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Miami Dolphins winners and losers mid-way through preseason

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins have completed the first half of their 2017 preseason schedule, with the start of the regular season three weeks away. The story of this preseason for the Dolphins has been the injuries the team has suffered, including losing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, cornerback Tony Lippett, and receiver Isaiah Ford for the season. The team has lost a lot of talent - and expectations - already this preseason.

That said, the Dolphins are still half way through their preseason schedule, which means we are starting to get a good idea of who is performing well this summer and who is struggling. Leaving out the injuries, we take a look this morning at the winners and losers through the first part of the summer for the Dolphins.

Winners

Davon Godchaux - Perhaps the surprise of camp and the preseason, Godchaux as a fifth-round pick by Miami this year appears to be the starting defensive tackle next to Ndamukong Suh. He has been impressive every day of camp and in the games, where he has four tackles and is consistently plugging up the middle of the line of scrimmage. He comes into the NFL already working and talking like a professional - a theme we will see throughout the winners and losers list - and it is paying off for him. If he can keep playing like this, and there will still be rookie mistakes at times, but if he can minimize those, Godchaux will free up Suh to do what Suh does, and gives the linebackers a chance to move around without linemen blocking them. Godchaux could have a huge impact on the Dolphins’ defense this year.

DeVante Parker - Professional. That is what Parker has become this year, and it is showing on the field. He has figured out how to rest and recovery his body, he is eating better, and he is playing better. He is running crisp routes, he is going up to get jump balls, and he is looking like the player Miami wanted him to be when they selected him in the first round of the 2015 Draft. Jay Cutler recently described Parker as “a faster Alshon [Jeffery],” and he is playing exactly like that. The hamstring and knee issues that plagued Parker the first two seasons seem to be well in the past now, and it looks like Parker is ready to explode this season.

Xavien Howard - It is kind of amazing that Howard is this far down the list, but that is the kind of training camp/preseason Godchaux and Parker are having. As a rookie, Howard dealt with injuries throughout the season. Now, in his second year, Howard appears ready to become a top cornerback for the Dolphins. He is playing the ball and coming away with turnovers. He is another player who seems to have figured out how to be a professional, and it is reflecting on his play on the field. Omar Kelly recently described Howard’s growth like that of Vontae Davis, and that may be a great example - except Howard appears to have made that jump earlier in his career and without the need to be traded. Howard could be a fun player to watch this year, especially if Byron Maxwell is able to continue to play to a high level, making opposing quarterbacks have to decide between which cornerback they challenge.

Jay Cutler - The Dolphins new starting quarterback signed with the team just before the first preseason game, missing that contest having just practiced one time. He did make his Dolphins debut in last week’s contest against the Baltimore Ravens, and he looked solid if not fully comfortable with everything yet. He may have finished that game just 3-for-6 for 24 yards (plus a pretty 31-yard pass to Parker that was called back by a penalty), but he showed that Adam Gase’s decision to go get the former Chicago Bears quarterback was probably the right move for the team.

Jay Ajayi - Miami’s feature back sustained a concussion early in training camp which caused him to miss the first preseason game. He came back for the second game and he looked like the Jay Ajayi was saw last year. He was running hard, breaking tackles, putting his head down and picking up that extra yard. He also got involved in the passing game, and looked more comfortable doing that this year than he did all of last year. Add the injury to Tannehill into the mix, and the Dolphins’ running back is poised to get a ton of carries this season, and he looks like he is ready to handle that.

Losers

Jordan Phillips - Godchaux’s leap into the starting lineup comes at the expense of Phillips, who as the selection after Parker in 2015 for the Dolphins does not yet seem to have the “professionalism” theme figured out. He has struggled with consistency, something that was mentioned when he was in college and continues now with the Dolphins. Phillips has admitted he has struggled with being able to bring it on every play, and now it may be costing him his starting position. He probably still makes the roster, but it is not as definitive as it once was.

Special teams - Darren Rizzi is a special teams guru, but something is going on with his unit this summer, and it is something we have not seen in the past. Maybe it is because they are relying on so many young players, and players who may not make the regular season roster, but the special teams are a mess right now. The fact that somehow, Rizzi’s head has not exploded on the sideline could be seen as a win, but the players are going to be crushed by their coach, especially if they do not figure it out soon. It is not one player or one aspect of the team right now, it is everything from blown coverage to fumbles to penalties. Nothing is working right on special teams right now, though Rizzi should have it fixed over the next three weeks.

Offensive line - The good news is, Miami has not had their starting lineup playing together this summer, mostly with Mike Pouncey being slowly brought back from his hip injury. Ja’Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil have also been dealing with injuries, while the left guard spot is still an open competition following a torn biceps injury to Ted Larsen. The starters will get together at some point and start getting ready for the season, but the struggles of the offensive line thus far this summer continues concerns about the unit’s depth and whether they are ready to step in if one of the starters are unable to play.

Matt Moore - Miami’s backup quarterback lands on this list simply because Jay Cutler is on the other side of the list. When Tannehill was injured, Moore was immediately elevated into the starter’s role, back in the place where he finished the 2016 season. The Dolphins then went out to get Cutler and relegated Moore back to the second-string position. It is a loss for Moore, even if he did not actually do anything other than what has made him one of the top backup quarterbacks in the league.

Julius Thomas - Injury again makes an appearance on the list, this time with a back injury to Miami’s new starting tight end, but it has simply been a quiet offseason and summer for Thomas. There are big expectations that Thomas will return to the form that had him as a two-time Pro Bowl selection for the Denver Broncos in 2013 and 2014 - when Adam Gase was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator. Maybe it is the back injury, but at some point, the Dolphins need more from Thomas than just the one reception for two yards he picked up against the Ravens.