Second Chance for First-Teamers

The Dolphins won their first preseason game — a 28-23 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night at the Georgia Dome. Yet even so, the Dolphins' first-quarter performance left the overall impression — even amid the victory — that the team had taken a step backward instead of progressing.

Entering the game, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said he wanted, more than anything, to use the game as another practice opportunity. He wanted to see what some of the team's younger, inexperienced players were capable of doing when the lights turned on and the pressure became greater.

A lot of what Sparano saw in the final three quarters — and maybe even the great majority of what he saw — must have offered him satisfaction. And good thing, too, given his team's disastrous start.

By the end of the first quarter, the Falcons led 17-0. They'd outgained Miami 163 yards to 17. They'd recorded 10 first downs, nine more than the Dolphins' one.

That led Sparano to leave the number of snaps the starters will play in the second preseason game up in the air.

"Well, I told the team (Monday) is that they all need to be ready to play until I'm tired of them playing, so I don't know what that is, I don't have a number yet, so we'll see where we go, but I think we will see some guys in there deep into the second quarter and maybe into the half," Sparano said.

And, perhaps most troubling of all for Miami, this was the first-quarter stat line for starting quarterback Chad Henne: 1-for-5 for 5 yards with two interceptions. His first-quarter quarterback rating: 0.0.

"The ball is coming out of this guy's hands well, you seen it again (Monday) here with some balls down the field and I think more and more they are starting to become in sync with what Brian (Daboll) is asking him to do out there," said Sparano. "Our spacing is getting better each practice, that's critical, we are working hard on that and the only way to have good spacing is if you're running at full speed and I think that's getting better. You know, as practice gets on, it's a little bit hard to keep running at full speed, but I think they have done a really nice job that and I like where it is right now, it's getting better."

Meanwhile, Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed 6 of 10 attempts for 90 yards and a touchdown. And Falcons running backs Jason Snelling and Michael Turner combined to average nearly 5 yards per carry on nine carries.

To put it simply, the players Miami will most depend upon when the regular season begins proved, well, undependable — at least in their first test of the preseason. After his team returned to South Florida on Saturday, Sparano was asked whether it was easy to dismiss the performance of his starters given the lack of practice time to date during the preseason.

"It's not easy to dismiss by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Still, Sparano defended his first-teamers and said, "There were some things in their 14 plays I thought were done pretty well. But you don't dismiss it. But at the same time you don't really carry a lot of stock into the fact that you really have only had seven practices with this group of guys."

The Dolphins played against the Falcons without running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, both of whom were held out for non-injury reasons. Veteran linebacker Jason Taylor also didn't play.

As for the mistakes — especially the ones on offense — Sparano said miscommunication was a factor. And that, he said, could be the result of a lack of a real offseason program, given the lockout, and the rapid pace in which the Dolphins are installing their new offense.

Henne's first interception was a catchable pass that bounced in and out of the hands of tight end Anthony Fasano. The second interception went straight to Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes, who merely had to jump up and catch the errant pass, which was intended for Davone Bess.

On that one, Sparano said that Henne and Bess weren't on the same page, and indicated that Bess ran an incorrect route and that Henne then failed to make a proper route.

"When you go back and watch the film it was kind of two wrongs make a wrong," Sparano said.

But then, thanks in part to backup quarterback Matt Moore and a lot of younger players, the Dolphins made things right. They outscored Atlanta 28-6 in the final three quarters.

"Every team is going to have corrections to make in the first preseason game," said Miami linebacker A.J. Edds, who led the team with seven tackles. "I mean, whoever's going to win the Super Bowl this year is making corrections tomorrow."


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