Here’s what caught our eye in the first half of the Miami Dolphins preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night:
— We’ll start with the list of absences from each team, which was quite long. The Dolphins announced about 90 minutes before kickoff they would hold 17 players, but that was nothing compared to Tampa Bay, which announced 29 players sitting out. This is what happens in the preseason, particularly the first game of the preseason.
— Linebacker Duke Riley has been impressive in camp and he carried that over to the first quarter against Tampa Bay, teaming with Sam Eguavoen for a tackle for loss on a dump-off to Giovani Bernard and later stuffing Bernard for no gain on a run.
— Nice work by Preston Williams on his first punt return, not hesitating after catching a low punt near midfield and sprinting upfield for 13 yards to set up the Dolphins at the 38-yard line. It’s still probably not going to be enough to help his make the team, but his showing punt return ability can only help his trade value.
— Skylar Thompson, getting a big shot with Tua Tagovailoa out and Teddy Bridgewater serving as the backup on this night, looked good on his first drive, completing all four of his attempts. The best throw was a nice third-down completion to Cedrick Wilson Jr. for 11 yards on third-and-6 when he hit him near the right sideline.
— With Terron Armstead and Connor Williams kept out, Larnel Coleman (left tackle) and Michael Deiter (center) started alongside projected starters Liam Eichenberg, Robert Hunt and Austin Jackson along the offensive line, but each had a miscue in the first quarter. Coleman was beaten by Cam Gill for a sack on third down to stop the Dolphins’ first drive, while Deiter’s missed block limited a promising screen pass to Salvon Ahmed to only a 1-yard gain.
— With Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill out, Wilson was a big factor in the passing game with three catches in the first quarter (though one of them was a shovel pass).
— Shoddy secondary play led to Tampa Bay taking a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. First, De’Angelo Ross failed to turn around on a 21-yard completion to Tyler Johnson, but worse Brandon Jones and Noah Igbinoghene let Jaelon Darden free down the middle for a 23-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert. It was tough to tell on the replay exactly what the coverage was supposed to be on the play, but it sure wasn’t what happened.
— On the flip side, Keion Crossen had great coverage against Scotty Miller on a deep pass down the right sideline and batted Kyle Trask’s pass away.
— Defensive tackle John Jenkins made a couple of plays in the running game, and Benito Jones did the same when he dropped Ke’Shawn Vaughn for a 4-yard loss when he broke through to the backfield.
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— Eguavoen had a bad missed tackle over the middle that turned what should have been a short gain into a 22-yard pick-up by Vaughn on a pass. It was one of a couple of less-than-ideal plays for Eguavoen in the first half.
— Interesting to see Lynn Bowden Jr. back to return the first Tampa Bay kickoff, though it went into the end zone for a touchback.
— The middle of the offensive line caved enough on the third down on the Dolphins’ second drive that Thompson had to throw off his back foot and the result was a deep incompletion intended for River Cracraft.
— The Dolphins’ third drive began with a 33-yard completion from Thompson to Trent Sherfield, with Thompson getting great protection from reserve offensive linemen and Sherfield wide open downfield.
— That came after Bowden had a nifty 26-yard kickoff return.
— Rookie Tanner Conner showed nice after-catch ability on his 13-yard reception.
— That drive ended when Kion Smith was beaten outside and Anthony Nelson sacked Thompson.
— Good to see Jason Sanders nailed both of his field goal attempts, the second one from 52 yards out.
— Elijah Campbell came up with the biggest defensive play of the half when he stole the ball from a receiver after Porter Gustin got to Trask and got him to throw a contested pass.
— The Dolphins took advantage of the takeaway when Thompson connected with Bowden for a 22-yard touchdown, who easily beat the Bucs defense with a great stop-and-go move. Great protection on the play, great move by Bowden, easy pitch-and-catch.
— Thompson finished the half with a 136.8 passer rating with 10 completions in 12 attempts for 122 yards with one touchdown and no picks.
— And the defense got another turnover after its first touchdown, with Darius Hodge sacking Trask, forcing a turnover and Eguavoen returning the fumble 33 yards for a touchdown. Hodge, a late-season pick-up from Cincinnati last year, has been really active in training camp and making plays.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism