Thoughts from Miami’s 23-20 win against Atlanta in its preseason opener at Hard Rock Stadium:
• When the Dolphins bypassed signing Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Brown this past spring, I questioned the move at the time. That decision looks more foolish tonight in the wake of Raekwon McMillan’s knee injury.
Two staffers from CBS-4 said it was a season-ending ACL injury. WINZ’s Andy Slater said the Dolphins fear it is a torn ACL. Adam Gase just said he has no confirmation of that.
Look, nobody could have projected McMillan’s injury, no matter the severity.
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But the Dolphins were short-sighted in expecting Koa Misi to be healthy after neck surgery. He’s out for the year.
So that leaves Miami with Kiko Alonzo, Lawrence Timmons, Mike Hull, Neville Hewitt and likely two waiver wire pickups. Not good.
It could have all been prevented by giving $4 million to $5 million to Brown, who had 149 tackles, an interception, a sack and two forced fumbles for Buffalo last season. He ended up signing in Washington for one year and up to $4.6 million.
So why didn’t the Dolphins sign him?
They wondered why Buffalo wasn’t particularly eager to keep him. They worried about how he would get along with Kiko Alonso; he ripped Alonso during the January playoff game for wearing a club on his injured hand.
Brown tweeted: "They talking about his hand. I play over half the season wit a messed up hand lmao you soft 47."
That made Miami wonder if he would be a good locker-room guy.
They were aware that Brown’s play fell off somewhat in the second half of the season and he had trouble, at times, taking on blockers in the run game.
So despite his huge tackle numbers and Pro Bowl appearance, the Dolphins simply didn’t view Brown as a player they wanted to spend much money on.
But there were other options: Gerald Hodges, Kevin Minter and David Harris among them.
The Dolphins passed on all, placing their faith in Misi and McMillan.
The faith in McMillan was justified; this injury on the first play of his pro career was a fluke. But the faith in Misi, a player who has never been durable and was coming off a career-threatening injury, was not.
And so the Dolphins again are in a pickle at linebacker, comforted only by the fact that they will have only two linebackers on the field more than half the time.
Among veteran linebackers still available: D’Qwell Jackson, former Dolphin Donald Butler, Sean Weatherspoon or Rey Maualuga.
• Here was the good news: Some of the other young players shined Thursday.
Fifth-round rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who started ahead of Jordan Phillips, was stout in the run game and got pressure on the quarterback multiple times. Sixth-round rookie defensive tackle Vincent Taylor made a nifty stop for no gain on a run.
Leonte Carroo made a terrific catch from Brandon Doughty for a 33-yard touchdown. Jakeem Grant made a splendid leaping catch, though seemingly ran hundreds of miles with limited payoff on returns (three for three on punts, 1 for 17 on kickoffs). And Kenyan Drake ran with purpose (four carries, 21 yards).
• Rookie first-rounder Charles Harris was sealed off on one running play but showed a quick initial step on his pass rush moves and put heat on the quarterback a couple of times.
• The offensive line played only one starter – Jermon Bushrod. That left a left side of Jesse Davis at left tackle, Anthony Steen at left guard, with Jake Brendel at center and Sam Young at right tackle. Kraig Urbik remains Mike Pouncey’s backup at center.
That group didn’t create many holes for Damien Williams but wasn’t a complete embarrassment, either.
It was telling that rookie guard Isaac Asiata didn’t get a chance with the starters, even on a night four offensive line starters were missing. The Dolphins clearly don’t feel he’s ready.
• A few undrafted rookies made an impression. Damore’ea Stringfellow had two catches for 116 yards, including a 99-yarder on a perfect throw from David Fales. Undrafted Houston rookie Cameron Malveaux, who has flashed throughout camp, had a sack. Maurice Smith, the former Georgia safety, played with the second half and acquitted himself nicely.
• T.J. Donald didn’t respond quickly enough on a Devonta Freeman touchdown catch and run (neither did Kiko Alonso or Byron Maxwell) and was beaten across the middle for another 15-yard gain. Not a great night for McDonald, who was filling in for injured Nate Allen and will miss the first eight games because of an NFL suspension.
• Xavien Howard, who has had a strong offseason, was beaten for two catches… Terrence Fede got heat on the quarterback a couple times but Malveaux had Miami’s only sack.
• Matt Moore threw only one pass (completed for five yards). Doughty was 7 for 12 for 69 yards and a 67.7 rating, with one touchdown and one interception.
Fales, who struggled throughout camp, made several terrific throws, closing with a 101.1 rating, with 184 yards passing on 8 for 17 accuracy, with the two touchdowns and one interception.
• Quick stuff: Walt Aikens left with a back injury…Return coverage was atrocious, with Thomas Duarte, Carroo and Sinorise Perry juked out or left in the dust on one long return and Chase Allen obliterated on another…. Phillips was sealed off on one long run... Stanford receiver Francis Owusu made two nice catches for 45 yards… Cordrea Tankersley and Allen led Miami with six tackles apiece.