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65 posts from August 2009

August 22, 2009

Live blog plus is Chad P's arm good enough?

Seems I've started something of a controversy on the other side of The Herald website by writing that I want to see more points, more production out of the Dolphins offense this season.

I didn't think anyone would not want that.

And yet there are foofs readers commenting below the column saying really stupid illogical things like, "all I want is no-mistake offense and great defense," or "The Dolphins didn't win the Super Bowl with a great offense," which is patently false because the offense that won back-to-back Super Bowls for Miami included five Hall of Famers.

I think there's also somebody below the column saying, "It's no sin to punt." The guy's name is Dave W., I think. Anyway ...

The fact is the Dolphins do have a tougher schedule this year and must be better on offense to meet that schedule's challenges. How can you not agree with me on that?

I spoke privately with Coach Tony Sparano as part of my legwork for this column. (Yeah, some columnists actually talk to people before they write.) And yes, the subject of the quarterback came up. And yes, the subject of the quarterback's arm strength came up.

And no, I wasn't able to fit the Sparano's thoughts on the subject into the column for space limitations reasons as the column also went in the newspaper. But here on my blog, there is no space crunch, haven't you heard? So let me share with you what Sparano said when I asked if the complaints about Chad Pennington's limited arm strength are legitimate? 

"It don't think it's legitimate. I really don't," Sparano replied. "The throws we need our quarterback to make, Chad Pennington can make every one of them. I mean, he can throw the deep ball. He's done that in ballgames for us. He's done it out here on the practice field. The intermediate stuff, the 18- to 22-yard stuff, he can throw. And he throws the ball up and down the seam as well as any quarterback in this league. And that's where you're finding yards in those areas of the field. I feel like that guy that can throw it the length of the field sometimes, that might be kind of overrated."

So what do you have to say about that? What is your opinion? Post it here.

One more thing: The Dolphins play tonight. The game begins at 7:30 p.m. That means the live game blog also begins at 7:30 p.m. Please come back for the fun.

August 21, 2009

JT back with team; live chat at 6 p.m.

Strong side linebacker Jason Taylor, who missed practice Thursday to attend to an illness in his family, is back with the team today, according to team spokesman Harvey Greene.

Greene does not know if Taylor will play Saturday versus the Carolina Panthers but another source said Friday afternoon Taylor is scheduled to start in Miami's second preseason game of the season.

Right guard Donald Thomas, who took over the starting job this week for the first time since training camp opened, is also scheduled to start for the Dolphins. It would mark the first game Thomas starts since he suffered a foot injury in the regular-season opener in 2008.

I have written an advance column for Saturday's preseason game versus Carolina. The column is about the Miami offense. In it, coach Tony Sparano tells you his vision of Miami's 2009 offense. Let's be honest, guys, the Dolphins cannot win 11 games this year, with this schedule, riding last year's offensive production.

It's like entering a goat in the Kentucky Derby.

I trust everyone agrees with me on that. 

One more thing: Live blog chat at 6 p.m. tonight.

Yeah, I'm calling all Dolfans to convene here and discuss what they're expecting from the team Saturday night, what they've seen so far, and whatever else is on their minds. I will be here at least 1 hour to answer your questions and take your abuse exchange ideas.

So be here at 6 p.m.

If you cannot be here then, feel free to leave your comments now and I'll get to them first when I come back for the live blog.

Clearing out the notebook and '94 Moment

Tony Sparano downplayed the fact receiver Greg Camarillo played only four snaps in Monday night's preseason-opener earlier this week. It was, the coach said, partially due to a decision to use Camarillo in half-packages, it was partially a result of not wanting to risk getting him injured in the slop of the second-half downpour.

But now all eyes will be on the coach and the receiver to see exactly how much work Camarillo gets in Saturday's preseason game against Carolina. And it will be interesting to see where Camarillo gets that work, also.

That's because even as Camarillo is practicing without a brace on his surgically repaired knee and is working every day, he has obviously been passed by Davone Bess in the competition for the starting job opposite Ted Ginn Jr.

And there have been practices where the Dolphins have experimented with using Brian Hartline, Patrick Turner and even Brandon London as the third receiver in some packages, ahead of Camarillo.

Maybe the Dolphins are conserving Camarillo. Maybe coaches have noticed Camarillo still has not regained the quickness he had before the injury. Maybe I'm just freaking imagining things.

But Camarillo is still intent on winning back the starting job he had before the injury and to do that he needs to play Saturday and he needs to play well.

"I feel good," he told me. "I'm just trying to get better on the field. My knee is not stopping me from doing anything. I'm just trying to work on my receiving skills."

And what about playing only four plays in the opener?

"The coaches made the rotation," he said. "They put me in, I go in. They keep me out, I stay out. It was just the rotation of the offense. I'm still trying to develop a role for myself. Personally, I would like to get back to the role I had last year -- starting, being consistent. But, you know, all I can do is come out here and practice the best I can every day and everything will develop from there."

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I reported to you in the posting prior to this one that running back Ronnie Brown was favoring his left leg during Thursday's evening practice. And he was. Asked after practice about my observation, Brown said it was that his left toes kept hitting the front of his cleats because he was wearing turf shoes.

"And besides," Brown said with a straight face, "it was my right [surgically repaired] knee."

Pause.

"Had you worried, didn't I?" he added breaking into laughter.

Yeah, hilarious.

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Very good reporting by The Herald's Jeff Darlington in looking into the mysterious Matt Roth injury situation. In doing his legwork, Darlington reports Roth visited a groin specialist in Philadelphia to have his injury checked out.

The specialist, the story says, found no significant issue with Roth's groin.

But here is the amazing thing. Even as Roth continues to miss practice because of that groin injury the specialist said he really doesn't have, the control-obsessed Dolphins seem to have no real idea what is really going on.

Sparano was unhappy with Roth when the player lied to him about feeling ill as the excuse for failing his conditioning test. General Manager Jeff Ireland has been frustrated by the fact he's gotten no straight answers about Roth's prognosis because it seems only Roth can determine that.

And you just have to know that Bill Parcells is sincerely intent on showing understanding and patience with this issue, particular after a doctor said it wasn't an issue, because, well, Parcells doesn't really mind players being injured, and not contributing, and not dealing straight with the head coach. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Here is my humble take: The Dolphins have to show patience, painful as that may be for them to do. There is a chance Roth will practice sometime next week -- perhaps as early as Monday -- based on the steady progression of his conditioning drills this week. There is a chance if he gets back on the field, he can again become a contributor, although in a diminished capacity, by the time the regular season begins.

But if Roth misses next week, including the all-important third preseason game, we're looking at injured reserve becoming a more viable option because roster spots become important once cuts start getting made.

I do not see Roth getting cut. At least not at this point. Regardless of this strange episode, he has value and despite his being out of contract next year, he will not be able to leave via unrestricted free agency if no new collective bargaining agreement is reached. But who knows what Roth is thinking or doing ... and how the Dolphins might react.

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The final Classic Training Camp Moment of the preseason takes us back to the summer of 1994. That year, Tim Bowens was a rookie and something of an enigma because he refused to sing or take part in any of the stupid typical rookie hazing that happens during camp.

