August 07, 2015

Miami Dolphins scrimmage primer: Important night for couple of players

The Miami Dolphins will conduct a scrimmage at Florida International University tonight at approximately 7. You should keep up with the action in real-time by following me on twitter.

And two players I'm going to be closely watching are rookie running back Jay Ajayi and veteran defensive tackle C.J. Mosley. (Yes, yes, yes, I'll be watching the always issue-laden offensive line as well, so don't get your eyebrows in a wrinkle).

The reason I'll be watching Ajayi and Mosley is, frankly, I haven't seen much of what I expected from these two players so far.

Ajayi came to the Dolphins in the last draft with the promise of being a physical, hard-knocking, capable pass protector who offers a bigger alternative to what the Dolphins have on the roster.

But then training camp started.

And I haven't seen the 6-foot, 220-pound running back resemble anything like the battering ram I expected to see. He's not soft. But he's not John Riggins, either, at this point.

I also haven't seen him do great work in blitz pickup. He sometimes gets it right. He often does not.

In my eyes, second-team running back Damien Williams has been the most physical back in training camp so far. (LaMichael James has been the most elusive and quick. Lamar Miller has been the best combination of all the above).

Meanwhile, we know Williams can catch the football and pass protect.

So where does that leave Ajayi?

Well, he's on the team. Somewhere. His potential and draft status pretty much grandfathers him in somewhere. I don't think there's much doubt about that. But active on game days? A factor of any significance?

Not at this point.

The only way Ajayi changes that is to start showing he can run over some people, especially on short-yardage and goal line situations, and also can be a brick wall of sorts in pass protection. In other words, the man has got to get physical.

Training camp is not always the greatest venue for showing off  such a physical nature. They do not go full speed here. They do not tackle. They do not try to hurt each other.

The scrimmage may allow for a little more of that contact and the preseason that follows a little more still.

Ajayi has to use the increase in physical contact to distinguish himself. He's running third and often fourth team so far. That's not good enough, especially when the team will likely go to games with  only three running backs active.  

Mosley, 6-2 and 315 pounds, came to the Dolphins late in free agency, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons. He comes with experience. He comes as not only depth but physical, savvy depth. He's supposed to be a DT snaps eater -- meaning, he can eat up snaps and be a presence while folks like either Ndamukong Suh or Earl Mitchell get a breather.

Except he is languishing on the third team for the Dolphins the first two weeks of training camp. He hasn't stood out to me in the least -- against third-team offensive players. Against lower-tier players and camp bodies, Mosley should be dominating. He's not.

And because camp practices limit the amount of actual hitting done at the line of scrimmage, Mosley's physical nature hasn't shown up in any eye-popping way.

So has the physical nature not shown up because he doesn't have it anymore at age 32? Or has it been lacking because practices prohibit Mosley from showing his abilities?

This scrimmage will be the first opportunity, albeit limited, for Mosley to catch someone's attention. He has to do that in the next few weeks, including preseason games because a 10-year veteran on third team is a message that younger, cheaper players are winning the competition.

Coach Joe Philbin was asked Thursday if he expects Mosley to be on the team.

“We’ll see," he said. "We’ll see what happens."

That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement to me.

August 06, 2015

The dirt why Evan Mathis is not a Miami Dolphin

When Evan Mathis was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles months ago, the first team to show interest in signing him was the Miami Dolphins.

That and the fact Mathis is the nephew of former Dolphins Pro Bowl nose tackle Bob Baumhower, who has lobbied the team (lightly) to sign his kin, the fact people close to owner Stephen Ross have advocated signing Mathis, and the fact Mathis is a more than solid player at a position the Dolphins have uncertainty has led to speculation that, you know, Mathis is bound for Miami.

But as of early this afternoon, Mathis is not headed for Miami. He is indeed unsure where he's going to play in 2015.

Why?

Well, this is the NFL. And the NFL is often driven by two factors: Money. And deadlines or desperation.

And the Mathis camp and Dolphins are far apart on the money issue while neither side feels any significant desperation or feels close to any looming deadline to do a deal.

When the Dolphins initially called Mathis (actually his agent Drew Rosenhaus) sources tell me the two spoke of parameters of where they would like to be in getting a deal signed.

The Dolphins were willing to do a deal similar to what they did a year ago with guard Daryn Colledge and center Samson Satele. In other words, the Dolphins are willing to pay an older stopgap player around $2-$3 million per season in a deal that doesn't tie them up for a second season although it might be a two-year deal.

Mathis, who was scheduled to earn $5.5 million from the Eagles in 2015, wants a deal that at least makes him back that money he was expecting. He wants to feel whole again.

And as the Dolphins are comfortable -- for now -- with the work rookie Jamil Douglas and third-year player Dallas Thomas have done in camp, they're not likely to move significantly right away. It would require one or both those players fading in camp or performing poorly in the preseason for the Dolphins to rethink their stance.

Mathis, meanwhile, is playing a waiting game. If any of 32 teams suffers a significant injury at guard or the performance of the guards teams have in camp collapse, then he becomes a likely signing closer to his desired contract number.

And while Mathis might give the Dolphins the courtesy of having them match whatever good deal he can get elsewhere, he is not waiting on Miami. Obviously, the Dolphins are holding Mathis off, knowing all this.

So that's where things are. A wide gulf exists. There are no exigent circumstances for either party to force one or the other to cave and do this now.

Give it time.

 

Pre-practice injury update for the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins are ready to practice this morning  -- but not all of them.

Dallas Thomas (shoulder), Will Davis (knee), Koa Misi (calf) and Kenny Stills (calf) are not practicing due to their injuries. Thomas and Stills are missing consecutive days now.

Misi injured his calf during practice Wednesday. Davis has missed days prior to today due to the knee injury but did practice Wednesday and had an, ahem, not great day. He needs to get right.

Also not practicing for rest reasons: Greg Jennings and Louis Delmas.

[BLOG NOTE: Check back after practice for the latest.]

August 05, 2015

Wednesday practice wrapup and more (free)

On the day I wrote a column making the point that all the uncertainty the Miami Dolphins offensive line is no laughing matter, more focus was put on that unit.

