- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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This was the important "dress rehearsal" game for both teams. Here are several observations for the Dolphins:
The Dolphins finally got off to a fast start on offense in the preseason. Miami head coach Joe Philbin has been disappointed with the offense needing multiple drives to put points on the board. Miami’s offense, led by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, finally were successful right away with a 17-play, 76-yard field goal drive to start the game. Tannehill completed six passes on the drive and was sharp early. Tannehill later threw a touchdown at the end of the first half. Tannehill's final numbers were 17-of-27 for 150 yards and a touchdown. Outside of some red zone issues and a couple drops, it was a solid performance for Tannehill.
The Dolphins were sloppy on special teams. Miami’s punt-return team had two turnovers that led to 10 points for the Buccaneers. Dolphins defensive back Nolan Carroll allowed the ball to hit him in the first quarter while blocking and Tampa Bay recovered. That led to one touchdown. Returner Marcus Thigpen also fumbled in the second quarter, which led to a field goal. Saturday’s game was the dress rehearsal, and it’s clear Miami still has work to do on special teams.
Miami still didn’t get much clarity on who will replace injured tight end Dustin Keller, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Charles Clay got the start and recorded just one catch for 5 yards. Clay was targeted six times in the game and had trouble getting open. There were a couple plays where Tannehill tried to force the ball in anyway, and it nearly led to a turnover. This position remains a work in progress with Week 1 of the regular season just around the corner.
Dolphins slot receiver Brandon Gibson is expected to get more opportunities over the middle with Keller out. Tannehill went to Gibson eight times in the first half and he recorded five receptions for 43 yards. Gibson also had two drops, and one was a potential touchdown catch over the middle. But based on this game, Tannehill is looking Gibson's way more often.
Miami projected starting guard John Jerry made his preseason debut on Saturday. Jerry has been dealing with a knee injury he suffered in the first week of training camp. Jerry played in just one quarter of work with mixed results. The goal is to work off the rust and be ready for Week 1. Jerry was replaced by backup guard Josh Samuda at the start of the second quarter.
It was not a good day for Miami's running backs. The Dolphins rushed for just 71 yards on 31 carries, which was a 2.4-yard average. Backup running back Jonas Gray particularly had a tough outing. He rushed for just 12 yards on eight carries. Gray also had a late fumble that led to Tampa Bay's go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Gray is on the bubble heading into cut week and his poor showing Saturday was bad timing.
Defensive tackle Jared Odrick had perhaps his best game of the preseason. He was a disruptive force in the first half and registered two tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. Odrick has had a solid training camp and cemented his spot as Miami’s Week 1 starter.
It’s only the preseason, but it’s worthy to note that AFC East teams struggled during an important preseason weekend. The New England Patriots were drilled by the Detroit Lions, 40-9. The Buffalo Bills suffered a potential concussion to quarterback Kevin Kolb and lost, 30-7. The New York Jets' starting offense also struggled against the New York Giants, when rookie quarterback Geno Smith threw three first-half interceptions. It was not a strong dress rehearsal week overall for the AFC East. The division has been down for the past two seasons.
The Dolphins will have a busy upcoming week. They will return to the practice field on Monday in preparation for their preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints. The Dolphins also will make roster cuts on Tuesday and Saturday.