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35 posts from May 2009

May 31, 2009

The search for a No. 1 receiver [Updated]

Coach Tony Sparano was recently asked if he thinks the Dolphins have a No. 1 receiver on their roster. After an initial unreassuring pause, Sparano said that, sure, of course, the Dolphins have that guy on their roster.

But, Sparano adds in my column appearing in the Miami Herald today, he's just not really sure which receiver on the roster that is exactly.

Sparano suggests there are a couple of candidates that could step up and become that No. 1 guy. I would tell you there is only one candidate that can step up and if he doesn't, the Dolphins will go through another season without a No. 1 receiver.

Ted Ginn Jr. is that guy.

Look, no matter what happens, someone will lead the Dolphins in receptions in the 2009 season. But that won't make that guy a No. 1 receiver. I define a No. 1 receiver in the column so check it out and see if you agree with my definition.

But in short, guys such as Paul Warfield, Irving Fryar and O.J. McDuffie were No. 1 receivers. They were go-to guys. They were there in the clutch. They got open regardless of what the coverages were. And they had the other necessary attributes of a No. 1 receiver.

Outside of Ted Ginn Jr., there is no receiver currently on the Dolphins with those attributes. Some guys don't have the speed, some don't have the experience, some aren't healthy enough. All lack something.

Ginn? He's lacking route running excellence, consistency of production, confidence and respect. He's been working on his route running. Hopefully that addresses his consistency of production, and that would help his confidence and the respect he has among peers.

We'll see.

I don't know if Ginn will make the leap to being a No. 1 receiver. I do know if he doesn't, no other receiver currently on the Miami roster is likely to in 2009.

[Update: Todd Lowber will definitely not be Miami's No. 1 receiver this season. He was cut Monday.]

May 30, 2009

The leadership voices in the Miami locker room

A few weeks ago I told you what former Dolphins Nat Moore and Shawn Wooden had to say about the need for veteran leadership in the locker room and how that helps young players learn to be professionals.

The subject fascinates me because it goes beyond the field, into relationships and team chemistry and things that may not be readily apparent but still matter.

Looking at the Dolphins locker room I don't see a ton of veterans, as we all know this is a very young team, so I've been wondering about what players fit the leadership role.

In a recent rundown of the leadership voices in all 32 NFL locker rooms, Thomas George of NFL.com names the loudest, most wise, most effective or most attention-grabbing voices in each NFL locker room. He named Joey Porter Miami's defining voice.

And I cringed.

Don't get me wrong, Porter's voice has a place in Miami's locker room. He is the team's resident motivator, and agitator. If there is a confrontation to lead, be it before, during or after the game, Porter is there. If there is an opposing player to call out, he will do it.

But this approach has its limitations. Porter is awesome on the attack except when his attacks ring kind of hollow. Remember when he guaranteed a victory over somebody or other in 2007 (not worthy of looking up, frankly) and the Dolphins got whipped? Remember when he called out the NFL and, to an equal degree, Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones, last year on a national conference call?

Jones, arrested in the offseason for having cocaine in his car, was still playing during the regular-season and Porter ripped the league for allowing that to continue. He also took a couple of swipes at Jones. What he apparently didn't know is that Jones had already been suspended but was playing while awaiting an appeals hearing.

Jones fired back at Porter for getting in his business and it was stupidity unleashed for about 24 hours. Jones eventually served the suspension after his appeal failed.

Porter also famously declined to come off the field last year even as coach Tony Sparano was demanding he do that during the first Baltimore game. Sparano was not happy the incident was caught on TV, making him look powerless to get the team's sack leader off the field and so he fined Porter.

The point is Porter's is something of a cartoonish voice. He is loud and intimidating but not always effective or bounding with wisdom.

I think in searching for locker room voices on the Dolphins one has to go beyond Porter.

On defense I see Jason Ferguson as a rock. He's neither quiet nor loud. He strikes the right balance between keeping teammates loose and tightening the screws when necessary. He has been mentoring several younger defensive linemen, Paul Soliai among them.

Ferguson is a voice other players respect.

Chad Pennington is that on offense and perhaps throughout the locker room. When he tells the receivers they are going to work on pass routes with him, no one complains. They work on pass routes with him. When he calls meetings to study opponents and tells other players to show up, well, they show up.

Pennington is a voice other players respect.

I assume Jason Taylor will regain a piece of the leadership mantle he gave up when he was traded to Washington last year. Taylor, along with Vonnie Holliday, were the defensive line leaders for quite some time and Taylor was admired by some of the younger players.

If Taylor can play well and is willing, he can regain a voice other players respect.

Ronnie Brown is gaining that kind of voice. Ricky Williams has that voice when he wants it. Justin Smiley and Will Allen can also, on occasion, and their mentorship of Jake Long and Vontae Davis is proof of that.

The Dolphins, a young team, are not overflowing with veteran leadership. But as I think we can agree, they are not a team with only one loud leadership voice in the locker room.

Discuss ...

[BLOG NOTE: Remember to come back here tomorrow for the Sunday column update. The column this week centers around Miami's search for a No. 1 receiver.]

May 29, 2009

Clearing things up for the world to understand

Welcome to Friday. Cue TGIF music. Or just play the video below.

Want to take this opportunity to clear up a couple of mistakes, misconceptions and misdeeds:

In my column on Ronnie Brown today, I allowed No. 23 to tell you where he believes he rates among the NFL's top running backs. Brown said he considers himself in the same conversation with Adrian Peterson and others. That's his opinion and I'm cool with it.

I hope to see more from Brown this season. He needs to turn routine runs into jaw-droppers on occasion. We want to see a couple of 4-yard runs turn into 16-yarders where Brown bounces off one tackler, runs over another, and gets to the second level. We also need to see more 50- and 60-yard runs. One per season isn't elite.

Three or four of those is elite.

Of course, the Dolphins need to do their part. They need to give Brown enough opportunities to make big plays. Between 12-15 rushes per game isn't enough. He needs 20-23 rushes per game to make it work.

I would tell you there was an editing mistake in my column and I want to clear it up. When I filed it I wrote that, "Brown wasn't even the best running back on his own team one year ago."

It was inexplicably changed to, "Brown wasn't even the best running back on his own team last season."

The change is significant. In May 2008, Brown was still recovering from his knee surgery, he was unsure in his running and uncertain about his prospects. Ricky Williams, meanwhile, was impressing the heck out of people with his explosion and pop and practice habits. Williams was at that time Miami's best RB.

That obviously changed during the regular-season as Brown healed and got stronger and had a very good season. Speaking of change, the wording has since been changed back by editors so that's appreciated by me. We're all human.

The next thing I'd like to clear up is the notion that Pat White continues to struggle in these OTAs, which I've heard around town from fans and other media.

So you understand, these OTAs are glorified classroom sessions. The team meets in the morning and goes over an "install" for that day's practice. An "install" is when coaches put in a set of plays the team has in its playbook and wants to use.

After two hours or so of that install, the team goes on the practice field at around 10 a.m. and works the install. This work does not include pads, does not include any hitting, is not done "live" or at full speed. There is no tackling.

This is basically flag football using plays the athletes first learned a few minutes ago.

So if Pat White, a rookie quarterback, struggles here and there during one of these practices, so be it. It does not mean he's over his head. It does not mean he's a bust. It means he's a rookie quarterback seeing something on the field for the very first time only minutes before he saw it from coaches for the first time.

Most of the rookies around the NFL right now are easy to pick out. They're the guys with the bulging eyeballs. They're the guys seeing scary things for the first time. They're the guys that seem a bit overmatched.

It's May, people. That's the way it's supposed to be. Get a grip.

Similarly, to suggest a guy is playing well based on what is happening in these OTA practices is a stretch because it's not real football out there. There were a couple of throws across the middle in Thursday's OTA session that seemed nice but really weren't that great because, were it a live game, they would have gotten the tight end or receiver decapitated.

I've also seen far too many players look like Tarzan during these offseason camps and then play like Jane when the real games begin. This doesn't mean offseason camps are a waste of time. They serve their purpose in keeping guys in shape, sharpening the players' minds, and establishing team chemistry.

But please keep perspective otherwise.

And thank God it's Friday!

May 28, 2009

Update (4) from Thursday Dolphins OTA

The Dolphins are off the field and here is what we know so far:

[Update: Former Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, who coached for years under Bill Parcells and then Bill Belichick, is at camp today. Just ran into him in the lobby. He watched practice today with Parcells on a golf cart. Do not know if the Dolphins are trying to hire him or add him to the staff in any form. Will ask coach Tony Sparano when he talks to the media in a few minutes.]

[Update 2: Sparano said Crennel is just visiting. He talked about how both he and Bill Parcells are friends with Crennel and his wife is friends with Crennel's wife.]

The Dolphins offense worked on the empty backfield set today, which means a lot of dump passes and a lot of passes to tight ends.

[Update 4: Ronnie Brown looked great in practice today and is looking in great shape overall. I'm writing a column about him for tomorrow's Miami Herald, which you can read now. He says some interesting things such as he believes he belongs in the same conversation with Adrian Peterson as an elite back .]

Read the column and let me know if you agree with Brown.

[Update 3: I asked Sparano what kind of shape Brown is in and he answered, "outstanding."]

Chad Pennington was his typical self, completing most of his passes, particularly the short ones. He did throw an interception when Eric Green broke nicely on a Ted Ginn Jr. comeback route and picked the ball off. That throw requires more velocity.

Chad Henne clearly throws with more velocity but a couple of his passes sailed, particularly the routes up the sidelines. 

Joey Haynos had a good practice today while rookie John Nalbone had one drop. Rookie receiver Patrick Turner also had a solid day, catching a handful of passes including a couple in front of fellow rookie Sean Smith in the two-minute drill.

One receiver that did flash a couple of times was Anthony Armstrong who caught a couple of medium range throws down the sideline. [Update 2: "We've seen some pleasant things from Anthony Armstrong the last several practices," Sparano said.]  The guy's speed shows up in these camps. The challenge is to have that speed translate when the pads go on.

[Update 3: Rookie Brian Hartline took part in his first OTA practice. "He's behind from an intall standpoint," Sparano said. Hartline was unable to participate in this kind of work until Ohio State held it's graduation, an NFL rule.]

Brandon Frye continues to work with the first team at right guard and I talked to him after practice. I will tell you what he said in the next update or so. [Update 2: Sparano said the team is platooning players into the right guard spot throughout the OTA days. Shawn Murphy and Ikechuku Ndukwe have also shared the first-team work during practices not open to the media.]

On defense, the Dolphins were working in their nickel package and Jason Taylor jumped offside once and also had a sack. The defense did get good pressure on the quarterbacks today overall. JT continues to work with the second team on the base defense but is a starter in passing situations.

Cameron Wake is running third team in passing situations but had a good moment when he made LT Jake Long look bad on one play. Long had less-than-stellar technique on that play but was otherwise solid as usual.

Another defensive highlight happened when rookie running back Anthony Kimble caught a pass in the flat but fumbled when LB William Kershaw slapped the ball out of his hands. Kershaw picked the fumble up and headed for what would have been a touchdown were this practice a real game.

One defender you should continue to keep in mind is safety Tyrone Culver. He was a midseason roster addition in 2008 and by the end of the season was working in the nickel and dime packages. He continues this work and I can tell you the Dolphins like his combination of coverage ability and versatility in that he can play safety and still can cover slot guys.

[Update 3: Second-year defensive end Phillip Merling is working with the first-team but he shouldn't assume the job is his. Sparano mentioned there will be a competition at the spot that will include Randy Starks and Tony McDaniel.]

Starks, arrested over the Memorial Day weekend for assault (with his truck) on a police officer, was at practice. He didn't talk to reporters.

[Update 2: Sparano said the team is still gathering information on the Starks matter. "I'm disappointed," the coach said, "but there are still facts that have to be gathered." The Dolphins took the "proper steps," on the reporting of the Starks matter to the league. I am told Starks was not considered to have broken the league personal conduct code for a previous (2002) arrest for domestic violence, so this is his first offense answerable to the code and policy. Sparano said the matter is in the league's hands and the club will "let the process take care of itself" for now.]

Andy Alleman was not out at practice most of the day so Murphy was running with the second team at left guard. Ndukwe was second-team right guard. Joe Berger is working as the second-string center. Undrafted free agent SirVincent Rogers is playing left tackle and is also running with the second team.

TE David Martin and guard G Donald Thomas are still out. WR Greg Camarillo, recovering from knee surgery, seemed to be doing more today he was last week. He was actually taking part in some team drills.

[Update 3: Sparano confirmed what I previously wrote, saying trainers added an extra period of work for Camarillo in today's workout for the first time since his surgery.]

OTA open to the media today so it's open to you

The Dolphins are compelled by NFL rules to make a certain number of organized team activity sessions open to the media and, under the current regime, they meet the minimum of those requirements.

Today is one of the days they open up the information vault and allow snoops like me to look in. And I, in the interest of serving you, will go out there and look around and report back to you what I see.

I've been doing this a while -- longer than some of you have been alive -- so I know what to look for. (One thing I want to see is how many ways Randy Starks will be able to say "No comment," concerning his Freightliner incident over the Memorial Day weekend.)

Anywho, I'm asking you to tell me what you're interested in finding out and I'll try to do that as well.

I will look in on your answers before practice which is at 10:30 a.m. and I'll report back with frequent updates thereafter.

Miami's OTA days, by the way, are not open to the public. Check back later for the updates.

May 27, 2009

Burress not getting his wish with Dolphins

Before he wrote his buzz column that included this interesting tidbit about Plaxico Burress wanting to join the Dolphins, colleague Barry Jackson called and asked if I knew whether the Dolphins would consider adding Burress as a way of improving their receiver corps.

