AC in the AM: For Starters, Cutler Looked Solid

With Jay Cutler getting his first game action, with the starters playing longer than they did a week ago and with so many young players continuing their summertime audition, let’s break down what we saw in Thursday night’s 31-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.


• Got to begin with Jay Cutler. He played two series. Looked at ease. Was right on with some impressive throws. His best pass, a deep sideline connection to DeVante Parker for 31 yards, was negated by penalty. But it clearly showed excellent arm strength. He also hit Parker on a play that counted for a 16-yard gain. No, he didn’t help produce any points, but if the importance of this night was to see some quick decisions, sharp passes and poise in this offense, then it has to be considered a success. I expect we’ll see a lot more of Cutler in the third preseason game at Philadelphia. He’ll be the first to tell you he needs the work.

• It was also opening night for running back Jay Ajayi and he too passed his first test. Returning after missing a couple of weeks with a concussion, Ajayi showed us everything we needed to see on a 19-yard tackle-busting run that was also negated by a penalty. Perhaps most impressive was the jarring hit Ajayi took as he ran out of bounds, impressive because Ajayi popped right up, a clear indication that he is fully recovered. Smart move by Adam Gase pulling Ajayi after one series. What else was there to prove?

• Nice over-the-shoulder first quarter interception by second-year cornerback Xavien Howard, who continues to solidify his starting spot opposite Byron Maxwell and sure looks like he is ready for an impressive season. Gase often talks about the leap players make from their first to second season. Howard is a good example of that.

• Speaking of Maxwell, did I mention he happened to force two first quarter fumbles? Also having a pretty good camp.

• Now the Dolphins need to find some quality depth behind Maxwell and Howard with the recent season-ending injury to Tony Lippett. One promising candidate is rookie Cordrea Tankersley, who did plenty to help his cause Thursday night with a second quarter interception. I’m also intrigued by 8-year veteran corner Alterraun Verner, signed by the team right before the start of training camp.

• The Dolphins needed to see a lot of Mike Hull, starting his first game at middle linebacker in place of the injured Raekwon McMillan. Well, they certainly saw a lot of him. Hull was the only starting defender to play the entire first half and he always seemed to be around the ball, finishing with four solos – one behind the line of scrimmage — one assist and one pass defensed. Bottom line: I think he’ll do just fine in this defense.

• Good and bad: Running back Senorise Perry had an impressive 11-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but came back a few minutes later and fumbled away a kickoff return. Not the recipe you’re looking for.

• The reshuffled offensive line, missing starters Mike Pouncey and Ja’Wuan James, struggled some in the early going as James’ replacement Sam Young was flagged for a couple of holding penalties on consecutive plays. We may have to wait until the regular season opener to see this group whole and together, clearly not the ideal situation, but I’d certainly rather err on the side of caution when it comes to starting the season healthy.

• It wasn’t a good night for the special teams with a punt blocked, a kickoff fumbled, a punt muffed and some penalties, but a word of caution. Don’t get overly concerned about special teams miscues this early in the summer. The first team units will start taking shape over the next week or so and that’s when a more accurate evaluation can be made.

• Rookie defensive tackle update: Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor continue to impress. Godchaux started and played well into the second quarter, fitting in nicely with the starters, and Taylor had an impressive stop for a 4-yard loss. The more I see both, the more I like them. Not bad for a fifth and sixth round draft choice.

• And now we move on to Philadelphia for a few days of practices against the Eagles and another chance to get some questions answered, some starters more seasoning and some quality work in against players in a different uniform.