Training camp is nearing its conclusion and the last of four joint practices is in the rearview mirror. The Atlanta Falcons will stay in town for the first game at Hard Rock Stadium since last December, and the first contest with fans allowed in full capacity since December 22, 2019.
Today, we'll look at the five takeaways from the two days of practice at the Baptist Health Training Complex against Arthur Smith's Atlanta Falcons.
Also, for further analysis, check out Drive Time with Travis Wingfield every day on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
1. The Heat is On
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has seen it all. With 13 years in the league and over 15,000 career snaps played, fooling a seasoned pro like Ryan is a challenge – a challenge Brian Flores, Josh Boyer and the Dolphins staff were happy to accept.
The consistent surge of pressure forced the football out quick for Atlanta on Thursday – some completions, some throwaways. The Dolphins did get home a handful of times however; particularly in the two-minute period to close practice. Emmanuel Ogbah got around the edge one the second play of the period and forced a throwaway that could've been ruled a sack. A few plays later, he left no doubt – twice. Ogbah tore off the edge to get to the Atlanta quarterback and put an end to the drive and the game (the simulated scoreboard read 17-13 in Miami's favor).
The pressure and various looks helped the Miami offense just the same. Tua Tagovailoa talked about the value of seeing the Falcons' complex scheme this week at his Wednesday media availability.
"Yeah, I think (Falcons Defensive Coordinator Dean Peas) does a great job and their defense overall, they do a great job disguising looks," he said. "To see different looks, how guys can go from four down, to a three-down drop and what to expect within the coverages. There are just a lot of things."
2. Evergreen Front
Ogbah wasn't alone in causing problems up front for the Falcons. Andrew Van Ginkel secured an interception, broke up another pass in the end zone and flattened the edge for a would-be sack in the team period of practice Thursday.
Where the Dolphins are getting consistent pressure off the edge, the surge up the middle is the inspiration for the title of this takeaway – it's been on display all camp. Christian Wilkins flashed a nice arsenal of pass rush moves, Adam Butler bulldogged his way into the backfield several times, Raekwon Davis' power is evident daily and the next time Zach Sieler allows knock back might be the first time.
This group, which also featured strong showings from John Jenkins and Benito Jones inside, and a strong Thursday practice from Jason Strowbridge off the edge, have consistently produced all August.
Take a look at the best photos from the Dolphins' joint practice with the Falcons on August 18, presented by Baptist Health.
3. The Marquee Matchups
With Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts coming to town, the matchups with a Dolphins secondary that contributed to the best takeaway and third down defense in 2020 were quite the show. Ridley and Pitts made some plays, especially on Day 1, but the Dolphins secondary would not allow that to be the end of the story.
Eric Rowe, combining the end of Wednesday's session with the one-on-one's Thursday morning, had three consecutive victories over the rookie tight end. First, in the red zone on Wednesday, Rowe broke up a pass all alone in coverage on Pitts, much to the delight of the crowd at Baptist Health Training Complex. Thursday, in the one-on-ones, Rowe broke up another, then forced Pitts out of bounds on the third rep.
Xavien Howard secured an interception before creating another for safety Jevon Holland in Thursday's team periods. On the Holland pick, Howard was stride-for-stride with Ridley before contesting the pass, sending it straight into the air and into Holland's arms.
Byron Jones got in on the action with his own handful of pass breakups and incompletions during both the team periods and seven-on-seven action.
4. Back to Hard Rock Stadium
The Dolphins will tee it up for the second and penultimate preseason game of 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday night against these Atlanta Falcons. After a full quarter of play from Tagovailoa and the first-team offense in Chicago (40-plus snaps for Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley) could Miami see the starters for an extended look against the Falcons?
"I expect most guys to play but as far as how much and who exactly, we will talk more in depth about that tonight," Flores said. "We've had some, let's call it early conversations, about that. But that's a meeting for tonight. Right now we are just focused on this practice against Atlanta."
Saturday will also be the first game at Hard Rock Stadium with full fan capacity since 2019.
"I'm excited to get back into our home stadium. I'm excited to see the fans, for sure. I think that was the first thing that came to mind, especially with last year. We had fans but it was capped at maybe 13 or 14,000. I think compared to some other places it felt like it was 113,000. I'm excited to play in front of our fans. I think we have a great fan base, a supportive fan base and we are excited to get in front of them. We love feeling their support and I would say that's the No. 1 thing."
5. The Return of Some Familiar Faces
Preston Williams and Elandon Roberts made their 2021 practice debuts on Thursday after activation off the physically unable to perform list.
"I felt like the organization, 'Flo', Chris (Grier), they had a lot of confidence that I'd do the right thing during my rehab process, and they had confidence in me just allowing them to keep taking it one day at a time and not set too big of an expectation and stuff like that," Roberts said.
"It feels good to put the pads on," Williams said. "The toughest part was watching the games and wanting to be out there with the guys. Seeing your brothers out there battling every day, you just want to be out there with them."
Jaelan Phillips has been back for a week, although he didn't play in Chicago after a pair of limited practice days. His comment on returning to the field was too good to leave out.
"I've just been sitting, literally just crawling out of my skin to get back," Phillips said. "I'm blessed that I could come out here and get the reps that I did. I'm definitely feeling better and excited to keep going."
Birthday boy Hunter Long was also back on the practice field running through the entirety of practice and making a handful of catches in the team period.