AC in the AM: Who Stood Out? Thoughts From Preseason Opener

For those who are interested in bottom lines, the Dolphins beat the Falcons 23-20 Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium. But the real story in preseason games, especially the first preseason game, is evaluating individuals – most notably the young players – and assessing position battles. That was the importance of this warm, overcast summer night.

• We’ll start, of course, with the 99-yard game-winning touchdown pass from David Fales to an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi named Damore’ea Stringfellow with just under nine minutes left. Guess you could call it String Music. If it happened in the regular season, it would have been the longest pass play in team history. As it is, Stringfellow now has something to someday tell his grandkids about – the night he went 99.

Leonte Carroo’s 33-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter didn’t have the wow factor of Stringfellow’s catch, but it was nonetheless important as Carroo continues to demonstrate he is vastly improved from his rookie season. If Carroo keeps playing this way, he’ll cement his spot as the fourth receiver and justify additional playing time.

• Not a bad touchdown catch either by rookie receiver Francis Owusu, the first of two from Fales a few minutes before Stringfellow went coast-to-coast.

• Another standout? Saw some good things from rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who is in a battle with Jordan Phillips for the starting spot next to Ndamukong Suh. Godchaux is a nice mixture of power and speed, his quick first step something you don’t normally get from a 305-pounder.

• I wanted to see some positive signs from safety Reshad Jones, starting his first game after suffering a torn rotator cuff in the sixth game last season. All Jones needed was one play. On Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage, Matt Ryan runs a naked bootleg and finds tight end Austin Hooper wide open in the flat. Wasn’t wide open for long. Jones raced across the field to make the tackle, holding the Falcons to a 12-yard gain on a play that could have gone for much more. Jones means so much to this defense, something we learned the hard way a season ago. 

• The top four receiving threats – Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Julius Thomas – all played one series, which was expected. If the past is an indicator, they’ll see more action next Thursday and the most action – maybe into the third quarter – in the third preseason game at Philadelphia. Parker was the only one of the four to catch a pass, gaining 5 yards on a quick slant. That was Matt Moore’s only completion as well.

• I would expect quarterback Jake Cutler to make his Dolphins’ debut next Thursday, though nothing has been announced.

• Never get tired of watching Jakeem Grant return punts. On one second quarter return, he changed fields three different times, probably covered a total of 30 yards, and finished with just a 5-yard run. Not what he’s looking for, but that young man certainly has some nifty moves.

• And, oh by the way, Grant was sure-handed on every punt. Even caught a couple of passes.

• Unfortunate: Losing rookie middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan to a knee injury on punt return coverage even before he took his first snap on defense. McMillian was one of the players who figured to get a lot of playing time in this game. Now we have to wait – and hope – until the injury is further evaluated.

• Special teams? Nice 44-yard kickoff return by Storm Johnson. The punt coverage team, though, had a couple of breakdowns.

• It was a tough blow losing free agent guard Ted Larsen with a biceps injury so early in the summer. Larsen was the leading candidate to start at left guard and could still be back later in the season. But now the spotlight shifts to some younger players like Anthony Steen, who started Thursday night, and others such as Kraig Urbik, Jesse Davis, Issac Asiata and Jake Brendel, all of whom played against the Falcons. It’s hard to gauge who played the best in the interior of the line, but this competition is wide open and likely won’t be decided for a few weeks.

• Following a day off today, the Dolphins return Saturday for four straight morning practices, which – believe it or not — officially concludes training camp. Then, things start really ramping up as the regular season and cut down day rapidly approach.

• And finally, if you haven’t seen Hard Rock Stadium and all the changes since last season, you are really missing something. The place is now, very simply, top of the line.