September 08, 2014

Ellerbe to injured reserve, Dolphins sign Sheppard

Dannell Ellerbe's hip injury was serious. That's the reason the team will place him on the injured reserve list, coach Joe Philbin announced today.

To replace Ellerbe, who will not be eligble to return this season, the team is signing free agent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.

Sheppard played with the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 and Buffalo Bills in 2012.

“Well, Dannell is a heck of a player and we were excited about the prospects of him moving back to the Will position and playing as effectively as he could," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "But that’s part of the game and we move on and, like every team in the league does when you have injuries, you have to have people step up, fill in and we’ll do that and we’ll move forward."

The Dolphins now have to decide on a replacement for Ellerbe in the lineup as Sheppard may not be that immediately. The candidates are Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins.

“I can’t say enough about those guys and the job that Coach (Mark) Duffner and Coach (David) Corrao did to get those guys ready," Coyle said. "Those guys stepped in. Trus (Jason Trusnik), he was out there calling the defense, he was playing on special teams, he did it all and did a great job. Jelani, you noticed him because they were trying to throw the ball to the tight end, they tried to pick him on the wheel route and get the back down the sideline. Jelani, not only did he cover but he made a really good adjustment getting over the top of a potential rub route. It’s a play that we work a lot when we get prepared to play these guys because they’re very effective with it, but he did a great job. Jonathan Freeny had some quality snaps as well, so it was great to see that. You’re going to have to have your backup players step up when the time comes and they certainly did that. I was really impressed with the entire group. The defensive line, the pass rush was relentless."

Although Chris McCain played well Sunday and made two impact plays -- a punt block and a sack of Tom Brady -- he is not ready to contribute completely on defense as more than a pass rusher. That is his current role on defense.

“He’s a work in progress," Coyl,e said of McCain. "He’s getting better every week. We’re preparing him to play. He prepared to play both defensive end and linebacker last week and he’ll do the same this week. It’s pretty amazing to be in your first NFL game as an undrafted free agent and first snap block a punt and then come on later on one of his first rushes in the game he gets a sack of Tom Brady. I think he’ll remember that game for a long time."

The Dolphins have two other injured linebackers in Koa Misi (ankle) and Philip Wheeler (thumb). Neither is dealing with a season-ending injury situation.

Different? Dolphins have more dogs on the roster

Something was different on Sunday.

Sure there are the factoids that tell you it was different. The Dolphins snapped a Patriots 61-game win streak in games when they forced three or more turnovers. The Dolphins turned the ball over three times and won anyway.

And the Dolphins are in first place, tied with the Jets and Buffalo. The Patriots are in last place and it marks the first time that Tom Brady is in sole possession of last place in the AFC East. Ever.

But beyond that and, as I write in my column in today's Miami Herald, on this day the Dolphins played like a different team than we've been used to.

This team played with emotion, confidence, and a physical approach that was downright inspiring. It inspired the fans. It inspired the players who felt it.

“Everybody was feeding off the energy," linebacker Chris McCain told me as he compared the moment while also recounting the trials he's been through in that he was out of football for nearly eight months and Sunday's game was his first in nearly a year after he was kicked off the team at the University of California last year.

"I was getting energy from a lot of people. Going back, I don’t even like to think about it now because I’m here. And I’m done dropping my tears about it. The people know who they are who doubted me. They see where I am and see where we are. Nobody would have thought Miami in the first game in this division would beat New England. We showed them. We got 15 more games to finish up strong. I believe we can do it."

McCain is an inspiring story. Although I am not fully certain why he was kicked off the Cal football team, I'm sure it wasn't because he was on the straight and narrow. But something has apparently clicked (so far) for this kid.

“I’ve been blessed," he said. "It’s been plenty of chances I could have been down and out or just being the average person out on the street but God kept his wings around me, kept his hands on me and he got me here. It’s all on God. This is all God.

"The most overwhelming part is being on this stage. Being on this stage and being able to play with the Dolphins. Just being here is big. Just being able to put on a uniform.

“It is mind blowing. A lot of people told me I couldn’t be here. But going through the whole draft process, Miami was calling me, showing their interest a lot. They believed in me. I’m glad I’m here. I love to be here. This staff is about winning and taking care of their players. It’s real mind blowing just going through what I went through. Some guys would have quit and gave up. But just the grind and the edge to keep eating and staying hungry for this and hoping some day getting here, and to do is …”

Mind blowing.

I like this kid's story although I only have an incomplete version. I'm sure it will get better. He had a sack and a blocked punt in his first NFL game.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

McCain is the personification of what happened on Sunday. He really wasn't supposed to be here, according to, well, him. Jelani Jenkins wasn't supposed to be in the game. Jonathan Freeny wasn't supposed to be in the game.

But with the entire starting linebacker corps -- Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler out -- it was up to the reserves to step up. By the way, Misi walked out of the locker room in a walking boot. Ellerbe could hardly walk as he left with some sort of hip injury. He actually had trouble putting one foot in front of the other and he was wearing some sort of wrapping around his hips.

Yet with the backups, the Dolphins held New England to 67 total yards in the second half. This while the Dolphins were amassing 222 yards. That is how a 20-10 deficit turned into a 33-20 win.

By the way, the offense showed up bigtime. Read how that went.

Afterward, someone who works for the team was agreeing with me that we should not draw bold conclusions and make season-lasting proclamations about the Dolphins based off one game. Coach Joe Philbin will Tuesday (players are off Monday) tell his players that it is a new week and a new challenge and the New England game is behind them and forgotten. It is only one game.

But this much is certain: This team has more fight in it.

It has more dog in it, as they used to say in my old 'hood.

Louis Delmas? Dog.

Cortland Finnegan? Dog.

McCain? Puppy. But a dog nonetheless.

Knowshon Moreno? Dog. He's a strange cat, as I wrote in my column. But he's also a dog.

Daryn Colledge? Dog.

I'm not saying that means the Dolphins roll through the schedule. I. Am. Not. Predicting. That.

But it will be a lot harder for a roster with this kind of passion to play a game like it played in Buffalo or against the Jets at home to end last year. In that regard, well done Dennis Hickey.

Already that is an undeniable upgrade.

Hey, did I tell you to read my column?

 

 

September 07, 2014

Dolphins beat Patriots, 33-20 to take opener

The Patriots had won 10 consecutive season-openers ... before today.

End of streak.

The Dolphins, behind a ferocious defense led by Cameron Wake and impressive run game led by Knowshon Moreno, beat the Patriots 33-20 at Sun Life Stadium.

The Dolphins are atop the AFC East today.

The Patriots are in last place.

Yes, yes, I know it is only one game. But as one game goes, this was pretty impressive.

The Dolphins erased a 20-13 halftime deficit by scoring 20 unanswered second half points. Yes, the Patriots wilted but it didn't seem all about the weather.

The Miami defense sacked Tom Brady four times and had him getting hit so often that he actually started throwing early or spots where there were no receivers, or inaccurately. He seemed rattled at times. Wake finished with two sacks.

Moreno, signed in the offseason, put toughness behind the Miami running game, gaining 134 yards on 24 carries. Lamar Miller rushed for 59 yards on 11 carries for good measure. Remember who told you Moreno was the lead back?

The amazing thing is the Dolphins beat up the Patriots even as they had three turnovers. Think about that. Three turnovers and still they won going away.

Dolphins LB corps relying on reserves

The Dolphins started this game without Phillip Wheeler.

But after the first quarter they had lost both Koa Misi (ankle) and Dannell Ellerbe (hip) were both out of the game due to injuries. Both were reported as being questionable to return.

[Update: Misi will not return to the game, according to the Dolphins.]

That put Jason Trusnik in the game. That put Chris McCain in the game. That put Jelani Jenkins in the game.

Not great.

On the other hand, McCain blocked a punt three minutes into his first NFL game. So maybe getting him in the game isn't so bad.

Live blog here: Patriots at Dolphins

Welcome to the 2014 season.

So what's happening today? Let's start with this: I expect to see the Dolphins employ the 3-4 defense today. I've been hinting at it all week and today there is confirmation. The Dolphins will shift in and out of their 4-3 today.

So the team will show the Patriots multiple fronts on defense. Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon at OLB. Jared Odrick and Randy Starks at DE. Earl Mitchell at NT in the 3-4, at defensive tackle in the 4-3.

I like that.

In the nickel package, I expect Will Davis to get more playing time than Jamar Taylor, although both are expected to play.

We know that Phillip Wheeler is out today. Jason Trusnik will play in his place in the 4-3. We'll see what happens when the team shifts to the 3-4.

The inactives today:

OL Jason Fox, LB Jordan Tripp, LB Phillip Wheeler, OL Billy Turner, DL Terrence Fede, C Mike Pouncey and DT Bruce Gaston.

We'll have a live blog today as we do every game day. Check it out below:

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Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots: Sept. 7, 2014
 

A season to decide the franchise's direction

The 2014 NFL season kicks off for the Dolphins at 1 p.m. today. My column in the Miami Herald today says this will be a defining season for the Dolphins no matter what happens.

I have no way of telling you exactly what is going to happen today or this season. But I do know that whatever happens will shape the future of this franchise for years, unlike other seasons that are used for building or revamping or whatever.

Part of my column makes reference to all the good things that can happen to the players and coaches if the Dolphins are a winner in 2014. And part of my column tells you there are bad things that can happen if the Dolphins are a loser. One of those latter things is the roster gets a significant reconstruction.

Indeed, if the Dolphins don't win, it is possible up to a dozen players who are starters now get jettisoned by next season.

Who? I didn't have the space to tell you in the column. I have space here:

If the Dolphins don't win, and somehow the passing game is to blame, it is plausible Mike Wallace goes. The Dolphins would have to accept $9.6 million in dead money for either trading him or cutting him, but they'd actually create $2.5 million in cap space.

If the run defense doesn't improve, if his coverage doesn't improve, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe could be jettisoned. It would result in a $5.6 million cap savings in 2015, not to mention $7.8 million in 2016 and $7.2 million in 2017.

Phillip Wheeler is in that same boat. He didn't perform exceedingly well last year. He's not playing today due to a thumb injury. But if he doesn't step up and play well this year, he's a candidate for the pink slip. Cutting him next year is a cap neutral move.

By the way, a source told me this week the Dolphins are letting it be known that their future at linebacker is Chris McCain and Jordan Tripp. The team is quite pleased with both rookies and expects good things from them.

The replacement for Brandon Gibson is already on the roster. His name is Jarvis Landry. If Gibson continues to reach toward being 100 percent healthy and picks up where he left off last year, he's safe beyond this year. If not ... well, his replacement is on the roster.

DT-DE Jared Odrick is in the final year of his contract, RB Knowshon Moreno is on a one-year deal, and CB Cortland Finnegan and DT-DE Randy Starks can be cut before next season and the team can gain significant cap savings as a result.

The point is this team is not committed to a bunch of its so-called stars beyond this year. Just as it is not committed to its coaching staff.

This season's results will determine whether the staff and roster deserve to be kept together beyond this year or deserve to be rebuilt. It could go either way, in my opinion.

We begin to find out today.

There will be a live blog today. Check back before kickoff to join in. 

