August is storyline season in the NFL. Without stats to break down, playoff scenarios to debate, and fantasy rosters to set, fans are constantly trying to make sense of various unofficial depth charts and roster battles throughout the league. The Miami Dolphins are no different, and this preseason, there are plenty of intriguing plot lines cropping up as the team prepares to face the Carolina Panthers this week. I’ve highlighted a few below.
Ryan Tannehill takes no prisoners
Ryan Tannehill took a snap during practice and was immediately barraged by a defender. The unlucky rookie who missed his blocking assignment: running back Kalen Ballage. While rookie backs often face a learning curve, especially in blocking, Tannehill was not about to let Ballage off the hook.
The 30-year old quarterback immediately spun around after the would-be sack and fumed at Ballage to get out of the huddle and off of the field. Tannehill was so upset, his words could be heard all the way up in the stands where us spectators were watching with surprised interest. Over his six seasons in Miami, Tannehill has never been known as a “vocal” leader. That was not his only outspoken moment in practice on Sunday. He was constantly barking instructions or encouragement to teammates. Another rookie got a taste of Tannehill’s medicine when tight end Mike Gesicki was slower than Tannehill deemed appropriate in getting to the huddle.
This is a side of Tannehill we’ve never seen before, and one many fans have been hoping would emerge. It appears his teammates have taken notice as well. When I asked right tackle Ja’Wuan James whether Tannehill’s year recovering from his ACL injury changed his demeanor, attitude, etc., James immediately pointed out his starting quarterback’s newfound energy and enthusiasm both on and off the field, and how it’s permeated through the rest of the team.
James prefaced by explaining, “after being out of the game that long, and shoot, going out there for me, that preseason game, it was the most fun I’ve had in a while because football is what I love. It’s what we all love to do.” Tying that into Tannehill’s injury, James continued, “when it’s taken away from you for a bit, you know, you really sit back and see it from a different perspective. I feel like now that [Tannehill] is back, he’s so happy, he’s so involved, he’s so vocal. He missed the game and he’s just happy to be back in it... It’s great to have him back out there.”
Perhaps, as James alluded to, a far more outspoken Tannehill is what we’ll continue to see going forward. After losing offensive leaders in Jarvis Landry and Mike Pouncey during the offseason, the team would benefit from having a strong vocal presence from it’s starting QB.
Questions at cornerback
On one side of the field, Miami’s cornerback situation is as certain as can be. Xavien Howard has been phenomenal throughout training camp, blanketing DeVante Parker day in and day out. He seems to be on his way to embarking on his first Pro Bowl season.
On the other side of the hashmarks, confusion continues to cloud over the team’s #2 CB spot. Over the past few weeks it looked as though a three-way battle between Cordrea Tankersley, Tony Lippett, and Torry McTyer was going to settle the matter. Yet the waters have been muddied even further. During Sunday’s practice, Bobby McCain, who just signed a contract extension that rewarded him for being one of the league’s top nickel CBs, took first-team snaps on the outside opposite Howard. He appeared to be rotating with Tankersley and McTyer.
With rookie first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick being a capable nickel corner on top of his primary safety role, it’s possible the coaches envision a defensive package with Fitzpatrick playing nickel corner while McCain is on the outside. That would leave Tankersley, Lippett, and McTyer as depth options while keeping the team’s best defenders on the field. We’ll have to wait and see what lineups Adam Gase and Matt Burke show during the next few preseason games to see how the rest of the cornerback conundrum shakes out.
Frank Gore is no graybeard
Last week, the Dolphins released the first unnofficial depth chart of the preseason, which listed the first-team running back as “Kenyan Drake—OR—Frank Gore.” Coach Gase cracked a joke on the subject, telling the media that he wrote that “just to be an ***hole,” but I think there’s more to it than he’s letting on.
At Sunday’s practice, the run defense stifled most of the offense’s attempts to move the ball on the ground. Yet Gore was not going to be stopped. He routinely hit the hole with speed and showed more elusiveness than a 35-year old ball carrier should be capable of. In fact, he took a 35-yard rush to the house after making a couple of tacklers miss and outrunning several more. While Drake is certainly next in line to break out this year, expect Gore to be the 1b to Drake’s 1a on the depth chart, not a second string player.
Tight end lineup solidifying
When the team’s first unofficial depth chart listed second-round draft pick Mike Gesicki as the fifth string tight end, we all knew he wouldn’t sit there for long. Yes, this week’s depth chart hasn’t shown any movement, but the practice lineup has. Gesicki has been taking plenty of reps with the first-team offense and has been making play after play in red zone drills. In two tight end sets, he’s played alongside MarQueis Gray and should continue to do so moving forward. A.J. Derby appears to fall in at third on the totem pole, while Durham Smythe, Gavin Escobar, and Thomas Duarte are fighting for a roster spot.