Highlights and lowlights

Coach Nick Saban said after the Dolphins' preseason loss to Atlanta on Thursday that he would be lying if he said he wasn't disappointed by his team's effort, and that should tell you all you need to know about what transpired in the 20-17 loss. Those looking for reasons for optimism a week before the start of the regular season were left with nothing but cause for concern.

As we look back and analyze this game, let us first revisit the first things to watch we pointed out before the Dolphins faced the Falcons.

1. The quarterback battle -- Saban has been searching for a long time for any sign, any reason to make an announcement on a starting quarterback or simply for a reason to feel good about this position. Didn't happen Thursday night. Gus Frerotte played the first quarter and had three possessions, but couldn't get a first down even though Saban pointed out he was dealing with difficult circumstances, such as working on the infield at Dolphins Stadium and also not having very good field position. Indeed, the Dolphins ran the ball three times on Frerotte's last series. Still, it wasn't what you wanted to see out of Frerotte. But that was nothing compared to Feeley, who was a few steps below awful. Feeley was off target all night, never looked comfortable in the pocket and hurried some throws. His interception that was returned for a touchdown was thrown behind Donald Lee and before Lee had made his cut. Yuck! So there's absolutely no way after this performance that Saban can possibly go with Feeley as his starter. But could Sage Rosenfels actually get a shot? That notion sounds far-fetched, but Saban praised Rosenfels after the game after he threw two TD passes and said his play needed to be evaluated. Again, we're still thinking that's not going happen and it will Frerotte behind center against Denver, but this position remains a major headache.

2. Run, Ronnie, run -- We frankly expected Ronnie Brown to get a lot more carries than just five against Atlanta, but Saban's explanation was that Brown was assigned as much as he could handle. Brown showed a nice burst on his 16-yard run, but it remains to be seen whether he can carry the load by himself at running back during Ricky Williams' suspension at the start of the season.

3. The offensive line -- Well, so much for the offensive line coming up with solid back-to-back games. In Frerotte's three series, Seth McKinney was flagged for a snap infraction, Jeno James slipped and was beaten for a sack, and Damion McIntosh was flagged for a false start. For the time being, we're going to have to accept that this will be a hit-or-miss unit, with some good games and some bad ones.

4. Travis' time -- It appears clear that Travis Daniels will not start at cornerback in the opener, as previously suggested, but rather will come off the bench as the nickel back. Daniels bounced back with a nice game against Atlanta after a rough outing against the Bucs.

5. Making their pitch -- The following are the guys we said needed strong games to help or save their chances of making the 53-man roster: WR Derrius Thompson, G Taylor Whitley, C Alonzo Ephraim, TE Donald Lee, S Tony Bua, DT Reggie Rhodes and CBs Deandre Eiland and Kris Richard. Breaking those down, Thompson was outstanding with five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown and a couple of really good grabs. Whitley and Ephraim got a lot of playing time and didn't stand out either strongly or poorly. Bua had a nice play on special teams, while Eiland was beaten for a 39-yard completion. Richard got a lot of work as a punt returner, but didn't show much in that department.

Now, for the highlights of the game for the Dolphins:

-- Donnie Jones was outstanding as the punter, with a gross average of 47.9 yards and a net of 43.9, which is spectacular. He had one bad punt in the first half, a 28-yarder, but the rest were boomers. Whether that's enough to make Saban think about keeping him instead of veteran Matt Turk remains to be seen, but Jones certainly helped his cause on Thursday night.

-- Rookie defensive end Matt Roth continues to get better and better. He again was very active against the Falcons.

Now, for the lowlights:

-- Tight end Alex Holmes probably wouldn't have made the roster anyway, but he had a brutal night. He was stripped after making a long catch down the middle, dropped an easy pass in the end zone, and later had another fumble, although this one was recovered by teammate Lamar Gordon.

-- Rookie defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson may have sustained a serious knee injury because of a total cheap-shot block by an Atlanta offensive lineman, who dove at Vickerson's knee while Vickerson was started to go from one end of the field to the other to chase a play. One would hope the Dolphins would send the game tape to the league office to get the player fined.

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