Repeat after me: It's only the preseason. It's only the preseason. It's only the preseason.
There. That should give some solace about the fact the Dolphins are so far pretty bad this preseason. If you remember that preseason greatness does not necessarily translate to regular-season greatness and preseason struggles don't always continue in the regular-season, that should get your through the next couple of weeks.
A team's won-loss record is irrelevant to, well, everything. Poor teams with outstanding reserves, guys that either won't be on the team or won't play a lot in the regular-season, often win in the preseason. Good teams that rest their stars often lose in the preseason. Young teams, regardless of how loaded they prove themselves to be, often lose in the preseason. Teams with new offensive and defensive systems often struggle in the preseason as they get comfortable with the schemes.
Well, let me balance that surge of optimism. The preseason is a good indicator about where a team is at that point in time It can be an accurate snapshot in time of individuals and personnel groupings.
It can tell you how far young players have come and how far they must yet go. It can tell you if there is visible improvement week to week.
So forget that Miami is 0-2 this preseason. But do not dismiss the idea that there are problems that are showing up consistently.
One of those issues for the entire team is there have been no consistent playmakers among the starters. None. Not on offense or defense.
Defense, in particular, has been troubling because aside from the fact big plays have been missing, I've seen a lot of missed tackles and the team isn't winning on third down.
"We haven't stopped anybody," Joe Philbin said after the most recent Carolina loss. "We haven't tackled real well, we haven't gotten off the field on third down. We haven't gotten a good pass rush. I mean, I guess I better stop there."
By the way, the Dolphins have blitzed in the preseason, at least last week. But there can be more pass-rush generated by blitzes in the regular season. That's good. This isn't: Any team that must create its pass-rush with blitzes exposes itself eventually in the back end to big plays. The gamble can be worth it if there are stars in the secondary, but if there are not, that can be trouble.
I also look for invididual young starting players' abilities early in the season.
Said another way, it is unlikely that right tackle Jonathan Martin, for example, will struggle in the preseason (as he has) and suddenly become dominant in the regular-season opener. Or by the second game. Or perhaps by the third game.
It takes a while for players to grow. And the regular-season typically is tougher on young players initially than the preseason. They are often ill-prepared to deliver that higher gear that the regular-season requires, at least initially.
And so if you think Martin will suddenly become a fortress in time to face the Houston Texans, I'd say dial back on the expectations.
Similarly, the preseason does offer an important snapshot of what one can expect from certain positiions on the team. This preseason, for example, has pulled back the curtain on how troubled the Dolphins are at wide receiver and tight end.
The receivers who are having trouble separating from defenders in the preseason, will not suddenly be able to do it in the regular season. It simply will not happen. Players that are dropping passes in the preseason don't suddenly start catching them in the regular season.
(An aside: You'll notice Miami's wide receiver issues is generally not about dropping passes. This group typically catches the passes thrown, with a couple of notable exceptions. But the greater and more concerning problem to me is these guys don't really get open quickly and consistently. They either don't separate or don't find soft spots in the zone to sit down. I don't know what it is because I am not a coach and don't pretend to be one, but something is obviously lacking.)
I'm also concerned about Miami's tight ends. Anthony Fasano is the starter and that's fine. He is typically a C+ to B- player, depending on the game. He's a good blocker. He is a good enough receiver. But he doesn't worry a defense down the seam. He isn't a player the opposing defensive coordinator worries too much about. He's not part of the problem. But unfortunately, in most games, he's not the solution.
That is why the Dolphins drafted Charles Clay last year and Michael Egnew this year. Unfortunately, Egnew has had a terrible first NFL camp. He's not ready and he doesn't look to be getting better results as the weeks have progressed. He's obviously putting a lot of pressure on himself.
Clay has the potential to be a threat in the red zone and down the seam. But he's inconsistent as heck. He has one great practice and then disappears. He has one good preseason game and then disappears the next. Clay is very inconsistent so far. It was that way last year and it remains that way now.
And until one of these two or someone else added to the roster gets it and delivers some help, the Miami struggles in the red zone and down the middle of the field will continue to plague the offense.
Of course, things can still change. Remember? This is only preseason.
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