February 05, 2016

Dolphins offseason goal: Get stronger, tougher, to play in AFC East

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Miami Dolphins braintrust has spent much time grinding on tape and discussing what went wrong in 2015 so that it can be corrected for 2016. And club executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, at the Super Bowl for a couple of days on business, discussed with me where the organization sees itself and how to fix what is broken.

It starts at quarterback. I reported last week that new coach Adam Gase and his coaching staff were convinced Ryan Tannehill is their quarterback and are comfortable with him going forward. Tannenbaum confirmed that publicly, saying that is indeed the case.

"Yes, it is," Tannenbaum said. "It's good to get a fresh set of eyes on guys and the new staff, Clyde Christenson, Adam Gase are excited to work with Ryan and believe he has the attributes we've talked about: He's tough, he's smart, he can make all the throws. Obviously we hope he plays better as well as the whole team. As a team we were 6-10. But I think we're all excited about the future with Ryan."

Tannenbaum is at the Super Bowl but he recognizes his team is not. I asked him how close the Dolphins are to playing in one of these games and he quickly said the Dolphins' focus is on more immediate issues. Like getting better within the division.

"From where I see the world, I'm much more concerned about us making progress and going from there," Tannenbaum said. "I know this from all my years in the league, the difference between winning and losing is so small. With that said, we have a fresh start, a fresh opportunity, and we have to get better. It starts with our own guys. We have to get our guys better. We have to get stronger. We have to be better in the AFC East. We have to be more physical on both sides of the ball. But to say we're a year away or two years away from the Super Bowl, I can't control that. But what I can control is that we start getting better as soon as our players get players."

If the future is to get better, the Dolphins simply have to change their results in the AFC East. That is a major focus this offseason. Miami was 1-5 in games against division rivals New England, Buffalo and the New York Jets, having been swept by the Bills and Jets.

And so the team is about to undertake the assignment of changing those results by trying to get players who are stronger and tougher -- attributes.

I asked Tannenbaum if the Dolphins are going to be big players, small players or no players in free agency when it starts in March.

"I would say we're trying to be appropriate players," he said. "We're trying to get our own house in order. We have flexibility. Dawn Aponte who is negotiating most of the contracts, has done a good job of giving us flexibility. So we'll be appropriate. If there's the right opportunity to improve, I'm sure we'll be aggressive. But it'll be measured and it's about getting our own house in order first."

So what is Miami's philosophy going to be on the kind of players it will sign and draft this offseason?

"I think what [general manager] Chris [Grier], Adam and I have talked about is we want guys who are smart and tough," Tannenbaum said. "How do they help us in the division? Again, to go back, we were 1-5 in the division. We'll never get to where we want to go being 1-5. So we spend a lot of time talking about that.

And part of that discussion is how to fashion the Dolphins to beat New England, Buffalo and the Jets.

"It has to be a big part of the discussion, without question," Tannenbaum said. "Those teams are all big and physical. They all live, breathe and eat in the Northeast. They're tough. We have to start preparing for that right now. We have to get stronger. We have to be able to move people off the line of scrimmage. We have to pass protect much more consistently. If we don't do those things, we can't expect to have a different result."

If the Dolphins don't fix the defense, they cannot have a different result. The Dolphins D finished the season 19th in the NFL in points allowed. The 389 points Miami allowed in 2015 was the fifth most allowed by any defense in franchise history.

So it is pretty certain defense will addressed this offseason.

"We're going to have an opportunity to address some areas we feel need to be addressed and we're going to get some players back that were hurt last year and hopefully we're going to add to it and I think we can turn things around pretty quick," Tannenbaum said.

February 02, 2016

Rip the Miami Dolphins for getting rid of Ted Ginn Jr.? No

SAN FRANCISCO -- There's a reason Ted Ginn Jr. chose No. 19 when he arrived in South Florida to play for the Miami Dolphins in 2007.

“The meaning behind number 19 is first round, ninth pick," Ginn Jr. said during the Super Bowl media night madness here.

That's right, Ginn Jr. (and his family) were drafted by the Dolphins with the ninth pick of the first round by then general manager Randy Mueller. The thinking then was that Ginn was dynamic because he had explosive speed. The thinking then was the Dolphins had to take him because Brady Quinn, the player fans wanted, wasn't accurate enough to play quarterback in the NFL.

And so Ted Ginn Jr. was the pick.

But the investment went sideways for the Dolphins because the GM and head coach (Cam Cameron) who drafted him were fired after a 1-15 season. It was their only season at their posts in Miami. And then the next regime -- headed by Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano -- didn't have the ties to Ginn Jr. that could protect him if things went sideways.

And things definitely got sideways as Ginn Jr. struggled to catch the football. Struggled to be a No. 1 receiver. Struggled to avoid always running toward a sideline to avoid contact.

The Dolphins traded Ginn Jr. to San Francisco in April of 2010 for a fifth round pick that turned out to be Nolan Carroll.

The Dolphins were happy. And Ginn Jr. was happy to get out of town and out from under the cloud of unmet high expectations.

But this is where the story gets interesting...

Ginn Jr. has not necessarily ever lived up to his draft status anywhere he's been. But he's definitely not a bust as a player. He's a good player. He has flaws, such as inconsistent hands. But he still has that elite speed.

And the Panthers used that speed to their advantage this season as Ginn caught 44 passes for 739 yards -- a career high average of 16.9 yards per catch -- with 10 TD receptions. Ginn's presence helped alleviate the devestating loss of Kelvin Benjamin to season-ending knee injury and revived a career that obviously never got off the ground in Miami and didn't do any better in San Francisco or Arizona.

And what is the difference for Ginn Jr. in Carolina compared to Miami, San Francisco or Arizona?

“Cam Newton," he said. "That’s really it, Cam Newton. It isn’t really about the ‘dab’ it’s just about who he is. I believe that if it wasn’t for him there is no Ted Ginn. You know, ever since I came here from 2013 to now, we had some great success, you know? Putting the ball in the air, you know?  This year, just coming back and losing Benjamin, you know, we knew that we had to step up as one and make it work and that’s what we did."

And here is where you expect me to rip the Dolphins for getting rid of Ted Ginn Jr. prematurely, right? This is where you expect me to say he is among the list of players who enjoyed more success away from the Dolphins than with the Dolphins, right?

I'm not going to say that.

Look, Ginn Jr. is a good third or fourth receiver. He is a great downfield threat against defenses that like to play press. He is a threat as a punt returner. He's fine when he's catching footballs from a premier QB.

But he came to the Dolphins to be part of the solution for turning the offense around. He was not just a first-round pick, but a high first round pick. And even though Cameron said the Dolphins picked him to return kicks at that tragic draft day presser, fans expected their ninth overall pick to play and contribute and make a huge difference and be star almost immediately.

And Ginn never did that in Miami.

And he's never done that anywhere else, by the way.

In Miami Ginn Jr. was under that expectation cloud that seemed to overshadow him. When he stunk, and there were times like that, he was booed by fans and ripped by media (me included). When he was good -- like on that day against the Jets in which he scored both Miami's touchdowns on returns to lead the team to victory -- the narrative was he was fulfilling expectations.

Unfortunately, there were more bad days than good. And there were too many unremarkable days in between. To this day, Ginn Jr. averages 26.2 receiving yards per game for his career.

So rip the Dolphins for divesting of Ted Ginn Jr.?

Nope. I understand why they did it.

January 31, 2016

The Miami Dolphins have an issue at linebacker(s)

Senior Bowl week, the acknowledged kickoff to draft season, is behind us and it should be noted that although the Miami Dolphins coaches were not present for the practices or game, the staff will watch and study all the practices and the game via their tablets or computers in the coming days.

And during that study, the linebacker position will be of particular interest.

Indeed, the linebacker position will be a particular interest throughout this offseason until that moment when the Dolphins feel they've resolved their linebacker problems.

Plural.

About those problems (plural): The entire Earth recognizes the Dolphins have to find a starting caliber linebacker this offseason. But the truth is the team will be looking for two -- TWO! -- starting caliber linebackers this offseason.

One of those will be a middle linebacker. The Dolphins had Kelvin Sheppard as their starter in 2015 and he proved to be solid enough. But an upgrade is necessary here and the team recognizes that.

The Dolphins also have questions on the outside. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins were also solid in 2015. But neither was necessarily good.

Misi, who is scheduled to cost $4.878 million against the 2016 cap, had 59 solo tackles and one pass defensed in 2015. That's it. He also missed three games due to injury and that has been a recurring theme for Misi. He's missed eight starts the past two seasons and as Bill Parcells once famously said, durability and availability are abilities.

Misi's salary and health question marks hang a target on him as a possible cap casualty. The Dolphins can save $3.72 million by parting ways before June 1. As a post-June 1 cut, the Dolphins could save $4.3 million against the cap by cutting Misi.

Jenkins missed three starts last season and was no more productive than Misi. He finished the season with 50 solo tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. The problem with Jenkins is he didn't improve on a 2014 season in which he had 83 solos, 3.5 sacks, a pass defensed and two forced fumbles. So regression.

But Jenkins is scheduled to cost only $793,000 against the cap in 2016. Unlike Misi, he is not a bigger ticket player. He is still on his rookie contract.

The Dolphins, by the way, are interested in getting bigger, stronger, faster at linebacker in 2016. Their linebackers got pushed around and were slow-ish to the ball in 2015.

Misi, at 6-3 and 254 pounds, is a massive 4-3 outside linebacker. That's great. But he's not necessarily quick or fast. Jenkins at 6-foot and 243 isn't small but he isn't big-boned nor exceedingly quick or fast, either.

I believe the Dolphins will try to replace Sheppard and Misi this offseason and deal with the size issue on Jenkins because he's younger and relatively inexpensive.

But ... if the team replaces only one starting linebacker this offseason instead of two, something went wrong.

January 30, 2016

Miami Dolphins hoping west coast games will include extended stay

The Miami Dolphins have three west coast games next year. But they may have only two west coast trips.

The Dolphins will be playing the Rams, Chargers and Seahawks in 2016 and, until Friday, it seemed they might be playing two games in Los Angeles -- against the Rams and Chargers -- because one of those is already approved to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Chargers were negotiating to do so.

But the Chargers announced they are staying in San Diego at least one more season so the Dolphins will be going back one more time to the scene of the 2015 game at Qualcomm Stadium that was supposed to be the Chargers final game there.

So trips to three west coast cities, right? That's a lot of travel miles from Miami, right?

Not if the Dolphins can help it.

The team is asking the NFL to schedule two of those west coast trips back-to-back. And if the NFL complies, as it sometimes does with special schedule requests from clubs, the Dolphins then intend to stay on the west coast the week between those games, per a club source.

So, for example, if the Dolphins are scheduled to play the Rams and Chargers back-to-back, they would not fly back to Miami after the Los Angeles game and then return to San Diego for that game. The Dolphins would instead stay in Southern California after the Rams game, practice there that week, and play the Chargers the following weekend.

(By the way, Southern Cal Dolphins fans, the team's practices during the regular season are closed to the public so don't even ask).

It is possible the two back-to-back west coast trips are Seattle and one of the Southern California games. Well, the Dolphins would make the NFL's longest trek on the American continent -- from South Florida to Seattle -- and then go onward to or from Seattle rather than return to Miami.

The decision to do it this way is quite logical. The Dolphins believe flying west and staying there is better for their players physically than flying west, flying east, then returning west again. It's a competitive advantage decision.

Obviously staying out west will put strains on the team's logistical crew. Miami will have to carry enough equipment for two games and a week of practice rather than just one game. The team will also have to find a training site for a week.

But this is not unprecedented. In November 2004, the Dolphins requested and got their scheduled games at Seattle and San Francisco in back-to-back weeks. The Dolphins flew from South Florida to Seattle, lost 24-17 to the Seahawks, and then flew directly to San Francisco where they practiced for a week, celebrated Thanksgiving, and played the 49ers the following Sunday. Miami beat San Francisco 24-17 that Sunday, on the back end of an extended stay away from home.

The Dolphins went 1-1 on the extended west coast stay in a season they won only four games.

The Dolphins hope they would get as good if not better results in 2016 if they have a chance for an extended stay out west. 

January 29, 2016

Adam Gase and his coaching staff convinced Miami Dolphins have a QB

When Adam Gase was introduced to South Florida as the Miami Dolphins head coach, the obvious question about what he thinks of quarterback Ryan Tannehill came up very quickly. And Gase basically stiff-armed the question because the new coach said he hadn't seen or studied Tannehill enough to give an expert opinion.

That was 20 days ago and a lot has happened since then -- namely Gase and his coaches have been grinding on Tannehill tape. And now their opinions on the player are mostly formed.

And the opinion, according to a source, is that Adam Gase is more than pleased with what he's seen of Ryan Tannehill on tape.

Indeed, Gase has told multiple people within the Dolphins organization that he doesn't quite understand why some people are up in arms about Tannehill because what he sees on tape is the makings of a good NFL quarterback.

That's high praise from a coach who was hired primarily on his credentials as a quarterback guru whisperer mentor Sherpa.

Gase helped turn around Jay Cutler's career arc in Chicago in 2015, making a player who had been somewhat unhappy and a turnover machine on the field into a 92.3 rated passer who seemed to enjoy playing again. Gase also was the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator in 2013 when Peyton Manning threw an NFL record 55 TD passes.

And now he's convinced, per sources, he has a good working foundation in Tannehill that can be molded into a good quarterback,

That feeling, by the way, is now coursing throughout the Dolphins coaching staff. In short, everyone is on board with Tannehill.

“I really enjoyed watching him," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said of Tannehill Thursday. "I haven’t seen him a bunch. I visited with him and his wife when I came in for the interview and I had a great breakfast with them and as much as you can do in an hour there, but I’ve been extremely impressed with him. He’s been extremely productive and he’s played some awfully long stretches of good football. He seems like a guy that has all of the things that you’re looking for. A guy who wants to be good, who has it in perspective and (I’m) really looking forward to seeing him on the field a little bit."

This is by no means to be understood as Gase and his coaching staff thinking Tannehill is perfect or not in need of serious honing. There are issues that are not necessarily going to be shared with the public right away that the new staff, led by Gase, will work to improve -- both in Tannehill and around Tannehill.

One obvious issue the coaches are going to make sure to correct is Tannehill getting hit time and again, every game. Recognizing Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in his four seasons, the Dolphins new staff is going to make sure to cut down on the pressure. That will be addressed any number of ways, including improving the offensive line, getting the football out quick and improving Tannehill's recognition and reaction times.

But the foundation -- the arm strength, the competitiveness, the intelligence, the athletic ability, the work ethic, and other traits -- are apparently there, Gase and his coaches believe.

They are convinced right now the Dolphins have a quarterback.

January 28, 2016

Vance Joseph and Ndamukong Suh: The meeting of the Alpha males

New Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is an alpha personality guy. That's what everybody who has been around him have told me. That's the vibe I got today when I spent a couple of minutes with Joseph after his introductory press conference.

And that's good because the Dolphins defense has a couple of Alpha personality type guys and unless they have a clear leader heading the unit, well, bad things can happen. Lost respect for the coordinator is one such bad thing.

That was perhaps some of the issues the defense had under former defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Eventually it was one reason players tuned Coyle out.

One such player was Ndamukong Suh, who didn't take long to disconnect from Coyle's messaging last season, per multiple team sources.

So how is Joseph, an Alpha male, going to handle Suh, an Alpha male?

Well, by having Suh invest in the defense on and off the field, which Suh has an expressed a desire to do.

"We've talked last couple of weeks here," Joseph said. "He's a bright guy. And he wants to be involved with our overall scheme. My opinion of that is this: Every player is going to have a voice, from the top to the bottom. If a player puts the work in, and he's studying daily to help us win, I'll listen.

"If it's Suh or if it's [Reshad] Jones or if it's [Brent] Grimes, whoever puts the work in and brings me ideas, I'll listen. It's the NFL and you want players to have ownership of it. If it's a closed door all the time that can be a problem for a defensive coordinator. So it's an open door policy. We're open to ideas that have been thought through."

Ok, so idea swelcome. But they better be good ideas.

The idea that the Dolphins paid Suh $114 million, including $60 million fully guaranteed, to basically have a player who takes up blockers is mind blowing. Yet, that is what Suh was a majority of the time in 2015.

"He's obviously a dominant player. He's an inside player so that's always tough because offenses can kind of double team him every play," Joseph said. "It's tough for him. Watching the film, he's requiring two or three blockers every play. So sometimes it's hard for him to have an impact on the game. But obviously he's a dominant guy. We can use his reputation to help us on defense. He's big, he's fast, he's explosive. But he requiring double teams every play so for him to get off, it's tough."

Joseph believes he has ways to free Suh on certain plays so the defensive tackle can get to the ballcarrier or pressure the pass pocket.

