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65 posts from August 2009

August 13, 2009

Plan for preseason opener starts coming to light

As I told you in a previous blog, the Dolphins coaching staff has still not met to determine playing time in Monday night's preseason opener against Jacksonville. Coach Tony Sparano confirmed that this morning.

But ..

He is definitely giving strong hints about his intentions for what kind of playing time certain players or units will get. It is pretty clear that Chad Pennington will play against the Jags and probably be in there maybe a quarter. Chad Henne will follow and he very likely will play much of the second quarter and parts, if not all, of the third quarter.

Pat White should get work sometime in the fourth quarter.

"Chad Henne will get a good chunk of time in the deal, which is what I've said before," Sparano said moments ago.

It is a fair assumption that Pennington and Henne will get a chance to play behind the starting offensive line. The line, in Sparano's opinion, needs to play together and play a good bit. And his opinion is the only one that counts.

"I have no interest in my line going out there and playing only one quarter," Sparano said. "They need to go out there and play."

While the offensive linemen are going to get a good looksee, there are other players who will be on a short pitch count. Jason Ferguson is not going to play beyond a quarter and perhaps less -- a series or two.

I have to draw the comparison between Sparano to Cam Cameron here. Cameron was of the belief that you save certain players, mostly his veterans. I remember he had some vets, such as Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor and even Joey Porter not play at all during some games in the preseason.

Taylor, for example, played six plays in the 2007 preseason. Cameron didn't want to get his proven players injured.

Sparano wants his stars and grunts to mesh as a tough team. He believes games are meant to be played not watched. "My feeling is you need to get ready to play together and come out of that tunnel together and all that good stuff," Sparano said.

But even if some of Miami's starters -- particularly the offensive linemen -- will get work, Sparano will try to strike a balance in that he must see the bottom of the roster guys perform.

"You want to walk off the field Monday night and have a pretty fair evaluation on how these people participated in the game," Sparano said. "At least as many of them as we can get."

On another matter, you guys have asked a lot lately about the possibility the Dolphins trade or cut Jason Allen. I don't see that right now and I get the feeling the Dolphins are not leaning in that direction unless someone blows them away with an offer -- which is not likely to happen.

Fact is Allen is a core special teams player. Fact is he's a big cornerback on a team that covets big corners. Fact is he's actually doing things that are making coaches think he's getting better.

"I've started to see things slow down for him and you're starting to see his athleticism," Sparano said. "He's reacting faster to the ball in the air, particularly in the last two or three practices I've seen him flash that way."

August 12, 2009

Wed. evening practice update plus '01 Moment

The Dolphins did their vampire thing, coming out after dark tonight for the first time this training camp.

But aside from the timing of the night practice, it seemed pretty routine to this reporter's eyes. Chad Pennington and Will Allen were present and accounted for, despite reports earlier in the day they were nursing boo-boos. Both took all their repetitions.

The Dolphins showed their local fans the Wildcat package a few times, always with Ronnie Brown at the trigger.

There were a couple of blown coverages on defense.

And Pat White continued to struggle on offense.

Of greatest interest to me was the Dolphins' willingness to show off more than just glimpses of Wildcat. The first-team offense ran it four times, which is more than any practice I've attended this camp. On three of those Wildcat snaps, Brown ran the ball.

On the other, we saw the same play the Dolphins ran against the Houston Texans in which Brown passed to Pennington who passed to Patrick Cobbs for 53 yards and a score. Unlike the Houston game, this time Pennington had no one to pivot the ball to because no one was open downfield.

Pennington threw an incompletion along the sideline.

And this is where this reporter reminds you of two things: Wildcat is a gimmick offense in the NFL. And it is bordering on ineffective because most teams now the Dolphins have it and they are ready for it. So it is incumbent upon the Miami coaching staff to come up with something else for Wildcat to work.

Defenses will be ready for the stuff the Dolphins did in Wildcat last year. They cannot be ready for the new stuff. And I've been told there is new spread formation stuff coming. But it is unlikely you will see much, of any of it, in training camp or the preseason.

But I digress. Back to practice.

The loudest reaction from the 2,000 or so fans watching practice came when WR Chris Williams pancaked Will Billingsley in the receiver blocking drills. Put Billingsley on his keyster, Williams did.

There was also fan approval when Pennington completed a 15-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. Rookie Sean Smith got his feet tangled in coverage and that resulted in the completion. There was a blown coverage in the middle of the field when Pennington found TD Anthony Fasano for what might have been a 50-yard pass and run (mostly run) up the seam of the defense. There was simply no one around to cover Fasano, who is a hard dude to lose.

And that brings me to White. He threw an interception when Nathan Jones stepped in front of a pass that should never have been thrown. The pass along the sideline went into a crowd where two receivers and two defenders had gathered.

White also tripped over an offensive lineman's feet on his dropback one pass play. Sack. And I cannot share with you one head-turning completion that I noted White making. Oh well, Thursday is another day.

OK, drumroll please.

I've been skirting around this Classic Training Camp Moment from 2001 for nearly a week now because I was desperately trying to nail down the facts and I was angry at myself for not remembering the incident.

But I have the facts now. And here they are:

During Miami's 2001 training camp, the Dolphins were a team in transition (what else is new) because some of Jimmy Johnson's players were starting to age and some of Dave Wannstedt's players needed to step up.

Well, one of Johnson's leftovers was mammoth defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who was forever known as a man of many muscles and moods. You never knew where you stood with Daryl Mr. Gardener because he could be joking with you one minute and looking like he was going to crack you in two the next.

Gardener also had an issue with his health and his stamina in that his back was a problem for him and he always seemed to be trying to get in the right physical condition despite looking like he was cut from a marble boulder.

During one training camp practice, Gardener was feeling spent and so right there, during the middle of a two-minute drill against the first-team offense, he pulled himself out of the lineup. And that didn't sit too well with WR O.J. McDuffie.

McDuffie is the player Dan Marino once told me was the toughest player he ever played with. McDuffie was the player who went on the field with a foot injury so severe it would end his career, but he just shot it up with pain killer and played anyway.

McDuffie is also the guy who this day called out Gardener for asking out of the two-minute drill before it was over.

"This is the time to win or lose a game, this is the make-or-break time in a game, and you're heading to the sideline," McDuffie said loudly enough that everyone on the field, including Gardener, could hear.

That didn't sit too well with Gardener, who then started cursing McDuffie and, yes, said something about McDuffie's mother.

McDuffie, a very articulate man, went on to articulate his displeasure and disgust with Gardener in no uncertain terms using language that would have made his mother blush despite the fact he was using that language in her defense.

And so 6-6, 330-pound Daryl Gardener decided he couldn't compete on a verbal level with his McDuffie but could separate McDuffie from his spine if he wanted. So he tried. He grabbed McDuffie by the throat and choke-slammed the 5-10, 194-pound McDuffie to the ground.

Well, McDuffie went down hard, but got up and tried to fight back before the two were separated by teammates. Gardener obviously got the better of the physical exchange. And that didn't sit so well with McDuffie. So he left the practice field and headed for players' parking lot.

McDuffie was headed to his car but he wasn't going there to leave. Although it cannot be proven, it became widely accepted around the team that McDuffie kept his gun in his car. Thankfully, linebacker Derrick Rodgers intervened and convinced McDuffie to cool down and not do anything rash -- like, perhaps, shoot his unarmed teammate.

And how, you ask, could I have possibly forgotten this story? Well, I wasn't there. I didn't cover the Dolphins from July 2001 to July 2003.

Got plans tonight? Let's do a live blog chat at 7

The Dolphins will go into the twilight for Wednesday's second practice so that calls for some sort of celebration.

Bartender, a live blog chat for everybody!

As I will be at the 8 p.m. practice to tell you what is going on, as I will be at camp at least one hour before that practice, as I have no life today, it seems like a solid opportunity to have a live blog at 7 p.m.

If you cannot be here at 7 p.m. because you're stuck in traffic or having dinner with the family, you certainly are welcome to leave your question or comment now and I'll it at the top of the chat.

I really do hope some of you will come here live, though, as otherwise it wouldn't be a live blog chat.

No doubt, some of you might decide to come to the Dolphins training facility and watch the practice. It is not a scrimmage despite the fact it's happening in prime time. It's a practice. And yes, it is six hours after Miami's first practice of the day.


"Sleep," Coach Tony Sparanao said. "Honestly, it's the reason I did it. One of the reasons I did it was to get out of the heat a little bit and throw a little curve ball to them and see how it went. I'm not sure what the crowd will be like, but I think it'll be good. So that's nice. And it gets them under the lights one time before we play a game.

"And I'm interested to see these receivers under the lights and some of these punt returners under the lights."

Players don't have to report back to camp until 6:15 to get taped and dressed for practice. After working late tonight, they'll have the opportunity to sleep in as reporting time Thursday will be 10:30 a.m. instead of the usual 6:30 a.m.

Classic '96 moment plus Wed. morning notes

The Olympics were in Atlanta in 1996 and The Herald offered me a chance to skip the heat and endless hours of the first three weeks of Dolphins training camp in exchange for the heat and endless hours of covering the Games -- while not having the opportunity to go home in the evenings, of course.

So I missed the first two weeks of Jimmy Johnson's first training camp.

When I finally got back, I took a couple of days off and then eventually got back to covering the team. After my first practice back was over, I greeted special teams coach Mike Westhoff, one of the few holdovers from the Don Shula staff. Assistant coaches were allowed to speak to the writers without state department permission back then because the Iron Curtain of Parcells and Belichick had not yet descended on the NFL.

So I asked Westhoff about his special teams and he said what he always said, that they would be fine because, well, he's a freakin' great coach. And he is.

He went on to tell me he already had his first special teams headhunter. His name? Larry Izzo.


"Larry Izzo," Westhoff said. "He's going to be good on teams. He's fearless. And he's on the team."

I didn't pretend to know everything about Johnson's new team but I knew Izzo wasn't a draft pick. And I knew he wasn't a star. And I knew there was no way he could be guaranteed a roster spot when Westhoff reminded me he was an undrafted college free agent from Rice of all places.

So I asked Westhoff, how it was that Izzo was on the team. "That, you have to talk to the head coach about," he answered. "That's not my department."

Well, I started snooping around but before that got very far, Johnson came over to me out of the blue and said he heard I was asking around about Izzo. "Before this gets written all wrong I want you to know what really happened," Johnson said.

(That's pretty cool, too. A head coach wanting the correct facts out there instead of letting misinformation about his team fester.)

Anyway, Johnson proceeded to tell me the famous Larry Izzo story.

Seems during the first preseason game (which I missed because I was covering something like Field Hockey or something) Izzo had blown up the wedge on a kickoff. And that explosion showed up clearly on the tape Johnson graded and then went over with his players in a team meeting.

And so in that meeting, Johnson showed the play, then showed the play again, and then stopped the show. "That is what I expect from a Miami Dolphins player," Johnson told his team. "That is the kind of play and the kind of player the Miami Dolphins are going to be about. And so if you want to be part of the Miami Dolphins, that's how you're going to play.

"And if you play like that, you will be on the Miami Dolphins. I'm looking for 53 guys that can give me that kind of play. I have two so far. Dan Marino is the first," Johnson said. "And Larry Izzo is the second. He's on this team."

Johnson had announced to his team that an undrafted rookie from Rice, a kid that looked more like the paper boy than someone about to be in the paper, was the second player to earn a roster spot behind Dan Marino. And all this after one preseason game.

"I was pretty surprised," an unassuming Izzo told me in an interview room adjacent the Dolphins media room that day. "I believe him, but I'm not going to assume anything. I'm going to play hard every day and see what happens."

What happened is that Johnson was true to his word and Izzo made the team. And he not only made the team, but prospered. Izzo played all 16 games his rookie year and was second on the team with 10 special teams tackles. He had one blocked punt and deflected three others against Seattle, Indianapolis and Houston.

That Houston game was particularly memorable because Izzo was basically celebrating a homecoming and he also had a 26-yard gain on a fake punt that helped the Dolphins win the game. He was voted a special teams Pro Bowl alternate that season.

It's now 13 years later and Larry Izzo has three Pro Bowl trips under his belt, he has three Super Bowl rings on his fingers, and was a team captain on all of those Super Bowl winning teams in New England. This offseason Izzo left the Patriots and signed with the New York Jets.

His special teams coach will again be Mike Westhoff. 

Some Wednesday morning training camp notes:

Shawn Murphy continues to get the snaps with the first-team offense while on defense, Sean Smith and Randy Starks are working with the first unit.

Davone Bess is getting his chance the past couple of practices to work with the first-team offense ahead of Greg Camarillo. I'll be watching Camarillo closely this evening because I've noticed a bit of a dropoff from him in recent days. I don't know if this is knee-related.

The Dolphins did nearly an hour of special teams work in the morning practice. There should be no excuse for poor teams play this year. If the Dolphins are devoting this much time to special teams work this camp, more so than they did last year, it stands to reason coach Tony Sparano will invest some roster spots for special teams play.

That is the reason one cannot dismiss the chances special teams starters such as Jason Allen, Brandon London and Nathan Jones will make the team. Cutting such players comes with a price -- it affects depth, yes, but also affects quality on special teams.

Anyway, Donald Thomas continues to work with the second-team offensive line. The plan, even though Sparano said there wasn't one, is to let Thomas work his way on second-team until next week. Then the competition with Shawn Murphy for the starting RG job begins in earnest.

That gives Thomas two weeks to either beat out Murphy or not. If Murphy falters, he loses the job. As Sparano accurately noted earlier, it's Murphy's job to lose.

By the way, it was a tough morning for Pat White: Threw an interception, fumbled a snap for the third consecutive practice and he took a sack by Lionel Dotson and two buzzer sacks -- sacks where the timing buzzer the coaches have installed to make sure the QBs get the ball off on time goes off before the throw.

August 11, 2009

Tuesday update and a maddening prediction

Before I tell you about Tuesday's practice, I want to share some media scuttlebutt. During training camp, national writers and bloggers come to town to survey the local landscape and write for their publications or websites.

