NFL Nation: AFC East


Having played four of their past six on the road, the Chicago Bears finally return home to Soldier Field to host the Miami Dolphins, a team still reeling from falling to the Green Bay Packers in a last-second heartbreaker.

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Dolphins reporter James Walker take a closer look at the matchup:

Wright: There’s plenty of second-guessing going on in Miami after the Dolphins blew a lead and dropped that heartbreaker to the Green Bay Packers in the final seconds. Typically, losses like that are emotionally draining for everyone involved, making it tougher to prepare for the next opponent. What’s your sense of how the players and coaches have responded since Sunday’s setback, and do you see the Dolphins finding a way to bounce back on the road against the Bears?

Walker: Good question, Michael. The Dolphins are putting a “good face” on this loss. Coach Joe Philbin made it a point Tuesday to say this is one of the best practices the team had all season. Players also are beating the drum this week that everything is fine -- the Dolphins are very close, and they were just one play away. That’s what the Dolphins are telling themselves and the media this week. But this is a team that’s lost three of its past four games -– and two were 19-point losses to the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. At some point, confidence can be an issue for Miami. I don’t believe the team is at that point, because the Dolphins have enough talent to compete with most teams. But anything is possible, especially on the road, and another poor showing in Chicago could create some doubt.

How is former Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall treating this week? Any extra motivation?

Wright: That’s a good question because I’m sure Marshall is no different than any other athlete wanting to play better against his former team. But at the same time, I go back to the summer when I had the chance to hang out with him at his house to do an interview for ESPN The Magazine and we talked about the trade to Chicago from Miami. Marshall has said on multiple occasions that the trade to Chicago possibly saved his life.

Here’s what he had to say about that: “Those people in Miami, they wanted my head for a year or two. But then I come to Chicago and you see me continue to produce at a high level. I had Jay Cutler. I was in a system I was familiar with. So it was career-saving. Now, the life-saving thing we’re talking about, I don’t know if the cameras can see it [Marshall looks around], but look at this beautiful city. You know what I mean? I say that it wasn’t a life-or-death thing. But a lot of us go through life doing things that we don’t love. We’re doing it for the wrong reasons, and we die freaking chasing money or chasing something to pay bills or we’re not happy. But for me, every single day, I walk outside my door and I smell the city air. I look at these tall buildings. I see people wearing Bulls hats, Blackhawks hats, Bears shirts. It’s fulfilling. It’s stimulating. The love and joy that we receive on a daily basis, it sometimes is too much. So that’s what I mean when I say life-saving.”

Looking at Miami’s defense, it appeared the Dolphins were able to get some pressure on Aaron Rodgers. How confident are you the Dolphins can pressure Jay Cutler similarly on Sunday? Like every other quarterback, Cutler will struggle when teams turn up the heat. But he’ll also take chances that lead to turnovers.

Walker: The Dolphins’ defensive line was terrific against the Packers. Their run fits were solid and they hounded Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for three sacks. Miami probably would have had double that amount if not for Rodgers’ scrambling ability and quick release. This is probably the one unit the Dolphins can count on to take its game on the road and play well at Soldier Field. Miami is legitimately seven or eight deep on the defensive line. Defensive ends Cameron Wake (3.5 sacks) and Olivier Vernon (3.5 sacks) get most of the publicity, but the Dolphins have other defensive linemen such as Jared Odrick, Randy Starks and Earl Mitchell who are all playing at a high level. Dominating the line of scrimmage defensively provides one of the best ways for the Dolphins to pull off the road upset.

Chicago's defense arguably played its best game of the season against the Falcons. Has this group turned the corner?

Wright: I think the biggest change you’re starting to see is the defensive line is starting to come into its own, and as you know, that can work wonders for a defense as a whole. In the victory over the Falcons, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen combined for three sacks, three quarterback hits and eight hurries, and Young now leads the NFL in sacks (7). When you’re generating pressure up front, the back end obviously isn’t forced to cover receivers for as long, which helps quite a bit. Also, the Bears have done a much better job stuffing the run on early downs, which has forced opponents into third-and-long situations. That puts opponents in must-pass situations, which in turn allows the Bears to pin back their ears and bring the heat. You’ve also got to give some credit to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for doing a solid job calling games. He’s done an impressive job of mixing blitzes and coverage and seems to have gotten a good sense for what his players are capable of, which has allowed him to make the right calls at the most opportune times.

If I’m a Dolphins fan, I’d find it a little concerning that Philbin felt “antsy” and “queasy” about throwing the ball with the game on the line in the loss to Green Bay. I saw he said something about the quarterback running for his life, but I also know Tannehill has turned the ball over quite a bit. How much is Tannehill at fault for what I perceive as a lack of confidence in him from the coaching staff, and how much do other factors (suspect offensive line play, struggles at receiver, etc.) contribute?

Walker: Philbin deserves a bulk of the blame. It’s just not in his coaching DNA to be aggressive, at least at the right times. Sunday’s loss was the latest of plenty examples over the past three seasons. Two years ago, Philbin had an excuse that it was Tannehill’s rookie year. Last year, Philbin could say he still had a young quarterback. But to still coach tight on offense in Tannehill’s third year is concerning and, as you mentioned, doesn’t show enough confidence in his players. Tannehill is a lot of things at quarterback, but I would not describe him as gun-shy or skittish. Usually when the Dolphins play conservatively, Tannehill is at the mercy of conservative play-calling.

Why have the Bears been a better road team this year? Is that a reason for concern?

Wright: To answer your first question, to me it seems the Bears have been the victim of circumstance more than anything with regard to how they’ve performed at home versus on the road. But I can tell you the common denominator in each of this team’s three losses -- two of them being at home -- is turnovers. In each of the losses, Cutler threw two interceptions. In the season opener at home, the Bears committed a total of three turnovers, which led to 13 points. Then, when Green Bay came to town in Week 4, Cutler tossed two interceptions, which led to 14 points for the Packers. The following week at Carolina, the Bears turned the ball over four times, leading to 10 points for the Panthers. So to answer the second question, there’s no reason for concern from my vantage point about the Bears playing this week at home. It’s all about the turnovers for the Bears, regardless of venue. Since Marc Trestman took over as coach, the Bears are 7-0 when they finish on the positive side of the turnover margin, 2-7 when they finish on the negative side and 1-4 when the turnover margin is equal. The Bears have scored 49 points off takeaways this season, which might be a little scary for Tannehill.
Geno Smith and Matt RyanUSA TODAY SportsGeno Smith's Jets and Matt Ryan's Falcons will try to bounce back from a disappointing Week 4.
If the Atlanta Falcons were in desperation mode last week against the Patriots, now they're in an all-out panic as they prepare to face the New York Jets on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

The Falcons limp into the matchup at 1-3 despite being touted as a Super Bowl favorite. Quarterback Matt Ryan admitted not being as sharp as he wanted to be the last time out. Now, Ryan has to keep the locker room together as the Falcons try to stay afloat against the always-entertaining Rex Ryan and his Jets (2-2).

ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and his Jets counterpart, Rich Cimini, discuss the matchup.

McClure: I was talking to Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux the other day about the mindset when facing a rookie quarterback. He admitted Geno Smith was somewhat similar to Carolina's Cam Newton, a player the Falcons have had trouble containing. Can Smith cause problems for the Falcons or is his confidence shaken?

Cimini: Smith and Newton are different because Smith isn't nearly as dangerous as Newton in terms of making plays outside the pocket. He'll scramble on occasion, and they might call a read-option play here and there, but he's a pure pocket passer. I'd say, yes, his confidence has to be shaken. He's coming off a bad day against the Titans -- four turnovers, bringing his total to 11. He's making bad decisions and being careless with the football. Ryan said he's not considering a change at quarterback -- with Mark Sanchez out, there's no viable option -- but there will come a point where he'll have to do something if the turnovers continue. What's up with Matt Ryan? This hasn't been a vintage Ryan season so far.

McClure: No, not by any means. And fans around here are starting to turn on him, for some reason. I understand their passion, but I wouldn't give up on Ryan. I actually give him credit for owning up to his mistakes against the Patriots. He threw a few bad passes on the Falcons' last desperation drive and missed Roddy White wide open for at least a first down on a fourth-and-2 from the Patriots' 7-yard line. Ryan ranks 23rd in the NFL in fourth-quarter passing with a 75.3 QB rating. Maybe he's rushing his throws as a result of protection issues. It doesn't help when your receivers drop a handful of passes, either. At least Ryan seems to have established a rhythm with tight end Tony Gonzalez. So, how will the Jets approach defending Gonzalez based on his 149-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Patriots?

