The Dolphins will practice Monday and Tuesday afternoon, in sessions closed to the public, before traveling to Orlando Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Here are three things to look for at practice Monday:
Anthony Steen is your starting center. You’ve probably never heard of Steen, but ladies and gentlemen, he is your starting Dolphins center — as the entire organization holds its breath, hoping Mike Pouncey’s hip injury won’t require surgery. Steen has never played an NFL game, which is the bad news. And people who are paid to evaluate such things have thought his strongest position would be guard and that — maybe — he could hold up as a servicable replacement for a few games. Dolphins coaches think he’s gritty and tough and knows what he’s doing. We’ll see how he responds to extra attention and a start Thursday night.
How much does Cameron Wake participate? While the rest of his defensive line teammates left the practice field to do some work in the practice bubble, Wake stayed outside and did some individual workouts with a trainer on Sunday. Wake played coy with me about how much he would participate and if he would play against Atlanta this week. But it sounds like the organization is taking a very conservative approach to his return from an Achilles injury. Coach Adam Gase told me there has been no setback for Wake. Gase, ever the optimist, said the goal is simply to put Wake in the best position to play “sixteen plus” games.
Jordan Cameron and Kiko Alonso. Follow along with me here. Both of these guys are athletic and at their best – explosive. Both of these guys have also had some shaky moments in the preseason, following disappointing campaigns in 2015. Cameron needs to regain his confidence and show teammates he can be counted on to catch the ball and make big plays more often. Alonso needs to show that he can both cover tight ends who move like Cameron and that he is strong enough and technique-sound enough to hold up against the run more effectively.
DAVIE – Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron dropped a sure touchdown pass in Friday night’s loss as the Dallas Cowboys and quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday said he wants to see the struggling tight end “get rolling.”
Tannehill is supportive of Cameron, and after the drop, the quarterback said he told Cameron, “Just keep playing. It was one mistake in a season-long campaign. You can’t dwell on it.”
If Cameron is going to be the starting tight end in an effective NFL offense, he needs to be better.
“Obviously, we want to make those plays, but he’s going to make a lot of plays for us,” Tannehill said. “He has to keep his head up, keep working and he’ll make it next time.”
Cameron wasn’t involved enough last season, his first in Miami, after emerging as a Pro Bowler with the Cleveland Browns. It seemed there was a lack of chemistry.
This offseason, Cameron has been struggling with drops and inconsistency. On Sunday, Cameron followed an oustanding, diving touchdown catch with a bad drop.
“He’s extremely athletic,” Tannehill said. “He’s a talented guy. You like your matchups with him on safeties and him on linebackers.”
As Tannehill noted, coach Adam Gase needs versatile tight ends. They need to block. They need to run corners and flats, but also wide receiver routes when split out wide. Cameron took a pay cut to stay with the Dolphins, in part because it seemed like he was an ideal fit for Gase’s scheme.
But the bigger issue for Cameron right now might not be physical ability. It seems he needs to regain some confidence. Tannehill and the Dolphins need him to find it.
DAVIE – Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey has a left hip injury that will keep him out of the lineup for the rest of the preseason and puts his season-opener at Seattle at risk.
Pouncey, a three-time Pro Bowler, had an offseason procedure on his right hip, so this is unrelated. All offseason the Dolphins’ focus has been upgrading the guard positions, and now this.
“It’s going to be week-to-week,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “We’re trying to get him better as fast as possible.”
Anthony Steen, listed as a guard on Miami’s roster, but the team’s backup center, is the starter for the foreseeable future. Steen is 6-foot-3, 313 pounds but has not appeared in a regular-season NFL game.
Dolphins coaches have elevated Steen ahead of veteran Jamil Douglas.
“(Steen’s) come out there in training camp and really kind of caught our eye a little bit as far as doing everything right,” Gase said. “He’s fit up on guys right. He’s been strong at the point of attack. And when you’re the center, there is a lot going on for that guy. And he’s done a good job.”
Dolphins coaches feel comfortable that Steen knows all the calls, though adjusting to a voice other than Pouncey’s will be an adjustment. Coaches have been impressed with Steen’s toughness, grit and work ethic. Sten was a three-year starter at Alabama and did not commit a penalty or allow a sack in the 2012 season.
Still, the loss of Pouncey could be momentous.
Pouncey has been instrumental in helping rookie left guard Laremy Tunsil, who is in line to start the opener, adjust to a new position and higher level of play. Pouncey brings an air of calmness for all his teammates, notably quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
And in the season opener, at a loud CenturyLink Field, Steen — an undrafted free agent who has appeared on Miami and Arizona’s practice squads — could conceivably be lined up opposite Seahawks defensive tackle Michael Bennett, a physical, dominating defensive tackle.
