MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – As far as preseason games go, the third one is generally considered the most important of the bunch.
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores elected to keep many of his starters on the sideline Thursday when Miami hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars, a practice that is slowly becoming the norm in an injury-scared NFL.
Even without several key players expected to have integral roles once the season begins, the Dolphins came away with a not-so-pretty win over Jacksonville in front of a sparse crowd at Hard Rock Stadium.
The fans that did show up got their loudest in the third quarter, and it was quarterback Josh Rosen that had everyone excited.
Rosen, the second-year quarterback out of UCLA who Miami acquired during the offseason following a rough rookie year with the Arizona Cardinals, took another big step toward becoming the Dolphins' eventual starter at their most important position.
Rosen's performance is the first of 10 observations from Miami's 22-7 win over the Jags.
1) Is he the Rosen One?
Rosen came into the game with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter and Miami on its own 1-yard line.
The first thing he did was draw Jacksonville defensive tackle Mike Hughes into a neutral zone infraction, the kind of thing you don't often see nervous young quarterbacks have the poise to pull off.
Rosen then connected on his first four pass attempts, including a gorgeous 39-yard completion to Isiah Ford while on the run and after eluding pressure. The drive ended four plays later with a Patrick Laird touchdown run.
Overall Rosen looked the best he has since putting on a Dolphins helmet, showing an elite pocket presence not seen in Miami in quite some time. He's also got a great arm, and it was on display during the fourth quarter on a play that won't jump out at anyone on the stat line.
The right-handed Rosen, running to his left with a defender in pursuit, threw a dart across his body to rookie receiver Trent Irwin, who was running to the sideline, away from the play.
Sure, it was just a 7-yard gain for the Dolphins, but the throw was something special that not many can pull off.
2) As for Miami's other quarterback…
Ryan Fitzpatrick, getting the start and subsequent playing time with the first teamers, picked up the Dolphins first first down late in the first quarter by drawing an encroachment penalty on third-and-5.
That was somewhat indicative of Fitzpatrick's night for Miami; efficient and effective at times, but nothing particularly exciting.
The 36-year-old saved his best for last, hitting all seven of his passes for 93 yards on a solid drive to open the second half, capped off by a touchdown pass to Mark Walton.
Fitzpatrick's night was done after that. He finished with a quarterback rating of 105.3, completing 12 of 18 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
He struggled on third down though, and finished the first half just 5-of-11 for 33 yards (28 of which came on one play).
3) Miami's next CFL find
Sam Eguavoen could be a difference maker for the Dolphins on defense.
The 26-year-old cut his teeth with the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders before signing a futures contract with Miami back in January.
He's spent the entire year learning Flores' defense and working with coaches, and it's starting to pay off. Eguavoen made two nice plays on Miami's first two defensive possessions Thursday and has now stood out in all three preseason games, collecting a total of 16 tackles and forcing a fumble.
4) Big season ahead for Baker
Jerome Baker appears poised for a breakout season.
The second-year linebacker out of Ohio State has improved his overall speed and is showing a new quickness in reading and reacting to plays.
Baker always had great game vision but if he keeps getting stronger and faster, the sky is the limit.
5) Area of no concern: kicking game
Dolphins' kicker Jason Sanders is quietly having a great preseason.
The fact that nobody has given a second thought to Miami's kickers since the start of training camp is very telling.
Yes, Sanders missed an extra point after the Dolphins first touchdown on Thursday. His next kick, a 43-yard extra point, was perfect. The kick after that, a 43-yard field goal from the left hash mark, was also perfect.
Sanders has hit all seven of his preseason field goal attempts and is 5-for-6 on extra points.
Punter Matt Haack has also been solid and as such, drawn little-to-no attention to himself.
He's punted 15 times for an average of 46.4 yards per kick, landing three inside the opponent's 20-yard-line.
6) Area of major concern
It's becoming alarmingly clear that fears the Dolphins offensive line would be the team's Achilles heel were accurate.
Struggles with pass blocking were expected with this group but the run blocking has got to be better, otherwise teams will be pinning their ears back every play.
The biggest issues are with the right side of the line, highlighted by the struggles of veteran tackle Jordan Mills and the lack of anyone behind him stepping up.
Mills and Zach Sterup have been given an opportunity with starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil sitting out each preseason game, but neither has made the most of it.
Rookie right guard Shaq Calhoun has had his struggles but overall continues to show improvement, along with fellow rookie guard Michael Deiter, who has shown similar progress on the left side.
7) Special teams coverage looking…special
Chris Lammons and Cornell Armstrong each had a big hit on Miami's first two punts Thursday.
Lammons wasn't done, forcing a fumble on a kickoff return later in the game thanks to another jarring hit. Unfortunately, replay showed kick returner DJ Clark's knee was down just before the ball came loose, but Miami's coaching staff will certainly remember the hit.
Also showing up on special teams coverage were running backs Mark Walton and Patrick Laird, indicating coaches are anticipating one or both of them making the final roster.
They also accounted for each of Miami's touchdowns Thursday.
8) A moment of (defensive) Fitzmagic
There is no denying that second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is a special player and once the season arrives, there likely won't be a quarter that goes by where he doesn't stand out in some way, shape or form.
One of those moments came during the first quarter on Thursday. Fitzpatrick laid about as big of a clean hit on a receiver as you will see, de-cleating Jaguars wideout Dede Westbrook on a crossing route.
Fitzpatrick timed it perfectly and put his shoulder right into Westbrook's chest, dislodging the ball and forcing an incompletion.
Kudos to the officials for not throwing a flag on what proved to be a textbook clean hit.
9) Pass rushing specialist emerging
Nate Orchard had two sacks Thursday against the Jags and now has a total of four on the preseason.
He's been Miami's most consistent pass rusher and has shown he can win one-on-one battles. Orchard will face much stiffer competition to win those battles once the regular season arrives, but he's earned the opportunity to be featured on Flores' defense.
10) Chandler Cox needs to make final roster
Fullback Chandler Cox has looked very good since joining the Dolphins.
That may come as a surprise considering how much Miami's running game has struggled, but the rookie out of Auburn shows a keen ability to sniff out his blocks, square up and make solid contact.
He will be on an NFL roster this season, but it's hard to imagine the Dolphins letting him slip away.