After the first preseason game ended in a disappointing loss against the Chicago Bears, the Miami Dolphins will look to bounce back against their second training camp partner, the Atlanta Falcons. To be fair to Miami, the starting players looked impressive. QB Tua Tagovailoa looks vastly improved, even if the one interception in the endzone ruins his stats. As for the defense, even without Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, they stifled Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. The Bears didn’t get their first 1st down of the game until just a few seconds left before the end of the first half.
It wasn’t until the 3rd and 4th string players entered the game that things went awry. So when Justin Fields says the game was slow to him, remember who he was facing. He may live to regret that comment. The only true concern the entire game was the offensive line. They could not run block at all. The Miami Dolphins hope to change that against the Falcons. Alex Donno did his show, “Donno Daily,” and the five starting offensive linemen were the immediate choices for five players to watch during the live stream.
Now while that comment was made mostly as a joke, it is still valid. The offensive line needs to perform better than last week. So with that said, let’s take a look at the other top five players to watch during the second preseason game.
1. Tua Tagovailoa – QB
Let’s not beat around the bush this time. Obviously, everyone will want to see what Tagovailoa does in his second preseason outing. Will he continue to find holes in the defense? Can he navigate the pressure in the pocket? Will he make better decisions with the football in the red zone? Again, Tagovailoa looked masterful against the Bears. Except for that one bad decision that resulted in an interception in the end zone.
Some have said it’s a result of Tagovailoa’s lack of arm strength. True, he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm like Justin Herbert. His success is based on timing and reading the defense. Which, for those who paid attention to how Tagovailoa played at Alabama, has been his game from the very beginning. Watching the throw on replay, the main issue was when he decided to throw it, not how fast the ball got there. Even for a super strong arm, the throw was risky.
DeAndre Houston-Carson outta nowhere for the takeaway!
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 14, 2021
These are the kinds of things that happen with young quarterbacks, particularly ones that don’t have immense physical capabilities. Tagovailoa is learning how to dissect defenses and find the openings in them. His arm isn’t “weak,” it’s merely average. Sadly, average has become the new weak in the eyes of many. QBs like Tagovailoa take a little longer to develop. But history has shown that some of the QBs in NFL history were not known for their cannon arms.
They did, however, have an innate knack for knowing where to go with the ball and when. That is what to expect from Tua Tagovailoa. Watch to see if he displays more of that trait tonight.
2. Salvon Ahmed – RB
It’s no secret that the Miami Dolphins want to use a running back committee approach. There is no set “starter” per say, it’s all about the matchups. Basically, every time anyone asks head coach Brian Flores about the starter at running back, he gives a similar answer.
“We like all our backs.” He said on Thursday. “They’re all a little bit different. They all have the ability to play multiple downs. We are going to try to use them all. From Malcolm (Brown) to Myles (Gaskin) to Salvon (Ahmed). Patrick Laird has gone in there and done some good things. (Jordan) Scarlett has gone in there, he had a couple good runs last week. (Gerrid) Doaks has gone in there and had some good runs. We try to use them all.”
Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop specific players from standing out above the rest. Only one RB actually managed to shine against the Bears, and that was Salvon Ahmed.
Making due with no All 22 available. Salvon Ahmed Highlight vs Bears in Week 1 of the Preseason. pic.twitter.com/rnC9I0xw5C
— Juan C 5RS (@exclusvty) August 17, 2021
Both Ahmed and Myles Gaskin hail from Washington. They were teammates there and between the two of them, Gaskin was the starter while Ahmed was the change of pace back. That dynamic seems to be repeating itself, as Gaskin tends to get the heavier carry load. However, if the pattern continues where Ahmed gets production with his superior speed, the Miami Dolphins may need to reanalyze that.
The Atlanta Falcons run defense isn’t exactly top-tier. Unless there’s a complete meltdown in blocking, Ahmed or one of the other backs should be able to gain some yards on the ground. Keep a close eye on Ahmed and see if he looks better than the others.