Cimini: I think Rex Ryan is asking himself that same question, Vaughn. He joked about Gonzalez this week, saying, "Quite honestly, I wish he would've retired." The Jets have done a good job defending tight ends, but they haven't faced anyone close to his caliber. I think a lot of the responsibility will fall to second-year safety Antonio Allen, but that would be trouble waiting to happen. Allen is a "box" safety, not known for his coverage skills. In years past, Ryan put cornerback Antonio Cromartie on athletic tight ends for a few plays here and there, but he needs Cromartie on Julio Jones or Roddy White. In other words, I could see Gonzalez having another monster game. A lot will depend on how they defend the running game. What's the latest on Steven Jackson?

McClure: Although Jackson was on the field Tuesday talking with the trainers, he still hasn't practiced since suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the Rams game (Week 2). It was initially called a three-week injury and with the bye following the Jets game, I see no reason why the Falcons would rush Jackson back out there Monday night. In fact, Jackson recently went on his personal blog to update fans on his status and said he wanted to be 100 percent before returning. Not being on the field with his teammates might be hurting him more than the pain from the injury. I see the Jets are banged up at receiver. How will they compensate?

Cimini: You're right, they're banged up. Santonio Holmes (hamstring) won't play, and I'd be stunned if Stephen Hill (concussion) plays. So we're talking about Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates as the starting wideouts, with seldom-used rookie Ryan Spadola as the No. 3 and David Nelson (signed Tuesday) as the No. 4. This is the definition of "patchwork." They can compensate by leaning more on the running game, which has been reasonably effective. Bilal Powell is tied for the AFC lead with 292 rushing yards. I think you'll also see more two-tight end sets with Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland. Ryan said he might install the wishbone. He was joking -- I think. What's wrong with the Falcons' defense? I see they've been giving up some big pass plays.

McClure: Yes, they've given up seven plays of 40-plus yards, including four Sunday. Against the Patriots, the Falcons actually allowed Tom Brady to convert a third-and-19 from his 12 because they failed to get the proper depth on their drops. Such mental errors seem inexcusable, but defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is doing some "patchwork" of his own without Kroy Biermann (Achilles) or Sean Weatherspoon (foot) available and with Asante Samuel (thigh) still ailing. Three rookies -- cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Robert Alford as well as linebacker Joplo Bartu -- are being asked to come of age rather quickly. And the pass rush has been pretty much non-existent even with the addition of Osi Umenyiora, who leads the way with two sacks. Speaking of the rush, what type of pressure will the Jets bring at Matt Ryan?

Cimini: The Jets aren't the defense we thought they'd be. By that, I mean they're blitzing less than expected, and the reason is because they've been getting good pressure from their front three/four. In fact, they've sent five or more rushers on only 33.1 percent of the opponents' dropbacks, which ranks 17th in the league. With Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson up front, I think they'll be able to pressure Ryan without having to dial up exotic blitzes. Rex Ryan's defense has evolved. When he had Darrelle Revis, the secondary was the strength of the unit, but now the strength is up front with the big boys. The Falcons can counter by running an up-tempo offense with quick throws -- that style causes problems for the Jets. Frankly, it blows my mind the Falcons, with all that skill-position talent, are struggling in the red zone. Most Jets would be happy with one of those weapons, let alone three. What's the deal?

McClure: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Matt Ryan are trying to figure that out as we speak. The Falcons managed only one touchdown in six red-zone trips against the Patriots. For the season, they rank 29th in the league in terms of red-zone efficiency. Koetter took the blame for some bad play calls and vowed to cut one or two plays out of game plan. The fact that White has recovered slowly from a high ankle sprain hasn't helped. And the blocking has been abysmal, at times, in goal-line situations. Once everyone gets healthy, I expect more production and high-scoring games for the Falcons. If Monday night becomes a shootout, can the Jets compete?