 

September 06, 2014

Jones, Jordan suspensions could be lifted under new drug policy

Representatives for safety Reshad Jones and defensive end Dion Jordan -- both serving suspensions under the current NFL performancing enhancing substance policy -- are monitoring the progress of an eventual agreement on a new policy because that new agreement could end both players' suspension immediately, The Miami Herald has learned.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have been negotiating the terms of a new policy covering performance enhancing drugs. ProFootballTalk.com today reported a new policy could be moments away from being agreed to and announced.

That new policy could end the suspensions for both Dolphins defensive players because NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has said the union is seeking to reverse suspensions that occurred this year based on the previous policy.

Players suspended for PEDs in the old (current) policy are suspended for the first flagged positive test. But multiple national media outlets have reported that under the new drug policy, certain stimulants would be characterized under the league's policy for substance abuse.

And under the substance abuse guidelines, a player enters the treatment program with the first positive test but is not suspended. The substance abuse program includes counseling, and increased testing but more than one positive test must occur before the player reaches the suspension phase.

As it applies to Jones and Jordan, it is possible they would be remanded into the substance abuse program and required to undergo more frequent testing and counseling, but their four-game suspensions would be voided if Smith and the NFLPA gets its wish.

The devil will be in the details as it is unknown what substances under the current PEDs policy Jordan and Jones tested positive for and whether all postive tests under the old policy would be remanded to the substance abuse policy. Sources for both players declined over the past two days to specify what substances they tested positive for.

Jones recently complained that his positive test -- which was appealed and upheld -- was not for "anything that helped me play better," he said. "That's not me. If that was me, I would have really gone out and gotten big and faster but I didn't. I don't have to do that."

Keys to the game: Patriots at Dolphins

I think the Patriots win this game. Surprisingly, I see it as an offensive fireworks game.

I'm thinking that Bill Lazor's offense, new to the opposition, lights up the Pats. But I also think the New England offense takes advanage of a Miami defense that is without two starters (Reshad Jones and Phillip Wheeler) and without a significant backup (Dion Jordan).

I'm picking the Pats, 35-31 over the Dolphins.

Here are the keys to the game:

When the Patriots pass the football: Tom Brady, 37, said recently he would retire, “when I suck.” Well, that issue begins to be determined against Miami’s defense that in the last meeting turned Brady away from a potential winning passing touchdown. Michael Thomas had an interception in the end zone to seal Miami’s victory last December but Brady did throw for 364 yards in the game while throwing to luminaries such as Austin Collie and Josh Boyce. Brady will have his full complement of receivers this game, including tight end Rob Gronkowski. The question is how much will Gronkowski play and in what situations? He is perhaps the most difficult red zone matchup problem in the AFC. The Dolphins have three new starters – cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and safeties Jimmy Wilson and Louis Delmas -- in the secondary. The team has also revamped its nickel package. ADVANTAGE: New England .

When the Patriots run the football: The Patriots may deny it, but losing LeGarrette Blount in the offseason hurts the running game. Yes, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden are still on the team, but which of those guys is the 235-pound guy who is also fast enough to return kicks like Blount was? Vereen is more third-down pass catcher -- a good one. Ridley has had fumble problems. And Bolden’s history is that of a solid backup, but nothing more. The Patriots have to overcome a significant shakeup in their offensive line. Their coach of the past three decades, Dante Scarnecchia, is now retired and five-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins was traded to Tampa Bay. So a unit that has long been strength is a question. The Dolphins believe their defensive front is a strength and they believe they will cause some confusion by playing multiple fronts during the game. The team’s run defense has, however, been in decline the past two years. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins pass the football: It’s a new day for the Miami offense. There were will be motion where there was little last year. There will be quick, timing routes and throws where last year was based on waiting for plays to develop. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is expected to get the ball out on time and to the right place. You might say this may be more a safe and horizontal attack. But it is designed to keep the QB from getting hit too often. Tight end Charles Clay has been an object of attention for Bill Belichick in the past. New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor believes if that’s going to be the New England approach again, it will create opportunities for his receivers. To which Belichick might respond, “We added Darrelle Revis in the offseason.” He’s good. DVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Dolphins will finally put their cut blocking, zone blocking new offensive line on display. And it will be Knowshon Moreno, who played for Denver last year, carrying much of the load with Lamar Miller getting work in a secondary role in multiple packages designed to limit his need to make decisions at the line of scrimmage and instead feature him in space where his speed is an asset. The Patriots can show a 3-4 and 4-3 front but the key here is that Vince Wilfork, who missed much of last year with a torn Achilles, and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, who also missed much of the season because of an injury, are back in the lineup regardless of fronts. And they are the team’s best run defenders. ADVANTAGE: New England.

Special teams: Assuming kicker Caleb Sturgis can stay healthy through warm-ups, the Dolphins have questions to answer on kick and punt returns. Simply, Jarvis Landry is going to handle both duties, replacing Marcus Thigpen, who is coincidently on the Patriots practice squad now. Landry is a rookie and thus an unknown in his first NFL game. That doesn’t suggest the moment might be too big for him, but untested is untested until, well, it is not. The Patriots have traditionally performed well against Miami and they are coming with a veteran unit that gets Patrick Chung back. There’s also this: How much information did Thigpen give the Patriots about Miami’s special teams schemes? ADVANTAGE: New England.

Coaching: Joe Philbin has seemingly upgraded his coaching staff with the addition of proven offensive line coach John Benton, proven linebacker coach Mark Duffner, solid offensive line assistant coach Jack Bicknell Jr. and the enthusiasm and confidence of Bill Lazor as the offensive coordinator. The Patriots, meanwhile, are diminished by the loss of Scarnecchia. But then there’s Bill Belichick. Interestingly, Belichick has been concerned about the Dolphins ability to unveil new things he didn’t prepare his team for based on the unknowns the new Miami offense might unveil. ADVANTAGE: New England.

September 05, 2014

Friday injury report: Wheeler out as expected

Phillip Wheeler is not playing Sunday. If you are a regular here, you know I said I didn't see how he could play Sunday without a healthy opposable thumb on his right hand. It was fractured.

Look for the Dolphins to use either Jelani Jenkins or Jason Trusnik or both, depending on the defensive package, in the game. Many of you will ask why not rookie Chris McCain?

He's coming, but he's a rookie and he's also banged up, dealing with a hip issue.

Guard Billy Turner is doubtful with his foot injury.

For the Patriots, QB Tom Brady (calf) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) are listed as questionable. They are both expected to play.

Here is the full injury report:

Salguero 2014 NFL standings predictions

The NFL regular season has begun and on Sunday the Miami Dolphins kick off against the New England Patriots. It's going to be an exciting season, as most NFL seasons are.

But if you don't feel like paying constant attention between now and January, go ahead and take the time off because this is how it's going to go, in my opinion.

These are my 2014 NFL standings in advance. Wolf them down:

AFC East

Team                   2013 record      2014 prediction             Comment

1. New England     12-4                  12-4                 Still division's best QB and coach.

2. Miami                8-8                    8-8                 Dolphins migrate to the mean.

3. NY Jets              8-8                    8-8                 See their CBs? It's a passing league.

4. Buffalo              6-10                   6-10               See their QB? It's a passing league.

 AFC North

Team                  2013 record      2014 prediction                Comment

1. Baltimore          8-8                  10-6                   Healthy, deeper than in '13.

2. Cincinnati         11-5                 9-7                    Not a believer in this team.

3. Pittsburgh         8-8                  9-7                     Better but D is still old.

4. Cleveland          4-12                4-12                   Must...pass...ball...oh, can't.

AFC South

Team                    2013 record      2014 prediction                Comment

1. Indianapolis        11-5               11-5                  Luck gets better, and better, and ...

2. Tennessee           7-9                 6-10                   Locker does not get better.

3. Houston              2-14               5-11                  See their QB? It's a passing league.

4. Jacksonville        4-12                5-11                Irrelevant until Henne gets the clipboard.

AFC West

Team                   2013 record      2014 prediction                Comment

1. San Diego           9-7                   12-4              They were hot late last year.

2. Denver              13-3                    11-5             No run game, Welker suspended.

3. Kansas City        11-5                    6-10              Mirage of '13 evaporates.

4. Oakland             4-12                   5-11            Undisciplined with aged talent.

NFC East

Team                 2013 record      2014 prediction                Comment

1. Eagles              10-6                  11-5              Kelly's crew picks up where it left off.

2. Redskins           3-13                   9-7              RG3 is for real despite '13.

3. NY Giants           7-9                   6-10            New O and Eli Manning are not a fit.

4. Cowboys             8-8                   4-12          Jerry will feel nostalgia for 8-8.

NFC North

Team                2013 record      2014 prediction                Comment

1. Green Bay        8-7-1                 10-6            They don't play Seattle every week.

2. Detroit             7-9                    9-7              Discipline works.

3. Chicago            8-8                    7-9              Offense improves, D regresses (again).

4. Minnesota         5-10-1               6-10            Many QBs, none proven starters.

NFC South

Team                 2013 record      2014 prediction                Comment

1. New Orleans     11-5                  11-5            Order restored.

2. Tampa Bay        4-12                  9-7             Have talent and Lovie can coach.

3. Carolina            12-4                  7-9             Fine D, but Cam can't do it alone on O.

4. Atlanta              4-12                  6-10             Better but still not good.

NFC West

Team                 2013 record      2014 prediction                     Comment

1. Seattle             13-3                  13-3           QB, OL are better and D brings the boom.

2. San Fran.          12-4                 10-6           OL isn't great anymore, D is missing key pieces.

3. Arizona            10-6                  7-9            OL is better, D is worse.

4. St. Louis            7-9                   4-12         Bradford on IR, season over. Again.

September 04, 2014

Dolphins to honor memory of fallen American, fan

Steven Sotloff was in many respects like many of you on this blog: He was a Dolphins fan.

"When we moved in together, he would never shut the heck up about rugby. Rugby or the Miami Dolphins," Emerson Lotzia Jr., Sotloff's former roommate at the University of Central Florida told the Central Florida Future recently.

Sotloff pursued his passion for journalism and the Dolphins in parallel ways. He headed to the middle east to cover the region and tell stories. And he found innovative ways to make sure he stayed up to date on his NFL even from the most remote locations.

The Dolphins lost Sotloff recently. He was slain in a barbaric manner by the terrorists for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- known more commonly as ISIS.

The Dolphins are aware of this heinous act and Sotloff's passion for the team. So they are going to have a moment of silence before Sunday's game against the New England Patriots to pay respects in rememberance of Sotloff, according to team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel.

Well done.

Daryn Colledge takes up fight against OL worries

The Dolphins offensive line has been the center of many worries during the offseason, training camp and preseason. And those worries are the logical result of a couple of basic issues.

Issue No. 1: The offensive line last year was terrible, yielding 58 sacks, and so those guys got blown out and new guys are now in. But in bringing in five new guys, the Dolphins, like it or not, made the offensive line a big story. It's on everyone's lips.

Colledge, something of an old school guy who is used to the offensive line being anonymous, wants this unit to play so well, you don't really hear from them again.

“Well, I think we’re just anxious to stop the criticism," Colledge said Thursday. "We obviously have a shadow over the top of us from what happened last year and we’ve got four new guys here, five for this game that weren’t a part of that offensive line. We know what happened and we know that the pressure is on us, but we hope to kind of quiet that criticism over the next three weeks and really take the attention on the guys who deserve it, guys like our wide outs or our running backs and (Ryan) Tannehill, the guys that are going to be special playmakers for us.”

Issue No. 2: The Dolphins offensive line is new from tackle to tackle. Have you heard that before? It is the first time in team history the Dolphins replace every single linemen from the season before. And that obviously is not a good thing.

But Colledge argues that is somewhat overblown because this new offensive line, he says, is not all that new.

"That’s the thing, a lot of people are talking about starting five new offensive linemen, we’re not trying to start five rookies," he said. "We’re trying to start five guys that played in the league. We’ve got one guy, Ja’Wuan (James) who’s coming out of college and he’s a first round draft pick and we expect him to do something really good for us.

"The rest of us, we’ve played games. We’ve been out there. We’ve played in the NFL. We know what it’s like to start. We know what to expect out of a team like the Patriots and we know what it’s going to take to win games on Sunday. So we’re going to go out there and play as a unit, and hopefully take a step forward from what we did against Dallas.”

This is uplifting stuff. Colledge is obviously pretty confident in what we're about to see.

And I agree with him, sort of.

I believe general manager Dennis Hickey has indeed remedied the tackle problem on the offensive line. Branden Albert at left tackle and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle have been everything the Dolphins expected so far. So I believe they are an upgrade over last year's guys.

But I have concerns about the interior guys.

I remind you Samson Satele was on the street as late as August 1. The Dolphins signed him because they couldn't find someone who could snap the football. And although Satele has resolved that issue and brought stability to the center job while Mike Pouncey gets healthy from his hip surgery, no one should confuse Satele for a Pro Bowl player.

He's a guy no other team had signed before August.

Colledge, 32, was signed June 30 after he was released by Arizona in March. And while Colledge has been steady (in his ability) and dependable (in his durability) throughout his career, he has never been confused for Larry Allen. He's solid.

My eye-opening moment on Colledge so far this preseason was when Joe Philbin said he had "no clarity" at who was going to start at left guard after Colledge had played the position with the starting unit every single practice since training camp had begun. Obviously Colledge won the job. But also, obviously, the coach wanted more from the position. We'll see.

Finally, the right guard spot is a question mark. Dallas Thomas was something of a flop and Shelley Smith, who started training camp at center then went into the left guard competition then moved to right guard, finally won the job.

Shelley Smith has come a good long way in the past month. But he's still a work in progress. We'll see.

Indeed, that's how I feel about this offensive line, particularly the interior three guys until Pouncey returns. We'll see.

Latest Dolphins motivational theme here

The Dolphins apparently lead the league in slogans and t-shirts and such.

The team (coaches, actually) had T-shirts made up celebrating the naming of the 53-man roster over the weekend. The T-shirts boast the slogan "One team One Fight Win the Day," within a shield that resembles a Spartan shield. Oh, about that shield, seems the team is really into its meaning because somebody brought an actual shield into the locker room and it is on display in one part of the Miami locker room.

Shield

"We took time on Sunday to celebrate the 53 guys who made the roster and position coaches gave them their T-shirts," coach Joe Philbin said. "As with a lot of things in life, there are certain rituals and we wanted to kind of make it a special occasion for them. The shield is kind of a symbol of we play together as one team."

The coaches came up with the shirts. The players came up with the slogan.

Fired up?

The Dolphins are not new at this, folks.

This is the team that had the lobster traps hanging from the ceiling of the locker room because coach Dave Wannstedt wanted to remind his players not to overlook a "trap" game.

T-Shirts? The team had a T-Shirt with a credo in training camp.

It had a credo T-shirt for the defense last year.

Remember "Feed the Wolf" during the Tony Sparano era?

This is interesting stuff. But menaingful?

(Let's just say this post isn't going to be atop the blog very long.)

 

 

Wheeler cannot tackle without opposable thumb

Phillip Wheeler cannot tackle.

And as I type that sentence I'm certain several of you are conjuring jokes about the Dolphins linebacker, who last season struggled to cover, struggled to tackle, basically struggled throughout.

But the seriousness of the sentence is that, indeed, Wheeler is wearing a cast on his right hand to protect a thumb that he fractured (and perhaps had surgically repaired) and he has missed much of practice this week, including Thursday.

And even as Wheeler works some in practices, he's not tackling at all. And without a functioning opposable thumb on that right hand, he cannot tackle with that hand in Sunday's game against New England.

So I don't see how he plays on Sunday. And even if he is the gutsy guy who goes out there with a club-sized cast covering his hand, I don't see how he will be able to tackle with only one hand.

Nope, it's time for Plan B.

Call in Jelani Jenkins. Call in Jason Trusnik.

It would be surprising to see Wheeler be effective on Sunday. It would be surprising to see him at all.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill: No more excuses

During Ryan Tannehill's rookie year, even as fellow rookies such as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson were helping their teams to the playoffs, Dolphins fans gave their quarterback the benefit of the doubt because, well, he had no supporting weapons.

Last year, as Luck went back to the playoffs, fellow 2012 draft classmate Nick Foles threw 27 TD passes and only 2 interceptions and won the NFC East, and Wilson won the Super Bowl, many Dolphins fans once again gave their quarterback the benefit of the doubt because, well, his offensive line was terrible.

And his offensive coordinator was not the best.

And Tannehill was still getting used to his newfound weapons.

