If Monday night’s intrasquad scrimmage is to be believed, the Dolphins’ offense in the red zone will be much improved in 2013.
That’s assuming they can consistently get there.
In an up-is-down kind of night, the Dolphins’ first-team offense was remarkably efficient inside the 30, with Ryan Tannehill throwing all three of his touchdown passes from close range.
But when forced to go the length of the field, the starting group sputtered, managing just three first downs and roughly 60 yards in three drives that started in its own territory.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Caveat: The offense was missing some significant pieces. Neither Brian Hartline, who appeared to tweak something during warm-ups, nor Mike Wallace played. No official explanation was given for either player’s absence.
Instead, the starting receivers were Brandon Gibson and Marvin McNutt.
And Lamar Miller was limited to five carries for 12 yards and a goal-line touchdown.
Credit Miami’s stout, pressuring defense, which excelled in front of the 22,876 attendees, one of the largest scrimmage crowds in team history.
“There was a lot of good things. Some guys stepped up and made plays; obviously, there was some sloppiness,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “We have to be a lot better in six days when we open against the Dallas Cowboys [on] Sunday night in Canton [Ohio].”
The Dolphins defense forced three three-and-outs in the scrimmage’s first four drives. Reshad Jones had two sacks. Olivier Vernon had a strip sack of Matt Moore. Kelcie McCray had an interception of Moore that he returned roughly 50 yards for a touchdown.
And Will Davis picked off Pat Devlin in the end zone to finish the scrimmage. It was Davis’ second interception in as many days.
Tannehill unofficially finished the night 8 for 11 with 72 yards and those three touchdowns. He connected with Charles Clay for 24 yards, Dustin Keller for 14 and Daniel Thomas for 9. Tannehill did not throw an interception for the fifth practice in a row.
“Productive first scrimmage,” tackle Jonathan Martin said on Twitter. “Felt good to be back in @SunLifeStadium.”
The running game, however, struggled. Mike Gillislee led all rushers with 20 yards but needed six carries.
And when not artificially backed up in its own end, the defense was downright stifling. The new faces were particularly effective.
Philip Wheeler was excellent in coverage, breaking up at least two passes. And Dion Jordan, working with the backups, had a sack, beating Will Yeatman badly.
The scrimmage, combined with the release of the season’s first depth chart earlier in the day, helped shed some light on several position battles.
• Right guard: John Jerry, who could be out several weeks with a knee injury, was listed with the first team on the depth chart; Lance Louis, who has yet to take any contact this fall, is his top backup. Since neither was available Monday night, Richie Incognito moved to the right side. Josh Samuda got the start at left guard.
• Defensive end: Randy Starks and Jared Odrick were listed as co-starters, a clever way for the coaching staff to avoid saying which veteran is ahead at this point.
• Cornerback: Dimitri Patterson has seemingly passed Richard Marshall and worked with the first team Monday, but Marshall still got the top line on the depth chart.
• Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane was listed ahead of Evan Rodriguez, but there’s a chance neither makes the team.