September 24, 2016

Dolphins think no Arian Foster offers grand opportunity for other guys

My column in Saturday's Miami Herald explains why the Miami Dolphins are not worried about their so-far anemic running game even though the statistics and other issues suggest they have problems.

Coach Adam Gase has been quite confident the running game will be much more than it has been the first two weeks of the season and he explains his reasoning. One thing that was only partially covered in the column was the loss of oft-injured running back Arian Foster for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

While Gase hates losing his best runner, he sees the injury as an opportunity.

"Anytime you lose a guy for a game that guys respect a lot for what we do in the running game, you always rather have him," Gase told me. "But when you also have a bunch of young guys that are hungry and want to play. That gives you a great opportunity. too, because now you're putting these guys in a position of 'Show me what you got. What are you going to do to help us get better?'

"And I feel like these guys are all chomping at the bit and saying, 'Give me the ball, I'll show you what I can do.' That's exciting for me. They want to contribute. They love ball. And one of those guys will get a chance."

Obviously the Dolphins have a choice about who is going to get the football.

Jay Ajayi?

Damien Williams?

Isaiah Pead?

Kenyan Drake?

Gase said this week no one should be surprised if all four are active for the game.

The conventional wisdom says just give it to Ajayi because he's supposed to be the next guy up and spell him with the other guys. I don't adhere to conventional thinking.

I like Drake. He's explosive. And he's ready.

"The game has started to slow down for me," he told me this week.

Obviously, I don't get a vote. But I have eyes. I saw Ajayi fumble last week. I think Williams is a solid special teams player and good pass protector but he's a 3 yard per carry guy in the NFL. Pead hasn't been active all season.

More than one guy will get his chance.

Another thing I mentioned in the column is the fact the Dolphins are playing without their best run blocker in Mike Pouncey. It's not my opinion that Pouncey is Miami's best run blocker. That comes directly from offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen -- who was forced under threat of really mean words written about him (not really) -- to pick one of his guys.

“Who is the best run blocker up front? I don’t know that because we ask them to do all different things," Christensen said mulling my question. "Who is the best run blocker on double teams? Who is the best run blocker pulling? Who is the best run blocker on base blocks? They all kind of have some different strengths. They’re all asked to do different things.

"We ask the center to reach nose guards and the tackles may have down blocks. I don’t know. I’d have a hard time answering that. Pouncey I think is the best at his position in the whole league. When he is healthy, I don’t think anybody does it like Pouncey. If you pin me down and said, ‘Hey, by position, where are they rated?’ I’d probably say Pouncey is the best run-blocking center in the league, or certainly one of the top three or four in the upper echelon. But it’s hard to say because we ask them to do different things.

"Who (are) they (going) against? Some weeks you’re going against a guy who is extremely difficult. The nose guard this week will be a hard guy to block. (Anthony) Steen will have his hands full with him.”

September 23, 2016

Arian Foster officially out for Cleveland [Updated with full injury report]

Arian Foster, nursing a groin injury, missed the final day of Miami Dolphins practice Friday as he had missed every day this week.

After practice, coach Adam Gase said what seemed obvious throughout the week: Foster is out for the Cleveland game.

Jason Jones, who injured his ankle during practice Thursday, did not practice Friday. Gase said "things look good ... I think we're going to be alright" when discussing Jones's status for the Cleveland game.

Mike Pouncey, who hasn't practiced since Aug. 19 when he injured his hip, is going to be out also. And sure enough, Pouncey is out.

The injury report:

Image

Silver lining in the depressing cloud New England Patriots have hung over AFC East

Watching the New England Patriots play Thursday night, as they dismantled the Houston Texans, 27-0, it occurred to me how depressed other AFC East teams and their fans must feel about New England's start to the 2016 season.

This, you'll recall, was supposed to be the window to fallibility the Patriots opened at the start of the season. And yet they are 3-0 and have 10 days off to get stronger before their next game.

They're 3-0 without the Earth's best quarterback.

They're 3-0 having played their backup for six out of a possible 12 quarters and their third-string quarterback for six out of a possible 12 quarters.

They're 3-0 with Rob Gronkowski missing two of those games and playing only 14 snaps in the third game.

They're 3-0 and they're a team that traditionally gets better as the season wears on and Bill Belichick's coaching kicks in.

Depressing.

The Patriots are going to win the AFC East (again) barring a serious collapse. And, by the way, this team seems collapse proof.

But amid all the depression there is a morsel of good cheer for Dolphins fans.

If you watched what the Patriots did to the Texans, you had to feel better about what the Dolphins accomplished in New England only four days earlier.

The Texans, like the Dolphins, got behind early in the game. The Dolphins kept playing and managed a significant comeback before falling short, 31-24. The Texans authored no such counter-punch.

The Texans came into last night's game with a scary pass rush. J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Houston front seven led the NFL in sacks with nine in two games. Well, last night Watt and Clowney basically got erased -- they had a handful of tackles between them but no impact plays. The Texans had one sack of third-stringer Jacoby Brissett.

The Dolphins' performance by contrast -- with two sacks and seven quarterback hits -- suddenly looks a little better.

The Texans could managed nothing against the Patriots on offense. Quarterback Brock Osweiler had a 60.6 QB rating in completing 24 of 41 passes for 196 yards. Suddenly, Ryan Tannehill's 32 of 45 for 389 yards and a 93.7 QB rating looks much better. And remember, the criticism of Tannehill's performance is he picked up a lot of those statistics when the Patriots were comfortably ahead and reportedly (I didn't see it) softened their defense in the second half.

The Patriots were comfortably ahead of the Texans in the second half and still Osweiler couldn't rally.

The Patriots also limited Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins to only four catches for 56 yards. The Dolphins, by comparison, had Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker go over 100 yards against New England.

What I'm saying is the Patriots beat the Dolphins and it was a letdown. The Patriots are 3-0 and that is a sign they're the class of the AFC East. The Patriots are likely going to get better going forward.

But after watching what the Patriots did to a Houston team that was in the playoffs last year, was 2-0 before last night, and has playoff aspirations this year, perhaps the Dolphins should not feel as bad about what happened in New England on Sunday 

 

September 22, 2016

Mario Williams on playing after inactivity of concussion protocol: 'Difficult'

Fans and to some degree members of the professional working press (who deserve your utmost respect) sometimes hyper-focus on game days and its results and don't think as much, or even a lot, about practice.

Because, as Allen Iverson once infamously said, "We're talking about practice."

But missing most of the practice week, as Mario Williams did last week, and then playing on game day can be something of a shock to the system that we underestimate. And for players in the concussion protocol, who cannot practice or even condition and lift, the idea of going from doing nothing to playing four quarters can be a burden.

“It was difficult," Williams said Thursday. "I didn’t realize it until being out there. But definitely not doing anything for a week, having to go through the protocol for the safety of myself or anybody in this situation, and then playing ... Having been in the protocol, I mean you can’t do anything. You know, wind and actual physical activities (were) gone for a week, pretty much. So it was kind of a shock. But getting back into things physically (this week) you’re running around and everything like that. So it’s getting better. I’m good."

Williams was definitely not the same against the Patriots as against the Seahawks. Although he played fewer snaps in the opener, he was more productive. He had a sack and two tackles against Seattle in 45 snaps. He had one tackle against the Patriots in 56 snaps. 

Running back Arian Foster will face a similar task on Sunday if he somehow rallies from his current groin ailment. He hasn't practiced all week. He's spent the time mostly getting treatment, hoping to recover by game time.

So he won't practice all week and then carry the football 15-18 times? Hard to fathom.

“Right now, we’re still kind of going through the process as far as trying to figure out how bad his injury is and doing some rehab stuff," said coach Adam Gase. "We’ll kind of see the Friday, Saturday thing. Obviously with a veteran player, it gives you a little more of an option. Obviously any time you can get a guy out there practicing and you get through a practice, it makes you feel better as a coach, knowing that a guy’s active (and that) he’s going to make it through the entire game. We’ll just keep going through our little deal here and we’ll make a decision towards the end of the week."

Privately, the Dolphins are thinking they can hold Foster out of this game and hope (big hope) to have him ready to go next Thursday at Cincinnati.

This doesn't necessarily figures into the decision but perhaps should: The Browns are terrible. Miami should beat Cleveland even without Foster. And if the Dolphins can beat the Browns without Foster and then have him ready to play against the better Bengals, a game in which they might need him much more, then that would improve the team's chances of winning both games.

The chances Foster plays Sunday are quite slim. I was told earlier in the week he wasn't playing against Cleveland but Gase refused to commit one way or another on Thursday.

This much is certain: Something dramatic would have to happen between now and Sunday for Foster to be able to play.

“...With two games so close together, and just thinking long term as far as this season goes, I would have to feel really, really good about it," Gase said of playing Foster without any practice this week.

Day of truth for the Miami Dolphins Thursday

Thursday is typically the day the Miami Dolphins make their three coordinators -- offensive, defense and special teams -- available to the media. So the day is known as coordinators day.

Except that during Thursday's session coordinators day turned into truth-telling day at Dolphins camp.

Both offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph fielded questions on delicate topics in straight-forward fashion and in doing so somewhat veered from the narrative coach Adam Gase set earlier in the week on the topics.

Topic No. 1 is whether the offense was responsible for costing the defense a chance to perform better Sunday at New England. Gase had made the point after the game and then the following day that because the offense didn't extend drives early in the game, it was the offense that hurt the defense and put the unit on the field for so long against the Patriots.

And because the defense was on the field so long early in the game, it was gassed later in the game when the contest was close and needed a strong defensive stand. Gase made the point that, essentially, it was the offense's fault the defense was gassed. The head coach had his unit, which he helps to coordinate and is the play-caller for, taking the responsibility for the loss.

So does Joseph, the defensive coordinator, agree?

"That's our fault," he said. "Third downs are key. First of all, first downs are key. If you win first downs they're in second and long, they're going to probably end up in third-and-long. If you lose first down, and they're second-and-four, you're going to probably end up first-and-10 again. That's our fault.

"If we're playing 80 snaps, we have to do better on third down. The first game was a different kind of game. But last week it was solely on the defense to get off the field. In the first half, they were four-out-of-six on third downs. They had a nine-play drives for touchdowns. That's solely on the defense. They [the offense] played well enough to win the game and we didn't."

Preach!

Totally agree. Look, the defense is a unit of men. They can handle it when they deserve credit (as they got in the season-opener at Seattle) and when they deserve criticism (as in last Sunday at New England). I would have been worried if Joseph had agreed with Gase and pointed the finger at the offense.

Another narrative that is making the rounds now is that Ryan Tannehill did everything he needed to do in Sunday's game at New England.

"I don't know how much more he can really step up considering that he's doing everything right now that we need him to do," Gase told the Cleveland media on a conference call. "It's just that we need every guy to pull their weight."

Two things:

One -- Who is not pulling his weight?

Two -- I asked Christensen if Tannehill is doing everything the Dolphins need right now and the coordinator found a couple of obvious things by which quarterbacks are judged that Tannehill is not quite there on yet.

"We gave one up there at the end of the half," Christensen said of the first of two Tannehill interceptions. "it was kind of a unit wide, same symptom. It was a big turnover. They're all big. All possessions are big. So eliminate giving them [a chance] to get easy points at the end of the half right there."

"Ultimately, at the end of the day, you got to find ways to win football games."

Hallelujah!!!!

Yes, that's what a quarterback has to do. Win.

"That's what he has to do," Christensen continued. "You have to win games. You have to find some way. It's not always conventional. It's not always pretty. We got to find some way to win games. That's our job as coaches. That's his job as the quarterback. That's the unit's job ... That what we're all measured by.

"If you're leading the league in offense and you can't figure out a way to win football games, then what's it worth? Then they're just numbers. At the end of the day you have to find ways to win football games. He's measured just like the rest of us. All the rest of the stuff is OK but figure out how to win. Win playoff games. All those things. That's the bottom line measuring stick. It's not yardage. It's not leading the league in passing. It's not quarterback rating. All that stuff is fun to look at when you're winning but not worth a whole bunch if you're not winning." 

Look, this isn't about the Dolphins coordinators going against the head coach. I understand what Gase is doing. He's protecting the unit that he doesn't coach. He's also protecting his quarterback.

That's the head coach view of it.

But Joseph and Christensen speaking the truth? Awesome.

 

  

Busts -- physical and mental -- a concern for the Dolphins' defense

There was a play in the New England game last Sunday in which the Miami Dolphins defense had three players covering a receiver in the flat. And two Patriots receivers were uncovered on the second level. That, I can tell you with confidence, is the industry term for a bust.

And it seems the Dolphins defense had enough of those against the Patriots last week as to suggest they regressed in that department because there were more in that second game than there were in the opener at Seattle.

And this is leading to a little frustration on the part of some coaches because it looks on tape and on TV as if the Miami system is flawed. Be honest, you watched that game and said, "New England receivers are running wide open."

And so you blame the scheme.

But coach Adam Gase said it is not the scheme.

"...When the defense does get out there, we have to make sure that we’re all sound in our assignment," Gase said Wednesday. "It’s hard to evaluate and correct things, as far as schematics, if we’re not doing what we’re asked to do. There were a few times where we didn’t do exactly what we were coached to do, and now we have to go back and basically go through it and (say), ‘This is the details of what we’re doing on this defense.’ And then move forward from there.

"But it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, this scheme is no good.’ We have to execute it first and then if we have some holes there, we have to adjust."

Talk about growing pains. The Dolphins defense is currently in a situation where players have to do what they're coached to do, first. When that that happens, then coaches can decide if the scheme needs tweaking based on what happens on the field when the players correctly carry out their assignments.

So this might take a while to get just right.

And it's not just about the players getting their assignments right. Sometimes busts occur when techniques are not quite correct. So a player can be in the right place, but not play as he's been taught and ... boom ... LaGarrette Blount gets outside on sweep.

Again.

And again.

“What happens is, it’s the minute detail of, maybe you were supposed to go through a guy and you took an edge," Gase said. "(It’s) things like that to where you have to be so fine-detailed in what you’re doing, because – like you said – when you play this type of defense, it’s about penetration. It’s about attacking; it’s about speed. When you do take the wrong angle sometimes, it can be a chain effect to everybody else. I know (Defensive Coordinator) Vance (Joseph) is very hard as far as what everybody is supposed to do, the exact detail of it, and he goes through it so thoroughly in his meetings you would think, ‘Why are we screwing that up?’

"But that’s what happens; that’s what this game is. You’re trying to get perfection, but it’s an imperfect game. People are going to make mistakes, and it’s about how can you make less than the other team."

The Dolphins obviously are not making fewer mistakes than the other guys on defense. They are, after all, 0-2. And they did yield 31 points in New England.

But that's not the worst of the what the statistics are saying about this defense.

The Dolphins have the 26th-ranked total defense in the NFL right now. They finished 25th in total defense last season. The pass defense is so far a little better than last year, the run defense is so far a little worse. But that's not the point. Remember, we're dealing with a small sample size this year.

The point is what's happening right now. And right now, the Dolphins are giving up too many plays on third down, which is the reason they cannot get off the darn field.

The Dolphins are tied for 15th in the NFL in third down conversion percentage, giving up firsts 40 percent of the time. So that's not good but not terrible, either. But because the defense has been on the field for so many plays the first two games, that 40 percent conversion rate represents 12 first downs yielded on third down -- the money down -- and that's 20th in the NFL.

That simply is not sustainable for a winning team.

The only way to address that is to get players on their assignments and technique. And that, Gase believes, is currently a physical issue more than a mental one.

"I think a lot of the times, it’s more physical than mental," Gase said. "I want to say for the most part, mentally we’ve been pretty sound. It’s just a couple things in coverage every once in a while. Sometimes it’s formation predicated. When you get thrown something different – guys are in different spots – you start getting that conversation, that’s when you get in trouble. You’ve seen a couple times where guys are pointing at each other – who has who – and now all of a sudden they’re snapping the ball, and you’re slightly late. In this league if you’re late, you’re probably in trouble."

The Miami defense has to clean this stuff up. Otherwise it's in trouble.

September 21, 2016

Donald Butler, signed last week, ready to play and compete for snaps

Donald Butler is ready to play.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase said the linebacker who signed Sept. 13 and practiced with the team for the first time the next day is ready to play this week. He is expected to debut Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

That means Butler is expected to play on both defense and special teams.

It is unclear if Butler got any first-team repetitions in practice Wednesday but the opportunity was clearly there. Starting weakside linebacker Jelani Jenkins did not practice Wednesday because he is recovering from knee surgery weeks ago.

Jenkins has not missed either of the first two game this season, but the Dolphins want an upgrade available behind him and possibly even an improvement for the snaps Jenkins typically gets.

So consider that competition officially started. 

Me? I would use Butler, who is built a little more compact and muscular than Kiko Alonso, at middle linebacker and use Alonso on the weak side. Alonso's best NFL season was his rookie season in Buffalo when he played outside.

 

Dolphins going forward with plans to not have Pouncey

Mike Pouncey is headed toward missing his third consecutive game to start the season.

The Dolphins are on the practice field Tuesday afternoon and Pouncey, who is nursing a hip injury, is once again among the players not practicing. Because Pouncey has not practiced or played since the Aug. 19 preseason game at Dallas, it is virtually impossible for the Dolphins to get him back in pads and up to speed physically by Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

So even if Pouncey rallies and practices the next couple of days, it will likely be Anthony Steen starting his third consecutive game for the Dolphins.

Running back Arian Foster (groin), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee) also are not practicing today. The Dolphins expect Jenkins to play on Sunday.

Foster, who left Sunday's game against New England in the second quarter after playing only 10 plays, is day-to-day per coach Adam Gase. In fact, the Dolphins are going forward with plans to play on Sunday without Foster.

If Foster can rally later in the week, then the team can adapt. 

 

 

Will Dolphins players continue protests in home opener?

The Miami Dolphins were inundated by phone calls, emails and social media outreach from fans and non-fans alike after four of their players began to protest what they view as social inequalities related to police shootings of black men. The four took a knee during the national anthem and presenting of colors before the season-opening loss at Seattle.

Some of the calls were to applaud the protest. Some were not. One source tells me more fan outreach was to show displeasure about the protest than approval. Another source tells me the applause and displeasure was about equal. There was so much reaction and it was so polarized, multiple team people are calling the reaction "binary."

But now that the protesting four are moving from raising awareness to promoting solutions and with the home-opener at Hard Rock Stadium scheduled for Sunday, there are fundamental questions on the table:

Will the protests continue?

That question is important on multiple fronts.

The most important of those is this: Are these four players (three if Jelani Jenkins, who kneeled the first game but stood during the national anthem last week, continues to stand) going to kneel and risk getting booed by disapproving fans at home?

Dolphins fans booing Dolphins players before kickoff.

That would present a sad picture. That would be a hard sight to witness.

And, by the way, although I have my thoughts and opinions on these protests and this topic, this is not about me. The players have a right to protest. The fans, paying good, hard earned money to get in the stadium to watch football, have a right to approve or disapprove of the players kneeling during the national anthem.

Everyone would be within their rights.

But there is no denying the optics of it all would be ugly.

In the opening weekend, the New England Patriots traveled to Arizona and two players -- Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty -- stood during the national anthem but did so with raised, clenched fists. It was a nod to the old school black power movement of the 1960s and early '70s.

When the team came home last week, however, to a home crowd and game that was honoring local police, I spotted no such clenched fists from those two players or anyone on the Patriots sideline. 

Perhaps the players thought they made their point. Perhaps they didn't want to upset their home fans. 

There's another question: If these Dolphins players are truly moving past raising awareness to finding solutions, are they going to continue to, well, raise awareness so to speak?

Are they moving on to the next step or not? Are they moving on to the next step, while continuing to tread on the last step?

That question will be answered today in the locker room. The doors are scheduled to open at 11:35. I'll have the answers then.

(At some point, I'll be covering football again).

Kneeling Dolphins players trying to go from raising awareness to tackling the problems of social injustice

In the days following their much-heralded pregame protest in Seattle, the four Miami Dolphins players who kneeled during the national anthem decided they needed to move past making people aware of what they see as social inequalities for black people, and start doing something about it.

The players decided it wasn't enough to point out that some black men are being shot by some police at a seemingly higher rate than anyone else even as they continued their kneeling protests last Sunday in New England.

The four -- Kenny Stills, Jelani Jenkins, Michael Thomas and Arian Foster -- decided they needed to move into a solution mode.

And that's what Tuesday was about for the players: Taking a first but significant step toward finding solutions to the problem.

So with support from the Dolphins organization, and RISE (The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality -- a nonprofit Dolphins owner Stephen Ross founded to promote understanding, respect and equality), the four players invited community leaders, police officers, and team personnel to a Dolphins Town Hall to discuss the issues of concern and start looking for ways to address them.  Image

"In terms of what happened the players that chose to take a knee really wanted some conversation and dialogue to happen," Dolphins Director of Player Engagement Kaleb Thornhill said Tuesday evening. "Obviously some of them were aware of RISE but not to the extent of what is beginning to happen around the country with what Mr. Ross created. What we wanted to do is put them in a position to speak with RISE to talk about action because that's what they wanted.

"Obviously, they wanted awareness, but they also wanted to do something proactive and doing something within the community and reaching out and being part of the solution."

Thornhill, Dolphins Senior Vice President of Communications and Community Affairs Jason Jenkins, and the four players spent time last week finding a way to start a dialogue within the community to brainstorm for solutions.

They invited police. And on Tuesday Colonel Steve Kinsey, the Undersheriff of Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami Gardens Police Chief Antonio G. Brooklen, and Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ian A. Moffett went to the team facility for the town hall.  Image

 

They invited community leaders who devote much of their time working with youth. And Booker T. Washington High School football coach Ice Harris, Carol City High School football coach Aubrey Hill and Columbus High School football coach Chris Merritt went to the team facility for the town hall.

They wanted people engaged with youngsters in the inner city and sports so they invited Luther Campbell -- Uncle Luke or Luke Skyywalker to those who know him in the community or as a rapper and record label mogul -- and he came to the town hall.

Dolphins staff came.

Dan Marino came.

Jason Taylor came.

Nat Moore came.

The four players had already spent time on the telephone with Robert O'Neill to gain from him his thoughts on the meaning of Old Glory and Star Spangled Banner. O'Neill, by the way, is a former Navy sailor, Navy SEAL and Member of SEAL Team Six.

He is, by most accounts, the man credited with taking the shots that killed Osama bin Laden during a May 2011 raid on the terrorist's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Yes, for God and Country.

The players also spent time on the telephone with a retired U.S. Army Captain who received the Medal of Honor at the White House in 2015 for his actions during Operation Enduring Freedom.

I am not at liberty to divulge this hero's name now because he didn't know his conversation with the Dolphins players would get into the press and he was not available Tuesday evening to give permission to use his name. But suffice to say the captain has been quoted in the press before and among his thoughts are this:

"The proudest thing I have ever done in my life is to wear this uniform and serve my country," he said.

Both O'Neill and the captain made their perspectives about flag and country clear to the players. The captain, I am told, said to the players the right to protest is one of the rights he fought for.

During the meaty part of the two-hour town hall the four players explained to the police, to Dolphins staffers, to every one of the 50 or so people present, why they kneeled. None of the players were available for comment on this Tuesday night although explained their reasons in the locker room after the Seattle game.

"What was talked about was really the players went through and clarified why they decided to take those actions when they chose to take a knee," Thornhill said. "They clarified that they have the utmost respect for military members and law enforcement and it was about something bigger than that. They wanted to see change, knowing there are social inequalities that currently exist. They wanted to start a dialogue around those. The guys did a great job of explaining, which led to feedback from community leaders." 

The police officers and youth coaches spoke as well -- outlining from their perspectives why the issue exists and obviously giving their opinions on the topic. Police protocols were explained. The officers also discussed how some changes are in the works and some challenges are keeping some things as they have always been.

A source tells me one officer related a story in which he met a five-year-old who told him he didn't like him (the officer). The officer asked why.

"Because you're going to kill my daddy," the boy said.

"The police officer said he was heartbroken and told the boy, 'I'm going to throw a pizza party for you and your friends.' And the kid looked at him like he was crazy and a week later the police officer came back and threw a pizza party for the kid at school," the source said. "And now the kid wants to be a police officer some day."

And then the agenda moved to the solutions stage.

The first step was to see what a solution looks like. The idea was to set a vision for how things should be, or how everyone would like them to be. That was followed by a game plan building stage meant to attack the problem.

This is where solutions were offered. Those included:

Focusing on kids in schools and better educating them about police.

Getting more police participation in community events.

One idea is going to be implemented first -- as in Sunday when the Dolphins play their home-opener against the Cleveland Browns at Hard Rock Stadium.

The team will host a pregame tailgate that will bring youngsters from hard hit neighborhoods and families to Hard Rock for a tailgate that will also be attended by police officers and other youth leaders. And after that tailgate, everyone will go inside the stadium to watch the Dolphins play the Browns.

Although all the details have not yet been worked out, the four players pledged to pay for the purchase of food and other items for the tailgate event and tickets to the game.

The idea behind the tailgate event is to encourage interactions between kids and police.

"Those kind of conversations is where there's mutual respect and people aren't seen as abstracts," my source told me. "They're seen as human beings." Image

Said Thornhill: "The players want to be fully embedded into the doing part. Knowing they're time is limited during the season ...they wanted to do something this year. With the tailgate idea, I know they may not be able to be there with the obligations of the game, but maybe there's a chance for us to integrate into the schools on a Tuesday or on a community service day with some law enforcement or during the offseason where they can get into the doing that.

"They're not shying away from using funds or innovative ideas that lead to solutions. We're not just trying to bring awareness. They're fully engaged into solution-based ideas dealing with social issues they feel extremely strongly about."

September 20, 2016

Dolphins bring in former Florida Gator for Tuesday tryout (updated)

It was a relatively quiet day for the Dolphins on the player tryout front Tuesday.

The team worked out only one player -- defensive tackle Leon Orr, a former Florida Gator who spent much of the past year in the Oakland Raiders organization.

The fact the team is looking to add perhaps another defensive tackle is smart because one DT is already on injured reserve. Earl Mitchell was placed on IR last week and the team signed Chris Jones to replace him on the roster.

Jones had a good camp with Miami but It is possible the Dolphins will constantly be looking to upgrade from Jones and in Orr's case perhaps even consider him for the practice squad.

[Update: Orr has been added to the practice squad. Defensive tackle Jordan Williams was released from the practice squad.]

Orr, who is 6-5 and 320 pounds, signed with the Raiders after going undrafted in the 2015 draft. Orr spent time on the Raiders practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in mid December. He was waived by the Raiders last August when the team made its cuts.

Week Two PFF ratings: Tannehill NFL's second best QB

Any time the Miami Dolphins have lost a football game the past five seasons, a hefty number of fans have trained their ire on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The criticism on Tannehill has risen significantly over the years and especially after the Dolphins signed him to a big contract in 2015.

And so, predictably, the Dolphins 31-24 loss to New England Sunday has brought a wave of Tannehill criticism on social media.

That criticism isn't shared by me or ProFootballFocus.com and the metric site's grades this week.

Consider:

Per PFF, Tannehill had a very good afternoon in a stadium where he has experienced some of his worst games as a pro. His 85.9 overall grade was the second best in the NFL this week. He was able to pick apart the Patriots' defense when he wasn't blized (25-of-32 for 270 yards and two touchdowns) for an NFL QB rating of 96.6.

Facing an early 24-3 deficit, the Dolphins had no choice but to drop the rushing attack from their game plan. Tannehill led the team in carries with six while starting running back back Arian Foster only got three carries. Jay Ajayi (inactive in Week 1) was second on the team with 5 carries. Foster, who was expected to have a big role in the offense catching passes out of the backfield, wasn't targeted once in fivepass route snaps, while Ajayi ran 21 routes and was targeted four times.

WR DeVante Parker made his regular-season debut after battling a hamstring issue for most of the preseason. He led the team in targets (12) and was able to make eight catches for 106 yards on the afternoon. Parker is a red zone threat because of his size, but he's also a deep threat. Twenty-five percent of his targets were on deep balls 20-plus yards down the field.

WR Jarvis Landry ran 73.9% of his routes from the slot against New England, slightly up from the 69.9% he ran in 2015 and was able to bring in 8 of his 9 targets from the position. He ranked third in yards per route run from the slot in Week 2 at 3.74.

Although the Dolphins' offensive line has only allowed one sack through two weeks, they have allowed 20 pressures - ninth most in the NFL. Their six QB hits allowed is 3rd most in the league, and their pass blocking effeciency is 19th overall.

Ndamukong Suh was unblockable on Sunday afternoon, recording 10 tackles and 7 stops on the day against the run. He was tied for the No. 1 ranking against the run among defensive tackles, per PFF. The Rams Aaron Donald also ranked at No.1. Indeed, Suh is the NFL's top-rated run defender among DTs.

With that said, Suh is struggling to get after the QB on passing downs, as he has only recorded four total pressures on 72 pass rushing snaps through two games. He is ranked No. 29 among DTs, per PFF.

LB Kiko Alonso had another solid day against the run, recording 8 tackles and 4 stops on the afternoon. However, he was exposed in the passing game for the second straight week, as he allowed four on five targets for 60 yards and a touchdown in coverage against New England.

Defensive end Cameron Wake was only on the field for 16 snaps on Sunday, 15 of which were passing plays. Wake is PFF's 37th rated edge defender.

After being questionable all week with a concussion, DE Mario Williams had a strong game on Sunday, recording six QB hurries on his 33 pass rushing snaps. The six hurries tied for the most in the league this week, and his nine QB hurries through two games is the most in the NFL.

Despite that, Williams is the 56th rated edge defender in the NFL. Indeed, Miami's edge defenders are not exactly impressing. Andre Branch is the 74th rated edge rusher and Jarvis Jones is the 101st rated edge rusher in the NFL, per PFF.

PFF is including 104 edge defenders in its ratings this week.

Second-round rookie cornerback Xavien Howard had a solid showing on Sunday, allowing only three receptions on seven targets for 27 yards. His 12 tackles from the cornerback position ranks 4th in the NFL through two weeks, and he is also tied for first in the league with three assists, showing a willingness to play a physical style of defense the Dolphins are seeking.

September 19, 2016

Adam Gase blaming the offense is not whole story

Adam Gase blames the offense.

"It’s not the defense" the coach said today about the team's problem losing the time of possession battle two weeks in a row.   "Offensively, we cannot go three-and-out. We’ve done it so many times already that it’s ridiculous. The defense has no chance in the fourth quarter of having any opportunity to be somewhat fresh if we’re three-and-out the entire first half. And then we get back into the game and we’re like, ‘C’mon defense, stop them now.’ Well, on play 75, you’re a little fatigued.”

Except the Miami Dolphins defense was a turnstile against the New England Patriots, letting running back LaGarrette Blount rush for 123 yards on 29 carries and letting backup quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett look like they were Joe Montana and Steve Young on Sunday.

But it's the offense's fault the Dolphins lost against New England.

The Pats gained 465 yards, scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. But the 31-24 loss was on the offense.

Sorry, I disagree.

Look, the Dolphins offense was in a coma to start this game. It went three-and-out the first three drives. The first six drives were:

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

Fumble.

Interception.

And that's just not good. It's no way to support the guys on defense.

But at the end of the day, the Dolphins offense finished this game with 24 points. It had 23 first downs. It gained 459 yards. Those are not problematic numbers. Those are good numbers.

Gase's point is that when the offense failed to extend drives early in the game, it asked the defense to go back on the field time and time again. And eventually the unit played 80 snaps which is way too many.

But here's the thing: If the defense gets off the field, which is kind of what it gets paid to do, it doesn't play 80 snaps. If the defense doesn't let the Pats convert 50 percent of their third down plays, they're not on the field as many plays.

Another little issue with Gase's logic is that the defense could not have been tired the first series of the game ... when the Patriots marched 75 yards on eight plays. It was the first series of the game!

Was the unit tired the second series? It gave up another TD march on the second series. The second series!

Was the unit pooped when they took the field for their third series? Because, that's right, they gave up another TD on that one.

Three series. Three touchdowns allowed.

Is that the offense's fault?

Last week in Seattle, I understood the idea of blaming the late defensive collapse on the offense. In that game, the defense actually kept standing up to the Seahawks, possession after possession. And the offense didn't give them much rest because they couldn't generate anything against the Seattle defense.

But Sunday against New England? That was a trouncing of the Miami defense. Receivers were running free. Sweep plays were going to 20-plus yards. Tight end Martellus Bennett, who had five receptions for 114 yards,  might catch another few passes later this afternoon because the Dolphins still haven't figured out how to stop him.

That was not about the Miami offense, folks.

I understand Gase is the offensive play-caller so he is going to be particularly hard on that unit. He expects great things of that unit. And so he sees its failures as the reason the team is failing.

But there are pitfalls in that.

So Adam Gase is blaming quarterback Ryan Tannehill for this loss? Because Tannehill is the face of the offense he's blaming. Gase is also supposed to be the coach who's got Tannehill's back.

So which is it? Is it Tannehill's fault or do we have Tannehill's back?

How about the running game? Does Gase blame the running game. I'm told he does not because it's pretty hard to generate a running game when your team is down 21-0 early in the second quarter and 24-3 at halftime.

It's also hard when the starting running back -- Arian Foster -- plays all of 10 plays before leaving with a groin injury. (Gase, by the way, says Foster is day to day but privately it does not look great for Foster this week against Cleveland. We'll see on that).

So if it's not the defense and not the running game, it has to be the quarterback and the passing game and his receivers, right?

Yes ... logic is not a friend of that thinking because Tannehill threw for 389 yards and 2 touchdowns. And Jarvis Landry caught 10 passes for 137 yards. And DeVante Parker, playing with a hamstring injury, caught eight passes for 106 yards. And Jordan Cameron had five catches and a TD. And Kenny Stills had a TD.

it was obviously all their fault the defense is terrible right now.  

Foster headed for MRI Monday; RB situation up on air; DL wasn't team strength this game;

BOSTON -- Arian Foster will have an MRI on his injured groin this morning to give the Dolphins a clearer picture of the player's injury but the team is concerned their starting running back will miss the home opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Foster lasted only 10 plays before going out of Sunday's loss to New England

If Foster must miss time as believed the Dolphins will find themselves in a curious situation ... namely, who is their backup running back?

The obvious answer would be Jay Ajayi, who was the starting running back at the start of training camp before he lost the job to Foster. But it could be complicated than that.

Ajayi lost a fumble that might have cost the Dolphins dearly during their 31-24 loss to the New England Patriots.

"Jay, that was a crticial turnover there," Gase said. "I mean, we just can't have that. We have to do a better job of ball security, but, for the most part, protection was good."

Actually, Foster also had a fumble that was ruled irrelevant because he was down by contact. But the truth is all Miami backs have been coached how to carry the football and Ajayi, who had trouble holding on to the football in the preseason finale, definitely didn't use that coaching on his fumble.

"Just have to hold on to the ball, just a mistake," Ajayi said tersely.

And what about getting more carries this game, and perhaps in the future?

"It is the next man up mentality," Ajayi said. "Whoever is on the field is going to play. You just have to play to the best of your ability."

That's insight right there.

Me?

I like what Kenyan Drake brought to the offense when he got his chance. Ajayi rushed five times for 14 yards -- a 2.8 yards per run average. Drake carried only twice but gained 12 yards, including a nifty seven-yard TD run.

Foster, by the way, finished this game with nine yards on three carries. He has 47 yards on 16 carries the first two games, a 2.9 yard per carry average.

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The Dolphins believe they have a very good front seven with the defensive line representing perhaps the best unit on the entire team.

Except that Sunday the defensive line was not the strength of the team. It was, indeed, somewhat absent from the game early on and not a big factor thereafter.

Consider that Cameron Wake, playing part time on passing downs, did not have a tackle. Zero. I don't remember the last time that happened.

Mario Williams, who was good against Seattle a week ago, was credited with only one tackle against the Patriots.

That's a ton of salary and salary cap space for one tackle, folks.

 Adrian Branch had one assist. Not a solo. An assist. He also had trouble setting the edge -- including on that sweep in which New England running back LaGarrette Blount got outside and hurdled Byron Maxwell 26 yards downfield.

Ndamukong Suh had four solos and eight assists for 12 total tackles. He also had a tackle for loss. The problem with him? He's human. He cannot play 100 percent of the downs. So when he was out, the Patriots got that 9-yard TD run from Blount right up the gut against the Miami defense.

Jason Jones, by the way, was active enough. He had a sack among his three tackles.

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Ryan Tannehill was sacked zero times on Sunday. Zero.

"The guys were giving me time to get through my reads," Tannehill said.

That's better than the five sacks the Miami quarterback endured a week earlier against Seattle. The Dolphins protected better up front but the running game was not a factor in the game.

That's what happens when the team falls behind 31-3.

(I cannot believe the Dolphins were down 31-3. Terrible.)

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DeVante Parker made his 2016 debut and it was very good. He caught eight passes for 106 yards and coach Adam Gase suggested he'd like to see bigger days ahead.

"For a guy that was playing on one leg, I mean, I will love it when he's really healthy," Gase said. "We'll see what we can do. I just think those three guys ... we had a little speed bump there early, we just got to get them going earlier. You know, make those plays in the first two quarters."

That failure to start fast is going to be a thing for the Dolphins going forward until they do it.

Coaches have gone with the no-huddle against Seattle. And that didn't work.

On Sunday the Dolphins went away from the no-huddle, in part to protect the defense. And that didn't work.

When the Dolphins fell behind, however, the protection of the defense went out the window and the no-huddle came back. And then the offense hit a stride.

"Speed tempo and it really helped," center Anthony Steen said. "We got in a rhythm and moved the ball. I really don't know the reason [for the slow start]. It may be one of those things where we need to train harder or come out and practice faster. I don't know."

Nobody knows. 

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I like when players refuse to be denied. Michael Thomas showed that in the fourth quarter when he blitzed and had a free shot at Jacoby Brissett For a sack.

Thomas hit Brissett and bounced off.

Opportunity missed.

But a play or two later, Thomas came on another blitz and this time he took the bigger quarterback to the ground and caused a fumble.

Yeah, I like determination. The Dolphins need more of that.

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Check back here later this morning for a breakdown of the Dolphins playtime percentages and snaps.

Meanwhile, please read my column on how this game separated the Dolphins from being a serious playoff contender.

The playtime percentages are out. Some are shocking such as Cameron Wake played a total of 16 plays this game.

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September 18, 2016

Miami Dolphins rally falls short in 31-24 loss to the Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So the Dolphins made it interesting.

After trailing 24-3 at halftime in what was the most embarrassing half of this young season, Adam Gase's team rallied in the second half.

They got to within 31-24 with over six minutes to play. And that's how it ended.

The rally was ruined by the same defense that gave up three first half touchdowns to Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and then gave up a 65-yard TD march against a New England offense headed by rookie third-stringer Jacoby Brissett, who replaced the injured Garoppolo just before halftime.

And even as the offense scored touchdowns on runs by Kenyan Drake and passes to Jordan Cameron and Kenny Stills, the defense still could not handle the prosperity.

The Patriots went on a prolonged drive to all but nail down the game in the final five minutes. The Miami defense couldn't stop Brissett. It couldn't stop sweeps by LaGarrette Blount.

It simply could not step up in the game's most pressing moments.

It was basically something we've seen two games in a row now. Last week the Miami defense also failed to finish as Seattle marched for the winning score in the final minutes.

So finishing is an issue right now for this unit.

This is also an issue: The defensive backfield had trouble against less than stellar quarterbacks.

The fact of the matter is the Patriots drove 70 yards their final possession against the Miami defense, setting up kicker Stephen Gostkowski for 39-field goal that would have sealed the victory.

Gostkowski missed.

The offense, having no time outs, got within a 19-yard pass attempt by Ryan Tannehill into the end zone for a tying score. The pass was intercepted.

Dolphins lose.

 

 

New England Patriots beating the Miami Dolphins decisively at halftime; Foster injured

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This is a nightmare.

The Patriots have absolutely dominated the Miami Dolphins through one half of player here and lead, 24-3 at halftime.

The Patriots scored on their first three possessions of the game and made the Miami defense that looked solid a week ago, seem incapable of stopping quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and company.

Of course, eventually the Miami defense did slow the Pats but that came when Kiko Alonso hit Garoppolo, driving his right (throwing) shoulder into the turf. Garoppolo left the game and was replaced by backup Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, you probably know, is really New England's third quarterback as starter Tom Brady is suspended.

Garoppolo left the game after completing 18 of 27 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. His QB rating was 130.8. Brissett failed to complete either of his two throws. Garoppolo will not return, per the Patriots.

The Dolphins?

Awful.

Arian Foster left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury. He is out the remainder of the game. Foster had nine yards on three carries when he left the game. Foster has had a career filled with groin and other soft tissue injuries.

Ryan Tannehill is 10 of 18 with one interception. His QB rating right now is 52.1.

The defense cannot seem to cover the New England receivers. The pass rush initially was not a factor.

This defense actually gave up four consecutive TD drives in a row, going back to last week's final drive at Seattle.

Not.

Good.

 

Williams indeed playing; Pead, Williams inactive today

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Miami Dolphins are at full strength today.

Marion Williams, who practiced only one day last week while nursing a concussion, is active and playing as I reported a couple of days ago.

All the other players who were nursing injuries -- Arian Foster, DeVante Parker, Jelani Jenkins and others -- are active and playing.

The inactives today are Isaiah Pead, Dallas Thomas, Damien Williams, Justin Hunter, Donald Butler and Jordan Lucas are the inactives.

Having both Pead and Williams inactive is surprising. Having Williams, who the team loves on special teams, is interesting.

For the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski is inactive.

AJ Derby, Eric Rowe, Dont'a Hightower, Jonathan Cooper, LaAdrian Waddle, and Anthony Johnson are also inactive.

September 17, 2016

DeVante Parker: I'm better than last year

I explain to you in my column in today's Miami Herald (the actual newspaper) how the Dolphins' grand plans for receiver DeVante Parker and running back Jay Ajayi got off track recently and the derailment is threatening to become a train wreck if things don't improve soon.

But what the newspaper column didn't get to was whether I think this is salvageable.

And of course it is salvageable.

Honestly, I have way more hope that the Parker situation will get corrected than the Ajayi situation. I also think the Dolphins will be much more patient with Parker than Ajayi because, remember, the investment in Parker is substantial. The investment in Ajayi is not. It's hard to find a receiver with Parker's abilities. It's not nearly as difficult replacing a running back such as Ajayi.

(Not that I'm saying either player is about to be replaced).

I believe Parker plays Sunday at New England. The Dolphins listed him as questionable on their injury report and said he was limited in practice. Parker had a different take.

"I've been full speed, yeah," he said.

I would not be surprised if Ajayi is once again inactive, although I have zero inside information on this issue. If Ajayi isn't on the field, then that lame schtick he pulled with reporters Friday afternoon will make him look worse than he already does.

After practice Parker was peppered with the usual questions about his health, more specifically about his hamstring. And he reported if he had to play Friday evening he would have been ready to play.

"Probably so," Parker said. "Everything feels fine."

Not my question. My question is what DeVante Parker are the Dolphins going to get when he finally gets back on the field. Remember, he was pretty good at the end of last year. Can he do that again?

"It's a new season but I know I can do that again, probably even better," Parker said. "I know I'm better even though I haven't been able to play a lot. I know I'm better this year than last season. I know I can do a lot better than last season.

"People that follow this saw last season and know what I can do. I don't have to talk much."

So is Ajayi similarly ready to be a better version of himself than he was as a rookie? I don't know. If I had asked him Friday, I'm certain this is what he would have said:

"My priority right now is working hard on the practice field and helping this team win."

Then he would have repeated that again and again and again and again regardless of what other questions anyone might have asked because that's what he did Friday.

And how did he practice this week?

"My focus right now is working hard and helping the team win against New England."

So disappointing.

September 16, 2016

Local Sheriff's union wants law enforcement to suspend details protecting the Miami Dolphins

The Broward County Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, a union that represents local deputies in the county's largest law enforcement body, is calling for the suspension of details that escort and otherwise protect the Miami Dolphins as a response to four players kneeling during the national anthem in Seattle last Sunday.

Jeff Bell, president of deputies local 6020, says he has contacted the association's executive board in order to make everyone aware of the protest undertaken by four Dolphins -- Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas -- and urged the board and all law enforcement to cease detail work for the Dolphins.

The players had been protesting what they said is a lack of equal justice for some African Americans at the hands of some police.

The letter from union president reads as follows:

"To Everyone,

"Today, I contacted the executive board of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Local 6020 in reference to the actions of a few Miami Dolphin players. As a law enforcement union, we certainly encourage people to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of speech. However, in certain professions, an individual’s freedom of speech must take a back seat to the organization or government entity that they choose to represent. Even the NFL’s governing body and the ownership of individual teams set strict policies in order to make sure players represent the league in the most professional way.

"With this said, I can not fathom why the Miami Dolphin organization and the NFL would allow the blatant disrespect of the American Flag and what it stands for during the national anthem. It is a privilege to play in the NFL, not a given constitutional right. The Miami Dolphin players, staff and family members enjoy full police escorts from the Broward Sheriff’s Office on a regular basis. These escorts often involve putting the men and women of law enforcement agencies at risk as they block intersections during peak traffic times in order to expedite the travel time between facilities.

"We have buried coworkers who have unnecessarily lost their lives protecting the lives of individuals. Some law enforcement officers even lost their lives while protecting the lives of the very same individuals who were protesting against law enforcement. The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Local 6020 is seeking the immediate termination of all Miami Dolphin escorts until such time the Miami Dolphins and the National Football League set forth a policy that will not tolerate the disrespect of the American Flag and National Anthem during any sanctioned games or events.

"We no longer support an organization that values financial profit over a minimum conduct standard. What good is it to ask singers to sing the national anthem, honor guards to preform services or ask the United States Air Force to conduct fly overs during the National Anthem if the same organization will not even set a minimum code of conduct for its players?

"Until further notice, I respectfully ask all members of law enforcement not to work any detail associated with the Miami Dolphins unless ordered to do so. Again, I would also respectfully ask the Broward Sheriff’s Office to refuse any security details associated with the Miami Dolphins until such time the Miami Dolphin organization mandates a code of conduct for their players during all sanctioned events.

Jeff Bell

President

Local 6020"

The Dolphins players were supported in their actions by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who defended their right to protest. The club was not immediately available for comment.

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Mario Williams expected to play at New England

Defensive end Mario Williams, nursing a concussion earlier this week, is expected to play Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Williams has been cleared for onfield activities and to play following his latest exam within the NFL concussion protocol, according to an NFL source.

Williams was on the field during the portion of practice open to the media Friday afternoon. 

Assuming Williams suffers no setback in this practice or anytime before Sunday's game,and passes one final test Saturday, the Dolphins will have one of their most effective defensive lineman from Week One on the field against the New England Patriots.

Williams had a sack in 45 snaps before he suffered the concussion last week at Seattle. The Dolphins have made no secret of the fact when Williams left the game, the Miami defense lost something. It was after Williams left the game that the Seahawks were able to engineer their game-winning drive.

Receiver DeVante Parker, who has been limited with a hamstring injury this week, practiced again Friday at least on a limited basis. He is expected play Sunday.

reported earlier today center Mike Pouncey is not play Sunday ... or possibly for a while longer.