Some thoughts and things rolling around in my head:
It is only preseason. Repeat that time and time again because what you are about to read must be digested in the context of, that’s right, it is only preseason. But as the first three games of this preseason are what we have to go by to judge what we have seen -- and indeed that’s good enough for the Dolphins and other NFL teams to make career decisions on hundreds of players -- I have to tell you that Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke hasn’t exactly gotten off to a roaring start.
The Dolphins first team defense is coming off a disastrous outing in Philadelphia. It wasn’t just that Philadelphia scored 21 points on the starting unit. The points were only part of the problem.
Another problem was players missing multiple tackles.
Another problem was there was at least one coverage bust that contributed to a 50-yard touchdown.
Another problem is the Philadelphia’s second-string offense driving 53 yards in six plays for a touchdown -- against Miami’s defensive starters. Think of that. Some third-string quarterback (because backup Nick Foles didn’t play) named Matt McGloin lit up the Dolphins starting defense by completing 9 of 10 passes for 84 yards in the first half.
This after Carson Wentz threw 2 TD passes and had a 104.2 quarterback rating against Miami’s starting defense.
Also, the Miami defense that was 30th in the NFL against the run a year ago but supposedly addressed those issues this offseason, gave up 4.6 yards per rush for the game.
It’s only the preseason.
The week before, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan completed 3 of 3 passes and had a touchdown and a 150.7 passer rating against Miami’s starters.
The first game of the preseason against Baltimore was the best outing for the Miami starting defense except that, well, many starters didn’t play. And the unit faced Ravens backup quarterback Ryan Mallett rather than starter Joe Flacco.
Again, it’s only preseason. But this unit has been together in this system for over a year. They have more talent than they did last season if one merely gauges the return to health of players such as Reshad Jones, the trade for William Hayes, and the signing of Lawrence Timmons, and the signing of Nate Allen and the draft addition of not one but two defensive tackles and a cornerback.
So why with more experience and more talent aren’t things looking better?
How much does Burke, in his first year as a defensive coordinator, bear responsibility for this?
Hey, I get it. It’s preseason, which is why I’m merely asking what’s going on...
Linebacker Rey Maualuga is working into practices now and that’s good. That means the Dolphins have a level of confidence that his conditioning is improving.
Words of warning: It has been my experience that when older veterans sit out the offseason and come into camp late and need to get in shape, the problem they encounter is the dreaded hamstring or groin or calf strain. The soft tissue injuries are what gets guys like this a week or two into camp because their body is freaking out from the exertion.
The Dolphins should be careful.
The Dolphins seemingly have an interesting decision whether to go with Anthony Steen or Jesse Davis as their starting left guard now that Kraig Urbik is currently out of the picture (post his knee surgery and release).
A very astute football man told me recently he would start Davis ahead of Steen. Davis might not be as good as Steen right now and might not really be ready to be the guy. But he’s looked good this preseason and has a higher upside than Steen. Once he gains more experience, he should be better.
Davis might struggle a little bit earlier in the season, I was told, but he would be the better player as the season progresses.
By the way, kudos to the Dolphins personnel department for finding Davis last November.
And kudos to the Dolphins personnel department for signing T.J. McDonald.
Yes, he is going on the shelf once the regular season begins because he must serve an eight-game NFL suspension. Yes, he’s only signed to a one-year deal.
But anyone with eyes who watches practices cannot help but notice he has a presence and brings an intimidating factor to the secondary that cannot be denied.
Assuming he doesn’t do anything foolish during his suspension, he is going to give the Dolphins a fresh infusion or nasty the second half of the season.
So while the Dolphins have been searching for a starting left guard and so far finding no one to award the position to, it becomes increasingly clear that rookie fifth-round pick Isaac Asiata is not a big factor in the competition.
He had a decent game a couple of weeks ago. And then he followed with a solid week of practice.
But he had been such a non-factor before that that he has much, much catching up to do to figure prominently in the battle.
