Joint practice always offer unique insights that cannot be had anywhere else. True, it hasn't seemed to make a difference in the Dolphins annual results, but it's never a bad thing to test skills against opponents other than one's own teammates.
So with that in mind, as Miami prepares for their season dress rehearsal against the Jaguars, here are the top five things we learned from watching the Dolphins practice and play against the Buccaneers.
1. Sam Eguavoen is the real deal
Just when it seemed like the Dolphins would never be able to find another CFL star after Cameron Wake (and that isn't for a lack of trying), enter linebacker Sam Eguavoen, whose aggressive play style and ability to get from sideline to sideline has earned him a spot with the starters.
In practice he was all over the place, and in the game he did the same, even forcing a fumble with a hard hit. Between him and Jerome Baker, the linebacker corps for the Dolphins seems bright. But he needs to continue these strong showings to give some extra insurance. Flashes are just that, until they become consistent.
2. Preston Williams may be a diamond in the rough
To be fair, Williams received a fairly generous pre-draft evaluation by NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, comparing him to Martavis Bryant. In his first preseason game against the Falcons, Williams was a playmaker, earning him an instant cult status among Dolphins fans.
In practice against the Buccaneers, that status was protected. Williams was solid, breaking the proverbial ankles of Tampa Bay cornerbacks in one on one drills. But things took a sour turn during the preseason game. Williams was targeted several times by Josh Rosen in that game, only to drop three of the passes thrown his way.
It would be foolish to assume Williams has nothing to offer after one bad game. His undrafted status came as a result of a miserable pro day, but his film had some considering him a first round talent. He has some things in his game that need cleaning up, but Miami has plenty of time to make that happen.
3. Kalen Ballage has starting RB potential
It's always been said that Kalen Ballage was underutilized back in his college days. All it took was a practice injury to Kenyan Drake, and suddenly Ballage was speeding into the endzone like a bat out of hell. Both days of practice, Ballage scored multiple touchdowns while Drake was seen on the sidelines in a walking boot.
Frank Gore's departure requires Miami to find a new workhorse back. Ballage is starting to show more physicality in his running style. If he stays on that path, he could become the clear-cut top back in the Dolphins offense.
4. Second cornerback spot needs an upgrade
This should come as a surprise to no one, but the second cornerback spot is a mess. Between Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz, and the much-maligned Nik Needham, no one has stepped up to prove they deserve the privilege of starting opposite Pro Bowl CB Xavien Howard.
Even Howard, to some extent, struggled against the Buccaneers in practice and in their preseason matchup. Should that in itself be a cause for alarm? Not necessarily, no cornerback is perfect. Even Deion Sanders got beat sometimes. But when the opposite starter is literally being used as fodder for a quarterback to abuse, there's a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
5. Offensive line STILL isn't good
It doesn't seem like it matters who's in charge. Miami has had Jim Turner, John Benton, Chris Foerster, Jeremiah Washburn, Pat Flaherty, and now Dave DeGuglielmo returns for his second stint as the Dolphins offensive line coach after Flaherty's firing. All remains the same, however. The Miami Dolphins offensive line is not good, it's not even average. It's bad, very bad, and it feels like it's been very bad for over a decade.
Why? After investing in countless first round picks, talented young players with potential to be unleashed, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Miami should have found success by now. Nevertheless, the answer is no. All three of Miami's QBs ran for their lives throughout the Tampa Bay practices and preseason game, and that is going to make evaluation of the skill players a challenge.
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