Following a tumultuous week of injuries, bringing in a newcomer at quarterback, and the team’s first preseason game, the Dolphins took to the practice field once again at their training facility in Davie, Florida.
Much of the spotlight was focused on Jay Cutler, and rightfully so, since the assumed starter took part in just his second practice session with the team since signing one week ago. The Dolphins held Cutler out of their first preseason game on Thursday night, and it wasn’t all that difficult to see why. The former Chicago Bear struggled to gain much steam with the first team offense as live scrimmages began, throwing two interceptions, one of which could have been returned for a touchdown by Byron Maxwell. Thankfully, Cutler salvaged the day with a beautiful deep touchdown pass to DeVante Parker who beat Xavien Howard on the outside.
Cutler wasn’t the only quarterback to struggle though. Matt Moore was also picked off in the red zone, and backups Brandon Doughty and David Fales strained at times to move the offense down the field.
However, a rough day for the offense should mean a great day for the defense, and that was exactly the case on Saturday morning. Safeties Reshad Jones and Maurice Smith each came up with an interception, and the aforementioned Maxwell had an outstanding day in coverage. The team’s top boundary corner had multiple pass breakups and blanketed receivers up and down the field.
One of the most important parts of training camp, especially for us on the outside who love to speculate on the projected week 1 depth chart, is who’s lining up with the first team, second team, etc. Due to injuries and caliber of play during camp thus far, things have shuffled around just a bit down in South Florida.
One of the biggest questions on defense heading into today’s camp was concerning who would replace Raekwon McMillan, who tore his ACL against the Falcons on Thursday night, at middle linebacker. On Saturday, Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke elected to promote Mike Hull to begin practice with the starters as opposed to having Kiko Alonso or Lawrence Timmons shift inside. Hull also got time with the backups.
In the defensive backfield, Michael Thomas shifted between nickel corner and safety with the first team due to Nate Allen’s absence. Bobby McCain also got some work with the first team at nickel, while Alterraun Verner stuck mostly with the second team. Verner saw work both inside and outside. In the trenches, rookie Davon Godchaux continued to start next to Ndamukong Suh with the first team while Jordan Phillips, Nick Williams, and rookie Vincent Taylor all rotated with the second team.
As Phinsider Managing Editor Kevin Nogle noted earlier today, Mike Pouncey had his debut in 11-on-11 drills with the first team offense. Pouncey was limited to a few plays and came in and out during practice. In his brief absences, Kraig Urbik was taking snaps at center with the first team. At running back, Damien Williams began practice with the starters but shared work with Kenyan Drake, while Storm Johnson took most of the second and third team reps. Johnson looks to have the best shot at hanging on as the fourth string back should the coaching staff elect to keep one. Unfortunately, Jay Ajayi continued to sit out while working through the concussion protocol. Ja’Wuan James was also seen in shorts, and not practicing.
One positive note for the offense comes in the form of Mighty Mouse Jakeem Grant whom I got the chance to speak with after practice. Grant noted his developing role in Adam Gase’s offense, and how he feels he’s settling in as a receiver. “I see it progressing,” Grant said. “It’s going really good, actually. Moving to outside, I’ve loved it since then. I think I’ve been doing a great job at it and I feel like I’ve gotten it down. It’s just about being consistent and just making play after play so that coach [Gase] can trust me and the quarterback can trust me.”
When discussing how he’s pushed himself to improve, Grant mentioned the importance of taking advice from Wide Receivers Coach Shawn Jefferson, as well as ensuring that the mental aspect of his game was as sharp as possible. “One thing that Coach Jefferson said, once you start to learn this game, everything will slow down and I felt like that was a good message to me, to slow down because all I’m doing is trying to do things at a fast pace. Sometimes it’s understanding things and taking things slow… Watching more film, in the playbook, and just studying, and just becoming a pro of the game and a student of the game. I think this year two is definitely slowed down for me and I still have errors to correct.”
Last week, one of the world’s fastest athletes of all time, Usain Bolt had his 45-race winning streak ended by USA representative Justin Gatlin at the IAAF World Championship in London. When asked whether or not he could beat Bolt in a race, Grant, one of the fastest players in the NFL, did not back down from the challenge. “He’s not beating me on this field,” Grant exclaimed. “I could understand if we got on the track, but on the field, that’s my turf.” It doesn’t really sound like Grant is ready to slow down anytime soon, and I imagine Dolphins fans are happy to keep it that way.