And to anyone suggesting a fifth-round pick shouldn’t be figuring in a battle for a starting job at this point, I offer exhibit A: Davon Godchaux.
Every time the Dolphins talk about Laremy Tunsil they glow about how good he is and how athletic and what great feet he has.
Forgive me if I’d like to see him actually dominate an opponent before I start preparing his induction argument into the Hall of Fame. He looked all out of sorts on that one sack he allowed against the Eagles. He has obvious growing to do.
I covered Richmond Webb as a rookie. And he was dominant as a pass blocker from the first day. I said dominant. No, he wasn’t a great run blocker, but his job was to protect Dan Marino’s blind side and that was done usually one-on-one with a high level of excellence.
Tunsil may grow into that kind of pass blocker.
But he’s not there yet and the fact he’s missed practice time, which he needed, for personal reasons hasn’t helped his development.
I would hate to be the guy -- I assume it’s coach Adam Gase -- who will have to convince receiver Jarvis Landry that the Dolphins aren’t trading him despite a report the Dolphins are trading him.
To be a fly on the wall for that one after the Dolphins have obviously decided they're not signing Landry to an extension now would be fascinating.
Truth is how the Dolphins manage Landry and how he handles himself in view of him perhaps getting fewer targets and not getting a big payday will be very interesting.
Gase does not care about sacks. He has made that plain because he believes affecting the quarterback, making him throw early or changing his launch point or simply making him look to only one read is just as good as getting a sack.
A sack is better. Getting there is better. Getting there and stripping the football and recovering is best.
Ask any Dolphins offensive coach after Jay Cutler was sacked and fumbled if they would have felt as poorly if he had just been forced to throw an incompletion. Of course they wouldn’t have. Sacks hurt more. Strip sacks are daggers.
Look, solid pass rushers can affect the passer. Elite pass rushers get all the way to the quarterback, steal the down, cause lost yardage, and sometimes take the football.
It’s the difference between good and great. If I’m the Dolphins I’m asking for great rather than telling players good is good enough.
I was going to make a point about first-round rookie defensive end Charles Harris here but I got off course. Never mind. It’s the preseason. He’s a rookie.
An under-the-radar stud this training camp? Fourth-year defensive end Terrence Fede has been very good.
He gets no recognition on a defensive line filled with big names and big personalities.
But he’s very good setting the edge on run plays. And his pass rush has improved significantly.
So Byron Maxwell might lose his starting job?
Why doesn’t someone find out why he’s not playing well and fix it instead?
He obviously played well from October to early December last season before he ended the season injured. It is in the team’s best interest to help him regain that level of production.
The way it is being portrayed in some media, the Dolphins can simply move on to Alterraun Verner because he’s been playing well and practicing well.
Verner is 5-10. Maxwell is 6-1.
Verner cannot (repeat) cannot simply take over on the outside for a guy three inches taller and play the same press-man coverage the Dolphins want to play when Burke brings blitz pressure.
The idea they can do it flashes me back to 2015 when the team signed Brice McCain to play slot and because he did such a good job in the preseason and other corners stunk, they made the 5-9 McCain the starter on the outside.
And then everyone was surprised when the guy signed to play slot got toasted playing outside.
McCain was eventually cut the next offseason for basically being too good for his own good the previous preseason. His reward for playing well before the season was being served up out of position in the regular-season.
And we’re going to relive this?
My trusty NFL schedule tells me the Dolphins start the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hmm, let me look at a Tampa Bay roster.
Oh, one of their receivers is 6-5 Mike Evans.
So unless the Dolphins are going to match up 6-foot Xavien Howard on Evans every single snap, they are going to find themselves in a very unfavorable matchup of playing press man with a 5-10 CB against a 6-5 WR.
I wonder how that will go?
Fix Bryon Maxwell, coaches. It’s easier to replace him. But do the harder thing and fix him.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero