Preseason Wrap-Up: Key Takeaways From the Dolphins’ Exhibition Games
Initially this article was going to be titled “What We Learned in the Preseason.” However, I realized that it’s hard to say that any team learns anything definitively from the NFL’s four exhibition games.
By design, teams want to avoid giving away as much information as possible during the month of August. There really is no game planning, with the exception of the third preseason game to some degree. Players who are going to make an impact in the regular season understand the priority is health.
While it is hard to learn anything definitive in the preseason, there are signs that can point to the direction things might move as the team goes forward. “Learning” something implies that you are certain of the direction or outcome that can be expected.
There is nothing that can be taken away from the Dolphins’ preseason with certainty regarding the status of the team. However, you can see signs as to how players are being implemented within the scheme and how the staff plans on utilizing the abilities of a certain player.
During the Dolphins’ preseason games, we got some interesting looks at what could be coming in 2016.
Implementation of Jarvis Landry:
Ryan Tannehill is going to lock onto Jarvis Landry during his progressions this season. It’s a habit he will hopefully break eventually, but it will take time after two seasons of having only one truly reliable receiver.
Adam Gase’s decisions as to how Jarvis Landry is assigned routes is now taking advantage of the fact that Ryan Tannehill sticks with Landry during his reads.
If the team has 3rd & long, why send Jarvis Landry short of the sticks? During the preseason, Adam Gase showed that Landry can be used as the de facto tight end. Gase can use Landry as the security blanket, but is able to do so in a way that helps the team convert in key situations.
Here is an example:
Jarvis Landry is sent past the first down marker with the knowledge that Ryan Tannehill will be looking for him on the play.
On the play above, Landry is assigned to run a route that most teams might use a tight end for.
Adam Gase is taking a perceived weakness and turning it into a strength. If he continues to utilize Jarvis Landry as the primary option past the first down marker in key situations, it could help the Dolphins improve in an area where they have struggled recently.
There really isn’t much to say about the Dolphins’ secondary that hasn’t already been said.
While Byron Maxwell looked serviceable at times during the preseason, he looked to be far from a true top option at cornerback. Bobby McCain had some high points, but for the most part struggled. It will be difficult to rely on him consistently as the team’s nickel corner.
Tony Lippett could be the most troubling of all. He does not look ready to take on a role as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks. Granted, Xavien Howard will most likely be the Week 1 starter, but if anyone goes down with an injury it means Lippett is the next man up. That is a scary thought.
They struggled on deep passes. They struggled against short routes. They struggled tackling against the run.
The Dolphins could be in for a long year on defense if the unit’s performance does not improve this regular season.
Tackling and the Linebacker Corps:
The Miami Dolphins traded for Kiko Alonso this offseason. However, outside of acquiring a player with substantial medical concerns who has been unable to match his rookie level of play, they did nothing at the position.
The Dolphins will be starting Alonso in 2016 alongside Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins. Most felt that this unit could be at least serviceable in the regular season. However, during the preseason we saw a group that looks far from reliable in coverage or against the run.
Tackling issues have not just affected the linebacker corps. They have been an issue for the entire defense.
Here is one of the worst plays from this preseason, on which the team demonstrated its tackling issues.
Nobody closes. Everybody tries to arm tackle Alfred Morris. The Cowboys score an easy touchdown.
If this had happened on just one play, it would not have been an issue. However these moments recurred through Miami’s games against the Giants, Cowboys, Falcons and Titans.
We already discussed the potential issues in the secondary and how that could lead to a long year for the Dolphins. If the run defense struggles as well, it will be a REALLY long year for the team.
The Offensive Line Will Be a Step Up From 2015:
Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod both performed very well for taking their first reps at guard. The Dolphins at one point were starting two guards who had never played the position and a center who had never played his position. Still, the protection held up.
The Dolphins are utilizing a combination of routes that allows Ryan Tannehill to both quickly distribute the ball and get to the line in a no huddle attack. This plays well to the Dolphins’ concerns about the offensive line, but the unit protected well even when more time was required for receivers to get open.
The Dolphins have not seen this type of protection in a very long time. While the unit is delicate in terms of injury concerns surrounding some top players, it seems certain that the blocking up front on offense will be a vast upgrade over that from a season ago.