A couple of days ago, Thomas George of  NFL.com was here. Jarrett Bell of USA Today was present the past couple of days as was Tim Graham of ESPN.com. Today, Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com was in town.

Prisco is a friend. And he hates the Dolphins chances in 2009.

"They're a 7-win team," Prisco told me.

They'll beat Atlanta in the opener, I responded.

"No way," he retorted. "Atlanta is a 10 or 11-win team. Take that to the bank. And they have a quarterback."

The Dolphins have a quarterback in Chad Pennington and a backup in Chad Henne, I told him.

"Pennington has a lollypop arm," Prisco said. "The Dolphins should just bench him and put Henne in and get it over with. I like Chad. He's a nice guy. But he can only get them to a certain level. They need to go with Henne."

Prisco is no fan of the Wildcat offense, either.

"You know the definition of the Wildcat?" he asked before answering his own question, "You have no quarterback."

Alrightie then. Good to get the national perspective on the Dolphins. Don't complain to me, by the way. I'm just the messenger. If you think Prisco is a nimrod, leave your comment in the comments section, but e-mail him right here. You are also encouraged to discuss the matter if you agree with the guy.

Now, about practice ...

The Team Run period was highlighted by some sweet blocking by the left side of the offensive line. The Dolphins need to become a left-handed team eventually because their two best run-blockers are on the left. Interestingly, they were more right-handed last year.

Running left there was a a nice crease between Jake Long and Justin Smiley that Ricky Williams scooted through for a run to the second level. Williams added a 5-yard run to the left two plays later.

Running right, Ronnie Brown got only 2 yards on a play where Channing Crowder filled the hole quickly. Brown also was stuffed for no gain on a run right later on.

Pat White fumbled a snap during the third-team Team Run period.

In Team Pass, Chad Pennington and rookie Patrick Turner hooked up for the nicest pass play I've seen this entire camp. Pennington threw to Turner's back shoulder down the left sideline and Turner stopped and jumped over fellow rookie Sean Smith for the grab and a 24-yard gain. Smith had good coverage, don't get me wrong, but sometimes the other guy just makes a better play.

Smith did have a PD in the overall team period. Turner also had a deep sideline catch over Eric Green in the team period. After being relatively quiet the past couple of days, he was impressive today.

Fellow rookie cornerback Vontae Davis, working with the second-team, jumped a wheel route by Ricky Williams for an interception he could have taken for a TD were it in an actual game. Akin Ayodele also had a sack in the competition among first-teamers.

It was a tough practice for guard Mark Lewis. He lost his technique and yielded a sack during the third-team pass period. There was also a short but unspectacular flare-up between Joe Berger and Ryan Baker.

Other quick hits:

Donald Thomas worked in with the first-team in the team period ... J.D. Folsom did good work with a couple of sacks on blitzes. He also had a tackle for loss on a tight end screen ... Rookie John Nalbone, improving by the day, had a couple of nice catches ... Ernest Wilford did not have a catch today ... Phillip Merling had a batted pass working with the second-team during the team period.

[BLOG NOTE: Come back later for the Classic Training Camp moment.]

Sparano press conference update right here

Tony Sparano just announced no one quit the team in the last 12 hours!

"No Knight Rider last night," he said, employing his dry sense of humor.


Cooler is this statistical nuggett for all the know-it-alls that continue say Chad Henne is having a poor training camp. According to Sparano, Miami's No. 2 quarterback is completing 66 percent of his passes this training camp. Furthermore, his third-down conversion percentage is 61 percent.

I asked where that puts Henne relationally to Chad Pennington and Pat White and Sparano said that which we all should expect.

"Chad Pennington is higher," he said, "and Pat is below that."

So it makes sense Pennington is Miami's starter, Henne is the backup and White is the No. 3. It's good when statistics prove what we think we know.

The passing percentage and conversion rate was drawn from every team period but not the 7 on 7 drills.

I asked Sparano about my new adopted son focus player Chris Clemons. He always seems to be around the ball and the coach confirmed what my eyes have seen.

"The ball seems to find him," Sparano said. "In scimmages situations and even in offseason work, that was the case a lot. He's starting to figure things out from a fundamental standpoint. That's a hard position from a mental standpoint. He's got to stay in his notebook. But he is around the ball. I'm curious to see if that translates to games."

Sparano explained the reason the team brought in kicker Connor Barth to compete with Dan Carpenter is because, "nothing is written in stone out here," meaning no one's job is totally secure and no one can assume anything.

Translation: If you're renting, don't buy until you are officially on the roster.

But perhaps the more salient reason young Carpenter now has competition after not having any most the offseason and the first week of camp is that he's better when he's got someone pushing him.

"He likes competion," Sparano said. "So we brought competion in to fuel the fire a little bit."

On the subject of Donald Thomas, the coach said he has "no plan" for using the player beyond today. Who believes that? Who believes Sparano, who knows how many repetitions every player gets -- Thomas got 18 in Monday's morning practice and 24 in the afternoon -- doesn't have a plan for the foreseeable future?

Anyway, Thomas is being brought along slowly as he recovers from the injuries that has kept him mostly sidelined the past year. The Dolphins continue to be quite cautious, as they should be. But he did get some extended second-team work on Monday with no ill effects.

"Yesterday was a good day," Sparano said.

Good news.

Speaking of news, the Dolphins have signed FB Joe Kowalewski, who played 13 games with the Jets in 2006.

August 10, 2009

First official depth chart plus Classic Moment

Below is the depth chart the Dolphins released Monday evening in advance of their preseason opener against Jacksonville. Look at the depth chart, study it, memorize if you wish.

Then consider the fact it is already obsolete.

True enough, the depth chart below is meant to meet NFL guidelines concerning the release of a depth chart. That's it. Coaches aren't even paying it any mind. It is not even how the Dolphins are truly lining up these days in practice.

Consider that Sean Smith moved ahead of Eric Green for Monday's drills. Consider that Randy Starks and not Phillip Merling is getting first-team snaps at RDE. Also consider I believe that was done to send Merling a message because he's a gamer but not, shall we say, a practicer -- a player who excels during practice.

Consider that Cameron Wake is buried on fourth team when, in fact, he's getting some second team repetitions in practice these days.

Also consider that Brandon Frye is getting snaps at offensive tackle. And that Donald Thomas is expected to shoot up the depth chart starting by next week when the next one is released. (That's me predicting that based on what I've been told.)

So is this depth chart a waste of valuable Internet space? Am I filling up the Internet with Dolphins propaganda?

Not completely.

Check out where Ernest Wilford finds himself today. He's fifth among five tight ends. Now you tell me, what chances you think he has of climbing out of that hole?

Check out Ikechuku Ndukwe mired at right tackle despite the fact he was a guard all of last year. Ndukwe better play like a man these next three weeks or something tells me he'll be job hunting in early September.

Finally, you see how Courtney Bryan is ahead of rookie Chris Clemons at SS. Don't pay attention to that. Clemons is making this team and, as I wrote in the previous blog, he's got a chance to push for a starting job in the dime package.

So have fun with the "official" but very tentative depth chart.


