Perhaps the Dolphins will actually thank Gerald McCoy in the not-so-distant future.
Because the stud defensive tackle did them a perverse favor Saturday night. He proved, with ruthless dominance, that the Dolphins have an issue at right guard.
McCoy repeatedly schooled second-year lineman Dallas Thomas in Saturday’s exhibition game a Raymond James Stadium — a game won by the Dolphins 20-14.
The worst of it: When McCoy bull-rushed past both Thomas and Samson Satele, slapped the ball out of Ryan Tannehill’s hands and forced a turnover deep in Miami territory. Four plays later, the Buccaneers were in the end zone.
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“We have a lot of respect for [their front]; their No. 93 [McCoy] is excellent,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “But there were a couple of plays [Thomas] has to block better on.”
Said Thomas: “You’ve just got to take it, learn from it, because you have to understand, you’re only going to play a guy like that once every once in a while.”
But the problem is, Thomas wasn’t exactly a rock in the running game last week in Atlanta, and McCoy doesn’t play for the Falcons.
On Saturday, Thomas also committed two penalties — illegal use of the hands that negated a completion and false start — and was part of a running attack that was brutally ineffective.
“Dallas struggled a little bit, but he’s working hard,” left tackle Branden Albert said. “Third week of playing guard, he’s working hard. He went against a good player [Saturday night]. Stuff happens. It happens to me when I was a young player. You’re not going to have your best games [every night]. You’re going to struggle.”
The Dolphins literally went the wrong way on the ground, rushing for minus-5 yards on 9 carries in the first half. Philbin acknowledged what most every observer was thinking: “Way too many negative running plays in the running game.”
And yet, the night wasn’t a catastrophe for the visiting team. Far from it. Coincidentally or not, as soon as Thomas was pulled from the game for Billy Turner, the Dolphins’ offense came to life. (Turner and Shelley Smith are the most likely candidates to replace Thomas, if a move is indeed made this week.)
With Thomas as a spectator, Matt Moore (13 of 19 for 158 yards and a score) directed two touchdown drives — one on each end of the first half — to solidify his hold on the No. 2 quarterback job.
As for the guy he’s backing up? Tannehill continued to show poise, timing and efficiency in Bill Lazor’s system — even without any semblance of a running game.
Tannehill, on the field for just 20 snaps, completed 9 of 14 passes for 110 yards. He led the Dolphins on a 62-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. And he completed passes to seven different receivers and converted three of his five third-down tries.
Tannehill has now directed the Dolphins to points on two of his four preseason drives and has completed 75 percent of his passes. He has a passer rating of 117.1 during the exhibition season.
In short, the Lazor Effect appears to be real.
Lazor helped turn Nick Foles into one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks a year ago in Philadelphia. The hope in Miami is he’s doing the same with Tannehill.
“I feel comfortable; I really like the system,” Tannehill said.
Again, the ball was out of Tannehill’s hands fast. Again, the receivers ran exotic routes. And again, the team kept the negative plays to minimum (at least in the passing game).
Tannehill’s best throw of the night came on his second drive, when he faked a read-option handoff, then slung a pass to Jarvis Landry on an in-breaking route. The throw hit Landry in stride, allowing the receiver to run for a long gain.
Tannehill has had success this preseason without noticeable production from his top three receivers. Charles Clay missed his second preseason game in a row, and while Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace did see the field, they combined for just one catch for 5 yards.
Tannehill made a concerted effort to get Wallace involved, going his way three times. But they couldn’t connect once.
The deep ball, an issue all last year, still needs work. Tannehill took a downfield shot once to Wallace in the first quarter, but it was a bit overthrown, and Wallace appeared to lose it mid-flight. He later claimed he was held; the officials thought otherwise. Wallace also had a drop on a bubble screen.
As for the defense, the Dolphins surrendered just one big play — a 41-yard completion to Mike Evans — when their best players were on the field. Tackling remains a concern — Jimmy Wilson missed a big one — but overall it was better than in the opener.
So yes, there are a few issues to clean up when the Dolphins return to practice Monday.
But the No. 1 question is obvious: Is Thomas still the starting the right guard? Or will Miami make a lineup change for the first time in weeks?
Philbin said all options are on the table — including moving Smith from left guard to the right side. In a perfect world, the offensive line that starts next Saturday against the Cowboys will start the season opener.
“But I don’t think we’re there yet,” Philbin said.
McCoy made sure of that.