Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill made his first career NFL preseason start on Friday against Carolina, playing the entire first half in a 23-17 loss.
Here are my five key takeaways from last night’s game:
- QB Position Still Undecided: Coach Joe Philbin has reiterated a desire to name a starter by the third week of the preseason, but the Dolphins’ quarterback picture remains murky. Last night was opportunity for someone to emerge and, despite some bright spots, no one took the reins. Tannehill, who finished 11-of-23 for 1oo yards, submitted a fairly uneven performance, though he did lead a really nice 15-play, 71-yard TD drive. Right now, you have a better understanding of what you’re going to get out of Matt Moore, a six-year NFL veteran. Tannehill, with far less experience is more of a wild card, which leads one to believe that he’ll get some more run with the first team–maybe next week against Atlanta– before a final decision is made.
- Where’s The Beef?: The Dolphins’ offense line wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t deserve too many post-game kudos, either. It’s clear they still have plenty to work on. It’s been nice to see some continuity–there was almost no personnel shuffling during training camp–but the right side of the line needs to tighten up quickly. Rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin, who played three quarters last week against the Bucs, took a step back or sideways, at least, against Carolina. Reserve tackle Lydon Murtha didn’t fare much better. It’s far too early to overreact, but Martin needs to make steady progress prior to Sept. 9.
- More Pop in the Running Game: Despite the West Coast offense’s emphasis on a quick passing attack, the Dolphins offense needs to stabilize what’s been a shaky running game thus far. Against Tampa Bay, the Dolphins only mustered 43 yards on 15 carries. On Friday night, it was more of same, improving marginally to 47 yards on 12 carries. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will feel better about the offense if he can turn an 80-20 split from pass to run into a more balanced 60-40 split.
- Under Pressure?: With key contributors Cam Wake, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett all sitting, it’s hard to project how the defense will perform in the regular season based off of last night’s game. There’s no excuse for such a glaring lack of pressure. Cam Newton’s jersey looked unwrinkled when he exited midway through the first half. Without much resistance from the defensive line, Newton was given ample time to pick apart the Dolphins’ back seven. The first-team defense, collectively, will need to get to Matt Ryan, even if a few veterans still sit. It will make life much easier for the back end of the defense.
- Thigpen and Devlin Provide Spark: On a night where you were looking for a playmaker to make a few standout plays, Marcus Thigpen made an impression. In the return game, he didn’t take out his dancing shoes, running North-South up the field without any hesitation. Although he may be listed as a running back, he worked primarily out of the slot, catching 3 passes for 40 yards, building a nice rapport with the quarterbacks, including Pat Devlin. You could see a noticeable improvement in Devlin’s decisiveness from week to week. By leading a late charge, the second-year quarterback proved to others in the locker room that he’s a pro’s pro. He certainly earned his stripes Friday night.