 WR 19 Ted Ginn, 82 Brian Hartline, 11 Anthony Armstrong, 87 Chris Williams, 14 James Robinson

 LT 77 Jake Long, 63 Andrew Gardner

 LG 65 Justin Smiley, 76 Brandon Frye, 60 Mark Lewis

 C 64 Jake Grove, 67 Joe Berger

 RG 61 Shawn Murphy, 57 Andy Alleman, 66 Donald Thomas

 RT 72 Vernon Carey, 68 Ike Ndukwe, 75 Nate Garner

 TE 80 Anthony Fasano, 88 David Martin ,81 Joey Haynos, 86 John Nalbone, 18 Ernest Wilford

 WR 15 Davone Bess, 83 Greg Camarillo, 17 Brandon London, 84 Patrick Turner

 QB 10 Chad Pennington, 7 Chad Henne, 6 Pat White

 FB 36 Lousaka Polite

 RB 23 Ronnie Brown, 34 Ricky Williams, 38 Patrick Cobbs, 26 Lex Hilliard, 45 Anthony Kimble



 LE 70 Kendall Langford, 94 Randy Starks, 90 Rodrique Wright, 79 Ryan Baker

 NT 95 Jason Ferguson, 96 Paul Soliai, 93 Louis Ellis, 62 Joe Cohen

 RE 97 Phillip Merling, 78 Tony McDaniel, 71 Lionel Dotson

 SLB 99 Jason Taylor ,74 Quentin Moses, 49 Tearrius George, 98 Matt Roth

 ILB 52 Channing Crowder, 53 Reggie Torbor, 48 Orion Martin

 ILB 51 Akin Ayodele, 58 William Kershaw, 59 J.D. Folsom

 WLB 55 Joey Porter, 56 Charlie Anderson, 50 Erik Walden, 91 Cameron Wake

 LCB 25 Will Allen, 24 Vontae Davis, 32 Jason Allen, 22 Joey Thomas

 RCB 21 Eric Green, 31Sean Smith 33, Nate Jones, 27 Will Billingsley

 FS 28 Gibril Wilson, 29 Tyrone Culver

 SS 37 Yeremiah Bell, 47 Courtney Bryan, 30 Chris Clemons



 P 2 Brandon Fields

 K 5 Dan Carpenter

 KO 5 Dan Carpenter, 3 Connor Barth

 H 2 Brandon Fields

 KOR 19 Ted Ginn, 87 Chris Williams

 PR 15 Davone Bess, 87 Chris Williams

 LS 92 John Denney


Today's Classic Training Camp Moment is more about a former Dolphins player than about the Dolphins themselves. Guard John Bock played gritty, sometimes ornery dude who was undersized but endowed with a big heart. He played with the Dolphins from 1996-2000.

 But he didn't start his career in Miami. Fact is, it started with the Buffalo Bills 15 years ago. Well, I asked him for a Classic Moment and he sent me the following e-mail on Monday:

 "15 years ago [Sunday] I was playing in my first NFL game for Buffalo on Monday night. Late in the 3rd quarter Marv Levy called for me. He let me know that my wife had just gone to the hospital and was in labor. He asked me if I wanted to play or go right to the hospital. I told him it wouldn't do my daughter any good if I didn't have a job. He put me in and I played really well. After the game one of the equipment people gave me his old pickup truck and I received a police escort to the hospital. The officers were going so fast that I couldn't even keep up with them.

 "Long story short, I got to the hospital on time to witness the birth of my daughter, Ashley. My wife was beside herself because 15 players showed up and all the nurses were out getting autographs while the guys ate wings and pizza in the waiting room."

The life of an NFL player ... amazing.

Mon. evening practice in the books

On the day cornerback Sean Smith was given the opportunity to practice with the first-team secondary, ahead of Eric Green, it was fellow rookie Chris Clemons that made me take notice with his evening practice performance.

Clemons, working with the second-team as a safety, had two interceptions during this practice and it would have been three had he not dropped a seemingly sure interception when he jumped a route by Ricky Williams along the sideline. Yeah, the would-be pick would have resulted in an touchdown return.

Clemons made all his highlight plays while Chad Henne was at quarterback.

Look, we all know Clemons is not going to displace either Gibril Wilson or Yeremiah Bell in the base defense. But ....

If he continues to be around the football in practice after practice, as he has been, and he shows the coaching staff that it translates to preseason games, do not be surprised if Clemons begins to push for playing time in Miami's starting dime package.

In that dime package, Nathan Jones can be had while Tyrone Culver is solid but not spectacular. Clemons has simply been a revelation because there hasn't been a practice he hasn't been around the football.

The rest of the Miami secondary?

Smith, promoted to first team earlier in the day, had a pretty uneventful practice save the little pushing he got into with Ronnie Brown when he brought Brown to the ground on one team drill play.

Fellow rookie Vontae Davis continues to puzzle me. Coach Tony Sparano refuses to say it, but Davis is clearly the least impressive of Miami's rookie DBs. Don't get me wrong, he's never burned in an ugly-got-no-talent sort of way. But neither does he actually make the big play.

He almost ripped the ball out of Patrick Cobbs' hands after a catch ... but didn't. He almost had good coverage on Greg Camarillo in the seven-on-seven drills, but Camarillo still got the reception. Then Brandon London put a nasty double-move on Davis and got easily behind him for a 20 yard reception.

This just in: Vontae Davis needs much work.

The Dolphins defense was stout up front this afternoon in the manner it chased quarterbacks. There must have been half a dozen sacks out there. Channing Crowder had two sacks. Quentin Moses had two sacks.  Erik Walden had a sack. Lionel Dotson had a sack. Jason Taylor had a sack.

There were a couple of offensive highlights today. Rookie Brian Hartline had a gorgeous one-hand catch on the move on a post pattern. But for every nice play, the offense offered a disappointment.

Anthony Armstrong dropped a pass on the same pattern Hartline caught his pass. And Ted Ginn dropped a sideline throw from Chad Pennington.

A couple of special teams notes: Newly signed kicker Connor Barth connected on 3 of 4 FGs, missing from 46 yards. Dan Carpenter connected on 4 of 4.

The Dolphins also worked on having their wedge blockers catch kickoffs. Aside from it looking awkward, it showed me something about this coaching staff. I've covered hundreds of Miami practices and never seen this drill. It tells you this staff prepares for every eventuality -- including the chance a kickoff is short and comes down to a wedge blocker.

The Dolphins have released their first depth chart of the season. Nothing major but here are the higlights:

Offense -- Davone Bess is listed as a starter ahead of Greg Camarillo at WR. Donald Thomas is listed as a third-string RG. Shawn Murphy is listed as the starter at RG.

Defense -- Phillip Merling is listed as the starter at RE with Tony McDaniel at second team. Randy Starks is listed second team at LE. Eric Green is listed as the starting RCB. Jason Taylor is obviously the starter at SOLB.

Having said all that, this depth chart means nothing. It's changing by the practice. And it has little bearing on what the lineups will look like come the regular-season opener. A lot can change between now and then.

[BLOG NOTE: I'll add the Classic Training Camp Moment and the entire depth chart later tonight. Check back.]

