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25 posts from June 2009

June 04, 2009

The most dominant player on the Dolphins?

Anyone who's been paying attention to the world outside the NFL lately understands there is a transitional shift happening in the NBA. The league so dominated by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant in the regular-season has been mostly dominated by a Supermanchild named Dwight Howard during the playoffs.

Dwight Howard is straight up nasty, and if you don't believe me check out the video below.

It can be argued Howard has been the MVP of the current playoffs. Depending on what happens in the Finals that begin tonight, it could be argued he's the NBA's most dominant player.

And that brings me to the Dolphins because, well, all roads lead to the Miami Dolphins on this blog.

While we watch to see if Howard rules basketball, I wonder who is Miami's most dominant player?

Think about that. I'm not asking who is the Most Valuable Player. I'm not asking who is the best leader. Who is most DOMINANT?

Which player comes closest to making things seem unfair for the guy he faces? Who seems to be head and shoulders above the other guys on the field?

I grant you the Dolphins don't have a guy like a Larry Fitzgerald or Deion Sanders in his prime -- guys that make you shake your head because they are so in a league of their own. But give me your list of the five most dominant players on the team currently. Don't give me likely to be dominant. Don't give me your hope for a guy to be dominant.

Who is most dominant now.

My top five?

1. Joey Porter.

2. Jake Long.

3. Yeremiah Bell.

4. Ronnie Brown.

5. Jason Taylor.

I'm sure Bell surprises you. Not me. He's a monster when he's healthy. The guy has biceps bigger than most people's quads. He hits hard, he covers tight ends well, he explodes to the ball.

Taylor obviously can be elite when he's right. He wasn't right last year. This (still) young man feels like he's got a lot to prove and that works in his favor because he feeds off criticism and naysayers so I predict a fine year for him. (Hmmm, maybe I should take him off the list and write he stinks so he'll get all motivated when he reads this blog.)

Got to think about that for a while.

Anyway, Brown is a defensive back's nightmare in the open field simply because he's 230 pounds and when he gets up a head of steam from his 4.45 propulsion ... well, what happens next reminds me of the old Bruce Smith commercials -- bad things man, bad things.

Long should be atop this list by this time next year. As it stands, he's scary in that the man who benched 225 pounds 37 times at the 2008 Indy Combine has gotten stronger this offseason. That's kind of like a Corvette getting prettier. It's just not fair. 

Joey Porter? He's looking healthy. He's looking strong. It simply is not an even match when he's being blocked by a running back or tight end. Porter will win every single time. Teams only figured that out late last season when they always slid their protection to Porter's side, making sure he was blocked by a tackle and sometimes a tackle with a back chipping him.

That should not be the case this season with more pressure coming from the other side as Matt Roth has gotten healthy, Cameron Wake has arrived after dominating the CFL, and Taylor has returned home to his rightful team. (But only if you make the team, Jason. How's that for motivation?)

June 03, 2009

A look at the Dolphins cornerback position

The Dolphins are an intriguing team right now because they promise so many fascinating story lines based on the coming competition in training camp.

One position that is of particular interest to me is the cornerback spot. The group is bursting at the seams with competition. Outside of Will Allen, who pretty much has a lock on his starting spot, everything else is up for grabs.

A starting job in the base defense is up for grabs. A starting job in the nickel package is up for grabs. And two or three roster spots are up for grabs. It's a big grab bag, everybody!

Let's start with Miami's philosophy on cornerbacks so you can carry this into the future as the team makes roster decisions, draft decisions and decisions on free agents:

“I think a big part of our philosophy, when I say our philosophy, me, Bill [Parcells] and Jeff [Ireland], has always been to have big corners," coach Tony Sparano said. "It really has. So we like big corners. In fact, we’ll take smaller corners in some situations off the [draft] board. And they might just be good players for other people just maybe not for us. So we kind of really wanted to have big corners. It’s something that we believe in."


"They’re a little bit more physical and you can do maybe a few more things with them in some situations but I would also say yes. To answer your question. Randy Moss, now Terrell Owens. Those type of people in this division. Just knowing Terrell, just being with him and how he approaches some of the smaller corners, there’s certainly a history versus Randy, in those type of situations you better have some big, strong people that can compete against these guys because they’re big, strong, physical receivers that can’t take over a game and I think that you need to be prepared when you’re playing against them and of course for us, our division is first and foremost.”

OK, so that's one reason the Dolphins loved Vontae Davis (5-11 and 203 pounds) and Sean Smith (6-3 and 214) in the draft. That is also a reason Jason Allen (6-1, 200) has lasted as long as he has.

That settled, look at Miami's cornerback situation. Eric Green was basically handed the starting job at the start of this offseason and it was up to him not to give it up. All he had to do was improve at the same rate and pace as what rookies Davis or Smith did and the job was his because of his built-in experience.

He couldn't do it.

On Tuesday, after an excellent practice Monday, Smith passed Green. The Dolphins bounced Green to second-team and promoted Smith to first team. Now the competition for the starting job is officially on.

Smith had flashed while competing against second-team players so the Dolphins wanted to see what he might do against better players, against starting-caliber receivers. There is no doubt Smith may have some difficult moments against the varsity. But he will be evaluated on whether he seems over his head, whether he continues to improve with each practice repetition, and whether he can be around the ball as often against starters as he was against reserves.

Smith's improvement has been eye-popping for its speed. The first OTA session open to the media I noticed fellow rookie Patrick Turner was pretty much dominating Smith. Turner caught passes in front of and behind Smith. And even in tight coverage, Turner was catching the ball over Smith.

The OTA session open to the media last week told a different tale. Smith was all over Turner. Smith seemed to have jumped up a couple of notches and was now getting the better of the matchup.

So what does that mean?

It means Smith has flashed enough to suggest he can compete for the starting job. It means he is not only freakishly big for a corner, but is apparently a quick learner and is improving with the work. It means he's absorbing the coaching pretty well.

He hasn't won the competition by any means. In fact, he can just as easily fall back to second-team behind Green or Davis. But he's in the mix.

“He’s been getting better and better each practice and getting his hands on more footballs," Sparano said. "He is playing a little more confident. He had a real good practice yesterday. So as he starts to progress a little bit we just want to see him versus better people.  So everybody is kind of going to get an opportunity a little bit here to get some reps with that group and it was his day today.” 

Green can still recover. He is the safe fallback position. He is more experienced. You know what you're going to get with him when the pads go on. He is insurance.

The obvious question that remains is where that leaves Davis? Davis was, after all, the first-round selection. He is the guy who came to the Dolphins with a better draft grade and higher expectations. Well, he's fallen slightly behind the other two.

But that is not a permanent situation.

Davis can still make this a three-man race to the starting job. He will get some time with the starting unit to see if he plays up to the competition. I do not know why exactly he hasn't improved as rapidly as Smith to this point. I don't even know that Davis has done anything wrong. I do know Smith is just doing a lot of things right of late.

The Dolphins have 15 defensive backs in camp right now. Nine of those defensive backs are cornerbacks -- Green, Joey Thomas, Davis, Will Allen, Jason Allen, Will Billingsley, Smith, Nathan Jones and Scorpio Babers.

The Dolphins will keep between six and eight out of this group, depending on what happens at safety.

With Davis, Will Allen, and Smith pretty much on the team, that leaves maybe four roster spots open. No, I'm not giving Green a certain roster spot. He's likely to make the team. It would be a huge upset if he doesn't. But what if he's terrible in the preseason? He's got to earn his way on rather than be annointed.

That means there are six players vying for three or four spots. The breakdown of the five not yet mentioned:

Nathan Jones finished last season in the dime package and is running with the first team there. He's in a good spot to stick.

Jason Allen is running with the third team now but he's been a productive special teams player and he still represents a sizeable gash to the salary cap if he's cut. It'll be a tough call.

Babers is running with the third team also so he's a longshot. Thomas, frankly, shows as a special teams guy but has not really stood out in the practices I've watched, which admittedly are a small sample size of what is truly going on.

Billingsley has shown raw ability but is currently in a numbers crunch. He also is a longshot.


June 02, 2009

Sparano's take on Tuesday's OTA workout

Coach Tony Sparano just finished his post-practice presser with the media and we are more intelligent as a result.

By the way, I love this guy! Everytime he talks, I learn something.

But I digress. As you read in the previous post, I hope, Matt Roth has been a big topic of conversation today. Check out the previous post to find out about his injury status following groin surgery three months ago.

Sparano said Roth has come a long way from last season. "His recognition of coverages and formations is outstanding," Sparano said. It has become so good, the coach said, that Roth is now reacting instinctively rather than thinking.

As a result, Roth is concentrating on his "punch" and "hand placement," which should get better this year. Roth will be the starting strongside linebacker unless something unforeseen happens.

Another player that is impressing coaches is Ted Ginn Jr. You know I wrote my Sunday column about the Dolphins search for a No. 1 receiver. I wrote Ginn has to become that guy. Some of you said the Dolphins don't need a No. 1 receiver to be effective.

And Sparano disagrees with you.

"It's important to me to have a clear No. 1 receiver," Sparano said. "... I'd like to find a clear No. 1 guy that I'm comfortable with and Chad [Pennington] is comfortable with that can come up with the big play."

And Ginn, I am convinced, continues to be the most likely candidate to be that guy because he is opening some eyes with his improvement this offseason -- improvement that is at or near the top of his class.

"Ted Ginn right now, if you said to me, 'Tell the me the player that in the seven or eight practices we've had has impressed you the most,' Ted Ginn is in the top two right now," Sparano said. "The way he's handling himself out there and the way the offense has started to slow down for him that way. I've seen him in some situations be pretty dominant."

Ted Ginn as "dominant." That is a welcome sentence for Dolphins fans.

"I've been impressed with what Ted Ginn has done," said Sparano, who declined to name the other player in his top two.

Guard Andy Alleman, who has missed practically all the OTA practices, continues to struggle with what Sparano called a sore back. "We can't get it comfortable enough for him to go out there do football things right now," the coach said.

On the quarterback front, look for colleague Jeff Darlington's interesting piece on an Internet Chad Pennington imposter coming in the next few hours online and in Wednesday's Miami Herald. And on the Chad Henne front, look for more good things said about Miami's current backup and future starter.

Sparano says he continues to see faster decision-making and clearer identification from Henne, who showed up to begin offseason work in the weight room and film room about six weeks before the rest of the players.

"Mentally, he's done a lot of work," Sparano said.

I told you in the previous post that rookie cornerback Sean Smith has jumped up to first-team work today. He apparently earned that status with his work in previous practice sessions. One interesting thing is Dolphins coaches didn't inform the rookie he was working with the first unit until just prior to the start of practice.

"First of all, we wanted to not give him too much time to think about the whole thing," Sparano said. "We just put him there this morning and told him he'd get reps with the first group.

"He's been getting better and better each practice. Had a real good practice yesterday. As he starts to progess we wanted to see him versus better people."

Finally, you should know the Dallas Cowboys have cut ties with OLB Greg Ellis. The player Bill Parcells converted from a defensive end to a linebacker is now a free agent and you'll likely hear speculation linking him to the Dolphins. Don't buy into it, as a source tells me he simply doesn't fit from a salary cap and depth chart standpoint.

Ellis, 33, will want somewhere between $2-$4 million per season from his next team. The Dolphins don't have that kind of space to spend on the OLB position, particularly with Roth still unsigned for the 2010 season. They also have half a dozen OLB types already on the roster, with all but two of those under the age of 30.

That doesn't totally shut the door on Ellis in Miami. But just about.

[BLOG NOTE: Be sure to click on the previous blog entery that tells you some of the things that happened during Tuesday's work on the field. And be certain to answer the question at the end of that post.]

Updating the Tuesday OTA update -- with more updates updating soon

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

Matt Roth talked about having surgery on a torn groin three months ago. The surgery, according to Roth, has helped his mobility which is important for a strongside linebacker. The injury, Roth said, was left over from the 2007 season and he played through it the entire 2008 season.

Roth is down to about 275 pounds and is able to eat like a normal human being now. Last year he was eating five meals a day -- "mostly fish and lean chicken" -- to keep his weight up during the offseason. He said he was around 285 at this time last season.

It was a big day for rookie cornerback Sean Smith, who worked with the first group in the redzone defense. He was at one cornerback while Will Allen was at the other spot. The second-team corners were Vontae Davis and Eric Green.

Please remember this is a one-practice update. We do not know if Smith has somehow passed Green or if this was merely the situation today. I guess coach Tony Sparano's contention that there is no depth chart now is true. Guys are in and out of the lineup, mixing and matching, with great frequency.

I thought Jake Grove had a very good practice -- please remember they're not in pads. He did outstanding work in one-on-one drills, driving Louis Ellis off the line when normally it's the nose tackle that initiates the contact and moves the center. Let's just say we didn't see that kind of work from Samson Satele at any point in practices last year.

Brandon Frye continues to work with the first-team offensive line.That line left to right is Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Grove, Frye and Vernon Carey. The second-team line L to R was Andrew Gardner, Shawn Murphy, Joe Berger, Frye and SirVincent Rogers. Yes, Frye is getting a lot of repetitions.

Andy Alleman continues to sit out most of the drills. Murphy, a fourth-round pick last season, is still running second-team but he's looking better. He did nice work on one goal line play, pulling from his left guard spot and basically erasing safety Ethan Kilmer on the play. 

John Nalbone is getting a lot of love from the Dolphins in that he's getting the opportunity to operate with veterans when the team is in on goal-line and redzone offense. Unfortunately for him, he had a nice pass from Chad Henne in his hands for a touchdown .. but lost that TD when Tyrone Culver slapped the ball out of his hands.

Kicker Dan Carpenter, the only player on the roster who has absolutely no competition in camp, had a fine day. He connected on 6 of 6 FG attempts. Excellent.

The Dolphins, as you know, canceled their awards banquet last season after decades of celebrating the event. There is no banquet this year, either, but the team is announcing its team awards Friday in kicking off the Inaugural Miami Dolphins Foundation Celebrity Weekend.

The awards are the Don Shula Leadership Award, the Nat Moore Community Service Award, and the Dan Marino MVP Award. Tell me which players you believe are worthy of these awards based on their 2008 performances.

[BLOG UPDATE: Check out the next post on this blog as it includes coach Tony Sparano's comments following the day's field work.]

On open OTA today and Jake Long

The Dolphins have an open-to-the-media organized team activity today so reporters will be there to accurately capture the scene and report back to you what's going on. (Dolphins radio analyst Joe Rose may also be there as he searches for more ways to distort the truth.)

Anyway, the practice will run from 9:50 to 11:30 a.m so I would ask you to check back here after that for updates on what is going on. If anything significant happens, I will update ASAP.

One thing the Dolphins are not getting nearly enough credit on is their attendance in these "voluntary" OTAs. No player that is healthy has missed any of the previous two open OTA sessions. That's is obviously not true of teams such as the Jets or Bills.

While you wait for the updates, I suggest you give consideration to this article on Jake Long. In it, colleague David J. Neal tells how Long is lifting the equivalent of two heavyweight boxers on his squats and deadlifts.

Coach Tony Sparano confirms Long is much stronger, particularly in his lower body, than he was a year ago. He is also much quicker in the head.

''He is so much further ahead mentally,'' Sparano said. ``He kind of knows what to expect now out there and is trying to fine-tune the parts of his game that he needed to work on from last year: a little bit more of the hand use, where his feet are, how he is handling speed in some of those situations. He did a great job of it last year learning on the fly and is really trying to get to the next level with some of that stuff.''

I'm eager for the start of training camp. It will be a treat to watch Long go against Jason Taylor and Joey Porter and Cameron Wake in one-on-one pass-rush drills. We saw how both Long and Porter benefitted from the drills last year.

Wake, who didn't face an NFL-caliber offensive tackle in the CFL, will get a dose of a Pro Bowl left tackle every day in practice. It should be a valuable education for the outside linebacker and give a peek into his ability.

Taylor, who played with his hands on the ground last season, will be standing up this year. So he might knock some rust off while working against Long. Long will benefit in that Taylor will present him a combination of quickness and leverage the youngster hasn't seen very often.

It'll be good stuff.

Anyway, check back later.