Some thoughts and notes, position by position, after the Dolphins' 27-10 loss at Chicago in their preseason opener, a game in which Bears backups outscored their Miami counterparts 24-0 in the second half:
### Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill was sharp and efficient in his only drive, completing 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards and a 139.6 passer rating. He had a nifty 19-yard throw to Greg Jennings and delivered a pinpoint pass to Jarvis Landry on fourth and goal for a touchdown...
Matt Moore (4-9, 43 yards) had a 59 rating and did nothing of note... McLeod Bethel Thompson completed a 34-yard throw to a lunging Laron Byrd, but his night went downhill from there. He threw two atrocious interceptions deep in Dolphins territory and finished 5 for 12 for 71 yards and a 21.9 rating... Josh Freeman, who has struggled throughout training camp, matched MBT's 21.9 rating, closing 5 for 16 with 76 yards with an interception. Yuck.. It's impossible to fathom Miami keeping more than two quarterbacks.
### Offensive line: The interior of the first-team group was solid, except for a goal-line holding penalty by Billy Turner and poor blocking on a short gain by Lamar Miller on Miami's first offensive snap. Otherwise, Turner was adequate at right guard and Dallas Thomas had a good night at left guard... Turner played longer than any starter... Jason Fox had a holding penalty...
Tackle Donald Hawkins and center Sam Brenner were the first offensive linemen used off the bench... Hawkins allowed a sack (the only one Miami gave up all night) and hasn't been very good in training camp... Brenner appears to have the edge over JD Walton as the third center. Walton had a holding penalty and struggled at times.
### Running back: Miller had a terrific 27-yard run and finished with 32 yards on three carries... Aside from Damien Williams' two catches for 28 yards (and we already knew he could do that), none of the backup running backs distinguished themselves. Williams, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry last year, had 7 for 20 tonight (2.9 average)...
LaMichael James averaged just 2.6 (5 for 13) and was merely OK in the return game (25.3 average on three kickoff returns, 1 for 8 on a punt return). He inexplicably called for a fair catch late in the first half despite having 7 to 10 yards of open space in front of him... Mike Gillislee fumbled after an impressive run and closed with 16 yards on five carries. Hard to see him making this team.
### Receiver: Byrd had the catch of the night but remains a long shot to make the team. With Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker sidelined, all three starters got targeted during the first-team offense's brief stint. Jennings had the 19-yard catch, Landry caught 2 for 11 (including the touchdown) and Rishard Matthews 1 for 11...
The second-team receivers were Byrd, Michael Preston and Matt Hazel, who had two catches for 34 yards but also dropped a pass... The third team receivers were Cobi Hamilton (4 for 49), Kevin Cone (2-30) and DaMarr Aultman. Cone, all alone, dropped a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, though the ball wasn't particularly well thrown by Freeman. Aultman returned a punt for 42 yards late in the game..... Tommy Streeter sustained a groin injury in the second quarter and didn't return.
### Tight end: Dion Sims had two catches for 15 yards, shaking off a poor week of practice in which he had several uncharacteristic drops... Jordan Cameron wasn't targeted.... Gerrell Robinson entered as the No. 3 tight end, followed by Jake Stoneburner. Bad sign for Arthur Lynch that he's no better than fifth on the depth chart.... Aside from Sims, Stoneburner was the only other tight end with a catch (2 for 13).
### Defensive line: The starters were very good, the backups less so. After Ndamukong Suh left the game, Miami allowed runs of 15, 5 and 6 yards on the next three runs, with CJ Mosley and Jordan Phillips playing tackle... Phillips had one exceptional play, penetrating into the backfield on a running play to allow Michael Thomas to make a tackle for a 3-yard loss....
Anthony Johnson, who began camp as a second-team defensive tackle, played with the third team and committed three neutral zone infractions.... Terrence Fede, who has been terrific throughout training camp, nearly sacked Jimmy Clausen, instead forcing him to scramble unsuccessfully. (Clausen fell to the ground.)
### Linebacker: Already without Koa Misi (calf), the Dolphins lost Jordan Tripp to an ankle injury. He was on crutches, with his right foot in a boot, after the game. Tripp has had bad luck early in his career; he had a chest injury and an appendectomy during preseason last year... Chris McCain injured his ankle after Derrick Shelby accidentally stepped on him late in the first half. But he returned to the sideline and seemed fine...
Miami started only two linebackers ---- Jelani Jenkins and Kelvin Sheppard --- and both were solid. Jenkins played terrific defense in coverage on an incomplete throw to Martellus Bennett and also had a tackle for loss on a running play. Sheppard was fine in his snaps at middle linebacker.
We told you last week that the Dolphins believed Zach Vigil had emerged as the best of their four undrafted linebackers. And he justified Miami's faith tonight with five tackles (including two for loss) and the Dolphins' only sack... Mike Hull also had some good moments, including a breakup of a potential touchdown in the end zone... Neville Hewitt missed a tackle on special teams and had a holding penalty.