Dallas Thomas, vying for the starting left guard job, did not practice today due to a shoulder injury. Jamil Douglas, also competing for the starting job, took the vast majority of first-team snaps at left guard but not all of them, according to coach Joe Philbin.

Meanwhile, the level at which Ndamukong Suh plays defensive tackle (over the right guard) shows him to be a more obvious mismatch versus first-team right guard Billy Turner with each passing day. Suh today blew up a couple of running plays to the point he was in the backfield as Ryan Tannehill was handing the ball off.

Suh also dominated on pass plays.

And neither side is really going full bore quite yet.

"We haven't done anything totally live yet," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "But we're on point with what we're trying to do."

On the other side of the football the explanations for why so many plays get blown up are interesting.

Said Joe Philbin of the competition: "No one's earned anything yet."

Me: "We know."

"I feel safe," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "Everyone is competing. I'm not sure who is going to be in that [guard] spot but guys are competing and guys are facing one of the best, if not the best D-tackles in the league. It's not always going to be pretty no matter who is up there. I don't expect those guys to lock Suh down every single play."

That is fair. Will he expect them to lock down Kyle Williams? Muhammad Wilkerson? Jabaal Sheard? Sheldon Richardson, assuming he ever gets back on the field?

The point is the three other AFC East teams also have good talent on their defensive front. Oh, and Buffalo coach Rex Ryan and New York coach Todd Bowles are known for bringing a blitz or 15 every game. Also, New England's Bill Belichick is a solid defensive coach.

So it does not promise to get way easier for the Miami line.

-----

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle spoke to the media today for the first time since training camp opened.

On what a player has to do to win the CB competition between Brice McCain and Jamar Taylor: "Be one of the top two corners. That's what he needs to do. Jamar is playing, I think, his best football since he's been here in camp. He's in a hotly contested battle with Brice McCain. Will Davis, we're pleased with the way he's coming."

Well, Davis had a couple of significant bad moments in practice today. Michael Preston beat him on a deep TD throw from Matt Moore. And Matt Hazel also beat him for a TD.

LB Koa Misi left practice midway through, escorted by trainers. The unknown reason for him walking off is not believed serious.

When Misi left, Chris McCain played strongside linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard played middle linebacker and Jelani Jenkins took the weakside linebacker spot with the first-team defense.

With Misi's durability a question coming off last season, the depth at linebacker is a question mark. But not to Coyle.

"I think it's still early to tell if there are any holes," he said. "I've been really impressed in our linebacking corps. I think we have a lot of depth in that group to be honest with you. Not a lot of flashy names but we have guys who have proven they're going to quality players."

----

Some highlights from practice:

***DL Terrence Fede is having a great camp against the backup offensive line. He had one sack and was close another couple of times.

***Rookie Tony Lippett had his first interception of training camp.

***The competition between receiver Jarvis Landry and cornerback Brice McCain continues to be the most heated in camp where both players are playing well and neither is dominating -- although some days Landry gets the better of the deal considering there is no pressure on the QB in 7 on 7 drills and one on one drills.

Landry caught a 60-yard TD pass from Ryan Tannehill today but he did not beat McCain. He beat Louis Delmas deep.

***Special teams coach Darren Rizzi said Caleb Sturgis, hurt at times last season, is "getting back to the guy I saw two years ago."

"He missed all training camp last year," Rizzi said. "I'm not sure he ever got back to his full self -- 100 percent. He obviously had a setback this year in OTAs. But I'm finally feeling he's getting back ..."

***The Dolphins are trying to develop a pool of potential returners -- Bobby McCain, Kenny Stills, Brent Grimes, others -- but Rizzi said Landry remains the frontrunner for both jobs.

"Right now you have to say he's the best at both," Rizzi said.

August 04, 2015

Lots to think about for Billy Turner and Miami Dolphins guards

There are two minutes left in the game, which in the NFL means the game is probably hanging in the balance. And now the offense must pass. And the defense knows it. And a first-year starting right guard must protect his franchise quarterback against Ndamukong Suh, of all people.

That was the situation the Miami Dolphins practiced on Tuesday.

That was the situation Billy Turner found himself in.

So what is he thinking before the snap of the ball?

"When you're in team pressure, you get up to the line, the first thing you're looking at is whether the guy in front of you is two-eye, head-up or three technique or four-eye," Turner said. "Then you got to listen to the center and figure out where the point is so you know what you're responsible for, whether the linebackers are blitzing and which ones are coming and which you're responsible for. You got to try to key into the linebacker rotation and safety rotation so that if there is a blitz, you figure out which side it comes from."

And when all this figuring and thinking and keying is straight in Turner's head, then he can get about the business of trying to stop Suh, who might come with a bull rush, or might use a speed rush, or might not even become his responsibility because he vacated the area on a line game.

Easy right?

And you wonder why the Dolphins young guards -- Turner, rookie Jamil Douglas, and Dallas Thomas -- have at times not looked so great in practice against an experienced defensive line.

By the way, those are my words. Dolphins coaches say the trio is doing just fine, all things considered. Bill Lazor, for example, said he's "excited about the competition" on the line.

"Dallas Thomas is a much-improved player," Lazor said. "Jamil Douglas has impressed as a rookie. Billy Turner has come a long, long way from where he was as a rookie last year."

That sounds good but when we have a handful of sacks in a practice that focuses on two-minute situations, that is not good. That is troubling.

To be fair, not all the pressure is a result of the guard play.

But my point is, as I wrote in my column today, that the Dolphins have plenty of offensive line questions. Three by my count on a unit that includes only five players. That's a lot of questions.

But the team could eliminate one question. There is a possible answer to at least one of those questions out there in free agency.

And the Dolphins, a team that has a history for troubling offensive line issues, so far remain steadfast in not moving to enlist that answer.

Read the column and you'll understand exactly what I mean.

Oh, yes, the answer involves a financial investment. That's life in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins hope the game slows down for guys like Turner while their play speed picks up. Turner thinks that's kinda sorta happening.

"Yeah, since last year and even since we started camp it has slowed down," he said. "But the thing that's difficult is when you're in camp and you're installing play after play after play, and the defense is installing blitz after blitz after blitz each day, you get the same blitzes but then you have three or four new ones every day that you have to try to pick up. It will eventually slow down but it should be better when we get into the season and we game plan and we're only working three or four blitzes instead of 10 or 15 blitzes in practice."

