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58 posts from November 2008

November 11, 2008

What pundits are saying about the AFC East

The Dolphins are 5-4 and in third place in the AFC East -- the Bills also have a 5-4 record but Miami beat them a few weeks ago so Miami is ahead by way of the head-to-head tie-breaker.

Anyway, the Dolphins are becoming something of the sexy pick in the division as they try to win their fourth consecutive game Sunday in a matchup against Oakland. Seems even some of the pundits at ESPN are on the bandwagon.

The crowded house set at the worldwide sports leader asked the question which AFC team is best.

Tom Jackson:  “As crazy as this sounds, it is going to be the Miami Dolphins. Fewest turnovers in the league, that’s a good starting point for a ball club. Franchise quarterback, premier rusher in the league, we talked about Joey Porter. Now you start looking at schedule, it is very important – we’re going to play four teams that are 2-6 and one team that is 1-7 … If you were drawing up a schedule that was going to get you to the playoffs, this would be it. And let's remind ourselves that Bill Parcells, he is not coaching the team, coach (Tony) Sparano is the coach, but in December, he (Parcells) really knows how to win football games.” 

Quickie analysis of the analysis: I don't think anyone in South Florida is claiming that Chad Pennington is a franchise quarterback. He's a good QB for this team. He doesn't make many mistakes. He's an upgrade over anything they've had in a decade. But franchise QB? I don't think so.

Anyway, Jackson was not alone in picking the Dolphins as the best team. Keyshawn Johnson agreed and while his explanation is rudimentary, there is nothing incorrect about it.

Johnson:  “When you look at the Miami Dolphins, they are ahead of schedule … They’ve already beaten two of the three teams in the division … So when you look at the schedule, and you look at everything that has happening (sic) with this football team, there’s an opportunity there for them.”

For the record, Cris Carter and Mike Ditka picked the Patriots as the best team in the AFC East while Chris Berman went with his Buffalo Bills ... and the Patriots ... and the Jets. In other words Berman picked everyone except the Dolphins.

Berman:  “I asked the question who is the best team in the division? My head is telling me New England – expect to win, they know how to win, their coaching is great and they’ve got a lot of guys who won’t accept losing at all. My heart is telling me Buffalo – Yes, I enjoy a team being built, and seeing them, kind of, grow. Though, that’s settling a little bit. But my eyes, from last week, the Jets are an interesting team.”

Amazing how Berman could pick practically every team in the division and still might end up being wrong.

November 10, 2008

Highlights from Sparano's Monday presser

Tony Sparano is not pleased with his coverage teams on special teams. Good thing because they sucked on coverage against Seattle.

The coach said the coverage teams gave up 72 yards after first contact. In other words, the Seahawks gained 72 yards after breaking the first tackle. And there were too many of those. Sparano counted 10 missed tackles on coverage teams.

So I asked him how he's going to fix that going forward.

"Keep shaking up things," he said.

That means possibly moving guys around and more likely cutting a guy (or two) on Tuesday. Sparano also suggested he will expand the amount of time Miami works on coverages in practice from two minutes during the 10-minute special teams period to perhaps twice that much.

The Dolphins used Andy Alleman on 33 snaps Sunday and he drew mixed reviews. "It was not all bad," Sparano said, "And it was definitely not all good."

The Dolphins seemed very much more impressed with Matt McChesney who is my pick to push Ikechuku Ndukwe for the starting right guard spot. Although he was signed last Tuesday, McChesney made a quick impression on coaches.

Sparano says he is "excellent" at pulling and trapping. He also said McChesney moved first-team Miami players off the ball during practice last week. No wonder there was confidence in the guy when the Dolphins went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter and with McChesney in for the injured Justin Smiley (shoulder) at left guard, they ran over the left side.

And they converted.

McChesney practiced at both left and right guard last week so I see him as the guy coaches look at this week as a challenger at RG.

Check back in a while as I'll update this post with more information as I transcribe tape.

November 09, 2008

Dolphins beat 'Hawks 21-19 in close one

The Dolphins have just improved their record 5-4 today with a 21-19 victory Seattle.

It was closer than anyone thought it would be as the Seahawks scored a late TD before failing on their two-point conversion to tie. Seattle got the ball back again but was stopped on fourth down at the Miami 49 yard line.

Ricky Williams was the star today. He rushed 12 times for 105 yards. It was his first 100-yard game since the final week of the 2005 season.

OK, so how you feeling?

Dolphins game on the line in the fourth quarter

The Dolphins were feeling pretty comfortable at halftime but the Seahawks took advantage of poor Miami special teams play as the impetus to pulling within 14-13 in the fourth quarter.

The Seahawks got a good kickoff and punt return on consecutive series to launch two field goal drives.

The game will be decided in the next 15 minutes of play. Join the live blog and be part of it!

Dolphins lead 'Hawks 14-7 to start third quarter

The Dolphins offense was good early, scoring on a flea-flicker and out of the wildcat formation. But it was that very offense that gave the Seahawks their only points today.

Quarterback Chad Pennington was intercepted by Jordan Babineaux and the pass was returned 35 yards for a TD to make this one 14-7 at halftime.

Ricky Williams is having a great day with 97 yards on 8 carries. Pennington has completed 12 of 21 for 119 with 1 TD and the one INT.

OK, join moi in the comment section for the continuation of the live blog.

Dolphins lead 'Hawks 14-0 in the 2nd quarter

Ted Ginn Jr. is having a great game so far today. He's already scored two touchdowns for the Dolphins.

Unfortunately for Miami, only one of the scores counted.

Ginn started today's game with a kick return TD. It was nullified by a holding penalty on Charlie Anderson.

So Ginn then caught a 39 yard pass from Chad Pennington off a flea-flicker to give the Dolphins their 7-0 lead. Ricky Williams followed with a 51-yard run out of the Wildcat formation for a score. Dolphins dominating, 14-0.

Anyway, the live blog continues in the comment section b

Live blog of Seattle at Miami today

When was the last time you woke up on a Dolphins game day expecting Miami to win?

Today is such a day isn''t it?

The Dolphins, playing well of late and having pulled their record even at 4-4, are defending the home turf against the Seahawks. And understand that it ain't your daddy's Seahawks.

The Seahawks are 2-6. They are starting a backup quarterback. There are rumors that coach Mike Holmgren, in his final Seattle season, has lost some of his edge. And, the Seahawks are on the road where they are terrible.

So the Dolphins should win. And something else:

The Dolphins must win.

That's where we are now. Tony Sparano and Co. have done such a wonderful job of putting 1-15 behind them that we, or me at least, expect success. That's good.

And bad.

It is good to have a team that not only wants to win, but expects to win. It is bad, however, if that team doesn't meet expectations. So there is officially now more pressure on the Fins to perform than there was earlier this year.

We'll see how they fare today.

The live blog starts in the comment section starting at kickoff. Join me there and we'll see what happens.

November 07, 2008

Clearing out the Friday notebook

The Dolphins have signed guard Matt McChesney off their practice squad and waived guard Evan Mathis. Mathis has been sharing time with Ikechuku Ndukwe, but that hasn't worked out too well.

So Andy Alleman, the backup center, should get his chance to play at right guard this week. McChesney, a first year player out of Colorado, also could get an opportunity.

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Derek Hagan, waived by the Dolphins on Tuesday, had a workout with the Minnesota Vikings today. No word yet on whether he was offered a contract.

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Guard Justin Smiley (shoulder) is the only Miami player on the injury report. He is probable.

The Seattle injury report has WR Deion Branch (heel), TE Will Heller (knee), and G Floyd Womack (foot) listed as questionable. WR Koren Robinson (knee), LB Lofa Tatupu (groin) and FB Leonard Weaver (foot) are probable.

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Coach Tony Sparano when asked if he believes he was made to be a head coach rather than a position coach: "I never came into this league to be a position coach. I came into this league to be a head coach. I have an opportunity right now and I'm not stupid. I know that this is just an opportunity. I'm going to work my tail off to try to do the best that we can do here for the Miami Dolphins."

Gotta love this guy.

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I will be on radio Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and I intend to break down the Dolphins midseason report card. Maybe you'll agree with my grades. Maybe you won't. We'll discuss. You can listen at 790-AM locally or 790theticket.com online. You can also call into the show toll free at 1-888-790-3776.

November 06, 2008

A search for the right answer at right guard

First a little background: You all saw the post on this blog about the midseason All-Rookie teams as personnel guru Gil Brandt sees them. You saw that Donald Thomas was on that team even though he played only one game this season because, as Brandt put it, Thomas has future Pro Bowl potential.

I should also share with you that loyal reader Chris Nelson also asked me recently to inquire about the right guard situation. I'm assuming he recognized the RG position is a problem because, well, it is.

And coach Tony Sparano pretty much confirmed that when asked if he's getting what he wants from the position.

“No, probably not quite to the level that I think I’d like to see it," Sparano said in getting his point across while trying to tread softly. "They are young guys that are playing at that position right now that are probably not playing fast enough for me right now. But they’re getting better. I’ve seen progress. I’ve seen improvement from both of them. We’re going to kind of mix that whole deal up a little bit, see how that goes.”

What is currently happening there is Ikechuku Ndukwe and Evan Mathis are sharing snaps at the position. Neither has been great. Fact is neither has been good enough. So this week the Dolphins are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to the position.

The coaching staff is not leaving any stone unturned in order to upgrade the position. That is one reason the team signed Brandon Frye. The kid is primarily a tackle but he's going to get an opportunity over the next week or so to prove whether he can play guard. If he can do that, he'll get a chance to see if he can play well at RG.

The team is also looking into the possibility that backup center Andy Alleman can play at right guard. Of course, rookie Shawn Murphy is in the mix but I understand he's still not ready to make a push for playing time which is kind of disappointing.

The reason the Dolphins feel so uncertain at right guard is because they felt so secure with Thomas as their starter. Can you believe that? The rookie sixth-round selection had not only been good in training camp but had also popped out as a potential star.

His strength and explosion were extraordinary. The Dolphins believed they had a real gem on their hands. Obviously they hope he will recover from the foot injury that forced him to the injured reserve list.

“I think it would make a tremendous difference," Sparano said of having Thomas healthy. "In my mind, if Donald was healthy, I don’t think Donald would have been moved out of that position. I think he would’ve played that position. He would still be playing that position. We may have a few more questions right now on some of these younger players where all of a sudden we are seeing EK (Ndukwe) with a body of work.  We just want to see it happen faster.

"We’re in the middle of something here and it’s got to happen faster and he’s doing a nice job to his credit. The same thing with Mathis. We’ve been able to see a couple young players there that probably we wouldn’t have seen if Donald was there. We had a pretty good young guard.”

And now they're searching for another one. 

November 05, 2008

Porter rips away on national conference call

Joey Porter just spent 10 minutes on a national conference call with the media and in that time, he was his typical outspoken, even controversial self.

Today Porter responded to Brandon Marshall's "popcorn muscles" comment from yesterday, ripped the NFL for the way it dispenses fines and in so doing questioned why Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones is still playing, and added that he actually played well for the Dolphins in 2007.

On that disappointing 2007 season Porter said:

"The defense wasn't really set up for me to go out there and make plays. I mean, I did my job, they thought I had a good season but to my standards and what I'm trying to do, that was a terrible year for me. I would grade out good every week. They were happy with what they were getting. But I'm the type of player that feels like he can take over the game. And I never had those opportunities to take over a game, actually. The defense wasn't made for me to have too much success. It just never really worked for me."

On his on-going verbal feud with Marshall:

"I'm not even worried about that. The game is over and I'm already looking to Seattle so for him to still be on that, I really did get in his head obviously. He's wasting time worrying about me, he's supposed to have a game tomorrow. Instead he's worried about me. I left Denver three days ago."

On the NFL's policy for fining players even when they don't get flagged during games, Porter was asked if he understands what it is that gets a player fined:

"If I knew the answer, I would have $20,000 more they wouldn't have taken from me. So I definitely don't have the answer. I'm still trying to figure out how a guy gets caught with cocaine in the car and he still plays the game and nothing happens to him. Nothing's happened. They ain't had no penalty or nothing. I'm trying to figure that out. He got caught with some cocaine in his pockets. Everybody knows it. But Matt Jones is still up there playing football and nothing's ever happened to him. So I'm still trying to figure out how you get away with that and your fining people $20,000 for making comments to the media on the refs. But here is a guy that got caught with cocaine, everybody knows about it, and nothing happened. He done played every game. You explain that to me, then we'll be talking about something."

It bears stating that Jones was indeed suspended by the NFL for three games but continues to play because he has appealed the suspension.

Finally, on whether he expected the current success the Dolphins are having:

"Yeah we did. I mean we put in all the hard work in the offseason. If you seen our attendance in our offseason workout, we expected to be better than what we are right now. I mean we put in a lot of hard work in March, guys been here a long time putting in a lot of hard work and that's starting to pay off. So we had high hopes from the beginning. But the thing is our record was so bad last year nobody else believed we could do what we do. We did. But it's getting better and our hard work is starting to pay off."

Brandt: Three Dolphins midseason all rookies

Gil Brandt is one of the NFL greats. He was one of the architects of the great Dallas Cowboys teams in the Tom Landry era. He now scouts talent for NFL.com

He has filed this offering at NFL.com about his midseason picks for the NFL All-Rookie team. Many of you have commented about how great this year's Miami rookie class, the class Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells made their inaugural picks here, have been so far.

Brandt would concur, which is the reason he has three Dolphins rookies on the All-Rookie team. Brandts picks, surprise, Jake Long, kicker Dan Carpenter and guard Donald Thomas.

Long was a given. Frankly if he wasn't on here, it would be something of a disappointment considering he was the first overall selection in the draft. But he is playing well and has met expectations so far.

Carpenter and Thomas are surprises.

Remember that Carpenter was an undrafted free agent while Thomas was a sixth-round pick. Brandt like Thomas so much that he's on the team despite playing only one game before going out with an injury for the season.

Brandt said Thomas, "looks to be a future Pro Bowl player."

That leaves Phillip Merling, Chad Henne, Kendall Langford, Shawn Murphy, Davone Bess, Joey Haynos, Nate Garner, and Lionel Dotson  as Miami's other rookies.

The Dolphins are  obviously getting production out of Merling, Landford and Bess. Haynos, Garner and Dotson are projects. Murphy, a four-round selection, came to the Dolphins with high expectations but has not been active for even one game.

November 04, 2008

Sources: Dolphins release Derek Hagan

The Dolphins have released receiver Derek Hagan two sources are telling The Miami Herald.

Hagan, 24, has been consistent only in his inconsistency this year and throughout his three seasons in Miami. This year he was active only four of Miami's eight games. In the four games in which he played, he managed only three receptions for 51 yards.

Interestingly, Hagan won a starting job late in the preseason and was neck-and-neck with Greg Camarillo for that job going into the first game of the regular season. He then faded badly. I told you he was inconsistent. His inability to contribute on special teams was also a detriment for Hagan.

Hagan finishes his Miami career with 53 catches for 645 yards. The Dolphins did not confirm this release but are expected to do so Wednesday.

November 03, 2008

WRs exceed Sparano's expectations most

[Before we start today I'd like to share with you the latest statistics about this blog for the just-completed month of October: This blog enjoyed 276,545 page views in October, which means we are past 1.6 million page views for the year. Dolphins In Depth continues to be the most popular sports blog at The Miami Herald, outpacing the next two most popular sports blogs combined. So I wish to thank, getting emotional here, all the wonderful, tears now, folks for making that happen. OK seriously, I appreciate your loyalty.]

Back on Earth: Tony Sparano was asked an excellent question today. What facet of his team has most exceeded his expectations so far?

His answer, in short, is the wide receivers.

Surprised? I am. I mean, the Dolphins receivers are not really all that accomplished. They don't have a star. They don't have consistency outside of Greg Camarillo. They're just kind of there, except for Ernest Wilford who definitely has not been there on game days the past month.

Anyway this is Sparano's logic:

"I think from my end, it really, probably is this receiving group in just the way that they’ve come around right now," he said. "You can say the defensive line, but I mean we drafted heavy in that area, we signed some free agents. [Same with] the offensive line. This receiving group because there really isn’t, no disrespect to any of my players, I love them all, but there’s no star in that group. 

"They all know that they have a role. From day one, we’ve said that we’re trying to define these roles.  We’re going out there and we’re trying to figure out what each one of these guys can bring to the table. I think we’ve done that right now. I think we understand what they can do and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I think more importantly, they do. That group is getting better and better. They’re starting to win a little bit against man-to-man, which in our league is important. And they’re starting to catch and run with the ball a little bit.”

So what does that mean?

It means Sparano is no dummy. He recognizes the group lacks a stud. He knows the group needs upgrading in the future.

But he isn't asking the group to do things it cannot. Each player has a role -- Ted Ginn Jr's, for example, is to stretch the defense, while Camarillo's is to be the go-to guy, and Davone Bess must deliver 20 or so plays in the half or three-receiver set. Brandon London also figures in and is improving.

The other guys? They must practice hard and give the defense a good look throughout the week from the scout team.

I believe Sparano's view of this corps means the Dolphins will upgrade here next year. But I just don't think it will come early in the draft with a first round pick -- just a hunch although it is too, too early for that.

Anyway, are you surprised Sparano is showing this group love?

Do you think he's being sincere or, as Zach Thomas used to say, getting in their heads a little?

And do you agree with the coach that this is the group that has most exceeded expectations so far?

November 02, 2008

Dolphins beat Broncos 26-17, oh my!

DENVER -- Your Miami Dolphins are officially in the playoff race now.

Their 26-17 victory over the AFC West leading Denver Broncos says they are in the hunt. Their 4-4 record at the midway point says they are in the hunt. And the way they are fighting and clawing and never saying die more than suggests they are going to stay in the hunt.

The Dolphins today got heroic performances from:

Their secondary that had three interceptions, including one that led to a field goal and one that was returned for a touchdown.

Greg Camarillo had 11 catches for 111 yards.

And the offensive line protected Chad Pennington as if he was Fort Knox on that last TD drive that sealed the victory.

So that's my opinion ...

You guys agree or disagree this looks like a playoff contender?

Dolphins go to fourth quarter with 16-10 lead

DENVER -- The crowd of 74,310 is still booing an offensive interference call against Brandon Marshall that erased an apparent 77 yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Marshall.

Soooo.

The Dolphins continue to hold tightly to a tenuous six point lead.

The live blog continues in the comment section below.

Dolphins lead Broncos 16-7 to start 3rd quarter

DENVER -- After an action-filled first quarter, the Broncos and Dolphins managed only a field goal in the second quarter and the Dolphins lead, 16-7 at the start of the third quarter.

Neither offense has been efficient.

The Dolphins have 10 of their points today because of the D, as Will Allen scored on an interception return for a touchdown and Miami got a field goal after a Jason Allen interception.

Cha Pennington just led a 14-play drive that culminated in a 23-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter -- his third tres of the day. Pennington has been OK but not great, completing 13 of 21 passes for 151 yards. He neither has a TD pass nor an interception.

Jay Cutler has been terrible for Denver, completing 7 of 16 passes with two interceptions.

Ronnie Brown has 13 carries for 56 yards but it has been tough sledding as he got 30 of his yards on one carry.

The teams are starting to stream back onto the field so join me in the comments section below for the continuation of the live blog.

Dolphins lead Broncos 13-7 to start 2nd period

The Dolphins defense has delivered bigtime so far today.

Jason Allen intercepted a pass that led to a Dolphins field goal and Will Allen had another interception that he returned 32 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins led 13-0 at one point in the first quarter.

That lead didn't last as Eddie Royal returned the kickoff following Allen's TD 95 yards to the Miami 5 yard line. Royal then caught a 5 yard TD pass after that.

That's what's happening so far.

The live blog continues in the comments section below.

Dolphins at Broncos live blog today at 4 p.m.

DENVER -- It is absolutely beautiful here today. The temperature is in the high 60s and there is a light breeze at Invesco Field at Mile High.

I woke up this morning to a copy of the Rocky Mountain News that had a picture of linebacker Joey Porter in flight as he came out of the back of the end zone and chest-bumped a Colorado State receiver after the Rams scored a TD versus BYU last night.

Porter, who attended Colorado State, was at the game along with Dolphins teammate John Beck, who attended BYU. What a combo, hey? I didn't know Porter and Beck were boys.

Anyway, BYU won the game. And the Rams were flagged for their receiver's celebration with Porter.

As for today, Porter will be at times matched against Broncos rookie left tackle Ryan Clady, who you know has not allowed a sack this season if you read this blog regularly. We'll see today if Porter's streak of five consecutive games with a sack or Clady's sackless streak is broken today. Of course, it doesn't have to be one or the other as Porter can also rush from the right side.

Other things to watch out for today:

Does Ted Ginn Jr. have an enore performance for last week's 7-catch, 175-yard performance?

Do the Dolphins ride Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in order to keep the Denver offense off the field?

Can the Miami secondary contain the Broncos receivers?

I will be live blogging during the game so let's meet in the comments section. I will update with news -- if there is any -- both here and there.

UPDATE: Receivers Ernest Wilford, Derek Hagan and fullback Casey Cramer are inactive for Miami. Receiver Chad Jackson and tight end Tony Schefler are among Denver's inactives.