We’ve had a couple of days to digest the first-quarter debacle in the Georgia Dome on Friday night. The concerns that arose from Henne’s two picks, Daniel Thomas having no room to run, and the first-team defense getting shredded on the ground, haven’t magically evaporated.
Excluding the play of the starting defense, which is nothing to worry about as far as I’m concerned, as there are too many talented players and too bright of a mind calling the shots in Mike Nolan to waste any time or energy getting bent out of shape over one drive in the first preseason game, fans have a legitimate reason to worry about this team.
When the defense returns to form, the Dolphins will still have the ability to compete with anybody, but it’s hard to argue that this team is any better than last season’s 7-9 squad if Henne is going to continue to stare down receivers and the interior offensive line is still going to get pushed around.
These were really concerns that were already present heading into Friday’s opener, however. What we saw in Atlanta was worrisome, yes, but being that it was the first game, a couple weeks into the new season, it was, believe it or not, no reason to jump to conclusions.
That’s what the preseason is for, getting mistakes out of the way. Players and teams only get better as training camp and the exhibition season progresses. Judging by Friday night, the Dolphins have a long way to go.
We’ll have to wait and see if they improve enough in the concerning areas to make a difference this season. But the point is, it’s way too early to ride anyone off after one quarter of action. A collective deep breath is in order.
Nonetheless, these preseason games are all about making an impression. Impressions were certainly made Friday night, some for better, some for worse. Let’s see which players’ stock are on the rise and which players have hurt their cause a week into the preseason.
Phillip Livas: Let’s begin with the obvious. Phillip Livas, a relatively unknown undrafted Louisiana Tech product, stole the show with an explosive performance in the return game. Judging by the fact that he nearly broke a couple kick returns for big yardage as well, his electrifying 75-yard punt return touchdown hardly seemed like a fluke.
While Livas is on the right track if he wants to be one of the surprise members of the 2011 Miami Dolphins, he’s going to need to avoid mistakes and continue to show big-play ability in the final three exhibitions.
Does the name Chris Williams ring a bell? The same guy who had one solid game returning kicks in the 2009 preseason, only to see his opportunity at making the team bounce off his facemask, muffing a punt the following week. If we see more good things from Livas against the Panthers on Friday, though, keeping six receivers will become a real possibility.
Roberto Wallace: Staying on the topic of receivers, a unit that suddenly appears to be one of the deepest positions on the team, Roberto Wallace inched a little closer to cementing himself on the roster if he hasn’t already. Sparano hinted that he was the man to beat for the fourth receiver spot before Wallace’s three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.
Now I’m starting to wonder how close he is to seriously pushing for extended playing time in the regular season. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll loves to utilize four-receiver sets, further adding to Wallace’s value this year.
A.J. Edds: Edds’ debut in a Dolphins’ uniform was long overdue, but he lived up to expectations in his first game as essentially an additional fourth-round pick in this year’s draft class considering he missed all of 2010 with a torn ACL. He led all Dolphins with seven tackles and flashed some playmaking ability with a sack.
Jimmy Wilson: We all finally got a glimpse of what the media has been ranting and raving about in practice when Jimmy Wilson got to the quarterback on a corner blitz and forced a fumble in the process. Throw in his five tackles and it appears the hype has some merit.
I must admit, though, I’m a little disappointed to hear Sparano say Wilson will be playing corner exclusively now. Sean Smith and Vontae Davis project to lockdown the starting corner spots for years to come. I just don’t see Wilson being a significant contributor at the position anytime soon.
At strong safety, however, 33-year-old Yeremiah Bell isn’t going to be around forever. I was under the impression that Wilson could emerge as Bell’s eventual successor. We’ll see how he does at corner, though, where he doesn’t have much work left to clinch a roster spot.
Matt Moore: I don’t want to make a huge deal out of Moore’s performance Friday night, when he threw for 123 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Yes, he was solid and certainly looks the part of reliable backup.
But Henne looked good against the Falcons’ second-team defense too, going 69 yards in his final two throws, the final pass being the 44-yard touchdown bomb to Hartline.
It was still a nice sign from Moore, though, who needs Henne to play his way out of the starting job, something that doesn’t exactly appear to be a long shot.
Nolan Carroll: Carroll was exposed some in coverage Friday night, getting picked on by Matt Ryan then John Parker Wilson. Now that the Dolphins have Phillip Livas and a couple other potentially explosive return options, Carroll’s days at kick returner appear to be a thing of the past.
I don’t sense that he’s a possible cut, as he’s only a second-year player with plenty of upside and the Dolphins invested quite a few snaps into his development a year ago. But he could become more and more vulnerable to getting passed up on the depth chart by Jimmy Wilson if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry.
Vernon Carey: Carey’s first game at right guard was far from a success. He struggled to create any push and let his man get inside on him a few times, leading to Daniel Thomas’ holes being more clogged than they already were.
You would have to expect there to be some bumps in the road early on for a player trying to play and learn a new position, but I’m beginning to worry that this move is not only going to downgrade the Dolphins at right tackle, but right guard as well.
Richie Incognito: When the Dolphins resigned Incognito, many believed the Dolphins would be moving him to center because he was merely mediocre at left guard in 2010.
I’m beginning to believe calling Incognito mediocre is being nice. The guy just doesn’t have the athleticism to pull, nor does he create the amount of push you would expect from a big, burly interior lineman.
Chad Henne: I hate to mention Chad Henne’s two picks again, and truth be told, I think many fans are overreacting by giving up on him because of one quarter of action in the first preseason game.
But what does really concern me is the fact that Henne is still staring down receivers. Just watch where his head turns immediately after the snap. Chances are you’re watching a stare down that won’t end until Henne has thrown to his primary target, regardless of what the coverage gives him.
If that trend continues, the light bulb will never come on for Henne. Defenses are far too advanced for that much predictability.
Kory Sheets: It’s tough blaming Kory too much for his struggles Friday night. After all, he was nearly simultaneously met by a defended as he received the carry on a couple of occasions. Yes, the blocking was that bad.
Nic Grigsby was slightly more productive with his opportunities, though, taking his seven carries for 22 yards while Sheets only managed 18 yards on 9 attempts- a lousy two yards-per-carry.
He also returned his only kick for 17 yards and appears third in line for return duties behind Phillip Livas and Clyde Gates. And with the possibility of the Dolphins keeping six receivers this year with Livas’ emergence as a potential dangerous return-specialist, they may do so at the expense of a fourth running back, which would likely be Sheets.