The Miami Dolphins lost to the Tennessee Titans in the fourth preseason game of the 2016 NFL schedule on Thursday, dropping the contest 21-10. The game was not a confidence builder for Miami, especially for the reserve players who were on the field for the majority of the game, but it was not all bad, with some players standing out.
The game also featured the debut of the renovated Hard Rock Stadium, which appeared to get good reviews from just about everyone in attendance. Hard Rock Stadium, with its canopy, new sod type, and new video boards, had a successful soft opening on Thursday, and now will turn to the games that count for both the Dolphins and the University of Miami.
Other than the stadium being a winner for Miami, who else won? Who were among the losers for the game?
Xavien Howard, cornerback - The Dolphins’ second-round draft choice this year made his debut on Thursday after dealing with a knee injury and surgery back in June. Expected to win the starting cornerback spot opposite Byron Maxwell, a lot is riding on Howard, and he seemed to step up on Thursday to assuage some of the fears. He had three tackles in the game and did not seem to have any rust after his recovery time. It was one preseason game, and there will be rookie mistakes, but Howard did appear to lock up the starting role.
Brandon Doughty, quarterback - There is no guarantee that the Dolphins are going to keep three quarterbacks on the roster this year, but Doughty played Thursday night like he was looking to force the team to find him the roster position. He finished the night 8-for-12 for 98 yards with a 91.7 passer rating. In comparison, Zac Dysert, who has bee considered in a neck-and-neck race with Doughty for the potential last quarterback spot, was 10-for-16 for 85 yards and an interception, giving him a 50.3 passer rating. The offense seemed more fluid with Doughty on Thursday, and, if Miami can find a way to keep three quarterbacks, Doughty should have done enough to earn the spot.
Daniel Thomas, running back - Fans and analysts typically hate the mention of Thomas’ name. The former second-round pick by the Dolphins has been a disappointment, but there he was last night picking up 31 yards on 10 carries including a one-yard touchdown run. He looked strong and determined when he got the ball, and it could make the coaches have to take a second look at him before Saturday’s 53-man roster deadline. He also caught one pass for three yards, but had a chance for a long completion when he broke out of the backfield on a wheel route, only to have Dysert overthrow him.
Jay Ajayi, running back - It was a rough game for Ajayi, starting with a fumble on the first play from scrimmage. He just appeared out of sorts on Thursday, though he did average 4.3 yards on his three carries (13 total yards). He was targeted once in the passing game, dropping the ball on what was likely a 10-yard slant route pickup. It is not a night that is going to suddenly plummet Ajayi off the roster, but it was the kind of night that might lead the Dolphins to start Arian Foster, who sat out the game, rather than Ajayi.
Damien Williams, running back - The third running back to appear in this week’s winners/losers, William is the other half of Daniel Thomas’ strong performance. Williams, who would likely be the player released if Miami decided they wanted to keep Thomas, picked up just three yards on four carries Thursday. He also had one reception for five yards. It was not a good game for a player who probably needed a good game just to end any questions about a roster slot. Now, the team has to consider if Thomas is the better choice as a reserve running back.
Tony Lippett, cornerback - First-and-foremost, that interception was impressive. That play notwithstanding, Lippett did not have the best of games. He continues to get beat on slant routes, and it has to be a concern at this point. Lippett is still just a second-year cornerback, converting from being a college wide receiver, so he still has things to learn. His biggest issue on Thursday may have been the strong debut from Howard.