"We've got some ways. but I can't share those," he said. "We've got some ways to get him more single blocks, one-on-ones, and more opportunities."

Debunking a false narrative about the Miami Dolphins coaching staff

The Miami Dolphins today will introduce their coordinators to the media and, in so doing, to you as well.

Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will be introduced locally for the first time and assistant head coach/special teams coach Darren Rizzi will be reintroduced because he's been with the team dating back to the Tony Sparano staff.

And I want to take this opportunity to tackle a topic that has been making the rounds on social media and even some mainstream media sites: Let's tackle the narrative that the Dolphins had a weak coaching staff the last couple of seasons under Joe Philbin and new head coach Adam Gase kept nine coaches from that staff.

And thus this Dolphins staff is still weak.

And Gase obviously had trouble finding better people.

Executive vice president in charge of everything Mike Tannanbaum dismissed those two narratives this week:

"We feel really good about the result," Tannenbaum said. "We spent the better part of January working, Chris {Grier} and I with Adam, talking with [owner] Steve {Ross] daily about where we are. We feel good about blending some continuity with some of the coaches we felt good about as well as having new blood. We're excited about the staff and the guys that were held over were decisions made by Adam and he felt strongly about those guys."

And here is the truth:

Yes, the Dolphins kept nine coaches from the previous staff. but of those only three are leading the room at their positions. Williams is the defensive line coach, so that's his room. Anarumo is taking a step back from his interim defensive coordinator duties to return to being the DB coach, so the secondary is his room. And, obviously, Rizzi continues to be at the head of the special teams meetings.

Let's consider two of those three for a moment. Anarumo had three interview requests put in for him by other NFL teams to be considered as a defensive coordinator after the season ended. He went on one of those interviews -- to Jacksonville. And although Gus Bradley didn't hire him as the coordinator, he wanted to hire Anarumo as some sort of hybrid defensive backfield pass defense coordinator.

That didn't fly with the Dolphins who retained Anarumo. So he was in demand.

Rizzi had four interview requests from around the league put in on him. The Dolphins turned them all down.

The point is these guys were well regarded in league circles.

Dave Puloka was the assistant strength coach last year. He also dates back to the Tony Sparano staff. He also is highly regarded in league circles and would have had no problem finding work if he was let go. The Dolphins promoted him to head strength and conditioning coach instead.

The other five coaches who were retained from Philbin's staff are either assistants to the position coaches or have been reassigned to the research department.

Ben Johnson was an assistant QB coach last year and is an assistant WR coach this year. New hire Shawn Jefferson is the wide receiver coach.

Charlie Bullen was assistant defensive line coach last year and is assistant linebacker coach this year. New hire Matt Burke is the linebacker coach.

Marwan Maalouf was the assistant special teams coach last year and remains in that position. Rizzi is the special teams coordinator so to speak.

Ken O'Keefe was the wide receiver coach for Philbin, was reassigned when Philbin was fired, and now has been reassigned again as a senior football research analyst.

Blue Adams was an assistant DB coach last year and is now a football research analyst.

So, yes, the Dolphins retained nine members of last year's staff. But, without diminishing the role of an assistant to an assistant coach, that's what most of these are doing.

Gase, meanwhile, hired 13 new coaches -- eight of which are the lead coaches at their positions. 

That's the breakdown.

I'm not saying this is 100 percent, absolutely the second coming of the 1994 Green Bay Packers coaching staff (look it up).

But fair is fair.

January 27, 2016

Suh, Miami Dolphins have already agreed to a contract restructure

So I spent some time on ProFootballTalk.com's live radio show Wednesday afternoon because Mike Florio is a friend and he pays me tons and tons of money (zero) to appear.

And it was interesting that the topic of Ndamukong Suh and his contract restructure came up. That is an important topic because Suh is scheduled to count $28.6 million against the cap this league year. That's quite high. And the Dolphins, who need to make some cap room so they can work free agency aggressively (and they will be aggressive, I've been told), can turn that scheduled $28.6 million cap hit into a more palatable $10.5 million cap hit by simply restructuring Suh's.

As I've written before, the way this is done is by converting up to $22.7 million of Suh's $23.4 million base salary in 2016 into a new and guaranteed signing bonus before the start of the league year March 9. Doing that adds to the prorated portion of Suh's cap number in 2016, '17, '18, '19 and '20. It effectively raises his cap numbers in 2017-20 by $4.5 million each year.

But it lowers Suh's cap number this coming season by over $18 million.

As you read Tuesday, club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said the Dolphins will definitely look at doing this and no final decisions have been made on the subject.

But let me be clear: The Dolphins were looking at this possibility the day they signed Suh.

Indeed, Florio argued with me that Suh giving his permission for the club to convert his guaranteed salary to a guaranteed bonus may not make sense for the player unless he gets something else in return. So that got me to thinking. And that got other people to thinking.

And we looked at Suh's contract. And it turns out Suh has already agreed to the restructure at any time of the Dolphins choosing.

Paragraph 33 of Suh's contract handles this issue under the term "Automatic Conversions."

It reads: "Player and Club agree that on one or more occasions and at any time during the duration of this contract, club shall have the option to convert a portion of player's 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and/or 2020 Paragraph 5 (base salary) into signing bonus, subject to forfeiture only for the league year of such converted compensation. Player and club agree that an email an/or phone call from the club to the player or player's certified agent shall suffice to notify player that club is exercising its rights under this paragraph and will make such a conversion, the amount thereof and the effective date of the conversion."

So, again, the Dolphins and Suh have already agreed to a restructure. It is just a matter of the team pulling the trigger.

Something they will nearly definitely do by March 9.

January 26, 2016

Miami Dolphins work progressing toward answering offseason questions

If you listened to Miami Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum speak with the media after a Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Ala., Tuesday, you'd be tempted to think the team has tons of issues looming and no plans have been set in place for dealing with them.

Remember, Miami's upcoming unrestricted free agents are about to hit the market in March or not.

Decisions on cap casualties have to be made.

Free agency is coming up.

Some contract restructures have to be addressed.

It's almost offseason go time. And the Dolphins?

"We haven't made any decisions as it relates to strategic planning, salary cap, budgets, things like that," Tannenbaum said. "By the time we get to the first day of the league year we should have plenty of room to address the needs we have. And certainly we'll be looking at (Ndamukong) Suh's contract."

No, it doesn't sound like the plan is written yet. But I am told the work is in progress and the Dolphins do not feel threatened by any time constraints. They'll be ready to handle business at a time of their choosing.

But this is also true: The team has not approached looming unrestricted free agents such as Olivier Vernon, Rishard Matthews and Lamar Miller about possibly re-signing with Miami.

"We will over the next few weeks," Tannenbaum said. "We have some time. We still have, in my opinion, plenty of time to hit those guys as we make a decision on who we keep."

The decision on Olivier Vernon should be interesting. He is going to be expensive if the Dolphins want to sign him to a contract. He is going to be a significant cap hit -- in the $15 million range -- if the Dolphins decide to use the franchise tag on him.

And the sides have not talked seriously about the matter with agents for those players in some time.

Tannenbaum would not commit to restructuring Suh's deal. I don't see how they don't do it because if they do not, Suh will cost $28.6 million against the cap. Restructuring could save the Dolphins $18 million of that in cap space even if it does make Suh cost more against the cap in future years.

There are some players the team will perhaps extend  to lower their cap number -- Cameron Wake is a candidate there.

Other guys are likely about to get cut -- with Greg Jennings, Quinton Coples, Brent Grimes, Jordan Cameron and others being candidates there -- because their 2016 cap charge is high and their production in 2015 didn't rise to that level.

Before those negotiations begin, before some of the pink slips, are authored, the Dolphins want to come to an organizational opinion on the players. That becomes a more involved process this year because head coach Adam Gase and others on the coaching staff are new, so new thoughts and projections about how to use players going forward have to be considered.

"We have to sit down with coaches to see how each guy fits," general manager Chris Grier said.

"We'll look at all factors to make those decisions," Tannenbaum said.

Carson Wentz goal: To be the first QB taken in the next draft

Carson Wentz is not a household name. Yet.

The North Dakota State quarterback is a bigtime FCS level performer but ... he played in the FCS. But the NFL, which goes to any lengths to find talent, considers Wentz a big time prospect. Teams, including the Miami Dolphins, are intrigued. And so this week during the Senior Bowl practices leading up to Saturday's game, teams are studying Wentz.

