No Room for Error: Which Dolphins Players Need Strong Performances in Week 2?
You’re mostly forgiven if you missed out on Miami’s first preseason game, especially after the 50-minute weather delay. We all know that the real action starts in third week of exhibition games, but that by no means should suggest that we can’t learn from the prior matchups. Head Coach Adam Gase remained cautious against the Giants, opting to rest multiple starters on both sides of the ball. He should remain consistent in that approach in Week 2, while preparing his starters for a larger role against Atlanta on August 25. Although there were multiple bright spots for the Dolphins in their first game action of 2016, there are just as many players that need to step up their game in the showdown with the Cowboys. Let’s take a look at who needs a strong performance in the second week of preseason to either secure a roster spot, or to simply keep a starting job.
Miami fans may collectively explode if Tannehill doesn’t drastically raise his level of play on Friday. While preseason performances by veteran players can usually be taken with a grain of salt, Tannehill is obviously different. He has had high expectations placed on him since the hiring of Gase, a quarterback guru of sorts, and he disappointed against New York.
It is understandably difficult to get into a rhythm when partaking in just two drives, but it is nearly impossible to justify a 2/4 passing performance for a measly 8 yards. To make matters worse, the starting offense failed to pick up a first down. Tannehill has taken responsibility for ensuring the offense runs smoothly, but failed to lead his teammates to success this time around.
On two plays against the Giants, Tannehill froze in the face of pressure and either missed reads or failed to go through his progression. His processing will have to be smoother in his second preseason action.
I went into exhibition season hoping to see real improvement from the 5th year quarterback but, for this coming week at least, even seeing Tannehill and the starters move the chains will allow Dolphins fans to take a major sigh of relief.
Isaiah Pead, Daniel Thomas & Damien Williams:
These three will obviously fail to garner the attention that Tannehill will in the preseason, but unlike the starting quarterback, Pead, Thomas and Williams are fighting for their jobs. They already figured to play small roles at the beginning of the offseason with Jay Ajayi locked in as the starter and Kenyan Drake tossed into the fold. Plus, the addition of Arian Foster sent them even further down the totem pole. Now they are stuck in a battle to be the final running backs added to the 53-man roster.
It is very likely that four running backs are going to be kept heading into the regular season. That leaves two of these three to be the odd-men out. Each had his bright spots in Week 1 of preseason, with Pead being perhaps the most impressive. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 10 carries, although over half of those yards came on his first touch of the game:
Thomas also outperformed the minimal expectations that were placed on him in his second stint in Miami, totaling 40 yards on 10 carries. While a 4.0 YPC isn’t going to blow any of us away, it is certainly a step up from the last time he donned a Dolphins uniform.
Similarly, Williams had a solid, but far from spectacular, game to start 2016. With Foster and Drake both inactive, Williams operated as the team’s primary backup, which theoretically should be a positive sign about his chances of sticking with the Dolphins. Additionally, Williams converted a five-yard touchdown after Spencer Paysinger’s strip-sack of Ryan Nassib. Despite Williams’ seven rushes only netting 13 yards, he probably gained some trust of the coaching staff by cashing in on this play:
Overall, each of these players seemed to do themselves some good against the Giants’ second and third string defenses, but will have to continue to stand out compared to one another if they want to secure a spot on the roster.
In actuality, fellow offensive linemen Brandon Albert and Ja’Wuan James could plausibly join Thomas on this list. However, Albert and James are completely secure in their roles, while Thomas is trying to fend off first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. Thomas insists that he only had one bad play this past week, but he looked completely overmatched each time the ball was snapped. Even on this next play, in which Tannehill completed a pass for seven yards, Thomas was pushed directly into the chest of his quarterback:
Tannehill is going to need much more time in a clean pocket if he is going to have any success this coming season.
Thomas wasn’t the most helpful in the run game either. On Ajayi’s first carry of the game, Thomas failed to get any push on defensive lineman Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Snacks stood his ground along the line of scrimmage, and collaborated with Johnathan Hankins on a tackle for no gain:
Meanwhile, Tunsil looked capable and reliable on a night where Albert and James made costly mistakes. Gase and the rest of the coaching staff are dead-set on making their rookie lineman earn the starting role, and no one can blame them considering he is learning a new position. Yet Tunsil has always had more athletic upside and already seems up to the task mentally. The clip below shows one of the Ole Miss standouts’ longer sustained blocks of the night, even though Tannehill was sacked on the play:
If Thomas fails to pick up his performance, he is quickly going to become Tunsil’s back up very, very soon. Not to mention the fact that his level of play suggests he could see his roster spot in jeopardy in the near future.