Cimini: They're a pass-oriented offense under Marty Mornhinweg, but it would be hard for them to win a shootout, especially on the road. I know the Falcons have their own issues on defense, so I think the Jets can score points on them. But Smith is too mistake-prone, and the receiving corps is too banged-up for me to think they can walk into Atlanta and outscore the Falcons. Their best chance is to shorten the game, playing ball control with Powell and the running game. I'd be surprised if the Jets win a game in the 30s.

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What to Watch: Saints-Dolphins

August, 29, 2013
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play their fifth and final preseason game Thursday against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

Here are three things to watch for the Dolphins:

1. Players on the bubble: Miami must make 25 roster cuts by Saturday evening to get down to the 53-man limit. Several key players to watch are defensive tackle A.J. Francis, third-string quarterback Pat Devlin and receivers Marvin McNutt and Chad Bumphis. Look for the bottom portion of the roster to get plenty of playing time. Shameless plug alert: I will do my roster projection Friday after the final preseason game.

2. Progression of tight ends: It was not a strong outing for Miami’s tight ends following the season-ending knee injury to starting tight end Dustin Keller. The Dolphins got just three catches and 34 yards from the position. New starter Charles Clay had just one reception for five yards -- though he was targeted six times by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This will be an important game for Miami’s tight ends to get reps in preparation for the regular season, even if Tannehill isn’t on the field. Let's see what more Clay, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and Dion Sims can do.

3. No injuries: To be blunt, there isn’t much for teams to gain in this final preseason game. The most important thing for the Dolphins is to exit without significant injuries. The real games start in about 10 days, when the Dolphins travel to face the Cleveland Browns. Miami head coach Joe Philbin has been coy about playing time for his starters. Some may play briefly, while others might not play at all. This is a game for backups and fringe players.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins took the practice field for the first time this week in preparation for Thursday's preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints. But there was one conspicuous absence that caught my eye.

Dolphins rookie cornerback Will Davis was not present Monday during the early portion of practice open to the media. Although there has been no official word from the team, Davis appeared to have injured his leg in Saturday's preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Miami is already hurting with cornerback depth after recently releasing veteran Richard Marshall. Davis is one of the young corners expected to step up, along with fellow rookie Jamar Taylor and Nolan Carroll. Both Carroll and Taylor practiced Monday.

Here are some other quick injury notes from Miami's practice:
  • No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan dressed but only rehabbed his shoulder during the portion of practice open to the media. Jordan is not expected to play Thursday against the Saints. But Miami is trying to get him ready for the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 8.
  • Miami backup offensive lineman Nate Garner is improving and participated in team drills for the first time since injuring his shoulder. Garner lined up as the second-team left tackle during the early part of team drills.
  • Fellow offensive tackle Jeff Adams did not practice Monday, and wore a sleeve on his left leg.

Five Miami Dolphins on the bubble

August, 23, 2013
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night in the "dress rehearsal" game for both teams. The first round of cuts to 75 will be next Tuesday, and the final cut to 53 players is coming on Aug. 31.

This is a huge game for Miami's players who are on the verge of making the team or getting released. Here are five players who need a good performance Saturday night:

1. RB Jonas Gray

Analysis: It’s not often that a team keeps four running backs. But Gray is doing everything he can to make that a tough decision for Miami. Gray has been solid in training camp and preseason games. He even carved out a potential role as a short-yardage and goal-line option for the Dolphins this preseason, which he's done well. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are locks for the 53-man roster. Mike Gillislee also is a draft pick, so he also sticks. Gray is fighting a number's game, and needs to prove Saturday why it is worth keeping an extra tailback.

2. DT A.J. Francis

Analysis: Perhaps no Dolphins backup has come on stronger in the past week or 10 days than Francis. The light has come on for the raw defensive lineman. Francis put together two good weeks of practice, and had an impressive preseason game last Saturday against the Houston Texans. The problem is that the defensive line is the deepest area of the team. My latest Miami roster projection has nine defensive linemen, and Francis didn’t make the cut. Ideally, the Dolphins would like to keep Francis on the practice squad. But that would risk Miami losing him to another team. Saturday is a good chance for Francis to show why he deserves to be on a 53-man roster -- whether it is Miami's or someone else's roster.