CB shuffle, other notes from morning practice

Herald at work 

A new practice week has begun and the Dolphins and The Herald (see photo by David Agudelo of CBS-4) are back to work.

It's starting off as a good week for Sean Smith, Randy Starks, Quentin Moses and Cameron Wake.

It's not starting off as well for Eric Green and Phillip Merling.

As I reported earlier this morning on my Twitter account, Smith has parlayed some good work the first week of camp plus the only turnover of the entire scrimmage Saturday, an interception, into a chance to work with the first-team defense.

Two things: I'm certain Tony Sparano will praise Smith during his press conference in the next 90 minutes. I'm fairly certain he'll underplay the fact Smith is on first-team because, as you must know, the coaching staff wants to see different guys playing with the firsts and eventually Vontae Davis may get his chance also.

[Update: "We wanted to shuffled the deck at the end of the first week," Sparano said during his press conference. "We wanted to mix some things up and see some people against different people."]

But ...

The fact remains that even to this naked-eyed reporter who never played the game, Smith simply looks better than either Green or Davis at the moment. He's around the ball more. He's a very imposing looking figure, a combination of Joe Lavender (look him up) with a little Sean Taylor (far as ball skills are concerned) in one very raw, very young, but potential-filled package.

Smith showed some of that promise during one-on-one drills as he ran step-for-step with Ted Ginn Jr. on a 9 route and batted the ball away harmlessly.

On the other hand, Green, the starter much of the offseason and the first week of practice, showed why he's opened the door to losing his starting job. He was soundly beaten by Greg Camarillo on a 9 route and he was easily a step behind.

So what up with Vontae Davis? He is the first-round pick, after all. Well, he's not struggling by any means. But neither is he surging to the front of his class.

"He's a young guy and he's done some young guy things," Sparano said. "He got double-moved out here the other day in the scrimmage. Really, got double-moved twice during the course of the scrimmage. [But] he's very physical. Has good catch-up speed and is not afraid. he's got a pretty short memory out there which is good for a cornerback.

"There are some fundamental things we have to work on. He's got to get his eyes out of the backfield. that's a natural thing for young guys. He's just got to get his eyes out of the backfield and concentrate on some fundamental. But I like the way he's coming. He's not afraid to compete."

At the open competion for the starting right defensive end job, Randy Starks is getting his chance with the starting unit now. The Dolphins have a plan. They definitely will give everyone an equal, fair opportunity to win that job and Starks has seen his time come.

Phillip Merling, who the Dolphins expected would win that job after a fine offseason, has lagged the first week of camp and after watching Tony McDaniel get more first-team reps than him last week, now he's seeing Starks being given a chance.

Merling is working with the second team but that is not permanent. He can still wake up and turn the tide. But the Dolphins are a team in motion. So Merling can either plow ahead or get left behind as he currently seems to be.

"It's nothing against Phil one way or the other," Sparano said. "I thought, actually, Phil was pretty productive out here the other day in the scrimmage. But it goes by the whole week's worth of work and maybe who you want to see play up a little bit. And one guy that had not had that opportunity yet was Randy.

"And Randy is a guy that every time we sit down and make an evaluation, his evaluation is pretty good. So let's see Randy against some good people as well while we can." 

I told you earlier that Wake and Moses are also having good days today. The truth is both started to "flash," as Sparano likes to say, late last week. And then both had a productive scrimmage.

The reward for that production is a greater opportunity to open the coaching staff's eyes. They've been trusted with small things and now the staff is seeing if they can be trusted with bigger things.

That's why Wake got a few snaps with the first-team defense while Joey Porter rested on a couple today. No, Wake is not about to replace Porter. But the staff wants to see how he does against better competiton. Some guys play up to the competiton while others demure. We'll see what Wake does.

Moses, who has been very active, has proven a great frustration to quarterbacks at times. It's not so much that he's getting great push all the time. It's not that he gets to the QB all the time. It's just that he has this incredible knack for batting balls down at the line of scrimmage. He had one today and one in the scrimmage.

So Moses, working almost exclusively with the third-team defense last week, got a lot of repetitions with Wake on second team this morning. We'll see if he can stand the prosperity.

Two more play-by-play tidbits from practice: Yeremiah Bell, solid and better in coverage since this camp started than I've ever seen, had an interception of Chad Pennington during practice. Will Billingsley, who is not making this team but is fighting for a practice squad spot, also had an interception.

The Dolphins announced the signing of WR James Robinson, of Fort Lauderdale, to the squad. A product of Westminister Academy, Robinson won four state medals in track and field. No doubt. Sparano said he impressed the team with his speed in the tryout. He is, however, a developmental type of player.

If you are in South Florida and planned to attend this evening's 5 p.m. practice, go do something else instead. The Dolphins announced at noon that the afternoon practice will be held inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB) and will not be open to the public.

The Dolphins apologize profusely. Not really, but I thought I'd throw that in there on their behalf.

[Update at 4:50: The Dolphins have signed K Connor Barth to a two-year contract. Barth was with KC last year and was cut July 28. He will compete with Dan Carpenter. Nobody gets a free ride around here. Nobody!]

August 09, 2009

Tackling the Dolphins QBs - with '07 moment

Of the reams of emails I get, the three subjects most often covered in those cybernotes are on the Dolphins quarterbacks, on Jason Taylor, and on how much I stink at this, that or the other thing.

The topic here excuses the latter two topics from the conversation and takes a marksman's aim at the quarterbacks.

Firstly, Dolphins quarterbacks have been pretty inconsistent during this training camp. What did you expect? Midseason form?

I would say the Dolphins have the right idea in that Chad Pennington is the starter, as he's been the most effective QB in camp, while Chad Henne is clearly miles ahead of Pat White, so they come in at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

But here are some notes I've jotted that I want to share:

Although the Dolphins talk about these guys continuing to compete, the competition is over. Anyone with eyes can see that. Looking at how the staff has broken down practice repetitions, I find it hard to believe Henne can surpass Pennington or White can surpass Henne. The fact is, in team-related drills, Pennington has gotten practically all the work with the starters, Henne gets all of the work with the reserves and about 5 percent with starters, and White has gotten practically all the remaining work with the bottom-of-the roster guys.

Yes, Henne is likely to get as much, if not more, playing time in the preseason. But we all know that's to get him ready in case Pennington gets hurt. As for White, he's going to be involved in a package of plays the team will set for him for the regular season. Pass Henne as Jeff Ireland originally suggested he's be allowed to do? Not happening.

Secondly, there has been much criticism of White this offseason and again early in camp because he obviously does not have the strongest arm or most impressive build in the world. The Dolphins talk of changing the bodies of players. They need to change White's body because he resembles my 12-year-old nephew, all scrawny and wiry and looking like a 220-pound safety could tackle him into next week if given the chance.

Having said all that, White, I believe he is already better than John Beck.

Let me repeat that. White is already better than John Beck.

He has better control of the huddle. He is more mobile than Beck. And, seemingly, more courageous than Beck in that he attacks the defense rather than letting the defense attack him. White is more apt to throw down the field than Beck, who became frustratingly timid with checkdown passes.

Yes, Beck has a better arm and probably always will. But what good is a strong arm if you only use it for 5-yard dump passes? Yes, Beck is built bigger and stronger than White. But what good is a bigger body, if Beck rarely put that body in motion by leaving the pocket.?

I would say there is a 60-40 chance White earns playing time in some Pat Package this year. And I'd say he will be more effective in that package than Beck ever was in his rookie year. That package will include passes but also be a lot about running the football, and if you don't believe that check out the video.

Finally, there is no doubt that Henne has a much better arm than Pennington. Everyone says it because, well, it's true. But Pennington's experience, vision and almost obssessive devotion to learning the defense, learning his receivers, and recognizing situations keeps him ahead of Henne.

And the gap isn't likely to narrow because while Henne works hard, Pennington works hard longer. And for now, that's good enough to keep the gap between them a noticeable one. By the way, check out my column on Pennington in today's Miami Herald. It shows you why the Dolphins can put Pennington in his current uncomfortable situation and he doesn't wilt.

Today's Classic Training Camp Moment takes us back to the bad ol' days of 2007. On Aug. 31, 2007 the Dolphins gave us a clear indication what life was going to be like under new coach Cam Cameron.

That evening, the Dolphins wrapped up their final preseason game but, in his infinite wisdom, Cameron made the decision not to coach his team against the Saints only days before the start of the regular-season.

Before the game, Cameron decided it might be a good idea to hand the team over to defensive coordinator Dom Capers so he could work as the head coach and be ready to step in should Cameron somehow need to be absent at some future time. Tight end coach Mike Mularkey was called up o call plays as the offensive coordinator and linebacker coach George Edwards was told to run the defense as the defensive coordinator.

Cameron's role would be to merely observe and grade his players and coaches as well as give his team a good run-through in case he ever was unavailable.

“It gives me a chance not only to watch our staff, but also gives me a chance to evaluate these guys tonight,” Cameron said during a halftime television interview.

A couple of problems: A coach can't evaluate by using tape of the game?

Also, Capers, who served stints as a head coach in Carolina and Houston, didn't really need to practice being a head coach. In fact, it was Cameron who desperately needed the training.

Mularkey had been a play-caller in several NFL stops, including Miami, and really didn't need the work, either.

And, to top it all off, after telling his staff, players, media department and a TV reporter at halftime that he wasn't coaching, he denied it in his post-game press conference! Despite not wearing a headset the entire game and not being the man who talked with the refs about calls (Capers did that), Cameron tried to act like the media was crazy to believe he had not coached the team.

"Everyone knows I'm the head coach of the Miami Dolphins," he insisted. "Tonight, last night, tomorrow."

Cameron was no longer the head coach six months later.

August 08, 2009

The Saturday scrimmage before 3,340 diehards

It's cool to watch NFL football again, even when it comes under three-quarter, no takedown situations. The Dolphins had a 92-play scrimmage before an estimated crowd of 3,340 at their Davie. FL training facility Saturday.

The players that stood out where Brain Hartline, John Nalbone, Jason Taylor, Patrick Cobbs, Sean Smith, Joey Porter, Cameron Wake, and Jake Grove.

The players that need work are Vontae Davis, Joey Thomas, Shawn Murphy and Jason Allen, among others.

Hartline had the offensive highlight of the day when he caught a 65-yard touchdown over fellow rookie Vontae Davis. Quarterback Chad Henne threw the ball 35-yards in the air and Hartline, behind Davis by nearly 5 yards, did the rest.

Davis blamed getting beat on having his eyes in the backfield. "I knew it was coming, but I fell for it anyway," Davis said.

Despite Henne's long throw, none of the quarterbacks had a particularly eye-popping afternoon, which should worry absolutely no one. It's early, people. Anyway Henne completed 6 of 12 attempts with 2 TD and no interceptions. Henne's other TD pass came on a short screen that Cobbs turned into a 55-yard score across the field and through heart of the Miami defense.

Pennington was 10 of 20 without a touchdown or interception. By the way, I wrote a column about Pennington's uncertain situation for Sunday's Herald and how the cool veteran is handling that situation with grace.

Pat White was 10 of 19 with an 8-yard TD pass to Chris Williams over Joey Thomas from 8 yards out. White did not throw an interception. White did have one fumbled snap but he recovered his own fumble.

Ted Ginn Jr. failed to complete his only pass on the flea flicker from the 34 yard line. Henne tossed to Ginn coming around, who scrambled and threw to Ronnie Brown down the right sideline in the end zone. It was a funny scene because that was 340-pound nose tackle Paul Soliai chasing Brown on the pattern down the field. It was surreal because Soliai was actually close enough that he was in the vicinity when the underthrown lobbed pass arrived. The two players went up for the ball and...

Smith, who reminds me of Sean Taylor at times, came over, leaped over both players and came down with the interception. Great ball skills by the rookie.

Nalbone, a rookie fifth-round pick who has been quiet much of camp, showed up and showed out. I saw three catches from him, including a 15-yarder that was intended for Brandon London, who bobbled the pass, which was grabbed by Chris Clemons, who bobbled the would-be interception, which then settled in Nalbone's grasp for the catch.

The Dolphins had nine total penalties, according to coach Tony Sparano. That was an obvious lowlight and adding to the problem is that three of them came in the red zone. Anthony Fasasno, so dependable a season ago, had a tough day as he dropped two easy passes in the flat and got run over by Taylor on a pass protection.

Taylor had two sacks (it seemed like, despite the fact no officials stats were kept) and had another hurry. He also induced Shawn Murphy to false start on a play. "I haven't made a play yet," Taylor said. "this is practice. I don't want to sould like Allen Iverson or anything, but this is practice. We all know it is a whole lot different ball game when the turn on the lights at Land Shark Stadium. It is a whole different ball game come game day."

Cameron Wake had a sack and Joey Porter had what would have been two tackles for losses, one on a swing pass to Lousaka Polite.

It seemed like a good afternoon for the outside linebackers overall. Quentin Moses had a batted pass and a hurry. Erik Walden also had a sack and a tackle of Cobbs for a 2-yard loss. And Charlie Anderson batted a pass.

So what about some names I'm not mentioning?

Patrick Turner, impressive at times the first week of practice, was shut out. He only had one pass thrown his direction and that was overthrow. Ernest Wilford didn't catch a pass because he had only one thrown his way, that on the final play of the scrimmage, and it was out the back of the end zone.

Anthony Armstrong, so explosive in the offseason, has been quiet with the exception of a 37-yard catch he made over Jason Allen. That completion from White came in one-on-one coverage and while it was nice to see Armstrong make the catch, I couldn't help but think a more accomplished cornerback would have played the ball better and broken up the pass.

Allen mostly had good coverage and had good position, but he never played the ball, instead allowing Armstrong the reception and then making the tackle. It was as if Allen was a spectator on the play until the catch was made. Armstrong's only other highlight moment was running deep down the middle of the field and lunging at a ball White threw in at the end line, but both Chris Clemons and Tyrone Culver had good coverage. 

The Dolphins did run the ball, but as there was no tackling, it's hard to gauge the effectiveness of the running game because RBs do typically break some arm tackles.

Ronnie Brown got all of two carries. He gained 6 yards. Ricky Williams had five carries for approximately 18 yards. Patrick Cobbs had six carries for approximately 19 yards. And Lex Hilliard, working mostly against third-string defenders, had seven carries for approximately 45 yards. Anthony Kimble also got carries but none resulted in a highlight.

Remember, I stopped counting yardage once he runner was touched. But Miami runners continue running even as defenders lay off. And it is impossible to determine which, if any, arm tackles they might break.

I was impressed with the new safety tandem of Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson. At least against the running game they seem equally eager to blow up plays and support the run. Bell, Miami's tackle leader a season ago, had a tackle in which filled what was an opening at the scrimmage line. Bell showed up and filled.

Wilson, supposedly better suited for the deep secondary, had a tackle for loss at the line of scrimmage that showed how the Dolphins interchange responsibilities at safety.

Sparano said he couldn't grade the offensive line play until he watches the tape. I have no tape and won't act like I know something I do not. So I cannot tell you how the Olinemen graded out.

I will say I watched Grove on a couple of plays early on and later on. He more than held his own against Jason Ferguson and he moved Soliai around, which is no easy task. He felt like an upgrade over Samson Satele in this one scrimmage on this one afternoon. We'll see.

Rookie adopted son left tackle Andrew Gardner, a player I've been intently following since the first day of camp, had a generally routine scrimmage with one exception. Gardner, usually a third-teamer, was used at least on one occasion when he moved to the outside right tackle in an unbalanced line. And he got a good block! That's my boy!

Murphy, competing for the job at RG, didn't impress me the couple of plays I watched him through my field glasses. He didn't get much movement off the line of scrimmage. Of course, that doesn't mean he didn't play well the other snaps he got, but the two plays I watched plus the false start were disappointing.

One last thing: Donald Thomas got some work with both the first and second team but it felt like a grand total of no more than five snaps. Sparano said afternoon the coaching staff had a series of plays they wanted to see Thomas working in. The second-year player, being brought along slowly from that pectoral injury, got that work.

My prediction: Thomas will win back the RG job before the regular season begins, assuming he remains healthy.

Mostly lowlights at Sat. morning practice

Tony Sparano was visibly peeved after Saturday's morning practice and one can understand the reason. In the team two-minute drill, the signature drills of the entire practice, the Dolphins looked like poo.

There were dropped passes. There were dropped interceptions. It was everything the two-minute drill is not supposed to be as no one seemed to make a big play on either side of the ball.

Here's the play-by-play and you decide for yourself:

Firsts against Firsts -- with the exception of quarterback Chad Henne, who was guiding the starters. No, Chad Pennington is not injured. He practiced. I am not going to speculate why Henne got the first-team repetitions in this drill because I don't know. 

Ronnie Brown run for 2 yards.

Henne incompletion because Gibril Wilson drops an interception in his hands.

Henne incompletion.

Henne incompletion because Ted Ginn Jr. drops one on a slant pattern.

Henne incompletion as the football is batted at the line of scrimmage.

Henne incompletion as Wilson drops another interception that would have been a TD up the sideline had he held on.


Seconds vs. Seconds -- with the exception of quarterback Pat White, who was guiding the reserves.

White incompletion when he overthrows 6-4 WR Brandon London along the sideline.

White completion to WR Patrick Turner on an in-cut with Sean Smith defending.

White incompletion as Jason Allen drops an interception.

White incompletion as Turner drops a pass in his hands on a skinny post.

White incompletion.

White 9-yard run when he cannot find anyone open.

White screen to Anthony Kimble for 3 yards.

Spike play.

Clock runs out with team at the line.

Everyone was present and accounted for this morning, including David Martin. The tight end was ill Friday and missed practice but his absence was excused.

The Dolphins special teams work today was primarily about the onside kick. Miami's first-team hands team today was Wilson, Tyrone Culver, Martin, Patrick Cobbs, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Fasano, Davone Bess, Ernest Wilford, Yeremiah Bell, Greg Camarillo, Lousaka Polite.

The Dolphins will scrimmage at 2 p.m. Please check back here for updates.

I will be providing twitter updates early on and immediately following. If you are not already doing so, follow me on twitter.

August 07, 2009

Fri. practice update (with '97 Marino moment)

David J. standing in for Armando, who is resting on the fifth and seventh day this week, but working on the sixth.

Friday saw a fairly uneventful afternoon practice with a lot of special teams work. It tells you how bad the Dolphins staff and personnel people feel their coverage and return units were last year that they're spending more time on special teams, but the only guys on the roster running unopposed are kicker Dan Carpenter, punter Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney.

Carpenter went two for three on field goals, missing from 39 yards off the left hash. I think he's already missed more practice field goals than he did throughout the 2008 preseason in practice or games.

-- Everyone was at practice, save tight end David Martin and safety Ethan Kilmer.

Kilmer, a third-year man out of Penn State, has left the team. No official word yet on what's the matter with the oft-injured Martin. Anthony Fasano's superior dependability helped him topple Martin from the top of the depth chart last year and, today, Fasano dumped Joey Porter during pass blocking drills. Porter gave him an "attaboy" pat on the helmet.

-- Donald Thomas, who said he was just happy to be taking part in drills, worked with the first team at right guard for several snaps during team drills. Shawn Murphy took the rest of the snaps.

-- Defensive end Tony McDaniel was with the first team defense while Phillip Merling was with the second team. McDaniel seemed to have a good practice.

-- Poor Pat White. He finally threw a beautiful pass in a tough situation, bootlegging to his throwing side but under pressure at an angle that made the throw a precision act. Unfortunately, tight end John Nalbone let the pass skid off of his hands.

-- Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was at practice. In the shotgun seat of Bill Parcells golf cart today was former Cleveland coach and Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

In keeping with the guest blogger theme of the day, the Classic Training Camp Moment traces back to training camp 1997. That year, The Herald's Dave Barry came to training camp and spent nearly a week with the Dolphins.

What follows is what Barry wrote for Tropic Magazine in September of '97:

As I'm leaving the practice field one afternoon, I stop and watch Dan Marino and guard Keith Sims hang out with some kids who have been brought to Dolphins training camp by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of South Florida, which grants wishes to terminally ill children. Sims is talking to a 13-year-old boy named Dylan, who has cancer. Dylan is showing Sims his trading cards.

``What,'' Sims is saying, in mock indignation, ``you don't have a Keith Sims card?'' A few feet away, Marino is talking to a wide-eyed 8-year-old named Brian, who has had major surgery lately and is clearly not doing well. Brian looks at the scars on Marino's much-repaired knee; he then raises his T-shirt and shows his own scars, which are far too big for his tiny body.

Marino, who looks so uncomfortable when he's surrounded by the media, appears totally relaxed here, in no hurry to leave. He chats with Brian's family and patiently signs his name on every article of clothing being worn by Brian and Brian's brother and sister. He also signs a football, then stands up to grant one of Brian's wishes, which is to catch a pass thrown by Dan Marino, the quarterback who has thrown for more yards, and more touchdowns, than anybody else in NFL history. Brian goes out for the pass, maybe five yards. Marino gently tosses the ball, and Brian, who is not going to miss this ball for anything in the world, grabs it and hugs it to himself, smiling radiantly, and I'm telling you that this was the greatest catch I've ever seen.

