Miami Dolphins

Dolphins rookie guards took lumps in the preseason-opener, but there are promising signs

Dolphins QB Josh Rosen grades his performance in his first Fins game as “good and bad”

Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen grades his performance in his first Fins game as "good and bad" against the Atlanta Falcons, August 8, 2019.
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen grades his performance in his first Fins game as "good and bad" against the Atlanta Falcons, August 8, 2019.

Josh Rosen spent most of his first game in a Miami Dolphins uniform running for his life. As soon as the quarterback entered the Dolphins’ preseason-opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, he was ready to dance and weave his way through traffic in the pocket at Hard Rock Stadium.

Some of Miami’s backups on the offensive line had entered the game by then. The interior, however, was mostly intact with rookie guards Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun staying in the game to block for Dolphins’ potential quarterback of the future.

There were more glaring weaknesses on the line to throw Rosen off kilter, but both guards had there mistakes, too. Deiter committe penalties at inopportune times. Calhoun got beaten a handful of times on inside moves. They were rookies starting for the first time in the NFL and they looked like it.

“I think there’s some getting used to the game speed was something that showed up just from the naked eye that I saw,” coach Brian Flores said Thursday after Miami ralled for a 34-27 win. “I think it got better as the game went on for those guys.”

The most important number from the two guards’ first NFL, however, starts was 37 -- the number of snaps each played. They started the game blocking for Ryan Fitzpatrick with the first-team offensive line, then stuck around when the second-team line cycled in to block for Rosen. The Dolphins needed to get a look at how the two rookies would fare in live game action and they made sure it happened in Miami Gardens.

For most of the last two weeks, they have formed an unlikely first-team tandem at training camp in Davie. Deiter, a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, took over as the starting left guard last month the day after the Dolphins surprisingly fired offensive line coach Pat Flaherty. Calhoun, an undrafted rookie, eased into the starting lineup at right guard at the same time. They have remained the starting duo even through an up-and-down August.

Just before he was fired, Flaherty was up front about how far off Deiter was from being able to start. Miami wants to prioritize evaluating young talent. The two ideologies couldn’t coexist.

On Thursday, it was evident just how far Deiter and Calhoun still are. It was also evident why the Dolphins think it makes sense to play them.

“We’ve come a long way, and, like you said, we have a ton more to do,” Deiter said Thursday. “Especially me and Shaq being rookies, there’s a lot that we can clean up. We were not perfect at all and we’ve got to get there. I think the other guys — the vets — are doing a really job of bringing us along and I think that we are the two that have to kind of pick it up because we are rookies. There is a lot we don’t know, and there is a lot we have to learn and we are doing a good job of getting there, but we are not there yet at all. We have a lot more to do, which is good. If we can get better and this is our starting point, then we’ve got to be happy with that, but we’ve got to get better.”

The expectations are particularly high for Deiter. The interior lineman played all three positions in his career with the Wisconsin Badgers and was an All-American in 2018. Offensive line was the Dolphins’ most glaring weakness in 2018, so the expectation was for Deiter to seize a starting spot as a rookie.

Calhoun’s rise to the starting lineup has been more surprising, although he was still listed as the backup on the depth chart Thursday before starting. The offensive lineman, whose real name is Deion Calhoun, went undrafted after starting 36 games across four seasons with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. He also delivered some of the plays that most give Miami reason for hope about the first-year linemen.

On a second-quarter touchdown run by Kalen Ballage, Calhoun pushed back the defensive lineman he matched up against to get the running back enough room for the 1-yard score. On a chunk run by Kenyan Drake in the first quarter, Calhoun got down the field to pick up a linebacker and spring the running back for a first down.

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound lineman knows his lack of size will always hamper him to a degree. It bit him a couple times Thursday, but he also put his strengths on display. It’s why Miami is, for now, giving the two rookies the benefit of the doubt.

“My quickness, my athleticism — I believe people were sleeping on that, but I don’t know what they were sleeping on,” Calhoun said earlier this month. “Obviously it don’t matter now. I’m here.”

Dolphins add veteran linebacker

The Dolphins made a move to add some more experienced depth to their linebackers group Sunday, signing Terrance Smith, who spent the last three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Smith, who was a star for the Florida State Seminoles and went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, played in 31 games and started three times across three seasons with the Chiefs. He has 29 tackles, one sack, one interception and two passes defended in his career.

To make room for Smith, Miami waived Jonathan Woodard with an injury designation. The defensive end did not play in the preseason-opener Thursday. If he clears waivers, Woodard will move to injured reserve or be released with an injury settlement. Woodard has been with the Dolphins since 2017, first as a member of the practice squad and then with the active roster last season.

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