We'll see.

Joe Philbin: No idea when Parker will practice

Two weeks ago, coach Joe Philbin sounded fairly confident wide receiver DeVante Parker would be ready to play in the regular-season opener, saying he just didn't know if the rookie would be available for 30 snaps or maybe 60 snaps. And while there is nothing to suggest Parker will not be ready by then, the timetable now suggests if he is ready, it might not be for a full load of work against the Washington Redskins.

Consider that Philbin was not nearly so convincing on Parker today:

"We're not sure exactly when he's going to get back," the coach said. "I don't know if he's going to practice, how much he's going to practice, if he's going to play in the preseason."

Also consider Parker has a lot of things to do before he's ready to play in a game. He has to start running. Then he needs to start cutting. Then he needs to start practicing at least lightly. Then he needs to actually be full-go in practice for a bit.

It's not until that is fully done that Parker can be ready to play some in a game. And that does not include any preseason work.

It might be three or four weeks before Parker gets through that entire regimen. The regular season begins Sept. 13.

-----

Today was not a great look for the offense in practice. Too many false start flags. (No excuse for presnap penalties). There was entirely too much pressure on the quarterbacks. And outside a wonderful 40-yard catch and run by running back Lamar Miller, there weren't a lot of highlights.

(Well, Dion Sims and Gerell Robinson both had really nice catches in the back corner of the end zone, getting both feet in despite good coverage).

The defense, meanwhile, was working on multiple blitzes today. And the pressure was there and Reshad Jones was doing work in the back end.

Jones popped tight Jordan Cameron on a seam pass to the end zone, knocking the ball loose. Koa Misi caught the ball after it bounced out of Cameron's hands for an interception.

Jones also knocked down Jarvis Landry when the wide receiver seemed to be getting too cute on a wide receiver screen, twisting and juking defenders he knew weren't tackling until Jones popped him.

-----

Injury news:

***Louis Delmas, who missed practice Saturday (last time Miami practiced), returned to practice today.

***Kenny Stills (calf) did not practice today.

***Branden Albert (knee) is still not practicing to any significant degree.

***Wide receiver LaRon Byrd (unknown injury) hurt himself early in practice and did not return.

-----

Notes:

Dallas Thomas, who has shared snaps with rookie Jamil Douglas at left guard, took the majority of left guard snaps with the starters today.

Douglas worked both at left guard and right guard with the second unit.

Billy Turner continued working at starting right guard.

Koa Misi, who has been working at both strongside and middle linebacker, spent most of his time today at middle linebacker.

Kicker Andrew Franks connected on five of seven kicks today, missing back-to-back kicks at one point but recovering with a 46- and 52-yard make to finish the day.

With neither Parker nor Kenny stills working, Rishard Matthews got a lot of first-team reps today. He had multiple catches but dropped a key pass in the two-minute drill.

 

August 02, 2015

Miami Dolphins training camp practice update (Sunday)

Remember Saturday when I wrote the offense is showing it might be slightly ahead of the defense -- a rarity this early in Miami Dolphins training camp?

Yeah, um, that changed Sunday.

The Dolphins defense got the better of practice this day even as the Ryan Tannehill-to-Jarvis Landry passing combination teamed up for four touchdown passes on the day in the various team drills. (More on that in a minute).

Otherwise, the defensive line crashed the offensive line from practically all angles when the first-team units competed against each other.

Olivier Vernon had a sack. Cameron Wake had a sack. The two defensive tackles beat the Miami interior, particularly the guards, more often than not. The defense also brought the blitz a couple of times and that ruined a couple of attempts at tight end screens.

In the secondary, Reshad Jones had what would have been a 98-yard interception return. That came against quarterback Ryan Tannehill. And one play later, when the second-team offensive matched up against the second-team defense, Will Davis intercepted Matt Moore.

"We're trying to be one of the better defenses in the red zone so that was huge," Jones said.

The shining star today was Landry, who is having a fine camp so far despite the fact he is in a dogfight with cornerback Brice McCain. The Landry vs. McCain battle is highly entertaining and perhaps the most physical and hard-fought competition of camp so far.

McCain, being given the opportunity to win a starting cornerback job, has been better than Jamar Taylor so far. And coaches have obviously noticed because he is taking a majority of the first-team snaps on the boundry despite the perception he was signed to be Miami's slot cornerback.

Not so, McCain said.

"Since I got here my whole goal was to start at corner," McCain said. "That's my goal."

McCain gets beat a lot by Landry when they're matched up one-on-one. But the truth it always seems to be a highly contested play and he always seems to be in great position to make the play. The difference so far is that Landry has shown great hands in holding onto balls that sometimes McCain tips or would slap away from a lesser player.

There are times, such as the long pass down the near sideline that McCain wins the battle and celebrates by requesting fans give him a round of applause.

It is a sign McCain loves the competition. It is a sign McCain has something of an advantage on Taylor for the cornerback starting job.

"If it was out here boring, I'd be miserable," McCain said. "I like it because when I'm down, the competition and him, it brings me up."

Teammates seem to like McCain. They definitely like his enthusiasm and physical play that shows signs of nastiness.

"He's a competitor. He's passionate about the game and he comes to work hard every day," Jones said of McCain.

Notes from today's practice:

***Louis Delmas, who had knee surgery last season, did not practice today. It seemed like a maintenance day for him.

***Davis had missed practice Saturday but obviously returned Sunday.

***Rookie Jamil Douglas continues to take more first-team snaps at left guard than Dallas Thomas. Although we are only in the second day of camp, I'd say Douglas is slightly ahead of Thomas in the competition for the starting job.

That is saying a lot considering Douglas is a rookie and Thomas is in his third year, is a year more experienced with the offense, and has game experience while Douglas has none.

Thomas had a false start Sunday.

***Left tackle Branden Albert was in pads and did some light work in individual drills but did nothing in team drills. Patience, folks. It's about managing him and bringing him back slowly.

***Kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on all his kicks today, including a 51 yards from the left hash. Interestingly, free agent punter Matt Darr did the holding much of the day. Brandon Fields is typically the holder.

***Fourth-string (you read that correctly) quarterback Josh Freeman didn't get many snaps in 11-on-11 drills, and none when the entire team is on one field. (Sometimes the team splits up and the four units all get work).

It is clear Freeman is a long, long shot to make this team not only because the Dolphins are likely to keep only two QBs, but because a third QB might be on practice squad and he's not eligible for that duty.

***The Dolphins spent the entire day working on red zone. The defense was good in the red zone (No. 3) a couple of seasons ago but sank dramatically last season. The offense was bottom third (No. 21) of the NFL in red zone TDs last year.  

Much work needed in this area, folks.

Some play-by-play:

Seven on seven from 45...

First down: Tannehill to Dion Sims incomplete. Sims drop.

Second down: Tannehill to Rishard Matthews for 18 yards. Kelvin Sheppard on defense.

Third down: Tannehill to Michael Preston incomplete. Preston drop.

11 on 11 from the 21...

Tannehill completes to Lamar Miller for 4 yards.

Tannehill avoids a sack and dumps off to Dion Sims on a tight end screen to the right. Sims drops the pass.

Tannehill spread option fake to the back, rolls right and connects with Jordan Cameron.

11 on 11 from the 24...

First down: Tannehill incomplete.

Second down: Tannehill to Lamar Miller for 6.

Third down: Tannehill to Jordan Cameron to the five yard line.

Fourth down: Quarterback draw losses two yards.

Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill: Judge me on wins

 Welcome to Sunday. For you heathens not worshipping at a church nor at the temple of NFL football at Miami Dolphins camp, I offer you an interesting read:

My column on quarterback Ryan Tannehill

I encourage you to read it and see if the line that most stands out to you is the one that most stood out to me. The one that stood out to me?

Speaking about the ever-present deep ball issue, Tannehill said, “I’m giving guys a chance, and I think this receiving corps is going to be much better at coming down with those footballs.”

It has been said the remade Dolphins receiver room features players that are better suited to Tannehill and this offense. Maybe. We'll see.

But my hesitation on the subject doesn't matter because, well, Tannehill is buying in. He has no hesitation about these receivers.

"These guys are great at tracking the ball and going up to get it -- we'll have guys like DeVante Parker who is a big guy with a natural ability of going up and getting the ball if it's a contested throw. We have Greg [Jennings] who is a veteran, savvy route-runner who knows how to use his body. Kenny [Stills} is smooth, fast. We have guys who allow us to attack every part of the field."

Another issue I've seen about Tannehill is that, although his statistics have improved each of the past three seasons, the Dolphins record has not really tracked that rise. So much for the idea that if the Dolphins solved their quarterback issue, their problems were solved.

So why aren't they solved?

“I think one of the things that when you look at last season and why we ended up 8-8 was - I think his quarterback rating was 92-and-change and 66 percent completion, which are very solid numbers – I don’t know we, especially down the stretch, didn't complement each other well as a team," coach Joe Philbin said.

"One week, we play Baltimore and we have opportunities to go up in the fourth quarter and we wouldn’t make the play on offense and then we’d give up a big drive on defense. The next week, we go to New England, special teams - we get off to a bad start there. I don’t know that it’s just, as well all know, it’s a team game. Certainly, when your quarterback is in the 90s with the QB rating and a decent touchdown-to-interception ratio, and that kind of completion percentage, you hope you’re getting more. But I think it’s more a function of overall as a football team, we’ve got to do a better job complementing one another."

Interestingly, and not in the column due to space issues (which I do not suffer here in cyberspace), is that Tannehill wants to be judged on wins rather than passing stats.

"I'd like to be judged on wins," Tannehill said. "That's ultimately why you play the game. I don't play the game for passing yards or touchdowns. You play the game for wins and championships. If you win a lot of games the stats should come. But there's a lot of ways to win a game and not every game is going to be a 350-yard passing game, or a four-touchdown game. But as long as you get the win, that's what you're out there to do."

Check out the column. Have I said that before?

Follow me on twitter. Have I said that before?

And check back later for the Sunday practice update.

August 01, 2015

Update from Saturday's padded Miami Dolphins practice

At one point during Saturday's practice for the Miami Dolphins, the first in pads this training camp, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sped past right guard Billy Turner and before one could blink, was at quarterback Ryan Tannehill's ankles.

If this had been an actual game, he would have been in the quarterback's chest.

No, it is not surprising that an experienced, perennial Pro Bowl player gets the better of a potential first-year starter. But this play was typical of the lessons Suh administered to Turner.

Meanwhile, at the left guard spot, Jamil Douglas split snaps with Dallas Thomas. And he was perhaps the most impressive of the three young guards vying for a starting job.

Thomas wasn't bad, either although he did give ground on a couple of passing plays, allowing the linemen to be in Tannehill's face.

"Even going into, it's not like I didn't know how good he was, it's not like anyone doesn't know how good he is," Turner said of Suh. "I feel blessed being given the opportunity to get reps against him.

"I'm getting better everyday. Having an opportunity to go against the best d-line in the NFL has helped me be more accomplished. Suh has taught me you have to be ready for everything ... He'll use a couple of moves on you and then he sets you up for something else. He power rushed me a couple of times and then, all of a sudden, he used a quick on me."

Yes, it is going to be a baptisim by fire for Billy Turner. It could help him because he's not likely to face a much better defensive tackle in games this year.

Some practice notes:

***The offense, despite its trouble blocking Suh, seems to be well ahead of where it was a year ago -- or even in recent memory.

My recollection is that the defense has typically dominated the offense early in camp. Indeed, last year, for example, the offense had trouble simply completing a shotgun snap. This year there's none of that, there are fewer penalties and the ball doesn't hit the ground as often as the past when the first-team is on the field.

That doesn't mean the entire defense has struggled consistently. The second (11 on 11) team  period of the day went to the defense, with much pressure on Tannehill, as you've already read.

***Jay Ajayi, who left practice with cramps on Friday, returned today. Will Davis missed practice.

***The assumption has been that Jamar Taylor will compete exclusively outside at cornerback while Brice McCain has the slot corner position locked up. Well, maybe not.

McCain has been getting some snaps outside while Taylor has been working some inside. McCain has so far been the more effective player. Yes, it is early.

***The right guard getting second-team reps with either LG Dallas Thomas or LG Jamil Douglas? Jeff Linkenbach.

***Cedric Thompson had an interception at the expense of McCleod Bethel-Thompson, who incidently is working with the third team. It was not a great practice for him today. Josh Freeman is running fourth-team.

***Jordan Cameron is Miami's starting tight end. But Dion Sims got first-team reps today and coach Joe Philbin was effusive about Sims and how well he moves around.

"I think he’s moving as well as he’s ever moved since he’s been here," Philbin said. "As you know, we use an extensive two-tight end package and Dion Sims I think has really had a good offseason and his training camp so far is good."

Football finally: Pads go on today for the Miami Dolphins

Today is the first day the 2015 Miami Dolphins will be in pads.

Everyone but Will Davis that is. He won't practice because he has a knee injury.

That's important because, well, football.

Up to now what you've been reading about is basically a quarter-speed, no-hitting, limited physically, reasonable facsimile of football. With the pads on, this will be indicative of the real thing.

Finally we'll be able to begin gauging the truth about Jamil Douglas, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas. And not just us. Multiple people within the organization have told me they really aren't sure about those guys and are looking forward to actual work in pads.

So it is important.

I'm also going to keep on eye on the secondary. Frankly, I haven't been too impressed with the cornerbacks so far. Perhaps with a reasonable pass rush they will look better. It they do not ... well, you know.

At tight end, second-year TE Gerell Robinson, on the non-football injury list at camp's start, has been activated and will practice.

I will report back after practice but you need to follow me on Twitter for real time updates of what's happening. That's @ArmandoSalguero

July 31, 2015

Day Two of Miami Dolphins training camp report

The news first: Rookie running back Jay Ajayi left the field a little early this morning holding his right arm after an apparent shoulder injury.

It did not look serious but one cannot predict if that is indeed the case based on simply seeing his reaction and the urgency with which he walked. He was holding his elbow and trying to rotate the arm to loosen it up.

[Update: Ajayi tweeted he was merely suffering cramps and the arm is fine.]

LT Branden Albert did not practice despite not being on the physically unable to perform list. Albert actually seemed to be limping when he walked out of the practice bubble before the team went on the field.

During practice on the field, Albert emerged from the team facility with a brace on his surgically repaired right knee. He just did conditioning off to the side.

As for practice: The rotation at the linebacker position continued with Koa Misi spending most of the practice at strong side linebacker while Kelvin Sheppard was at middle linebacker. Chris McCain, who worked at starting strong side linebacker the first day of camp, worked mostly with the second team at strong side today.

And it is apparent the coaches have four players and want to get the best three on the field. Jelani Jenkins is a virtual lock at weakside linebacker.

Interestingly, this is happening as Misi was growing into the middle linebacker spot he played last year.

"If I was to say which one I'm more comfortable at right now, I'd say middle," Misi said after practice. "But it just takes a couple of reps to get comfortable outside again."

That does not suggest this is a controversy or issue. At least not as long as Misi gets ample time prior to the start of the regular season to work at the spot coaches eventually will have him playing.

"I told the coaches put me wherever you need to put me. I'll play whatever position," Misi said. "It is going to take a couple of reps to get used to playing SAM again. But I told them, wherever you need me to play I'll play.

"As long as you get those reps at the position you're going to be playing, you're good. But nothing is set in stone right now and we're going to keep playing everywhere until the coaches put us somewhere."

This is obviously a good opportunity for Sheppard, who was picked up off waivers from Indianapolis. He spent much of the year trying to catch up but he feels comfortable now.

"I'm just here, honestly whatever my role is at the end of all this, to impact this team," Sheppard said. "Last year I was kind of getting my feet wet, coming in late. I took advantage of the offseason program and I'm taking the opportunity my teammates and coaches have given me and hopefully I put it on the field."

Asked if he expect to start at MLB, Sheppard said, "I do expect that of myself."

The guard situation: Rookie Jamil Douglas and Dallas Thomas split the first-team snaps at left guard. The competition will get an infusion on Saturday when the Dolphins don pads for the first time this training camp.

When the hitting begins, coaches will be able to better determine the starting linemen from the reserves.

If you're wondering what about Evan Mathis, the truth is a source tells me the club and the player's representation have had no serious contract talks on the matter. It simply is not time for that at this stage, according to sources.

Mathis wants the best opportunity and contract (read money) he can get. The Dolphins want to give Douglas, Thomas and Billy Turner the chance to show their abilities in practice and perhaps the preseason before making any move.

And the fact Mathis wants good money and the Dolphins aren't desperate at this stage has kept the sides apart.

Yes, the Dolphins are very aware Mathis is available. Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum today joked the team was signing Mathis when he was seen talking to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

It is a joke. They're not negotiating anything at this stage.

It is a waiting game.

Onto some practice highlights:

Wide receiver Michael Preston continues to show an ability to get deep at 6-5 and 220 pounds. He caught a deep sideline pass from Ryan Tannehill today.

The Miami defensive backs were inconsistent today...tight end Jordan Cameron scorched Michael Thomas on a seam pass that covered over 50 yards. Thomas had another tough moment in coverage earlier...Alabama WR Christion Jones showed his breakaway speed when he caught a slant and turned a 15-yard pass into a long TD when he made it to the sideline and then beat the angle from the safety...WR Tyler McDonald had a drop on a slant, although the ball was thrown just slightly behind him.

Jason Fox, working as the first-team left tackle in Albert's absence, had a very nice day. He took on Olivier Vernon one-on-one a number of times in team drills and won the matchup. He seems to be smoother than I remember.

The Dolphins are rotating kicking days. One day Brandon Fields punts and Caleb Sturgis kicks. The next day, Matt Darr punts and Andrew Franks kicks. Today it was Darr and Franks.

Franks missed three of his 10 kicks today as he competes with Sturgis.

Darr, who has pop in his leg, was booming a couple of punts. But he struggles with consistency. He also had a couple of punts that were long but had poor hang time and he had another punt that was neither long nor high. 

