CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Robert Quinn raised a clenched fist during the national anthem Friday night and that was his personal protest during the national anthem. But he might as well have been raising his hand and telling people to look at him and see what he was about to do.
Because so far, through this preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, Quinn seems the only significant reason for optimism about the Dolphins new defensive front.
Quinn collected two sacks of Cam Newton this game. He stood out.
“That was good,” coach Adam Gase said. “That was one of our problems last year when we came here. We couldn’t get the quarterback down. I thought the guys harassed him and did a good job of causing some pressure.”
The problem is Quinn was generally alone in the excellence of his play for the Dolphins starters.
Oh, other Miami players did good things. But most of those followed good with bad. They were inconsistent.
And that’s not good enough to turn the Dolphins around in 2018.
Ryan Tannehill? On the surface it’s hard to complain about 14 completions on 17 attempts. He didn’t throw an interception.
But he also didn’t throw a TD pass. His yards per attempt were a modest 5.8 yards when really good NFL quarterbacks deliver in the 7-to-8 yards range.
And, most importantly, the first-team offense didn’t get in the end zone -- not even when one of their drives started at the Carolina 9 yard line after a turnover.
The offensive line in front of Tannehill offered some good pass protection. But the run-blocking was spotty.
The story was more troubling on defense.
Xavien Howard had an interception that put his offense in a great spot to score inside the Carolina 10 yard line. But he also gave up a 21-yard pass interference penalty that bailed the Panthers out of a third-and-8 situation on a drive that ultimately ended with a Carolina touchdown.
You’ll recall last year the Dolphins came to this venue with their season on life support. And the Panthers stomped the life out of them with a 45-21 whipping that included Miami giving up 294 rushing yards.
And you’d be tempted to think that doesn’t matter now -- certainly not this preseason.
But I know it did matter. I was told by people within the organization they wanted to see the defense answer the call and set a marker about this team being different and better than the team that last visited here.
The desire by the Dolphins to show well on defense was multiplied by last week’s failure to effectively stop Tampa Bay’s starting offense when Miami’s starters were in the game.
The Dolphins were excited that this game would include Reshad Jones and Cameron Wake in the lineup after they didn’t play in the preseason opener. And they thought things would look so much better with those better players on the field and another week of practice and hard work behind them.
But on the second play the Carolina offense had the football, Christian McCaffrey ran 71 yards for a touchdown. The left side of the defensive line was erased. No linebackers were there to pick up the pieces. Safety T.J. McDonald took a bad angle to make a tackle in the secondary. And Jones couldn’t catch McCaffrey from behind.
The anatomy of an embarrassing moment.
The Dolphins gave up 8.2 yards per carry against Carolina in last year’s game. The first-team defense gave up 11.3 yards per rush while giving up 113 first half rushing yards this game.
So much for showing great improvement.
The Dolphins are still hopeful this second preseason game is not a taste of what’s to come. Because that would be a very bitter taste.
As an example of that looming pain is the play of the Miami linebackers.
Starting middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan played better against Carolina than he did in his preseason debut. But he didn’t exactly play well.
That was him getting beat on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to tight end Ian Thomas. Thomas, by the way, is a rookie third-team player for the Panthers. So him beating Miami’s starting middle linebacker for a score is a bit cringe inducing.
The rest of the linebacker corps?
Dolphins linebackers have been a hill this Miami front office has not been able to climb. Injuries decimated that group in 2016 and even as the team was making the playoffs, the linebackers room was clownishly undermanned. Last year we had the Lawrence Timmons experience which was a disaster.
And after those two years the Dolphins effectively are hoping Jerome Baker and McMillan -- two inexperienced youngsters -- to suddenly solve all the issues.
But Baker was largely not as active this game as the first. Both players need honing. Lots of it.
I don’t see any sudden awesomeness happening here. This is going to be a process. This is going to require growth and time and patience.
And there’s only one problem with needing time and patience: The regular-season begins when it begins. It isn’t waiting for the Dolphins to improve and overcome growing pains.
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