It got to the point where Bowens was so bent on not being hazed that one day he started packing his gear and getting ready to leave training camp. He was headed back to his hometown of Okolona, Mississippi because he just was not going to be hazed darnit!

This was a fairly typical reaction from Bowens, who was always his own man. Bowens had skipped the NFL Scouting Combine that year because he had gotten aboard a plane to Indianiapolis, and upon seeing a worker de-icing the plane in stormy weather, he decided not to take the trip. He simply got off and went home.

He later worked out for scouts privately at Okolona High, which had a field where some farm animals used for grazing. Bowens had worn cut-off jeans and converse high tops to the workout.

The interesting thing is that, back then, the Dolphins handed their rookies questionnaires that gave players the opportunity to tell about themselves. It asked about family. It asked about hobbies. It asked about hometowns and places of birth and marital status.

And it asked about favorite college moment or highlight.

Well, Bowens recounted one time while he was playing for Itawamba Community College, a fight broke out between his team and its opponents. Bowens told of how he grabbed a down marker from the sideline and began to go to town against all comers.

He swung the marker, forming something of a circle about himself. Anyone trying to penetrate the dreaded down marker circle of pain got summarily knocked the heck out. Well, this story recounted by Bowens started making the rounds in the locker room.

The story was apparently a lot more impressive to teammates than the story about Bowens being stabbed three times in the back with a hunting knife by an older kid when Bowens was a high school junior. Bowens didn't press charges, but later landed in jail for kicking the living daylights out of that older dude, presumably without using a first-down marker.

Not surprisingly, as the stories became more widely known the attempts to haze Tim Bowens soon ceased. And he decided to stay with the Dolphins.

August 20, 2009

Special teams the emphasis on Thurs. evening

The Dolphins worked a ton of special teams this afternoon. Field goals. Kickoffs. Kick returns.

You should know that Chris Williams will be handling all the kicks versus Carolina Saturday evening. "For me, right now, I would say there's a pretty good chance of that," coach Tony Sparano said. "I'm not 100 percent, but there's a pretty good chance of that."

The intriguing thing about Williams, so fast, so necessary if the team is to give Ted Ginn Jr. and Davone Bess some rest from special teams, is that he doesn't necessarily have to make the team as a receiver.

"It would be a nice luxury down the road if you are making that choice," Sparano said. "In other words, if we make that choice that down the road Chris would be on the tea for special teams purposes, we would hope that he would also be able to play receiver in ball games and help that way.

"That would be a good luxury to have, but not a necessity to whether or not he makes the team."

The kicking duel between incumbent Dan Carpenter and challenger Connor Barth was heated today.

Carpenter connected from 32 yards. Barth connected from 34 yards.

Capenter from 41 yards. Bang. It's good. Barth from 41 yards. Bang. Good.

Carpenter from 34 yards. Goot! Barth from 36 yards. Goot!

Carpenter from 42 yards. Good. Barth from 42 yards. Good.

Moving to the right hash, Carpenter from 42 yards. It's good.

Moving to the right hash, Barth from 42 yards. Yup, it is good.

Joey Porter, who missed the moring practice with a sore toe, was back for the afternoon work. Honestly, though, players were in shells for this practice so there wasn't a lot of physical work. Jason Taylor, still excused attending to an illness in his family, was replaced in the starting base look by Charlie Anderson. In the nickel and dime package, Quentin Moses got a lot of snaps with the starters where Taylor typically plays.

I noticed running back Ronnie Brown favoring his left leg at times during the practice, but he did all his work. It is likely nothing, but I'm just reporting what I'm seeing.

Today was the final day of open training camp practices. Training camp is over, as far as I'm am concerned. Yes, the team has only one more two-a-day practice -- that on Tuesday -- but it will not be open to anyone, including the media.

As a result, there is but one more Classic Training Camp moment left. I will add that to this post later this evening. Come back for that, if you would.

Thursday morning doings at Dolphins camp

Three outside linebackers did not practice today as the Dolphins practiced in front of fans for the final time this season.

Yes, Matt Roth missed again so his agent Drew Rosenhaus's stated hopes Roth would return to practice this week seem dashed. Yes, I know, the Dolphins practice again this afternoon but I just don't see him strapping it up for that work if he missed work only hours earlier. A groin, Roth's mysterious injury, does not heal that quickly. Anyway, more on him in a moment.

Joey Porter missed practice today. He rode the bike most of practice because of what coach Tony Sparano called a sore toe. "He's really fine," Sparano said. "It's just sore."

Sparano would not predict if Porter would return to work this afternoon. "We'll see what he does this afternoon," the coach said.

Jason Taylor was excused from the morning workout for personal reasons related to a family illness. Sparano said he didn't know if Taylor would be back this afternoon or tomorrow or what. He said he believed Taylor would be available for the Carolina preseason game. A text message to Taylor's agent Gary Wichard has not been returned.

So that left Cameron Wake and Quentin Moses and Charlie Anderson getting a ton of snaps in practice today. Anderson and Moses got the first-team snaps. Wake worked with the second team. It's good. They need the work.

Left guard Justin Smiley missed practice Wednesday with what Sparano said was a sore ankle on his surgically repaired leg from last season. But he was back today and was none the worse for wear.

Sparano addressed the decision to terminate CB Eric Green's contract. He said there simply was "not enough separation between the veteran player and the young players. To me, let's see the young players. Let the young players play."

That is a good philosophy, but the fact also is Green's problems involved too much separation. Too much separation between him and wide receivers he was supposed to be covering.

Sparano pretty much dismissed the idea of bringing in a replacement for Green to fill the roster spot. Instead he said, the void will allow younger players such as Vontae Davis and Will Billingsley and Joey Thomas and Jason Allen to get more practice repetitions.

Speaking of playing time, Sparano said Will Allen will be scheduled to play much more Saturday versus Carolina than he did in the preseason-opener versus Jacksonville. Jason Allen, who played almost exclusively as a nickel cornerback versus Jacksonville, is expected to get more work in practice and perhaps in the game as a corner in the base defense.

Back to Roth for a moment. It is increasingly clear that the Dolphins are approaching the drop dead moment when they are moving on without him. In other words, it seems unlikely that even if Roth came back next week, he could wrestle the starting strong side outside linebacker job back from Taylor.

That job belonged to Roth when training camp opened. It clearly does not belong to him now. And, as I'm telling you, it is fast-approaching the moment when Roth will not be able to make up for the time he's lost.

"I have to be honest, in my mind mentally, right now when I'm out here, I mean 27, 28 practices have gone by," Sparano said. "Obviously, you're hoping on one hand. But from the other standpoint, I have to keep going on. I don't know when this thing is going to get right, so I have to go on like it ain't going to get right at this time and try to prepare the team accordingly.

"Whenever this things gets right, then I'll adjust. But right now, I can't."

August 19, 2009

The Dolphins evening doings -- with '99 moment

The news first: The Dolphins dumped Eric Green after Wednesday's morning practice. If you are surprised he's gone, you haven't been paying attention because he struggled in the Jacksonville preseason game, struggled in training camp practices before that, and struggled in offseason work before that.

Green's short Dolphins career can best be described as a struggle. He starts a new career with San Francisco on Thursday because he has agreed to terms with that team on a new contract.