It is never a given that a team will carry three quarterbacks into the regular season, but with Doughty’s 7/9 passing performance for 66 yards, he may just force Miami’s hand.
His night got off to a shaky start when he fumbled his first snap of the game, but he recovered beautifully. He showed a real connection with fellow rookie wide receiver Jakeem Grant, finding him on a series of out-routes as well as a perfectly executed screen pass on Doughty’s opening drive. This should be a sign that, at the very least, the young quarterback seems capable of carrying out Gase’s game plan.
Above is the aforementioned screen pass. Doughty sells the fake handoff nicely, forcing the defensive linemen to break on the running back as opposed to continuing their pursuit of the quarterback. This gives Doughty just enough time to swing the ball to the explosive Grant with blockers already out in front of the play, resulting in a sweet 24-yard gain. The former-Western Kentucky standout led the Dolphins’ offense to a field goal in his first trip onto the field.
Doughty’s competition for the third string quarterback spot, Zac Dysert, scored a touchdown on a smooth roll out and throw to rookie hybrid tight end Thomas Duarte. However, Doughty has a certain composure that Gase seems to greatly respect, and has the upper-hand due to his status as a recent draft pick. While Doughty seems to have the upper hand at this point in the competition, he has no choice but to continue to impress if he is going to make the 53-man roster.
Kiko Alonso was another possibility here. Both Abdul-Quddus and Alonso had their issues in their first action of exhibition season, especially in the tackling department. The difference is, Alonso is most likely secure in his starting role, while Abdul-Quddus is facing some heavy competition.
Both Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens have impressed thus far this offseason and are putting a ton of pressure on Abdul-Quddus, who was supposed to be paired with Reshad Jones to form a formidable duo in Miami’s secondary. Abdul-Quddus seems to be folding under this pressure, making no notable plays in coverage, and missing a pair of vital tackles that led to the Giants’ sole touchdown of the game. In fact, the former Detroit Lion had a solid opportunity (along with Alonso) to take down Reshad Jennings at the goal line, and failed to do so:
IAQ was brought to Miami to be a steadying force in the defensive backfield, but has not been the player they expected, at least thus far. Meanwhile, Thomas has the versatility to play both free safety and nickel corner, while Aikens had one of the team’s most promising performances in Week 1. He was an absolute menace in the backfield throughout his playing time, wreaking havoc in the running game and tallying a strip sack on Nassib when he attempted to escape the pocket in the second quarter:
Abdul-Quddus was seen by many as one of Miami’s best offseason moves, and a potential bargain, but if the trends discussed above continue, the free safety may end up being one of the team’s most expensive backups in 2016.
The coaching staff understandably has high expectations for the second round pick Phillips. Entering the offseason, the defensive tackle was widely seen as a potential breakout player and x-factor for Miami’s defense. A front four of Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips and Cameron Wake sounds awfully good in theory. Yet Phillips doesn’t seem ready to contribute on a consistent basis and needs to learn to use his natural physical traits to create leverage along the line of scrimmage. As you see below, Phillips was called for a hands-to-the-face penalty on the first play of the game. The coaching staff has a lot of work to do in order to mold the young defender into the player they always hoped he’d become.
As a sixth round pick, Lucas faced an uphill battle to notch a spot on the regular season roster. I suggested that his best chance would be to impress on special teams in order to win over the coaching staff. His versatility also seemed to be an advantage. Yet, despite the turmoil in Miami’s defensive backfield, Lucas has failed to make a positive impression. He isn’t receiving a lot of playing time and, for a player who lacks flashiness and playmaking ability, this is a worrisome problem. As we approach Week 3 of exhibition season, we should have a pretty clear idea of Lucas’ future.
I wrote in a previous article that Jay Ajayi had to standout while Arian Foster was on the sideline. Unfortunately, Ajayi failed miserably against the Giants. The terrible offensive line play can’t be ignored, but coaches love backs that can make something out of nothing and, while I believe Ajayi has that potential, he didn’t show it last week. Gase already trusts Foster and wants to lean on a workhorse to start the season. That doesn’t bode well for Ajayi and puts a ton of pressure on him to outperform Foster in Week 2 before the unbelievably important third week of exhibition season.
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