While the Miami Dolphins are no longer doing public practices in Davie, there's still a chance for fans to come and see the Miami Dolphins in action in practice. Fans came out in force to Spartanburg, South Carolina to root for their team, and needless to say it was standing room only.
Naturally, it was required that those coming to watch the Dolphins needed to share with the fans of the Carolina Panthers, but it seemed like there were more Dolphins fans than Panthers fans, providing further proof that the fans in other parts of the country are some of the most diehards you'll ever find.
While there were some things to be encouraged about, an ACL injury to Louis Delmas that will land him on IR for the rest of the season made the Dolphins leave the practice on a sour note. Now safety Walt Aikens will have to step up and make things happen.
Meanwhile, wide receiver DeVante Parker, the Dolphins first-round draft pick of 2015, was finally activated off of the PUP list, and could resume team activities. Although he didn't really do anything, that at least is some good news to counter the depressing news of Delmas' injury.
So as for the actual events of the practice, here is what I managed to notice when the Dolphins went up against the Carolina Panthers for the first time.
Dolphins offensive line holding up fine
I realize that there are a lot of people who don't want to hear this, but from what I could tell, the offensive line really wasn't struggling all that much. I apologize if that ruins a lot of your aspirations of the Dolphins going out and signing Evan Mathis, but I'm beginning to believe that the team will be able to make due with what they have.
I am also forced to admit that I might be wrong about Dallas Thomas. I had been consistently saying that Thomas cannot be on the offensive line as a starter if the Dolphins are to have any hope of winning in 2015, but after several recent performances where Thomas was able to hold his own and even do some good run blocking, it's possible he could be good enough to do the job.
Also, young players Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas had a few struggles, Turner in particular had some issues with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, but he is one of their best defenders, so it's understandable.
Tannehill faced real pressure only a handful of times in this first joint practice. Granted, some of the Panthers top defenders are out with injuries, but these starting offensive linemen were being advertised as not even being able to stop third-teamers.
If the linemen continue to develop, they might be able to do a serviceable job and allow the Dolphins to get by without having to use the last of their cap space to sign Mathis. Today was a good sign.
Walt Aikens' talent will now face the ultimate test
Hate to keep harping on this, since it hurts me to mention it, but the Dolphins starting safety Louis Delmas will miss the entire 2015 season after tearing his ACL for the second time in nine months. The leader of the defense is down for the count. So now, second-year player out of Liberty will have to prove that his camp performances aren't just for show.
After Aikens failed to make a decent showing at cornerback, the position he was drafted as in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins decided to see if he could make the shift to free safety, and that has turned into a stroke of genius on the part of the coaching staff.
Aikens has shown that he can be aggressive in the secondary, and he's good at making decisions and acting on them. What Aikens does not have is Delmas' experience, leadership and understanding of the defense. That will come with time, but right now Aikens will have to make do with his physical prowess.
Delmas landing on injured reserve would cost the veteran approximately $1.75 million dollars due to how his contract is worked, and it would save the Dolphins about $1 million in cap space. No, it's not enough to afford Evan Mathis, don't go there.
Aikens has all the physical tools he needs to succeed, and the performances he's put forth in camp - some even with the first team - have shown that he can do well. Maybe, just maybe, we'll have a repeat of what happened with linebacker Jelani Jenkins. Injury to a veteran leads to a rising star. Could it happen again? We shall see.
Zach Vigil still has some growing pains to go through
The undrafted rookie out of Utah State has been receiving rave reviews from critics everywhere, including the writers of this website, but it's time for a reality check. Zach Vigil is not Zach Thomas, and he still has a long way to go before he's anywhere near the caliber of the legendary linebacker.
Vigil has shown excellent instincts and clearly has a nose for the ball, and his tackling is very clean and efficient. He'd rather wrap up his man than dive for someone's ankles and try to trip them up. In other words, the young man knows what tackling is really supposed to be.
But today I noticed that his coverage skills leave a lot to be desired. Truthfully, the two best coverage linebackers on the Dolphins are Jelani Jenkins, and the injured Koa Misi. Everyone else - including Vigil - have serious issues. There was one play in particular where Vigil looked absolutely lost in coverage, and then looked good again when he was just chasing down receivers and running backs.
If Vigil is going to be a good middle linebacker in the NFL, he's got to learn how to cover effectively, and the same applies to all the Dolphins linebackers. Vigil still has a ton of potential, but his weakness is becoming quite clear, and it is concerning.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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