I have also confirmed that Venus and Serena Williams will be two of the three new minority owners announced by the Dolphins next Tuesday. That's all I got to say about that.

Now let me give you some perspective.

The Dolphins didn't get rid of a cornerback to simply keep an open roster spot. They probably looked at the landscape and identified a player, likely another corner, who they believe will be an upgrade. I do not currently know the identity of that player.

But the list of available cornerbacks is fairly large. There is Mike McKenzie, Ty Law, Lewis Sanders, Daven Holly, David Irons, Aaron Glenn, David Macklin, and of course, Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison for the nostalgic Dolfans among you.

So Green becomes a free agent now. And Nathan Jones is now running with the second team at right cornerback. This Green termination improves Jones' chances of making the team, although he seemed fairly assured of that already as he's starting in the dime package. The move also helps Jason Allen move closer to making the team, assuming he doesn't play awful the next few weeks.

Allen did get beat by Davone Bess out of the slot in 7 on 7 drills in the afternoon practice. Allen whiffed at the line of scrimmage while playing press coverage and then never caught up as Bess ran a post. This is disappointing because one would expect Allen to try and show out in a practice after the door for him to make the roster is opened by the cutting of another player.

On the more news front, left guard Justin Smiley is hurting with some undisclosed injury-discomfort. It doesn't look serious, whatever it is because Smiley dressed out for practice today and was then held out when the team went into team periods.

Andy Alleman took one repetition at left guard in the team run period and then Brandon Frye took over every snap of every period after that. Smiley declined to discuss why he rode the bike for most of practice, but again, it doesn't seem serious.

He actually asked back into drills during the team period and was waved off by offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

It was a tough practice for Brandon London. He dropped two passes on consecutive plays, one when he clearly lost concentration on a post pattern because the safety was coming at him.

This Classic Training Camp moment is to celebrate the fact yahoosports.com's Jason Cole was at camp today. Cole and I worked with and against each other for many years and although that isn't true anymore, we are still friends.

In August of 1999, that friendship was tested a little because I somehow got caught in a swirling vortex of curse words, threats and anger that Jimmy Johnson directed at Cole.

On the day The Miami Herald's annual football section came out that year, I got a call very early in the morning from a Dolphins official demanding I be at camp that day. "Of course, I'll be there," I said. "That's my job."

"Well," the official responded, "be ready for what's coming because Jimmy Johnson is [peeved] -- not at you, but at Jason Cole. And he wants to talk to both of you when you come out."

I called Cole and told him to be ready for a lecture. New to the Herald that year after covering the team for the Sun-Sentinel for many years, Cole was advised to simply say nothing if Johnson got angry or yelled at him. We didn't need Johnson hitting Cole or anything like that.

Anyway, I arrived at the Dolphins' facility to find the team in the middle of a morning practice. I was there maybe one minute -- no exaggeration -- when I saw Johnson jogging toward me from the far practice field.

He was there in an instant and Dolphins PR man Harvey Greene summoned Cole and myself into the player lounge that used to look out onto the practice field. Once inside, Johnson pulled out a Cole article that was crumpled in the back pocket of his shorts, one that appeared in the football section and he had highlighted and written notes on.

And then he began to viciously lambaste Cole.

By lambaste, I mean it sounded something like this: "What the [bleep] are you doing writing this piece of [crap] you [bleeperbleeper]," Johnson said to Cole.

For perspective you must remember that I wrote a story after the 1998 season about Johnson quitting as Miami's coach for 36 hours, going so far as to pack his belongings in a moving box and celebrating with friends over beers that his days in coaching were done.

Johnson was feeling burned out and emotionally spent and that led to his decision.

I also wrote that owner Wayne Huizenga was not going to accept Johnson simply quitting and would try to change his mind. And yes, incredibly, I later found out Huizenga offered to let Johnson coach only home games and let Dave Wannstedt coach the team on the road, if that meant Johnson would stay.

Anyway, following that offseason episode, Cole wrote a story for the football section saying that Johnson was taking things easier for the start of 1999. He wasn't making certain trips -- such as the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. -- and he was generally not driven as hard as he had been previously.

And that made Johnson livid.

"You [bleeperbleeper] you've made it seem like I don't give a [crap] anymore," Johnson told Cole. "You've made it seem like I've quit on my [bleeperbleeping] team. What kind of [bleeperbleeping] position do you think that puts me in with my [bleeperbleeping] team you [bleeperbleeper]?

This excoration went on for about two solid minutes. During that time, Johnson referred to the highlighted portions of the article, categorically denying what was written was true or accurate. I stopped counting the times Johnson called Cole a word that begins with "mother" and ends with "ucker" at 13. There were more, but after the 13th, Johnson turned to me and threatened me.

"You talk to this [bleeperbleeper] and set him straight or I'm going to stop talking to you," Johnson told me. "I'll go to your publisher and get you both fired, you hear me. I'm not having this [bleeperbleeping] year ruined by you two [bleepers]."

Well, the year was not ruined by Cole or me. Johnson and the Dolphins did that all by themselves. Johnson and Dan Marino feuded all year long. And it ended with a 62-7 playoff debacle in Jacksonville that sent both men into retirement.

It was, shall we say, interesting.

Tony Sparano's take on game, practices

The Dolphins have two games in the next six practice days (not counting walk-thru and off days) so days such as today's double sessions are vital.

This is what the current schedule means:

Players have very little time to correct mistakes they make in preseason games. The preseason games become vital in the evaluation of players. And, conversely, players that have a certain status on the team now, are likely to keep that status barring significant change in the way they are peforming.

In other words, if a player is on first-team now, he's likely to stay there unless he totally melts down. If a player is not on first-team now, it's going to be increasingly difficult for him to make the climb unless he delivers an incredible performance in a preseason game.

"Time is not on our side," Sparano told the media and the players on separate occasions after practice. "You have to make the most of your opportunity."

Having said that, let me serve as your humble translator to what this all means. Donald Thomas, who seems to have a grasp on the starting right guard spot following a solid effort Monday night and today's practice, is not likely to lose that job. Barring injury or a total performance meltdown, he will be the starting right guard.

At the cornerback position, it is becoming clear that Eric Green not only will not win the starting job he had when training camp began, he's struggling to earn a roster spot. Sean Smith, meanwhile, working with the first team, would have to struggle mightily to squander his opportunity to start.

During his press conference moments ago, Sparano defended first-round draft pick Vontae Davis. The coach said Davis made "poor decisions in a few areas" and had "three minus plays on defense," with one of those being the pass interference penalty he drew.

But Sparano then added, "I don't, for one minute, want Vontae judged on those three plays," Sparano said, adding that the cornerback played a lot on defense.

Here's the problem: Sparano was unhappy that his team yielded between 125 and 130 yards of hidden yardage in the game. And Davis accounted for 55 yards of hidden yardage on his three penalties. Sooo, on the one hand Sparano is upset with his team about hidden yardage but doesn't want Davis judged on three minus plays plus the 55 yards of hidden yardage Davis accounted for?

Look, Davis will likely become a good player. But he did have a rough night against Jacksonville.

Just saying ...

On the positive side, the Dolphins have been emphasizing third down efficiency and in that department, the starting offense was at 50 percent while the starting defense held Jacksonville to only 29 percent.

The coach was not happy the Jags completed, according to him, 63 percent of their passes on the starting defense and the Dolphins yielded 123 passing yards in the first half.

On the other hand, the offense did put together drives of 10 and 14 plays so that speaks to ball control.

August 18, 2009

Tale of trenches from the Salguero DVR

By now you watched the preseason opener from the stands, on television at home in South Florida, or on the NFL Network replay. So you know what the Dolphins receivers and quarterbacks and running backs did. If that's all you're interested in, you are dismissed.

This post is about football in the trenches.

This post is a critical look at how the Miami offensive and defensive fronts fared against the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday night. A word of caution: The Jaguars are a physical team along their defensive front. Conversely, their offensive line has had issues dating back to last season and is probably among the bottom third units in the NFL.

So working with those facts for perspective, let's get to the breakdown of what happened.

Start with this truth: Randy Starks played very well Monday night. He was undoubtedly the most active defensive lineman of any that played with the first or second team. But I'm not just going to tell you. Let me show you.

On Jacksonville's first possession of the game, the Jaguars are in shotgun on third-and-13. Charging from his defensive end spot, Starks hits quarterback David Garrard just as he throws the ball. It's a bad throw because that's what happens when a 300-pound man hits you in the gut. It's an incompletion, and the Jags have to punt. Thank you, Randy.

On Jacksonville's second possession, Garrard has no tangible pressure on a first down completion. On second down, there is great coverage by Channing Crowder and Sean Smith and Garrard pulls the ball down instead of throwing it. It results in coverage sack, officially credited to Jason Ferguson.

And on third-and-7 from their own 24, Garrard throws another incomplete pass that forces a punt. The reason for the incompletion? Randy Starks hits the quarterback again as he is throwing, and the ball falls short of an open receiver.

Jacksonville's coaches adjust. The next two series, the Jaguars double-team Starks. Jason Taylor and Joey Porter and Phillip Merling are rushing, but the Jags try to stop Starks with two blockers. And that leaves Nathan Jones unblocked on the blitz to force another errant throw by Garrard.

It's more of the same in the next Jacksonville possession. Brad Meester and Vince Manuwai double Starks on a play that results in a pass completion to Jarett Dillard. Next play, Manuwai is blocking Starks and a back chips him coming out of the backfield.

No other player on the Dolphins defensive front draws as much attention from the Jags. Starks is done for the night after this series. Good work.

But that's not all the good work on D.

Crowder played very well. He was very active. He had the tight coverage I mentioned earlier. He blitzed three times, never getting there but applying good pressure. He also blew up a screen pass that gained only 2 yards, making the tackle but getting no credit for it. In fact, the game book gives neither Starks nor Crowder any tackles. Talk about misleading.

So who else was active on the defensive front?

Ferguson had excellent penetration on a short completion to Torry Holt. Jones, as I mentioned, came free on a blitz. Jason Taylor had supporting pressure on two pass plays -- meaning he didn't get to Garrard first, but he was there as well, which is a good thing against a 236-pound quarterback.

Joey Porter was mostly quiet and Phillip Merling, who played a lot, didn't have any play that stood out to me.

On the Dolphins offensive side of the equation, I am fascinated by how coaches handled the right guard platoon. Starter Shawn Murphy and backup Donald Thomas alternated first-team snaps every other possession. But here's the interesting thing:

Thomas only played with the starters. When the starters came out after halftime, Thomas was done. Murphy, meanwhile, got snaps with the subs in the third quarter.

So which of the two played better? You must understand that I do not know the Dolphins' blocking schemes nor do I pretend to know what technique Miami coaches want used in certain situations. Having said that, it seemed to me the offensive line was more cohesive when Thomas was in the game.

Murphy had one bad moment when he missed a blitzing Justin Durant up the middle on the first Miami possession of the game. The whiff forced a bad throw by Chad Pennington. Muprhy also used terrible technique when I saw him bear hugging Derrick Harvey once to prevent the defensive end from going through him on a Ronnie Brown run.

But Murphy had a couple of good moments, also. He had a great peel block that wiped out CB Brian Williams on Ted Ginn's end around. He also had a nice second-level block on linebacker Darryl Smith later on.

I noticed something that we all probably take for granted but should be said anyway about Jake Long. In his second season, the Dolphins are obviously expecting him to be something of a horse and leader of the offensive line. Maybe that's the reason I saw him get blocking help from Justin Smiley only once on passing plays.

It was otherwise Long out on an island the entire game against Jacksonville defensive ends or blitzing linebackers. The only time he was soundly beaten was when Long found himself with one knee on the ground, trying to stop a charging Durant from getting past. The play resulted in a 1-yard loss for Ricky Williams.

Right tackle Vernon Carey also gets very little help in pass-rush situations, and that was not a great idea on one play in which he blocked no one as two blitzers zipped past, forcing an incomplete pass to Davone Bess. Carey was otherwise solid.

So, you should be asking now, how did new center Jake Grove do this game against John Henderson, Rob Meier and Atiyyah Ellison? I would say Grove more than held his own. I would say if he can win as many as he loses against Henderson, the Dolphins are going to be fine at center this season.

Grove got the better of Henderson in a one-on-one situation on the drag route Ginn caught in the first quarter. Grove then had a beautiful cut block on Durant on the 11-yard run Williams had with 6:57 left in the first quarter.

I am not saying the offensive line dominated. Absolutely not. They were barely efficient. But what I am saying is there is individual talent here. Once these guys find some cohesion, I would expect the overall picture will improve. Inserting Thomas in the starting lineup this week would speed that up.

And I believe that is what the Dolphins will do.

  

Stephen Ross: 'We are a better team'

One day after the Dolphins had their first dry run of their 2009 fan experience at Land Shark Stadium, owner Stephen Ross spent over an hour with The Miami Herald to discuss his vision for the future of the team on and off the field.

Ross, who bought the team for $1.1 billion earlier this year, said he will announce three more minority owners Aug. 25. In keeping with his desire to have the Dolphins represent the ethnic and racial makeup of their community, at least one of those new minority owners is black, said Ross who declined to divulge names.

The Dolphins have minority Hispanic owners in Emilio and Gloria Estefan, as well as Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.

Ross shared his vision for the experience that awaits fans when they attend games at Land Shark -- including a celebrity orange carpet arrival by stars and VIP guests and tailgate concerts throughout the season. One of those concerts is expected to include Dolphins fan Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas.

More on that in a bit. Most importantly, however, Ross recognizes that regardless of the upgrades to the fan experience and the stadium in which the team plays (Land Shark has undergone concession improvements and will soon be painted), the most important aspect of his ownership is winning.

Winning, winning, winning.

"It's the most important thing," Ross said. "That's what fans want to hear. I bought the team because I'm a fan and I want a winner and anything less than that is unacceptable. And I'm going to do everything in my power to make that happen."

And what are Ross's expectations for his Dolphins in a season that culminates with Super Bowl 44 and the Pro Bowl being played in Miami?

"The fact the Super Bowl is here and the Pro Bowl is here has nothing to do with the expectations for the football team," Ross said. "Bill Parcells, I think, is the finest football mind in America. He is making those decisions. You don't micro-manage somebody who knows something a lot better than you do. I've rested my faith in what he's doing in running that football team and not interfering with him.

"When you don't micro-manage people who are the best, you're going to have better results ... I know we're going to be competitive. We're going to enter every game believing we can win it. We're going to win our share of games. Miami is going to be happy with the results.

"This is a better team than last year's team. Will it have a better record? I don't know. Because there's a lot of luck involved in that. The ball is shaped the way it is because you don't know how it's going to bounce. But I got news for you: We are a better team. And hopefully, we'll have a better record."

Obviously, Dolphins management hopes local fans will be drawn to that better team. That hasn't necessarily happened yet, as season ticket sales are not where the Dolphins want.

Club Chief Executive Officer Mike Dee said season ticket sales are at the 49,000 level currently. Dee said the team wants to have between 62,000 to 65,000 season ticket holders, "to have the stability we aspire to have."

And that is why the Dolphins a making the push to make game day the Sunday must-attend event throughout South Florida. Certainly it goes to making money. But it also has a lot to do with that primary focus.

Winning, winning, winning.

"I asked Jeff Ireland last night about the things we're doing," Ross said. "They want to play to a stadium that's filled up. It brings excitement. It keeps the interest going. it's good for the team. It's good for the community. We recognize the most important thing is winning. Everything else is always on the margin. But it all creates it. And the players want to see those fans and those seats filled and they will play better when they are. And coaches want it."

The Jacksonville roundup before film study

Tony Sparano talked about looking at the game film at least four times during his post-game press conference but that's not happening until Tuesday morning. Tonight, this is how it looks without the benefit of film study:

*The Dolphins threw three passes to Ted Ginn in the span of one quarter. He caught two of those passes for 26 yards. But the attempts are more important because it showed a desire to find him that I didn't see last year. If Ginn is to have the breakout year everyone wants, he needs opportunities. It was good to see the Dolphins, particularly Chad Pennington who seemed to be looking for him, are willing to give him those opportunities. Ginn also had an end-around for 14 yards.

And yes, he noticed the ball came his way more than usual. "They took some chances, they threw some balls at me," Ginn said. "I just tried to come down with every ball that came my way."

*Eric Green struggled. He gave up three completions, including a 25-yard pass from Todd Bouman to former first-round bust Troy Williamson.

*Sean Smith was pretty good. Yes, he gave up a couple of short gains on slants. But he also had an interception in the end zone that showed when the football is in the air and it's him or the WR, pick him. The Dolphins have an open job at right cornerback. And Smith might not have won the job Monday night. But as I wrote in my column, he made the most impressive reach of all the contenders to snatch that job.

"As a cornerback, whenever that ball is in the air, you definitely want to come down with it, and to come down with my first NFL pick in the my first preseason game was pretty good," Smith said.

Smith has an infectious personality. I joked with him after the game, saying, "Well you have one game and one interception. That the way you see things going for you in your career?"

"Yeah," Smith said without missing a beat, "I figure I'll have an interception in every game I play ... except some games I'll have two interceptions because I have to make up for the bye weeks."

*The Red Zone offense was atrocious. "We have Red Zone rules," coach Tony Sparano said. "No sacks, no turnovers, no penalties. Those are our rules."

The Dolphins broke several of those rules. Jake Grove was called for a false start on third-and-goal from the Jacksonville 3 yard line. Ricky Williams was called for holding on first-and-10 from the Jacksonville 17.

*The Dolphins want to see more from Chad Henne. They want him to push Chad Pennington. Well, he had a better game although he had many more opportunities. Henne's 83.1 QB rating was the best of any QB in the game. He connected on a 33-yard TD to Ernest Wilford. He threw an interception also. "That one's on me," Henne said. "Just a poor decision by myself. You know, I kind of threw it blind. I was trying to throw it in the hole. I didn't really see the throw after I got hit."

And overall?

"I thought I did pretty good. I mean, like I said before, there's mistakes out there and I'll fix them and just keep getting better. But I think overall, I did pretty well. Managed the team, got some points on the board and that's what we need." 

*Miami's third-string quarterback Pat White was not terrible in his NFL preseason debut. But he wasn't good and that is being kind. Never mind the interception on his statistics line because that happened when a good pass hit a RB in the hands and bounded into a defender's arms. But he skipped two passes that should have been completed. And the most troubling thing is he continues to struggle getting out from under center.

I've written on this blog how White is clearly more comfortable out of the shotgun than under center. But I didn't realize how uncomfortable he really is under center until I watched him at game speed. He takes forever to get out from under center. For a player who relies on quickness, it's terrible to be slow on his dropbacks and setups because he's taking too long pulling out from the center. This must be addressed.

*Ernest Wilford did have that one catch for 33 yards and a touchdown. He made a defender miss along the home sideline to spring himself for the score. And then he capped it with an emphatic spike.

"There was a lot of frustration behind that spike," Wilford said.

*Finally, I was not pleased with the first-team offensive line. The fact is the Dolphins averaged only 2.6 yards per carry when the first line was in the game. The Jacksonville front won at the point of attack to the point where coach Jack Del Rio declared his team "extremely physical."

"Not well enough, point blank," guard Justin Smiley said. "We want to be known as an offense that can run between the tackles. You have to tip your hat to their defense. They did a really good job."

Please realize all this is said and done off the surface view of the game. I will bury myself in film study part of Tuesday and report back to you more in depth analysis when I'm done. That's why the blog is called, in part, in depth.

August 17, 2009

Dolphins-Jags live blog starts here and now

I don't know about you, but I've been waiting for this moment since the clock ran out on that playoff game against Baltimore last January.

Yeah, I know it's only preseason. But it's our preseason darnit!

By the way, Davone Bess is in the starting lineup ahead of Greg Camarillo. Shawn Murphy will open at RG. Rookie Sean Smith will open at RCB. and Jason Ferguson, who may only get a series or two, is expected to start nonetheless. Randy Starks starts at RDE for the Dolphins.

Matt Roth is the only scratch for Miami. WR Mike Walker, WR Maurice Dupree, DB Don Carey, FB Montell Owens, CB Scott Starks, WR Mike Thomas and DT Jonathan Lewis are scratches for Jacksonville.

The Dolphins are wearing their aqua tops and white pants. The Jags are going with their white tops and black pants.

And all the noise you've heard about JLo and Marc Anthony and Gloria Estefan and Jimmy Buffett this offseason? Haven't seen any of them on the field prior to the game.

Live blog of tonight's preseason-opener at 7:30

Cue the NFL Films music. Cue the hitting. Cue the cheerleaders. Cue the baseball dirt infield.

Preseason football returns to Land Shark Stadium this evening when the Dolphins host the Jacksonville Jaguars. And you will get a chance be in a community of fellow fans tonight -- even if you do not get Ch.  4 (WFOR) or Ch. 34. (WTVX). 

Yes, the game will be on local TV because the Dolphins have guaranteed a sellout.

But if you don't get local TV, this blog will be on live and in living color starting at kickoff. So as in past years, you will be able to gather here, with other Dolphins fans, and talk about the game as it happens. 

You can join the live blog from your computer ... or, if you have an iPhone and have purchased the Dolphins app, you can follow and participate in the live blog from wherever you are -- including the stands, if you so desire.

As thousands of iPhone Dolphins Apps have been sold so far, chances are good we'll have some live blog participants in the stands tonight and during every home game this year. Think about it, how cool is watching the game from the stands, and commenting on what you see on the live blog in real time?

A couple of things you should know:

The first-team offensive line is expected to play an extended period of time in front of quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Chad Henne.

Coach Tony Sparano said last week he saw no reason to hold out Donald Thomas from the game so, if that holds, I would think he'll get some snaps with the starters even though Shawn Murphy is expected to start.

I'm eager to see how Sean Smith does in his NFL debut as a starting CB. I'll also be watching Vontae Davis and his fellow rookies, Pat White, Patrick Turner, and Brian Hartline.

 So see you here at 7:30 p.m. You are obviously here now, so tell me what you want and need to see out of this game. What players need to step up in the battles to earn roster spots. What players intrigue you. Give your predictions, too.

It's football season!

Agent: Roth will hopefully practice this week

Matt Roth has missed 21 practices this training and that's a bad thing because the Dolphins have practiced only 21 times since training camp began. Tonight Roth, nursing a groin injury he had when training camp began, will miss the 7 p.m. preseason opener versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Roth, said during his regular Sunday evening segment on Ch. 7's Sunday Sports Xtra that he is "hopeful" Roth would begin practicing this week.

"Don't hold me to it," Rosenhaus added.

Rosenhaus is to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt when he says things on the show. Sometimes he's dead on. Sometimes, not so much.

He "reported" before the draft the Dolphins would "absolutely" select a receiver in the first round.

They didn't take a receiver in the first round. Or the second.

So we'll see what happens with Roth.

On the confirmed information front, you might have missed the column I wrote for Sunday's Miami Herald. In it coach Tony Sparano confirms he has a couple of players that don't meet his requirements for practicing hard all the time because they don't practice as hard as they play.

Then I confirmed Phillip Merling is one of those players. Please read the column and see how Sparano handles such players and how Merling is reacting to what coaches are yelling at talking to him about. 

August 16, 2009

Which Dolphins need to play better in practice?

The Dolphins have completed 21 practices since the start of training camp, not counting Sunday's walk-thru practice. The team will play its first preseason game Monday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And while every player will, no doubt, give all he has in the coming games, Tony Sparano says in my Sunday Dolphins column that not every player on his team gives his all during every practice.

Sparano tells me in the column what he does about those players.

I also speak to a player who admits coaches have confronted him and want him to practice harder. Read the column to learn who the player is. This player has great potential and Miami coaches are doing all they can to milk every ounce of effort from him in practice.

So why is getting the most out of players in practice so important to Sparano?

"How we practice really does affect how we play," Sparano told me. "Some guys have the abitlity to not practice well all the time and play well. But most guys, it goes the other way."

Well, what's the big deal with practice, you might ask, as long as the player is a gamer?

"And people say to me, what do you prefer?" Sparano said. "You prefer the way who plays on Sunday, right? Sure, you prefer the guy who plays on Sunday. But that guy could be a distraction. That guy that doesn't practice well enough during the course of the week becomes a bit of a distraction sometimes.

"My job is to eliminate distractions and that's where I go to confront."

By the way, the column identifies one player that needs to practice better. Can you identify others?

August 15, 2009

Saturday by the sub

I'm just a Neal, yes, I'm only a Neal, and I'm sitting in for A. Salguero...

Armando should be back tomorrow. He'll definitely be back Monday. Whatever, you're stuck with David J. Neal today.

In the afternoon practice, during red zone team drills, Chad Pennington got the first team into the end zone in two plays. A diving Davone Bess collected the TD pass on a seam route. Chad Henne found Brian Hartline on a post ahead of Jason Allen, then hit his next three passes. Pat White went six for 11 in the earlier team drills, but later threw two interceptions to Courtney Bryan and a few near interceptions while running the scout team. White and Henne took most of the reps today in preparation for doing the same Monday.

Both Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder had sacks in the morning practice. For those obsessed with Ted Ginn Jr., one way or the other, today was another tribute to Ralph Ellison -- he was The Invisible Man.

In both practices, Shawn Murphy and Donald Thomas rotated at right guard with the first team. Both will play Monday as Sparano wants to see the offensive line together and wants to settle the right guard position "yesterday," as he put it Saturday. Thomas said he's behind where he thought he would be right now. Be that as it may, it's clear the coaches love Thomas' strength and superior athleticism (compared to Murphy) and want him in that spot if it's at all a close call.

Earlier, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano's daily press conference was called by rain, a first that I've seen in over 20 years in this business. Sparano does his daily media thing during training camp in a big covered porch-like area north of the practice field. As we started, the rain came down slanted toward the west. Then ,the wind shifted so the rain began shooting over the media's shoulder and into the face of Sparano. Sparano didn't seem to care about facing the media in the wet and the wind. Even as we crowded in around the lectern to yell our questions above the wind, Sparano was trying to listen to the Palm Beach Post's Edgar Thompson holler a Pat White question when The Herald's Jeff Darlington stepped in like Richard Steele to deliver an RSC -- Rain Stops Contest.

Before that, Sparano said he thought Ernest Wilford's improvement the last few days could be credited to getting more opportunities. Not with practice snaps, but with balls thrown to him on those practice snaps. Saturday, Wilford had a nice fingertip catch, a one-hander on ball thrown behind him, a nice high grab. He called his blocking "a work in progress" and "fundamentally, there's some things that certainly he doesn't know as well as some of those other tight ends that he's catching up on."

Wilford got behind rookie safety Chris Clemons on one downfield pattern in the morning practice. That's Clemons, who has some giddyap, with Wilford, The Six Million Dollar Man who moves like the slow motion shots of Steve Austin at bionic speed. Anthony Armstrong got well behind Vontae Davis on another team drills deep pattern, and Will Allen on still another. I asked if both sides were going full speed.

"Why, because the offense looked decent today?" Sparano replied with a bit o' bile. "Every player's being evaluated out there, so I would say, yes, they were going full speed."

If that's so, it's a little disconcerting when third team and practice squad level wide receivers are dusting the Dolphins top defensive backs.

White's been more accurate both in seven-on-seven drills and team drills, but it would be nice if Mark Lewis would give him a shotgun snap that didn't dribble back to White or threaten to missile over his head.

Sparano confirmed that, yes, if Connor Barth outkicks Dan Carpenter -- and he hopes both will kick Monday against Jacksonville -- Carpenter's out of a job. And, like last year's Carpenter-Jay Feely competition, it could be decided early in camp. For a team that doesn't get cheap points, plays close games and has trouble in the red zone, partially because they don't yet have a dependable big receiver, a kicker's dependability takes on greater importance than with most teams.

"Missed a couple of kicks," Sparano said of Carpenter. "He's missed a few, the other guy's made 'em. I've seen the asme thing you guys have seen. So, that's it. Eventually, those have to go through. I told them both, the entire team, time is not on our side right now. This is not one of those deals where you say, "We'll get it tomorrow, we'll get it tomorrow, we'll get it tomorrow." These things have to start happening, soon."

By the way, Barth's demeanor and look resemble Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. Wonder if there's a Scooby Snack bonus in his contract.

