Defense shows progress in Jaguars’ loss to Dolphins

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins’ 27-3 victory Friday night over the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t so much a reflection on how far the Dolphins have progressed as it was a commentary on how far the Jaguars still need to go.

Aside from a 23-yard field goal by Josh Scobee at the end of a 16-play drive engineered by second-string quarterback Chad Henne, the first game of the Gus Bradley era wasn’t much to get enthused about. Four turnovers and seven penalties might have stood out more than anything positive that the Jaguars accomplished. Meanwhile, the Dolphins played almost a penalty-free game until two late roughing-the-passer calls in the final two minutes.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Having a first game under his belt helped Ryan Tannehill, although it wasn’t until the Dolphins’ fourth series of the first quarter that it finally showed. After needing to run for his life several times in the early going, Tannehill settled down once he hit tight end Dustin Heller on a 24-yard completion down the middle.

Tannehill and Heller capped the drive with a 22-yard scoring play in which Heller came up with a catch in the end zone despite appearing to be face-guarded by Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski.

The Jaguars managed just one first down in their first three possessions with Blaine Gabbert leading the offense. Like Tannehill, he began to get into a rhythm the longer he stayed on the field. And his one interception wasn’t his fault — fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou had a pass bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll.   

2. After ranking last in the NFL a year ago with 20 sacks, the Jaguars made a great first impression. The first time Tannehill dropped back to pass, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks grabbed him around the ankles and dropped him for a 6-yard loss. On the next play, Tannehill took off running up the middle but didn’t get far before end Andre Branch flung him to the ground.

Their next sack didn’t come until the third quarter, when end D’Anthony Smith broke free and smothered Matt Moore. But the pressure they were able to generate with a four-man rush was grounds for optimism. It could also mean that Jeremy Mincey, one of a number of Jaguars who were held out of the game because of injuries, might face a battle to simply hold on to a job by the end of the preseason.

3. Denard Robinson absorbed a beating from the Dolphins’ defense on more than one occasion. But the transformation of the former Michigan quarterback into a legitimate NFL running back appears to be going well.

The handoffs he took from Gabbert and Henne went smoothly, and his ability to change what looked like a sure loss of yardage into a 7-yard gain for a first down could be a sign of further things to come in his rookie season. Only the strong leg of former Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis, who later drilled a 58-yard field goal, prevented Robinson from returning a kickoff.

Jordan Todman, starting in place of Maurice Jones-Drew, accounted for the Jaguars’ longest play of the first half on a 26-yard run. The Jaguars had lined up without a huddle before the play, and the Dolphins were clearly caught off guard.  

4. Robinson wasn’t the only rookie of note. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz turned the Dolphins debut of wide receiver Mike Wallace into something of a non-event, although that had to do with the pass rush of the Jaguars as much as his coverage skills. He also had an interception just before the two-minute warning in the second quarter on a pass that Moore probably should never have thrown.

While Ace Sanders had only one catch for eight yards on a night when Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon were unavailable, he had a 22-yard punt return and looks like a keeper in that department — especially after both Tobias Palmer and Jamal Miles mishandled punts after halftime.

First-round pick Luke Joeckel was beaten badly by Cameron Wake on the Jaguars’ first series, but the tackle out of Texas A&M acquitted himself well with the first-string unit the rest of the way.

5. After signing veteran free agent offensive lineman Pat McQuistan and being awarded wide receiver Charly Martin off waivers earlier in the week, don’t be surprised if the Jaguars bring in additional new faces in the upcoming days. There was a noticeable dropoff between their first and second units, which was most evident in the Dolphins’ scoring drive that followed Carroll’s interception.

At least there were no injuries, aside from outside linebacker Russell Allen spraining his right ankle.

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