Dolphins appear settled with Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker

The Miami Dolphins won their first game of the preseason with a 13-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday. Miami improved to 1-2 in the exhibition season.

Here are five additional observations on the Dolphins from the game:

  • After Saturday night, I fully expect the Dolphins to stick with Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker. Sheppard hasn't been spectacular, but the veteran hasn't done anything to lose the job, either. Sheppard got the most reps this summer when Koa Misi went down with a calf injury. Now that Misi has returned, he has taken over Chris McCain's spot at outside linebacker. The Dolphins coaches want to see more from McCain, who was playing into the fourth quarter Saturday night to get more reps.

  • Miami's starting defensive line just pummeled Atlanta's offensive line. The Dolphins' starting defense registered three sacks against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan while rushing only four players. Atlanta's offensive line often could not win one-on-one matchups against Miami's front four, which we will get to next.

  • Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell had his best game of the preseason with three tackles (two for loss) and a quarterback sack. Mitchell’s sack was a perfect example of the Ndamukong Suh effect. Miami rushed four players and Suh was double-teamed. That left defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive end Cameron Wake and Mitchell one-on-one, and Mitchell beat his man to get to Ryan.

  • LaMichael James most likely locked down Miami's kickoff and punt return duties. He had 85 total return yards against the Falcons, which helps cement his spot on the 53-man roster. James took the pressure off last season's returner, Jarvis Landry, who has a major role on offense.

  • The kicking competition between Caleb Sturgis and Andrew Franks will continue to go down to the wire. Sturgis is the incumbent, but Franks had a good game by making both field-goal attempts, of 32 and 51 yards, against Atlanta. The Dolphins are expected to keep both kickers beyond the 75-man roster cut Tuesday and allow Sturgis and Franks to battle for another week.