The Dolphins will practice Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoon, in sessions closed to the public, before traveling to Orlando Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Here are three things to look for at practice Sunday:
Xavien Howard returns to practice. The Dolphins are counting on Howard, a rookie cornerback from Baylor, to emerge as a starter this season. Howard (knee) was activated before Friday night’s game and participated in pregame workouts, but did not play. Howard has the size, ball skills and feistiness the Dolphins crave in corners but he needs all the experience he can get, starting with today’s practice. Starting cornerback Byron Maxwell was uneven matched against Dez Bryant. How well is Howard moving today?
Any changes to improve tackling? It seems doubtful coach Adam Gase is going to break out the old-school “Oklahoma” Drill and have Dolphins hammering each other to the ground on a sunny Sunday afternoon in South Florida. But something has to change. The Dolphins surprised Gase and staff with poor tackling in each of the first two preseason games. Gase says Miami is trying to polish up technique through some drills he’s not accustomed to. Might be time to add a few new ones.
Is it officially Tunsil time? Rookie Laremy Tunsil and veteran Jermon Bushrod started the last preseason game and performed well. Tunsil had a few excellent blocks and aside from one bad play, Bushrod was solid. When the preseason Week 3 depth chart came out today, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner were listed as starters. Preseason depth charts don’t mean much. Tunsil should be expected to take most of the reps at left guard on Thursday, when, incidentally, quarterback Brandon Doughty figures to take second-team reps after Matt Moore took a head shot last week.
The Dolphins lost to the Cowboys, 41-14, on Friday night in Dallas. Miami’s first-team offense was much more impressive than in the preseason opener. Miami’s first-team defense (minus a few injured starters) was run over by the Cowboys and must improve quickly under first-year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Here are our grades for the Dolphins:
QUARTERBACKS: Ryan Tannehill played with confidence and swagger. Tannehill moved his feet in the pocket, threw accurately while rolling outside the pocket and scrambled effectively on designed runs. He showed trademark toughness and his athleticism should be exploited more this season. Tannehill also executed in the red zone, which didn’t happen in 2015. It seems very likely that Dolphins coach Adam Gase is going to have a positive impact on Tannehill. Miami QB Matt Moore left with a head injury.
RUNNING BACKS: Arian Foster has played one game for the Dolphins and had -5 rushing yards (on two carries). Jay Ajayi had six carries for 19 yards and fought hard, with little room to run. Miami’s offensive line is simply going to have to get better at run blocking. Isaiah Pead flashed some speed and may have surpassed Daniel Thomas
WIDE RECEIVERS: Kenny Stills made an impact. Stills had two touchdowns catches and another long reception, which is important because Tannehill can’t lean exclusively on Jarvis Landry and produce a winning season. Landry failed to secure two passes that may have been touchdowns. DaVante Parker still needs to get more involved, but did have a clutch third-down grab.
TIGHT ENDS: Jordan Cameron seems to have lost his confidence. Cameron flat-out dropped a sure touchdown. He seems like an infielder who wants the ball hit elsewhere. Dion Sims has less upside as a receiver, but seems more reliable as a blocker and even receiver at this time.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Dolphins opened the game with a change at guard, rookie Laremy Tunsil and veteran Jermon Bushrod entering the lineup. It paid dividends, as Miami’s pass protection improved, despite one allowed sack by Bushrod. Billy Turner was also beaten on a rush that resulted in a fumble by Brandon Doughty. Tunsil made several noteworthy blocks and will not be relinquishing his position. In general, Miami is not creating effective rushing lanes for running backs.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Miami’s defensive line did not create enough sacks or pressure and did not do an effective job in rush defense. Dallas ran 17 times for 112 yards in the first half, an average of 6.6 yards per rush. Cameron Wake and Earl Mitchell didn’t play, but something must change. No excuses. It’s not good enough. Mario Williams didn’t have an impact, but did have a bad missed tackle. Andre Branch had a tough game.
LINEBACKERS: None of the Miami linebackers stood out. In general, the Dolphins linebackers are going to have to be more involved and effective against the rushing game. Dallas had 300 total yards of offense in the first half. The Dolphins back seven couldn’t find a way to cover tight end Jason Witten.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Cornerback Tony Lippett had a pass interference on Dez Bryant. Cornerback Byron Maxwell was beaten on a nice pass play from Dak Prescott to Bryant. In general, there were too many Dallas wide receivers running open. Miami needs rookie Xavien Howard to return — like, next week. And Miami needs Chris Culliver to return — early in the season. Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus had an interception negated by penalty. Cornerback Bobby McCain was beaten on a deep pass in the second half to set up a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jakeem Grant continues to show quick feet and lightning quickness in the return game. Grant did nothing to indicate he’s not the leading return specialist. Punter Matt Darr showed off his strong leg, but also had a punt blocked in the third quarter.
