The Miami Dolphins emerged from the preseason a semblance of the team they entered it as.
Virtually everything that could've gone wrong did, and the end result is a watered-down roster populated by unproven young guys and castoffs. Miami's final 53-man roster won't scare many opponents, but on a good day, it can compete.
The problem is, this team is wildly inconsistent.
Players like Reshad Jones and Charles Clay were studs in practice but mostly duds in games, and every positional unit—save the running back corps and defensive line—are extremely volatile.
As a whole, this roster gets a C+ grade.
Here's how each individual unit grades.
This is the best stable of quarterbacks the Dolphins have assembled in years, but that's not saying much.
On one hand, David Garrard and Matt Moore give the Dolphins a pair of steady and reliable veterans who can deliver when called upon. Ryan Tannehill is the QB of the future, and Pat Devlin is a rapidly developing third-stringer.
But, on the other hand, Garrard is a 34-year-old who underwent back surgery last October, sat out the entire season, and then missed this preseason with a knee injury. Moore, meanwhile, finished the preseason with a dismal 37.05 quarterback rating. And, finally, Tannehill is a rookie with just 19 college starts under his belt.
Things went sour for the quarterbacks very quickly in August, but if Tannehill pans out, then all will be forgotten.
The Dolphins have little to boast about, but they're capable of finishing this season with a top-10 rushing attack.
Reggie Bush finally hit his stride as an every-down runner last season, and he's primed for an even bigger year in Joe Philbin's West Coast Offense. Ideally, this system will get Bush more involved in the passing game, which adds another dynamic to the offense as a whole.
Daniel Thomas had a disappointing rookie season, but if the preseason is any indication, he's ready to justify his second-round billing. In Miami's last two preseason games, he racked up 60 yards on 11 carries. If Thomas can stay healthy and maintain this level of play, then he and Bush can become a "thunder and lightning" duo.
We've only seen a fraction of what fourth-round pick Lamar Miller is capable of. Although he was pedestrian on the ground, he caught 7 passes for 56 yards this preseason. Bush and Thomas will see a vast majority of the carries, but rest assured, the Dolphins will get Miller onto the field—perhaps as a wide receiver on occasion.
Would any Dolphins wide receiver besides Davone Bess start for another NFL team?
Legedu Naanee certainly wouldn’t. Not after catching just three passes on 11 targets in an incredibly disappointing preseason. Naanee shined in practice but vanished in games, leaving his starting spot in question for Week 1.
The only other Dolphins wide receiver that would even warrant consideration for a starting job with another team is Brian Hartline. He has posted respectable numbers for a fourth-round draft pick, and he projects as a great fit for the West Cost Offense given his speed and discipline route-running.
An appendectomy and a leg injury prevented Hartline from seeing the practice field for a majority of the offseason, so there’s still no proof he’s actually a viable starter.
The addition of vertical threat Anthony Armstrong will help, but, overall, few positional units in the entire league are more starving for an upgrade than Miami’s wide receiver corps.
Dropped passes were a recurring theme for Dolphins tight ends this preseason. Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay and Michael Egnew all had struggles holding onto the ball.
Fasano’s three-drop game against the Falcons might’ve been an anomaly, but Clay and Egnew have no excuse.
Clay was a star in minicamp and flashed his potential in game action. As a whole, however, his preseason was highly disappointing. After catching three passes for 49 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener, he failed to register another reception in Miami's three remaining games.
But, when it comes to disappointments, Michael Egnew is atop the list. On one infamous scene of Hard Knocks, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman verbally undressed Egnew due to his struggles with drops and underwhelming effort.
Because Egnew is struggling, the Dolphins could’ve signed a tight end off of waivers and waived Jeron Mastrud, a blocking specialist with just one reception in 22 games. Instead, they didn’t. Not yet, anyway. If the tight ends continue down path they paved in the preseason, then they will struggle.
The Dolphins’ offensive line dodged a bullet when Jake Long avoided serious injury to his ankle, but their outlook remains questionable nevertheless. John Jerry and Jonathan Martin should start at right guard and right tackle respectively, which is a scary proposition.
Jerry is an erratic player who has struggled to stay in shape, and Martin looked overwhelmed in much of the team’s preseason game action. The Dolphins need a fortified line to protect Ryan Tannehill, or they’ll risk destroying his confidence in the pocket.
Is this offensive line up to the task?
Long, Incognito and Pouncey most definitely are, but questions linger about Jerry (if he indeed starts) and Martin. The line could finish the season with an A grade if the latter two live up to their potential.
With Cam Wake, Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick in the starting lineup, the Dolphins will have no problem stifling the run and generating pressure.
However, the defensive line’s depth is a glaring issue.
Olivier Vernon was nothing more than pedestrian in the preseason, and though UDFA Derrick Shelby impressed enough to earn a roster spot, he’ll have his hands full lining up across first-team offensive lines. Unless Vernon and Shelby make big impacts immediately, it’ll be tough for this line to consistently pose matchup problems.
Depth is also an issue on the interior line. Behind Starks and Soliai, the Dolphins have an injured and underachieving Tony McDaniel, and seventh-round pick Kheeston Randall. McDaniel is coming off of a disappointing 2011 and Randall—though he played very well in the preseason—is an unproven rookie.
Karlos Dansby appeared in only one preseason game, and Kevin Burnett didn’t appear in any. Without two starters, the linebacker corps understandably struggled, but there’s no excuse for such poor play.
The Dolphins signed Gary Guyton in April to bolster the unit’s depth and coverage range. Instead, he was a weak-link for the defense in all four preseason games, and was released last week. In his place, the Phins picked up UDFA Sammy Brown who will contribute primarily on special teams for now.
Austin Spitler and Jason Trusnik will now serve as the team's primary backup linebackers, which isn't the most comforting thought. Both played admirably in the preseason, but can either ably hold down a starting job if called upon?
The departure of Vontae Davis left a gaping hole at cornerback, one that the Dolphins still have not filled.
Sean Smith and Richard Marshall are viable starters, but the same cannot be said for Nolan Carroll. He was hot and cold all preseason long. Even if he's hot, is he capable of locking down premier slot receivers like Wes Walker?
If he falters, then Jimmy Wilson will likely step down from safety to help out at cornerback. Wilson spent this offseason transitioning to safety, so it won't be easy for him to alternate between positions. Plus, he still has to justify the hype he generated in training camp last season.
The Dolphins claimed second-year cornerback R.J. Stanford off of waivers. With just one season, 11 tackles and one interception on his resume, Stanford doesn't project as a difference maker in 2012.
So, Smith, Marshall and Carroll all have to elevate their games to new heights in order to prevent offenses from dominating the Phins through the air. At this rate, cornerback will be a top need heading into next offseason.
Reshad Jones is another minicamp star who couldn't carry his momentum into preseason game action, which casts doubt about his outlook. He struggled in pass coverage and run support in 2011, and the Dolphins took a sizable gamble by handing Jones a starting job so early on.
It might come back to haunt them.
In order to bolster the safety corps, the Dolphins claimed former Texans safety Troy Nolan off of waivers. In two NFL seasons, Nolan has started six games and registered 84 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions.
Although Nolan could be the playmaker this secondary is missing, there's a reason the Texans dumped him. The Dolphins clearly see potential in Nolan, but Jeff Ireland hasn't done anything to garner the benefit of the doubt.