The first taste of quarterback Josh Rosen was more palatable than expected, save for the interception that briefly lodged in the throat.
That new dish called Preston Williams was a delight – gives us more, more, more of that, please. The undrafted wide receiver showed the possibility of something special.
The offensive line and overall defense are recipes that obviously need a lot of work. Watching left me with indigestion – and the former nearly got Rosen crushed a few times.
Overall, the Dolphins’ 34-27 had more merit than usual for an exhibition opener, which tend to be an inedible stew.
Most important, I saw more to like in Rosen than not.
If the newcomer from UCLA, by way of Arizona, progresses from here there’s no reason that he shouldn’t get the reins for the season opener against the Ravens on Sept. 8.
Prep for that should begin with a test in that role in next week’s exhibition at Tampa Bay. Preseason is all about discovery.
As coach Brian Flores said earlier in the week, it would be premature to anoint Rosen as the future right now.
His first performance in a Dolphins uniform was certainly flawed. He displayed inexperience, inconsistency. He made mistakes while going 13 of 20 for 191 yards and a passer rating of 75.2.
QB hints of risk but also reward
So, clearly, a product that needs much more than spit and polished. It needs refinement.
But Rosen also showed he’s got the arm, resourcefulness, instincts and guts.
His gunslinger mentality, which both Flores and Rosen alluded to afterward, carries risk, and it was evident.
But after seven years of a quarterback who was more likely to unravel than rally, an alternative with the fortitude to makes plays with the game on the line is a welcome change.
Rosen doesn’t like to give up on a play, and he showed the ability to convert under pressure with a key completion to Williams while being dragged down.
Despite the completion, Flores said it may be wiser to take the sack in that situation.
To his credit, Rosen acknowledges he needs to learn when to hold it and when to fling it.
“I’ve got to find that balance of knowing when to kind of push the edge and when to just take the sack and live to play another day,” he said.
Toward that end, Rosen needs to play as much as possible in the next two exhibitions to aid in that development and for the Dolphins to see if the 22-year-old can be trusted.
Notably, he should be given the opportunity to further that process while playing with the first team. He led the second-team offense Thursday as he mainly has during training camp.
Offensive line a concern
Rosen must have had flashbacks to his regrettable rookie season behind the porous Cardinals offense line while being harried and hurried by Falcons defenders Thursday night.
Though he led a touchdown drive on his first possession, Rosen was ragged in the second quarter. Protection by the reserve linemen was a bit better in the third quarter, and so was Rosen as he went 6 for 6 for 93 yards and led a drive for a go-ahead touchdown.
It is always difficult to draw conclusions from exhibition games, which tend to be misleading due to who is playing and who is not. But they provide the best preliminary test available for who can play at the highest level and who can’t.
We already know that 15-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is perfectly suited to be the Dolphins’ backup quarterback.
We need more evidence about whether Rosen is ready to be the starter.
Good, bad and the urgency
Overall, the deficiencies of the roster were evident.
The first-team defense couldn’t stop the Falcons regulars led by veteran Matt Schaub, who repeatedly picked on free-agent rookie cornerback Nik Needham. But Needham, playing because Eric Rowe was out with an injury, won’t be in that spot when games count.
Nonetheless, it was apparent that competent defense is going to be difficult to produce, even with Flores’ Patriots pedigree.
The lack of a pass rush was glaringly evident, as feared.
Ditto, effective offensive line play, which has been a Dolphins trouble spot for years. Tackle Laremy Tunsil, their best lineman, didn’t play, so again the results are a bit of a mirage.
But rookie left guard Michael Deiter, the third-round pick out of Wisconsin, was disappointing in his debut.
Shaq Calhoun, who garnered attention as an undrafted rookie elevated to start at the other guard, also failed to impress. Why can’t the Dolphins ever get the guard play right?
Praise for Preston Williams
Meanwhile, another undrafted rookie was the star of the night. Williams, the rangy receiver from Colorado State, caught four of the five balls thrown to him for 97 yards.
Williams looked like what DeVante Parker, the 14th overall pick in 2015, was supposed to be as a featured receiver but has never become.
As for this year’s top Dolphins draft pick, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins didn’t stand out but was solid in the middle as a run stopper and disruptor.
As an appetizer, the exhibition opener left you hungry for more – especially for another plate of Rosen and Williams in the coming weeks.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns
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