3. Austin Jackson – OT
At least one offensive lineman still had to make this list, in spite of the discussion with Alex Donno. Without doubt, Austin Jackson has taken a beating over this past week. Reporters, fans, coaches, they’ve all been pushing him in hopes that he’ll rebound after his terrible performance against the Bears in his first ever preseason game. True, they are being patient with him. On the other hand, the Miami Dolphins obviously want to see some improvement from him as time passes. This will be an opportunity to do so.
Jackson was a high ceiling prospect coming out of USC. That’s why the team felt compelled to draft him 18th overall. He has all the physical tools, it’s just a matter of putting them all together. That’s partly coaching, but it’s also on him to do his part. He’s working hard, trying to make the most of his reps. Even Tua Tagovailoa is doing his part to help Jackson get back on his feet.
Gives me no joy to put this together, but Austin Jackson was Miami's worst player yesterday. Yes, its week one of the preseason-but you NEVER want to put this on tape. He needs to bounce back next week against the Falcons. pic.twitter.com/ZG69LPalTq
— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) August 15, 2021
The Atlanta Falcons pass rush isn’t known for being dangerous. In fact, most Falcons fans have lamented their complete inability to get to the quarterback and create any sort of pressure. That changed during the joint practices with the Dolphins. According to numerous reports, Tagovailoa was harassed in the pocket all week long, which isn’t a good sign for Miami. The struggle is so real that the Dolphins even decided to give up a 7th round draft pick to take a flyer on former Panthers OT Greg Little.
Austin Jackson is the man to watch simply because his struggle was the most obvious last week. Any sort of improvement this week will be welcome.
4. Jaelen Phillips – LB
The Miami Dolphins kept Jaelen Phillips out of the first preseason game in spite of the fact he participated in practice against the Bears. The plan, according to Brian Flores, was to bring him along slowly. Now Phillips has gotten in a full week with no setbacks. It’s more likely that this time, the former Miami Hurricanes star will get a chance to see real game action for the first time in his career.
But that isn’t guaranteed.
Phillips has the potential to become the modern-age Jason Taylor if he reaches his full potential. In many ways, he’s what Dion Jordan could have been if he hadn’t essentially thrown his career way with off-the-field issues. The only thing stopping Phillips from getting there is his own health. His ceiling is staggering, but he won’t reach it if he doesn’t play. The first thing to watch against the Falcons is if Flores allows him to play.
If the answer to that is yes, then watch to see how Phillips does rushing the passer, dropping back into coverage, and being an overall menace to the Falcons offense. If he happens to start, then that will say even more about what the Miami Dolphins think of him.
5. Jakeem Grant – WR
Depending on who you ask, Grant is either a lock to make the Miami Dolphins roster, or his days are numbered and it’s only a matter of time before he’s cut. The split opinion of the Texas Tech standout is truly remarkable. He is undeniably a dynamic playmaker once the ball is in his hands. But that in and of itself is the problem. It’s not always a guarantee that the ball will get into his hands.
As a kick and punt returner, it’s hard to find better options on the roster than Jakeem Grant. The only one who even comes close is rookie Jaylen Waddle, and he’s expected to contribute much more as a wide receiver. It might not be in Miami’s best interest to put Waddle out there to be targeted. As a wide receiver, Grant has a checkered past marred by multiple drops. These drops have caused the fan base to largely turn on Grant, but apparently the coaching staff still sees value in him.
jakeem grant with an awesome 34-yard return pic.twitter.com/SG3fVQPNvI
— josh houtz (@houtz) August 14, 2021
It’s still not a guarantee that Grant will make the roster. He has to show he’s reliable as a receiver as well as a return man. Thankfully, he and Tua Tagovailoa seem to have a strong rapport building in training camp. He’s been the target of a number of Tagovailoa’s practice touchdowns, which shows they can make it work even against Miami’s starting defense, as well as Chicago and Atlanta’s.
Love him or hate him, Jakeem Grant brings electricity to the roster. As it’s unlikely most of the projected starters at wide receiver will play against the Falcons, Grant will have ample opportunity to showcase his skills. He needs to make the most of it to keep the leg up he has on some of the other fringe players.
Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for seven years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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