Report Card Grades for Every Miami Dolphins Rookie Through Preseason Week 2
Before the preseason began, there was a subtle buzz building around this Miami Dolphins team.
Its underdog mentality and anonymous roster were awfully reminiscent of a certain 2008 team, one that went from worst to first despite the lowest of expectations.
Amazing how fast things can change in two weeks, no?
As we hit the midway mark of the preseason, that subtle buzz has become more of a depressing hymn, and playoff hopes have all but perished.
Of course, it's way, way, way too early to start making any definitive proclamations about this Dolphins team. There's still ample time for the 'Phins to turn things around, but realistically, we're looking at another subpar season.
With that in mind, it's time to check in and hand out report cards to the rookies; the players who offer a beacon of hope to a brighter future.
Ryan Tannehill, QB
Considering Ryan Tannehill initially projected as a developmental quarterback, you have to give him credit for exceeding expectations this offseason. He wasted no time asserting himself as a viable candidate for the starting QB job, and David Garrard's knee injury has opened the door for him to win it.
Tannehill showcased command of the offense, comfort in the pocket and a strong, accurate arm in his first two preseason appearances. He's constantly making pre-snap reads and adjusting formations accordingly. Even though his adjustments don't always spawn positive results, it's exciting to watch a rookie captain an offense with such confidence—just imagine what he'll be capable of in a few years.
Not everything is going so swell for Tannehill, however.
He needs to improve his pocket awareness—knowing when to step up in the pocket and get rid of the football. Moreover, he needs to improve timing and chemistry with his wide receivers (had trouble connecting with Roberto Wallace multiple times against Carolina), and he needs to go through a full progression rather than lock onto one target (though he did seem to make strides in this area between the first and second preseason games).
Tannehill still has much refinement and development to achieve, but he's headed in the right direction so far. Although he didn't fully capitalize on his first NFL start, his teammates saw enough to offer their praise. Even Trent Dilfer, one of the foremost quarterback evaluators in the business, believes Tannehill has a prosperous future ahead of him:
Tannehill is going to be a stud. Understands timing, progressions and can beat the D with a uniquely sudden release. Sky is the limit!— Trent Dilfer (@TDESPN) August 18, 2012
Jonathan Martin, OT
Following a disastrous performance against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night, second-round pick Jonathan Martin has become a pariah. He yielded three sacks, committed two penalties, and simply didn't look like a starting-caliber right tackle.
Martin's poor play is discomforting, but don't hit the panic button yet. This was only his second NFL game, and it was a meaningless preseason one. Plus, Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is no schlub—he's a topflight player who has registered 20.5 sacks in the last two years alone.
If anything, Friday night's game was a blessing in disguise. Martin now knows exactly what he needs to work on, and he summed things up perfectly, via the Sun Sentinel:
That's what the preseason is for, [to] improve your skills. I'd rather make these mistakes now than against the Houston Texans in a couple weeks. I'm going to watch the film and make sure I don't make these same mistakes again.
Expect to see Martin make significant strides in these next two weeks, but based on his performance thus far, he doesn't deserve high marks.
Olivier Vernon, DE
Given Miami's shortage of pass-rushers, third-round pick Olivier Vernon projected as a role player from day one. His strong play throughout minicamp and the early stages of training camp only reaffirmed this notion, and he even drew praise from Jake Long.
But, after Friday night's game, it's time to pump the brakes.
Vernon got his first NFL start and it wasn't pretty. Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross—a 10-year veteran with two Pro Bowl berths and one First-Team All-Pro nod under his belt—absolutely dominated him. Despite playing alongside Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, Vernon couldn't generate any pressure.
Undrafted free-agent Derrick Shelby outperformed Vernon, and he will start eating into his reps. Hopefully this lights a spark under Vernon.
Michael Egnew, TE
Jeff Ireland finally acquired an athletic tight end this offseason, hoping to give the Dolphins a target who can stretch the seam and pose matchup issues in the red zone. At this rate, however, third-round pick Michael Egnew won't play a role in the offense anytime soon.
On last week's episode of Hard Knocks, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman tore Egnew to shreds, calling him "terrible." He added, "I would cut you today if I was the GM."
Egnew didn't respond well to the criticism. He caught just one pass for six yards and dropped another pass on Friday night, bringing his preseason totals to three receptions on seven targets for 43 yards. One of those receptions was an impressive 31-yard catch, but that's one of the only bright moments from his offseason.
If Egnew's struggles with dropped passes persist, then it's tough to envision him factoring into Miami's passing attack anytime soon.
Lamar Miller, RB
Lamar Miller bounced back from a disappointing debut with a strong performance against the Panthers on Friday night.
He rushed for 11 yards on three carries and caught three passes for 27 yards, flashing the versatility and explosiveness that made him a weapon at the University of Miami. Stats aside, Miller's shoulder injury doesn't appear to be hindering him, which is a huge plus and a huge relief.
Miller generated buzz at minicamp like most super-fast skill players do, but he's also delivering in pads. Before he can become a big factor in Miami's offense, Miller has to establish himself as a reliable pass-blocker.
But, as long as Reggie Bush is around, Miller's touches will be limited anyway. Still, the Dolphins have to find ways to get him on the field. He's a home-run threat every time he touches the ball and, at the very least, he can be used as a decoy.
