Clearing out the notebook as the Dolphins wrap up preparations for Sunday’s home-opener against the Tennessee Titans:
The Dolphins defense has generally played well so far this season. And the unit that will face the Titans Sunday is perhaps the strongest the team has put on the field in quite a while.
Consider that cornerback Xavien Howard, who injured his shoulder against New Orleans last week, missed Wednesday’s practice. Well, he returned to full practice on Thursday and is expected to start on Sunday.
Linebacker Rey Maualuga will start in the middle for the Dolphins for the first time this year after practicing with the first unit the entire week.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
So Miami’s linebacker corps will be Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons on the outside and Maualuga in the middle.
In nickel situations Maualuga will come out and Alonso and Timmons will remain. But remember, the Titans are a run-heavy team.
So Maualuga, who might expect to get 20 snaps in most games, might get 30 against the Titans.
The Dolphins don’t really know whether they’ll face Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota or his backup Matt Cassel on Sunday. Mariota is nursing a hamstring and has been limited in practice this week.
And because Mariota is a mobile quarterback who makes ample use of his legs as part of his game and Cassel is almost exclusively a pocket quarterback, it suggests trouble preparing for what might happen.
Except the Dolphins aren’t troubled. They’re approaching it one way.
“It’s tough; but at the same time, we’re preparing like (Mariota’s) going to play,” defensive end Andre Branch said.
Folks lose sight of the fact head coach Adam Gase is the play-caller on offense but Clyde Christensen is actually the offensive coordinator.
And like everyone else associated with the Dolphins offense, which has scored six points the last two games, Christensen is being self-critical lately.
“My role, which I don’t think I’ve done very well is just keep giving him some ideas and kind of manage the things underneath him, talk through some things like how do we get this thing back on track, so he can focus on calling the game,” Christensen said. “It’s the same as it’s always been, just to be a complement to him.
“It’s his show and I’m just dancing in it; but I’ve got to do a better job of giving him what he needs to dial it up. The same as everybody, there’s a frustration level I think (he has). When there are so few snaps, it’s hard to get a rhythm. It’s hard to get to the things in your game plan that you want to do. You start pressing.
“I do think that probably one of my responsibilities would be just to be a soothing voice, if you will, that you can’t get frustrated. All of us have tendencies -- players and coaches -- to say ‘I’ve got to make it happen. I’ve got to make this thing successful. I’ve got to call the perfect play. I’ve got to dial up the one that turns the whole thing around.’ At the end of the day, that’s a recipe for things getting worse.”
Gase was asked if he feels Christensen has failed him in any way and the coach dismissed that notion quickly.
“Clyde is just probably being a little hard on himself,” Gase said. “I think what everybody is trying to do right now is do more ... find ways to help the offense, find ways to see if we can get some consistency going, finishing drives, converting third downs. As far as guys tightening up, this is the NFL, so we’ve got to toughen up a little bit.”
At a time the Dolphins aren’t getting great consistent offensive line play outside of perhaps center Mike Pouncey, the guards are a bit of a focus because of the way the team addressed the need at the position in the offseason -- that is to say, on the cheap.
Well, Jermon Bushrod last week had a bad matchup in that he faced a quicker, smaller defensive tackle. And Bushrod, a bigger, stronger type, struggled a little bit. At left guard Anthony Steen and Jesse Davis are backup type players being forced into starting duty because Ted Larsen is out.
Unfortunately for them, Steen and Davis aren’t playing up to high standards the past two weeks but also have faced some good opponents in that span.
That makes any logical person wonder about Isaac Asiata. He was the team’s first of two fifth-round draft picks but unlike Davon Godchaux, who was selected later in the fifth round, Asiata has been a non-factor this year.
The guard has been inactive each of the first three games of the season and barring injury or a sudden jump in the player’s practice performance, you’re not likely to see him very much.
“I think he’s is a ways away,” Christensen said Thursday. “I think in an ideal world, it’d be his redshirt year. That would be the ideal world. We may have to call him up and he may have to go this weekend; but I do think Larsen and a couple of guys are getting closer and that will give us a little extra depth in the thing.”
When the Dolphins coaching staff told rookie Cordrea Tankersley he was starting against New Orleans, he gave them an answer they loved:
“It’s about time,” Tankersley said.
So how did he fare after Drew Brees went after him time and again, including on a touchdown pass in Sunday’s loss?
“I thought he did a good job,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “He competed. As expected, he was challenged, which that wasn’t a surprise to any of us. There were some rookie mistakes and some things that he’s got to clean up; but I thought that his approach to it, his confidence, and the way challenged guys ... he wasn’t backing off from anybody, trying to do what we asked.
“He was really into it and when he did have a couple of gray area things and we cleaned them up on the sideline, he was very responsive. He was good. It definitely wasn’t too big for him and he went the other way with it.”
Tankersley will remain in the starting role this week against Tennessee.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero