This preseason began with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin complaining his reserve players were showing more energy and making more plays than his starters. It ended with those same reserves taking a significant step backward because Wednesday night they were outplayed by the Dallas reserves.
So now that this winless preseason is over and we’ve seen Miami’s group of desperate bubble players seemingly regress, what can the Dolphins say they’ve accomplished?
What can the Dolphins point to as progress?
What can they point to that should give fans hope for 2012?
Frankly, outside of Ryan Tannehill showing quick maturation and camp’s most pleasant surprise — fullback Jorvorskie Lane — playing like a runaway steamroller, not much.
The truth is this preseason has offered one hint after another that this is going to be one very long, very tryng, very uninspiring regular season.
But when the Dolphins deliver practice after practice of playmakers not making plays, drive after drive not ending in touchdowns, and game after game not ending in victories, how can anyone think everything’s going to be alright?
This preseason has been so troubling that small victories look like giant leaps.
Wednesday, for example, the fact Tannehill emerged from the game uninjured after playing behind the reserve offensive line was a relief. Add that the rookie is showing more comfort with his starting status and completed 5 of 7 passes suggested he’s not one of Miami’s big worries now.
But as Tannehill cannot throw the pass and catch it as well, there are worries nonetheless with Miami’s passing game. You see, one of Tannehill’s two incompletions came when Legedu Naanee dropped a pass.
That hasn’t happened very often in practices with Naanee but it’s became something of a troubling habit in the four preseason games. Naanee, in his sixth season, has too often resembled a nervous rookie when the lights have come on.
And Naanee is not alone. Dropped passes and receivers not separating from defenders has been a consistent narrative so far because no other receiver has stepped forward and performed like he wants to claim the open roster spots the Dolphins have to offer.
That’s the reason Brian Hartline has become a better and better option even as a calf injury has kept him from playing even one play in the preseason. The worse the other guys played, the better the Hartline option has looked.
That begs the question: What happened?
What happened to Clyde Gates, who was drafted to “blow the top off of defenses” but has not been a deep threat at all yet. The only thing he’s threatened is to be cut.
Gates isn’t alone among receivers who’ve failed to make plays this preseason. But this column must fit in too finite a space to mention the others. Plus, there are other players that beg questions.
What happened to Matt Moore?
Where is the guy who led the team to six wins in 12 starts last season?
He entered this training camp as the starting quarterback. And then he struggled early in practices and fell behind David Garrard. And then he continued to struggle and Tannehill passed him, too.
It seemed a certainty Moore would be the team’s backup quarterback this year. That still may be the case, but only because Garrard’s knee injury has basically awarded him the job. It certainly wasn’t that Moore won the job.
Moore, you see, did not play well in the preseason. He completed only 39 percent of his passes. He didn’t throw a touchdown, unless you count the one Dallas linebacker Orie Lemon scored on a 26-yard interception return.
And Moore failed to get the Dolphins in the end zone at all in the preseason, including an opportunity in which the special teams gave the offense a possession at the Dallas 33 and the Moore-led offense lost two yards on three downs before kicking a field goal.
“No touchdowns,” Philbin deadpanned. “Our special teams did a great job and got a takeaway for us and we went backwards, so we have to play much better.”
The Dolphins this week made a key trade in sending cornerback Vontae Davis to Indianapolis. Philbin said the play of Nolan Carroll and Quinten Lawrence soothed the sting of the short-term loss because both have showed coaches much promise so far.
Not against Dallas.
Carroll allowed a 32-yard completion. He gave up a quick five-yard completion. And he was called for a pass interference penalty that cost 14 yards. All this against Dallas receivers that may not be employed next week.
Lawrence, meanwhile, also had a pass interference penalty that cost Miami 43 yards.
What happened there?
All of Wednesday suggested the Dolphins depth is, well, pretty shallow. And viewed in the scheme of the past five weeks, this preseason suggested when 2012 is over we’re going to be left asking this troubling question:
What happened to the Dolphins?