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. Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett – McCain and Lippett redeemed their poor performances from a week ago with a pair of interceptions and long returns. Lippett returned his acrobatic pick for 22 yards, while McCain ran his INT back for 27 yards to the Titan’s 22 yard line, setting up Miami’s only first half score.
Why It Matters: Regardless of how the cornerback battle goes, McCain and Lippett will both see plenty of playing time this season, and given the feast or famine nature of Vance Joseph’s defense, their big play capabilities will be crucial to offsetting defensive mistakes. Additionally, their ability to bounce back from a bad game eases concerns, if only slightly, regarding the secondary’s lack of depth.
2. Xavier Howard – Howard didn’t make big plays like Lippett and McCain, but in some ways, he did something even more important. He didn’t make huge mistakes, and for a rookie making his NFL debut, even against backups, that was good enough.
Why It Matters: Whether he starts week one or not, Howard will, in all likelihood, win the first team job opposite Byron Maxwell at some point. The fact that he put in a solid performance and wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment only serves to bolster the hope that he will bring some much needed stability to the cornerback position, and perhaps even become the team’s #1 pass defender by season’s end..
1. The Running Backs: The Dolphins’ running game, which managed a measly 53 yards on 22 carries, failed in every way. Jay Ajayi opened the night by fumbling deep in Miami territory, setting up the Titan’s first TD. As a receiver, Kenyan Drake flashed on a 33 yard reception, but as a runner, he averaged a mere 1.5 yards per carry. Damien Williams was even worse, gaining just 3 yards on 4 carries. More importantly, he failed to convert a 4th and 1. William’s performance was so bad, in fact, that it may have been enough to forfeit his roster spot to Isaiah Pead, who didn’t even play due to injury.
Why It Matters: Precluding a few exceptions, namely Pead against the Giants and Cowboys, Miami’s running game has been abysmal this preseason, and the long term effects of that could prove disastrous. If defenses don’t respect the Dolphins’ ground game, it will become open season on Ryan Tannehill, and Miami fans have already suffered through far too much of that. Furthermore, a balanced attack is key to Gase’s offensive scheme, because without that, the passing game will never reach its full potential. Of course, this could all change drastically once the games are for real, but there are few reasons to believe it will.
2. The Run Defense – Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry scored a touchdown and ran for 62 first-half yards on just seven carries, but the deluge didn’t stop there. Overall, the Dolphins gave up 3 rushing TDs and 128 yards on 31 carries.
Why It Matters: Miami has given up a total of 487 yards on 112 carries this preseason.That doesn’t bode well, particularly for a defense whose success hinges on forcing rivals into obvious passing situations. Worse still, tackling remains an issue, and so long as that’s the case, there is little hope of shutting down opposing teams’ running backs and teeing of on their QBs. Dolphins fans can only hope last week’s dress rehearsal against Atlanta, where the starting defense held the Falcons to just 31 yards on 15 carries, was more indicative of what we will see in the regular season than their showings against New York, Dallas and Tennessee.