They're looking at a kid who is admittedly a late bloomer. But they're looking at a kid who also believes he can be the first QB taken in the draft -- Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch notwithstanding.

Here is what he said at the Senior Bowl press conference:

Q: What would you like to show the NFL this week?

A: I think there’s obviously a lot of doubt coming from the FCS level and I just want to address that right away, prove that I can play at a high level, play at a fast level, compete with these guys and really excel. I have the mental and physical abilities to play at this level and I’m really excited to prove it.

Q: How are you guys (North Dakota State) able to do what you’ve done up there?

A: A lot of people kind of compare us to Alabama of the FCS. Our conferences are really tough and say we’re like the SEC of the FCS so a lot of comparison based on the winning culture and the tradition that we have. Football is huge in our state. It’s big down in Alabama, but North Dakota State Bison football to North Dakotans and people in the Midwest has become a really big thing and we have quite the following and we would argue we have some of the best fans in the nation.

Q: How big is this to work with Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys staff?

A: It’s a tremendous opportunity. I think we’ve seen teams fall in love with players at any point during the draft process and this is just the first step in that process. Obviously, a great opportunity for me to show not just my physical abilities, but my mental side of things that the Cowboys staff can see at a whole other level.

Q: Would you rather be a little more under the radar or do you like being up there with the top quarterbacks in this class?

A: I don’t pay much attention to that. It kind of is what it is because everyone’s going to have their own opinion. All of the media is going to have their own opinion. What really matters is what the scouts think, what the owners think, what the administration within the team thinks. At the end of the day, whatever projections might be out there, it’s irrelevant to me personally. I’m just worried about getting better every day and proving myself every day.

Q: How big were you when you got into high school?

A: I was a freshman in high school at 5’8” and 125 pounds. Then 5’10” and a real skinny kid as a sophomore and then I bloomed into a 6’3” and 170 pound kid as a junior. I had some injury issues so I didn’t play quarterback as a junior so I missed a lot of the big recruiting. In North Dakota, it’s hard to get found in general, let alone missing a junior year. I came in my senior year at 6’5” and 200 pounds and kind of came out of nowhere. I always knew I had the physical and mental abilities to play this position, but physically I finally developed late. I’m so thankful and I would trade the road I took for the world.

Q: Is the goal in this process to be the first quarterback taken?

A: Absolutely. I don’t know any quarterback that doesn’t want to be the top guy in their class. If you don’t think you are or don’t think you have the ability to be, then you’re probably in the wrong sport because we’re competitors playing football here. We all want to be the best at our respective positions and that’s obviously the goal.

Q: Who did you try to emulate as a quarterback?

A: Growing up, I was a Vikings fan just because they were the close team. I always loved watching Brett Favre. I loved his grit, his competitiveness, his gunslinger mentality and I loved the way the guy had fun out there. You’d see him just running around throwing touchdowns and he wasn’t all about himself. He’s sprinting down there giving guys hi-fives and the energy he brought, I loved every minute of it.

 

January 25, 2016

Adapting to available talent is good, but prototypes must exist

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is still piecing together a staff and when that is complete he'll get about the business of intently studying the talent likely to be on the roster so he can figure out what he wants to do with that talent.

And this is considered to be a great trait because Gase has made it clear he's not going to demand his players fit his systems -- on offense and defense -- but rather he's going to tailor his systems to fit the strengths of his players.

Great.

But as the NFL waits for no one, I remind you that the evaluation process of the next batch of players the Dolphins will bring into the fold hits a significant milestone this week with Senior Bowl practices that lead up to that game on Saturday.

Why is that important?

Because at that point -- as in right now -- Gase and the coaches he does have on staff better know what kind of player they want. They better know what kind of player best suits what they want to do. They better be able to articulate to executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Chris Grier, senior personnel man Eric Stokes and the rest of the Miami personnel department what critical factors they need checked off for each player at each position.

This, in other words, is not about adapting a system to players. It is about finding players that fit your system.

Consider:

The New England Patriots are among the most adaptable coaching staffs in the NFL. They change the plan week to week. They utilize the best gift of each player, or try to. They hide the flaws of their players, or try to.

They are adaptable.

But within that adaptability, coach Bill Belichick has set markers each player at every position must hit to be of interest to him. If an outside linebacker is not 6-3ish and 240-250 pounds, he's not going to be on the team. If his defensive end isn't 300 pounds, he doesn't fit. Obviously, size and speed is a fundamental critical factor and every position has different ones. And, obviously, the critical factors get much more specific than just size and speed.

But the point is Belichick runs a system on defense. It is the same defense, with some variations, he's always run dating back two decades. It is the defense the New York Giants ran under Bill Parcells. And the Patriots coaching staff and personnel department are on the same page about what kind of players fit that system.

It is about players fitting the system. Not changing the system all the time to fit players.

What I am saying is that a coaching staff must have a clear vision of the type of player that fits their system and, just as importantly, be able to articulate to the personnel department what the critical factors at every single position are. And then it is up to the personnel department to fill those requests. That is how it must work.

The coaching staff cannot say to the personnel department, "Go get us the best guard you can find and we'll make it work."

No. Wrong.

Because perhaps the best guard the personnel department can find is best suited for a zone blocking scheme. And perhaps the Dolphins really need a road grater. Or vice versa.

The coaching staff's adaptability can only go so far.

Take this defense for example. The Dolphins have been collecting talent to run a hybrid 4-3 for four years after running the 3-4 for four years under Tony Sparano. Well, it would be crazy for the Miami coaching staff to tell the personnel department, "Go get us a pass rusher and we'll make it work."

No. That is a recipe for disaster because a pass rusher that can be maximized in the 4-3 may not fit or be able to be maximized in the 3-4. Think Dion Jordan. He was a 3-4 OLB at Oregon. Was he a great fit as a hands in the dirt 4-3 DE? (I mean before the drug suspensions). The answer is not really.

Think of Jadaveon Clowney. He was a dominating 4-3 hands in the dirt defensive end in college. He's not been quite so dominant in Houston because they're running a multiple defense that has a lot of 3-4 concepts and Clowney's not quite as comfortable standing up.

The point is square pegs should not be shoehorned into round holes. It is not a good formula for success.

On that note, the Dolphins will continue to run a hybrid 4-3 on defense. That's good because it fits the personnel. Ndamukong Suh is not optimized as a five technique and he definitely isn't a nose tackle in a 3-4. He is optimized as a 4-3 DT. The Dolphins have had enough trouble finding one middle linebacker, they cannot be searching for two inside linebackers this offseason given all the other needs they are likely to face.

So all that talk of adaptability is kind of moot to a degree.

The Dolphins will be adding 4-3 defense talent.

The Dolphins will likely be looking at the same kind of cornerbacks. Thet are not going to be playing press technique every down under Vance Joseph. They are, for the most part with some variations thrown in, going to be an off-man defense.

So is this team going to go into free agency and try to add, say, Sean Smith?

Smith is a solid press corner. That's what he did a lot in Miami under Sparano. Lots of one-on-one. But the Dolphins recognized at the switch of their system when Joe Philbin was hired that Smith wasn't a great fit for that system. So running a similar system, they're going to pay a press corner and work around what he does best?

No. That would be foolishness.

Adam Gase and his staff say they will adjust to the available talent. Great. They say they will do what their players do well and stay away from their weaknesses. Great.

But Gase, who is not expected to travel to Mobile Alabama barring a change of plans, and his staff better have a clear vision of the type of players they want to add. They must have a set prototype for each position based on the system they want to run. And they must be able to articulate those critical factors at every position to the personnel department whose charge is to then seek out and acquire players that match those factors.

That simple.

January 22, 2016

Don Shula: Adam Gase 'an impressive' guy

You're not really the head coach of the Miami Dolphins unless the Don blesses you.

And new coach Adam Gase has that blessing, having met with former coach Don Shula at the Hall of Famer's Indian Creek Home this week.

"That was great," Shula told The Miami Herald Friday. "I like him. He's an impressive young guy. I enjoyed meeting and talking to him."

The feeling is mutual.

"It was an unbelievable experience," Gase said Friday. "That is when it really hit me that I was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, sitting there with coach Shula. He gave me very simple  advice -- do it your way from the start. That's something that he did as a coach and he had a lot of success with. I was very appreciative to spend the afternoon with him."

Gase and Shula spent a couple of hours talking about life, South Florida living, and Dolphins football. And, yes, the winningest coach in NFL history with 347 wins says he shared some other advice that Gase, who has a 0-0 career head coaching record, can use.

"We had some general conversation," Shula said. "I told him you do the best that you can to prepare [the team] for when they're going to be tested. I think the biggest thing I said to him was, 'Don't assume that something's going to happen because it's happened before. Just make sure you take the time to prepare them for what you think they're going to be confronted with when the game starts.' "

Gase, 37, is the youngest coach in the NFL. Once upon a time, a 33-year-old Shula was the youngest coach in the NFL.

So what are some of the problems Shula faced dealing with veteran players that Gase might encounter?

"I guess probably the fact you're doing a lot of things for the first time and you can't point to your resume and say, 'Back then I did this.' Or back then I did that.' You're just looking for what's going to happen next," Shula said.

Regardless, Shula is squarely in Gase's corner as he's been in the Dolphins corner since he first came to MIami in 1970.

"I want them to win," Shulas said. "We go to games. We go on the field before games and say hello to people and then go in the stands and root for them. You want them to do well. I think now they're headed in the right direction."

January 21, 2016

NFL teams often turn to Plan B when Plan A quarterbacks slip

One of the naysayer herd's primary reasons for the Miami Dolphins not drafting a quarterback, that's right in a couple of months, is that the drafted player isn't going to play. He isn't going to help the team in 2016.

He definitely isn't going to play if he's taken later in the draft because there is just no way a player taken outside the first round is going to replace a high-priced incumbent starter.

To that, I can only say maybe he won't. But maybe he will.

History suggests the possibility cannot be dismissed.

I point you to multiple examples in which a later round draft pick, or a QB not drafted at all, or a quarterback signed to be a backup to a high-priced starter, snatched an opportunity and became that team's starter.

Think, for example, Tom Brady. Drafted with the 199th overall selection in the 2000 draft. He was starting in 2001 after franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured. The next 15 years, well, you know the story.

Bledsoe's career had two such moments where he had to cede his job to an unheralded backup. In Dallas, he signed to be the guy. He had taken one team, the Patriots, to the Super Bowl in the mid 1990s and new coach Bill Parcells trusted him. Meanwhile the Cowboys had this undrafted free agent quarterback in the background named Tony Romo.

And before long, the Cowboys were Romo's team. Not Bledsoe's team.

The Seattle Seahawks are not going to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2013. The quarterback who took them to the Super Bowl the two previous years and helped them win in February 2014 was Matt Flynn. He was signed as the team's starter a couple of years before after spending time in Green Bay.

What?

What did you say?

Flynn didn't take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl? Oh, that was Russell Wilson? The short guy (5-11) drafted in the third round to ostensibly be Flynn's backup? The guy who surprised people in camp and won the job from Flynn right out of the gate? Oh, ok, so another example of a QB seemingly coming from an unexpected position to help his team.

The New York Jets, by the way, drafted Geno Smith in the 2013 second round and he was the presumed starter for 2015 because he'd been the starter in 2014. Except that Smith did not start a game in 2015. He suffered a broken jaw during training camp, the job fell to journeyman backup Ryan Fitzpatrick and the rest is history.

Fitzpatrick arrived in New York via trade. The Houston Texans got a late-round conditional pick for Fitzpatrick.

The Jets got a 10-6 record with Fitzpatrick and have already said they are going to sign him this offseason to be their future starter.

The Arizona Cardinals spent a first-round pick on Matt Leinart in 2006. But they went to the Super Bowl in 2008 with Kurt Warner as their starter.

The Buffalo Bills spent a first-round pick on E.J. Manuel in 2013. But Tyrod Taylor was picked as the starter in 2015.

RG3, picked second in the 2012 draft, ...meet Kirk Cousins.

Alex Smith, picked first overall, ...meet Colin Kaepernick.

Blaine Gabbert, picked in the first round ... meet Chad Henne, who washed out in Miami and still took your job.

Kaepernick, you took the 49ers to the Super Bowl and signed a big contract but ... meet Gabbert, who washed out in Jacksonville.

The point is the plans a team lays when it spends valuable resources in drafting a quarterback in the first round or signing one to a big free agent contract are not fullproof. Stuff happens. Life happens.

The undrafted quarterback, the later-round pick taken to be a project backup, the guy signed cheap to be a backup might have other plans. And that suggests the Dolphins should definitely have a Plan B for their quarterback spot in case Ryan Tannehill, who has been and remains Plan A, doesn't perform as planned.

And so the 2016 Miami Dolphins?

January 20, 2016

Some draftable QB names to keep in mind for the Miami Dolphins

The following is not an exercise in vain..

As promised, the next few lines will go through a list of quarterbacks that will be available in the 2016 draft in a few months. And the reason you are getting this now is because I believe the Miami Dolphins would be wise to draft a quarterback, even this year, even in the first round if necessary, to compete with Ryan Tannehill and be the fallback position in case Tannehill fails to become the elite guy the team is hoping he becomes.

And another reason you are getting this now is more important because I've been told by a source it is not out of the realm of possibility the team considers picking a quarterback in 2016. It is not decided or certain, one way or the other. But the possibility is not simply being dismissed out of hand. (That means I'm not dropping this anytime soon, folks).

So there's that.

Now as to the prospects themselves:

California's Jared Goff is considered the best quarterback prospect coming out in the coming draft by several media pundits and the one NFL scout I was able to get on the phone on short notice. Goff is not a franchise player today. He is not Andrew Luck. But because he's a quarterback, because he shows great promise, because some compare him to a young Aaron Rodgers, who happened to attend the same school, Goff is likely to be the first QB off the board. And that will likely happen early, at least earlier than the Dolphins are picking at No. 8 overall in the first round.

So for our purposes, forget him. He's not going to be available when the Dolphins pick and their need, with a solid starter already on the roster, is not such that they're going to trade up for Goff. At least, I don't imagine that would be the case.

Next is Paxton Lynch from Memphis ...

(Before we go there, please remember this assumes the Dolphins grade Lynch as the best player on their board when they pick. It is possible someone they have graded higher is there, in which case, I don't think they should reach for the QB. But if the QB is the highest rated player on their board, then I believe this should apply. Just want to clear that up, because I don't want there to be confusion that I'm advocating the Dolphins picking Lynch over, say, Joey Bosa if he's there because Bosa would likely be the higher graded player).

So Lynch is 6-7 and has a strong arm. And generally has made good decisions. And seems to be instinctive, something that Tannehill seems to lack. But Lynch is not a ready-made guy because his mechanics are sometimes whack and he did compile great statistics against inferior opposition. He was really bad in the Birmingham Bowl against Auburn, completing 16 of 37 passes for 106 yards and an interception. The reason I mention this game is because it was, outside of Mississippi, the best opponent Lynch faced all season. And against the opponent who had time to prepare for the game, the quarterback struggled.

If you recall what I wrote yesterday, I didn't say the Dolphins must pick a QB in the first round. Last I checked, Tom Brady was had in the sixth round. Russell Wilson went in the third. Drew Brees went in the second round. Tony Romo was not drafted. So stuff happens.

And in that case ...

Carson Wentz from North Dakota State. Yes, he comes from a small program that played inferior opposition. And the 2014 Dolphins draft, that featured North Dakota State's Billy Turner being selected in the third round, is testament that sometimes going with small school players can be a big, big gamble.

Connor Cook of Michigan State. Played higher level competition and was solid. But he wasn't a superstar. He completed less than 60 percent of his passes which raises eyebrows about accuracy. He struggled badly in the NCAA semifinal against Alabama to the tune of completing only 48.7 percent of his passes and throwing two interceptions without a touchdown. He has good size and a good enough arm.

Christian Hackenberg of Penn State. I really liked him when I first saw him play in 2013. He was raw but it seemed to me he had "it." But the past two years there has been no obvious improvement. Granted, he no longer had Bill O'Brien as his coach (gee, imagine coaching making a difference) but not all the struggles with accuracy and can be blamed on coaching.

Others:

Cody Kessler of USC (only 6-1 but I love his game and what's not to love about 88 TD passes the past three years).

Cardale Jones of Ohio State (Yeah, he had his best moments in the 2015 Bowl playoffs but faded as the starter last season. He is not an early round pick).

Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma (Another undersized player at 6-2 and 215 pounds who had a good two-year run with the Sooners but whose stock was hurt by the showing in the Orange Bowl. In that game, Oklahoma played Clemson and the difference between Mayfield and Deshaun Watson was stark).

[Update: Mayfield is staying at Oklahoma so it would be wise for the Dolphins to not draft him. This year.]

Mentions: Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty of Davie, down the road from Dolphins training camp ... Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, who has played tough SEC competion and improved each year he's started.

January 19, 2016

Miami Dolphins right path to finding an elite QB is taking multiple paths

It is way, way too early to talk about the NFL draft. The conference championship games are coming in a few days. The Super Bowl is coming after that. The Senior Bowl will be sandwiched in between those two. And the Indianapolis Combine will be further down the road.

So the draft, 99 days away, is only a speck on the horizon.

But as the Miami Dolphins aren't in the conference championship games, or the Super Bowl, and the only hope of one day getting to those is the next few drafts, plural, then I figure this is as fine a time as any to get this off my chest:

The Dolphins need to draft a quarterback.

They need to do it this draft.

And next draft.

And every draft, if they must, because there are myriad reasons this approach is the right thing to do.

And I'm not talking draft a quarterback in the sixth round -- perhaps maybe around the 199th selection (for those of you that get where I'm going) -- or as an afterthought in the final round. I believe the Dolphins should set their draft board and if a quarterback is the best player on that board in any round, they should pick that quarterback.

That means second round ...Third round...Fourth round.

Even in the first round.

Yes, in the first round. And I'm talking about in the 2016 first round, if necessary.

(Peanut Gallery: But Mando, we have a quarterback. And he has a big contract, and we just hired Adam Gase to be his Sherpa to stardom. And Ryan Tannehill has gotten a raw deal, working behind bad offensive lines and under impossible circumstances, which you've been awesome in reporting to the masses.) 

Yes, Gallery, I agree with all of that, and I do mean all of it. All of that is true.

But that doesn't change this fact: Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins starting quarterback and almost assuredly will be that in 2016, but there is nothing wrong with competition. Indeed, competition might do Tannehill some good. There is also nothing wrong with adding the best players possible at every position, including quarterback. And drafting a quarterback might just find you the next great Miami Dolphins quarterback.

Because Ryan Tannehill has not proven he is that guy just yet.

Now, let me say for clarity's sake, I believe Tannehill can be a good quarterback. I think under the right tutelage and in the right system, he can be a championship quarterback. In that regard, I agree with the Dolphins front office that has invested heavily in Tannehill. So I'm an optimist about Tannehill to some degree.

But I'm also a realist. And the realist in me isn't projecting everything is about to turn peachy and keen and all sorts of wonderful. Things can go wrong. Projections can be wrong. And maybe, just maybe, Tannehill, at age 28 in July and four years into his career as an NFL starter, is who he is and that is all that he will ever be.

I don't know. Nobody knows -- least of all the "journalists" who say they know.

And so to hedge the bet, to guard against a significant and potentially franchise crippling possibility that Ryan Tannehill is just a middle tier NFL QB who cannot really raise the play of those around him, the Dolphins should draft his potential replacement. This year. Every year.

Until they get it right.

And I can imagine the pushback in the comments section already. I suppose the narrative that the Dolphins cannot spend a valuable draft pick, much less an early pick, on a quarterback because they have so many other needs will be popular.

This is a fair consideration. You spend your first-round pick on Jared Goff (he won't be there at No. 8) or Paxton Lynch (who may be there at No. 8 and the Dolphins like) and suddenly you didn't land that cornerback or defensive end you badly need. And that QB you just drafted might not start for you right away. So not only did you not improve the team by adding a player at a need position, you didn't immediately improve the position you drafted for -- quarterback.

I get all this.

And I still use the draft pick on the quarterback, if he's the best available player, even in the first round.

Or any round.

Why?

Because, let us be plainly honest: The Dolphins can add a cornerback in the next draft's first round. Or they can add a defensive end in that round. Or they can fix their middle linebacker problem.

And they're still not going to the Super Bowl next year.

They're not. They're not making that climb from 6-10 to the Super Bowl. They're not going from winning only one game against the division to winning the division. And regardless of what they tell you, they should know it.

They know they have a 37-year-old rookie head coach and a rookie defensive coordinator and as many holes as a slice of Swiss cheese on the roster. They know they're a long-term fix in the making rather than a one-year turnaround. The Dolphins gave Gase a five-year contract for a reason. This is a three-to-four-year fix, my friends.

"I think in Adam Gase we have found that person that will lead us to many, many Super Bowls in the future," franchise owner Stephen Ross said last week. "I am not predicting this year. It will take time and so there is no big prediction here because I know what you guys want (me) to say."

And so if the idea is to build a great foundation and compete for Super Bowls that are well off in the future, the assignment today needs to be to get the quarterback position absolutely correct. Because, as you see in this week's conference title games featuring Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer, a team does not get that far with middling QB play.

So assignment No. 1 must be to figure out if Tannehill can be much more than a middling QB -- something that definitely will happen in 2016. But assignment No. 2 should be to always be looking and trying to acquire a QB with the potential to be the answer if Tannehill isn't. Simple as that. Inarguable. Not up for debate.

This, by the way, should not be an insult to Tannehill. This should not be an upset to team chemistry or the dynamics of the quarterback room.

This is business.

Done right.

This is setting the Miami Dolphins on a course to finding a championship quarterback and doing so while plotting multiple paths for success rather than just one.

(Tomorrow afternoon: What QBs might just fit the bill if not Tannehill)

The dynamics between Ryan Tannehill and his coaches

Sometimes when news comes to the forefront, even when it seems to come late or quite far after the fact, more details begin to pour in from other sources that color in the gray areas to provide a more complete picture.

And that has been happening the past week or so based on some reporting I did last week about the relationship between former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. You'll recall I reported Philbin became disenchanted with Tannehill after the 2013 season and before the 2014 draft -- so much so, the coach wanted the Dolphins to draft Derek Carr in the first round of 2014.

Well, since that report, people have informed me Philbin's desire to move in a different direction was manifested in a weird way. That's because the coach apparently stayed silent about his desire to go in that other direction until mere days before the draft.

So for weeks the Dolphins had been grading players and piecing together their draft strategy ...

And a few days before the actual first round, Philbin made it known to some of his offensive assistants and the personnel department that he wanted to go in a different direction. The story was so strange, it still makes the rounds at Dolphins camp today.

Mind boggling.

That's not all.

I am told that it was then, in that very offseason, that seeds of trouble were sown between new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and Tannehill. Lazor, you see, was hired early in 2014. And people within the organization believe he may have been affected by his new boss's opinion of the starting quarterback. He saw the head coach wanted to replace Tannehill and that may have planted doubt in the new offensive coordinator's mind about his QB.

And those doubts showed up at times. But despite reports of discord between Lazor and several offensive players throughout 2014, Tannehill defended Lazor. He showed confidence in Lazor. Lazor, on the other hand, didn't seem to show the same confidence in Tannehill privately.

I'm told the issue of the audibles -- Tannehill wanting the ability to call new plays, and Lazor not budging on simply giving the QB a couple of choices to pick from at the line of scrimmage -- festered. The two also disagreed on how strong a voice Tannehill should have about portions of the game plan. Tannehill wanted to be more involved, and Lazor was apparently not eager to give away such power because thought he knew better.

It is correct to say that instead of having the relationship between the offensive coordinator and the quarterback growing, it actually went in the other direction. It got stale. Uncomfortable sometimes. Oh, it was professional. But it wasn't a meeting of like minds reaching total agreement or a bonded relationship built on mutual trust.

So given this environment, Is it any wonder the production of Lazor's offense declined? Is it surprising Tannehill stopped improving at the rate he showed from 2013 to 2014?

Indeed, the Dolphins offense regressed as the unit spent more time together. They were better in their first year together than their second year together.

That is history now. Lazor on Monday landed the quarterback coach job in Cincinnati. Tannehill will have a new QB coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new head coach.

But the history needed to be chronicled because it explains things. Success or failure is not always about the presence or lack of talent. There are other factors at work sometimes that also play a role in what we see on game day.

The prowess of the Dolphins offense and quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2015 might be one of those.

By the way, it is definitely up to Tannehill to make the new situation work now. He gets the benefit of the doubt from the organization because he remains while Philbin, Lazor and others are gone.

But if Tannehill encounters similar problems with new coach Adam Gase and/or new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen -- both of whom have a reputation for getting along with their quarterbacks -- then it might be Tannehill and not the coaches moving on next time.

January 18, 2016

Stephen Ross fundraising for presidential candidate who isn't winning

You better hope Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross can pick head coaches better than he picks presidential candidates.

That's because Ross and his wife Kara are hosting a fundraising event for failed Republican candidate Jeb Bush on Jan. 25 at their home in Palm Beach.

Bush, the former Florida governor, is not going to be the next president of the United States. He was the presumptive front-runner when he launched his campaign in the summer. He was the best funded candidate of the establishment politicos. He had the name recognition of two presidents -- admittedly a positive for some people and a major negative for others -- but nonetheless an advantage to anyone wanting to be known.

Then Bush started trying to garner votes. And he flopped.

Donald Trump dubbed him "low energy," which stuck. In an environment where millions of people around the country would hate a return to or continuation of the policies of Bush, Clinton and Barack Obama, Bush has often been cornered into defending his family's record. He said, for example, that his brother George W. Bush kept the country safe on his watch.

Except, of course, for Sept. 11, 2001.

Bush has dropped further and faster than any candidate in either party race for the White House.

That's fine, one supposes, because Bush actually said he hated being the frontrunner. "I feel much better back here," Bush said on Face the Nation.

And yet, this is the guy Stephen Ross is picking to raise funds for. At his home.

Ross picked another winner (not really) in 2012 when he backed the failed Mitt Romney campaign.

The amazing thing?

Ross lives in New York City most of the time. He's a real estate developer. I assume he knows Donald Trump, the New York City real estate developer who is running circles around the rest of the GOP field.

Ross owns the Miami Dolphins. And Florida U.S Senator Marco Rubio is an unrepentant Miami Dolphins fan who yearly attends Dolphins training camp practices. He's running in third place in most GOP polls behind Trump and Ted Cruz and is the new presumptive favorite of the Republican establishment.

There's also Hilary Clinton on the other side of the ticket who is the former U.S. Senator from, you guessed it, New York.

Jeb Bush has no chance. The country has decided it has had its fill of the Bush family in the White House.

Stephen Ross hasn't recognized that yet.

January 14, 2016

The next two most important assistant coaches Adam Gase must hire

The Miami Dolphins have announced the hiring of six coaches, including head coach Adam Gase, so obviously more work needs to be done to fill the staff. (If Nick Saban were the head coach, it would mean 20 or so more coaches are about to get hired).

And the offers and contracts and all that will take care of themselves soon enough.

But Gase must do a couple of very important things to make sure he has that strong staff the Dolphins promised the new coach would add once he was hired. Gase needs a really strong defensive line coach. And Gase needs a veteran, experienced, hopefully former head coach, assistant head coach or advisor.

Those are the next most significant hires the Dolphins must make to their coaching staff.

Why?

The great defensive line coach is a must because the Dolphins have built their defense along the defensive line. The Dolphins need that line to be among the best in the NFL and live up to the armored car's worth of money they have invested in the unit. Oh, yeah, and the Dolphins need someone who can stand up to Ndamukong Suh and let him know he's a player, not the guy who runs the place.

What I'm saying is the Dolphins need to find an outstanding coach like Kacy Rodgers. Rodgers, now the New York Jets defensive coordinator, was respected and beloved by his players in Miami from 2008-14. He developed talent during his seven years as the DL coach. He developed Cameron Wake into a premier pass rusher and good-enough edge defender. He developed Olivier Vernon to the solid degree he's reached. He developed Paul Soliai from an immature and lazy kid to a try-hard house-sized guy. He developed Derrick Shelby from an undrafted free agent to a pretty good reserve player worthy of significant snaps.

But with Rodgers gone in 2015 the Dolphins didn't get great play from the jump from players like Wake, Vernon or Suh. Indeed, all three were missing in action the first two to three weeks of the season. And there were other issues.

Suh never had anyone on the coaching staff stand up to him until Dan Campbell became the interim coach and earned the player's respect. And Suh, always a self-starter who is motivated, got much, much better after that. But he never corrected things that apparently were detail issues his position coach is supposed to address.

Consider that Suh led the NFL in offsides, encroachment and neutral zone penalties with 20. He showed a penchant for it early on and it never got fixed, costing his team 100 total yards. That's on the defensive line coach as much as the player. 

Suh is only one player the next Miami defensive line coach must attend to. Wake will be 34  in a few weeks and open to reworking his contract with the Dolphins to stay on the team -- assuming that's what the team wants. But he's coming back from Achilles surgery. And that return from injury combined with his age raises questions whether he'll have the same explosion off the ball. If he does, great. If he doesn't, he's going to need a great coach to help him find some moves or perhaps refine techniques to keep him viable.

Vernon, meanwhile, is unsigned for 2016. Do the Dolphins put a franchise tag on him? Perhaps a transition tag? If they decide that cannot let him walk, they are going to be investing heavily in the player, with "heavily" being defined in the $13-$15 million per year range. Worth it?

The next defensive line coach has to take this 25-year-old and help him take the next step because he's not really quite there yet. Let's face it, Olivier Vernon is good. But for $13 million per year the Dolphins need him to be great.

And did I mention Jordan Phillips will be entering his second season after showing promise his first year? Phillips is still a project because he seemingly stopped growing and improving late in the season for some inexplicable reason. This cannot be the developmental arc of a second-round pick.

And so the defensive line coach is going to be a huge deal.

The wily veteran coach is necessary as well because the head coach is not a wily veteran coach. Sorry, that's not a knock. That's a fact.

Gase needs a sounding board. He needs a counselor. Gase needs someone who has seen and solved problems he is about to face for the first time. Monitor the hires going forward. You should see someone of great experience being hired. If someone with those credentials is missing, this staff is incomplete no matter how well put together the team says the staff is.

Look, Don Shula had Bill Arnsparger. And Carl Taseff. And Monte Clark. He counted on these veteran guys.

And he is Don friggin' Shula!

Bruce Arians, perhaps the coolest coach in the NFL, is in his 60s. But when he got his shot to be the Arizona Cardinals head coach, he hired Tom Moore to be on his staff because Moore has forgotten more football than most humans could ever learn. And Moore and he pitch ideas and thoughts about their team to each other apart and away from staff meetings.

Arians is wise enough to get someone like that, you don't think Adam Gase needs that?

By the way, I don't pretend to know what the relationship is between Gase and New Orleans assistant head coach and linebackers coach Joe Vitt is other than to know Vitt is Gase's father in law. But if it is a close relationship, if there is trust and friendship beyond the obvious, perhaps Vitt could be a fit for the counselor job.

Monitor the looming hires. It should be interesting.

But the defensive line coach and the veteran, experienced consigliere? Those two are the most important hires yet to be made. 

 

January 13, 2016

Dear Miami Dolphins, show me, prove it, do it and then I'll believe

The most frequently asked questions I'm getting from readers the past few days are ...

What do I think of the hiring of Adam Gase as the new Miami Dolphins head coach?

And what do I think of the coaching staff hires Gase has made so far?

This is my answer:

Every new NFL head coach and his staff typically get a honeymoon period. During that time, they get a pass on mistakes. They get the benefit of the doubt when things don't go necessarily right. There is a period during which everyone is getting to know one another and that time -- which often lasts a season or so -- is a hands off time.

No criticism.

No pessimism.

Just believe.

Trust.

Wait.

And that is what Adam Gase and his new coaching staff are going to get ... from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. From executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum. From everyone within the organization that is invested in the success of what has happened within the organization the past two weeks.

The Dolphins believe they have hit a collective home run. Both publicly and privately, there is a great sense of accomplishment about the hirings of the past few days. Indeed, publicly there is even more bravado about the hirings than there is privately.

Those Super Bowls, plural, Ross said Gase was going to deliver will surely come! "I think in Adam Gase we have found that person that will lead us to many, many Super Bowls in the future," Ross said.

And it's fine for Ross and his Dolphins to feel that way.

But not me.

Sorry. (Not sorry).

I am a grown man who has covered sports since 1983 and covered the Dolphins and the NFL since 1990 and I am have been around greatness and I have been around, well, the exact opposite of greatness. I have seen the Dolphins abound. I have seen them abase. And I've mostly seen the latter the past 20 years or so. So I've made a professional decision to not drink the Kool-Aid anymore.

I am declining to believe Adam Gase is an offensive mastermind simply because people say so. He will have to prove it to me.

I am declining to believe things are going to be different with this inexperienced coach after seeing the three previous inexperienced coaches fail over the past nine years. I am declining to believe that the inexperienced coach so far filling out his coaching staff with other inexperienced assistants is not a repeat of what happened with the last inexperienced coach who filled out his staff with inexperienced assistants.

I'm not going to believe the Dolphins have found leaders of men simply because they say so. I'm not going to believe the Dolphins hit a home run simply because they say so. I'm not going to think things are going to be different, simply because the Dolphins say so. You know why?

Because they said so before. And it wasn't true.

And some of the same folks who said so before are saying so again. And they were wrong the last time. So why should I trust they will be right this time?

By the way, if they say so, I shall report it. You deserve that. But me say it? Only when I see it.

New general manager Chris Grier said at his introductory press conference the days of Dolphins dysfunction are over. Great. Prove it. Show me.

Grier has been with the Dolphins 16 years so he should be quite familiar with the dysfunction. What is he going to change to make sure the dysfunction ends? Indeed, does he really have the power to change anything? Because he's the GM, but, um, Mike Tannenbaum is the epicenter of power within the Dolphins organization.

So Grier is going to do what he thinks is right without Tannenbaum's approval? No, he's not. So what happens if they don't see eye to eye like sometimes Dennis Hickey and Tannenbaum didn't see eye to eye?

The Dolphins say Gase has control over the 53 man roster. That's great news. Sort of. On the one hand, the head coach should be able to pick the guys he's taking to the battle. But this assumes he has a clear vision and plan for those guys. This assumes he has acumen in making those choices. How do we know Gase has that acumen? He's never done it before. So even the Dolphins are projecting that Gase will be good at this.

I'm not projecting.

Prove it.

And if he doesn't, is he going to ask for help? Yes? No? What's the answer?

Show us. Prove yourselves, Miami Dolphins.

Now, please, do not misread this. I am not saying you should expect failure. I am not saying Gase, all of 0-0 in his NFL career as a head coach, is already a failure. That is not true and that is unfair. And, if you have read the words in this space for any length of time, the search is always for truth and fairness. So let's not hate on anyone that just got hired. This is not morning radio.

I'm also not saying defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, a first-time NFL defensive coordinator coming to the Dolphins as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach, is going to be the same guy and get the same results as Kevin Coyle, the last first-time NFL defensive coordinator coming to the Dolphins as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach.

It looks strange, but I'm not saying it is strange. Or bad. Or wrong.

But neither will I simply buy into the narrative that the next three to five years are going be awesome, either. I'm not trusting anything until games, results, scores, facts point me to a conclusion.

I made a bad mistake last year. Knowing that Joe Philbin was not a leader of men, having told high-ranking Dolphins officials this several times over the past couple of years, I bought in to the 2015 Dolphins during the preseason anyway. I believed because I wanted to. I was just tired of being the success atheist.

Philbin was talking championships and that was different. He was trying to relate and build team chemistry so that was a little different. And the team went to Carolina for dual practices with the Panthers, a team that had been in the playoffs in '14, and dominated them. I mean, the Dolphins beat the Panthers at every level, every day they were up there.

And so I drank that terrible concoction that made me look at the Dolphins and see a playoff team.

Not doing that anymore. Not. Doing. It. 

Not trusting their words. Because I've heard them so often that they ring hollow now.

Not trusting their slogans. Because #strongertogether is a joke -- just ask Ryan Tannehill, and those practice squad players he had issues with, and Miko Grimes, and Jarvis Landry and that running back he got into a fight with, and Joe Philbin, and Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, and the six empty locker stalls between them.

Not trusting the OTAs and minicamps. Because football isn't played in shorts with no contact.

Not trusting training camp. Because that comes in July and August and I need to see results in December and January.

Not trusting the preseason. Because it doesn't count.

I am only going to trust what we see on Sunday. And Thursday night. And maybe Monday night, although I doubt it because the Dolphins, once the kings of Monday Night Football, have dropped so far that they aren't big ratings draws anymore.

So this is where I am: Show me. Prove it. I wish you the best, Miami Dolphins. I hope good days are coming. But I'm not going to say they are here.

Until they are here.

January 12, 2016

Miami Dolphins add coaches to staff (updated)

The Miami Dolphins have hired two key assistant coaches today and new head coach Adam Gase is working on others to fill out his staff.

The team has hired Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph to become the team's defensive coordinator. This according to team and other sources. The story was first reported by ESPN.

The team has also hired Cincinnati Bengals linebacker coach Matt Burke to become Miami's linebacker coach. This according to a source close to Burke. The story was first reported by, well, me.

These hirings got done quickly. As of only three days ago, the Dolphins and these two coaches had had zero talks about coming to Miami.

Other moves tonight include the hiring of Shane Day as the team's tight ends coach, the hiring of Chris Foerster, the Dolphins offensive coordinator in 2004, as the offensive line coach, the hiring of Shawn Jefferson as the wide receivers coach, and the reassignment of assistant GM Eric Stokes to senior personnel executive.

Some background on these men:

Day arrives in Miami after two seasons (2014-15) as the assistant offensive line coach with the Washington Redskins where he worked with Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster in 2014. Prior to Washington, Day was the quarterbacks coach at Connecticut for two seasons and coached quarterbacks for the Chicago Bears from 2010-11. Day also spent three seasons on the offensive staff with the San Francisco 49ers (2007-09) as an offensive quality control coach. He worked with the team’s quarterbacks in 2007, running backs in 2008 and offensive line in 2009. Previous coaching stops for Day include the University of Michigan and Auburn Riverside High School in Auburn, Wash. A wide receiver at Rhode College in Memphis, Tenn., Day was a two-sport athlete, also playing baseball. He graduated from Kansas State in 1999 with a degree in English.

Foerster (pronounced FURR-stir) brings 23 years of NFL experience to Miami, including 20 years as an NFL offensive line coach. He spent one season as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator in 2004 and returns to Miami from San Francisco, where he was the 49ers’ offensive line coach in 2015.  Throughout his lengthy coaching career, Foerster has mentored six players that were selected to 15 Pro Bowls – center Jeff Christy (2000), center Tony Mayberry (1996-99), guard Randall McDaniel (1993, 1995, 2000), tackle Jonathan Ogden (2005-07), tackle Joe Staley (2015) and tackle Trent Williams (2012-14). Foerster came to San Francisco after spending five seasons (2010-14) as the offensive line coach for the Washington Redskins. Foerster worked for the 49ers (2008-09) and the Baltimore Ravens (2005-07) where he oversaw the offensive line for each team. In Baltimore, he also held assistant head coach responsibilities. Foerster was the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator in 2004. He has also held coaching positions with the Indianapolis Colts (2002-03), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001), Minnesota Vikings (1993-95), University of Minnesota (1992), Stanford (1988-91) and his alma mater, Colorado State (1982-87). Foerster played center at Colorado State, beginning his career as a walk-on before earning a scholarship as a sophomore.

Jefferson played wide receiver for 13 seasons in the NFL and spent the past 11 years coaching for the Detroit Lions (2005-12) and the Tennessee Titans (2013-15). As the wide receivers coach for the Titans the past three seasons, Jefferson mentored wide receiver Kendall Wright, who ranked 12th among AFC wide receivers in receptions (187) and receiving yards (2,202) from 2013-15. Prior to Tennessee, Jefferson spent eight seasons on the Detroit Lions’ coaching staff. As wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s position coach, Johnson led the NFL in receiving yards (7,080), receiving touchdowns (5) and receptions of 25 yards or more (70). A Jacksonville, Fla. native, Jefferson played at Central Florida from 1988-90.

Interestingly, both Joseph and Burke are available because the Bengals were eliminated from the playoffs over the weekend and players they coach had troubled games.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was a key player in that he had an interception and a key sack of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But he also had a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Antonio Brown that drew a key 15-yard penalty. After that penalty, cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones was flagged 15 yards for pushing Pittsburgh assistant coach Joey Porter, who had come onto the field to see to Brown's status.

The combined 30 yards helped put the Steelers in position to kick the game-winning field goal.

Despite this troubling afternoon, both Joseph and Burke come with great reputations. Joseph, a first-time coordinator, has a reputation for having a commanding presence. He is supposedly an excellent communicator and his players swear by him.

Burke comes after coaching two seasons in Cincinnati. Before joining the Bengals, Burke coached in Detroit (so he is familiar with Ndamukong Suh) and helped a defense that was No. 6 against the run. Burke will be working with Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins as well as a new starting linebacker who the Dolphins will try to find either in the draft or free agency.

It should be said of how this is shaping up: In 2012, the Dolphins hired an inexperienced an NFC North offensive coordinator with no head coaching experienced as their head coach. And that new coach hired a Cincinnati Bengals defensive backs coach who had never been a defensive coordinator to be his DC.

In the past week, history has repeated.

Will the results be different?