OVERALL: The most important thing that happened Friday night in Dallas is that Ryan Tannehill could be seen on the sideline at the end of the first half, smiling, laughing and feeling warm and fuzzy about two touchdown passes and some well-executed passing plays. As good as Tannehill and Kenny Stills were – and they were fantastic – Miami’s run defense was atrocious. In fact, Miami’s entire defense was so poor it pretty much dampened the encouraging signs of the Dolphins offense.
The most interesting matchup in tonight’s Dolphins at Cowboys game (8 p.m., CBS) is between the vaunted Dallas offensive line and the highly-paid Miami defensive line. There are questions about how much Mario Williams has left and he makes his debut in a Miami uniform tonight. But it’s actually Williams’ former Houston Texans teammate, running back Arian Foster, who I’m most intrigued to see in action. Here are seven to watch:
Arian Foster — Foster doesn’t usually play in the preseason. But Foster hasn’t played for the Miami Dolphins before and he has never had to bounce back from a torn Achilles tendon. Foster has shown surprising shiftiness in practice and still glides smoothly. Miami needs Foster to be close to his peak this season. And Foster wants reps.
Laremy Tunsil — At times this week, Tunsil took increased repetitions with the first team. At times this week, Tunsil showed flashes of the quickness and dominating strength to justify his lofty draft position. Coach Adam Gase would not say if Tunsil will start tonight, but expect him to see early action.
Ryan Tannehill — Seven snaps. Tannehill made note multiple times this week that it’s not fair to draw conclusions or over-react to the preseason debut of the Tannehill-Gase offense. But it sure would be nice to emerge from tonight’s game with a touchdown — or at worst, multiple first downs and some confidence.
Mario Williams — Williams was a disappointment in Buffalo and tonight is his first game of the preseason. Williams was once one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL, but he is 31. Is Williams motivated enough at this point of his career to create pressures not only in-season, but in a preseason game? We’ll see.
DeVante Parker— Parker missed the first game of the preseason due to a hamstring injury. The Dolphins need Parker to live up to all of his physical abilities and find a way to stay on the field. Parker is 6-foot-3, 212 pounds — he looks the part in practice — but he needs to develop better chemistry with Tannehill.
Byron Maxwell — Maxwell was a last-minute scratch in the preseason opener due to a tight groin. Maxwell had an average season with the Philadelphia Eagles last season, but it being counted on to bounce back to the form he held in Seattle. Miami needs Maxwell to show – starting tonight – he can actually be a number one corner.
Jordan Phillips — Yes, Phillips is a second-stringer. No, he shouldn’t be. There is too much talent there and it would be nice to see Phillips exhibit some domination against an excellent Cowboys offensive line tonight. It’s up to Phillips. Does he want to be just a rotational body, or does he want to make an impact and live up to his physical talents?
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line should be one of the best in the NFL and the Miami Dolphins defensive line has the potential to be one of the most dangerous in the league. It’s hard to say how long each team will go with their starters tonight (Miami at Dallas, 8 p.m. ET, CBS), but keep an early eye in the trenches, as Cowboys G Zack Martin, a Pro Bowler in both of his two seasons, will try to anchor for QB Tony Romo against Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh, a four-time Pro Bowler. Suh sat out Miami’s first preseason game and missed some practice time with a sore back, but should line up alongside veterans Cameron Wake, Earl Mitchell and Mario Williams tonight. (Update: Wake and Mitchell will be held out due to injury.)
Miami Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh
6-foot-3, 307 pounds
Nebraska, 7th season
Pro Football Focus 2015 position rank: 6
Scouting Notes: Some observers felt Suh did not live up to the massive $114 million, 6-year contract he agreed to before last season,but Suh had six sacks and 38 tackles, around his career average. In fact, Pro Football Focus felt Suh had his most effective season in 2015. Suh was constantly double-teamed last season and the hope is Mario Williams will be rejuvenated and Cameron Wake will be explosive enough in his return from an Achilles injury to free Suh up more often. Suh topped 1,000 snaps for the first time and was on the field for more than 85 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps in 2015. Suh may always take too many penalties, but his aggressiveness is something Miami hopes permeates the roster. They need more tough guys. And as long as he plays, Suh will be one of the most feared opponents for linemen and quarterbacks.
