IN MY OPINION

Miami Dolphins’ first-team players look second-rate in preseason opener

 

asalguero@MiamiHerald.com

Less than one hour before the Dolphins began their 2012 preseason, a high-ranking team official was weighing the meaning of quarterback David Garrard’s injury when he said, “We’ll be fine. We have another guy named Tannehill. Maybe this is our Drew Bledsoe moment.”

He was referring to the unexpected injury Bledsoe sustained in 2001 and comparing it to Garrard’s unexpected knee injury. That Bledsoe injury led the New England Patriots to play Tom Brady.

Well, after Friday night’s 20-7 exhibition loss to Tampa Bay, it is clear the Dolphins need the kind of incredible turn of events the Patriots enjoyed over a decade ago when they discovered Brady. Otherwise, things are looking a bit like the past few years again.

The Dolphins, you see, need Ryan Tannehill to become a superstar because they need something that significant to rescue them from their doldrums.

Without that, these Dolphins look more like the team that has struggled to creep above .500 the past three years. Yes, Joe Philbin’s head-coaching debut got a little brighter when the third- and fourth-team players were in the game in the third and early fourth quarter.

But most of those players will be unemployed or on the bench when the regular season begins.

The players Miami is counting on this season, the starters who performed so well in practice the past couple of weeks, were simply outplayed.

In the first half, Miami’s starting offense was shut out while the starting defense yielded two touchdowns — one to Tampa Bay’s starters and the next to a unit comprised largely of backups, including second-string quarterback Dan Orlovsky.

Orlovsky, whose claim to fame is that he was the guy who stepped out of the end zone during that winless year in Detroit, looked like a star against Miami’s defense.

He completed all eight of his passes and finished with a 114.1 quarterback rating. (More on that in a moment.)

Dolphins starter Matt Moore, meanwhile, was unspectacular despite the fact that Philbin said he “played well.” Instead of using the moment to make a statement, Moore left the game with only question marks.

Moore has gotten rave reviews from coaches for his leadership and has a reputation for playing well even when he doesn’t practice as well. Except after this game, Moore is now following unspectacular practices with an unspectacular game.

He didn’t get the first-team offense on the scoreboard. He didn’t get the second-team offense on the scoreboard either. And he threw an interception when a pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and into the arms of Lavonte David. Moore finished with a 43.4 rating, the lowest of Miami’s three quarterbacks.

The troubling thing?

Moore was not the only Miami veteran who struggled.

Chad Johnson, Miami’s most accomplished wide receiver, dropped the only pass thrown his way. The drop came on a crucial third-down play that would have delivered a first down.

Johnson said later he felt “anxious” in his Dolphins debut.

Anthony Fasano, Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee were much better with the starting unit, and Charles Clay, Roberto Wallace and Michael Egnew did fine work with the backups.

All things considered, Miami’s backups played well enough to suggest that the depth chart needs more scrutiny. All things considered, the greatest disappointment of the evening had to be the play of the defense. The Dolphins defense was so bad that Philbin didn’t recognize it.

“It’s not real, it’s not indicative of the way we’ve practiced,” the coach said.

But the performance was actually quite indicative of the camp cornerback Vontae Davis has had so far. He has struggled in practice the past two weeks to the point he lost his starting job, even if it’s temporarily.

Davis did not start, and when he finally got in the game in the second quarter, he was immediately beaten by Tiquan Underwood, a third-string receiver, for a 19-yard gain.

But the truth is that Underwood took advantage of three-fourths of the secondary on that series, as he beat cornerback Sean Smith and safety Jimmy Wilson on a 43-yard gain a couple of plays later.

For Smith, the game was as Philbin said — a departure from what he has shown in practice. He came to the Dolphins in the best shape of his career, and general manager Jeff Ireland has lauded his maturity and improvement.

But Smith missed two tackles aside from giving up the 43-yard gain.

Maybe it was the faulty tackling. Perhaps it was the absent pass rush. Perhaps the fact that starting linebacker Kevin Burnett was a last-minute scratch with an unknown injury played a factor. Whatever it was, the defense simply could not get off the field on third down.

The Bucs converted 6 of 8 third-down plays in the first half. And that was without them even attempting a pass to big-money free agent addition Vincent Jackson.

So the Dolphins have a long way to go. The optimism born of additional talent and a new coaching staff was muted this night by a performance Dolphins fans have frankly seen before. And that included starting quarterback play that cannot win consistently in the NFL.

Yes, the Dolphins do need a Drew Bledsoe moment.

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