Miami Dolphins

Undrafted rookie WR Preston Williams makes explosive preseason debut for Dolphins

Dolphins Preston Williams comments on his catch

Dolphins Preston Williams comments on his catch during preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Thursday, August 8, 2019.
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Dolphins Preston Williams comments on his catch during preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

The most jaw-dropping play from Preston Williams’ explosive debut for the Miami Dolphins was planned out ahead of time. As the Dolphins went through warm-ups before their preseason-opener against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium, Williams practiced a fade route down the left sideline, making sure to punctuate it with a one-handed catch with his left hand.

With a little more than a minute left in the first half, Miami tried out it out in game. Williams dashed up the the left sideline and Josh Rosen floated a pass out in front of him. Just like he planned, Williams stretched out his left arm and pulled in a one-handed catch for a 36-yard gain to get the Dolphins moving on their way to a field goal just before halftime.

“It’s my job, so I’m expected to make plays,” Williams said. “Coach gave me the opportunity. I just tried to make every play.”

Making his first appearance in live action in an NFL uniform, Williams made his case not just for a roster spot in Miami, but to potentially seize a significant role in the Dolphins receivers rotation. An undrafted rookie from the Colorado State Rams, Williams finished his preseason debut with four catches for 97 yards to help the Dolphins win 34-27 in Miami Gardens. Williams’ 97 yards were the second most by any player in the first week of the preseason.

Williams’ connection with Rosen was a consistent in both their debuts for Miami. On Rosen’s first drive in the second quarter, Williams bailed out the quarterback with a contested catch on a bad throw, then drew a penalty in the end zone to set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown. On the last drive of the first half, Williams made two critical catches to set up a field, and then he made another catch on the goal line to start the third quarter and set up another touchdown.

“That’s my guy. I’ve known Josh since high school,” Williams said. “We’re still trying to get our chemistry down, but you can see we’ve got flashes.”

Rosen faced persistent pressure playing behind Miami’s second-team offensive line Thursday, so some of his early throws fluttered and went awry. Rosen’s fourth attempt was badly underthrown as he was hit while throwing, but Williams came back to the ball and, fighting through defensive pass interference, pulled in a 38-yard catch. Rosen tried to cap the touchdown drive by throwing a goal-line fade to Williams and the wideout got interfered with again, setting up running back Kalen Ballage for a 1-yard touchdown run.

“You’ve got to know what certain guys are good at and Preston can go get the ball, so you’ve got some guys that are smaller, quick and fast. Some guys are physical,” Rosen said, “and Preston will go get the ball, so you’ve got to give him those opportunities.”

The Rosen-led offense stalled the next two position, totaling negative yardage. Williams was again the spark.

The quarterback began his third drive by going deep to Williams down the left sideline, and this time the receiver made a diving one-handed grab with his left hand for 36 yards. Three plays later, Rosen went to Williams again on the left sideline, throwing to the receiver’s outside shoulder, so Williams could turn around, extend to the sideline and tap his toes down inbound for an 18-yard gain. The Dolphins settled for a field goal to cut the Falcons’ lead to 19-13.

The Dolphins jumped back ahead on the first drive of the second half and, again, Williams was key. On Miami’s sixth play of the second half, Rosen floated a jump ball to Williams at the goal line on the right side of the field, and the rookie pulled in a 27-yard catch to put the Dolphins at the 1-yard line. Running back Mark Walton punched in a touchdown three plays later, and Miami reclaimed the lead at 20-19.

Williams exited for good shortly after his last catch, although an impression had certainly been made by the 6-foot-5, 218-pound athlete. Although nothing is guaranteed this early in the preseason, Williams feels he is in good position to make the team.

Brian Flores feels he has the potential to do even more.

“To get to a number one status is—he’s got a long way to go, but does he have that potential? I would say he does and it’s up to him to do the things he has to do to reach that potential,” the coach said. “We’ll help him though. I think he’s done a really good job over the course of the spring and summer.”

Kenyan Drake starts at running back

Kenyan Drake is apparently leading the Dolphins’ running backs competition — at least according to the starting lineups for the first game of the preseason.

Drake got the nod as the starting running back against the Falcons, edging out Ballage for the first-team action for Miami. Ballage, however, scored the Dolphins’ only touchdown of the first half, punching in a 1-yard run with 8:53 left in the second quarter. Ballage led Miami in rushing in the first half with 23 yards on six carries. Drake ran four times for 12 yards.

The rest of the offensive starting lineup for the Dolphins wasn’t surprising. Ryan Fitzpatrick started at quarterback with Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker as his two wide receivers, and Durham Smythe and Nick O’Leary in at tight end, leaving fellow tight end Mike Gesicki on the bench. Tackle Laremy Tunsil did not play, so Jordan Mills slid over from right tackle to left tackle, which bumped Jesse Davis, listed as the starting right guard, out to right tackle. A pair of rookies started at the two guard spots with Michael Deiter at left guard and Shaq Calhoun at right guard. Center Daniel Kilgore rounded out the starting offensive line.

Miami’s defense is currently more banged up than its offense, which pushed up a pair of reserves to the first-team secondary and pressed a backup linebacker into starting duty. Undrafted rookie Nik Needham started opposite fellow cornerback Xavien Howard in place of Eric Rowe, and T.J. McDonald started alongside fellow safeties Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick with Reshad Jones injured. At linebacker, Sam Eguavoen started opposite Jerome Baker with Kiko Alonso injured. The defensive line started as anticipated: Charles Harris and Tank Carradine were the defensive ends, and Christian Wilkins and Davon Godchaux were the defensive tackles.

This and that

Kendrick Norton was an honorary captain for the Dolphins in their first game of any sort since Norton lost his left arm in an offseason car accident. The defensive tackle was released by the team in July a few weeks after a Fourth of July car accident forced the amputation of his right arm. Miami will pay Norton his full salary this season.

A day after calling out Stephen M. Ross on Twitter for the owner’s support of President Donald Trump, Stills knelt for the national anthem, as he did all throughout 2018.

Tunsil was the only surprise inactive for the Dolphins, sitting for rest. Wide receivers Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant, and linebacker Raekwon McMillan were also inactive in addition to Alonso, Rowe and Jones due to various injuries.

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