Miami won their first preseason game of the season against the Giants on Friday night after a slow start. The Dolphins linebackers had some miscues but looked good overall in their debut.
All the talk coming out of the Dolphins training camp so far has been about how dominant Miami’s defense has been in practice. As the deepest position on the side of the ball, it’s no surprise that the defensive line has received the credit for much of their success. Meanwhile, the Dolphins secondary is still looking for answers as to who will start at cornerback opposite Byron Maxwell as injuries continue to plague Miami’s depth issues. This continues to leave little mention of Miami’s progress at linebacker.
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The hot topic on Miami’s linebackers has been the same since March, surrounding the continuing progress of Kiko Alonso. Alonso has been one of the Dolphins best defensive players in training camp and Miami is hoping that he can continue his excellence into the regular season. Dolphins linebackers coach Matt Burke was asked if Alonso was back to playing the way he was as a rookie when he recorded 159 tackles with Buffalo:
"“Absolutely. He’s been great. He’s really taken to what we’re trying to do…He’s got a great feel in space for us and getting in throwing lanes. He covers a lot of ground.”"
The Dolphins have loved what they’ve seen out of Alonso so far in camp, but he too, looked to struggle a bit along with other Dolphins starters in their preseason debut against the Giants. Alonso missed a tackle on Giants running back Rashad Jennings on the opening drive that allowed Jennings to score the Giants lone touchdown of the evening.
The Dolphins starters struggled on both sides of the ball so Alonso should not be singled out in any way. Miami sat star defensive front players Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and Mario Williams, which seemed to have played a factor for Miami’s linebackers to adjust to early. The Giants, as expected, sat out some of their top players as well. New York decided to rest starting quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib got the start on Friday night.
The run defense still looked to be a concern but with their top players missing, there’s no reason to panic quite yet. All of Miami’s starting linebackers were in the lineup but it was the reserves who looked impressive against the Giants. The defense was ugly in the opening series on Friday night but settled in shortly after. They held the Giants offense to just a field goal late in the 1st quarter after a Matt Moore interception setup the Giants on Miami’s 11-yard line. The Giants were shut out for the remaining three quarters.
Reserve linebacker Spencer Paysinger recovered a fumble in the 2nd quarter and returned it 24 yards. Paysinger’s fumble recovery gave the Dolphins first and goal in Giants territory, and setup Miami’s first touchdown of the night one play later. The turnover was one of four on the night for the Dolphins, a promising sign for a defense that has struggled to create turnovers the past few seasons.
Miami may have been playing against the Giants reserves by the end of the 1st quarter, but it was good to see the defensive reserves turn things around, despite Miami’s concern with a lack of depth. Second-year linebacker Mike Hull led the Dolphins with 7 tackles on the night followed by James-Michael Johnson with 5.
As previously mentioned, Miami’s cornerback depth is of major concern. The depth at linebacker is also very thin for Miami but when the Dolphins signed Chris Culliver this week, they elected to cut LB Danny Lansanah to make room for the veteran corner. Lansanah had been signed last week by Miami after spending the last two seasons in Tampa Bay.
All in all, there were some good things we saw from Miami last night despite the slow start. The lack of attention from training camp for Miami’s linebackers should be taken as a good sign to Dolphins fans. If they were performing poorly we would surely hear about it. But instead, they look to be benefiting from a dominant defensive front.
The linebackers and the team will have another week to get better before their next preseason game. The Dolphins will travel to AT&T Stadium next Friday night to battle the Dallas Cowboys. Look for the Dolphins starters to get more reps in their 2nd preseason game.