 

 

Suh a big reason for a great camp start

You know that I don't pull punches when things are bad with the Miami Dolphins. And so you know that when I tell you things are good, they're actually good. Well, as I write in my column today, the Dolphins got off to a tangibly good start this training camp.

And, it was more than just players saying the right things.

The offense, traditionally way behind the defense in training camps, actually looked solid. That's a great sign for that unit.

The most impressive guy to me off the field?

Ndamukong Suh.

Check the column for what he said. This offseason included questions about Suh's commitment. He missed weeks of OTAs and conditioning after initially reporting. And the Dolphins, somewhat concerned about it, dispatched Mike Tannenbaum to Portland, Oregon to check on their highest paid player.

Know what he found?

Suh working out at the Nike state of the art facilities. That does not mean he was merely running around the track there. The Nike people had Suh hooked up to monitors. They were feeding him oxygen as he was on the treadmill or bike. It was akin to the opening of the Six Million Dollar Man (yeah, google it).

Suh spent entire days there while he was absent from the conditioning program. Suddenly, the Dolphins weren't too concerned about him staying away for portions of the offseason.

Neither am I. The guy takes all his repetitions. Even with no pads on, he goes hard to block because he goes hard.

He is not going to be a problem. 

f there's any doubt in his mind that this is a playoff team: "No. No doubt. I'm superbly confident in this team and what we can do. We have a lot of work to do before we get there but I'm really excited about what we can do."

As for his perspective? I like that, too.

"We look great on paper," Suh said. "And it's always nice to look great on paper. But at the end of the day it's about what you do in those 16 games and into the playoffs hopefully."

And this: 

"I don't think my role is defined any particular way," he said. "I think I can help in any number facets throughout this defense. I really don't want to limit myself. I've always been a guy, although I've been in the league and know what I'm good at and what I can get better at, I want to continue to expand my game and find new ways to be a part of this defense."

Suh gives off no vibe of entitlement. After practice he didn't think he practiced all that great. 

"No, definitely not," he said. "I got a lot of work ahead of myself. I was actually disappointed in my play today so I have plenty of work to do."

[BLOG NOTE: Check back later for the practice update.]

July 30, 2015

Quickie reaction from first day of Miami Dolphins practice

The first day of training camp is in the books for the Miami Dolphins. Here's a quickie look at what I say and heard:

***The Dolphins were not in pads, per NFL rules that stipulate the team must not be in pads the first three days. Today was actually the second day for the Dolphins on the field (they walked through Wednesday) so Day 3 of acclimation will be Friday. Full pads on Saturday, if coaches deem so.

***It is was not a great day for the cornerbacks trying to win the starting job opposite Brent Grimes. Jamar Taylor was beaten deep twice by third-year free agent wide receiver Michael Preston, who isn't to be confused with Julio Jones or Dez Bryant.

Preston did have a fine day. He got open multiple times, although the passes weren't always on target as with the times he was behind Taylor. But he had three catches during the practice. Taylor did win the matchup once with a pass breakup on a deep sideline pass.

***Will Davis, meanwhile, was left in the dust by Tommy Streeter who got five yards behind the cornerback down the right sideline. Davis trailed so far back he stopped running. Fortunately for the defense, a perfect pass to Streeter from quarterback Matt Moore was dropped by the free agent wide receiver. Davis did have excellent coverage on Greg Jennings earlier when he broke up a pass from Matt Moore.

Look, the Dolphins have questions about who will win the starting job opposite Grimes. It is likely to be Taylor. He and everyone else has to do better.

***Speaking of deep ball passes, quarterback Ryan Tannehill picked up where he left off last season on such passes. In other words, he wasn't completing many. He missed one to Matt Hazel and another to Preston.

I noticed that after practice, Tannehill stayed on the field and worked on deep passes with several receivers.

Tannehill did throw well into some tight windows. He completed a pass to Jennings between five, count 'em, five defenders.

Matt Moore seemed to have the better practice today although that is moot relative to the starting job. Josh Freeman was intercepted by Bobby McCain.

***Caleb Sturgis missed much of the offseason, including minicamp, because he injured his leg playing kickball. He must prove he can stay healthy this camp and was doing exactly that early on.

Sturgis connected on kicks of 33 (twice), 40, 44 and 45 to start his practice. He then missed a 44-yarder left. Then he missed two more from 44 yards before connecting one last time from 45.

Must. Do. Better.

***Free agent rookie WR Kai De La Cruz had the catch of the day, a one-handed snatching of the football out of the air while in stride. That will get someone's attention.

***The linebacker rotation I told you about in the previous post was apparent at times during practice. Koa Misi got a vast majority of the first-team snaps at MLB, but there were repetitions in which Misi moved outside and Kelvin Sheppard worked in the middle.

Having said that, Chris McCain had a nice practice. He batted a pass at the line of scrimmage on one play.

Remember: It would be McCain and Jelani Jenkins outside and Misi in the middle or Misi and Jenkins outside with Sheppard in the middle.

***Left tackle Branden Albert did mostly light work and didn't participate in any team drills. He continues to lower expectations, saying he doesn't know if he'll be ready for the regular-season opener, but clearly the Dolphins are pointing him in that direction.

With Albert not taking team drill snaps, the starting left tackle spot was manned by Jason Fox.

***The punt return job is not really open as Jarvis Landry is probably the guy. But Brent Grimes, and LaMichael James worked at the spot as well.

 

 

Miami Dolphins 2015 season has arrived!

It is finally here: The start of Miami Dolphins training camp.

It begins with an 8 a.m. practice followed by interview sessions with players, coaches and owner Stephen Ross.

A couple of significant things to watch:

LT Branden Albert is cleared to practice. But that doesn't mean he will be taking team reps just yet. He will be slowly eased back into the workouts, participating in some individual drills, following his rehabilitation from knee surgery. The idea is to knock some rust off and get comfortable before asking him to do more.

At linebacker, look for Koa Misi to take repetitions at both outside and middle linebacker throughout camp. The linebacker position will be an area of mixing and matching. Indeed, about the only linebacker who has locked down a spot is Jelani Jenkins.

Misi outside or in the middle, Kelvin Sheppard in the middle when Misi is outside and Chris McCain outside when Misi is in the middle are rotations you're likely to see during camp.

This has to be the year the Dolphins finally get back to the playoffs. As I write in my column today there are no excuses for not making the postseason. Otherwise, well, think French Revolution.

I will be tweeting practice live so follow me on twitter for real time updates. When it is all over, I will be updating this space with a practice recap and all the noteworthy things said by players, coaches and the owner.

It begins!!!!

July 29, 2015

Looks like Turner, Thomas, Douglas Miami Dolphins top guards at the opening of training camp on Thursday

The most widely asked question about the start of Miami Dolphins training camp is when they will try to address the guard position that no fan has a serious comfort level about, even as Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas are penciled in as the starters.

There are questions as to why the Dolphins haven't signed free agent Evan Mathis.

There are questions as to why the Dolphins are waiting to make what seems on the surface as an obvious move.

The answer is the Dolphins seem invested in Turner and Thomas and even rookie Jamil Douglas to the point they will start camp with those players vying for the two starting guard jobs. The players have gone through the offseason program. The personnel department and coaching staff have a level of comfort about those players.

There's investment there.

And now they young players are going to get a chance early in camp to show what they can actually do.

I liken this to how the Dolphins approached a similar situation in 2014. Remember last year the Dolphins went to camp with an obvious need at center. They felt comfortable enough with the players on the roster that they opened camp even as free agent Samson Satele remained available.

It wasn't until the centers in camp proved they weren't up to even completing a shotgun snap that Miami made the move for Satele. It took about a week of evidence gathering for the Dolphins to make a move.

Well, maybe Turner, Thomas, and Douglas get at least that long in this year's training camp practices, in the heat, in pads, in anger, to prove they merit the team's confidence.

Or prove they do not.

And, meanwhile, Mathis is not signed. Indeed, he has not even visited the Dolphins, according to a club source. So while there are social media types going around claiming Mathis has an offer from Miami on the table, that feels more like a rumor.

Typically when the Dolphins are serious with a player, they bring him to camp for a visit. Last year, even as Satele waited for the verdict on Miami's camp centers, he had already visited with the team.

Mathis has not.

So I would expect barring a major change today when players report for physicals, that the three guards who have been on the roster and have been part of the plan will get first crack at the open jobs.

If they fail, then Mathis becomes an option.

By the way, this says nothing about the kind of money Mathis wants. Even if the Dolphins wanted him, they're not going to pay him anywhere near the kind of contract he had with the Philadelphia Eagles, who were scheduled to pay him $5.5 million in 2015.

And Mathis wanted a raise from that deal to between $7-$8 million per year which would have put him in the upper crust of guard salaries. Obviously, no team has deemed Mathis worthy of such an offer or he would be signed already.

At some point, Mathis might come down on price. At some point, a team that is desperate might come up. But it would take some magical agent work by Drew Rosenhaus to get the kind of money for Mathis the player was expecting or even scheduled to make.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, would more likely want a player like Mathis for two years at perhaps $2-$3 million the first year -- a far cry from what Mathis would want. Oh, yes, and the second year of that contract? The player likely would never see it.

Mathis turns 34 in November.  

July 28, 2015

Tom Brady destroyed evidence, loses appeal

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady remains suspended for the first four games of the 2015 regular season because today the NFL upheld its ruling on the suspension pertaining to the so-called deflategate scandal.

Brady had appealed the suspension through the NFLPA.

Commissioner Roger Goodell released the findings minutes ago, along with a signed 20-page document that not only tells  us Brady's suspension is upheld but offers indicting details that suggest Brady actively covered up attempts to get at the truth of whether he was directly or indirectly involved in tampering with footballs prior to the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The following from Goodell:

"The most significant new information that emerged in connection with the appeal was evidence that on or about March 6, 2015 -- the very day that he was interviewed by Mr. [Ted] Wells and his investigative team -- Mr. Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone that he had been using since early November 2014, a period that included the AFC Championship Game and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation. During the four months that it was in use, almost 10,000 text messages were sent or received by Mr. Brady using that cellphone. At the time that he arranged for its destruction Mr. Brady knew that Mr. Wells and his team had requested information from that cellphone in connection with their investigation. Despite repeated requests for that information, beginning in mid-February 2015 and continuing during his March, 6, 2015 interview by the investigators, information indicating that Mr. Brady might have destroyed his cellphone was not disclosed until months later, on June 18, 2015, and not confirmed until the day of the hearing itself."

Wow.

So Brady, knowing investigator Ted Wells wanted his cellphone, ordered that very cellphone destroyed. He testified at the appeals hearing that it is his habit to destroy cellphones after a certain period of time.

The texts in the destroyed cellphone, the NFL has been told, are not recoverable.

Brady obviously can seeks injunctive relief through the federal courts. It is unclear whether he'll do that or not. Remember, the Patriots as an organization decided to not appeal sanctions against the organization even as their star quarterback went forward with his appeal.

But the fact Brady actively ordered the destruction of evidence calls his claim of innocence into question. Innocent people don't destroy evidence.

If the suspension survives a court challenge, it is obviously important news around the AFC East. It obviously can affect the Miami Dolphins chances of winning the division.

No biggie: Josh Freeman returns to the Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins signed quarterback Josh Freeman today after having cut him July 24. And the fact Freeman is a former NFL starter and a QB and a well-known name kindles the idea that something important is afoot with this move.

No.

Freeman, like it or not, is about the 87th man on the Dolphins roster. And since the team had three open roster spots leading up to the training camp limit of 90, the personnel department brought him back.

But only for now.

The truth is Freeman's career has taken a hit to the point he is a camp arm. Neither he nor McCleod Bethel-Thompson are assured of a roster spot as the third quarterback. Actually, the Dolphins are more likely to go with two quarterbacks -- Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore -- on the 53-man roster than use an extra spot for a third quarterback. That is what they did in 2014.

It would take unforeseen circumstances such as Freeman playing like Aaron Rodgers in the preseason or an injury to either Tannehill or Moore to give Freeman an open road to a roster spot. Otherwise, this is just a bottom of the roster move.

The Dolphins have 88 players signed. They have two open roster spots. They are working out multiple players today. Look for someone else to sign by the end of the day.