But here we are virtually on the eve of the 2014 season. And Ryan Tannehill doesn't want anyone making excuses for him anymore.

"I think that I am at the point in my career now where progression has to be made fast and you have to be consistent and there are no more rookie mistakes or second-year mistakes," Tannehill said Wednesday.

"We are at the point where, you have got to make the plays when it comes down to it in the fourth quarter on third down. You have to be able to make a play, find a way and that’s football. You are going to have those tough situations where someone is going to have to step up and make a play. I want that to be me. I want that to be the guys with me on offense and if we do that we will win a lot of games."

So no excuses, right Ryan?

"Yeah, that is the quarterback position," he responded. "You can’t play quarterback and have excuses. It’s your fault a lot of times, whether it looks like it is or whether it actually is, that is part of playing the position. You take on the responsibility and take ownership for the mistakes that the offense makes."

It is a sign of solid team citizenship that Tannehill is accepting responsibility for what is about to unfold with the Miami offense in 2014. Trust me, he could easily decline to do that.

After all, the offensive line is brand new from tackle to tackle (at least the first few weeks of the season). And the chemistry with No. 1 wide receiver Mike Wallace on the deep ball is still a thing -- although Tannehill said he and Wallace connected on deep passes twice in practice Wednesday.

Oh, yes, and the offensive coordinator is brand new. Bill Lazor is an NFL offensive coordinator for the first time in his career and the offense Tannehill is running is still something everyone on offense is trying to grow into.

But, again, no excuses.

No excuses about bad decisions. No excuses about holding the ball too long. No excuses about deep ball accuracy. No excuses about the team's won and loss record.

Yes, that's right, the won-loss record is mostly on Tannehill, too.

That's because the other young starting quarterbacks mentioned in this writing have all already had 10-win seasons in the NFL. All of them came out the same year as Tannehill. All, like Tannehill, went to teams that weren't good enough when those quarterbacks arrived.

And somehow those starters helped those teams reach the playoffs. All of them. The only one that didn't are Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. And everyone knows how things went for Weeden.

So even as Tannehill will not make excuses about this year, he will measure his success not by individual statistics but rather the only statistic that really, truly matters:

Wins.

And.

Losses.

“I think," Tannehill said, "wins define a quarterback's career ..."

September 03, 2014

Dolphins go different route with leadership council (sort of)

Yes, like last season the Dolphins have a leadership council again this year (although they are not calling it that). And yes, like last season center Mike Pouncey is once again on the so-called council.

But before you have a cow about how terrible and tone deaf this is, stop for one second and find out the entire story.

Unlike last year, the Dolphins are not voting on the leadership council. And unlike last year, it's not about a five-man council -- that last year included Pouncey and Ritchie Incognito.

The way the council (remember, they're not calling it this) was decided upon this year was simply by picking the one or two most senior members of a position group to take leadership.

So for the offensive line, Branden Albert and Pouncey are the reps.

For the wide receivers, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are the reps.

Both QBs -- Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore -- are reps.

For the defensive line, Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Earl Mitchell are the reps.

For the DBs, it is Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan.

Knowshon Moreno represents the running backs.

Charles Clay represents the tight ends.

The point is the Dolphins are drawing from a bigger group based on seniority. So more voices. Less chances a rogue voice gains power, according to one team source.

Coach Joe Philbin, who last year stood back and let bad actors get into the leadership council by putting it to a vote of players, declined to address the topic today. At least he learned not to conduct an election because, as we've seen around the world, sometimes the wrong people get elected.

“I’m not going to get into any of the specifics, but we’ve been trying to get on the same page and working hard at it really since April 21st, since the day they got back into the building, and we are going to continue to work on it as we move forward,” Philbin said.

Yes, Pouncey, who was prominently named in the Ted Wells Report in February, is still among the Dolphins leaders. And yes, it will reflect poorly in some circles.

But Pouncey won't be one of five voices. More like one of 15 or so voices.

 

Belichick gets more Dolphins info because...he's worried

Lots of stuff happening today at Dolphins camp ... and, of course, with the Patriots.

First, you should know that linebacker Phillip Wheeler, who missed practice during the open portion of practice on Monday, is back on the field today. But he is wearing a club-like cast on his right hand.

If that thing is still on Sunday, there is no way he'll be able to tackle.

That seems like a concern.

The Dolphins publicly had no concern about the Patriots adding former Dolphins defensive back Don Jones off waivers on Monday. Indeed, all coach Joe Philbin could say about the former special teams tackle leader when Boston media asked was that he's on the Patriots now and that he didn't want to comment.

Great.

Well, I suppose he won't want to comment on the Patriots signing former kick returner-punt returner-wide receiver-running back Marcus Thigpen today. Thigpen has been added to the Patriots practice squad, per The Herald's Barry Jackson, and that now gives Bill Belichick a chance to have inside information on the Miami defense (Jones) and offense (Thigpen).

And you know what that tells me?

Two things:

It tells me Bill Belichick is indeed going to get more information on the Dolphins than he would otherwise have gotten. That is obvious.

But it also tells me Belichick is worried, if not afraid, of being unprepared against a Dolphins team that might break out a new wrinkle here or there. By the way, this morning I suggested the Dolphins come with a 3-4 front on defense.

The fact this is the opener and Belichick has no tape of the new Miami offense while the defense has had all offseason to add wrinkles worries the New England coach. A lot.

"Oh yeah, sure, without a doubt," he told the South Florida media on a conference call. "I mean, the opening game is probably the hardest game of the year to prepare for because there are just unknowns. Teams have held things back that they haven’t shown in preseason. You’re not sure exactly how they’re going to use their personnel, what different wrinkles they have.

