Dolphins beat Saints 24-21 in exhibition finale
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP)
McNutt and quarterback Pat Devlin, another player fighting for a roster spot, hooked up for a 56-yard score on fourth-and-4 with 3 minutes left to help Miami beat the New Orleans Saints 24-21 Thursday.
The play had to impress the Dolphins coaches - but perhaps not enough to keep McNutt on the team with cuts looming to reach the 53-man roster limit.
''I don't know what they're thinking,'' McNutt said. ''You just have to pray for the best.''
While spots at the bottom of the roster are yet to be decided, here are five things we know from the exhibition season about the Dolphins:
1. TANNEHILL'S TARGETS: New receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson will be on the field together a lot, along with wideout Brian Hartline, beginning with the opener Sept. 8 at Cleveland. New tight end Dustin Keller's season-ending knee injury eliminated one important potential target for Ryan Tannehill, and Miami is now expected to use a lot of three-wide formations.
2. BLOCKING A CONCERN: The offensive line is the biggest concern for a team that ranked 27th in yards last year. The ground game sputtered during the exhibition season, and second-year pro Jonathan Martin must show he's up to the job of protecting Tannehill's blind side as the new left tackle.
3. TAKEAWAYS STRESSED: Coach Joe Philbin's emphasis on takeaways was evident at the start of training camp, when his staff hung footballs from the walls of the defensive meeting rooms so players could become accustomed to swiping at them. Newcomers Philip Ellerbe, Dannell Wheeler and Brent Grimes showed signs they'll help Miami come up with more interceptions and fumbles this year.
4. DOMINATING D: The front seven stuffed a lot of plays during the exhibition season. With a deep group of linemen led by 340-pound nose tackle Paul Soliai, tackle Randy Starks and end Cameron Wake, the Dolphins should be tough to run on, and the pass rush is expected to be better than last year.
5. SLOW START: No. 3 overall draft pick Dion Jordan missed the final three exhibition games because of a lingering shoulder injury. Even if he plays in the opener, he'll see only spot duty as a pass-rush specialist, and might come off the bench all season.
Here are five things we know from the exhibition season about the Saints:
1. SEEKING A FASTER START: Reeling from bounty sanctions, the Saints lost their first four games in 2012 and finished 7-9. Coach Sean Payton is back from a one-year suspension, and the Saints are eager for a rebound. The Saints had a 37-11 regular-season record spanning the three seasons before his suspension and will likely be favored in their first four games, with the only road trip during that stretch to Tampa Bay. The Saints open the season Sept. 8 against Atlanta, the same team they beat in their 2006 opener, which marked the club's emotional return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
2. DEFENSE SHOULD BE BETTER: It would be tough for the defense to be worse after allowing a single-season franchise record 7,042 yards. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has switched to a 3-4 scheme, and his unit generated a strong pass rush during the exhibition season.
3. INJURIES AN ISSUE AT LINEBACKER: Will Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in an exhibition game, and a knee injury left Victor Butler's season in doubt. There's no timetable for the return of Jonathan Vilma from arthroscopic knee surgery.
4. BREES HAS NEW TARGETS: Rookie Kenny Stills, a fifth-round draft pick from Oklahoma, and Nick Toon, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve last year, had good training camps. Drew Brees looks to bounce back from a subpar 2012 season, when he tied the NFL high with 19 interceptions.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine