The Dolphins held out 14 projected Week 1 starters for the team’s preseason-opening win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday night.
With so many stars and backups not playing, it gave reserves and players on the bubble an opportunity for extended action in the first of three preseason games.
Here is who — and what — is rising and falling after the team’s first preseason game.
▪ Skylar Thompson: The Dolphins’ seventh-round pick got the start in his NFL debut and played the entire game, building off his impressive training camp. Thompson completed 20 of 28 passes for 218 yards and his first career touchdown — a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr.
After Thompson’s debut, head coach Mike McDaniel said he sometimes forgets that Thompson, 25, is a rookie, and it’s easy to understand why. Thompson, a six-year player at Kansas State, showed poise in the pocket, and the moment rarely felt too big for him.
Teddy Bridgewater is seemingly entrenched as Tua Tagovailoa’s backup but the Dolphins made sure to use one of their four picks on Thompson for a reason. The more Thompson shows, the more the question rises whether the Dolphins should keep a spot for him on the 53-man roster. It’s Reid Sinnett all over again.
▪ Lynn Bowden Jr.: Whether it’s his roster value or trade value, Bowden helped his case Saturday night. Bowden logged just eight snaps on offense but made the most of it. He beat Buccaneers cornerback Zyon McCollum on a double move to bring in his 22-yard touchdown catch, and finished with three catches on four targets for a team-high 55 yards. He was also used as a return specialist and had an 18-yard punt return. It’s been a quiet start to camp for Bowden, a talented player who’s failed to stay on the field because of injuries. Sports Illustrated reported on Aug. 8 that the Dolphins have held trade talks about Bowden and Preston Williams. However, head coach Mike McDaniel praised Bowden’s demeanor through it all, and this could be the start of a turnaround for him.
▪ Jason Sanders: Life can be fickle for an NFL kicker. After making 36 of 39 field goals in 2020, the Dolphins struggled in 2021, missing eight of 31 attempts. The regression prompted fan concerns about what had happened to the typically reliable All-Pro kicker. If Saturday night is any sign of the future, Sanders seems ready for a bounce-back effort in 2022. He made all four of his field goal attempts and both of his tries over 50 yards, including the go-ahead score from 53 yards. That had to be especially gratifying for Sanders as his long-range accuracy was mainly the reason for his drop in performance last season. In 2020, Sanders made eight of his nine tries from 50 yards or more. In 2021, he connected two of four such attempts.
▪ Running game: McDaniel has much to be happy about after his team’s preseason opener but the rushing offense isn’t one of those things. The Dolphins finished with 49 carries on 14 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per touch. However, if you take out a 20-yard run from Myles Gaskin and a 21-yard scramble by Thompson, the team totaled just eight yards on 12 carries. The Dolphins played without left tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams and only played their other Week 1 projected starters — Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hunt and Austin Jackson — for two series. However, the rushing offense has looked clunky at times in camp and it was an uninspiring debut on Saturday.
▪ Cornerback depth: It was an overall rough outing for a group of young cornerbacks as Xavien Howard sat out, with disappointing performances and injury casting a cloud over the position group. Noah Igbinoghene, who’s been thrown into the fire in camp covering Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, was in coverage on Blaine Gabbert’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Jaelon Darden. The defense appeared to be in zone but Igbinoghene wasn’t able to recover on Darden’s post route. Meanwhile, Trill Williams was carted off late with a “lower extremity” injury and Tino Ellis was also shaken up with an undisclosed injury. McDaniel praised the progress of the group but acknowledged they might have to reassess their options in light of the recent injuries. The team’s depth has been tested with Byron Jones on the physically-unable-to-perform list and Howard limited in practice. Saturday highlighted the questions that remain behind the position group’s top-three players.
▪ Backup tackles: With Armstead sitting out and Jackson only on the field for two series, coaches got a long look at the players competing to be reserve tackles. But Greg Little was ruled out before kickoff, and Larnel Coleman and Kion Smith failed to distinguish themselves. Both gave up a sack and were part of an offensive line that didn’t get much movement in the running game. Armstead is a top tackle and the team is hoping Jackson can look like the player they hoped he’d be as a first-round pick. An injury to either would be a blow to an offensive line still working to gain its footing.