"I know there’s a little bit of that from week to week, but there’s a lot more of it now. Teams have had a lot more time to work on it all through the spring and training camp and not show it in preseason games, but still be able to go out there and potentially run it with a high level of execution. That’s a lot different than putting a play in for a week and just having a couple days to work on it.

"And there are a lot of unknowns about the team that you’re on. You just haven’t been in this situation before. There are unknowns on your side of the ball; there are unknowns on the other side of the ball. And it’s opening day, so when you look back at Week One, there are always crazy things that happen in the league. I’d say particularly in the kicking game, but throughout the game: situations or unusual plays or just something that you wouldn’t really think would go the way it does, but that’s the start of the season. So yeah, I think it’s definitely the hardest game to prepare for.

"You don’t want to over prepare for it because there’s no way your opponent could do everything that you’ve seen them do over all the time that you’ve studied them or all the things they have the potential to do. But at the same time, you don’t want to underprepare and get in there and find out that they’ve done something that you haven’t worked on and you don’t have your team in a good position to work on it. It’s challenging to find that right line or preparations, definitely."

If you are not getting the idea that Belichick is concerned, let me further convince you. Belichick is the master of the one sentence answer, particularly with writers from other cities. And yet, he practically spoke on this topic for two minutes.

He's worried.

And then there is this: I still wish the Dolphins were as willing to find out what the Patriots are likely to do. They are, however, more concerned about themselves than their opponent. We'll see how that plays out on Sunday. 

Annual Salguero plea for Dolphins shift to 3-4

This is my annual plea (rant?) about the Dolphins defensive scheme and how what they currently run probably isn't as good as what they could be using. Ready?

The Dolphins, under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, run a 4-3 defense. It was that in 2012, again last year, and throughout training camp and the preseason this year. And no one seems to mind this because the Dolphins have a decent defense -- eighth in the NFL in points allowed last year, 16th against the pass and 24th against the run.

Good.

But I contend it is not good enough and not as good as it was in 2011 when that Dolphins 3-4 defense, with a similar core of players, finished sixth in points allowed, 25th against the pass and fourth against the run.

And yet with that previous success and a roster built for the 3-4, this coaching staff still committed to the 4-3. Well, here we are three years later and, guess what, I still believe the Dolphins would be better as a 3-4 front than a 4-3.

I think the personnel is better suited to 3-4. I believe the results would be improved with a 3-4. I don't get the love affair with the 4-3.

Consider this potential 3-4 lineup:

DE Jared Odrick ... He was drafted in the first round by Bill Parcells (who knows the 3-4 as if he invented it) to play the five technique.

DE Randy Starks ... Um, Parcells signed him to be a five-technique and he went to the Pro Bowl playing the five technique. Hello?

NT Earl Mitchell ... Well, the Dolphins signed him to be a 4-3 defensive tackle. But in doing that they are converting him to that position. He's been a nose tackle in Houston's 3-4 defense the past four seasons. Hello again? Is nobody home?

OLB Cam Wake ... The outside linebackers in the 3-4 are your playmakers. They rush the quarterback. Cam Wake's first job in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins? 3-4 OLB.

OLB Olivier Vernon or Dion Jordan when he returns from an NFL mandated four-game suspension ... Vernon is more than smart and athletic enough to play the position. Jordan, meanwhile, was drafted to be a SAM LB in the 4-3 and, if that didn't work, a hybrid who could put his hand on the ground. Well, the hand on the ground thing hasn't worked so well yet. But last year he made people notice when he ran step for step with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the game at New England. He played OLB at Oregon. So why are the Dolphins insisting he's a 4-3 hand-in-the-dirt DE? Let him play OLB in the 3-4.

ILB?

Dannell Ellerbe played ILB in Baltimore and was actually so good at it in that scheme the Ravens for a minute considered him the likely successor to Ray Lewis. Ray Lewis is probably going to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Anyway, the Dolphins signed Ellerbe for the equivalent of the gross national product of a small country. They thought him a middle linebacker in the 4-3. That failed. So now they're making him a WILL in the 4-3? Wrong. Not going to work either. He's a 3-4 guy.

Continuing ...

The Dolphins are going to try Koa Misi at middle linebacker this year. Koa Misi has never played MLB. But they somehow like him there more although he would be better as a 3-4 ILB than a 4-3 MLB because suddenly he doesn't have the entire field to worry about. The Dolphins, I remind you, drafted Misi with the 3-4 in mind.

And finally Phillip Wheeler ... I have no honest opinion about Wheeler in the 3-4. I assume he could play ILB. That is not the point. I know he was not completely comfortable in Miami's 4-3 last year and have doubts that has gotten significantly better this year with new emphasis on defensive holding coming into play. So why is he in an uncomfortable situation?

This preseason Wheeler showed he's proficient at rushing the quarterback via the A-gap blitz. What better way to use him then than as an ILB in the 3-4?

Obviously this is about the defensive front. The secondary remains the same in the Salguero 3-4 as it is in the Coyle 4-3. Anyway, this is about getting to the quarterback and stopping the run. And stopping the run is an increasingly serious issue for the Dolphins, or at least it has been the last couple of years when the team's ability to do it has gotten progressively worse.

There is also a football reason for using the two-gap defense of the 3-4. As most teams have to outnumber the offense to stop the run with the 4-3, they sometimes give up something in the back end when the offenses spread them out. But in the 3-4, if you have linemen that can make plays off of two-gapping, so to speak, a team can get away with one less player in the tackle box.

So against team that spread the field (oh, hey, like the Patriots) you can defend against the run better with one fewer player in the box.

