Barry Jackson

The curse of the training camp starter and 20 Dolphins takeaways from Carolina game

Miami Dolphins linebacker Stephone Anthony (44) prepares to collide with center Mike Matthews (63) during training camp on Aug. 1. Anthony has struggled in two preseason games.
Miami Dolphins linebacker Stephone Anthony (44) prepares to collide with center Mike Matthews (63) during training camp on Aug. 1. Anthony has struggled in two preseason games. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A bunch of notes and takeaways in the wake of the Dolphins’ 27-20 preseason loss to Carolina which exposed the usual flaws:

Misfortune has befallen most of the players who began training camp as the starters at the team’s most competitive positions. In two weeks since, the players (except Kenyan Drake and T.J. McDonald) have either been injured, ineffective or demoted.

Jordan Phillips, who lost his starting job to Davon Godchaux a week into camp, has been sidelined with shoulder injury.

MarQueis Gray, who opened as the first-team tight end, is in the concussion protocol system and missed Friday’s game.

A.J. Derby, who opened training camp with the starters (alongside Gray) in two tight-end sets, missed more than a week with a foot injury and was called for an offensive pass interference against Carolina, wrecking one possession.

Then there’s the discouraging tale of cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and linebacker Stephone Anthony. Both were starters on the first day of training camp. Both were unspeakably poor on Friday.

Tankersley gave up a handful of catches, including a 39-yarder, and afterward called his performance “terrible, straight trash.”

A review of the tape showed Anthony either running the wrong way or being blocked into submission or missing a tackle on four substantial runs.

Anthony started the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and clearly struggled that night, too.

It seems difficult to believe that either Tankersley or Anthony will regain a starting position anytime soon, barring injury, even though replacements Bobby McCain and Jerome Baker weren’t perfect Friday.

McCain allowed two completions for first downs but remains the best among options for the boundary cornerback job opposite Xavien Howard.

And surprisingly, at the moment, Torry McTyer is Miami’s third best boundary cornerback. He had two excellent plays in coverage on Friday and stopped two runs for very short gains.

Baker’s night was a mixed bag. He held two C.J. Anderson runs to short gains and got good pressure on one pass rush but was faked out on a nine-yard run and was one of several Dolphins who was out of position on Christian McCaffrey’s 71-yard run. (McDonald took a poor angle; Godchaux, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso also were helpless on the play.)

But Baker, like McCain, appears Miami’s best option to start because of limited appealing choices behind them.

Though Baker and Alonso and McMillan each had a few good moments, the overall linebaker play simply isn’t good enough. Among the backups, Anthony played poorly and Terence Garvin allowed Elijah Hood to drag him into the end zone on a touchdown run.

Chase Allen had a couple good plays but was pushed aside on one TD run and committed an illegal contact penalty that negated an Andre Branch sack and Carolina fumble.

Even beyond McMillan and Baker being non-factors on the 71-yard run, the most disturbing linebacker development was how slow McMillan looked in chasing third-string tight end Ian Thomas on his touchdown catch.

And Alonso twice was left in coverage against McCaffrey, a matchup that’s unfavorable to Alonso. I found it interesting that linebacker coach Frank Bush told me that there is no intention of playing Alonso any less in pass coverage this season – a strategy that seems questionable.

The Dolphins’ backup offensive line, which played well against Tampa Bay, had problems against Carolina, with Sam Young allowing two sacks and Isaac Asiata committing two penalties.

None of the receivers competing for a possible sixth job did anything notable. Rashawn Scott and Francis Owusu failed to haul in catchable balls.

David Fales achieved the remarkable feat of finishing a game with a zero passer rating, albeit in limited duty. He was 1 for 6 for six yards and an interception, only his third since camp started (the other two were in practice).

Rookie tight end Mike Gesicki’s blocking was competent, but how about throwing him a pass so that he and Ryan Tannehill can work on their chemistry in game situations?

More exasperating: The Dolphins’ continued penchant for throwing well short of the first-down marker on third down. Yes, coaches don’t want Tannehill to get hit, but don’t you need to trust his protection to throw downfield at some point (at the very latest, in the regular season opener)?

The Dolphins are now 4 for 24 on third down in preseason. Yikes.

Jakeem Grant continues to show his improvement as a route runner, and Adam Gase made clear that it was Tannehill – not Grant – at fault for their miscommunication on an ugly third-down incompletion.

Though Tannehill completed 14 of 17 passes (mostly short throws), CBS-4’s Nat Moore correctly pointed out that Kenyan Drake would have gained at least five more yards on one catch if he hadn’t had to contort his body to catch one Tanehill pass.

Drake’s excellent run where he escaped Kawann Short well behind the line of scrimmage, changed directions and scampered 34 yards was hardly unusual. He’s done something like that that several times in training camp.

Credit to the young kickers for improving. Both had excellent night, with Jason Sanders hitting from 42, 29 and 32 yards and Greg Joseph from 54.

Safety Maurice Smith showed why the Dolphins put him on the field against Oakland last November before his season was short-circuited because of an appendectomy.

He had a team-high eight tackles on Friday, made a great play on a two-yard loss by C.J. Anderson and intercepted a deflected ball caused by a jarring hit by Trae Elston.

Laremy Tunsil’s 12 penalties last year were third-most among all NFL offensive linemen and he had another one (holding) on Friday…Kendall Langford went from unemployed Monday to making two tackles in an NFL game on Friday…

Counting the end of last season, Xavien Howard now has five interceptions in his past seven games… Robert Quinn was the first Dolphin with two sacks in a preseason game since Julius Warmsley in 2016… Vincent Taylor had a tackle for loss and continues to do something impactful every game or practice… Charles Harris had a sack and quarterback hit and continues to show signs of growth.

NOTE: The Miami Herald is now offering a digital sports-only subscription for $30 per year. This is unlimited access to all Herald sports and sports stories - including my hundreds and hundreds each year - and you can comment in the section below as many times as you wish.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments