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65 posts from August 2009

August 31, 2009

Dolphins get day at the movies -- UPDATED

Tony Sparano has a big heart. No, really.

Rather than put his team through another day of practice today, the Dolphins coach took his players to the movies. They went to see GI Joe.

"A lot of popcorn, big smiles and rested bodies," Sparano said. "The reason I do that is first of all, so the guys get to know I have a heart. But second of all is you appreciate what those guys have done right now. Yesterday was a very hard practice, a good practice, a lot of energy. So it's a way for me to say thank you and give those guys a chance to bond a little bit.

Last year Sparano took his player to see Express, which was about football.

GI Joe, as you can see in the clip, is mostly about, well, explosions and wars and rumors of wars and a babe or two -- Academy Award material for sure. At least one player wasn't thrilled with the choice of the move.

"Just saw GI Joe," cornerback Sean Smith said on his twitter account. "Top 5 worst movies ever! It's so predictable, and [just] horrible. Glad I didn't pay for it."

The Dolphins did conduct a walkthru practice, but otherwise it was a slow day out at camp.

On the New Orleans front, coach Sean Payton said today that Reggie Bush is expected to play against Miami, at least for a couple of series. 

A look at the Dolphins' curious QB situation

The Dolphins quarterback spot puzzles me a little bit.

Think about it: The team has a Pro Bowl caliber veteran in Chad Pennington that is unsigned beyond this year and no effort has been made to get the guy a new contract.

Well, that makes sense because the Dolphins want to transfer to Chad Henne by next season, you might say.

Problem is Henne is terribly unproven and even as he's had more work this offseason and preseason than any other QB on the team, he's been sometimes good (versus Carolina) sometimes bad (versus Tampa Bay), sometimes somewhere in between (versus Jacksonville). There's a word for that: Inconsistent.

The Tampa game in which Henne had a 16.1 quarterback rating was eye-opening. And coach Tony Sparano believes much of the problem is on Henne.

“Well, I mean, if you overthrow a ball, I think it’s on you, you know, as a quarterback," Sparano said. "No way around that. There were maybe one or two read things I think that could have been done differently, and then there was some other help, you know. So, meaning: other guys not doing maybe what they should be doing on a play that, that the quarterback takes either the fault for or gets credit for, one way or the other. So, I would say that in that game, you know, Chad was responsible for some of that, and some of the other people were. I mean, that’s an honest answer.”

As to Pat White, well, don't even get me started on Pat White. White is simply not an NFL game-caliber QB right now. He has trouble getting the center snap, he has trouble exploding on his drop back, he's thinking too much about his footwork -- whether it's a three or five-step drop. And we haven't even started to discuss him recognizing coverages, setting up protections and then, finally, throwing an accurate pass downfield.

Let me put it this way: If the Dolphins suffer injuries to their No. 1 and No. 2 QB in the regular-season opener that would force them to play another QB in week 2, they would have to sign a veteran QB and that guy, after one week, would have as much a chance of succeeding as White in the next game.

I am not saying Pat White is a bust, so don't put words in my mouth. I am not saying Pat White cannot improve. I'm simply making the point that Pat White has a looooong way to go and much work to do.

That is the reason the Dolphins have been reticent about using White in the wildcat package. They're so busy trying to bring him up to speed on being able to play quarterback in the base offense, they don't want to overload him with extra stuff.

So where does this leave us?

It leaves the Dolphins in the very good hands of Chad Pennington. It leaves the Dolphins hoping Pennington stays healthy. It leaves them needing to do more things -- in practice and perhaps even in regular-season games -- to get Henne to play.

It leaves the grand plans for WildPat on the shelf for the time being. Oh, the Dolphins will use Wildcat, no doubt about that. But Ronnie Brown remains the triggerman for that package right now, with two weeks left before the start of the regular season.

Jake Long struggles as challenging season awaits

Even as Mel Kiper continues to believe the Dolphins made a mistake in picking Jake Long over Matt Ryan, the Dolphins seem pleased they picked the anchor left tackle. That was especially true after Long was a Pro Bowl alternate and earned a trip to the game by starting all 16 games last season.

Well, this preseason Long has had some struggles this preseason. He gave up a sack to Everette Brown during the Carolina game. He lost his footing and his leverage on the dirt infield in the Jacksonville game, allowing the defender he was blocking to tackle Ricky Williams for a loss. Long also yielded a quarterback hurry to Quentin Grove in that game.

Long was also flagged on a false start against Jacksonville and a holding call against Tampa Bay.

And all that comes as talk about Long struggling against speed rushers persists outside the Dolphins organization.

“Jake didn’t give up many plays last year; he didn’t give up many sacks," coach Tony Sparano said Sunday. " So, I don’t know if that was a problem or a perception. But from my end, I felt the guy played pretty well against some pretty good people during the course of the season last year.

"Now, in the preseason right now, he’s gotten beat a couple times out there, and, you know, I think he’ll get that, Jake will get that fixed. Every week he goes in, he’s [a] pretty good pro, for just being a young guy. He goes in, he watches the film, he’s critical of himself and wants, and is very curious to get problems fixed. So, I think that any of those things that have happened right now with Jake, you know, he’ll get some of those things fixed.”

That is necessary because Long faces some talented rushers this season that perhaps he didn't see last season. Every week will be a challenge for Long.

John Abraham, he of the 16 1/2 sacks a season ago, is the first challenge in the regular-season opener.

And then there's Dwight Freeney  and Robert Mathis, Julius Peppers and Everette Brown, Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess, Shawne Merriman and Larry English, Calvin Pace, Mario Williams, and of course, James Harrison, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.

Abraham, Freeney, Mathis, Peppers, Williams and Harrison all had double-digit sacks last season.

August 30, 2009

What answers do YOU have - with cool update

Maybe you know the answers.

Maybe you have seen things this preseason that have you convinced you are about to know what will happen in the coming regular-season. Me? I'm still waiting for certain answers.

In my Sunday Dolphins column I give several examples of areas where the Dolphins had questions when they opened training camp ... and still have those very questions as it draws to a close.

I mean, are we really convinced the secondary -- with a rookie starting right cornerback and less than stellar work against less than stellar competition this preseason -- will play like it has been truly upgraded? Or will we wish the team would have jumped into the unrestricted free agent cornerback market a lot earlier than the late signing of Eric Green?

Have the Dolphins found the playmaker that will get the offense "chunk yards," as Tony Sparano likes to say? Feel free to indentify him in the comments section.

Has Chad Henne convinced everyone that he ready to become a good starting quarterback and all he needs is the opportunity?

Has Ted Ginn Jr. shown you everything you need to see to feel confident 2009 will be breakout time?

Follow the improvements or lack thereof of these and other situations in the column. Then please tell me if the answers are apparent. And what those answers are. 

UPDATE:

I've been doing some research and some numbers crunching. This is what I've come up with:

The Dolphins starting offense has gotten 4 1/2 quarters of work so far this preseason. During that work, the unit has gotten three field goals and two touchdowns. That's 23 points, which is good.

Chad Pennington has had a very good preseason so far. I mean, very, very good. I would argue he's had the best preseason of any player on the team.

His completion percentage of 61.8 is down for last season's 67.4 but that doesn't really worry me because the tradeoff has been that he's been looking downfield a bit more than last season.

His yards per attempt is at 8.0 while last year it was 7.67. His TD percentage is at 5.9 while last year it was 4.0. And while he's completing more passes downfield, he's making fewer mistakes in that he has not thrown an interception. That makes his interception percentage 0.0, which is an improbable but welcome improvement from last season's outstanding 1.5 percent.

By the way, those downfield passes have brought the Dolphins hidden yardage also. Because Pennington went deep to Ted Ginn in the preseason opener, the Dolphins picked up a 34-yard pass interference penalty against Jacksonville.

Ever the perfectionist, Pennington today said, "I fell like I've been about a foot off with some of my passes." He added that he thought he could have completed 13 instead of 9 of 16 passes against the Bucs Friday. But that's not how coach Tony Sparano sees things.

The coach today called Pennington, "regular-season ready."

It has been a much slower go for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Brown is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, all behind the first-team offensive line. Williams is averaging 3.9 yards on his 18 carries, with 16 of those coming behind the first-team OL.

The Dolphins have averaged 3.5 yards per rush behind their first-team offensive line so far this preseason. Not terrible. Not good, either.

The defense?

They've seemingly adopted a bend-but-don't break personality. Although the unit has yielded significant yardage, it has allowed only 16 points in 4 1/2 quarters of work this preseason. Opponents have scored only one TD and three FGs versus Miami's starters.

The unit does have work to do. I have counted 8 missed tackles so far this preseason -- or more than two per quarter of work.

The starters have three sacks -- from Jason Ferguson, Nathan Jones, and Kendall Langford. Yes, Jones is a starter in the dime package. Obviously, this mean neither Joey Porter nor Jason Taylor have a sack yet in 4 1/2 quarters of work. Nothing to get alarmed about -- yet. Taylor has been credit with three quarterback hurries this preseason but those are unofficial stats.

The starting defense has zero interceptions. Yes, Sean Smith has one interception this preseason and, yes, he is a starter now. But when he got his interception versus Jacksonville, he was playing with the backups against Jacksonville's backups.

By the way, it was funny to me that Tampa Bay named Byron Leftwich the starting QB Saturday. Watching that game again, I counted four passes, including a potential TD, that Leftwich blew with wildly inaccurate throws. Receivers were running wide open, but the plays resulted in incomplete passes because Leftwich was, as Bob Uecker would say, "juuust a bit outside."

That's good news for the Dolphins in the statistics column because the passes go down as incompletions. But Miami has to tighten up that coverage by the regular season because good NFL QBs such as Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and others likely won't throw four passes that totally miss the mark in the span of two quarters.

August 29, 2009

The words directly from Tony Sparano's mouth

MIAMI DOLPHINS COACH QUOTES

Saturday, August 29, 2009

 

Head Coach Tony Sparano

 


(On if the game on film was as bad he thought it was when he initial watched it) – “No. Never as good, never as bad. It sounds like a copout answer, but it’s not. When you are watching the film and evaluating however many guys that played; 60-65 guys played and you see some individual performances that were good and see some performances that weren’t so good. From a scheme standpoint, you really do the same thing. What we did out there in Tampa Bay certainly wasn’t a game plan. It has been the same stuff we have been running for the last couple of weeks, but we certainly didn’t execute it the way we wanted to.”

 

(On if adds stress to prepare players for New Orleans knowing that he has roster moves to make) – “I think it add some (stress). You have been with these guys for a quite a while now and having to get guys ready for this New Orleans game and having an idea that some guys won’t be with you. There are still some guys on the bubble that we have to make sure that we see a pretty good amount of. There is a little bit of strain and a little bit of stress there, but nothing out of the usual. I think right now that every coach in the league is about ready to get to the 53-man squad and start to work that squad.”

 

(On if it changes what he can do because he has to only has to cut five players) – “It’s not too many people. Our numbers are down.  I don’t think it changes a whole lot. You have to be conscious of who is playing where and why. It’s like Lou(saka) Polite going into this game. We only have fullback on the roster. What you can do with him in this ballgame and how long you can do it. You may be in one-back stuff to get you through the ballgame, but still compete in this game. We don’t go any place to be in second place. That’s not what we are trying to do here.”

 

(On if any position jumps out as being the toughest to cut with outside linebacker and offensive line) – “The most? No. there are a few different positions right now I think…I would say you are hovering around it.”

 

(On what Quentin Moses and Erik Walden have to show to make this team) – “Continued growth on special teams. Continued growth, continued improvement over the next couple of days. Some of these guys…I will sit down with Bono (special teams coordinator John Bonamego) as the week goes on and we’ll figure out what ghosts they should have on special teams. Some guys will get a lot and some guys won’t get so many. This week we tried to get a few guys that we thought were core guys a lot of work on teams. Next week we’ll probably pare it down a little bit and make sure we see that. I also think getting those guys in those ballgames and challenging them with some things defensively that maybe from a coverage standpoint…these outside linebackers in coverage I think those are some of the things you want to see.”

 

(On what Moses has shown him) – “I like what Quentin has done right now. I think he has done a good job from a physical standpoint in the game. It’s all relative to the number of snaps played. Guys like Moses, (Cameron) Wake and Walden have a lot of snaps right now. A lot more snaps than let’s say Joey Porter. In relativity to the number of snaps that were played and maybe who they were played against, he is probably one of our most productive players in this training camp.”

 

(On the possibilities of the wide receiver rotation) – “I think that there are a lot of different things that we can do, you can play four wide receivers if you have them, some people do that, spread the field a little bit and do some of that and help yourself in the run game. I think there are a bunch of possibilities, what happens is to have those possibilities you have to have players that have position flexibility. It’s not as easy as, hey because you play on the right side you can go line up on the left side and play that really isn’t that easy.  Playing ‘X’ or playing ‘Z’ and what we see with an ‘X’ and those characteristics having to be and a ‘Z’ and so on little bit different, we have a couple players in that group that you just mentioned that can play all the positions. They can play ‘X’, they can play ‘Z’, they can play ‘Y’ in three wide, so they can play all the positions and that helps us to be able to put different combinations out there in a game.”

 

(On if he would like to see Ted Ginn have more receptions during this preseason) – “No, I told you guys last week that you were going to ask that question eventually, so I mean Ted Ginn right now has a lot more receptions now than he did last year at this time.  I would say to you, well the game really didn’t dictate that last week, we threw him one or two balls maybe his way. Nah, I’m fine with where he is in the game right now.”

 

(On the defense being upset about missed tackles) – “They should (be upset), they should beat themselves up over missed tackles, that’s part of the business. You’re a defensive player, you’ve been born usually a defensive player, you need to tackle and get them on the ground.”

 

(On Kendall Langford taking the next step in his game and his expectations of Langford) – “Well Kendall in this training camp has been pretty productive in there which is really what you just said, I think from a next step stand point you would like very much, I think the guy’s getting pretty good at the line of scrimmage with the run game, I really do. He’s playing behind the line of scrimmage, he’s a factor in minus plays right now, a factor now in minus plays. But what he is doing, I think as well is, he is starting to provide some pass rush in there in the base stuff. If you can get some pass rush in the base stuff and get people in long yardage we got a chance to get off the field and I think that’s what this game is about, getting off the field.”

 

(On where he thinks his two starting safeties are at in terms of feeling comfortable with each other) – “I am comfortable with it right now, I think that they are getting better and better at it, thin you just need more ‘at-bats’ in game situations. Where you have some issues is when you get to some of the bunch stuff and those types of things and you have to be in games to really see a lot of that stuff. In practice it doesn’t happen so fast, we work on some of that today in there but it’s just a little bit slower. In the games I think that stuff’s a little bit faster, so I think the communication will help us that way.”

 

(On how he decides who is the nickel corner and if it’s usually the third cornerback) – “No it’s not the third cornerback, in fact not everybody can play the position. The nickel position is a hard position to play because he has to have great quickness inside, because usually he is paired up with the (Wes) Welker’s and these kind of people, the quick receivers that this other team may have, and at the same time, he has got to be a guy that can tackle, can eventually get in the box a little bit and can pressure, that guy is involved a lot in pressure. So going in there sometimes when you’re a defensive back, not every defensive back wants to be down in the box when there is a lot of noise and traffic in there, and not every defensive back wants to come on pressures and do those things. Some might say they do, but they really don’t.”

 

(On what the punt coverage has to do to become efficient) – “Well first, you have to get all the players out there, at one time, that you are going to play. I think at one time… which we have not done yet. There is really… we don’t have that need right now. You are trying to see a lot of people do a lot of things. I think also the punt; it helps you a little bit. I’ll give you an example and I am not saying anything that I shouldn’t say here, but the other night – to you guys - our punter punted a 65-yard punt at one point. Nice punt, nice job [Brandon] Fields.  But that is not, in some situations is really, isn’t helpful from a coverage standpoint. Brandon knows that. Sometimes, it just happens that way. He hit the ball and he hit it good. He did a great job hitting the ball like that, but you can outkick your coverage sort of speak. Some of you have heard that before. So that can happen a little bit. That is a scenario there. In games last year as you would start to get better, we [were] actually coaching Brandon on 40, 38, 40, 41 [yards] and high, high as we could get it. Well that is not where we are right now. We need to see these guys cover and who can cover so we are not really worried about that at this time. Now, does the group have to improve? Sure it does. We want to get better in every phrase of our special teams. We made little improvements right now along the way. We blocked a punt the other night. Now that is the strangest scenario I have ever – I have never seen anything like it (laughter.) But I am going to tell you, we practiced that situation; we blocked it and you are just in a game and you are trying to make a play, but that is a blocked punt in the special teams. That is a big play in the course of a ballgame for us. We have had a few of these. We had a few good returns early on in the preseason. Early on, 10 days ago right, however many days ago. So we have made some good plays in those areas; coverage, getting people on the ground, lane discipline, those things need to continue to improve in that area.”

 

(On if Matt Roth can be moved from the non-football injury list to the physically unable to perform list) -“Hypothetically you can.”

 

(On how long he would remain on the physically unable to perform list) – “If you’re on PUP, it is a six week deal.  At some point during that six weeks you have a short window where you can bring him out there, you can practice him. Get a chance to prepared to play and if you cannot get him prepared to play at that point, and then you have a decision to make.”

 

(On if he has to make that decision this coming Saturday) – “Pretty soon. Not that far away. But pretty soon we have to make a decision. Not, I would say, this coming Saturday I would say no.”

 

(On if he has decided who will start at WR opposite Ted Ginn Jr.)- “Not yet. Not yet, Jeff [Darlington]. I think we are going to play both [Hartline and Camarillo] again this week. I have no real time table for people playing this week. We are going to go and we are going to play until we see what we need to see. So I am going to play them both, Hartline [and] Camarillo. I am going to play [Davone] Bess. We will see what falls out of that. Obviously, both players did some good things in the game the other night. Even Greg [Camarillo] only had one opportunity in the game; he made the most of that opportunity. He blocked really well. His routes were crisper in that ball game. There was some good stuff I thought.”

 

(On what he is looking for out of the WR spot opposite Ted Ginn Jr.) – “Well, I mean, Teddy he got the long range speed; he has all those things. So you think that is where your homerun is. But we have to get more chunks on offense. So I am looking for a guy that can gobble up yards out there. That is a little bit opposite of him. If you can get a guy to make some bigger plays there on that other side, I think that helps you.”

(On Joey Porter’s comments that he feels the team knows when it is playing bad this year compared to last year when it was not as clear to them) - “Well, I think that is true, what Joey said. I think last year at this time we were just trying to figure out what we were and we weren’t really sure at this time last year. I think we were maybe 1-2 going into this last game in the preseason. We weren’t sure if we were playing good and everyone else wasn’t or playing bad and... we just really didn’t know. I think right now, as a football team, the expectations are little bit different. I think these guys really understand how to win and lose. I think that been perfectly clear to them, how you go about winning and losing. Example, three turnovers, you won’t win many games. In fact, in the last 5 years, there has only been 25 wins with three turnovers. Those kind of things they understand clearly. They know they didn’t play well, I believe that.”

 

(On Joey Porter as a player and his personality) – “As far as what Joey has done right now, what I like about Joey we know he can rush the passer, I think we understand that, but he has made some improvements in the run game right now . He had some plays the other night – again this is what you guys don’t see that I get a chance to see several times –he made some plays in the run game the other night with his hands and at the point of attack that I thought were pretty impressive. Playing much stronger, much stouter, doing a good job with his hands; those are improvements a veteran player like that makes. That means he is buying in. He figured out that there is something there that [outside linebackers coach] Jim Reid and [defensive coordinator] Paul Pasqualoni are telling him that he can use, that he can put in his toolbox. So I think that is a positive thing and as far what Joey is from a personality [standpoint], what my relationship with him, I think every team needs one of those guys on the team. In other words, Joey is an upbeat, high tempo guy that you like to have in your corner and I am glad he is in my corner and not playing against him.”

Dolphins need to get a scent for nose tackles

While the most obvious conclusion to draw from today's four roster moves -- the waiving of K Connor Barth, WR Anthony Armstrong, NT Louis Ellis, and the waiving injured of FB Joe Kowalewski -- is to understand that Dan Carpenter has won the kicking competition, I'm thinking slightly different thoughts.

I'm thinking the Dolphins are now officially thin at NT.

Yes, Carpenter is the kicker, having fought off Barth's two-week challenge.

But with Ellis gone, the Dolphins have only two nose tackles on the roster -- starter Jason Ferguson, who is 34 years old, and reserve Paul Soliai.

And unlike last year when reserve end Randy Starks could be called up to play nose tackle in a pinch as he was against Baltimore in the regular season, this year Starks is a starter at right end. So if you need him to move over, you're now playing with a backup at two positions, not just one.

It must be said that Soliai has had an excellent camp. He has also played well in the preseason. So from that perspective the position has been strengthened, assuming Soliai doesn't have a brain lock as he's been previously been known to do. Remember he was suspended for a game last year for being late to a team event.

But having only two NTs on the roster tells me the Dolphins will be looking in the coming days for a player to plug in for the practice squad at minimum. Keep in mind Ellis might be brought back for practice squad purposes. Also, Anthony Toribio, who was in camp last year, might be such a candidate if he's cut by Green Bay.

[BLOG NOTE: Tony Sparano will talk to the media soon so check back for the update.]

August 28, 2009

Game review: Miami Dolphins 10, Bucs 6

The good: Brian Hartline earned a starting WR job. Well, he wasn't actually annointed by the coaching staff, but trust me, he's going to be a starter in the regular-season opener at Atlanta in two weeks.

The kick return team also did a fairly good job, averaging 30.3 yards on three returns.

The bad: A much, much longer list for the Dolphins during Thursday night's 10-6 victory over Tampa Bay. 

"I would assess it this way," coach Tony Sparano said. "Our defense was on the field too long and our offense wasn't on the field long enough."

You think, coach? The Dolphins, ineffective on offense much of the first half, ran a total of 54 plays. The Bucs, relying on an offense that looked good-not-great while Byron Leftwich was in the game, ran 74 plays and was electrifying by comparison.

During the time Leftwich was in there, the Miami defense looked terrible. Miami defenders mounted precious little pressure on the quarterback. And the secondary blew a couple of coverages some times, while failing to make plays at other times even as defenders were draped around receivers. Luckily Leftwich is a mediocre QB so he didn't make the Dolphins pay for their problems.

"They converted too many third downs," Sparano said. "I have to watch the film and reserve judgment on that. But I thought they missed a few receivers at times during the course of that thing. I thought our guys battled hard and kind of bent but didn't break. We came up with a few good rushes and hit the quarterback a couple of times in certain situations in the course of the game."

This is where I remind you the Bucs did not play their two starting receivers. Antonio Bryant is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Michael Clayton is recovering from a hamstring injury. Some dude named Stovall torched the Miami secondary for 73 yards on six catches in the first half. 

"We have to get off the field on third down," strong safety Yeremiah Bell said. "A completion is a completion no matter who you're against, no matter who's in the game. Like I said, the concepts stay the same, it's just that the first guys are normally better receivers. At the same time we have to make the plays and get off the field."

The ugly: Chad Henne may indeed become the starter at some point this year and more likely in 2010. But he's not ready for that baton to be passed quite yet -- not if this game was an indicator. Henne completed 2 of 8 passes for 55 yards with one interception.

Let me give you some perspective on Henne's night. His passer rating was 16.1. He completed only one more pass to his teammates than to players on the other team. It was a struggle.

"I wasn't excited about how we threw the ball as a whole tonight," Sparano said when asked specifically about Henne.

The Miami defense was disappointing in that it seems a step slow a lot. The rush gets there just after the passer releases the ball. The cornerbacks stick a hand in just after the receiver pulls in the pass. And there was too much shoddy tackling.

One more thing on the ugly. Lex Hilliard did a lot of things well the last seven months to earn a spot on the Dolphins' 53 man roster. And he might still earn that spot. But Thursday night did not help. He was ineffective running the ball, gaining only 32 yards on 11 carries for a 2.9 yard per carry average. He also fumbled, which is a transgression Sparano detests.

Did I mention Brian Hartline played well? I'm telling you he's the starter after he caught three passes for 79 yards. I asked Sparano if Hartline is the starter, because it sounds better coming from the head coach than a goofy columnist. But the coach wouldn't give up the money quote. 

"I got to watch the film," Sparano cliched. "I like what he did, OK? He did make some big plays, which is critical. One of the things we have to do a better job of on offense is we can't take 15 plays to score every touchdown. We have to get some chunk yards and Hartline was able to make some chunk yards tonight. [Greg] Camarillo was able to make a catch out there one time, too, but Hartline was able to get down the field that way, so that was positive."

Well, the head coach didn't give me what I wanted to hear. So I asked Hartline if he has adjusted his goals from simply making the club to winning himself the starting job. And ... bingo!

"Absolutely," he told me. "There's no reason why I can't ... I'm going to try to set goals to maybe so high I can't reach them. I have high goals and I'm always readjusting my goals. But as you saw tonight, we have a lot of good receivers on this team and any rotation or how we're going to use them, that's going to be the coach's thoughts. But I'm changing goals. Probably daily.

"There's a lot of things I know I'm going to learn from this film going against guys like ronde and other guys. There's stuff that I see that maybe you guys might not that when I get a chance to watch the film, I can correct and do better on."

Can I throw this out at you guys without starting an insurrection? Miami's two most productive receivers now, today, as you read this, are Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo. Camarillo is still not at the level he reached just prior to his ACL injury last season. But he's progressing and he finds a way to make a play almost every game.

Ted Ginn Jr.? Almost invisible for the second consecutive game. He had one catch for 19 yards.

"The coverage was dictating where the ball was going and [Hartline] was able to make some plays for us and the ball was going his way quite a bit," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "We're just working on trying to get better. We got some things we have to clean up, polish up and get a little bit better which is disappointing. We've been doing pretty well on third down, made that an emphasis and tonight we didn't do a good job. And that's how you keep your defense off the field and how you keep drives going and create some momentum so we have to do a better job there."

Pennington started painfully slow, missing on five of his first nine passes, which is like a personal disaster for a guy who completed 67.4 percent of his passes last season. But Pennington recovered nicely and finished the night 9 of 16 for 128 yards and one TD. His passer rating was 103.1.

Finally, I've been hearing a lot this morning about how the Dolphins are excused for looking bad in the areas where they struggled because, well, they didn't prepare for the game. They didn't game plan. They didn't have much time between games.

Fair. But ...

They played an opponent that didn't prepare for the game, that didn't game plan, and didn't have much time between games.

August 27, 2009

Live blog -- too bad no Tampa WRs will show

Joey Galloway is playing for New England and neither Antonio Bryant nor Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay's starting wide receivers, are playing for the Buccaneers tonight.

So the Dolphins rookie cornerbacks may have to wait until the regular season for their first serious NFL test.

(Yes, I know New Orleans is a great passing team and Miami finishes the preseason there next week. But let's face it, the Saints aren't going to let their starters play too long in the final preseason game.)

So this is bad news. But it is also good news.

At minimum, both Sean Smith and Vontae Davis are getting broken in sloooowly. Remember that last week the Panthers kept both Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad -- their starters -- on the bench.

Anyway, the live blog starts in the comments section below. Let's get to it.

Live blog of regular-season dress rehearsal here

The Dolphins will be on national television tonight so I don't want any excuses out of you. You should be watching -- barring family commitments or illness. Or you should be on this blog -- barring family commitments or illness.

Come to think of it, you should be on the blog and watching on TV at the same time. It's the optimal experience and that way, we can all share opinion and analysis of what we're seeing during the live blog rather than regurgitating play-by-play. So the live blog begins at 8 p.m. and probably a little earlier and it would be great if you can be here.

All the other blogs and stories (bless their hearts) are talking about the three key things you should be looking for or the seven major points of interest tonight. Most of those have already been covered here earlier this week and so I'm not going to nitpick them now.

This, on the other hand, is big picture we should see tonight:

The Dolphins offense should get the better of Tampa Bay's defense while the starters are in the game. The Dolphins defense should get the better of Tampa Bay's offense while the starters are in the game. And Miami's special teams should have its act together and that doesn't mean punts hitting players in the facemask.

Period.

Asking a lot? Sure. But the truth is we're asking a lot of this Miami team this year. We don't want a step-back year. We don't want a team that buckles under the weight of the NFL's most difficult schedule.

We want a team that is more talented than last year's team and plays like it. And seeing as that this is the closest thing to regular-season football you'll see from the Dolphins in the preseason, seeing as that Tampa Bay wasn't a playoff team last season and is in full-fledged rebuilding mode this season, the Dolphins should show their dominance tonight.

That doesn't mean the Dolphins should be unveiling any secrets. Don't misunderstand. But they should be correcting the problems we've seen the previous two preseason games.

I don't want to see Chad Pennington underthrowing Patrick Cobbs and turning what should be a TD into a FG. I don't want to see poor tackling turning 4-yard runs into 24-yard TD runs by the opponent. I don't want to see inconsistent receiver play and inconsistent play-calling. I don't want to see turnovers on special teams. I don't want to see a deep secondary that struggles to cover TEs.

I want to see a solid, fundamentally sound performance. I want to see a team that continues to improve as the regular-season draws near.

Let's check it out together starting at 8 p.m.

August 26, 2009

Dolphins: Trades, trades, come our way

Around this time last year the Dolphins shipped cornerback Travis Daniels to Cleveland and quarterback Josh McCown to Carolina. Earlier this week the team successfully shopped and shipped Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe to Kansas City.

An NFL source has told me the team also tried to trade Ernest Wilford before terminating his contract but no one was interested. And the Dolphins are not averse to conducting further business both on the giving and receiving end of a trade if the player and the price is right.

In fact, GM Jeff Ireland has been working the phones with over a dozen teams in the past 10 days, I'm told.

What does this mean? The Dolphins are trying to dump players they have no plans of keeping and perhaps get a draft pick for that player. And they're trying to pick up the right player at whatever position the braintrust has identified as needing help.

And where do the Dolphins need help?

A dynamic kick returner would be nice. Now that the Chris Williams experiment is over, the Dolphins are back to last year's plan. They're looking at Davone Bess as the likely punt returner and Ted Ginn or Patrick Cobbs or perhaps Lex Hilliard as the kickoff returner.

That is not optimal anywhere you turn.

Bess is quick but by no means fast. He lacks the elite speed to turn a 7-yard punt return into a 70-yard punt return. That's the reason Williams was attractive until punts starting hitting him in the facemask.

On kickoffs, the Dolphins aren't thrilled about using Ginn as the returner knowing he's going to be working in most receiver packages. Cobbs is OK and Hilliard is both unproven and not exactly fast. So Miami covets someone who can tilt the field in its favor either on punts, or kicks, and preferably on both.

Where else could the Dolphins use an upgrade?