So this is where I suggest compromise:

Since I obviously know much less about football than Coyle or any of his coaches, perhaps the Dolphins could do something crazy like not necessarily adopting my suggestion but at the same time adopting part of my suggestion.

Perhaps the Dolphins would be served using their so-called hybrid or part-time 3-4 more often against the Patriots in the regular season opener on Sunday and other opponents as situations warrant. That system, touted by Coyle, is actually quite rare to see on tape as Miami doesn't use it nearly enough for my taste. The Patriots know the Miami defense. They know that this defense, unlike the Miami offense, has not undergone any coordinator change.

So the Pats are expecting the same old Dolphins 4-3 defense. Freak them out! Come out in a 3-4. Or shift to the 3-4 during a key drive. Or for several key drives.

Once upon a time the Dolphins beat the Patriots by springing a surprise on them called the Wildcat offense. Obviously shifting to a different and unexpected scheme is cool but does not rise to the heights of pulling out an offense from the 1930s on an opponent.

But with talent that suggests it will work, why not try it? Why not?

Why not?

September 02, 2014

Dolphins Tuesday: Notes, quotes, anecdotes

The Dolphins are excited about Sunday's regular-season opener against the New England Patriots. And apparently, fans are too.

We know because the team is expecting a virtual sellout for the game, meaning the game will be telecast locally on Channel 4, picking up the CBS broadcast

The Dolphins can boast televising every home game dating back to December 2000 when a playoff game against Indianapolis was not on local TV because it did not sell out in time. Obviously, there have been games the past two or three years that have not sold out but still were televised because the team guaranteed buying unsold tickets.

But that apparently is not the concern this week. Although some tickets remain available and for sale, the Dolphins are actually thinking the first couple of games -- including this one -- are either sold out or selling out.

Games later in the year against Minnesota and Baltimore and San Diego still have tickets available and are not yet sold out. The Dolphins' have sold approximately 44,000-46,000 season tickets. That number can change as sales continue.

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Remember how Don Shula's teams dominated in September home games back in the day? Remember how Shula loved the idea of playing in the heat and having opponents wilt in that heat because they weren't used to the kind of weather South Florida provides even in September?

Well, Joe Philbin is embracing that s0-called hot weather advantage, too.

Although the Dolphins practiced in the (Nick Saban Memorial) bubble today, the coach is excited that Sunday's game against the New England Patriots will be a 1 p.m. kickoff against a team that could not possibly be acclimated to the kind of heat and humidity South Florida will deliver.

"I grew up in Massachusetts and spent my first 18 or 19 years there," Philbin said today. "I know it's hard to simulate this kind of weather up there on a consistent basis. You're going to get a hot spell here and there and you guys know with the rain or lack thereof in practice we've been out here. We've had 22 practices so far and we've been outside for 20 of them."

The forecast for Sunday is 90 degrees with a chance of thunderstorms. The high in Boston on Sunday is forecast to be 72.

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As you know, the Dolphins cut Don Jones and the Patriots claimed him on waivers. And that burns me. The Dolphins today dropped D'Aundre Reed from the practice squad and did not sign a former available Patriots player. They added defensive end Gerald Rivers.

So I asked Philbin why not do to the Pats what they'd done to his team -- in order to download valuable information about the opponent?

"We make decisions based what's best for our football team, whatever gives us the best chance to win," Philbin said. "He's on another team. We're not concerned about that right now. We're concerned about guys in our locker room."

Me: :-(

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Philbin said he's confident kicker Caleb Sturgis is ready to go for the season and, by the way, he expects the second-year player to be better than the 26-of-34 he connected on last season: "This is his second year. We expect him to have a better year than last year."

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Mike Pouncey, talking to the media for the first time since being removed from the physically unable to perform list, said he's "very excited" about his rehabilitation and "getting back as soon as possible."

He said he's "grateful" he is not on PUP but walked back his earlier comments in which he targetted the Sept. 28 game versus the Raiders in London as his return date.

"There's no timetable right now," Pouncey said. "For me when I said that it was just you get to play in London only one time in your career and that would be special for me. Right now there's no timetable but I'm hoping I can be back for that game."

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Mike Wallace versus Darrelle Revis on Sunday?

"It's possible," Wallace said. "You never know what people are going to do. I'm prepared to play against anybody. It really doesn't matter. If he does follow me it'll be an exciting matchup. I'll have fun. We'll go after it all day long."

Wallace said he's played against Revis -- when Wallace was in Pittsburgh and Revis was with the Jets  --four times. Twice, Wallace said, Revis followed him throughout the game.

"He's a good player," Wallace said "He's a smart, crafty guy, he's going to be in the right spots. You have to move him off his spots because he's not going to be fooled with the movement and jerking around at the line. You have to get going and be fast out of your breaks."

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Well, I had an anecdote but decided to hold it until later in the week.

Dolphins, well most of them, on the field working

The Dolphins are practicing today (for the second time this week, by the way, because they worked on Sunday) and there are some injury issues to address.

As practices are now closed to the media, please understand all this applies only to the open 30-minute portion of practice:

Linebacker Phillip Wheeler was not working. The Dolphins announced last week that Wheeler had a hand injury although that does not mean he missed today because of that injury.

Guard Billy Turner, who missed the last preseason game and was in a walking boot last week, did not participate in the period open to the media. He was, however, out of his walking boot.

Linebacker Jordan Tripp, who was reported to have a chest injury last week, did not work during the open portion of practice.

Rookie defensive lineman Terrance Fede, who missed the past two preseason games with a knee injury, did not work during the open portion of practice.

And, of course, center Mike Pouncey, who will not be ready to play for some time and has not practiced all training camp or the preseason, did not work during the open portion of practice.