt a play.
Thomas will distinctly remember every detail of his manhandling, but none more than the play where McCoy flew right past Thomas to get a strip/sack Ryan Tannehill.
Saturday night couldn't have been good for Thomas' confidence, but Thomas psyche will likely take another hit soon when the coaching staff experiments with different options at right guard, a position that Thomas has held down since the start of training camp.
Thomas was a liability Saturday night due his lack of strength and physicality against one of the strongest and most physical DTs in the league. This doesn't mean that Thomas cannot get better or stronger (though I think physicality is an intangible trait), but his seemingly looming demotion will be well earned.
On the bright side, we'll likely get an extensive look at Billy Turner at right guard.
3. Top 5 WRs have identified themselves
Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Jarvis Landry have been firmly planted on this roster, but the final three spots (presuming the Dolphins kept six WRs) were thought to be up for grabs.
However, Rishard Matthews, who has been having one of the best camps' out of everyone in Miami and had a touchdown Saturday night, and Brandon Gibson, who has proved he has recovered from 2013 major knee surgery and picked up where he left off before the injury by consistently making big plays, have proven themselves to be clearly better than the competition.
I'd even go as far as to say Matthews and Gibson, the only two Dolphins with a receiving touchdown this preseason, have played the best out of all of Miami's receivers so far this preseason.
This means that only one wide receiver slot is open. The race will come down to the best man between Damian Williams, Kevin Cone, Matt Hazel and Armon Binns, and it appears that Williams has grabbed a slight lead with his knack to be in the right places and make catches. Williams led the team with three catches for 46 yards Saturday night.
4. Will Davis continued to be a route-jumping assassin
Davis, a 2013 third round pick, has been a full-out ball-hawk this preseason. I have an unofficial count of seven potential interceptions on balls that Davis either had in his hands or had a chance to make a play on.
If Davis had been finishing these plays and producing turnovers, he would likely be the talk of preseason. Even so, we can appreciate his large amount of pass deflections and his (for lack of a better-than-cliché term) nose for the football.
We are seeing flashes of potential from young players on the Dolphins roster. This is a good sign of not only individual development but also overall team development.
5. 1st team rush offense was awful
This is the area of the team I am undoubtedly most worried about. The Dolphins had minus-5 yards on nine carries behind the starting line in the first half. The only back who averaged over two yards per carry was Cameron Marshall (2.8), who was playing against the Bucs third team defense.
The interior of the Dolphins line is the weak link with the absence of Mike Pouncey, but rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James was also victimized on a play where he was pushed into the running back then to the ground as his man wrapped up the tailback for a loss.
The Dolphins will have a very tough season if they consistently find themselves in second-and-third-and-long situations. Being able to create a push in the run game so that a yards-per-carry average of at least four can be sustained is crucial to creating the balance that the Dolphins desperately needed last season.
Bill Lazor wants to run the ball and he comes from a pedigree that has groomed him to lean towards running the ball. However, Lazor will be handcuffed in a way similar to that of Mike Sherman in what he will be able to do if his offensive line cannot run block efficiently.
6. Terrence Fede and Chris McCain flashed
Fede, once again, looked big, strong and athletic, but he also showed off his football IQ for the second straight week. Fede has an instinct for sniffing out when something is cooking in the flats on his side of the field and disrupting the play. It's always great to watch talented players make smart football plays (and it's what separates the good from the great).
Fede also recovered a fumble caused by Dion Jordan, who finally made a little noise on a play where he was being blocked pretty well but managed to reach his long arm in for the strip/sack.
The Dolphins either really like McCain or are growing more concerned with their linebacking unit (probably a mix of the two), but either way I was happy to see McCain earn snaps with the first team defense in the second quarter.
McCain had two tackles on the night and both plays went for no gain.
7. Jimmy Wilson had another ugly missed tackle
I'm a fan of Jimmy Wilson. But his missed tackle in the second quarter of the Dolphins game against the Bucs, which featured him bouncing off of Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans like a rag doll after failed to wrap up, CANNOT happen when he is playing as the last line of the defense.
I'm still not worried about Wilson filling in for Reshad Jones while the latter serves a four-game suspension for PED use, but seeing a terrible tackling attempt from Wilson for the third consecutive week when the Dolphins face the Dallas Cowboys next Saturday will sway my thoughts very quickly.
One missed tackle from Wilson a game could easily equate to one long run or reception a game for the first four weeks of the season. That's something that cannot happen.
8. Hickey's first draft is shaping up to be a good one
This observation may be a bit premature, but Hickey's first draft has yielded a good amount of possible hits, especially value-wise. Hickey added two players who will immediately contribute to the team (Ja'Wuan James and Jarvis Landry) and another six rookies (Damien Williams, Billy Turner, Anthony Johnson, Chris McCain, Terrence Fede, Jordan Tripp) who could find themselves in starting/significant roles by the time the season reaches it's end, assuming they all make the team.
On top of those eight rookies, the Dolphins also have Walt Aikens, who could turn out to be a long-term solution at safety (Louis Delmas is on a one-year contract).
Arthur Lynch and Matt Hazel, who are both forgotten men as they battle injuries and struggle to earn reps, are the only two who haven't flashed from this draft class.
A draft class is generally considered successful if it produces three quality starters. Based on that scale, it seems that it's already safe to say that this was an impressive first go-around as a general manager from Dennis Hickey.