The fourth preseason game is all about the backups getting reps and giving the guys fighting for a roster spot a chance to shine. The Dolphins lost 22-17, but they had plenty to be excited about from the game.
The biggest news from the game is that first round pick DeVante Parker saw his first game reps as a Miami Dolphin. He only played 9 total snaps (1 didn't count due to a penalty). He finished with 1 catch for 11 yards on 3 targets. His playing time was mostly to shake off the rust and get back into the feel of things, but it was good to see him on the field.
Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his backup Matt Moore sat tonight and McLeod Bethel-Thompson got the start. He played deep into the 3rd quarter. He had a few good passes, but was mostly off the mark. He finished 11-16, 127 yards, and 2 picks, one of which was returned 98 yards for a touchdown. Josh Freeman came in late in the third and didn't fare much better, finishing 13-22, 165 yards and 2 picks, the final one ended the game. Those two players aren't likely to stick to the roster, but Bethel-Thompson may become the scout arm on the practice squad.
The running backs were dynamic again Tampa's backups. Starting back Miller and the primary backup Williams got the night off. Jay Ajayi got 9 carries for 66 yards and 2 catches for 37 yards. He broke off a couple of long runs in the 2nd quarter. He also left the game early due to a chest injury. Mike Gillislee got the bulk of the carries, picking up 69 yards on 17 carries. LaMike James got 7 carries for 37 yards. Ajayi is safe for a roster spot, but James and Gillislee are fighting for a final spot. Gillislee appear to have the better night rushing, scoring twice and looking more dynamic than in the past. James got some return duties and had a muffed punt that led to the Bucs first touchdown.
Matt Hazel was the top receiver getting 7 catches for 96 yards. He's going to force the team to make a tough decisions regarding keeping a sixth receiver. Long shot receiver Christion Jones, while not making a big impact on offense, had a 108 yard kick return that would have been a touchdown, but was called back due to a holding penalty. Jones looked like the better returner tonight and could make the Dolphins choose to add him for his return ability.
Jamil Douglas was the only offensive starter to play tonight and he showed why he earned the starting right guard spot. He was tough in the run game and looked solid in pass protection. Billy Turner got the majority of reps at right guard and had a decent evening. He was flagged for a couple of penalties, but overall played well. Coach Philbin emphasized consistency as a need for Turner and he still needs to work on it.
Defensively, Will Davis was the standout. Rumored to be on the trade block earlier this week (he still may be), he answered the bell by picking off Tampa QB Mike Glennon twice. The first was a leaping grab over the receiver and the second one was where he jumped a route. His ball skills may make him more valuable to keep around. He did what he needed to do tonight. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson led the team with 4 tackles, including a sack. He saw some time at defensive end, which is interesting. Walt Aikens was the only starter on defense and made some plays early in the game, including a near safety on Glennon after blowing up the running back on a blitz.
Andrew Franks got the kicking duties. He was 1-1 for 30 yards. While the FG was good, it looked like it may have been wide left if slightly longer. He was solid on kickoffs though, booming the ball deep, earning 4 touchbacks.
But the star of the night was the newly crowned punter Matt Darr. Brandon Fields was a very good punter, considered by some to be the best in the league. Some questioned his release, saying it was simply a financial move, with a select few daring to say that it meant the Dolphins weren't interested in winning right now. Darr's performance tonight shut them up. He put on a show tonight, pinning the Bucs inside the 5 yard line three times. He had a beautiful 65 yard punt that came to rest at the 4 yard line. He showed that he earned his roster spot.
With that, the 2015 preseason is over. Miami still has some questions in certain areas, but looks to be ready to make a playoff push this season. The Dolphins already had some tough roster decisions before this game and players like Davis and Gillislee made things even tougher. The regular season starts a week from tonight, with the Dolphins playing in 10 days. Get ready Dolphins fans... football season is here!