Just like that, only one exhibition game stands between the Dolphins and the regular season opener against the New England Patriots. As the team continues fine-tuning the operation for September, fans were in mid-season form with a buzzing Hard Rock Stadium. As Terron Armstead said during his mid-game sideline interview, there was a real "vibrant atmosphere."
Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins 15-13 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
1. Putting in the extra work
Earlier this summer, rookie wide receiver Erik Ezukanma detailed the instructions of Coach Wes Welker and the importance of visualization before action – we'll come back to the rookie standout -- and the wide outs aren't the only ones taking that approach.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa beat everyone but the television cameras to the stadium on Saturday to enact his own pre-game visualization ritual. The 24-year-old southpaw was on the Hard Rock Stadium playing surface four-and-a-half hours prior to kickoff running through a simulated game. No football. No teammates. Just the quarterback, a play-sheet, and some version of what the 12-year-old inside of all of us would do on an NFL field.
"That's why his teammates are confident in him," Head Coach Mike McDaniel said. "That's why I'm confident in him, and that's why his coaching staff is because that is something that he has done on his own with guidance from his quarterback coach, Coach Bevell."
Best of all, the impact of said preparation could already be forging a tangible impact. Tagovailoa was decisive in a 6-for-8 performance with 58 passing yards. He was spry, accurate and ripped through his progressions in a manner that afforded his checkdowns the opportunity to catch the football and make noise after the fact.
"I was really happy with Tua because he has been having such a good camp, just in his development and ownership of the offense," McDaniel said. "There were a couple of times that he got to three in his progression, and he adjusted with the defense."
"I'm just trying to picture the operation of how I want the offense to operate, so I'm looking at the play call, saying the play call out, getting the motions," Tagovailoa said. "If a certain person is not where they're supposed to be defensively, then that's an opportunity to exert all the adjectives as far as getting us into the right play."
2. Rookies shine again
Following the Tyreek Hill trade in March, the Dolphins remaining four draft picks was the fewest number of picks and lowest value in terms of total draft capital in the NFL.
But the rookie class – both drafted and undrafted – have made quite a large impact in the first two contests.
Against the Raiders, wide receiver Erik Ezukanma hauled in six catches for 114 receiving yards on nine targets. It wasn't just the stats – Ezukanma showed the same strength, competitive nature, balance, and run after the catch that popped off the tape when he was at Texas Tech.
"Coach (Welker) preaches that you have never arrived," Ezukanma said. "You always have to go to work every day. In the middle of the game actually, I was kind of messing up a little bit early on, and he told us, 'You're here to take a grown man's job.' That really resonated with me. I went back out there and just did everything I could to make plays when the ball came my way."
Quarterback Skylar Thompson completed nine of his 10 pass attempts for 129 yards and touchdown – good for a 152.1 passer rating. On the preseason, the nimble, strong-armed rookie has 347 passing yards (26 more on the ground) two touchdowns and a 121.3 passer rating.
"He just gets better every day," McDaniel said of Thompson. This game the operation was better. And he is starting to make plays that when one or two aren't there, feeling the concept. And like that touchdown they threw to 'Z. White' on the left-hand side, that's something that Skylar doesn't make at the beginning of preseason."
Defensive tackle Ben Stille continued his strong August with a sack. Wide receiver Braylon Sanders looked the part with three catches for 40 yards while running back ZaQuandre White found the end zone on his reception. Linebacker Channing Tindall flashed in both phases while his positional contemporary, Cameron Goode, continues to make plays off the edge. Cornerback Kader Kohou showed the athleticism and ball skills that we have seen in flashes throughout camp.
Check out the photos from Preseason Week 2 Dolphins vs. Las Vegas Raiders on August 20, 2022, presented by Lexus.
3. D-line dominant
Zach Sieler's strength is impossible to ignore. On back-to-back snaps, he deployed his devastating swim move to great effect – one for a sack and another for a QB hit.
Christian Wilkins surfed down the line to string out an early run stuff. The rookie, Stille, has been active at multiple positions and in multiple roles, while veteran John Jenkins took his turn collapsing the pocket.
The depth at defensive line showed on Saturday night, with contributions from the accomplished veterans to the undrafted rookies.