The Miami Dolphins and coach Mike McDaniel now have a game under their belt this preseason.
Although most starters rested in the exhibition at the Buccaneers, the pair of joint practices through the week in Tampa allowed a glimpse into what several of those first-teamers can look like against a championship contender. The preseason game, a win, 26-24, offered a look into McDaniel’s game-day operation and management as a first-time head coach, along with opportunities for bench players, those on the edge of the 53-man regular-season roster and roster longshots.
The Dolphins go back to the intrasquad setting in practice this week with three sessions closed to fans before Saturday’s home debut against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Dolphins’ third week of training camp and the preseason opener:
McDaniel is comfortable with Tua’s progress
McDaniel felt encouraged with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s practice performances to the point that he didn’t feel he needed to trot him out for the preseason opener, even for a drive or two. Tagovailoa has pieced together a series of effective, efficient practices where he has also flashed some improved throwing strength. Rookie Skylar Thompson managed the offense well as the exhibition was his show, with backup Teddy Bridgewater only available if needed to get through the game. McDaniel still feels he will likely give Tagovailoa preseason reps before the regular season, most likely on Saturday against the Raiders.
This defense can still frustrate a quarterback
It was evidenced in the Dolphins’ Wednesday joint practice session with the Buccaneers, while Tom Brady was still with the team before taking his personal leave. Brady was visibly flustered, looking around for answers to Miami’s pressure, which wasn’t even showing its most exotic blitzes against Tampa’s rebuilding offensive line. Emmanuel Ogbah had a pair of reps in proximity where he had one would-be sack and another pass bat-down at the line of scrimmage, a testament to two things he’s known to do as he comes off his lucrative offseason extension.
Terron Armstead is nearing readiness for season
The Dolphins have been slowly working Armstead back into increased practice reps to give his surgically repaired knee time to make progress. Then, he saw his greatest practice workload of training camp in Thursday’s joint session before getting the weekend off. Armstead participated throughout 11-on-11 drills that day before finally reaching his limit on the final drive. Keeping the prized free agent acquisition is paramount as tackle depth is a major concern for Miami. Larnel Coleman and Kion Smith allowed sacks and/or pressures in Saturday’s preseason game, and Greg Little didn’t even play as a late scratch following the initial wave of players announced as resting.
What do we make of Mike Gesicki in this offense?
The tight end barely sees any targets in practice, and then the first play of the preseason is drawn up for him. It felt odd that Gesicki, the team’s franchise-tagged player, was put out there while so many other starters rested. McDaniel acknowledged he wanted to get him that opening play, but he also noted the difficulties on the tight end position in a transition to his offense. This is especially true for Gesicki, who will be asked to block more than he has been used to in four NFL seasons.
Connor Williams’ snaps still an issue
As the free agent acquisition on the offensive line moves to center from playing guard his four years with the Dallas Cowboys, Williams has had several snaps that, while not egregiously poor, have been off-target enough to throw off the rhythm of a play. It continued in joint practices with Tampa Bay. He’s been working on it, and we didn’t get to see if he could get it fixed in a game setting. Backup center Michael Deiter, who has also played guard in his career, returned to practice from his foot injury this week, offering an option if Williams is needed to move back to his natural position.
Cornerback depth a concern
The Dolphins could use the return of Byron Jones off the physically-unable-to-perform list soon because they may not want to see what it looks like in the regular season if a backup cornerback has to get plugged in with the All-Pro Xavien Howard on the other side and reliable Nik Needham in the nickel. Keion Crossen has been sound and Elijah Campbell, who can play both corner and safety, had a solid exhibition, coming up with an interception, but now Trill Williams got injured in the preseason game. Noah Igbinoghene was picked on by Brady in the Wednesday joint practice, and he was also one of the defenders in the area of the first-quarter passing touchdown surrendered on Saturday.
Lynn Bowden’s game on Saturday, with three receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown, either reinserts him into the competition for a roster spot after a quiet three weeks of camp or increases his trade value. Either way, it’s a win-win for the Dolphins in a deep receiver room. Contrarily, Preston Williams, who is listed as a No. 2 wide receiver on the depth chart and reportedly available in trade talks after voicing his frustrations with lacking opportunities, has remained absent from the offense. Tight end Adam Shaheen, as part of a similarly deep tight end room, was traded in the past week, but the deal was rescinded based on his failed physical with the Houston Texans.
Run game hasn’t gotten going
The Dolphins had 3 yards rushing in the first half Saturday before a 21-yard scramble from Skylar Thompson and 20-yard scamper from Myles Gaskin in the second half padded the total to 49. That left a lot to be desired from a touted McDaniel run game, albeit with Armstead and Williams out, along with top running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. It would’ve been preferable to see the functionality of the run game in McDaniel’s first exhibition, but he attributed it to a Buccaneers commitment to stop the run. The play action still worked well, noticeably once when Thompson found Bowden open deep to start the second half.
Does this team still need another inside linebacker?
Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts didn’t play on Saturday, so we know it’s not the top unit we saw. Duke Riley is a valued rotational piece that can come in and allow Baker to shift outside. Sam Eguavoen had a rough drive with a key missed tackle, and he later made up for it in the right place at the right time with a fumble return for a touchdown. Rookie Channing Tindall is still learning. Could the Dolphins look into Bears middle linebacker Roquan Smith, who is on the trade block? Or experienced free agents Dont’a Hightower, Alec Ogletree, Reuben Foster, to name a few?
Jason Sanders back to 2020 form?
The Dolphins kicker has alternated good and bad seasons through his four-year NFL career. Ninety percent or better on field goals in 2020 and 2018 while in the 70s last season and in 2019. By that logic, he’s due for an accurate-kicking 2022 campaign. It’s off to a great start as he went 4 for 4 in Saturday’s exhibition with successful boots from 33, 52, 23 and 53 yards.