“More times than not, you see (Ndamukong) Suh causing havoc.” — first-year Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, during training camp.
Dallas Cowboys G Zack Martin
6-foot-4, 315 pounds
Notre Dame, 3rd season
Pro Football Focus 2015 position rank: 4
Scouting Notes: Most known because the Cowboys passed on Johnny Manziel to draft him, Martin immediately became one of the best offensive linemen in the league. Martin is athletic, smart, competitive and versatile. According to Pro Football Focus, there wasn’t a guard in the NFL who ranked better as a pass blocker than Martin, which makes his matchup with Suh fascinating. Cowboys center Travis Frederick is arguably the best center in the NFL, which is why it’s so hard to slow the Cowboys rushing attack. In a meeting in Miami last season, Martin held his own against Suh in a Cowboys win.
“(Zack Martin) is such a hard-working guy and so committed to being as good as he can be. I just think every aspect of it, feet, hands, eyes — he works at every aspect of his game.” — Cowboys coach Jason Garrett
DAVIE — Xavien Howard, a Dolphins rookie cornerback who may end up starting this season, was activated off the physically unable to perform list Thursday, the club announced. Howard was recovering from a knee injury.
Howard, a 6-foot-1, 198-pound former Baylor standout, was the Dolphins’ second round pick, 38th overall.
Howard (whose first name is pronounced Ex-ay-vee-n) is not expected to play Friday night at Dallas, according to a league source.
The Dolphins will rely heavily on former Philadelphia Eagle Byron Maxwell as their top cornerback, but who plays opposite him is a critical question entering the season. Former wide receiver Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain should again see plenty of action Friday.
Miami hopes Howard will be able to get up to speed quickly enough to at least contribute in the season-opener at Seattle.
“He just won’t give it up,” Foster told The Palm Beach Post as he walked off the practice field Wednesday.
Foster doesn’t appear entirely comfortable in jersey number 34, once worn by Ricky Williams, though Foster will wear it in his Miami debut Friday night at the Dallas Cowboys.
Both Foster and Williams have interests that extend far outside the football field. Williams was considered aloof and eccentric.
Asked by a reporter about his interest in science, Foster said Wednesday: “I think science is our greatest accomplishment as the human species.”
Foster wore number 23 with the Houston Texans.
In college, Foster wore number 27 at Tennesee and Ajayi wore number 27 at Boise State.
Number 27 on the Dolphins? Shamiel Gary, a third-string safety who may — or may not — make the team.
Foster hinted that one way or another, he’ll consider changing out of number 34 before the season.
Ajayi ran for 187 yards as a rookie and is listed as a starter on the Dolphins depth chart. Ajayi will wear number 23 on Friday, in a return to the state of Texas, where he played high school football.
Foster, currently listed as the backup as he’s been slow to integrate into preseason practice, has rushed for 6,472 yards with 54 touchdowns in seven seasons, including four Pro Bowls.
It all reminds The Daily Dolphin of a real-life episode of Ballers, the HBO Series based of course on a professional football franchise in Miami. In one memorable episode, veteran wide receiver Ricky Jerret tries to get out of jersey 41, which he was assigned, by offering cash to a younger receiver for jersey 18.
“Some years you don’t really feel like you need any,” Foster said. ” Some years, you feel like you need some. So it kind of varies as the years go. I need some this year. It’s been a while since I’ve been hit. Games are different. You want to get that feel of getting hit week in and week out again.”
Dolphins coach Adam Gase said: “I’m not going to (have Foster) take 20 snaps. I’m going to be smart, especially with him. With his history as far as playing a lot of football. I mean, really, how much do any of us need to see? We know what he can do.”
The Dolphins feel it’s important for Foster to get in a rhythm with the offensive line, even though that offensive line has shuffled constantly throughout camp. Coaches also feel Foster needs to get used to an uptempo, no-huddle offense the team may employ at times this season. Foster has mostly played in a huddle offense at Houston.
One thing that has impressed Miami coaches since Foster’s arrival on a one-year deal in July, is his mental aptitude. Gase said Foster makes very few errors and is “really sharp.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said “patience” is Foster’s greatest strength. Foster has experience in a zone blocking scheme and Miami plans to utilize his receiving skills this season. Tannehill also said Foster has been a leader in the running backs room.
One thing Foster doesn’t yet feel comfortable with is jersey number 34, once worn by former Dolphin Ricky Williams.
Foster said he has asked running back Jay Ajayi, his primary competition for carries this season, to give up the number 23 he wore in Houston.
“He just won’t give it up,” Foster said. “I’ve been trying.”