Barry Jackson

Here’s who graded out best in Dolphins’ 3rd preseason game. And other notes, takeaways

Ten Dolphins notes, thoughts and postscripts from Thursday’s win against the Jaguars:

Who were the best-performing Dolphins in week 3 of preseason?

According to Pro Football Focus’ grading system, Miami’s top three performers on offense (minimum 20 snaps) were quarterback Josh Rosen (90.9 grade), tight end Nick O’Leary (74.5) and center Daniel Kilgore (71.3).

The top three performers on defense (minimum 20 snaps) were linebacker Jerome Baker (90.7), cornerback Eric Rowe (89.5) and defensive end Dwayne Hendrix (84.2).

Defensive end Charles Harris, incidentally, had five quarterback pressures in 21 pass rushing snaps — a second consecutive strong performance.

Though the offensive line remained inconsistent — not surprising with two rookies starting and left tackle Laremy Tunsil given the night off — coach Brian Flores didn’t indicate that there would be changes with the first group.

“They’re starting to understand how to play together, their strengths, their weaknesses,” Flores said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that.”

PFF gave center Kilgore the highest grade on the offensive line (71.3), following by Chris Reed at 68.8, Jesse Davis (54.9), Jordan Mills (53), Aaron Monteiro (51.9), Michael Deiter (51.1) and Shaq Calhoun (50.0) and Zach Sterup (48.2 in 19 snaps). Sterup started at left tackle in place of Tunsil.

So the two rookie guards — Deiter and Calhoun — graded out the worst of the linemen among players with at least 20 snaps, according to PFF. They also each allowed three quarterback pressures.

Flores said Josh Rosen’s play makes the quarterback decision “harder,” but I’m not sure why it’s difficult at all.

In the first year of a rebuild, the only justification to start Ryan Fitzpatrick is if he was clearly better than Rosen in training camp and preseason. And he hasn’t been.

Rosen — based on the preseason body of work — has been as good in practice and better in games. So there’s no loss of credibility with your players by starting Rosen, even though we understand his mastery of the offense and what’s required of him (including identifying the mike linebacker) isn’t as strong as Fitzpatrick’s.

And don’t tell me you don’t want Rosen to face excellent defenses in Baltimore, Dallas and the Chargers early in the season. Those are precisely the types of defenses you want to see Rosen play in evaluating whether he’s potentially the long-term answer.

Everyone knows a top-three priority this season is determining whether Rosen is the answer at quarterback. If he doesn’t start in the first month, that would suggest a disconnect between the franchise’s overall rebuilding mission and Flores’ preoccupation with winning above all else. This is the type of thing that should have been discussed with management at the time of the trade.

Pro Football Focus’ Ryan Smith made a good point on Twitter, noting that “Rosen was actually under pressure a higher % of his drop backs than Fitzpatrick was... The difference was Rosen escaped the pressure and made some great throws downfield (backups or not) and scrambled for nice gains on the ground too (which Fitz didn’t do).”

Flores said a decision on the quarterback will be made when the team starts preparing for the season opener against Baltimore, which will be “fairly soon.”

Fitzpatrick’s take after Thursday’s game: “It was obviously very sloppy in the first half, had some third down throws that I think I could have made better plays on .... I feel very comfortable with where I’m at right now.”

Rosen’s take on his play: “Pretty good, better, not great. I thought I made a couple of good plays. Still definitely messed up a couple — even two plays that actually were successful plays.”

Rowe, the likely starter opposite Xavien Howard at cornerback, had an interception but I found it interesting that the first thing Flores noted was his pass interference penalty.

“I would have liked him to just turn and look and not get the PI penalty,” Flores said. “It’s something we harp on in practice and talk about constantly. He came back and made an interception, which is good. What he does a good job of is never getting too high, never getting too low. But I would have liked to see him turn and look for that ball. There was another one to start the second half that I think he could have turned and looked and made a play on that one as well.”

Per PFF, Rowe was targeted nine times in coverage and allowed five receptions for 59 yards, plus the interception and two passes defended.

The Dolphins really want it to work with Bobby McCain at free safety, and he’s been solid in practice. But he was badly out of position on the Jaguars’ one touchdown pass, and Miami should be concerned with teams matching him up against big tight ends or players with more speed.

Undrafted rookie Monte Hartage, who began his Dolphins tenure as a corner, entered at free safety on Thursday after Bobby McCain left with a shoulder injury.

“If somebody goes down, Hartage is ready to go,” Flores said. “He went in there and played well.”

Any top five list of most pleasant surprises has to include Patrick Laird, the undrafted rookie from California, who continues to be the Dolphins’ most effective running back in preseason. He had six carries for 26 yards Thursday, giving him 19 for 101 in preseason (a 5.3 average).

“I think I’ve done an OK job of... having the coaching staff have trust in me,” he said.

Running back Mark Walton has been effective as a receiver (five catches for 32 yards in preseason, including a touchdown reception Thursday), but has just 23 yards on 17 carries in preseason (1.3 per attempts) after gaining just three yards on six carries Thursday. The blocking from the offensive line has been subpar on most of his carries.

Nate Orchard has gone from being cut by four different teams in the past year to emerging as Miami’s best edge rusher.

Orchard’s four sacks in preseason (including two on Thursday) tied him with Carolina’s Brian Burns for the NFL lead in preseason, entering Friday night’s games. It’s the most sacks by a Dolphin in preseason since Ronald Flemons had four in 2004.

For the second week in a row, tight end Dwayne Allen played only seven snaps. And unlike the previous week, Allen didn’t start. (Miami opened with one tight end on Thursday, and it was O’Leary).

Allen, who was the front-runner to start at tight end when he signed, also messed up on a block that resulted in a loss on a third down run by Kalen Ballage.

Good to see Mike Gesicki come alive with three catches for 59 yards. And O’Leary — the Dolphins’ most consistent tight end in preseason — caught two for 35.

If limited snap counts in the third preseason game are an indication that you should be renting — not buying — then players who would fall under that category include offensive tackle Jaryd Jones Smith (three snaps), running back Kenneth Farrow (two) and defensive tackles Joey Mbu and Jamiyus Pittman (three snaps each).

Former Miami LaSalle High linebacker Terrill Hanks played only four defensive snaps (compared to 24 for the other undrafted rookie linebacker, Tre Watson), but had a sack and forced a fumble.

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