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  Some Good, Some Bad at Start of Pre-Season
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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The Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys kicked off the start of preseason in what could be termed a glorified scrimmage. Take away the cameras, high school sized crowd, and peripherals, and the whole affair would have resembled one of those intersquad rumbles that Don Shula used to set up back in the day.

Remember those? The Saints or some other NFC team would come into Miami for three days of head banging before their formally scheduled preseason game. It was useful, full contact work against fresh bodies at a time when the friendlies were tired of hitting each other.

Thatís the proper way for us to consider last nightís game. It had about the same level of proficiency and the same level of progression, only Shula didnít insist on full install of the playbook quite this early in training camp.

Thatís one big difference between the Hall of Fame coach and current boss Joe Philbinís respective ideas on how training camp should be conducted. With Philbin, the younger players feel like they are drinking out of a fire hose; the idea being that forcing the learning curve is the best way to get your team ready faster.

This is our second year watching Philbin go about it, and while I am not fully convinced his way is the best one, it immediately reveals the gaps his players have in getting to the desired state. It also reveals much earlier who is ahead of the curve and deserving of more opportunity.

Against the Cowboys, the Dolphinsí glitter and gaps were easy to spot.

The biggest takeaway was that the Dolphin defense will be very good this year. When you consider the performance of the likely contributors who lined up last night, plus the known qualities of the guys who didnít, thereís real reason for optimism. One could go as far as saying this could be a Top 5 bunch and not come across as insane.

Everything starts up front and down the middle, and this is where the strength of this unit will be. The defensive line was already going to be among the best in football, but rookie DE Dion Jordan is going to take that up to elite level.

Yeah, heís that good.

Jordan applied constant pressure to Cowboy QBs off the edge, and was generally disruptive even as a MLB. On one first half series, he tossed aside a tight end like a rag doll. On another in the second half, when defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle employed him beyond just third down, he single handed ended a drive with difference making contributions on first, second, and third down to force a punt when the final score was still in doubt.

Can one practice game tell us a lot? Sometimes, yes.

There seems to be little doubt that the tandem of Jordan and All-Pro Cam Wake will be a problem for the opposition. Together with the known talents of Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Olivier Vernon and Jared Odrick, the defensive line will be the spearhead this year in front of good linebackers and improved defensive backs.

The other big takeaway is that the offense is still a work-in-process. Thatís not unexpected this early in preseason, as history teaches us, especially when starting WRs (Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline) didnít play.

Yet one thing we wanted to see was an accurate Ryan Tannehill, even with Wallace and Hartline inactive.

Unfortunately, we didnít get that. Not this week anyway.

The other thing we wanted was reassurance that the team was right in letting LT Jake Long and RB Reggie Bush leave in free agency. Both are good players, and proven consummate pros. You never want to let good players like that get away in free agency, unless you know you have better waiting in the wings.

GM Jeff Ireland took a big risk, but was it the right one? We didnít see any clues to that either.

First, left tackle. Jonathan Martin hasnít been terrible, but he continues to have trouble with speed rushers. It showed up again versus Dallas. And his back-up, rookie Dallas Thomas, was very uneven with his pass protection. When Thomas was disciplined with his technique, he seemed to do just fine; when he got too high in his posture, he lost leverage and his man.

For both Martin and Thomas, more reps and coaching will help. These next four weeks matter the most to them and the other young offensive linemen. Remember, Martin is a second year player with less than one full season at left tackle, while Thomas is a raw rookie. They are still learning and developing.

On that note, RB Lamar Miller drips with potential. But he must show it on the field consistently, and that hasnít happened yet. Miller started the game and promptly fumbled away his first handoff, leading to a Cowboys TD. That wonít win confidence with Philbin or teammates. While he did rebound to rip off a couple of nice runs, they didnít offset the costly turnover.

Consistently good outings for Miller are what will earn him confidence and a starting job. And ďgoodĒ means more than just yards gained; it means knowing what to do, solid pass protection, and protecting the football. All of this matters if he is to be the full time starter.

This is even more of an urgent matter for third year RB Daniel Thomas, who didnít make the case for the starting job either. In fairness to Thomas, the line afforded him little room to do much in this contest. Nevertheless, this is his boon/bust season, and we are correct and fair to begin judging the wisdom of his selection, a player Ireland traded up for in the second round.

One RB who did help himself was rookie Mike Gillislee. He showed quick feet, vision, elusiveness, and power. Gillislee has earned first team consideration, behind front line blocking, to see if he can take a next step. That will be interesting to watch. Jonas Gray led the team in rushing (7 carries, 41 yards), but 29 of it came on one run. He has good power but is still on the outside looking in.

Finally, with the team losing probable 4th WR Armon Binns for the season with a knee injury, we wanted to see who would step up to the opportunity. Two guys emphatically did: Chad Bumphis and Keenan Davis. Bumphisís game reminds us a bit of old friend Davone Bess, with 85 yards on 7 catches. Davis had two fine fourth down receptions in the fourth quarter with the game still up for grabs, one for a TD.

Our takeaway here is simple: keep calm and keep watching the movie. Thereís a lot to like, but some big questions that still need to be answered.

 
     
   
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