### Defensive backs: Reshad Jones made his presence felt early with a good play on a Bears run and a deflection in coverage... Walt Aikens filled for Louis Delmas and did nothing objectionable... Jamar Taylor was solid, allowing only a short completion... Brice McCain started in the nickel and was OK despite tweaking his groin on Tuesday....
Bobby McCain, who has been such a ball-hawk in training camp, got early snaps in the nickel but committed a couple of holding penalties... Zack Bowman was beaten twice but also broke up a pass in the end zone in the third quarter...
Tough night for rookie fifth-round safety Cedric Thompson, who whiffed on a tackle that would have prevented a touchdown on Kadeem Carey's fourth-and-1 run, and later failed to make an open field tackle on a 52-yard TD run by Sinorise Perry.... Will Davis had a very nice play in coverage.
### Kicker/punter: Caleb Sturgis kicked a 31-yard field goal but one of his kickoffs went out of bounds. ... Rookie Matt Darr averaged 44.3 yards on three punts, Brandon Fields 37.7 yards on three punts. But all three of Fields' landed inside the 20; none of Darr's did.
We’re down to two now, just two UM players deemed worthy of being called five-star recruits by Rivals.com when they joined the Hurricanes out of high school. And though the star system shouldn’t be overstated --- heck, there wasn’t a single five-star player in this year’s Super Bowl --- it would certainly help if Miami’s two remaining elite prospects, Tracy Howard and Chad Thomas, put together seasons worthy of that prestigious distinction.
Howard, a senior, had four interceptions as a sophomore but was a role player last season (just one start, one pick, one pass breakup) and played fewer than 25 snaps in a few games before starting the bowl game against South Carolina.
But with Ladarius Gunter graduating and Antonio Crawford transferring to West Virginia, Howard again has been thrust into a major role, one of just three experienced cornerbacks on the roster.
“I wasn’t a five-star player coming into my senior year in high school and I took my game to another level my senior year,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do this year. I’m going to be great. I’m definitely in a good place.”
Howard, from Miramar High, arrived at UM rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 1 cornerback nationally and No. 13 prospect overall. He’s circumspect as he reflects on his career here.
“Have I panned out as I should have? I didn’t have a year with crazy numbers,” he said. “I had high expectations for myself and I know a lot of people have high expectations for me.
“It comes with being a five-star coming out of high school. In my sophomore year, I was showing signs of greatness. My junior year wasn’t great. Where my game is right now, I think I’m a great player right now.”
Howard said the diminished playing time during parts of last season “was definitely tough at times, but I tried not to let it get to me. I pride myself on staying strong and fighting through whatever things I [face]. It made me better as a person.
“I never was selfish. I never turned on anybody. I never got mad at any one of my teammates because they were playing more than me. I’m glad I went through it. It made be better. It made me stronger. I learned how to fight through adversity….
“I’ve got to look at myself, too. I know what I need to do. I need to be the leader, not one of the leaders, I need to be the leader for the secondary. I need to be great.”
Howard, who doesn’t have blazing speed, must rely on instincts and intelligence and technique to maximize his potential.
Meanwhile, it will be disappointing if Thomas doesn’t make more of an impact than Howard has. The Booker T. Washington graduate entered UM as the nation’s No. 2 defensive end prospect but made little impact as a freshman.
“Chad looks really good out there; he’s been phenomenal,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “I’ve seen unbelievable improvement. The sky is the limit. He’s gotten stronger, letting his natural talent go. He’s not feeling his way through there. He has a chance to be a disruptive player because of it.
“It’s a hard era for guys to play in [as elite recruits]. There’s so much hype. It’s not fair to those guys. I commend them the way they fight through it and handle it.”
Here’s the type of thing UM fans wonder about: How can St. Thomas Aquinas’ Joey Bosa, rated by Rivals as the 47th player in the 2013 class, go to Ohio State and have 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a freshman, whereas Thomas – rated the No. 22 player overall in 2014 --- had no sacks, one tackle for loss and seven tackles overall as a UM freshman? The major caveat is Bosa got a lot more playing time than Thomas.
“Coming in, I knew I had to learn,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t just stepping in and playing. It’s not as easy as high school, where you just do a move. While you’re in college, you have to finish the move. [Defensive line coach Randy] Melvin has been working with us on that. I should be better this year.”
Thomas said his pass rush moves are better and his body is more equipped for the rigors of college football. “I was underweight last year. I’m at 265, which is up 10 to 15 pounds” from the end of last year.
He said the pressure of being a five-star recruit doesn’t weigh on him: “I know a lot of people depend on me and I’m used to it.”
One senior on last year’s team said Thomas came across as cocky to some upper-classmen, but he seemed humble in a recent interview. “I know I have to work more,” he said. “I know there are people I have to compete against to win the job.”
Bottom line: The Canes’ most ballyhooed recruits need to play like everybody expects.
Please check back tonight for Dolphins-Bears postscripts.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz