« Mostly lowlights at Sat. morning practice | Main | Tackling the Dolphins QBs - with '07 moment »

The Saturday scrimmage before 3,340 diehards

It's cool to watch NFL football again, even when it comes under three-quarter, no takedown situations. The Dolphins had a 92-play scrimmage before an estimated crowd of 3,340 at their Davie. FL training facility Saturday.

The players that stood out where Brain Hartline, John Nalbone, Jason Taylor, Patrick Cobbs, Sean Smith, Joey Porter, Cameron Wake, and Jake Grove.

The players that need work are Vontae Davis, Joey Thomas, Shawn Murphy and Jason Allen, among others.

Hartline had the offensive highlight of the day when he caught a 65-yard touchdown over fellow rookie Vontae Davis. Quarterback Chad Henne threw the ball 35-yards in the air and Hartline, behind Davis by nearly 5 yards, did the rest.

Davis blamed getting beat on having his eyes in the backfield. "I knew it was coming, but I fell for it anyway," Davis said.

Despite Henne's long throw, none of the quarterbacks had a particularly eye-popping afternoon, which should worry absolutely no one. It's early, people. Anyway Henne completed 6 of 12 attempts with 2 TD and no interceptions. Henne's other TD pass came on a short screen that Cobbs turned into a 55-yard score across the field and through heart of the Miami defense.

Pennington was 10 of 20 without a touchdown or interception. By the way, I wrote a column about Pennington's uncertain situation for Sunday's Herald and how the cool veteran is handling that situation with grace.

Pat White was 10 of 19 with an 8-yard TD pass to Chris Williams over Joey Thomas from 8 yards out. White did not throw an interception. White did have one fumbled snap but he recovered his own fumble.

Ted Ginn Jr. failed to complete his only pass on the flea flicker from the 34 yard line. Henne tossed to Ginn coming around, who scrambled and threw to Ronnie Brown down the right sideline in the end zone. It was a funny scene because that was 340-pound nose tackle Paul Soliai chasing Brown on the pattern down the field. It was surreal because Soliai was actually close enough that he was in the vicinity when the underthrown lobbed pass arrived. The two players went up for the ball and...

Smith, who reminds me of Sean Taylor at times, came over, leaped over both players and came down with the interception. Great ball skills by the rookie.

Nalbone, a rookie fifth-round pick who has been quiet much of camp, showed up and showed out. I saw three catches from him, including a 15-yarder that was intended for Brandon London, who bobbled the pass, which was grabbed by Chris Clemons, who bobbled the would-be interception, which then settled in Nalbone's grasp for the catch.

The Dolphins had nine total penalties, according to coach Tony Sparano. That was an obvious lowlight and adding to the problem is that three of them came in the red zone. Anthony Fasasno, so dependable a season ago, had a tough day as he dropped two easy passes in the flat and got run over by Taylor on a pass protection.

Taylor had two sacks (it seemed like, despite the fact no officials stats were kept) and had another hurry. He also induced Shawn Murphy to false start on a play. "I haven't made a play yet," Taylor said. "this is practice. I don't want to sould like Allen Iverson or anything, but this is practice. We all know it is a whole lot different ball game when the turn on the lights at Land Shark Stadium. It is a whole different ball game come game day."

Cameron Wake had a sack and Joey Porter had what would have been two tackles for losses, one on a swing pass to Lousaka Polite.

It seemed like a good afternoon for the outside linebackers overall. Quentin Moses had a batted pass and a hurry. Erik Walden also had a sack and a tackle of Cobbs for a 2-yard loss. And Charlie Anderson batted a pass.

So what about some names I'm not mentioning?

Patrick Turner, impressive at times the first week of practice, was shut out. He only had one pass thrown his direction and that was overthrow. Ernest Wilford didn't catch a pass because he had only one thrown his way, that on the final play of the scrimmage, and it was out the back of the end zone.

Anthony Armstrong, so explosive in the offseason, has been quiet with the exception of a 37-yard catch he made over Jason Allen. That completion from White came in one-on-one coverage and while it was nice to see Armstrong make the catch, I couldn't help but think a more accomplished cornerback would have played the ball better and broken up the pass.

Allen mostly had good coverage and had good position, but he never played the ball, instead allowing Armstrong the reception and then making the tackle. It was as if Allen was a spectator on the play until the catch was made. Armstrong's only other highlight moment was running deep down the middle of the field and lunging at a ball White threw in at the end line, but both Chris Clemons and Tyrone Culver had good coverage. 

The Dolphins did run the ball, but as there was no tackling, it's hard to gauge the effectiveness of the running game because RBs do typically break some arm tackles.

Ronnie Brown got all of two carries. He gained 6 yards. Ricky Williams had five carries for approximately 18 yards. Patrick Cobbs had six carries for approximately 19 yards. And Lex Hilliard, working mostly against third-string defenders, had seven carries for approximately 45 yards. Anthony Kimble also got carries but none resulted in a highlight.

Remember, I stopped counting yardage once he runner was touched. But Miami runners continue running even as defenders lay off. And it is impossible to determine which, if any, arm tackles they might break.

I was impressed with the new safety tandem of Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson. At least against the running game they seem equally eager to blow up plays and support the run. Bell, Miami's tackle leader a season ago, had a tackle in which filled what was an opening at the scrimmage line. Bell showed up and filled.

Wilson, supposedly better suited for the deep secondary, had a tackle for loss at the line of scrimmage that showed how the Dolphins interchange responsibilities at safety.

Sparano said he couldn't grade the offensive line play until he watches the tape. I have no tape and won't act like I know something I do not. So I cannot tell you how the Olinemen graded out.

I will say I watched Grove on a couple of plays early on and later on. He more than held his own against Jason Ferguson and he moved Soliai around, which is no easy task. He felt like an upgrade over Samson Satele in this one scrimmage on this one afternoon. We'll see.

Rookie adopted son left tackle Andrew Gardner, a player I've been intently following since the first day of camp, had a generally routine scrimmage with one exception. Gardner, usually a third-teamer, was used at least on one occasion when he moved to the outside right tackle in an unbalanced line. And he got a good block! That's my boy!

Murphy, competing for the job at RG, didn't impress me the couple of plays I watched him through my field glasses. He didn't get much movement off the line of scrimmage. Of course, that doesn't mean he didn't play well the other snaps he got, but the two plays I watched plus the false start were disappointing.

One last thing: Donald Thomas got some work with both the first and second team but it felt like a grand total of no more than five snaps. Sparano said afternoon the coaching staff had a series of plays they wanted to see Thomas working in. The second-year player, being brought along slowly from that pectoral injury, got that work.

My prediction: Thomas will win back the RG job before the regular season begins, assuming he remains healthy.