DAVIE – Brian Hartline slipped behind the secondary to catch a long pass in practice Sunday and when a cluster of young spectators whooped he looked their way and faked tossing the ball to them, then jogged with it back to the huddle as the kids groaned in disappointment.
Two weeks into the exhibition season, the Miami Dolphins offense is teasing fans. A hint of the unit’s potential was evident during Friday night’s 27-3 victory at Jacksonville but most of the team’s scheme remains under wraps.
Receiver Mike Wallace is the most heralded newcomer but, while he made his exhibition debut against the Jaguars, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has yet to look his way with the ball.
Lamar Miller, the likely starter at running back, carried only twice for 6 yards, and because of injuries the offensive line has been a patchwork affair since training camp began.
The starters might show a little more Saturday at Houston in the third of five exhibition games. But coach Joe Philbin said the Dolphins will use only half their scheme during the entire preseason.
“We run our core stuff,” Philbin said. “In the preseason we’re most concerned about doing a great job evaluating and executing our fundamentals with plays we know we’re going to run during the year. It’s not going to be a surprise to people. We’re not into trickery or deception right now.”
Or getting the ball into the hands of their highest-paid player. Tannehill had a solid performance against the Jaguars, completing five of nine passes for 75 yards and a touchdown but he never threw to Wallace – or even looked at him.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman blamed shaky pass protection. Wallace appeared open several times but Tannehill was sacked on the first play and often on the move after that.
“Protection wasn’t the greatest and we were scrambling around,” Sherman said. “Mike is going to catch his balls. Those will come with time.”
Right guard has been a revolving door because John Jerry and Lance Louis, two candidates for the starting job, are sidelined while recovering from knee injuries. Josh Samuda started there Friday and was beaten for a sack, while second-year pro Jonathan Martin has been inconsistent as the replacement for departed Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long. Blocking was better at Jacksonville than in the exhibition opener against Dallas but that’s not saying a lot.
“It was OK. It wasn’t great,” Philbin said. “We have to do a better job in pass protection early in the game. You want to get your quarterback off to a good start and comfortable in the pocket and that didn’t happen. When the first play is a sack, that’s not the way you want to start a game.”
Even so, the win represented progress. It was the Dolphins’ first exhibition victory since 2011 and their most lopsided since 1987.
One sign of improvement on offense came in short-yardage situations, a problem area last year. Jonas Gray, who missed last season with a knee injury, scored twice on 1-yard runs.
Gray and rookie Mike Gillislee are competing for a roster spot at running back behind Miller and Daniel Thomas, who are battling for the starting job. Pass-catching and blocking will influence those decisions, Sherman said.
“We have some pretty good runners but to be the complete back you have to be able to do all those things,” Sherman said. “That will be the true test.’’