So much has been made about the large investment the Miami Dolphins made on free agents during the offseason that what has recently been built through the draft tends to get overlooked.
Not so after Sunday’s impressive 27-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
While free agent acquisition Brandon Gibson
was indeed the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 49 yards, all of the scoring and the bulk of the game-changing plays were made by homegrown products. Topping the list, of course, was second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill
, a first-round draft choice and eighth overall pick last April.
“We’ve got some good, young players on the roster, there’s no question about it,” said Head Coach Joe Philbin, who is in his second season at the helm. “It’s good to see those guys contribute to a team win.”
Tannehill engineered his third consecutive game clinching or game winning fourth-quarter drive as the sun was setting on Sun Life Stadium. He completed 9-of-12 passes for 69 yards and the winning 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dion Sims
with 43 seconds remaining on the clock.
All three tight ends – Sims, Charles Clay
and Michael Egnew
– came up with clutch catches on that drive and all were drafted by General Manager Jeff Ireland. Clay was a sixth-round pick in 2011, Egnew was a third-rounder last year and Sims was taken in the fourth round this year. It was Clay’s 21-yard reception down to the Atlanta 8-yardline that helped set up the touchdown and Egnew hauled in an 8-yarder early in the drive to set up a short third-down play.
“There are some guys that have stepped up and have made some plays that have joined the club and I give them a lot of credit for that,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “It’s nice to see Egnew have this opportunity in this ballgame, not just the reception he had but I thought he just made some nice blocks. He had a hard rookie year and he’s really coming into his own and I’m really proud of the progress that he’s made. Clay obviously has assumed a role of leadership on this team as well as bringing his talent to fruition and he’ll continue to get better. There are some things he certainly can improve upon but he’s certainly proven that he can play in this league, and a lot of the other younger guys have stepped up.”
Both running backs came to Miami through the draft and provided a balanced attack that kept the Falcons defense honest in the second half. Lamar Miller
, a fourth-round pick last year out of the University of Miami, exploded for a 49-yard run in the second quarter that led to Daniel Thomas
’ 5-yard touchdown run and cut a 10-0 deficit down to just a field goal. Thomas was picked in the second round back in 2011.
After Gibson, the next two favorite targets for Tannehill were wide receivers Brian Hartline
and Rishard Matthews
, who combined for eight catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. Hartline, a fourth-round selection in 2009 and last year’s leading receiver, caught four passes for 56 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter that tied the game at 20-0. Matthews, a seventh-round pick last year, reeled in four passes for 42 yards and made back-to-back grabs of seven and nine yards early on the last drive to keep the chains moving.
Over on the defensive side of the ball, safety Jimmy Wilson
sealed the win with an interception of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan near the left sideline with 26 seconds left in the game. He was a seventh-round selection in 2011 and is part of a secondary that is comprised of seven draft picks with three of them starters against Atlanta.
Starting safeties Reshad Jones
and Chris Clemons
were active against the run and the pass, with Jones finishing with seven solo tackles and one key pass breakup when he drilled Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones as he was trying to come down with a leaping catch, jarring the ball loose. Cornerback Nolan Carroll
started in place of Dimitri Patterson
for the second straight week and added six tackles while being tasked with covering Jones most of the afternoon and all three were fifth-round draft picks – Carroll and Jones in 2010 and Clemons in 2009.
“It’s great to see the guys that have been here with us that are really starting to contribute in a big way,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “That was evident throughout the game yesterday when some of our starting players weren’t able to play. Guys stepped up and in order to win against good teams in this league you’ve got to have some depth and you’ve got to have guys that can come into the game and make plays and certainly I think that was the case yesterday.”
Rookie cornerback Don Jones
, a seventh-round pick this year, had an impactful play on special teams for the second straight week, speeding down the field and hitting Falcons punt returner Harry Douglas so hard in the third quarter after he fielded a punt on the bounce that he knocked the ball loose. Long snapper John Denney
recovered at the Atlanta 19 and three plays later Tannehill connected with Hartline in the end zone.
Linebacker Koa Misi
, a second-round selection in 2010, registered four tackles and had to cover future Hall-of-Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez a few times, limiting him to just four catches for 26 yards. Second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon
, a third-round pick last year, added three tackles and one pass breakup, while fourth-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick
, a first-rounder in 2010, picked up two solo tackles and a quarterback hit. Second-year defensive end Derrick Shelby
was an undrafted free agent last year and filled in admirably for the injured Cameron Wake
with one solo tackle and some decent pressures, while rookie defensive end Dion Jordan
, this year’s first-round pick and third overall, added two solo tackles and a quarterback hit.
Special teams came up big as well, led by rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis
, a fifth-round selection this year. He drilled a 46-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make it a 13-10 ballgame and then added a 50-yarder in the third quarter to keep his team within one score. Sturgis also boomed all five of his kickoffs either out of the end zone or too deep to return, resulting in five touchbacks and he is 5-of-5 on field goals through three games. Punter Brandon Fields
was drafted in the seventh round back in 2007 and he had a net average of 51.7 yards on three punts with a long of 56 yards.
What all of this means is that every one of Miami’s future opponents cannot afford to simply focus on the big free agent acquisitions like Gibson, wide receiver Mike Wallace
, cornerback Brent Grimes
, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe
and right tackle Tyson Clabo
. The Dolphins are proving to be a deeply talented team early in the season.