3. Guard Lance Louis

Analysis: Louis has been in a rough spot in training camp. The four-year veteran is coming off ACL surgery. He missed valuable practice time, but also needed to come back early enough to show what he can do before roster cuts. Louis has plenty of starting experience, but he's still rusty and probably not 100 percent. Louis was my last offensive lineman to make the cut. Much of that was because other offensive linemen are injured. This is a big game for Louis to validate his standing.

4. WR Marvin McNutt

Analysis: McNutt is in a neck-and-neck roster battle with fellow receiver Chad Bumphis. McNutt started training camp fast, then Bumphis took the lead, but lately McNutt is back to making more plays in practice. McNutt also has the size Miami's coaching staff covets. He just needs to work on his consistency. Bumphis is a slot receiver who doesn't offer much versatility. But this battle is still up for grabs, and could come down to the final two preseason games.

5. FB Jorvorski Lane

Analysis: Lane, last year’s starting fullback, has really seen his stock drop in training camp and the preseason. Miami's coaching staff has moved in the direction of versatility and position-flexibility on offense. Therefore, players like Charles Clay and Evan Rodriguez are getting more reps ahead of Lane, who is a pure fullback. If roster cuts were today, I would expect Rodriguez to get the nod over Lane. Rodriguez is a better athlete, receiver and can play special teams. Lane's chances are dwindling fast. He has two more preseason games to try to earn a roster spot.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins made early roster cuts before their fourth preseason game Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Miami released guard Jeff Braun, guard Chandler Burden, defensive tackle Chris Burnette, linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, and receiver Kenny Stafford, the team announced.

None of these players had a legit shot to earn a spot on Miami’s roster. The Dolphins will have to cut down to 75 players next Tuesday. The final cut will be on Aug. 31, when Miami must cut down to its final 53-man roster for the regular season.
Richie Incognito was on one side of an incident this past weekend, when Houston Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith ripped off his helmet and swung it at the Miami Dolphins guard. Smith, as a result, was suspended for the final two preseason games and the regular-season opener.

Now, it appears Incognito may be on the other side of an ugly incident. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Incognito was involved in an altercation at a South Beach nightclub where he punched and knocked out a security guard. Schefter also reports the Fontainebleau hotel has footage but is unwilling to turn it over. One source told Schefter that Incognito was punched and provoked first.

The Dolphins simply have to hope for the best with this one. For now, details are murky, although videotape evidence would clear up a lot of things.

Incognito is a team leader and one of Miami’s best offensive lineman. He could face league discipline if all the details of this report are accurate. It’s also possible nothing could become of it. It’s going to be a wait-and-see situation for the Dolphins in the coming days.

Miami has little depth on its offensive line, and it would be a serious blow if Incognito is forced to miss time. Fellow guard John Jerry recently suffered a knee injury and sent Miami’s offensive line scrambling. Losing Incognito would have the Dolphins scrambling even more.

Regardless of the outcome, this has been a bad week for the Dolphins. First, they lost their starting tight end (Dustin Keller) for the season after a controversial hit to the knee. Now Incognito is in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins continued their preparation for Saturday’s “dress rehearsal” preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here are some notes from Wednesday’s practice:


  • Charles Clay continues to get first-team reps at tight end with former starter Dustin Keller (knee) out for the season. Clay was expected to play more of an H-back for the Dolphins this season until Keller went down. Now, Clay has to focus on the tight-end position. He has 34 career receptions in three seasons. Clay caught a nice touchdown pass down the seam from quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 11-on-11 drills on Wednesday, and made several other nice catches.
  • Tannehill overall had an inconsistent day. He threw two interceptions, to rookie cornerback Will Davis and backup linebacker Lee Robinson, in team drills. But Tannehill also made several nice completions to receiver Mike Wallace, Clay and others. Tannehill had perhaps his best week of practice this summer leading into the Houston Texans game, and his performance showed on the field. The first two practices this week haven’t been as good.
  • Defensive backs react to Tuesday’s cut of veteran cornerback Richard Marshall. He was competing for a starting job with Dimitri Patterson, but Patterson won the job and made Marshall expendable. Marshall could have provided depth, but his approximate $4 million salary this season was too high to be a backup. “It’s a business,” Patterson explained. “Good players are let go for whatever reason all the time. Decisions are made and that’s it. We’re only players at the end of the day.”
  • Patterson also had a solid day working with the first team. He had two interception Wednesday in team drills -- one off backup quarterback Matt Moore and another off Pat Devlin. Patterson also played inside on the nickel defense, with Nolan Carroll moving outside in sub packages.
  • No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan (shoulder) dressed Wednesday, but continues to sit out of practice. Although game status won’t be determined until later in the week, Jordan appears unlikely to play Saturday against the Buccaneers. Jordan’s shoulder has kept him sidelined for the past week or so. But Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said the team is ready to use Jordan despite a lack of practice time. “There’s always going to be a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C as you approach the season,” Coyle said. “We have a plan in place to utilize Dion provided that he’s up and ready to go. I think he’s making strides with his rehab.”
  • Projected starting guard John Jerry continues to work his way back from knee surgery. He worked with the first team on Wednesday and, health permitting, appears to be the favorite to start at right guard. Jerry was injured in the first week of training camp and didn’t get much work in. He didn’t look fluid in Wednesday’s practice, and still has a ways to go. The goal is for Jerry to round himself back into form in time for Miami’s Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns.
  • Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis was 2-for-3 on field goals Wednesday. His only miss was from 47 yards. Sturgis is Miami’s official kicker this season after the team released veteran Dan Carpenter.
  • Head coach Joe Philbin said the team is “absolutely” game-planning this week. This is the dress-rehearsal preseason game for Miami. Tampa Bay also is a regular-season opponent for the Dolphins in Week 10. So, much of the intel the Dolphins get from this game -- and vice versa – will be used later in the season.

The Dolphins will return to the practice field again on Thursday.

Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and Houston Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith have a history -- and it's not a good one. The pair can't seem to get along, mostly because Smith believes Incognito is a dirty player from their previous battles in the trenches.

That explains Smith's extreme overreaction in Saturday night's preseason game that was caught on tape. The video shows Smith ripping off Incognito's helmet after a block and violently swinging it towards Incognito. The helmet barely missed Incognito head and could've caused an injury.

This does not mean much for the Dolphins and Incognito. But it could lead to a possible suspension for Smith, who is one of Houston's top defensive players.

The Texans are not on Miami’s regular-season schedule this year and that's probably a good thing. It's best that Smith and Incognito stay as far away from each other as possible.

Miami Dolphins Stock Watch

August, 19, 2013
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MIAMI -- Three preseason games are in the books for the Miami Dolphins.

Let's take a look at whose stock is rising and falling for Miami:

Falling

1. Dolphins’ tight-end depth: This weekend, Miami lost starting tight end Dustin Keller for the year with a knee injury. This is a big blow for the Dolphins, who were counting on Keller to stay healthy, produce and provide veteran leadership. Now Miami is scrambling to find answers with young players. The Dolphins have four young tight ends on the roster: Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and H-back Charles Clay. This will be a good test of Miami’s depth. Sims, Egnew and Clay were all recent draft picks of the past three years by Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. If Ireland got it right, at least one of these in-house tight ends should be able to step up and play a bigger role.

2. Dolphins backup O-line: If you thought Miami’s starters struggled at times, the Dolphins’ backup offensive line was worse. Players like offensive tackles Will Yeatman and Dallas Thomas did not do enough to inspire confidence from Miami’s coaching staff. Second-string quarterback Matt Moore (four sacks) was being thrown around in the second half. The Dolphins need some of these backups to step up and earn roster spots. Injuries happen every year on the offensive line, and someone needs to gain the confidence of the coaching staff. That hasn’t been the case so far in three preseason games.

3. Will Davis, cornerback: Miami’s third-round pick has been one of the surprise players of training camp. Davis has made a lot of big plays, but he struggled in his third preseason game against the Texans. Davis was beat on a double-move during a 38-yard touchdown catch by Houston Texans receiver Lestar Jean. Davis also played loose on coverage on a few other plays. Davis has made a lot of interceptions in practice and has a pick in the preseason. But he needs to work on being more consistent.

