Miami Dolphins Atlanta Falcons Preseason Game Review
By Eric Roddy
Despite losing the first preseason contest of the year 16-10 to the Atlanta Falcons, the Miami Dolphins left a lot for the fans to be excited for this season . I had the good fortune of attending the game, and got to see a lot of things up close that I otherwise would have missed on a television broadcast of the game. I understand that this was just preseason, but that being said, I think there is a lot to look forward to this season.
First of all, the first team offense under new OC Bill Lazor looked FANTASTIC. They were a completely different unit from last season, and this game proved that maybe it truly was Mike Sherman that was costing this offense. Lazor’s offense, run by QB Ryan Tannehill (who by the way was a perfect 6/6 for 62 yds on his only drive of the night) marched straight down the field and punched in an early touchdown in less than 5 minutes. They looked efficient, smart, and explosive. Sherman’s up the middle running plays on first down were replaced by Lazor’s quick outs and short routes for 9 yards, leaving the Dolphin offense with 2nd and short and 3rd and short. Lazor played to Tannehill’s strengths, and got him out on the run and out of the pocket, leaving him with the option of running should his receivers not be open (which they were). The offense played with a purpose, with a sense of urgency, and Tannehill looked not only calm but comfortable behind a very promising offensive line. It is possible that this offensive line, composed of James, Colledge, Satele, Thomas and Albert may be our starting five to begin the season, barring any setbacks. A beautifully times and orchestrated drive ended on a touchdown toss from Tannehill to a healthy WR Brandon Gibson in the flat. I and my fellow surrounding Dolphins fans in the Georgia Dome were elated and partially in disbelief.
Moving past the stellar first team offense, I noticed that some old reoccurring themes from last year’s first team defense have still yet to be sorted out. For starters, this young group of linebackers (namely Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe really struggle with tackling. Koa Misi and Jason Trusnik surprisingly looked great, while Wheeler and Ellerbe seemed to fail to wrap up the Falcons’ backs and receivers after making initial contact. Tackling in all phases of the defense is definitely something Kevin Coyle needs to work more on. Former Rams CB Cortland Finnegan looked like a shell of his former self, missing on two pass interruptions that could have been interceptions early on. He got himself in the right place at the right time, but either missed the tackle or failed to pick off the pass.
The Dolphins did however strike gold by choosing DT Randy Starks over Paul Soliai (now an Atlanta Falcon). Starks proved he can still play at a high level, bursting through the Falcons’ O-Line on multiple plays including a tackle for loss. Although Starks may not be able to play 60 minutes a game anymore, he is still very valuable when on the field. Second year CB Will Davis had himself quite an impressive game, though he struggled to catch easy interceptions on two different occasions. It was nice to see Davis making plays on the ball, but was frustrating to not see the youngster come away with an interception, something the Dolphins have struggled to do on defense lately.
On special teams, the Dolphins saw two great returns by Marcus Thigpen and rookie WR Jarvis Landry. Thigpen finally looked like his former self from two years ago as he took a kickoff and immediately sped to the outside. Landry on the other hand took a punt back to the Falcon 25, and demonstrated his combination of underrated speed, great moves, and his ability to shed tacklers. I believe that Landry will ultimately take over the return job from Thigpen before the season is over. Rookie LB Jordan Tripp was also an animal on special teams, and it appears as though he will make his niche there, unless the Dolphins’ linebackers continue to struggle.
Seventh round draft pick Terrence Fede from Marist looked outstanding on special teams and has a second stringer on defense. The big man has incredible strength and speed, and broke up many plays by exploding through the Falcons’ offensive line. With Starks getting older, I would not be surprised to see Miami keep Fede to groom him into one day becoming a starter. He is good enough to play in this league, and showed a lot of value and versatility on special teams.
Lastly, the second string offense, led by QB Seth Lobato, struggled to move the ball. The young QB struggled with his timing, and short armed multiple quick routes and easy throws. It may have been nerves, but Lobato did not look good filling in for Miami backup Matt Moore. I would not be surprised if he does not make it through training camp.
One of the brightest points of the night (besides that Bill Lazor offense) was kicker Danny Hrapmann, recently signed in order to replace the injured Caleb Sturgis. Hrapmann connected on his lone 42 yard field goal and extra point, and booted multiple kickoffs into the end zone. Sturgis was very shaky at times last season, and Hrapmann could make things interesting at the kicking position should he continue to succeed.
Oh, and punter Brandon Fields is still one of the best in the league.