Everybody was there in both pads-and-shorts practices. Matt Roth was still in the baseball hat. The morning practice, originally scheduled to be outside and open to the public, was moved inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble when lightning was spotted somewhere in the area. Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells spent most of that practice happily talking with Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. Also in the bubble house was the Dolphins first Hall of Fame quarterback, Bob Griese, and former Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad.

Special teams worked on downing punts inside the 10, especially the speed guys getting downfield to just catch the ball instead of playing the often-capricious bounce.

The Dolphins are off tomorrow, aside from a walk-through. Monday, 7:30, vs. Jacksonville at the largest structure in Miami Gardens.

I'm headed home for caffeine, dinner, Powerball, Lotto and jazz. Good night, folks.

August 14, 2009

Classic Training Camp Moment from 1995

In August 1995 I was looking for an advance story for the Dolphins' trip to Orlando to play the Tampa Bay Bucs in the preseaon finale. It occurred to me that Miami fans might be interested to learn what it's like to be on the road with the team, so I decided to do some digging and share what I learned.

Part of my research for the story included finding out just how well coach Don Shula was treated. And yes, the winningest coach of all time had it pretty good when the team went on the road.

I found out Shula typically got the nicest room in whatever hotel the team was staying, and usually that was a suite in a very high and security-guarded floor.

I also asked Dolphins media relations man Harvey Greene if there were any luxuries Shula typically got in his room. Well, I found out Shula got flowers, and candies, and sandwiches, and in the suite's refrigerator, he wanted beer.

Not just any beer -- Beck's beer.

And not just a couple of cans of beer but a case of beer, which by most definitions is 24 cans of beer.

So I wrote the story and thought nothing else about it -- until I arrived at the Orlando hotel where the team was staying. When I walked in the lobby entrance, I was immediately intercepted by Greene, who told me that I was probably directly responsible for his being fired.

Seems Shula had read my article and had freaked out become disturbed about the unwritten conclusion everyone must have reached after finishing the story, namely, that I was saying Shula was an alcoholic. Shula asked Greene how I came to find out he had so many beers in his suite every road trip and Greene told him he had told me.

So Shula chewed on poor Harvey's butt for the entire bus trip from the Orlando airport to the hotel, leaving the team's public relations man visibly and understandably rocked. 

Anyway, the following day came and Greene was still employed. And today he remains employed by the Dolphins as their senior vice president-media relatons. He is one of the best in the business, if not the best.

So I figured the episode was over.

And I figured wrong.

A few days later, I showed up alone to the training facility and sat down on a bench that used to be stationed just outside the locker room. After going for his routine noon run on the adjacent practice field, Shula would usually come over and sit with me on the bench and talk to me. And today was no different in that he came over and sat next to me.

It was usually a pleasant talk between us. Not this time. Not when Shula's first words to me this day were, "What the [bleep] were you doing by writing that [bleep] about me drinking beer?" Shula asked angrily.

Coach, I never wrote you drank all that beer. I wrote the beer was stocked in your fridge.

"You [bleep]. Everyone out there thinks I'm a drunk now," Shula said. "You made me look like a horse's ass. I don't drink all that beer, most of the times I don't even have one. I have that beer in there in case I have guests or if the assistants come up to the room.

"But you made it sound like I'm a [bleeping] drunk every time the team goes on the road. People are probably thinking I'm staggering around the team hotel drunk the night before games. It's not like I'm a kid anymore, I can't drink all that beer. Maybe when I was younger, but not anymore. But you made me sound like a [bleeping] drunk, you [bleep]."

It was the most anger Shula ever directed at me. It was actually the only time Shula was mad at me at all, which is saying something considering I covered him from 1990-95.

But the moment served me well. It gave me a glimpse of the venom Shula could direct at people when he was angry at them. It was an education.

And I learned something else very valuable about Shula that day. He could explode in anger one moment and move on as if nothing had happened soon afterward.

The next day, I came out to the training facility around lunch time and sat on the bench as I usually did, this time expecting the worst. And after his routine lunch time jog, Shula came over to the bench and talked with me.

As if nothing had happened.

Friday eve. practice is short, not so sweet

The open portion of today's afternoon practice only lasted about an hour. It was short.

And also short on highlights.

It's not a good thing when I'm going to tell you about the kicker competition first.

In that competition, incumbent Dan Carpenter is looking good. He connected on four of five kicks in kick drills. He missed a 36-yarder to start the kicking drills, but then connected from 40, 41, and 45 yards.

The first team offense didn't do Carpenter any favors in the two-minute drill. Working via mostly dink and dunk checkdown passes, the first-team O put Carpenter in range for a 53 yard winning FG. He missed it as it is obviously at the edge of his range.

Connor Barth, meanwhile, made all his kicks in the kick drills -- from 36, 40, 41 and 45 yards. But at the end of the two-minute drill, after the third-teamers had gotten him a chance at a winning 43-yard FG, Barth hit the left upright and the ball bounced back onto the field. No good.

By the way, the only reason the third-team offense got down the field is because the tipped pass that resulted in a Tyrone Culver interception and TD return the first play they ran in the two-minute drill was seemingly overlooked and the unit continued working.

Pat White then connected on three consecutive passes to Chris Williams and Anthony Kimble to set Barth up for his makeable but ultimately failed field goal.

I would say this practice was interesting in spurts only. The first-team offense scored on a goal line situation when Chad Pennington scrambled and connected with rookie John Nalbone in the back of the end zone for the TD.

The second-team offense also scored in the goal line situation when Ricky Williams rumbled over from 2 yards out.

So let's see if you've been paying attention. Are you not wondering why Barth had to take his shot at a game-winning FG with the third-team offense? Well, that's because the second-team offense was ineffective in the two-minute drills.

How ineffective? First down pass from Chad Henne to Patrick Turner is ruled out of bounds and therefore incomplete. Second down pass from Henne falls incomplete. Then the sack on third down. Then another incompletion on fourth down, which was the good news because Courtney Bryan might have intercepted the pass had he held on to it.

There's no big injury update to give you at this time. Matt Roth ... never mind. And everyone else, including Donald Thomas, Will Allen and Chad Pennington are taking all of their repetitions. Good news.

[BLOG NOTE: Come back later for the Classic Training Camp Moment. It's a Don Shula classic.]

Tony Sparano: Thomas likely to play vs. Jags

Tony Sparano just ended his daily meet with the media -- both in English and Spanish -- and here are some nuggets from those 20 minutes of exchange:

The coach said while it's not absolutely certain how much time Donald Thomas would get in the preseason-opener against Jacksonville Monday night, he added, "I don't see any reason why I would hold him [out] right now."

So that's good news for a player that is being brought along slowly but surely since the opening of camp. It's also good news for a right guard competition that begs an alternative to current starter Shawn Murphy.

If Thomas plays -- and that decision will be finalized Sunday -- coaches will have a game-speed contrast they can draw between Thomas and Murphy.

Speaking of contrast, quarterback Pat White is getting better of late. That's a contrast to the obvious struggles he had in the offseason and the first week or so of training camp.

"Pat's been getting better and better," Sparano said. "I think he's been doing some really nice things. Last night we were talking about this as a staff. He threw some really nice balls the past couple of days. I think he's starting to become a little more familiar with what it is we're asking him to do and a little more comfortable."