Josh Kaddu, LB
Miami's first two preseason games exposed the team's lack of depth—and general talent and competency—at linebacker. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett sat out Friday's game, and the linebacker corps looked abysmal. And, frankly, things didn't look that much better when Dansby was in the lineup against Tampa Bay.
If a decent linebacker hits the waiver wire in the coming weeks, then the Dolphins have to consider bringing him aboard, putting fifth-round pick Josh Kaddu in a precarious spot.
Kaddu has been very quiet this offseason, and he really hasn't done anything to secure a roster spot. However, he played well on Friday night, registering one tackle and one nice hit on Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen.
Pressure is on Kaddu to elevate his game in these next few weeks. He needs to flash in practice and every rep he receives in the team's remaining preseason games.
Kaddu is a worthwhile developmental project because he has the athleticism to cover tight ends and the technique to generate pressure. The Dolphins are struggling in both areas, which is why Austin Spitler might the first linebacker on the chopping block—not Kaddu.
Either way, it'd be comforting to see more from him.
B.J. Cunningham, WR
Competition for the sixth wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster is heating up, and sixth-round pick B.J. Cunningham is falling behind. Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews, Jeff Fuller and Chris Hogan have all outperformed him this preseason, casting serious doubt about his future with the team.
Cunningham caught three passes for 15 yards against Tampa Bay, but he didn't register a catch against Carolina, which could come back to haunt him. Every snap counts in a positional battle that runs this deep, and there's minimal room for failure.
On Sunday, Joe Philbin admitted, "Cunningham didn't get a lot of opportunities, so we still have some work to do in that area."
Easier said than done.
Starters typically play an entire half in a team's third preseason game, which leaves one half for Cunningham to see the field. Even then, Philbin will aim to get all of Miami's wideouts sufficient targets.
Cunningham should survive when the Dolphins trim their roster to 80 on August 28, but will he survive when the roster is trimmed to 53 on August 31? Not at this rate. Right now, his best-case scenario is a spot on the practice squad.
Kheeston Randall, DT
One of the most pleasant surprises from this preseason is seventh-round pick Kheeston Randall.
Although he was virtually invisible for most of the offseason, he burst onto the scene in Miami's first exhibition game, showcasing an ability to create penetration and disruption. Randall had similar success against Carolina on Friday, further intensifying his push for a roster spot.
These next two weeks are obviously critical for Randall as he makes his case for a spot on the 53-man roster, but things are looking up so far.
Randall was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school who didn't live up to the hype at University of Texas. Hopefully he's finally prepared to fulfill his potential and become an impact player for the Dolphins.
Rishard Matthews, WR
The Dolphins traded back into the seventh round to grab Rishard Matthews in April's draft, and he's making the team look wise for doing so.
Matthews was an afterthought until Miami's first preseason game, when he returned a kickoff for 45 yards and nearly took it to the house. Then, on Friday, he was the team's most productive wideout, reeling in four receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Now that Matthews has flashed as both a kick returner and a wide receiver, his chances of winning the sixth wide receiver spot have multiplied. Right now, he and Marlon Moore should be considered the favorites, with Jeff Fuller, B.J. Cunningham and Chris Hogan trailing not too far behind (and Clyde Gates is somewhere behind all of them).
If Matthews gets another shot at returning kicks, then it's pivotal he capitalizes. Although another wide receiver might offer more immediate value to the passing game, none of them also offer so much value on special teams (though Moore does have some experience on Miami's special teams units).
Even if he doesn't make the 53-man roster, Matthews is a safe bet for the practice squad.
Undrafted Free Agents
Only a handful of UDFAs have ascended from camp bodies to potential practice squad players. Here's a look at how they grade:
Josh Samuda, OL: A+
Should be Mike Pouncey's backup in 2012. Maybe the Dolphins can mold him into a guard down the road. Either way, great pickup by Jeff Ireland.
Derrick Shelby, DE: A+
Doesn't waste any opportunity. Has delivered in practice and games, and his rapid ascension up the depth chart means he could play a fairly prominent role for the 'Phins this season.
Anderson Russell, S: A
Has clearly surpassed Tyrell Johnson on the depth chart and has made a case for a roster spot with outstanding performances in practice. Needs to make a bigger impact in games, both on defense and special teams, in order to crack the 53-man roster.
Andrew McDonald, OT: A-
Listed as a second-team offensive tackle on Miami's first two depth charts, leapfrogging the likes of John Jerry and Ray Feinga. Should earn a spot on the practice squad, which is no small feat for a player who was brought in as a tryout player in May.
Jeff Fuller, WR: B+
Hot and cold throughout the offseason, but he's showing up in games. Has reeled in a combined six receptions for 49 yards. Drops are still an issue, but his chemistry with Ryan Tannehill makes him a safe bet for the practice squad. Still has a shot at cracking the 53-man roster as well.
Chas Alecxih, DT: B
Has flashed in practice throughout camp, but didn't make such an impact in either preseason game. Ability to play the pass and the run makes him practice squad-worthy.
Kelcie McCray, S: N/A
Primed himself to garner a shot at the 53-man roster, but a fractured foot has kept him out for most of camp. It'll be interesting to see what happens once he's healthy. There's a chance we'll see him on Sundays at some point this season.