Well Fin Fans, the long awaited return of football is finally here! Sure it’s just preseason but as many have pointed out “at least its real football!” I particularly have been looking forward to this moment since last football season and have plenty to go over from last nights Dolphins/Bears game.
The set up:
The Miami Dolphins are looking to over come their 3 seasons of mediocrity since the new regime came into town. 8-8 isn’t going to cut it in a year where the owner has opened up the teams wallet to help them succeed. Where as the Bears are trying to forget they even had a 2014 season which lead to only 5 wins. Miami has plenty of new and young talent to groom and Chicago has a new Offense to run under Adam Gase and a new look 3-4 defense.(Yes you read that correctly, Chicago is running a 3-4!)
So which team had the better night? Well, being as each team only had their starters in for maybe 2 series tops, here are some quick things I pondered throughout the game:
- Miami opened up the game with a 14 play, 85 yard drive. QB: Tannehill went 6/7 for 56 yards and a TD to his favorite target last year, Jarvis Landry and most of his passes looked sharp. Redzone presence needs to be established early this season! He also read the pocket well on 3rd and 2 and scrambled for a first down. Good to see him work in a little bit of run even if it wasn’t intentional.
- Running Backs: Lamar Miller continued to show why he’s their clear pick as starting RB. His first run was stopped at the line only to be followed up by a 27 yard bounce outside after the gap closed. Damien Williams will fight the rest of the preseason out to split carries with Lamar Miller and be the 3rd down back. Williams didn’t really impress with under 3 ypc, but being possible short yardage backs don’t let that be how you gauge his progress. He showed speed getting to the outside a time or two, but probably should add a few extra pounds of muscle to power through and fight for the extra yards. He showed he can be a threat out of the backfield catching the football twice out of the backfield for 28 yards. As long as he can pick up defenders in the backfield and provide protection on pass plays, he should hold of LaMichael James for the 3rd down role.
- Wide Receivers: Being as starters Devante Parker and Kenny Stills were sidelined this game, you got to see a few other potential playmakers in the starting rotations. Greg Jennings sighting! In his first game in a Dolphins uniform he didn’t do much, but lack of playing time will do that. 1 catch for 19 yards though proves he excels better in Miami’s offense than being converted to a deep threat in Minnesota’s. Joe Philbin knows how to play to his skill set and he’ll be a great veteran addition. Jarvis Landry did what Jarvis Landry does, find ways to get open. He will be the Dolphins short yardage WR so his 2 catches for 11 yards and a TD is more impressive than it sounds. All he needs to do to continue to be a success, find the chains and find the endzone.
- Tight Ends: I don’t know if I blinked and missed him or if Jordan Cameron didn’t play. However, Dion Sims made a few catches that make me feel better about Miami letting Charles Clay walk. 2 catches for 15 yards allows me to believe in limited play he could pick up where he left off filing in last season. If both he and Cameron are healthy, they could be an excellent 1-2 punch.
- Line: Oh what a difference from practice to the game field. 7 drop backs by Tannehill, 7 times he went untouched. Even when the pocket seemed to collapse on 3rd down, he still got enough of a push to tuck the ball and pick up the first down. If they can give him the time he needs to make the right reads, the offense will be pretty darn good. Funny how much better they looked when not facing Suh and Wake and company. Adding a healthy Brandon Albert into the mix can only make them that much better. Still going to need to see more playing time out of them before deciding whether Evan Mathews is an over spend.
- DEF: Relax Dolphins fans! Come down from the ledge. Just because Suh’s name wasn’t called as a playmaker and he had a penalty on the first play, doesn’t mean he wasn’t a presence. A double team freed up Cameron Wake to tee off on poor Jay Cutler. A penalty negated the play but you can get used to seeing that for sure. First series forced a stingy 3 and out.
- K/P: Brandon Fields looked like his old self with a booming 58 yard punt with plenty of hang time. In a battle for field position, he’s one guy who can’t afford too many short kicks this season. Caleb Sturgis on the other hand might be enjoying his last few days as a Dolphin. The extra point after the TD was good, but it slowly drifted left. Which who cares except remember this season its no longer a chip shot. Same thing with his next field goal attempt 31 yards and good, but slowly drifted towards the left upright. Immediately following that, alright is he running around unbalanced with his left shoe off?? He’s again pulls his kick to the left and out of bounds. Miami can’t afford to lose the battle of field position again this season and expect to be more than an 8 win team again. Make opponents use the whole field against the Dolphins defense and they’ll be battered and bruised early.
The back ups:
It really is hard to judge each individual unit like I did with the starters. When it comes to second stringers, most of the time we watch them in hopes that a starter doesn’t get injured. Depth is key in the long season, but a lot of these players aren’t going to push the starters out of their role. That being said here’s a few things I noticed:
- Matt Moore showed why he’s a good BACK UP quarterback. He made a few good throws, but a lot more were behind his WRs and were no where close to hitting him in stride. When he scrambled too, both he and I feared for his life. There was no slide and he would just turn his back, stop, and take the hit. Not pretty at all.
- McCloud Bethel-Thompson had a beautiful over the shoulder throw to LaRon Byrd who made the big play. Shortly after that however, he and Josh Freeman reminded me just how lucky Miami is to have Tannehill with 3 int’s between the two of them and less than 50% completion.
- I’m not sure of the rest of the position battles, but there definitely is some depth along the defensive front. Defensive lineman look to be a deep unit that is hungry to put last year’s break down behind them.
- Same could be said of the WR group. Rashard Mathews seems to be getting on the right pages with Tannehill in the preseason and should continue to grow. He fell on the depth chart due to who they’ve brought in, but his 11 yard catch on 3rd and 7 shows his qb’s confidence in him. LaRon Byrd showed he deserves a second look with a great highlight reel catch and Cobi Hamilton had an impressive stat line with 4 catches for 49 yards. Matt Hazel with 2 catches for 34 yards. Four spots on the receiving core are spoken for, but that last spot or two is going to be a fun battle for a couple weeks.
- Can LaMichael James take carries from Damien Williams? He’s making plays in practice but he can’t have that drop out of the backfield. He’s got the speed to claim corners, and he kept his legs churning after being stood up, but if he wants to see carries, he better make those kind of plays. He will make the field on game day after showing what he can do as a return man, but he’s got ground to make up on Williams for sure.
- If Mike Gillislee wants a roster spot, you can’t turn the ball over after taking a chunk out of the field.
With so much to focus on this game, there was a lot of fanfare, and a lot to get excited for. While a loss is never good, better the preseason than regular season. Tannehill come out with a hot hand made his throws. The first team defense might be something to reckon with. However I still have a few questions going into the other 3 games. Did we go for it on 4th because it’s preseason or lack of faith in an inconsistent kicking game? While second team produced on the field, will any of them step up as playmakers? Who’s hungry and who’s just practice squad material? Can the guys on the bubble prove they want to suit up on game day? Can they as a team, cut down the penalties, one of Joe Philbin’s biggest pet peeves? 12 penalties for a total of 80 yards, won’t cut it on game day! One things for sure though, Miami is looking better at this point in the year than they have in recent years.