The Miami Dolphins have a slew of roster decisions to make this preseason. Some players will make those choices easier by shining in the spotlight while others fade.
1. Jakeem Grant – The little big man didn’t just show that he belonged in the NFL, he proved he is exactly the kind of versatile weapon Adam Gase and the Dolphins have been looking for. He was consistently open on offense, catching 4 passes for 68 yards. He also returned two kickoffs for 53 yards, and four punts for 60 yards, including a 28 yarder that he nearly broke for a touchdown.
Why It Matters: Aside from the fact that Gase wants as many versatile players as possible on the roster, Grant gives Miami the kind of game-breaking speed that will allow them sit Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry on kickoff and punt returns. Additionally, his speed and agility from the slot creates precisely the kind of mismatches Gase is looking to exploit.
2. Walt Aikens – Aikens showed some real growth Friday night. The 3rd year safety led the Dolphins with 5 tackles, including four solo stops, but more importantly, he tracked down Giants’ QB Ryan Nassib for a strip sack that changed the momentum of the game and put Miami in good field position to tie the score.
Why It Matters: Whether his performance signals that the battle to play safety alongside Pro Bowler Reshad Jones is still open or not, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph can rest a little easier knowing he has another capable option in case Isa Abdual-Quddus doesn’t work out or goes down to injury.
3. Bobby McCain: McCain was thrust into a starting role at outside corner after the Dolphins made a last minute decision not to play Byron Maxwell. They young corner came through with tight coverage all night, including an impressive interception that set up the go-ahead score.
Why It Matters: Depth at cornerback has been one of the Dolphins’ primary concerns this preseason. With a slew of CBs unable to play in the preseason opener, McCain’s performance eased those worries just a bit.
4. Adam Gase: While many fans may have failed to take notice, Gase’s play calling in the preseason opener was more dynamic than what we have seen in most Dolphins regular season games over the past few years.
Why It Matters: By calling just 29 passing plays to 32 running plays, Gase presented a balanced attack that kept the Giants’ defense guessing all night. Equally as important, while we didn’t see much of Tannehill, Gase showed that the Dolphins have incorporated several roll outs into their playbook to take advantage of their starting quarterback’s mobility and ability to throw on the run, something previous coaching staffs have failed to fully exploit.
1. Dallas Thomas: Despite a strong showing in camp, Thomas wilted yet again when it counted. He was ineffective in one-on-one blocking in the running game, and was manhandled as a pass blocker, allowing himself to be driven straight back into Tannehill on a crucial pass play.
Why It Matters: Because Laremy Tunsil played well. Tunsil showed that he was faster and more decisive than Thomas by putting in a solid performance as a pass blocker and consistently getting to the second level against linebackers on running plays. Thomas, statistically the worse guard in the NFL in 2015, versus Tunsil, the top left tackle in the draft. Was this ever really a contest?
2. Kiko Alonso – Granted, we only got a small sampling of Alonso on Friday night, but he literally fell down in the clutch as Giants running back Rashad Jennings slipped through his grasp on the way to a 3 yard touchdown run to open the scoring.
Why It Matters: Alonso did a good job of getting into the backfield on that play, but the Dolphins, who lack depth at linebacker, will need him to finish plays when it counts. Alonso could have had a tackle for a loss. Instead, he gave up a TD. As the starting middle linebacker playing behind Ndamukong Suh, Alonso should have many more opportunities to bring runners down behind the line. He will need to do a better job from here on out.
3. Branden Albert – Albert looked old, stiff and flatfooted as he was outplayed by former Dolphin Olivier Vernon, who consistently put pressure on Tannehill.
Why It Matters: Albert is one of the standard bearers of the Dolphins’ offensive line, and Miami will need him in top form by the season opener in Seattle or Tannehill could have a very rough day. Playing alongside Dallas Thomas didn’t do Albert any favors, but if the veteran can’t get up to speed quickly, Thomas may not be the only one who gets beaten out for their starting job by Tunsil.