The team still would like a sold run-stopping strongside linebacker. I know, I know, Jason Taylor is starting there. And yes, Jason, you've made the team, dude so now it's time to find something else to drive you a bit.

But remember the plan was originally to let Taylor be Taylor on passing downs so he wouldn't risk injury, so he wouldn't fade late in the season, so the Dolphins could assure themselves of getting every available ounce of what Taylor has done best -- chase quarterbacks.

Of course, Matt Roth's mysterious groin issue changed that plan. But what if the Dolphins can find someone else to play strong at the point of attack and hold the edge and give Taylor the luxury of bringing it on with his pass rushes? If Roth were to return to his expected role, we might find ourselves looking at the original plan again. But Roth now seems as likely to be somehow off the roster as on so it would be wrong to count on him.

I don't know if the Dolphins feel a need to trade for help on offense. Not that they don't need it. If you've read this blog, you know the receiver corps lacks a playmaker. But those aren't likely to be available now unless they are named Brandon Marshall and that deal seems unlikely for Miami.

The Dolphins might add backup OL help or maybe try to upgrade the TE corps by picking up a player cut from other teams. But I don't see them giving away draft picks for those players at this point. I still think it would have been nice to add Brian Waters of KC but that doesn't seem likely, either.

So what about the other side of the proverbial coin?

Where are the Dolphins seemingly strong enough to deal away a player another team might want?

Look no further than DE. The Dolphins have Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, Phillip Merling, Tony McDaniel, Lionel Dotson, Rodrique Wright and Ryan Baker on the squad right now. All seven of those guys are not going to make the roster.

Maybe Rodrique Wright has value somewhere. Maybe somebody gives up a seventh-round pick for Ryan Baker. Maybe some needy 3-4 team gets a crazy notion that Dotson can be a starter and offers a fifth-round pick for the guy. Who knows? The point is anything can happen.

And this is the time in the preseason when something often does.

August 25, 2009

Ronnie Brown's contract plus Sparano's words

It had been widely reported that Ronnie Brown is a free agent after this season, but I kept looking at numbers sent to me by a source that insisted the Dolphins running back had originally signed a six-year and not a five-year contract.

So today I decided to go straight to the source and end the little mystery. And now we have an interesting (at least to me) answer.

It turns out Brown signed a contract that was for five years plus an option year when he was the second-overall selection in the draft in 2005. And according to Brown himself, the option is tied to whether the NFL and players reach a new collective bargaining agreement prior to the 2010 season. Currently, the CBA is scheduled to expire after the 2010 season with that season being an uncapped year.

"The way it works," Brown told me, "is if they reach a new agreement, this is my last season under contract and I become a free agent. If they don't come to an agreement for 2010, I'm under contract to the Dolphins for another year. I have to play another year under the old contract because it becomes a six-year contract."

So if the players' union and the NFL do not reach a new collective bargaining agreement, Brown's option kicks in and he is scheduled to make a $5 million base salary in 2010. Brown is scheduled to make $3.608 million this season.

And once again, if the union and league work out a new CBA, Brown becomes a free agent able to sign with any team he wants, he said. So I asked Brown if he's been keeping abreast of the news of the labor negotiations because the stuff directly impacts his status?

"I haven't thought about it a lot for the most part," Brown said. "I worry more about things I can control. I mean, I'd obviously like to stay here. I like it here. The way I see things is if I continue to care of business, everything else will take care of itself."

Brown's status is unique because he might or might not be in a contract year. That affects talks between his agent and the team -- which obviously are not very heated right now. And it might affect the manner in which some players are motivated.

"A lot of time that's where guys put a lot of pressure on themselves," Brown admitted. "I just want to go out and improve on a daily basis and I think the main goal is to stay healthy for the whole season. If you're healthy and you can go out and improve each week, everything else will take care of itself."

----------

Today marked the final day before Thursday's nationally telecast preseason game that coach Tony Sparano talked to the local media. 

Sparano said Chad Pennington will start the game against Tampa Bay and play through midway in the third quarter. Backup Chad Henne would play about one-and-a-half quarters to finish the game. The starting offensive line, Sparano said, will play three quarters. Pat White is apparently not scheduled to play.

Sparano confirmed the Dolphins have still not settled on a starting receiver opposite Ted Ginn Jr. "It's still uncertain to me right now," he said. "It's starting to clear up a little more for me, but it will take a little more time."

Well, the clarity is apparently coming from rookie Brian Hartline, who started the Carolina game. Hartline has continued working with the first unit in base offense and with the first unit in the three-wide package that also includes Davone Bess and Ginn.

Sparano said the fourth and fifth receiver on the roster "have to be special teams players." Obviously, Patrick Turner, Brandon London, and Hartline have been playing special teams. Greg Camarillo, by the way, cut his teeth on special teams before earning playing time.

Speaking of special teams, Sparano said you will probably see Bess, Ginn and Hartline returning punts against the Buccaneers. Ginn, Cobbs and perhaps Lex Hilliard will be returning kicks.

Hilliard will work on special teams regardless of whether he returns kicks or not. It is the way he either makes this team or not. So far, Hilliard has carved a roster spot for himself. That can change. But in game one against Jacksonville, Hilliard did a "tremendous job on special teams," according to Sparano. In game two against Carolina, Hilliard "did a nice job. He kind of made a few mistakes but it was a million miles an hour."

Still speaking of Hilliard, Sparano said coaches will "put a bunch on his plate," with the starting special teams units this week so they can see him against Tampa Bay's starting special teams unit. And, of course, Hilliard's likely to get some carries also.

Hilliard is clearly more in than out as far as a roster spot goes. How he plays Thursday determines if he stays that way.  

The target should be on Ted Ginn Jr.' back

Thursday night is big for Ted Ginn Jr.

Yes, we'll still be watching a preseason game that will fade in our memory about two seconds after it ends. But the third preseason game is supposed to be something of a dress rehearsal for what we're likely to see from the Dolphins in the regular-season.

And as it pertains to Ginn, I hope the Dolphins find a way to feature him during the game. Because, so far this season, I'm not thrilled with what I've seen -- not necessarily from him, but with the use of him.

The Dolphins have thrown Ginn the football four times so far in the preseason, which means in about one full game's worth of work he's had four opportunities to make a play. Ginn caught two of those passes, was interfered with on another for a long gain, and dropped the fourth pass.

My problem? Three of the passes were thrown to him the first game. Only one was thrown to him versus Carolina.

And that worries me.

It worries me because, Ginn is not an established receiver. It worries me because the Dolphins coaches want to establish Ginn. It worries me because those same coaches aren't doing enough to establish Ginn and give him the opportunity to become, well, established.

While it was pleasing to see the Dolphins come out in the preseason-opener and try to establish Ginn, look for Ginn, throw to Ginn as the primary target, they simply forgot about him in the second game. What's that about?

The coaching staff that demands consistency has to show some consistency of their own and call plays for Ginn, look to feed Ginn, so he can have enough opportunities to provide some big plays.

I can hear the whining now: "Oh, Mando, it's only preseason. They'll throw to him plenty in the regular season."

Really?

Then that would be a change from last year. The bottom line is Ginn led the team in receptions all by himself only three times in 16 games last year. He tied for the team lead one other game. But he led the team in being targetted only once last year -- that in the Oct. 26 game versus Buffalo.

Throughout the season, targetting Ginn was a hit and miss proposition. The Dolphins barely threw to him the first couple of games, found him there for a stretch, then lost him again in three of the final four weeks of the season.

So how does Ginn become consistent if he's not consistently targetted?

The Dolphins might say, "Well, we feature all of our receivers so we target them all to spread the ball around and not be so predictable."

Bunk!

You think if Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald or someone of that ilk was on the team coaches would be trying to spread the wealth?

Spreading the wealth is a euphimism for, "We don't have a No. 1 receiver."

But you can't have a No. 1 receiver until you decide somebody is going to get most of the passes thrown his way and then throw him the ball. The Dolphins haven't done that. Ginn bears some responsibility for that. But Miami quarterbacks and coaches also must answer for that.

We are all hoping for Ginn to have a breakout year. Miami's coaches and quarterbacks would love nothing better. But those same coaches have to give Ginn enough chances to accomplish the feat. Those same quarterback have to feed Ginn the football.

Throwing to him three times in one half of play and then forgetting about him in the next half simply isn't consistent enough. It simply isn't good enough. It toys with the young player's confidence. It leads to inconsistent performance.

Of course, it's on Ginn to get open every play regardless of whether the pass is supposed to come to him or not. But deferring to him in the preseason to build up that confidence and his expectations seems like a smart thing to do.

If the Dolphins keep talking about wanting  a No. 1 receiver but aren't going to go out and get one, they should at least give the most likely in-house candidate the chance to become that No.1 guy.

That guy is Ted Ginn Jr.

And the Dolphins should be throwing him the football more than they throw it to anyone else.

August 24, 2009

The world according to Tony Sparano

Tony Sparano spent some time today talking with enigmatic outside linebacker Matt Roth. The coach said he wasn't cutting Roth on the spot, or trading him on the spot, or begging him to come back to practice.

"I like to get a feel for how he's feeling after these conditioners we have and that stuff," Sparano said. "It's just getting feedback. I'm constantly trying to get feedback of where he is and how he feels."

Sparano was asked if the Dolphins are closing in on the moment when they have to make a decision on Roth's roster status -- either trading him, or cutting him, or placing him on either the injured reserve or physically unable to perform list, or just getting him on the field and working.

"We'll see," Sparano said.

That answer should raise red flags. The last time Sparano said, "We'll see," the Dolphins cut Eric Green. The time before that when he said, "We'll see," the team signed Connor Barth to compete with Dan Carpenter.

We'll see translates to something is about to happen.

So what is about to happen?

The Dolphins will not be cutting Roth. No team simply releases a player that has worth and is that young unless the player has other "issues."

Moving him off the roster? It is still early to make a decision that would sideline Roth for a significant time, as Miami is not hurting for a roster spot. So putting him on injured reserve, which sidelines Roth for the season, or placing him on PUP, which sidelines him until after the sixth week of the season at the earliest, is probably not something the team must do now.

A trade? That is possible.

The Dolphins can envision a time that Matt Roth is not in their plans. That time is right now, in fact.

"The truth is, and I don't mean this in a bad way because I care about all my players, but you have to worry about the guys that are out there," Sparano said. "You have to go thinking what if [the situation] doesn't get ... I don't know. We'll see where this thing is. I have to worry about at this time, Jason Taylor, Quentin Moses, and the guys that are out there playing."

Sounds like Roth is gone. But it's hard to believe another NFL team will be giving up what Roth is worth at a time he's injured or hurt or whatever he is. It is also hard to believe the Dolphins would jettison Roth in a bargain sale.  So the timing for a trade -- right now, at least -- simply doesn't feel right.

That leaves the possibility of Roth returning to practice in the near future. It would not be surprising to see Roth back on the field in the next week or so. If he fails to make it back by Sept. 5 when the team must finalize its 53-man roster, then all the other options, except for cutting him outright, open up.

But right now? We'll see.

As for the rest of the stuff surrounding the Dolphins, Sparano called it "business as usual."

On cutting Ernest Wilford: "I mentioned this a hundred times if I mentioned it once. When you play this many games in this few a days, you have to eventually get your team ready that you think will be your team."

On trading Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe to Kansas City: "You're not trading away guys not feeling comfortable with some of the pieces you have here," Sparano said. "Now there are still some things that have to unfold over the next 10 days in that group. But I'm starting to feel more comfortable with that group and where we are and what I think the final vision might be."

On Greg Camarillo playing only 13 plays vs. Carolina while Patrick Turner got 20 meaning something: "We're planning on trying to get him involved a little more this week ... We have five guys, six guys, seven guys that we've been rolling through there. We're trying to get reps for [Anthony] Armstrong. We're trying to get [James] Robinson in the game. It's not an indictment on anybody right now. the the nice thing is some of these people we do have history with, we do know what they can do. So whether [Camarillo] gets 10 plays or 15 plays, it's not relevant to me. It really isn't. I see him out here getting a ton of plays in practice. He's coming along nicely."

On how Vontae Davis played vs. Carolina: "I was pleased with what Vontae did in the game. I liked his look, I said that after the game. Sometimes you can see a player in pregame and see his focus and I thought the kid was pretty focused. He went over and played on the other side which was a good benefit for us. I thought he was active in the game. He had several situations where he made one-on-one tackles and he closed the deal on most of those. And I thought when you watch the film in some of our man stuff, he was in good position most of the time. Now he did make a couple of mistakes in the course of the game that go unseen to the naked eye that we have to make sure we clean up."

On Miami's atrocious special teams play that included allowing a 58-yard punt return and suffering a 15-yard penalty on a kickoff: "We seen some guys get bumped out of their lanes a few times so lane discipline hurt us. [We had] guys not finishing, meaning they're getting to the play but they're not finishing, not tackling, not breaking down properly, a lot of fundamental stuff. It certainly wasn't scheme stuff."

The Dolphins worked on correcting their special teams problems in practice today.

Monday practice report from the Bubble

The Dolphins are back at work today, this time inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB), and here is what's going on:

The Dolphins have confirmed the trade of offensive linemen Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe to the Kansas City Chiefs for an "undisclosed" 2010 draft choice. As I said earlier, it's absolutely a second-day pick.It is also higher than a seventh-round selection as the Chiefs already traded their 2010 seventh-rounder to Miami last April.

This trade, regardless of the compensation, is good business for Miami. Neither Alleman nor Ndukwe were going to make the Dolphins'  53-man roster. Both players were running with the second unit, Alleman at left guard and Ndukwe at right tackle. So the Dolphins get something for players they were going to cut.

The trade also speaks to the team's commitment to Shawn Murphy and his improvement in the past year. Remember that last year, even as Murphy's rookie season advanced, both Ndukwe and Alleman played ahead of the fourth-round pick. But Murphy got in the weight room, changed his body, as Tony Sparano likes to say, and moved ahead of both rivals.

Murphy has assured himself of a roster spot on the team. His role as a backup at either guard spot is solid. Brandon Frye's chances of making the team also increase today.

Sean Smith and Jason Allen, both of whom missed the Carolina preseason game after being tested for swin flu, are back at practice. Smith will be working with the first-team defense at right cornerback, according to a source.

That means Smith didn't lose his starting job while being away and Vontae Davis played well against the Panthers in his place.

Finally, Matt Roth, who missed all of training camp with a mysterious groin injury, is still not practicing.

I remind you that today is the first day practices are closed to the media with the exception of the first 30 minutes. That means there will be no play-by-play of what's happening. But here's a clue: The Dolphins will be installing their newer version of Wildcat in the coming weeks, behind closed gates.

[BLOG NOTE: Players and coach Tony Sparano will be available to the media after practice. Check back here later for their words of wisdom. Also, follow me on twitter for the real-time updates.] 

Dolphins waive five, trade two, terminate one

It was a dark day for a a handful of now former Dolphins.

Aside from the termination of Ernest Wilford (see post below), the Dolphins are announcing they have cut RB Anthony Kimble, LBs Tearrius George and Orion Martin, NT Joe Cohen and WR-Return specialist Chris Williams.

I have also confirmed via an NFL source that guard Andy Alleman has been traded to Kansas City for an undisclosed late-round pick in 2010. He is part of an offensive line exchange to the Chiefs. The Alleman story was first reported by Scouts.com.

The rest of the exchange? Jeff Darlington is reporting that Ikechuku Ndukwe went in the same package to the Chiefs as Alleman. Ndukwe started 15 games at right guard last year but was moved to right tackle this year and was languishing on third team during camp. 

Williams was waived injured as he actually injured his wrist and hand during that fateful punt that hit him in the facemask and he fumbled Saturday night. That play sealed the Williams experiment in Miami.

I'd like to tell you any of these cuts are significant because that would warrant an explanation on how they affect other roster decisions.

But the truth is all of these players were long-shots to make the team -- even Wilford -- and have no significant impact on future roster decisions.

The only sliver of impact out of all this is that, with only three nose tackles on the roster following Cohen's departure, the possibility the Dolphins keep Louis Ellis improves -- even if it is as a practice squad type player.

The Dolphins now have 70 players on their roster, including Matt Roth, who is on the Non-Football Injury list. It will be interesting to see if Miami adds anyone in the coming days as the team is already below the 75-man limit it must reach by Sept. 1. The 53-man roster must be established by Sept. 5.

Check out the post below to get the explanation on what Wilford's termination means to the salary cap. A hint: It's not great news.

Agent: Dolphins release Ernest Wilford

It was a failure from the beginning and no amount of experimenting at H-back this training camp could change that.

So the Dolphins have released receiver-tight end Ernest Wilford, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus confirmed the release on his twitter account.

It is an expensive proposition for the Dolphins to erase perhaps their greatest free agency mistake since Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland started handling that department. How expensive?

Wilford will cost the Dolphins $4.5 million against the cap while playing for some other team or simply sitting at home.

Why?

As I first explained on Feb. 10 (click on the archives, if you like) NFL accounting rules have changed this year and that means teams, including Miami, must immediately account for the salary cap consequences of the moves they make. The fact there is no scheduled salary cap in 2010 has forced the NFL to change rules and one rule change is that teams can no longer defer the cap hit for a player into next year by releasing the player after June 1.

If a team releases a player this offseason, be it before, on, or after June 1, the entire amount of prorated guaranteed money comes due immediately.

So what does that mean to Miami as it pertains to Wilford?

Well, believe it or not, it costs the Dolphins more money to cut Wilford in 2009 than it would have to keep him on the roster.

Wilford signed a four-year, $13 million contract in February 2008 that included $6 million in guaranteed signing bonus. Wilford, who caught only three passes all of 2008, was due $1.5 million in 2009 base salary. Add the $1.5 million he costs the team in prorated bonus -- $6 million divided by 4 years = $1.5 million per year -- and his 2009 salary cap number if he stays with the team would have been $3 million.

But because the new rules force the Dolphins to absorb the entire proration for all three remaining years of Wilford's contract if he is cut, he will cost the team $4.5 million against the cap for simply getting rid of him. That figure is the yearly $1.5 million prorated portion of his bonus multiplied by the deal's three remaining years.

Is that crazy? The Dolphins actually cost themselves $1.5 million in cap space by cutting Wilford versus keeping him, an empty space costing more than one occupied by Wilford.

It is unclear if the Dolphins tried to trade Wilford to save themselves the cap hit. Obviously, if they made the effort, it failed.

Much like everything connected to Wilford's days in Miami. As you know he didn't practice or play well enough at the wide receiver spot to merit keeping him there. The Dolphins decided to experiment with him as a last, desperate way of trying to salvage Wilford's days in Miami.

So the team converted him to H-Back in the offseason. One problem: Just because Wilford was an enormous wide receiver, it didn't mean he'd be a good H-Back. He wasn't any faster than Miami's other H-Backs and, at 232 pounds, he was considerably lighter.

And he didn't block as well. For a team that builds everything it does offensively around running the football, the experiment was not going to succeed. And it did not.

August 23, 2009

Game rewind: Give me a starting WR

Just watched the Dolphins game against Carolina for the third time. The Dolphins won all three times so that speaks well of their consistency.

Here are the talking points I believe will become important this week as the team prepares for the all-important third preseason game. Remember the third preseason game is the dress rehersal for the regular season. Starters play longer. Coaches want their lineups pretty much set by this game. It doesn't count, but it gives you an idea of what to expect in the regular season.

Coming out of the victory over Carolina and heading to Tampa Bay, I believe the Dolphins have resolved their right guard situation. Donald Thomas and Shawn Murphy again split series during Saturday night's game but Thomas was clearly the better player.

Thomas threw a great block on the game's second running play, a 10-yard gain by Ronnie Brown on which Thomas and Justin Smiley both pulled right and created a seam that a truck could have fit through. Thomas threw a nice block on Lex Hilliard's 39-yard touchdown run. I couldn't find any block that Thomas missed.

Murphy had a nice night also, but he got trucked on one passing situation and it resulted in Chad Henne getting plowed under on a pass attempt that fell incomplete. Murphy is working toward becoming asolid  backup. Thomas is working on solidifying himself as the starter.

With the perennial right guard problem on the way to being resolved, I need to tell you about two other problems the Dolphins have that need similar quality resolution.

The special teams continues to hurt the Dolphins. And the Dolphins passing game, particularly as it pertains to the receiver corps, is worrisome.

Special teams: I hope you read my column regarding Chris Williams. Look, I like the idea of a cruise missle returning punts and kicks for the Dolphins as much as anyone. But Williams doesn't handle kicks cleanly. I watched the game (again and again) and he didn't handle any punt cleanly. He caught every punt at least twice in that it would hit his hands and bounce and then he'd latch on. And, of course, he had no idea on the punt that hit his facemask and turned into a fumble that led to a Carolina TD.

So, as I wrote, his opportunity has come and very likely gone.

But special teams has other issues. There was the 58-yard punt return by Captain Munnerlyn, there was the illegal block in the back on a punt return that would have been hurtful had Williams not offered a higher degree of pain with his fumble on the same play. There was also a 15-yard personal foul call on Brandon London for plowing the wedge on a kickoff, and there was the generally unspectacular return play by any Miami returner.

The Dolphins are currently averaging 3.7 yards per punt return in the preseason -- that's 27th in the NFL.

It wasn't all horrible on special teams, mind you. Adopted son focus player Chris Clemons had a recovery of a fumbled punt at the Carolina 14 in the fourth quarter. Yeah, he's earned a roster spot already.

The other concern I have following these first two preseason games is the inconsistent nature of Miami's passing game. It is a passing game that has some basic, troubling tendencies.

First, it is a passing game where running backs are generally the most effective weapons, which is terrible in today's big-play NFL. To date, Ronnie Brown and Patrick Cobbs are the most explosive pass-catchers on the offense. Brown had a 28-yard TD grab vs. Carolina while Cobbs had a 35-yard grab.

For the preseason, Brown leads the team with a 14.3 yards per catch average among players with more than one reception while Cobbs is tied with Brian Hartline for second at 14 yards per reception for players that have more than one catch. What does that mean?

It means The Dolphins do a lot of check-down passing and short-range passing. It means the wide receivers aren't getting open quick enough to become the primary targets of a majority of throws. It means the quarterbacks for now are more comfortable throwing to the backs than the receivers.

I was pleased that Ted Ginn Jr. had a solid outing in the preseason-opener, in that he only caught two passes but was targetted five times, with one of those resulting in a pass interference. If Ginn is to have tht breakout season everyone keeps talking about, he has to become the focus of the passing game. But rather than build on that last game, the Dolphins practically ignored Ginn vs. Carolina.

He was thrown one pass on a receiver quick screen and he dropped it. And he didn't have a catch all game. The leading receiver for the game? Cobbs -- a running back. He caught four passes.

Despite being practically invisible we all know Ginn will be a starter this season. So my question is who is the other starting receiver?

Davone Bess? Greg Camarillo? Brian Hartline? Patrick Turner?

The point I'm making is it is wide open and unresolved. Everyone expected Camarillo or Bess to be the other starter by virtue of their superior experience. But that superior experience has been unspectacular in the preseason.

Bess caught one pass and dropped one pass against Carolina. The week before he had two catches and two more drops. Dropping as many passes as one catches is not the way to win a starting job.

Camarillo played only four plays in the preseason opener, which has nothing to do with anything he's doing wrong. The coaching staff is being cautious as their receiver returns from last year's knee surgery. Camarillo got lots more action Saturday night. He was targetted twice and caught both passes The net gain of those two catches? Four yards.

Brian Hartline actually started vs. Carolina. That of itself should tell you the coaches are searching for a candidate to pair with Ginn as the starter and have not found that person yet. Hartline is a smart, mature kid. He doesn't act like a rookie. But he also doesn't act like Jerry Rice. He caught only one pass for 8 yards.

I am told coaches are not as high on Turner as the media. They don't see as much desire as they wish to see. They don't see nearly the consistency they want to see. And that showed against Carolina as he Turner would at times seem to have more urgency than others, and consequently sometimes get separation while getting none at other times.

The inconsistent play netted three receptions for 25 yards. But Turner was thrown to five times and he failed to make what would have been an excellent diving catch along the sideline.

So who is the starter opposite Ginn? We will have to wait for someone to step forward. Because no one really has.

Dolphins beat Panthers 27-17: The reactions

Let me get to the most important thing first: The old Miami Dolphins' Fight Song is light years better than the T-Pain version the new ownership tried to thrust upon everyone in the preseason-opener. Tonight, the old, faithful version was played in the stadium and I was one of the throngs that decided it was better.

Yes, I come down on the side of the banjo over autotunes. I'm sure Mr. Pain, who has more recording success than most lately, will understand this traditionalist is not in his corner.

Go old school!

On to the game: The Dolphins improved their preseason record to 2-0. They did it behind some excellent rush offense from the first to the third units. The Dolphins rushed 28 times for 141 yards, which is a 5.0 yard per carry average.

Lex Hilliard led the charge with 52 yards on nine carries. It was an important night for Hilliard because he's in a tough spot. He is the fourth running back on a team that might only keep three. And you know Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs are making this team.

So Hilliard made the point he can be an option on the roster if coaches decide he's too valuable to expose to practice squad while adding him as a special teams performer. And it seems special teams is how Hilliard must make it.

"Lex is a big back that runs like a big back," coach Tony Sparano said. "But we have to look at the film to see how he did on special teams."

I do not want to be a party pooper but I have to be honest with you. The Panthers are not a good run defense. They are desperately searching for defensive tackle help. It did factor into how successful Miami was as much as Jacksonville's stout middle factored into how poorly the Dolphins ran the ball last week.

The Dolphins ran five Wildcat package plays. They netted, in order, 3, 0, 11, 4, and 35 yards. The 35-yarder was on a flea-flicker in which Ronnie Brown flips the ball to Chad Pennington, who throws downfield to Patrick Cobbs. It was the same play the Dolphins ran against the Houston Texans last year.

In fact, all the plays were the same the Dolphins ran out of Wildcat last year. And that's exactly what the Dolphins wanted to show.

"We ran the same four plays that every NFL team has about 95 cut-up plays of us," Sparano said. "It's the same four plays we ran all last year so there are no secrets there. But it is a good homework for us. We put the same four plays out there and you get a chance to see what people have been studying their whole offseason and how they want to defend us a little bit. it gives us a good chance to find some things out."

So running the old Wildcat plays shows Miami's opponents nothing, but it shows Miami how opponents are adjusting. As I've written over and over, expect not one Wildcat or WildPat or Wildcat 2.0 play this preseason. That won't be unveiled until the regular season.

All of Miami's QBs had good nights. Chad Pennington had a rating of 132.8 which is excellent. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 105 yards with 1 touchdown. Chad Henne's rating was 94.5 as he completed 10 of 16 passes for 75 yards with one TD. Pat White got very limited second-quarter play as was the plan, Sparano said. White completed 2 of 3 passes for 4 yards, but he seemed to get out from under center quicker this week than last week -- an improvement.

Donald Thomas, who passed Shawn Murphy for the starting RG job last week, played well as far as the naked eye can tell. He played into the second half.

"I need all the plays I can get," Thomas said. "If they told me, 'Play the whole game,' I would have been fine with that. I feel good. Once we go back Monday and look at the film, I'm sure it will say I still have a lot of stuff to clean up. Tonight was a learning tool."

If you are a diligent reader of this blog, you know the Dolphins are emphasizing third down efficiency this year. Third down is the money down. Third down is when big-time players must step up to make big-time plays.

The Miami offense converted 6 of 14 third down situations for an excellent 43 percent. The Panthers converted only 2 of 11 for 18 percent, which translates to great work by the defense.

The Miami defense had only one sack. But it had plenty of pressure.

"We were both out there trying to get some real rushes in," Joey Porter said of his attack of the QB along with Jason Taylor. "I think our young guys showed up and made some big plays. Cameron Wake got to the quarterback. Q. Moses got to the quarterback. All those guys got some good playes in there, so I think it was a good evaluation for everybody to show that our dropoff isn't that bad no matter who is in the game."

Speaking of pass-rush pressure, the Panthers got one sack. That came when rookie Everette Brown beat Jake Long for a sack.

Bigtime Julius Peppers put that sack in perspective, however, when he was asked about his personal matchup with Long.

"All this is practice with a time and a score," Peppers said. "It's not like we are game-planning for each other or trying to make any statements right now."

The special teams, particularly the starting special teams, is a concern. They gave up a 58-yard punt return by Captain Munnerlyn, which set up a field goal attempt.

August 22, 2009

Live blog starts here at 7:30 p.m.

This is where it's going to happen.

The live blog will begin here from Land Shark Stadium at 7:30 p.m. as the Dolphins meet the Carolina Panthers.

As you know, Jason Allen and Sean Smith have the sniffles so they are not playing.

Brian Hartline will start tonight for Davone Bess. Bess is not among the sick players as he is dressed. Vontae Davis will start for Sean Smith and Dolphins Thomas is starting at right guard for Shawn Murphy, who started last week and lost his starting job.

Swine flu hits Dolphins [with update on Smith]

As you can read here, The Miami Herald's Jeff Darlington is reporting at least two players are suspected of testing positive for swine flu and will not be allowed to attend tonight's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

The Dolphins are confirming two players are sick. The teams says the players have undergone tests. Results of the tests are not back but team personnel have already told players two are believed to have the flu, according to a source. 

When the team does get the results, it will not release the personal health information publicly.

The two players expected to miss the game with an illness are cornerbacks Jason Allen and Sean Smith.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are saying they have been aggressive in trying to keep swine flu from breaking out in the locker room.

"Upon reporting to taining camp all members of the team and staff were educated regarding the presence of swine flu [in the community] and the steps available to reduce it's spread," said Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene upon receiving a memo from the team's medical staff. "Disinfectant wipes were placed in all team meetings rooms. Signs to remind players to wash their hands frequently were placed in all bathroom facilities, and the Miaimi Dolphins medical staff in conjunction with the league enacted a plan to asses and treat the illness."

An NFL spokesman has not answered an e-mail requesting comment. But the story says players were told of the positive test.

Although Smith is suspected of being one of the players tested for the flu, and he is not expected to play tonight, a source tells Darlington it has nothing to do with swine flu. He's just got some other sickness, the source says.

Sounds dubious.

The fact Smith is missing this game and could miss practice time next week is not good news even if he doesn't have swine flu. He needs the work. He needs to continue to get better as the regular-season opener draws closer.

I would expect Vontae Davis would start for Smith but that is a guess. I would doubt the team would start Nathan Jones or Joey Thomas.

So here are the questions:

Is it safe to attend the game? Have you been among the throngs of fans that after each open practice interact with the Dolphins while they sign autographs, shake hands and generally show appreciation for the fan support?

Is it possible the time has come for ending those sessions given the possibility the players not only might have spread the flu to those fans, but also might have contracted the flu from one of those fans?