Jakeem Grant Will Be Fun to Watch:
The Dolphins famously whiffed with their selection of Ted Ginn Jr. with the 9th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Ginn was not an awful player for the team. He lacked the ball skills or physicality to be a number one receiver, but he did contribute as a deep threat and on special teams.
Ted Ginn Jr. was a solid contributor. The problem is that he was over drafted.
The Dolphins’ hope for Jakeem Grant has to be that he will have, at least on special teams, a Ted Ginn-like impact in Miami. Fans in South Florida have not seen a player as electric as Jakeem Grant since the days of Ginn, Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. I am not saying that Grant will approach those players in impact. I am simply saying that he will be a very exciting player.
He also could be exactly what the Dolphins need on special teams.
This play is a strong example of what Jakeem Grant does well. He does not dance around laterally. He simply picks his lane and attempts to make things happen when he gets there. His size, speed and toughness make him hard to bring down and allow him to create extra yards in the hole.
If the Dolphins can simply get a boost in their starting field position from their sixth round pick, it will have been a well-used resource.
Some Breakout Seasons Might Not Be Meant to Be:
Heading into camp, most believed that Jay Ajayi and DeVante Parker were both ready to have big seasons in Miami. Oh, how things have changed.
Jay Ajayi did not look bad in the preseason by any means. He simply looked fairly average. Combine that with the acquisition of Arian Foster, who seems to be ahead of Ajayi on the depth chart, and you have a problem for the Jay Ajayi hype train.
DeVante Parker’s presence loomed large early in camp. The team was going to him often, and he was making plays. However, his body appears to have worn down somewhat since camp opened. Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald has reported that Parker might not be ready to play against the Seahawks.
DeVante Parker is not a technician. He is a raw athlete. His strength is not route running or technique; he simply is a better athlete than most defensive backs. This means that nagging injuries mean more for Parker, who relies mostly on his physical gifts, than they might mean for others.
Kenny Stills’ emergence (conveniently during a contract year) also speaks to the potential of Parker underwhelming this season.
While both players will clearly play roles in the offense, it seems like years ago that predictions were made for both players to take the leap and become high-level contributors in 2016.
The Offense Will Be Fun to Watch:
I do not recall a single highly entertaining game during the Dolphins’ 2015 season. Whether or not it translates into wins for the Dolphins, the quality of this year’s offense should at least lead to an enjoyable viewing experience.
Adam Gase’s system is going to attempt to help Ryan Tannehill and will put into use the depth that Miami has at skill positions. Regardless of the struggles that the defense could face, the offense is shaping up to be something to tune in for.
Here is an example from the team’s game against the Cowboys.
The previous coaching staff never used receivers’ routes to complement the others’ ability to get open. You finally see that implemented here as Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker clear out the middle for Kenny Stills, who has room to catch the ball away from the defender thanks to gaps created in the defense. The Dolphins are no longer going to simply attack the holes that the defense gives them. They are going to create gaps in coverage and create situations in which it is easier to make plays.
Miami’s team should be entertaining on offense. They have electric players, an innovative coach, and a fast paced attack. Remember, the key word is “should.”
Most fans understand why expectations are low for the 2016 Dolphins. However, one thing that I believe strongly is that there will be a greater number of high quality games from the team. Even if they don’t come out on the winning end of the final score, the least fans can ask for is a reason to tune in.
I believe that the Dolphins’ offense will give fans a reason to tune-in in 2016.
Thankfully, the preseason is over.
The Dolphins emerged from these exhibition games with only some minor injuries. Outside of Mike Pouncey’s uncertain status, there is really nothing major to report.
The team showed issues where most knew to expect red flags to pop up. The run defense and secondary are a problem. The team also showed improvement and progress in areas where most hoped to see better performance. The offensive line took a huge step forward with Tunsil and Bushrod in the lineup, and Gase’s system appears to be working for Ryan Tannehill.
I’m going to say this one last time for 2016: you cannot make predictions about a team based on the preseason. What you can do is simply gauge the direction they are moving in.
The trends that emerged during the Dolphins’ preseason, which we discussed above, could end up leading to greater successes or failures during this season. We can take stock of what occurred, but why can’t we say definitively whether or not it will make any sort of difference?
Say it with me everyone…
Because it’s the preseason.
Now sit back, relax and get ready for Sunday.
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