Rising

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesDolphins fans finally got to see Mike Wallace, the team's prized free agent this offseason, catch some balls in Miami's preseason game against Houston.
1. Mike Wallace, receiver: Miami fans were prematurely getting antsy because Wallace hadn’t caught a pass in the preseason. But Wallace exploded in the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason game against the Texans with three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown on one drive. Wallace showed a full array of skills against the Texans. He caught a short, intermediate and deep pass on the drive. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Wallace began a good week in practice and it carried over into the game. Dolphins fans can relax now that they saw the combo’s potential in the preseason.

2. Daniel Thomas, running back: With Lamar Miller the probable starter, the No. 2 tailback position was close between Thomas, rookie Mike Gillislee and Jonas Gray. But Thomas did a good job to separate himself with a strong performance against Houston. Thomas rushed for 25 yards on four carries and caught a 27-yard shovel pass. Health permitting, Thomas is now the clear favorite to be the first tailback off the bench to spell Miller. Thomas has been inconsistent and had issues with fumbling and injuries the past two seasons. But coaches have been raving about Thomas in Year 3, and he’s showing signs greater consistency.

3. A.J. Francis, defensive tackle: Miami’s defensive line is easily the deepest area of the team. The second- and third-string defensive linemen have been stout throughout training camp and the preseason. This week Francis, a third-stringer, had a good performance in limited playing time. Francis finished with two tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure and a tipped pass. Francis was disruptive and showed good strength and movement down the line of scrimmage. It’s going to be very hard to make the Dolphins as a defensive lineman, but he made a good case Saturday night.
The Miami Dolphins suffered their first significant loss of the season.

Keller
Dolphins starting tight end Dustin Keller will be lost for the season with a right knee injury, Alex Marvez of Fox Sports reports. Keller hyperextended his knee after a hit Saturday night during a 24-17 loss to the Houston Texans. Keller was carted off the field.

Now, Miami has to think about what's next at tight end. The Dolphins have several young players in-house in rookie Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, Charles Clay and Kyle Miller. Miami’s coaching will try to find the answer

There are slim pickings at tight end in free agency. The biggest available names still available are former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and Kevin Boss.

Keller signed a one-year contract with the Dolphins this offseason in hopes of proving that he’s deserving of a long-term extension. Keller and quarterback Ryan Tannehill were developing good chemistry in training camp. But this is the second season in a row Keller has been seriously injured.
The Miami Dolphins suffered a major loss with starting tight end Dustin Keller out for the year with a right knee injury. Keller's knee took a gruesome hit Saturday night as he went down on a reception against the Houston Texans. His leg hyperextended, and Keller needed to be carted off the field.

With Keller done for the year, let’s examine what is next for the Dolphins at tight end.
  • Dion Sims: Miami’s fourth-round pick has been a pleasant surprise in training camp. Sims joined the Dolphins with the reputation as a big, blocking tight end. But Sims has showed more athleticism and catching ability than originally advertised. He is already Miami’s best blocking tight end, so he was going to get playing time regardless. The Dolphins may need him more than originally thought.
  • Charles Clay: The versatile H-back has played both tight end and fullback in Miami’s offense. But Clay is not particularly special at either position, especially as a full-time player. The Dolphins have been using Clay as a fullback more this year in training camp and the preseason. But that may have to change. He could revert to playing mostly tight end if needed.
  • Michael Egnew: The Dolphins have waited more than a year for the light to go on for Egnew, who is a 2012 third-round pick. This is a golden opportunity for him to prove his worth under dire circumstances. Egnew has a lot of natural ability as a pass-catcher. He's big and can run well. However, Egnew's inconsistency and struggles with blocking have kept him off the field. Egnew must continue to work to gain the trust of Miami’s coaching staff. He should get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do in the coming weeks.
The Dolphins also could look to free agency, but at this point, it's slim pickings at tight end. Their best chance for now is to develop the players they have in-house and try to get them ready for the regular season.

The Miami Dolphins completed their third preseason game of the season with a 24-17 loss to the Houston Texans. Miami fell to 1-2 on the preseason.

Here are several observations for Miami:
  • The Dolphins' passing game finally woke up in the preseason thanks to new No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace. He caught three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and all of it came on the third drive. Wallace showed the full range of playmaking by catching a 16-yard pass for a first down, a 33-yard catch over the top and a 9-yard touchdown reception by finding a hole in the zone. Dolphins fans were prematurely antsy about Tannehill not connecting with Wallace up to this point. The pair had a good week of practice, and it showed in the game.
  • Tannehill also had his best game of the preseason. Tannehill was 10-of-15 passing for 141 yards and the touchdown pass to Wallace. It’s also worth noting that two of Tannehill’s five incompletions were drops by running back Lamar Miller and Brian Hartline. Overall, Tannehill was poised and made a nice range of throws against a tough Houston defense. Perhaps this performance will provide some momentum for Tannehill in the rest of the preseason.
  • The worse news of the night for Miami was the potential knee injury to starting tight end Dustin Keller. He made a second-quarter reception and took a shot directly on his right knee as he was coming down. Keller's leg hyper-extended and he clutched his knee in pain. Keller was later carted off the field and couldn’t put weight on his right leg, which are not good signs. Keller's injury appears to be significant, and the Dolphins most likely will have to rely on young tight ends like Dion Sims and Michael Egnew for a while.
  • Miami’s offense played well overall, but it was a rough night for Dolphins right guard Josh Samuda. He had another opportunity to prove that he can play with the starters and struggled mightily against Houston’s talented defensive line. Samuda was beat easily by Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith twice on big plays. Smith registered a sack and a tackle for loss on Miller in the first half. Samuda also was abused by Texans star J.J. Watt on a third-down screen pass. Samuda did not step up to the high-level competition Saturday night, which is telling. Miami’s best option at guard would be a healthy John Jerry.
  • New Dolphins corner Brent Grimes made his presence felt. Grimes has been one of the most consistent players in Miami’s training camp, and he got his first interception with an athletic play to pick off Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. Grimes read the route by Texans rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins and broke on the ball as it was released. Grimes jumped in front of Hopkins to take the ball away, which is a play you didn’t see often from Miami’s defense last year.
  • Dolphins rookie corner Will Davis has made some headlines lately for his play. But Davis was beat for a touchdown on fourth down when Houston receiver Lestar Jean made a double move. Davis also was beat for a 16-yard reception in the first half in man-to-man coverage. It was a good learning experience for Davis.
  • Miami’s backup offensive line is not very good – and second-string quarterback Matt Moore found that out the hard way. Moore played the entire second half and was pressured throughout. He was sacked four times in two quarters of work and pressured several more times. The Dolphins are looking offensive linemen to provide depth. No one beyond the starters stood out Saturday.

Miami has two preseason games remaining. The Dolphins will be off Sunday and then prepare for their fourth preseason game at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Miami Dolphins fans were getting antsy this summer. After two preseason games, Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill hadn't completed a pass to free-agent pickup and No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace.

But Miami's pair made up for lost time in the first half of Saturday's third preseason game against the Houston Texans. On the third drive of the game, Tannehill and Wallace connected three times for 58 yards and a touchdown.

All of Wallace’s production came on the third drive at the end of the first quarter. Wallace began with a catch on first down in front of Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph. A few plays later, Wallace ran past Joseph to make a deep sideline catch. Wallace’s third and final catch on the drive was a 9-yard touchdown grab. Tannehill read Houston’s zone and found Wallace in the opening.

The three connections were a nice showcase for Tannehill and Wallace. The Dolphins are counting on this duo to be a major part of the offense this season.

Tannehill is now out of the game after a solid night, having completed 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown to Wallace. Houston leads, 17-14, at intermission.

We will have a full report on the Dolphins following the game.
The Miami Dolphins may have suffered their first major injury of the preseason.

Dolphins starting tight end Dustin Keller suffered what could be a significant knee injury in the second quarter of Miami’s exhibition game against the Houston Texans. Keller was hit on his right knee as soon as he landed on a reception. Keller's leg hyperextended and he clutched his knee in pain.

Keller couldn't put weight on his leg and the team had to cart him off the field. Those are two bad signs. Miami was counting on Keller, a free-agent signing, to provide stability and production on offense. He already had a good rapport with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Keller had an injury-plagued year with the New York Jets last season. If he misses significant time this season, Miami will have to rely on young backup tight ends such as rookie Dion Sims, Michael Egnew and Charles Clay.

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