Just watched the Dolphins game against Carolina for the third time. The Dolphins won all three times so that speaks well of their consistency.
Here are the talking points I believe will become important this week as the team prepares for the all-important third preseason game. Remember the third preseason game is the dress rehersal for the regular season. Starters play longer. Coaches want their lineups pretty much set by this game. It doesn't count, but it gives you an idea of what to expect in the regular season.
Coming out of the victory over Carolina and heading to Tampa Bay, I believe the Dolphins have resolved their right guard situation. Donald Thomas and Shawn Murphy again split series during Saturday night's game but Thomas was clearly the better player.
Thomas threw a great block on the game's second running play, a 10-yard gain by Ronnie Brown on which Thomas and Justin Smiley both pulled right and created a seam that a truck could have fit through. Thomas threw a nice block on Lex Hilliard's 39-yard touchdown run. I couldn't find any block that Thomas missed.
Murphy had a nice night also, but he got trucked on one passing situation and it resulted in Chad Henne getting plowed under on a pass attempt that fell incomplete. Murphy is working toward becoming asolid backup. Thomas is working on solidifying himself as the starter.
With the perennial right guard problem on the way to being resolved, I need to tell you about two other problems the Dolphins have that need similar quality resolution.
The special teams continues to hurt the Dolphins. And the Dolphins passing game, particularly as it pertains to the receiver corps, is worrisome.
Special teams: I hope you read my column regarding Chris Williams. Look, I like the idea of a cruise missle returning punts and kicks for the Dolphins as much as anyone. But Williams doesn't handle kicks cleanly. I watched the game (again and again) and he didn't handle any punt cleanly. He caught every punt at least twice in that it would hit his hands and bounce and then he'd latch on. And, of course, he had no idea on the punt that hit his facemask and turned into a fumble that led to a Carolina TD.
So, as I wrote, his opportunity has come and very likely gone.
But special teams has other issues. There was the 58-yard punt return by Captain Munnerlyn, there was the illegal block in the back on a punt return that would have been hurtful had Williams not offered a higher degree of pain with his fumble on the same play. There was also a 15-yard personal foul call on Brandon London for plowing the wedge on a kickoff, and there was the generally unspectacular return play by any Miami returner.
The Dolphins are currently averaging 3.7 yards per punt return in the preseason -- that's 27th in the NFL.
It wasn't all horrible on special teams, mind you. Adopted son focus player Chris Clemons had a recovery of a fumbled punt at the Carolina 14 in the fourth quarter. Yeah, he's earned a roster spot already.
The other concern I have following these first two preseason games is the inconsistent nature of Miami's passing game. It is a passing game that has some basic, troubling tendencies.
First, it is a passing game where running backs are generally the most effective weapons, which is terrible in today's big-play NFL. To date, Ronnie Brown and Patrick Cobbs are the most explosive pass-catchers on the offense. Brown had a 28-yard TD grab vs. Carolina while Cobbs had a 35-yard grab.
For the preseason, Brown leads the team with a 14.3 yards per catch average among players with more than one reception while Cobbs is tied with Brian Hartline for second at 14 yards per reception for players that have more than one catch. What does that mean?
It means The Dolphins do a lot of check-down passing and short-range passing. It means the wide receivers aren't getting open quick enough to become the primary targets of a majority of throws. It means the quarterbacks for now are more comfortable throwing to the backs than the receivers.
I was pleased that Ted Ginn Jr. had a solid outing in the preseason-opener, in that he only caught two passes but was targetted five times, with one of those resulting in a pass interference. If Ginn is to have tht breakout season everyone keeps talking about, he has to become the focus of the passing game. But rather than build on that last game, the Dolphins practically ignored Ginn vs. Carolina.
He was thrown one pass on a receiver quick screen and he dropped it. And he didn't have a catch all game. The leading receiver for the game? Cobbs -- a running back. He caught four passes.
Despite being practically invisible we all know Ginn will be a starter this season. So my question is who is the other starting receiver?
Davone Bess? Greg Camarillo? Brian Hartline? Patrick Turner?
The point I'm making is it is wide open and unresolved. Everyone expected Camarillo or Bess to be the other starter by virtue of their superior experience. But that superior experience has been unspectacular in the preseason.
Bess caught one pass and dropped one pass against Carolina. The week before he had two catches and two more drops. Dropping as many passes as one catches is not the way to win a starting job.
Camarillo played only four plays in the preseason opener, which has nothing to do with anything he's doing wrong. The coaching staff is being cautious as their receiver returns from last year's knee surgery. Camarillo got lots more action Saturday night. He was targetted twice and caught both passes The net gain of those two catches? Four yards.
Brian Hartline actually started vs. Carolina. That of itself should tell you the coaches are searching for a candidate to pair with Ginn as the starter and have not found that person yet. Hartline is a smart, mature kid. He doesn't act like a rookie. But he also doesn't act like Jerry Rice. He caught only one pass for 8 yards.
I am told coaches are not as high on Turner as the media. They don't see as much desire as they wish to see. They don't see nearly the consistency they want to see. And that showed against Carolina as he Turner would at times seem to have more urgency than others, and consequently sometimes get separation while getting none at other times.
The inconsistent play netted three receptions for 25 yards. But Turner was thrown to five times and he failed to make what would have been an excellent diving catch along the sideline.
So who is the starter opposite Ginn? We will have to wait for someone to step forward. Because no one really has.