Now that we've had a day to digest what we saw Saturday night, it's time to get the evaluation under way and grade the Dolphins' performance. The dropped balls, the stagnation of the first-team offense, and the result of a downpour on the dirt in-field, made "ugly" about the only word you can use to describe the Dolphins' watered down 10-7 victory.
Still though, we saw some good signs from the new look defense, despite Mike Nolan not tipping his hand with any of the exotic blitz package he's been implementing in training camp. But let's get the hard part over with, and try to give a fair grade to the lackluster offense.
First-team: Out of all the times it could have rain Saturday, it just had to be for the duration of the first quarter, which just so happened to be when the Dolphins' starting offense took the field. We don't want to start making excuses for these guys, because that's not the mindset of a champion, but it's sort of a shame that our first look at this offense was in those less than ideal conditions.
Wet ball or not, though, Brandon Marshall has to make those two catches that hit him right square in the hands, and especially that second ball where there wasn't a defender within five yards of him. The same goes for Brian Hartline, who also dropped a ball that would have moved the chains, on a third down no less.
And wet footing or not, Vernon Carey can't kill the promising first drive with a holding penalty on a would have been first down run by Ronnie Brown. But unwanted penalties are a part of the preseason, and when you look at how sluggish the Chad Henne led group looked, these meaningless games do serve their purpose, after all.
Second-team/third-team: When Tyler Thigpen came in, the passing game finally got going a bit. The battle for the fifth and final receiver spot picked up some heat, when Patrick Turner, Roberto Wallace, and Marlon Moore all flashed some big-play potential. The running game was a non-factor after Ronnie was pulled out, though, as Lex Hilliard only managed 19 yards on 8 carries after a fantastic 09' preseason.
The second string O-line was awfully suspect as well. To go along with their lack of push for the running game, the pass protection was a huge fall-off from the first-team. So let's just hope the starting offensive line can stay healthy this season, especially at the tackles.
First-team: Like I said before, we saw some potential out there on the defensive side of the ball. Cameron Wake and Koa Misi provided a decent pass rush, forcing Josh Freeman out of the pocket on a few plays. Unfortunately, they didn't register a sack, but let's remember we aren't seeing the same pass rush we have been hearing about in practice.
There is no reason for Nolan to unload all the different blitzes he has cooked up for this season, when the outcome of the game has no meaning. The run defense looked to be in good position, but they definitely need to wrap-up the ball carrier when contact is made. I expect that to change in a hurry, simply because they are still working out the rust given that the Dolphins don't tackle to the ground in practice in order to stay healthy.
Unfortunately, the Buc's did score a touchdown, though, so the starters' night wasn't all that impressive. But I think that drive was more a credit to Josh Freeman than a detriment to the secondary. Let's give Freeman and Mike Williams credit for that beautiful ball and catch on the key play of that drive, and not get too down on Vontae Davis, who had near perfect coverage.
Sean Smith on the other hand, found himself out of positon on the touchdown toss, and took a poor angle trying to make the tackle. No worries, though, Smith bounced back with yet another preseason interception on the following drive.
Second-team/third-team: Paul Soliai really set the tone for the backups, exploding into the backfield on more than one play, and completely disrupted the Buc's running attack. The forced turnovers started to pile on too.
Some of them may have been more Tampa's fault than anything the Dolphins' did, but three fumble recoveries and a forced turnover on downs for a goal-line stand, to go along with a shutout for the first and second strings, is a pretty darn good night in my book. When Soliai came out of the game, however, the run defense yielded a few big plays from Tampa's running game, and the defense as a whole bent a few times. They didn't break, though, not once.
Maybe they benifited from Raheem Morris thankfully not wanting the game to go into overime, which was the motivition for them going for it on fourth down inside Miami's five yard line, despite only being down by three. But the backups on defense did more than enough to earn the best grade from any of the Dolphins' units.