I told Barry I had no idea because I haven't asked. Well, now I've asked and Burress, a South Florida resident, has two chances of playing for the 2009 Dolphins.

You guessed it: Slim. And none.

The Dolphins are not now and probably will not be interested later in Burress even if he clears the marathon course of legal hurdles he must navigate before getting back in the game. Yes, Burress is a supremely talented receiver who has had a productive career since being drafted eighth overall by the Steelers in 2000.

But come on, does one have to spell out the problems with Burress coming to Miami? There was a long pause and a, "Is this the reason you're calling me," response from one source when I asked about this possibility Tuesday.

Here are the positives and negatives on the issue as the Dolphins see it:

The positives: There are no positives.

The negatives:  Let's start with the easy stuff. Burress is going to be 32 years old in August and exempting everything else, he is in decline. His yards per reception average has dropped since hitting a career high of 19.9 in 2004. It was 16.0 in 2005, 15.7 in 2006, 14.6 in 2007, and 13.0 in 2008. And that's the least of his problems.

He has proven to be injury-prone the past couple of years and rarely, if ever, practiced during the 2007 season even as the Giants were rushing headlong toward a Super Bowl title. As you know, practice is kinda sorta important to Tony Sparano -- just behind breathing.

Then there are the sideshow issues that Burress tows in his wake. The biggest problem he faces is the looming legal issue stemming from his accidental shooting on November 28, 2008. Burress, in his infinite wisdom, carried a Glock pistol in the waistband of his sweatpants into the LQ nightclub in New Yawk. The gun began sliding down his leg and, as he apparently fumbled for it, Burress shot himself in the leg F-Troop style.

(Give me a second to stop laughing after typing that last sentence.) 

Aside from the pain and embarrassment the shooting might have caused Burress, the bigger problem is the ensuing charge of unlawful carrying of a handgun authorities slapped on Burress. The charge carries a 3 1/2 year sentence if Burress is convicted. Burress has pleaded not guilty to the charges but as Mike Florio astutely notes in today's rumor mill at profootballtalk.com, the issue is not just going to poof, disappear, before the start of the 2009 season. And so even if Burress eventually gets off, his chances of contributing to a new team at the start of the season seem remote.

Oh, and there are a myriad other reasons Burress is not on Miami's radar.

Even if you dismiss the shooting because, hey, stuff like that doesn't bother you, there is the March 1, 2009 traffic stop in which Burress was ticketed four times for various things and must still resolve in Broward County court. There is the domestic violence calls in August and September of 2008 that resulted in temporary restraining orders against Burress that were later dismissed by the state.

And then there are the football problems.

Remember that Burress played for Tom Coughlin, a Bill Parcells disciple and friend. Parcells can pick up the phone and ask Coughlin about Burress and get unambiguous answers. And some of those answers would likely come after questions about Burress being chronically late to team meetings, Burress refusing to practice because of an ankle injury the team didn't believe he had, Burress pouting about his contract, and Burress being suspended by the team on Oct 5, 2008 for violating an unspecified team rule.

The Steelers also suspended Burress in 2004 for for failing to show up for a practice. Burress has been fined by the Steelers, Giants and the NFL at various times during his career and estimates on those cumulative fines range from $50,000 to over $200,000.

So the picture is bleak for Burress if he continues to hold out hope for a chance with the Dolphins.

Because it is not happening.

May 26, 2009

Rosenhaus: Will Allen signs contract extension

Drew Rosenhaus is announcing through his twitter account that cornerback Will Allen has signed a two-year contract extension.

According to Rosenhaus, the deal is worth $16.2 million over the next three seasons, which obviously includes 2009. Rosenhaus has texted me saying the contract includes $10 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.

Allen was originally in the final year of his contract and scheduled to make $4 million in base salary, according the NFL Players Association figures. He is now signed through 2011.

The deal is a good one for both sides. Allen wanted a deal before the start of the season and obviously has that now. He can concentrate on football, knowing the Dolphins want him and he has relative security for the next few seasons.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that Allen doesn't have to wait for his free agency to come to get a big pay bump.

For Miami, the deal locks up a solid cornerback at a fair price. Allen will cost the team an average of $5.4 million per year the next three seasons. The best cornerbacks on the market last season were paid up to $12 million (Champ Bailey).

Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha signed a deal this February that pays him $28.5 over the next two seasons or a $14.25 million average in 2009 and 2010. That deal voids in 2011 unless the Raiders fork over at least another $16.8 million in 2011.

Granted, Allen is not in the same class as Asomugha, who is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL so comparing their contracts is not a good parallel.

A fairer comparison might be players such as Kelvin Hayden and Domonique Foxworth, both younger than Allen but probably not any more accomplished. Hayden signed a five-year deal that averages $8.6 million and Domonique Foxworth signed a four-year deal that averages $6.8 million per year. Both those deals included $16 million in guarantees.

Allen will be 31 in August so this may be his last big payday as he won't be a free agent again -- assuming he plays to the end of the deal -- until he is 34 years old.

From a sheer football perspective and leaving the economics out of it, it gives the Dolphins three cornerbacks they have faith in (including the rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith)  on the roster the next three years. Yes, I know Smith and Davis are rookies but that doesn't change the fact the Dolphins drafted them high which is the definition of having faith in a player.

Allen, a solid pro, can be a good example for both the younger players and this new deal should motivate him to reach out to the kiddies and help them along because he knows he's not going anywhere after the coming season.

Here's where you come in. I told you two weeks ago the Dolphins were in the process of signing players -- check the archives if you doubt that. They've signed Lousaka Polite and Will Allen since then. Who do you think should be next?

Among the players enterring the final years of their contracts are Anthony Fasano, David Martin, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Jason Ferguson, Matt Roth, Davone Bess, Andy Alleman, and Ikechuku Ndukwe. Keep in mind not all these players can become unrestricted free agents and if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached only players with six seasons of experience can become free agents.

So when you gauge Miami's priority for retaining the player coupled with signability, who is next?

My guess? Fasano.

Taylor and Sparano forge an interesting bond

While much of the rest of the world is still digesting the fact Jason Taylor and Bill Parcells have resolved their differences from a year ago, most of you on this blog were the first to know of the disconnect over a year ago and the first to learn of the reconciliation about three or four months ago.

Now you will be the first to know of the strong kinship Taylor and coach Tony Sparano have inexplicably forged in the past 15 months. I say inexplicably because Taylor has never played for Sparano so it is odd that a player would get so close to a coach without having been on the same sideline with the guy.

And yet when Taylor was traded to the Redskins last year, he had one regret he shared with his agent Gary Wichard.

"Jason told me, 'The thing I regret most about all this is that I didn't get a chance to play for Tony Sparano,' " Wichard told me recently.


Sparano connected with Taylor last offseason when he reached out to the player who was not participating in Miami's OTAs or conditioning program. Sparano texted and called Taylor and the two communicated about a variety of issues -- including the Dancing with the Stars appearances that seemingly vexed Bill Parcells.

Sparano would congratulate Taylor every week he'd advance in the competition. (Don't know if he gave him tips on his paso doble, though).

I am told the two communicated throughout the 2008 season, although a little less often because there were tampering issues to think about. But it is fair to say the lines of communication remained open. And once Taylor was cut by the Redskins, the texting and talking resumed full throttle.

It got to the point, I am told by sources, that Sparano shared an outline of the Dolphins workout program with Taylor. Taylor then hired a trainer and followed the outline on his own so as to not fall too far behind his once and future teammates.

And yes, Taylor wanted to return to the Dolphins because Miami is home and his family is here. But the fact Sparano is the coach also made the Dolphins more appealing.

“Well, I think that it certainly plays into it, because at the end of this whole thing Jason had to feel comfortable with me and I had to feel comfortable with him and we really do feel good with each other that way and I think that was really important," Sparano said. "So communication, you know all those things taking place, feeling good about the situation and then going forward from there and it just wasn’t myself and Jason but all parties included. Now then at the end of this whole thing Jason has to play for me so I think that’s one of the things that was really important.”

One really important attribute of this relationship is that Sparano and Taylor are two straight-talking guys in private. In public they have the capability and ability to be politically correct. But they drop the pretenses in private. And both appreciate that.

“Man to man we’ll sit and he’ll tell me how he feels and what he thinks and what he wants and what his philosophy is and I can speak very candidly to him and tell him how I think, how I feel, and my approach on certain things," Taylor said. "That open, honest, face-to-face communication is the way it could be done in any walk of life and any business -- any sport, marriage, whatever it may be.

"So I think that was the genesis of our good relationship and we continued to talk over the year. And I told Tony last year when I was in LA that I wanted to play for him. I told him when I got traded that I wanted to play for him. I told him throughout the season. I know there was sort of an issue where you can’t really talk and all that stuff but I would congratulate the guys here and they knew how I felt about Tony and the team. That didn’t change when I got released.”


[PERSONAL NOTE: It's my wife birthday today. Want to wish her a happy, prosperous, blessed day. I know you guys don't know her. I am certain of that, by the way. But feel free to give a shout-out, too, if you like.]

May 24, 2009

Starks having a bad Memorial Day weekend

Randy Starks cannot be having a good Memorial Day weekend because he is spending part of it in jail.

The defensive end about to embark on his second Dolphins season was arrested on aggravated battery charges just after midnight Sunday morning for effectively using a Freightliner (a monster truck as you can see in the picture of a sister truck) as a weapon on South Beach.


Unwisely, Starks allegedly used that weapon on a Miami Beach police officer.

Starks was obviously in party mode as he was driving his truck with a woman sitting on his lap.

The Dolphins know about Starks' arrest which pretty much rules out the possibility it might have been a case of mistaken identity.

"We were only recently made aware of the situation," Dolphins senior vice president of media relations Harvey Greene said. "Since we're still in the process of gathering information, we have no comment."

Starks is immediately subject to the NFL personal conduct policy. Under the policy, anyone merely arrested is required to "undergo consultation and additional counseling as required."

If Starks is convicted of his charge or pleads guilty to a lesser related charge, he would be subject to discipline as determined by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Such discipline can include a fine, suspension without pay or even banishment -- which obviously is the nuclear option not on the table here. Keep in mind these are stipulations for a first-time offense.

Second-time offenders must be suspended without pay and can be banished, as determined by the commissioner. 

Dolphins have much to prove -- which is good

My Sunday column is about motivation and how coach Tony Sparano loves players "with a little chip on their shoulders" because he believes that gives them an edge.

It is hard to argue with Sparano about this because he is right. He's convinced a good football player is one with talent and work ethic and that little something else that makes people reach deeper or longer for that something extra.

And one way to mine extra intangible is having players that want to prove themselves or believe they must prove themselves. So in the column I take a look at part of the Dolphins roster and name some players that have things to prove in the coming season.

We're not just talking about undrafted free agents here. Miami's starting quarterback has something to prove. Miami's most recognizable player has something to prove. The entire starting secondary has something to prove because every individual in it is shadowed by someone's doubt or skepticism.

Read the column. Check out the players I name and the reason they have a burden of proof upon them. But understand I could not and did not name every player that has something to prove.

That's why this blog exists. That's where you come into the picture.

When you come back here (I hope) name the players I've missed that, in your opinion, have something to prove to themselves, the coaches, and yes, you, the hardcore Miami fan.

If someone has already named a player and given the burden of proof he carries you can repeat that name, no problem. But can you add to that which the player has to prove? Think!

And have a great Sunday!

May 23, 2009

Ross would examine Vick? Not necessary

A couple of days ago at the NFL mini-meeting in Fort Lauderdale (my home turf South Florida is) Dolphins owner Stephen Ross discussed the issue of Michael Vick with the NFL Network's Scott Hanson. According to Hanson's Twitter tweet on the subject, Ross told Hanson he "believes in giving a second chance," and would examine Vick if asked to do so by his football people.

Ross, at the end of the day, is still a rookie NFL owner and has some things to learn. First lesson, why get involved in issues that aren't issues for your team?

If Ross knew his football people as well as he needs to, he'd know the Dolphins are not interested in Michael Vick. Miami's football people, so averse to bringing attention to the team they don't even hold press conferences after signing unrestricted free agents, are not interested in having the Michael Vick circus pitch its tents in Davie.

And it's not just that Vick comes with unflattering attention based on his tainted history, it's also that there are legitimate football reasons the conversation concerning any interest in Vick was very short around Miami's braintrust.

Vick has been out of the NFL for 19 months, may be suspended by the league once his legal issues are resolved in a couple of months, and Vick wasn't exactly Peyton Manning before his troubles anyway. Miami also just invested a second-round pick on Pat White, by all accounts a player expected fill the same spot as what Vick might, so the addition would cause a logjam at quarterback for Miami.

So Ross discussing Vick is simply talk for the sake of talking. The owner should learn to avoid that as he gains more experience.

[BLOG NOTE: Want to wish you all a happy Memorial Day weekend. Take a second this weekend to remember the sacrifice of the military men and woman who died while serving the United States of America. Maybe invest more than a second and watch the video below. While most of us are not working, I remind you this blog will be in full effect Sunday with an update on my Sunday Dolphins column, which tackles the issues of Miami's' "hungry" players and why coach Tony Sparano loves them. So check back tomorrow.]

May 21, 2009

Dolphins thinking about winning it this season

One of the most fascinating things I deal with as a middle man between the Dolphins and their fans is how sometimes the team and the folks rooting for that team share a common goal and common thinking. And sometimes they really do not.

Sometimes the disconnect in the team's agenda and the fans' agenda is startling.

And I perceive there is some disconnect here.

Correct me if I am wrong, but judging from some of your comments on this blog and the comments of fans I talk to on the radio or meet on the street, some fans are walking around with a happy-to-be-here attitude. It is as if some of you have believe 2008 was a wonderful foundation-building year and the reconstruction project won't be complete for another year or two so whatever happens this season is fine with you.

Some of you see a fine season in your rear view mirror and a championship on the horizon and whatever happens in between is perfectly acceptable. You see 2009 as another year of building, not of winning or competing for a championship.

That, frankly, is a loser's mentality.

And these Dolphins, being quite far removed from being losers, are not thinking that way at all.

When coach Tony Sparano gathered his players recently, he congratulated them on a great 2008 season. He told them how wonderful it was to turn things around and "change the culture" of losing he encountered when he took over the team.

But, he reminded the players, the job is not complete so he wants, hopes, expects, this team to strive to complete the job. He didn't say, this is a transition team. He didn't say, we'll complete the job in a year or two.

Sparano, Jeff Ireland, Bill Parcells and every player on the Dolphins want to win the Super Bowl this coming season. Owner Stephen Ross wants to host his team in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. No one is thinking about championships in 2010. This is not the NBA. They are not thinking about completing a four- or five-year program in 2010 or 2011.

2009 is the focus.

Winning Super Bowl XLIV in Miami is the goal. Today is the time, not tomorrow ... and definitely not yesterday. The Dolphins aren't thinking about a five-year plan any more than they are resting on what happened last year.

“We are excited about what happened in the offseason with all the new faces that we have in free agency and with the draft," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "We are excited to bring all of these guys in and that is why every year is different. What we did in 2008 has no bearing in 2009. We have a big challenge ahead of us -- to learn each other and to build team chemistry and to work together.”

When I talk to Dolphins players or people within the organization, they never say we're in the second year of a plan that will take X-number of years. All the players know they might not be around next year -- or next game with this bunch -- so now is the most important time.

Folks atop the organization such as Sparano and Ireland recognize they must look out into the future as they build the team. But they have one eye on that future and the other eye on today.

That's why the team signed Jason Taylor back.

That's the reason the team signed Chad Pennington last year.

That's the reason if the right veteran that can upgrade the team now comes available at some point before the October trading deadline, the Dolphins will consider making the move.

One more thing that has become plainly clear to me in talking about this team with sources, coaches and personnel people. They all recognize there is no promise of success tomorrow.

They talk about a looming "quarterback transition" and how there can be serious bumps on that road to Chad Henne. They talk about losing four or five valuable free agents after this season and having to replace those known players with God knows who. They talk of there being no ironclad certainty in the direction Ross is pointing the organization. They talk of not knowing whether Parcells will be with the team next year or the year after.

They talk of doing everything in their power to make the 2009 Dolphins the best they can be so that the 2009 season is better than 2008.

And they leave the conversation about fanciful 2010 or '11 championships to some fans who don't understand what's most important.

May 20, 2009

The other spot needing an acorn? WR, of course

I respect the fact some of you believe the Dolphins have a terrible situation at nose tackle. Jason Ferguson is 34 years old. And everyone behind him is unknown or unproven. I understand that.

But I would say the next highest position of need after right guard, the one that needs addressing if an upgrade player comes available through waivers or trade is the wide receiver spot.


Let's look at this logically. The Dolphins have a solid starting nose tackle in Ferguson. And the concerns about the position all stem from the fear he might get injured. And that is fair. But what if he has a season like 2008 and doesn't get injured?

Then the Dolphins have a solid NFL starting nose tackle sitting there. They are good.

What solid NFL wide receiver do the Dolphins have regardless of whether someone gets injured or stays healthy? What player do they have on the roster that presents the credentials as a WR that Ferguson presents as a NT?

Yeah, nobody.

The hope is Ted Ginn Jr. has his breakout season in 2009. The likelihood, however, is he will continue his slow but steady improvement toward being a good player.

On the other side of Ginn the Dolphins are currently starting Davone Bess. Bess is a solid player, a growing slot receiver. But is he (to impress commentor Marcus) a starting-caliber Z receiver? Is he a starting-caliber X?

I would say Bess, for all his gritty attributes and quickness, would not be able to start on 25 of 32 teams. He'd be a great slot guy, he'd be a wonderful answer in an emergency. He's growing and getting better. But a threat? A guy other teams worry about? He is not that. Fact is, he's going to be fighting for his life to make the team just like everyone else.

The Dolphins did draft two wide receivers in Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline. Please alert the media when they prove they belong. They have promise. They have potential. But they were, by any measure, second-day draft picks not expected to be as good as the gaggle of rookie receivers selected before them.

Exactly a dozen receivers were selected before Miami took Turner in the third round. Hartline, a fourth-rounder, was the 17th receiver to come off the boards. The point is they might become great players. But they might as easily not.

Then there is the question of Greg Camarillo. The Dolphins really appreciated his ability to get open and dissect defenses last year. He made himself available to the quarterback, made himself a big, reliable target. And then he blew out his knee.

I talked to Camarillo Tuesday and he expects to be 100 percent at some point. But he admitted to me he doesn't know when, exactly. He also admitted that reaching full health is a mental as well as physical challenge.

There is no guarantee whatsoever that challenge will be met before the 2009 season begins ... or is over.

So I believe the Dolphins would be right and will do right when it comes to the receiver position. They will continue to look for upgrades, for acorns. They will continue to monitor the Anquan Boldin situation, which they believe will go from a simmer to a boil around the time training camp is starting and then again just prior to the season starting.

Will they also monitor the NT spot? Of course. These guys are brilliant in what they do. They understand they are in a precarious situation at NT now and in a tough situation long-term.

But I would also tell you Ferguson is healthy, his weight is under control, and to expect him to get hurt is being terribly pessimistic. Beyond Ferguson, the Dolphins do have hopes for third-year player Paul Soliai, second-year player Joe Cohen, and rookie Lewis Ellis.

First off, Ellis has been overweight so the team is working hard to get him in shape for training camp. But he has impressed coaches with his (this is for Marcus again) leverage. He's not slow either.

Cohen was overweight last year. But he is in playing shape now and has a year of learning to his credit. I am told he is expected to mount a strong and legitimate challenge to Soliai's roster spot. We shall see as Soliai has lots of work to do getting in shape as he did in time for camp last year.

Finally, let us recognize what the NFL game is right now. It is a game in which most teams pass the ball about 53-58 percent of the time and run 42-47 percent of the time. Ferguson will not be in the game on passing downs and last year was limited to about 32-35 snaps per game.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins need game-changers that will be on offense that 53-55 percent or so when they're trying to pass. They need a threatening receiver who can worry the defense on about 40-45 snaps per game regardless of whether they throw or run an end around or run.

The simple math, assuming no injuries, dictates the Dolphins need one player more than the other.

Some of you will say the Dolphins have those players on the roster already. I say they would be wise to keep looking around, just in case.

And the truth -- regardless of our opinions -- is Jeff Ireland will continue to search for talent. Relentlessly. Unceasingly. At NT, at WR, and at practically every position in between.

Dolphins in need of some more "acorns"

You know that immediately after the draft, general manager Jeff Ireland referred to players the Dolphins can pick up here and there as "acorns."

Chad Pennington was an acorn last year. Jason Taylor was an acorn this year.

Well, the Dolphins are a few acorns short of a full bushel.

Looking at the roster as it is currently constructed, one would have to agree the Dolphins have upgraded at various positions. They've improved (potentially) their pass-rush with the additions of Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake. They've improved (potentially) the anchor of their offensive line with the replacing of center Samson Satele with center Jake Grove. They've addressed (potentially) the secondary by adding free agents Gibril Wilson and Eric Green and drafting Sean Smith and Vontae Davis and Chris Clemons.

But there are two areas of concern to me now that were areas of concern to me when the offseason began. And I am having a hard time believing either has been significantly improved.

One area that hasn't even been addressed is the right guard spot. Right now the spot that was a revolving door problem for the Dolphins last year continues to look that way this year. Yesterday's news that Donald Thomas has a torn pectoral muscle means the Dolphins once again are without their starter at the spot. Furthermore, the injury raises questions whether Thomas can be counted on at that spot.

Thomas, in his second season, has exactly one quarter of NFL regular-season football experience. And he also has a major foot injury that caused him to miss all of 2008 and now the pec issue that will cause him to miss valuable time in the offseason program and camps. The Dolphins might think they have no recourse but to wait on him to get healthy and plug him back in, but I say the team needs an acorn at that position.

The Dolphins will/should scour the waiver wires and weigh trade possibilities leading up to the season to try and plug the leaking hole at RG.

It is fair to suggest the team doesn't need to do this because there are bodies already on the roster who can fill the void. Andy Alleman is still on the team as is Ikechuku Ndukwe -- both of whom started games last season. But that is hoping for a solution. Neither excelled at the spot last year and while the hope is they improve and become exclamation points, today they remain as question marks.

The Dolphins also have free agent signee Joe Berger and second-year player Shawn Murphy on the team as possible solutions. More hoping here. Berger has never been an NFL starter and while that doesn't mean he won't be, it says something about him that Brandon Frye, a former tackle, was running with the first team at right guard Tuesday while Berger was backing up at guard and center.

Murphy is intriguing in that he was a fourth-round pick last year. The Dolphins have high hopes for Dale Murphy's son. But he hasn't hit it out of the park yet, if you get my drift.

“With Murph, really one of the things that he needed to do, he was very young at the position," coach Tony Sparano said. "When we took him he started out on the other side of the ball and then we took him, so he didn’t have a lot of experience maybe playing the offensive line, but he has good mentality. I think what we didn’t see out of him or what we would like to see is the game being able slow down a little bit in there if that makes sense, so he can play a little bit faster.

"[Monday] he had a real good day out here, he did a nice job yesterday, did some things, played a little bit faster. You can see that he’s got a pretty good understanding [of] what’s going on, so that process I think is what we want to see him take the next step with, really the game slowing down for him so we can see the physical things come out that we seen in the draft.”

Ah, the physical things. The fact is Murphy was surprisingly soft last year. He was overweight. And he combined that with below average strength. Not a good combo.

The Dolphins are hoping that is being addressed this offseason.

“When he came in, we took some weight off of him, then when he got down in body weight, we brought him back up the right way so his body has completely changed since the time that he walked in the building here," Sparano said. "[He's] much stronger now physically, without a doubt and I think in a lot better shape, so I think we are going to see him take some steps forward here.”

Let's hope.

[BLOG NOTE: Later this afternoon, I'll update you with the other position that remains unsolved. Yes, the Dolphins did things they hope will cure their ills at the spot, but we'll discuss if you believe that's been done. So discuss the right guard spot and can you guess the other position that needs HELP in my opinion? And why?]


May 19, 2009

Dolphins OTA camp report [Updated again and again and again and ... ]

The Dolphins are conducting their first public (open to the media) OTA day of the offseason.

It's a party!

Here are some observations:

Donald Thomas, who general manager Jeff Ireland declared 100 percent healthy just prior to the draft, is not working. He has clearly suffered an injury setback of some kind. [Update: Aside from Ireland saying Thomas was healthy, the player talked to colleague David J. Neal on draft day and the question of his injury came up then.

"I'm great," he said then, "That's behind me. I don't even like to talk about it."

Well, Thomas was asked moments ago what the problem is and he obviously still doesn't like to talk about it, but for a vastly different reason. He deflected questions about why he's not working and referred them to coach Tony Sparano.]

[Update: Scouts.com is reporting the Thomas injury is a torn pectoral muscle. Sparano just confirmed the injury and declined to give any timetable for his return. Question for you: At what point do you begin to wonder that Thomas is injury prone? I mean, geez, the guy has played one quarter of NFL football and has already sustained two significant injuries.]

Brandon Frye, a tackle last season, is working with the starting offensive line at right guard. Thomas, a rookie a year ago, missed all but one start (the opener) with a fracture in a foot. [Another question for you: Do you agree that Shawn Murphy, a fourth-round pick which the Dolphins moved up to select and did not play a down last year, has much to prove and improve on this year because the Dolphins have a huge need at RG?]

Justin Smiley, recovering from major knee surgery, is apparently doing quite well in his rehab. He's in his usual left guard spot. [Update: "I feel great," Smiley said. "I feel as quick as I've ever been. I'm 100 percent and ready to go.]

Greg Camarillo (knee), David Martin (undisclosed injury) and rookie Brennan Marion (undisclosed) are also not working in all the drills today. Camarillo is doing some drills but being being held out of others, particularly the ones that require he cuts on the knee. [Update again: Coach Tony Sparano just said Martin has had a sports hernia "taken care of," which is code for surgery.] 

[Update: Camarillo said he expects to be 100 percent healthy by the start of training camp, but admitted being 100 percent healthy and confident, "doesn't come until much later." Obviously there is the mental battle players must wage to being confident they can take a hit with no adverse effects. That battle is separate and apart from the physical battle of getting completely healthy. How's that for an amateur psychological analysis?]

[Update again: Rookie receiver Brian[ Hartline is not at the OTAs because Ohio State has not graduated yet and NFL rules prohibit rookies from working at OTAs until their class graduates.]

Jason Taylor is in the house just as I told you yesterday he'd be. He is working with the second team defense at OLB. He is also working as a long snapper. Charlie Anderson is the other second-team OLB.

The starting OLBs are Joey Porter and Matt Roth.

[Update: Taylor looks just like he did when he last put on a Dolphins uniform. He's lithe and quick. The Dolphins will be moving him around a lot this year and they did that in practice today. I guarantee you this Miami coaching staff will figure out how to maximize these guys.

Joey Porter made the point today that he welcomes the Taylor signing and sees no problem being on the field at the same time as Taylor. That brought back a question I had for weeks and months in 2007 when the Dolphins had a clear plan of using both players as they'd been used previously, had a template they could follow to sucess, and then inexplicably went away from the plan. The Dolphins asked Porter to rush from a three-point stance and had him covering tight ends while they stopped moving Taylor all over the field.

As a result Taylor was a shadow of the player he was under Nick Saban and Porter was diminished to the point everyone, including himself, questioned what the heck was going on. Look, Dom Capers had proven himself a fine defensive coordinator in his career, but the decisions he made in 2007 were inexcusable and clearly didn't work.]

[Update again: Offseason acquisition Cameron Wake, of whom much is hoped and expected, is working with what amounts to the fourth team. It's Porter and Roth, then Taylor and Anderson on second team, then Quentin Moses and Erik Walden with the third group, then Wake and Tearrius George with the fourth group.]

Jason Allen, the first round draft pick in 2006, is working with the third team at CB. Rookies Sean Smith and Vontae Davis are second team while Will Allen and Eric Green are the first team cornerbacks today.

A couple of secondary backup had a difficult moment when Pat White threw a 50-yard bomb to Todd Lowber who beat a blown coverage by Courtney Bryan and Scorpio Babers.

[Update again: I know some of you are quoting reports about White is having a bad day today. Can we get serious here? This is an OTA day in May. One more time. It is one OTA in May. Yes, White had a couple of errant high tosses. But that means nothing in the grand scheme of things so please let's get some perspective. The only thing that really matters at this point is who is hurt, who is healthy and looking at where players line up to judge what coaches are thinking about their players. That is it. If you're reading somewhere that White was erratic or somebody struggled in an OTA day practice and that is means something significant, that should give you pause.

Sparano, by the way, said White had a very good day on Monday so there. It means nothing!]

The starting receivers today are Ted Ginn Jr. and Davone Bess. Ginn beat Eric Green on a 40-some-yard pass from Chad Pennington. The play went for a TD that will mean nothing in September or even tomorrow.

Ernest Wilford is working with the second team. [Update: Wilford worked exclusively at WR during the practice. But after practice Wilford got some work in at tight end. Wilford spent time with tight end coach George DeLeone after practice.]

{Update again: Sparano said Wilford is getting a preliminary look at the F tight spot, which is the H-back. The Dolphins want to see if Wilford has the flexibility to play here and create some matchup problems against linebackers. The interesting thing is the Dolphins have plenty of F tight ends and rookie John Nalbone is among that group.]

May 18, 2009

On JT, making the team and communication

Although my column on how the Dolphins communicate clearly with their players was The Herald's most read story on Sunday, I know a lot of you use the day for family, recreation and things that don't necessarly involve reading the newspaper or website, so please check out the piece.

It recounts how the Dolphins have an understanding with Jason Taylor about a bunch of things, including him not worrying about playing time, or starting, and even about him understanding he's got to make the team to, well, make the team -- in other words, he has to earn his roster spot.

Taylor will begin his offseason work in earnest Monday when he reports for the team's OTAs. Tuesday's OTA will be open to the media and Taylor will speak for the first time as a once and current member of the team.

Question for the faithful: Does it bother you the Dolphins do not introduce their new player additions in press conferences as other teams do? Miami didn't introduce Jake Grove or Gibril Wilson with a press conference. They didn't have one for Taylor, either. They just don't do that for reasons involving embracing the team concept. Does it matter to you?

As I write in the column I'm undeniably and shamelessly plugging in this post, Taylor was fine with accepting the Dolphins terms that extended beyond his contract. He was fine with earning his spot (I have a feeling he'll still be good enough to do that), and he was fine with whatever playing time he gets.

Taylor just wanted to be a Dolphin again because he wanted to be back home with his family. As his agent Gary Wichard told me last week, "Jason only wanted to play for the Dolphins. It was never about playing for any other team."

So do you folks agree with me that Taylor will indeed earn his roster spot? Does it puzzle you the Dolphins even addressed this issue with him? Or are you glad the team is treating everyone the same when, in fact, everyone is not really the same?

Also, how many of you agree with me that the way the Dolphins communicate with their players -- in plain English with no room for uncertainty -- is the best way to operate in today's NFL?

One more thing: Last week I mentioned that Paul Soliai might get some time at defensive end based on several factors, including the fact the latest Miami roster had him listed as a DE. I'm told he'll be used as a NT first and then the team might consider a move only if some extenuating circumstances occur. Just want to make sure we're clear.

May 16, 2009

Polite signs 2-year extension with the Dolphins

By David J. Neal

Herald Staff Writer (making a guest post on Armando's blog with Salguero permission)

    The Dolphins have signed fullback Lousaka Polite to a two-year extension for the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

    Polite, picked up as a free agent last October, started five of the Dolphins remaining 11 regular season games. In addition to his blocking, he picked up first downs on six of his seven third-and-1 carries. Before signing Polite, the Dolphins had gone through Boomer Grigsby (waived after one game) and Casey Cramer (injured, then waived Dec. 20) searching for fullback play they felt was up to snuff.

    Polite began his NFL career with Dallas in 2004, where current Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells was head coach. His current contract, which will pay him $620,000 this season, was set to run out after the 2009 season. Agent Peter Schaffer said they began talking about an extension with the Dolphins at the Senior Bowl.

May 15, 2009

The looming issues with contracts, salary cap

Talking to a Dolphins club source recently the subject of salary cap space came up.

"We're not in great shape but we're not in terrible shape," he said. "We're middle of the pack."

I am waiting on the current NFL cap numbers, but I estimate the Dolphins have approximately $10 million in cap space at this writing. So what to do with that cap space?

Free agency is over. But the Dolphins want to give themselves wiggle room in case any other "acorns" fall off a tree. If a player comes become available, as Chad Pennington unexpectedly did last season, the Dolphins want the cap room so they can be active in that market.

The club also has to sign its draft picks, needs to budget for a practice squad, and then there's the other thing:

The Dolphins have about a dozen free agents next year. The club cannot and will not re-sign all of them. But the team would like to re-sign some of them. And general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano already know which of those players they want to re-sign. They have a plan.

Of course they do, you're muttering.

Well, don't take that for granted. The fact is the Dolphins consider themselves to have an advantage over this time last year relative to their looming unrestricted free agents. Last year at this time, the new regime didn't really know its players.

Yes, Yeremiah Bell was healthy again but he had been able to play only 21 percent of the downs the previous four seasons. And the team didn't know about the player. They didn't know his work ethic and desire. So they could not and did not commit to signing him early.

Bell eventually proved himself to the club but, by the time he did, it cost more to give him a new contract in March than it would have prior to the season. The price had gone up and the Dolphins, through no fault of their own because they were playing it safe, had to pay the premium.

This offseason, Bill Parcells and his crew know their players. So they know which to prioritize.

This is an important subject because we're talking about some very valuable players that are unsigned. RB Ronnie Brown can become a free agent after 2009, so can QB Chad Pennington, CB Will Allen, OLB Matt Roth, tight ends Anthony Fasano and David Martin.

In the coming months, prior to the start of the season, the Dolphins hope to lock up some of these guys. It's not an easy situation made more uncertain by the current NFL labor situation.

Understand that unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, the 2010 season will included an uncapped salary situation. But that also changes the rules of the game for free agency. Suddenly players with less than six years of experience become restricted instead of unrestricted. And teams get multiple vehicles for tying up players -- such as transition and franchise tags.

That will be interesting to see play out. But the Dolphins are operating under the assumption their will be an agreement and rules will remain the same. For their purposes they're playing this as if all of their scheduled unrestricted free agents will, indeed, be free.

So here is the scenario for you. I have just appointed you Miami's GM (I have that power, you know) and now it is your job to handle finite cap space prior to the start of the season. How do you handle it?

How much space do budget for an "acorn?" Do you try to re-sign some of the pending free agents? Which ones are your priority, realizing you can't re-sign them all? And what do you do with Chad Pennington?

He's the starting QB now. He might not be in 2010. Do you let him go into 2009 without a new contract? Do you tell him he's the backup and offer backup money for 2010 -- knowing he's probably not likely to take that?

The Dolphins need advice. What the heck should they do? 

May 14, 2009

Here is the plan for using Jason Taylor

Signing Jason Taylor was only the first step. Now the Dolphins must figure out exactly how to get the most bang for their buck. They must figure out how to make Taylor the valuable defensive weapon he was for many years but did not come close to resembling in a forgettable 2008 season with the Redskins.

Guess what? The Dolphins have a plan.

And the plan has been explained to me by team sources so this is it in a nutshell:

First of all, forget about whether Taylor starts or doesn't start. Coach Tony Sparano doesn't care about that and, soon, Taylor will probably be echoing a similar sentiment. The idea is not to give Taylor starts. The idea is to make sure Taylor finishes -- finishes sacks, finishes games, finishes the season.

Understand plans can always change given a change in circumstances such as injuries and individual game strategies, but initially the Dolphins plan to use JT as a situational player. That means someone will start ahead of him and play on obvious running downs ahead of him.

The way the Dolphins figure it, there's no sense asking a soon-to-be 35-year-old guy to play 60 snaps a game and find out he's effective in maybe only 25 of them. So the idea is to pick and choose the right spots to use Taylor. The idea is to give him maybe 20-25 snaps per game.

That useage of Taylor as a scalpel rather than a hacksaw will save his body, keep him fresh, and limit the chances of getting him injured. It will also mean he'll be full-throttle on every passing down because he'll be rested and because he'll be wanting to make the most of his limited opportunities. Rushing the passer is what Taylor has always done best. And that's what the Dolphins will ask him to do almost exclusively.

Taylor gives the Dolphins great versatility. At his core he is good odd-front player. He plays best on his feet so the Dolphins will use him exactly that way. Remember how Taylor came from every angle when Nick Saban was coach? The plan, initially at least, is to use him in a similar role again.

The idea is to limit the offense's ability to identify and recognize what the Dolphins are doing on defense and with Taylor in particular. The idea is to confuse the offense. The idea is to gain the greatest strategic advantage with a pretty good player executing the plan.

Taylor was terribly miscast in a Redskins system that didn't know how to maximize his gifts. Yes, he wanted to escape Washington for family reasons. But from a football standpoint, he needed to escape that 4-3 scheme the Redskins buried him in.

One more thing: All these plans assume Taylor earns the right to be used in this manner. Nothing is going to be handed to him.

He doesn't have to win a starting job because he's not going to be starting. But he's got to win the right to be that situational headache for opposing offenses. He has to earn those 20 snaps per game. He's got to beat out guys like Cameron Wake and Eric Walden and Matt Roth to earn his way on the field.

The Dolphins think he'll do exactly that. But that will be up to him. 

May 13, 2009

Taylor expected to join the Dolphins

Jason Taylor is expected to rejoin the Dolphins as early as today.

I have confirmed that Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and agent Gary Wichard have been negotiating since early, early this morning and the sides are very, very close to announcing a deal. The deal is a one-year contract.

In negotiating this reunion of the team's All-Time sack leader and the club that drafted him in 1997, Taylor snubbed overtures from a handful of clubs, not the least of which was New England.

Taylor's contract is very salary cap friendly. He walked away from an $8.5 million base salary in Washington and told the Dolphins he would play for whatever they wanted to pay him. It is unclear exactly what they will be paying him. The Associated Press is now reporting Taylor will make $1.5 million.

That doesn't seem to matter much to Taylor. He wanted to return to South Florida and the Dolphins because this is his home. He wanted to finish work and go home to his family. He wanted to sleep in his own bed every night. He didn't want to spend another season in a distant NFL outpost while his family stayed in South Florida -- that was his situation last year after he was traded to Washington.

In signing Taylor, the Dolphins add the kind of quarterback pressure they lacked outside of Joey Porter last season. Taylor, 35 in September, has 120.5 career sacks. Although he managed only 3.5 sacks last year, his lowest total since 1999, there were extenuating circumstances for that.

Taylor was injured much of the year, asked to play out of position, and asked to gain weight in Washington. In Miami he will be used as a pass-rusher in the team's nickel and dime packages and is expected to compete for a starting job at one of the outside linebacker jobs.

It is unclear how exactly the Dolphins will manage to get both Taylor and Porter on the field and comfortable at the same time in their base defense -- an issue that went unresolved when they last played together in 2007.

Taylor, a source tells me, never intended to play for any other team but Miami. "Miami is the only place I'm going to play," Taylor told friends and family after gaining his release from Washington.

After he basically forced his way off the Redskins by refusing to accept new contract language in a restructured deal, Taylor told Wichard he wanted to be in Miami.

Wichard met with Washington owner Daniel Snyder at Joe's Stone Crab and informed the Redskins of Taylor's intentions to depart Washington. Taylor also had Wichard turn down at least two movie opportunities so that he could spend the offseason training and the regular-season, well, playing.

Taylor has been in constant contact with coach Tony Sparano as the two have texted messages back and forth for some time. Sparano went so far as giving Taylor the basics of the Dolphins offseason workout program in hopes Taylor would follow its parameters on his own.

Taylor hired a personal trainer and has been doing the Dolphins program. Taylor will join the program as soon as he signs.

The addition for the Dolphins is a loss for the New England Patriots. Owner Robert Kraft actively recruited Taylor in the press. Coach Bill Belichick called Taylor and Wichard, his agent. The overtures were never rebuffed but at no point did Taylor or Wichard talk contract or salary with the Patriots. There was never a handshake agreement between the sides as has previously been reported by Boston-area media outlets.

The Dolphins and Wichard are ironing out details in the contract as we speak but there should be a deal signed by the end of the day, according to a source.