With the all-important preseason dress rehearsal now behind us and only a couple of weeks until the Dolphins start prepping for New England to kick off the season, it’s time to take stock of some of the main storylines on this Miami team.

In a nutshell, how is Flores’ squad doing?

I’ve put together something of a six-pack of Dolphins notes here, so I’ll be doing my best Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald impersonation. Without further adieu, let’s start with what I think is the most important takeaway so far this preseason.

Miami has been both lucky and unlucky with injuries to this point. The Jaylen Waddle scare from Saturday was the most recent and perhaps the most frightening incident of camp, but the receiver room in particular has been hit hard. Credit Coach Flores and GM Chris Grier for keeping so many able-bodied receivers on the roster because Miami has had to go deep down the depth chart to field enough pass-catchers lately. 

For the Falcons dress rehearsal, the Dolphins were without an astounding six receivers, at least four of which are in line to play a significant amount of snaps this season. 

The plus-side, of course, is that none of those injuries have appeared significant enough to jeopardize the week one availability of any receivers. Waddle’s escape from serious injury and eventual return to Saturday’s game was especially fortuitous. The important trio of Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, and Albert Wilson should also all be healthy for the season’s start even though we may not see them for the final preseason game (Fuller, however, will miss week one due to his suspension).

A downside here is that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will have less opportunity to build rapport with these players. The consequences of that development won’t be known until the season officially starts.

The final downside is that — as has been the case all along, a chief concern of mine — this receiving corps still has an extensive injury history. Their health will be monitored throughout the season, and the Dolphins will have to get lucky to field their full complement of offensive weapons each week once the season begins. 

A parting shot here, however: All the nicks and bruises have opened the door to Mack Hollins, who is proving he belongs on this roster beyond his special teams’ ability. He has displayed stronger hands and solid chemistry with Tagovailoa, logging six catches from the second-year quarterback and 69 yards receiving in two preseason games. Several of those receptions have been third-down conversions as well. 

Aside from receivers, the Dolphins were also lucky to avoid major injury with tight end Hunter Long and then cornerback Nik Needham when they went down at separate practices. Keep your fingers crossed that the team’s luck overall doesn’t change and that the wide receiver room can shake the injury bug. 

Speaking of Nik Needham, the third-year corner has looked phenomenal in his preseason action. He recorded another pass breakup in the endzone on Saturday. He and Justin Coleman have been competing for the starting nickel role — a key part in Flores’ scheme and given the NFL’s movement towards so many five-defensive back sets — and Needham outperformed the Lions’ vet in the dress rehearsal. 

The winner of the competition likely won’t be known until much closer to week one. Needham, however, has also taken reps at boundary corner and will likely see snaps on defense regardless of how Coleman performs at nickel. 

Staying on the defensive side for a minute longer, Adam Butler’s value along the defensive line was evident against the Falcons. And, of course, we can’t abstain from mentioning Sam Eguavoen’s herculean performance here.

Part of Butler’s scouting report coming from New England was his value as a pass-rusher, not just as a penetrator, but also as a pick who could set up stunts and games up front thanks to his length and lateral quickness for an interior defensive lineman. When the Dolphins signed the former Patriot, Travis Wingfield pointed this out, and that ability was on full display against the Falcons. Butler’s role in Miami’s stunts up front was key to several of Eguavoen’s sacks and gave Atlanta’s offensive line fits, something that hopefully will transfer over to the regular season. 

Butler could stand to improve against the run but will likely be used more in passing situations. Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis, and Zach Sieler will take on more of the work in run defense as far as primarily interior defensive linemen go.

Regarding Eguavoen’s Saturday performance, there’s not much to say here that hasn’t already been said.

He was an absolute force. 

The Falcons game certainly helped his case to make the roster, as he’s a talented rusher and is useful against the run as well. That and his special teams’ experience give him a good chance of keeping him on the roster despite his less stellar pass-coverage abilities. He likely sticks over players like Shaq Griffin and Vince Biegel. 

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Moving to offense, Liam Eichenberg impressed in his NFL debut. His technique was solid, he won his reps often, and he looked natural on the right side after playing left tackle at Notre Dame. 

Jesse Davis has been on something of a pitch count in both practices and games this camp due to his status as a veteran, and when Eichenberg came into the game fairly early on Saturday, he graded out very well per PFF. He took a significant share of snaps in addition to working well with Robert Hunt on the right side of the line in both the passing and running game. 

Given the rookie’s performance, the continued improvement could necessitate his elevation as a starter — likely at tackle rather than guard, where he took reps to start padded practices this camp — sooner rather than later. Jesse Davis is a solid, versatile veteran and is the leader of the offensive line room, but is not invulnerable as the starting right tackle if Eichenberg can prove he’s ready to start. 

Regarding the rest of the offensive line, it’s worth exploring who has performed best and worst along with the starting five. 

Austin Jackson has been the worst, though he showed improvement from preseason week one to week two. His pass protection has been subpar — his punches seem late and his play strength underwhelming even when he hits his landmarks — and his run blocking has been worse. There’s still time to coach some of those issues out before the regular season, and Jackson did good work last season before a foot injury derailed his momentum. Still, he’ll have to improve to not be a liability on the outside of this line when the season starts. 

The best has been Robert Hunt. He has looked comfortable at right guard and has hit a few awesome combo blocks on the run game with whoever has been next to him at right tackle. In pass protection, he has also appeared reliable. It hasn’t been perfect — no one on Miami’s line has been — but he has proven Miami’s coaches right so far with the move inside and should continue to get more comfortable as the young offensive line settles around him.

Michael Deiter looks to have a clear lead for the starting center job, and Solomon Kindley started Saturday at left guard, where he finished the 2020 season. His performance has been generally average, but he also showed improvement from the Bears game to the Falcons game.

Finally, a note on Myles Gaskin and the offense as a whole. Many fans were upset when the Dolphins eschewed the running back position in the draft until late and opted to sign only Malcolm Brown in free agency. I was one of those people (full disclosure, I wanted Najee Harris).

I, however, am ready to admit that it’s time to trust Miami’s coaching staff with their backfield makeup. Myles Gaskin is the biggest reason why.

Gaskin scored on a touchdown pass from Tagovailoa on Saturday and had a long reception in the flat from the quarterback as well. He seems to have improved again from last season and is Miami’s best back in pass protection, a role any coaching staff places serious value on even if fans don’t. His biggest strength to my eyes, however, is that he’s an incredibly balanced runner in addition to being natural as both a rusher and receiver. 

Beyond Gaskin, Brown looked much better as a runner against the Falcons as the offensive line could open more holes. His touchdown plunge showed a big reason why Miami signed him in the first place — he provides a much bigger body out of the backfield in those short-yardage situations. Salvon Achmed, of course, looks speedy and explosive like last season and continues to impress as a pass-catcher.

This offense has looked encouraging, with Tagovailoa looking much more like his old self back at the helm. Tuscaloosa Tua seems to be on his way back. As long as the offensive line settles itself for week one and the wide receivers can get — and stay — healthy, Miami may finally have an offense that can complement its impressive defense this season. 

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