No, not Evan Mathis.

More on him later.

 

July 26, 2015

Miami Dolphins' Philbin: I'm not worried about me

You should know by know that Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has delivered a message to fans and given us a preview of what his message to players will be when they report for training camp on Wednesday.

(If you didn't know it, obviously you did not read my column yet. So get to reading it, please).

And it occurs to me that the reason the coach is setting the bar quite high for his team to start 2015 is perhaps because he wants to be the coach in 2016. After all, if the Dolphins succeed this coming season, Philbin remains the head coach.

If not ... then Philbin's job security will be a constant hot topic.

So I asked Philbin about that when we met on Saturday and he said that is not the case at all. He insisted his job security is not on his mind. He said he's not thinking of winning for his own sake.

"It's more for everybody else's sake," he said. "For Steve Ross who's supported me throughout my tenure here, who's had patience, committed the resources that we need to build a successful football team, so for him. For the fans, for the people on the staff, for the people who work their tails off who care not only about winning but care about the organization itself.

"For everybody, I'd like us to reap the rewards of our labor. It's time for all of us. But I haven't really thought about playoff or bust for me."

I mentioned in the column what Philbin worries about when he thinks about his team.

"I want to see the quarterback and receiver corps, their timing and rhythm, the anticipation. That's something," he said. "Our sub defensive package in the secondary is something we have to get a feel for. I want to see some of those corners emerge and see the competition there. That's something that's going to be important. And probably the linebacker position shaking. Finally, the competition at guard. We're going to start gather information pretty soon. We're going to know a lot more a week from now."

So what makes Philbin confident about his team?

"I like the way they work," he said. "I like the chemistry so far. And it's early. We're going to learn more about our guys in the next five or six weeks in training camp and preseason but I like the way they work and their passion for the game."

July 25, 2015

Miami Dolphins changing their practice schedule

For years the Miami Dolphins have been looking for the right practice schedule to optimize peal performance on Sundays -- or Mondays or Thursdays as the schedule dictates.

The point is while most teams have taken Tuesdays off, the Dolphins have at times had Monday off. Or Fridays. Or whatever day coach Joe Philbin thought gave his team the best chance to win.

Well, after investing in and expanding their sport science department, the facts and figures apparently indicate having Tuesday off is best. So the Dolphins will be off on Tuesdays this year, turning a practice day from years past into some down time for players.  

"We're going to do a couple of things a little different during the season," Philbin said. "Our game week will be different. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. We're not looking to cut corners or do less but we are going to have the players spend a little less time on their feet.

"Last year we started collecting a lot of information but didn't have the context to make decisions," Philbin said. "But now we can kind of predict how much player load and volume intensity, based on the practice schedules I give them, how that impacts the guys."

Less time on their feet means less time practicing.

"We're switching the day off from Monday back to Tuesday," Philbin said. "We're not going to really practice Monday. We used to practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday walkthrough, a little Saturday as well. So we're going to practice one day less."

The idea behind all this is to keep players fresh so that the team does not wilt late in the season, something that has happened the past couple of years. Miami lost three of its final four games in 2014 and the final two in 2013 -- each time turning a playoff contender into an also-ran. 

"I feel good about the schedule we've put in place and how we're going to do that," Philbin said. "We're going to see if that makes a difference."

Interesting perhaps only to me:

I covered this team before sports science was a thing. Don Shula would give his players Tuesdays off. They come in on Mondays to run and get the kinks of the game out or to report for medical treatment. Then they'd begin the practice week on Tuesday. Same with Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban. Tony Sparano changed things up at times. Philbin did as well. Now sports science concludes the old school way is probably optimal.

 

Parker, Albert availability for season opener not a worry for Philbin

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin isn't worried about the injury status of two of his offense's biggest potential contributors for 2015 despite their significant injury issues. 

Left tackle Branden Albert, recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, is on schedule with his return to the field and that means he might pass his physical when players report on Wednesday. The expectation is he will not be on the physically unable to perform list for the start of camp.

"The hope is -- and once we get guys through physicals when they come in in a couple days we'll know more -- but the hope is to move him out of the rehab portion and into the football portion," Philbin said Saturday. "And we have to do it in a way that makes sense. It's not going to be first day, every team rep, here we go, let's do an Oklahoma drill and let him and the guys whack people around. That's step one. Getting him out of the rehab mode and into the football practice mode and in the gradual progression of getting back."

Albert has set the first game of the regular season as his timetable for returning to the field. Philbin is perhaps a bit more optimistic because the coach is thinking Albert could play in the preseason.

"The perfect scenario is get him some work in some preseason game and get him ready to play first," Philbin said.

Rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker, recovering from foot surgery, is not going to be ready for practice at the start of training camp. He is a candidate for the physically unable to perform list.

"Whenever the medical staff tells us he's ready to go we'll get him out there," Philbin said. "... Hopefully, we'll get him back sooner as opposed to later."

Despite the fact Parker won't be 100 percent in time for Thursday's first training camp practice, the coach has little doubt he'll be ready for the regular season.

"It's hard to predict if Week One he'll be ready for 30 snaps or 60 snaps," Philbin said. "It's hard to put a number on it yet. We're not there yet. He's back in town. Right now he's been working, doing what he can do. And you got to let that stuff heal."

In the meantime, the Dolphins can use Parker's rehab time to get a better sense of the rest of their wide receiver talent and perhaps even experiment with tight ends.

"We're going to look at different combinations. I think we still have a talented room there with [Kenny] Stills, [Jarvis] Landry, [Greg] Jennings. And [Rishard] Matthews. We've got [Matt] Hazel," Philbin said. " Dion Sims it appears is continuing to develop so maybe we'll look at more two-tight end combinations with fewer receivers on the field. But obviously the focus is get [Parker] medically ready to roll and schematically, to the degree we can, we'll keep him engaged in the meantime."

[BLOG NOTE: Yes, I am back from vacation. Thanks for all the kind emails and twitter messages asking about my return. Check back often for updates ...]

[BLOG NOTE 2: Matthews was not included earlier among the group of receiver mentioned by the coach because it is not clear on tape whether the coach mentioned him. But enhancing the audio suggests Philbin did mention him between Jennings and Hazel.]