Sparano is seeing growth in White's management of third-down situation. He also appreciates White's  ability to "create yards on his own," which is code for running and using his feet to move the chains.

By the way, as to the Dolphins desire to win preseason games and what they mean as the coaches continue trying to change the culture they inherited from Cam Cameron:

"Everytime they keep score and every time you get a chance to compete out there we want to win," Sparano said. "That''s all part of changing the culture. We're not there. Regardless of what happened a year ago, we're not where we want to be from a full cultural change [standpoint]."

Finally, you should know that miamidolphins.com will premiere Saturday. Part of the new redesign of the website include Spanish-language content. And Sparano is doing his bit to help provide that content.

After he did his English-language press conference, el tecnico, did an interview in Spanish in which the team's Spanish broadcasting crew of Roly Martin and Raul Striker, asked him questions in Spanish and Sparano answered them in English.

The biggest nugget out of that exchange is that Sparano is pleased with the fact he's got more linebackers and defensive backs on the roster this year so he expects Miami's special teams to be better and more effective.

No, Sparano doesn't speak Spanish. But it seems that way on the website. It's pretty seamless the way he took the questions in Spanish, looked at the cue card with the translation, and answered in English. Check it out Saturday. 

[Twitter update: About 1,700 of you are following me on twitter. If you're not already doing so and want realtime updates from practice or when I update this blog, follow me now.]

Brady return not great news for Dolphins

Tony Sparano has a saying about watching the goings-on in the rest of the AFC East: "I've got my own fields to plow," meaning he's worried about his own team and not the Jets, Pats, Bills or any other one-syllabled rival.

But I'm not Sparano and neither are you. So we should be aware of the happenings around the AFC East as, you know, what the other teams do affects the Dolphins.

Well, while the Bills and Jets have issues, the Pats seriously concern me. And after watching them play last night against Philadelphia, a game that featured lots of talk about Michael Vick's signing with the Eagles, I mostly worried about the other QB in the spotlight.

Tom Brady.

And my worry?

He's still freakin' good. As you can see here, Brady doesn't seem to have any lingering problems following his yearlong hiatus from the league due to a blown out knee. The guy still is accurate as anyone in the NFL, perhaps moreso, and he still has great vision and an above average arm.

And one more thing: He throws a great, great deep pass.

Brady threw a 46-yard pass to Randy Moss down the right sideline in his second series of work against the Eagles that told the story. Moving to his left he launched the ball over 40 yards and although the ball was in the receiver's hands, Moss dropped it. But the play was still a big gainer because pass interference was called on the play.

Four plays later, Brady pitched a four-yard TD to new toy weapon Chris Baker, who caught both of Brady's two scoring passes for the evening. If you look at Brady's stats for the night -- 10 of 15 for 100 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT -- you might not think them so grand.

Except that Brady's interception came on a play where Moss had a chance to catch the ball over Sheldon Brown and didn't. And also didn't knock the ball away. And So Brown came up with an interception. And that made Brady's stats seem less impressive.

But having watched the game on NFLN, I can tell you he was impressive. He moved well in the pocket and he has a ton of receivers to pick from.

Even if you're a Dolphins fan and you're not worried, you definitely should be aware. Tom Brady is back. 

August 13, 2009

Thursday practice notes and '78 Classic Moment

The Dolphins just finished one of the most competitive practices I've seen them conduct since camp opened.

The reason this practice was so competitive is because there were team drills throughout the practice. There were two-minute team drills. Firsts against Firsts team drill. Third down team drill.

It was very interesting. And, yes, competitive.

In the two-minute drill, Chad Henne got the opportunity to run the starting offense. The situation is that 1:32 is left in the game and the offense has one time out. Oh, and you have to get in the end zone because a field goal doesn't help.

So Henne misses on his first two passes, including one in which Davone Bess is open against Vontae Davis but the ball is too high. Henne comes right back to Bess on the next play and completes the pass against Davis.

Then he's incomplete again, then he completes one to Greg Camarillo who beats Jason Allen. Then it gets tough. Incomplete. Incomplete. Incomplete. And incomplete when a blitz forces a quick throw and Chris Clemons knocks away the pass to Anthony Fasano.

One thing about this period that I noticed is that with the exception of the blitz, the defense got zero pressure on Henne. That's as it should be because it is the first team OL vs the second-team defense. But it would have been nice if Cameron Wake had mounted some pressure at some point.

In the third down work, Donald Thomas got significant snaps with the first team offense. And Chad Pennington put on a clinic.

Third and 8 completion to Bess. Third and seven completion to Camarillo. Third and five completion to Bess. Pennington tripped and was sacked on the next play. And then on third and second he completed another to Ricky Williams.

That's an 80 percent conversion percentage.

The Henne-led second teamers converted two of five.

Speaking of conversions, it was a solid day for Connor Barth and Brandon Fields. It was a tough afternoon for Dan Carpenter.

Fields converted an extra point obviously meant to show he can do it in an emergency. Then Barth connected on field goals of 42 and 46 yards. Carpenter missed both his tries from 42 and 46 yards and then was given a 61-yard attempt -- which he also missed.

As far as the obligatory Pat White update goes: He practiced, he missed half his throws, he connected on half his throws, he didn't fumble, he didn't trip, he seemed to have more velocity on the ball today than I've seen from him. He was neither great nor terrible.

And now this Classic Training Camp moment from 1978 ...

In '78 the Dolphins began to enjoy the fruits of having lost Larry Csonka after the 1974 season. The New York Giants had sent Miami third-round picks in both 1978 and '79 for the rights to sign Csonka after the World Football League folded.

And so in the '78 draft the Dolphins used that third-round pick to select defensive tackle Lyman Smith out of Duke. The Dolphins had great hopes for Smith because he was 6-5 and 250 pounds and smart as they come.

But maybe Smith was too smart for his own good. And definitely he was smarter than he was athletically gifted. Both caused problems.

Seems that during rookie hazing, Smith balked at the idea of having to sing in front of the team, or buy veterans their breakfast every morning, or carry their pads off the field after practice. He just would not join in the reindeer games like the other rookies.

And so the veterans made Smith pay a price. They grabbed him and did what any band of grown men whose sensitivities have been upset would do. They tied Smith to a tree. And left him there. And didn't go back to untie him.

I don't know how Smith got free, but when he did, he found himself facing another more depressing issue: He really wasn't that good. Smith struggled and disappointed and clearly was not destined for an NFL career.

"The guy was a terrible player and he was something of a [jerk] about not participating in the normal treatment of rookies," one player from that 1978 training camp told me Thursday. "He could have saved himself if he had been a very talented player but been a [jerk] otherwise. It would have even been fine if he wasn't that talented but wasn't a [jerk], either. But he was a [jerk] and a terrible player. He was the total package for all the wrong reasons."

And so Smith, drafted 64th overall, was cut. Can you imagine such a thing today? A third-round pick cut without making it out of training camp?

Smith was picked up by the Vikings and lasted one year with them before being cut. And that's just as well because football really wasn't his calling. But don't fret. Lyman Smith is today Dr. Lyman Smith, a board certified orthopedic surgeon.