Last Chance to Prove It: Which Dolphins Helped or Hurt Themselves in Preseason Week 4?
While the fourth preseason game is always a letdown after the excitement of the third exhibition matchup, there are major implications that can be taken away from the performances of the backups. There are players striving to make the roster and positional battles still to be determined. Rookies Xavien Howard and Kenyan Drake received their first playing time of their young careers, and Jay Ajayi was on the field for the first two drives while Arian Foster rested. In short, we can learn a lot from the way individuals play in their final work before the regular season.
Spencer Paysinger is in a competition with Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt, and simply outplayed them Thursday night He made a critical tackle at the goal line and was consistently a force against the run. Perhaps more importantly, he made no noticeable mistakes. Paysinger has always been a standout on special teams, largely because of his tackling ability. Still, he remains an option to be the primary backup at the linebacker position and did himself a lot of good today.
Bobby McCain/Tony Lippett:
McCain and Lippett were easy inclusions on this list as they both tallied an interception tonight. Their playmaking ability was each one of their best attributes heading into the offseason, but they had largely failed to show it during exhibition season. I think it is even more significant to point out that both interceptions came while in zone coverage, a mainstay of Vance Joseph’s defense. Both McCain and Lippett managed to prevent big plays against the Titans, a welcomed sight after Lippett got burned against the Falcons.
A lot of attention was being paid toward Julius Warmsley after his breakout performance against the Falcons, but it was Chris Jones that stood out tonight. While Warmsley still showed a good motor and some solid penetration into the backfield, he also picked up an encroachment penalty. Jones, meanwhile, was disruptive in running lanes and picked up a sack as well as another tackle for a loss. Warmsley and Jones are similar players and are competing for playing time along the defensive line, as they both likely have a roster spot locked up at this point. Jones did a fantastic job of leaving a great last impression on the coaching staff before the start of the regular season.
I have talked about this preseason being pivotal for Daniel Thomas, and he had his best performance when he absolutely needed it. He punched in a touchdown from the goal line, caught a pass, and had more success on the ground than Damien Williams. He also showed his worth on special teams, forcing a fumble on a punt return that put Miami in field goal range. With Pead on the sideline and Williams failing to show the coaching staff any value, Thomas was a big winner for the Dolphins’ backfield tonight.
Xavien Howard & Kenyan Drake:
This was the first time we got to see Howard and Drake in non-practice action, and they did nothing to discourage our belief in their ability to contribute in 2016. Howard did give up a big play on third down, but it was luckily nullified by a penalty. He later made a solid tackle along the sideline to force third down and showed nice reaction time and recovery speed on a tackle just a few plays later. Although Lippett had the interception today, I don’t think Joseph has full confidence in him, which gives Howard a great opportunity to win the starting job down the road. Drake returned kicks to start the game and would have had a huge gain on his second attempt had he not lost his footing making a cut. He also notched a 33-yard catch on a wheel route. While he didn’t find much room on the ground, Drake did what the coaches asked him to tonight.
I’d be shocked if Ajayi started Week 1 after this performance. On the first play of the game, Ajayi lost control of the football and Tennessee recovered. Two plays later, the Titans were in the end zone. Ajayi’s lone bright spot came on a 16-yard carry, but he was given a huge hole to exploit, and on his other two carries he lost three yards. Additionally, he dropped a pass in the middle of the field that could have gone for a first down. With the way Arian Foster played last week prior to being inactive tonight, I believe Foster will be the lead back against the Seahawks.
While Lucas was mostly solid in coverage, he was beaten badly on one play against Tre Mcbride. All he had to do was get a partial jam on the receiver on the play and it would have been an easy sack for the defensive line, which quickly swarmed the quarterback. Instead, he whiffed and McBride had an easy completion of 25 yards over the top. To make matters worse, Lucas had an arm tackle broken on special teams. With this being his best chance of making the team, the Penn State alumnus’ odds took a hit against the Titans.
Williams had a big opportunity after Isaiah Pead hurt himself last week, but failed to take advantage of it. Williams looked like the least explosive option in Miami’s backfield, averaging .8 yards per carry, with a long run of 1 yard. He didn’t contribute on special teams either, as it was Drake who returned kicks to start the game. With Drake’s prowess in the return game, Thomas notching the touchdown and forced fumble and Pead’s performance this preseason prior to getting injured, Williams definitely didn’t help his chances of making the roster.
Zac Dysert was thoroughly outplayed by rookie Brandon Doughty in this final exhibition matchup. While neither scored a touchdown, Dysert averaged a measly 5.3 yards per completion compared to Doughty’s 8.2 yards. He also overthrew a pass to a wide-open Thomas on a wheel route and tossed an interception in the red zone at the end of the first half after Thomas’ forced fumble. Not only did Doughty avoid making major mistakes, but he also completed the wheel route (that Dysert failed on) to Drake later in the game as well. With Gase examining every aspect of his game to compare to with the rookies, Dysert likely lost some trust with this performance.
Mike Hull could technically be included here as well, but Hewitt was by far the worse performer. Although Hewitt led the team in tackles both he and Hull missed tackles on consecutive plays against Derrick Hentry in the first half, creating big questions about Miami’s run defense if one of the starting linebackers succumbs to injury. Later, Hewitt gave up a huge completion on the Titans’ second touchdown drive and made matters worse by getting called for a horse-collar tackle on the play. Finally, Hewitt was absolutely trucked by Antonio Andrews on the way to the end zone on his touchdown run. Paysinger should be comfortably ahead of Hewitt at this point in the process.
Based on the Dolphins’ performances this preseason, Foster should be the starter. There obviously remains real concerns about the consistency of their rush and pass defenses as well. Joseph’s defense has largely been successful in creating pressure and forcing turnovers, but it will be interesting to see if they are able to prevent big plays in the run game and through the air once the regular season starts.
In terms of the offense, the Dolphins’ depth stood out this exhibition season. They have plenty of capable of wide receivers, with Leonte Carroo and Griff Whalen playing major roles tonight, and reliable options with diverse skillsets at running back.
With that being said, it is now time for the regular season! Miami will open the season with a matchup against the Seahawks, but they showed enough this preseason to expect some success later on after a brutal start to the schedule.