Talk about beginners luck.
The Miami Dolphins opened the Mike McDaniel era with a nail-biting 26-24 win over to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when a final-second 49-yard field goal attempt banked off the uprights, allowing the Dolphins to secure McDaniel’s first win as a head coach.
The game wasn’t pretty, and didn’t feature many of either team’s key players. But it did provide quite a few clues about the journey ahead for the Dolphins.
Here are 10 takeaways from Miami’s preseason opener:
Skylar Thompson shines in his debut
Thompson, the Kansas State standout the Dolphins selected in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL draft, had put together an impressive two weeks of training camp coming into Saturday’s game and those practices carried over. While the quarterback’s performance during the entire game wasn’t perfect, he put the Dolphins in position to win by completing 20-of-28 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. He also gained 25 yards on three carries.
Is Mike Gesicki in Miami’s long-term plans?
While 20 established and key veterans sat out Saturday’s preseason opener, there was Mike Gesicki playing the first series. In fairness to Miami’s coaches, the tight ends are learning how to play in a new scheme, and Gesicki needs to work on his blocking. But this just served as another piece of evidence that Gesicki, who the Dolphins used the franchise tag to retain this offseason, is on borrowed time. The Dolphins should consider trading him and his $10.9 million salary to a interested team.
Trill Williams suffers knee injury
Williams, who had been having a good camp, and moving to the forefront of the cornerback unit, was taken off the field on a cart after suffering a left knee injury on one of the final defensive plays of the fourth quarter. If Williams’ injury ends up being serious it’ll water down the depth of Miami’s cornerback unit, which was already troublesome — especially with Byron Jones still sidelined by an offseason ankle procedure.
Noah Igbinoghene continues to get picked on
The Buccaneers scored the game’s first touchdown on a slant where Igbinoghene was out of position, and reacted slowly. That’s been the storyline of his training camps, practice after practice, season after season. The Dolphins need to keep working the 2020 first-round pick for 30 or more plays during preseason to determine if he’s salvageable because at this point there are only two things to label Igbinoghene — the first would be a target, and the second is a bust.
Cornerback depth is concerning
Even though McDaniel expects Jones to be healthy enough to play in the season opener, the Dolphins have to be concerned with the team’s depth at cornerback based on what they’ve seen all camp, and in the preseason opener. One injury, like the one Williams suffered, and Miami’s secondary might be forced to move Eric Rowe back to cornerback. That’s why general manager Chris Grier needs to explore signing a quality veteran cornerback like Chris Harris, Xavier Rhodes, Joe Haden, AJ. Bouye or Janoris Jenkins.
Jason Sanders is in midseason form
Sanders, who has had an impressive four seasons with the Dolphins, showcased how efficient he can be as an NFL kicker in the first preseason game. Even though he has gotten few attempts during practices so far in training camp, he made four field goals Saturday, two of which were for more than 50-yards, and the final one was the game-winner.
Michael Deiter handles center snaps
Deiter missed the first two weeks of training camp because of a foot injury he suffered in camp’s first session, but started the Tampa Bay game at center because Connor Williams was one of the two projected starters (Terron Armstead was the other) who sat out the first preseason game. Deiter allowed a couple of pressures, but his snapping was sound. It’ll be interesting to see if he can close ground on Williams, and push for the starting job.
Inside linebacker remains an issue for Miami
Playing the Buccaneers without Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts provided Miami a good gauge of how lacking team’s depth is at inside linebacker. While Duke Riley has proven he’s valued, the rest of the inside linebacker crop hasn’t proven a thing. Sam Eguavoen has been inconsistent for three seasons, and Channing Tindall, the Dolphins’ 2022 third-round pick, has been playing a step slow. Miami needs to explore if there are alternatives.
Lynn Bowden showcased in preseason opener
Bowden scored a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter after beating a Buccaneers defensive back with a double move. He finished the game with three receptions for 55 yards and the touchdown. Bowden also handled the Dolphins kick returns, showing that he has special teams value. He was far more productive in the game than he has been all camp. But Bowden’s skill set should make him the leader for that fifth receiver spot on the 53-man regular-season roster.
Sam Eguavoen plays like a Hall-of-Fame talent in preseason, but has disappeared in the regular season.
His first drive was filled with missed tackles and bad reads, but Eguavoen scored when he picked up a fumble following a sack and ran it 32 yards into the end zone. Eguavoen has a knack for producing big plays in the preseason, like his four-sack performance last year. But when it comes to the regular season he’s struggled to find his footing. Miami needs him to show up this season and prove he’s a legitimate NFL inside linebacker.