Ten notes and thoughts after the Miami Dolphins’ preseason opener:
▪ If I’m Dolphins defensive coaches, I want more extensive evaluations (against higher-quality competition) of at least four players that intrigue me: defensive ends Jonathan Ledbetter and Dwayne Hendrix and second-year cornerbacks Cornell Armstrong and Jalen Davis. And linebacker Tre’ Watson could be included in that group, too.
All played late in Thursday’s game. All warrant greater evaluation against better players — meaning the first half — of next week’s game at Tampa Bay.
Hendrix (27 snaps Thursday) has applied a consistent pass rush throughout training camp and continued that with two sacks Thursday, including one that set up Miami’s winning drive. Beyond the sacks Thursday, he had “a handful of more pressures on limited pass-rushing snaps,” according to Pro Football Focus.
Hendrix had eight sacks in 28 college games at Tennessee and Pittsburgh, and he was far more impactful — albeit against worse players — than Charles Harris.
Ledbetter, meanwhile, has received a handful of first-team snaps in practice. And PFF notes that during Thursday’s game, “he had a sack and a few hurries, and he was also a force in the run game. He not only made multiple solo stops himself but disrupted plays and allowed his teammates to finish the job.”
PFF gave Ledbetter the third-highest grade of any Miami defensive player Thursday.
He had 30 snaps Thursday, equal to 37 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps.
The 6-4, 280-pound Ledbetter had his best season last year at Georgia with 56 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles. His run-stopping percentage was fourth best among FBS interior defensive players (where PFF graded him).
As for the defensive backfield, now that undrafted rookie Nik Needham got his chance (and struggled) and now that we’ve seen Tory McTyer struggle badly in coverage last season, it’s time to give a fresh look to Armstrong and Davis, two second-year players who are fast and around the ball a lot.
Davis made a terrific play to break up an Atlanta pass at the end of Thursday’s game, sealing the win for Miami. Armstrong made a good play in coverage earlier, crowding a receiver to force a ball to be caught out of bounds.
This is not to say Miami should give up on Needham after one game. And Jomal Wiltz deserves a continued look; he was up and down Thursday, with a pass interference penalty among his missteps but also a good play in coverage. But let’s see what Armstrong and Davis can do, especially if Eric Rowe remains sidelined.
▪ It was interesting that Nick O’Leary and Durham Smythe opened as the tight ends Thursday, with Mike Gesicki on the bench. Smythe missed a block on a 2nd and 1 run by Kenyan Drake, resulting in a loss. But Smythe had a great block on a Kalen Ballage run later in the first half.
Gesicki, meanwhile, caught one pass for six yards and graded out at 52.4, which is below average, per PFF.
▪ Tank Carradine, who has a chance to be a solid player in this system, did good work forcing an incomplete pass early on and getting pressure on another play. I will be surprised if Carradine isn’t one of this team’s starting ends.
And Nate Orchard helped himself with a sack Thursday. Harris will be on the team, but the other end spots are open among Jonathan Woodard, Ledbetter, Hendrix and a potential waiver claim or two.
Harris graded out poorly Thursday, with a 54.7 PFF grade.
▪ Find it curious that the Dolphins signed the guy — Will Holden — who was partly responsible for Josh Rosen being constantly pressured in Arizona last year. Holden, who allowed two sacks of Rosen last December, struggled badly Thursday but led the Dolphins offense in snaps with 53; Chris Reed also had 53.
▪ Other snap stuff: Rosen had the third most snaps (43), compared with 13 for Ryan Fitzpatrick … The starting tight ends — Smythe (11) and O’Leary (15) — played the fewest of the five active tight ends, with Clive Walford logging 22, Gesicki 19 and Dwayne Allen sitting out as he makes his way back from a knee issue….
The most snaps on defense went to Needham (56), Watson (50) and defensive back Montre Hartage (50). Watson did some good things against the run. While Needham played those 56 snaps, the aforementioned Armstrong played 27 and Davis 14....
Starting middle linebacker Sam Eguavoen played 45, and Harris played more than starters typically do in the first preseason game (38), though he needs the work after missing May/June team drills with a wrist injury ... Fewest snaps on defense went to defensive tackles Vincent Taylor and Joey Mbu (13 apiece), Jamiyus Pittman (12) and undrafted Mississippi State rookie Cory Thomas (nine).
▪ PFF’s Ryan Smith shared some other good stuff: Chris Reed (74.3) was Miami’s highest graded offensive lineman Thursday, with a 74.3, followed by Ohio State rookie tackle Isaiah Prince. Rookie Shaq Calhoun had a 67 grade, which is considered average. Michael Deiter graded out at 55.6, which is below average. Jordan Mills graded out at 47.3, which is awful.
PFF charged one sack to Holden and one to Mills.
▪ Per PFF’s Smith, Miami’s highest graded players on defense were Akeem Spence (91.0), Xavien Howard (90.5, but just 20 snaps) and Ledbetter (89.9). Jerome Baker posted a very good 82.0, and Andrew Van Ginkel’s 70.3 was solid.
▪ With Preston Williams’ emergence, it’s looking more likely that Allen Hurns (who had a fumble Thursday and three catches for 24 yards) and Brice Butler (3 for 33) are competing for one roster spot — a sixth receiver’s job, barring a trade. There’s a strong case to keep that many, with Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant still limited from injuries.
▪ Chandler Cox, the seventh-round rookie fullback, had a terrific block on Mark Walton’s touchdown run. Good to see Miami use the I-formation at times.
▪ It’s not surprising to see why undrafted running back Patrick Laird was ahead of seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin in the depth chart released last week.
Laird has a burst that was evident in his 19 yard run Thursday. But it was good to see Gaskin - who has had a quiet camp - score the winning touchdown. Gaskin ran six times for 13 yards, Laird 6 for 24.
Here’s my Friday Dolphins post with Flores’ thoughts on Robert Nkemdiche, more eye-opening praise for Preston Williams, President Trump’s comments about Steve Ross and much more.
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