What did we learn from this fourth game in an NFL preseason that begs being trimmed to three or even two games?
You know that, for starters, the Dolphins have decided on a right guard. Shelley Smith, who started the preseason as a center and lost that job then couldn’t win the job at left guard, is the Dolphins starter between right tackle Ja’Wuan James and center Samson Satele.
Smith beat out Dallas Thomas, which is notable because Thomas started the preseason as the starting right guard and then proceeded to give up a couple of sacks, some pressures and Thursday night continued to show a need for major improvement when he failed to recognize a blitz and let the defender drop running back Daniel Thomas for a 3-yard loss.
But that’s all inside-baseball stuff, really.
The workings of an interior offensive line are about as sexy as protruding bellies of the men who man those positions across the NFL.
The greater issue here is that Dallas Thomas is part of the Dolphins’ 2013 draft class that continues to disappoint.
This group largely failed to contribute a year ago and was a small but contributing factor in the firing of general manager Jeff Ireland.
Well, coach Joe Philbin showed great optimism about the nine players of the 2013 draft class before training camp began.
The coach was encouraged that second-round pick Jamar Taylor might compete for a starting job.
The coach was encouraged that Will Davis, another third-round pick, was healthy and could regain the form he showed early last year. Maybe, the coach added, Davis might use that as a launching pad for better things.
Philbin was also encouraged that fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee could challenge for a No. 3 running back job.
The coach was encouraged that kicker Caleb Sturgis could stay healthy, which he had trouble doing last year, and thus could avoid an inconsistent season like he had last year.
I would say Philbin was encouraged about 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan before training camp began, but the truth is that the coach had already received news that Jordan had violated the NFL policy for performance-enhancing drugs and would miss the first four games of the season while serving a suspension.
Instead, Philbin was being realistic about Jordon. “Let’s be honest, missing a month isn’t going to be good for Dion Jordan’s development,” the coach said.
So where did all those optimistic feelings and expectations about the 2013 draft class go this preseason?
To the bench.
That’s the short answer.
Not one member of this draft class is a starter on offense or defense today.
If the Dolphins were, say, the Seattle Seahawks and were getting ready to defend a Super bowl title and were loaded, that wouldn’t be a big issue. That would be almost excusable.
But the Dolphins are a team needing every bit of talent infusion they can get. And the 2013 class has yet to provide any of that infusion.
Jordan started training camp seemingly poised for big things. He had an interception and touchdown return in practice the first day or two of training camp.
But he’s been basically invisible ever since.
Jordan had three tackles and one sack in three games before Thursday. He added two tackles against the Rams while playing the entire game.
That means in four games, playing almost exclusively against reserves, Jordan averaged slightly more than one tackle per game.
Watching him battle St. Louis rookie left tackle Greg Robinson on Thursday was eye-opening. Robinson was the second player picked in this year’s draft and although he has the makings of becoming a good player, he is not yet starting at tackle.
And despite being a work in progress, Robinson dominated Jordan.
Jordan must have gotten half-a-dozen pass-rush snaps against Robinson and could not manage even one pressure.
This doesn’t mean Jordan isn’t going to have a solid season or is a wasted draft pick. We’re not anywhere near that far along. But it means Jordan cannot be counted on to deliver big plays against starting NFL left tackles when he returns from his suspension.
Maybe Jordan is a new player when he returns from suspension in four weeks. The Dolphins should hope he’s not the same player he’s been the past four weeks.
The defense will get something from the second-year defensive backs. Taylor and Davis both figure to contribute in the nickel package when the season begins Sept. 7 against New England.
But honestly, the reason the Dolphins are going to rely on either player is because safety Reshad Jones is suspended for four games. And that means nickel back Jimmy Wilson has to start at safety.
And that means Taylor or Davis or both will play a lot in the nickel.
The Dolphins have given both players the chance to win the job outright. But Taylor seemingly does some things Davis cannot, and Davis seemingly does things Taylor cannot.
What does that mean?
It means that unless Davis or Taylor take a leap the next month, they’ll probably be back on the bench when Jones returns to his starting safety job and Wilson moves back to his usual nickel job.
Gillislee, meanwhile, is on injured reserve and done for the year. And Sturgis?
The 2013 fifth-round pick is battling to stay healthy after missing much of training camp with a groin injury. He missed a 53-yard field goal, and the Dolphins were careful not to let him kick off.
But Sturgis is still the starting kicker — the only starter so far from the 2013 draft class.