The much hyped pass rush the Miami Dolphins have said many times they are going to unleash during the 2016 NFL regular-season did not make its debut in the team’s exhibition opener Friday night.
Coach Adam Gase held out defensive linemen Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Jones and Mario Williams. The defenders were prominent among the players who traveled with the team but did not play against the New York Giants.
Other players who traveled but were held out were cornerback Byron Maxwell, safety Reshad Jones, running back Arian Foster and receiver DeVante Parker.
Wake, attempting a comeback from the torn Achilles and surgery to repair it in October, continues to be set to open the season as a starting end, and the Dolphins held him out of the game to ensure the team’s leading active sack leader doesn’t stumble on that comeback trail.
The Dolphins are being cautious with several valuable players and players who have had minor injuries in training camp. That caution extended to Parker.
Parker said Wednesday he believed the plan for him was to play but that was immediately after coming back from a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice for more than a week. The Dolphins want to make sure Parker gets more practice work before testing his hamstring in a game.
Parker will play in next weeks preseason game at Dallas barring any setbacks during the coming week of practice.
The defensive absences meant veterans Andre Branch, Chris McCain and Terrence Fede got opportunities to help sort out the ample depth the Dolphins seem to have at defensive end.
Branch, a veteran who likely has a roster spot set on the team, was not held out like other vets simply because the team needed players at the position. But Branch seems set currently to make the team. The same is not true of Fede or McCain.
With Suh not playing and Earl Mitchell in South Florida nursing a calf injury, the starting defensive tackles Friday were Chris Jones and Jordan Phillips.
At cornerback, the Dolphins went with Bobby McCain starting on the outside in place of Maxwell. McCain has been working almost exclusively as a slot cornerback in camp, but his starting on the outside shows the tenuous situation the Dolphins currently have at cornerback if someone of Maxwell’s caliber actually was missing a game because of an injury.
McCain was beaten a couple of times but also had a diving interception.
On offense, rookie Griff Whalen started for Parker. The first team offensive line was Branden Albert at left tackle, Dallas Thomas at left guard, Mike Pouncey at center, Billy Turner at right guard and Ja’Wuan James at right tackle.
First-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil played at left guard with the second-team offense.
Jay Ajayi started at running back but was not effective. Arian Foster, also being managed as he regains his form after a ruptured Achilles in 2015, did not play.
The start of the game was delayed 56 minutes because of severe weather in East Rutherford. About 20 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff, fans were told to head for shelter, and the entire field was cleared out as dark clouds rolled in from the south end of the stadium. Rain and lightning forced the delay.
Rookie Jakeem Grant handled all punt and kickoff returns in the first half. Grant is looking to supplant Jarvis Landry and Damien Williams to become the team’s sole returner.
The short speedster was unafraid to run out kicks from deep in the end zone and finished one of his punt returns by putting his shoulder through Giants punter Brad Wing.
Former Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon started for the Giants. The former Dolphin signed a five-year, $85 million deal with New York in March. He knocked down quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Miami’s second play from scrimmage, then nearly caught Tannehill for a safety on the Dolphins’ next drive.
THIS AND THAT
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips rang in the preseason with a 5-yard penalty on the game’s first play. … A Chris McCain offsides penalty wiped out a third-down stop on the Giants’ first drive. New York scored a touchdown two plays later. McCain did have a sack in the second quarter. … A James’ holding penalty erased an Ajayi first-down run on Miami’s second series. The Dolphins would punt. … After a Matt Moore interception put the Giants in the red zone, the Dolphins defense responded with back-to-back penalties. … A Walt Aikens strip-sack late in the second quarter led to the offense’s first touchdown of the game. … Backup right tackle Ulrick John was called for a holding penalty on Miami’s last drive of the first half.