Then Dylan, who would also like to catch a Dan Marino pass, comes over, and Marino grabs a ball.

``Where should I run?'' asks Dylan.

Marino surveys the practice field. It is vast. It is the size of Connecticut. It is empty. There is not a single person on it, other than Dylan.

``Just get open,'' says Marino.

Dylan starts running; Marino throws the ball right to him; Dylan drops it.

``Bad throw,'' says Marino, as Dylan trots back. ``You're gonna catch this one. Just don't go so far.''

Dylan starts running again. Marino throws the ball; it's a tight spiral, but it's thrown so softly that it hardly seems to be moving. A statue could catch this ball. It floats to Dylan and drops securely into his hands. I'm telling you that this was the greatest throw I've ever seen.

As Marino is leaving, he promises the two boys he'll see them the next night in the Dolphins locker room at Pro Player Stadium, after the final preseason game against the Redskins. Dylan, joking, says, ``Don't be mean to me if you lose!''

``We're not gonna lose,'' says Marino.

The Dolphins won that preseason game, 28-7.

Hopefully, the Twitter-mobile unit problems some of us had today will be solved tomorrow and I'll be tweeting at http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal from practice, the 2 p.m. scrimmage and the Sparano news conference. Armando will be back tomorrow.

Sparano by the substitute

If Armando equates to Johnny Carson in the Dolphins blogosphere, that makes me, David J. Neal, today's David Brenner. I'm standing in while the star takes a day of rest. To those feeling grand, crushing disappointment on this Friday, I hope your day gets better.

From Dolphins coach Tony Sparano's State of the Day address:

On Saturday's scrimmage: "We're not going to play a game out there. I'll be a series of 10 plays and coaches will be off the field. We will use all of the proper equipment from caoch to quarterback and defensive equipment to keep this thing going and get personnel in and out." It'll be 90 to 110 plays.

On Phillip Merling: "He's started out...OK and has gotten a little better in the last few days. " He clearly wants to see more consistency from Merling. The Sparano standard on that is nose guard Jason Ferguson.

He also said, as far as the defensive line positions aside from Ferguson, he wants to see a better run defense to create more third and longs and one of the defensive ends to have six to eight sacks. 

We just had the annual presentation by NFL officials on rules changes and changes in emphasis. Some of the bigger changes from the video the players will see this evening:

The Tom Brady Rule: Pass rushers won't be allowed to lunge low at quarterbacks and make contact below the knee with the shoulder. The hit that ended Tom Brady's season (and, though nobody knew it at the time, started the Dolphins on the road to the playoffs) was shown as an example of what'll be penalized this season. Jared Allen blatantly missiling his shoulder into Matt Schaub's knee was shown also. And if Schaub was a handsome young buck with three Super Bowl rings, a model/actress baby mama and a model wife that gets the NFL exposure in an even wider range of media outlets, it might be The Matt Schaub Rule. But he isn't and it ain't.

The howling you'll hear later tonight is every Dolphin pass rusher when they see the video. Joey Porter should roar mightily while Jason Taylor will show annoyance, but regally. At least offensive holding will be a point of emphasis, which'll pacify some of the soon-to-be savage defensive beasts.

The Ed Hochuli Rule: Muscles the Zebra had one of those years in 2008 where he couldn't hit the ground with his flag. It all started in Week 2 when he ruled an obvious fumble by Denver's Jay Cutler that was recovered by San Diego to be an incomplete pass. By rule, the ball was dead and Denver got the ball back with another chance at a game-winning touchdown instead of San Diego getting the ball and being a few kneel downs from the win. This year, that call can be reviewed by instant replay and, if there's a clear recovery, the ball changes hands. It's similar to the change made two years ago with the down-by-contact call on a fumble.

By the way, it was a lousy call, but no rule said the Chargers had to allow not only the ensuing touchdown but the two-point conversion.

The Hines Ward Rule: No more peeling back toward your end zone and blindside blasting a defender. "It is an illegal "blindside" block if the initial force of the contact by a blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder is to the head or neck area of an opponent when: a) the blocker is moving toward his own endline; and b) he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side." It'll be a 15-yard penalty.

The Wedge Rule: On a kickoff or free kick, no more than two players can form a wedge. A "wedge" will be defined as three or more players lined up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other.

The No More Do Over Rule: No automatic re-kick after an illegal onside kick.

If Twitter resumes behaving, I'll be tweeting practice at DavidJNeal, then blogging about it after we talk with players.

August 06, 2009

Thurs. evening update & '97 Limburger moment

If you are a big fan of sizzling offensive football, skip the top portion of this blog and go directly to the Classic Training Camp Moment. If you are a big fan of stifling defense that is made to look better by unproductive offense, then read on.

The Dolphins defense was active and effective in Thursday's afternoon practice. No, there weren't any great fumble strips or amazing diving interceptions. It was just stay in your gaps, mind your coverage type of stuff.

And so the offense got in the end zone a grand total of once during the two-minute (actually 1:44) and going in from the 20 work. That TD by the third-team offense against the third team defense was a Pat White 20 yard run on a bootleg. White continues to impress me, but only out of shotgun formation, which is apparently the only time he feels comfortable.

White played in the spread offense in college so the shotgun is kin to him. Backing out from under center, he seems to be thinking too much about his drop, his reads, and the pressure around him. He obviously doesn't have to worry about a 3-step or 5-step drop in shotgun. He can scan the field more easily. It suits him.

Keep that in mind as the Dolphins try to find what coach Tony Sparano called a "Pat Package."

"We did that with [Dallas Cowboys QB Tony] Romo his first couple of years in the league," Sparano said. "It was more, 'Let's figure out what this guy can do well for us right now and let's not bog him down with what he maybe doesn't do so well just because the coaches want to do it.' We need to figure out with Pat the things he tends to do well."

What the Dolphins did well in practice this afternoon was pressure the quarterback and cover fairly well. You should know the Dolphins have a timed buzzer on every pass play that goes off when play has taken too long. When that buzzer sounds, the quarterback is considered sacked. Well, the buzzer was the MVP of this practice as it must have collected at least half a dozen sacks.

Joey Porter also had one sack and Jason Taylor collected his second batted pass of the day, the first coming in morning drills.

I am searching my notes for something, anything that sounds like great offense and can't find much. How's this: Ted Ginn Jr must have caught at least four passes on crossing routes. Of course, all netted no more than 5 yards.

Ernest Wilford made a great leaping catch in the corner of the end zone on a ball lobbed by Chad Henne. But alas, he was ruled out of bounds. Nice effort, though.

Today's Classic Training Camp Moment goes back to Aug of 1997. Yes, it was Jimmy Johnson's second season with the Dolphins and, as most new coaches do, they bring in players and coaches they're familiar and comfortable with.

So there was an influx of former Dallas Cowboys (the first of what now has become two such migrations) and there were several former University of Miami Hurricanes also brought to camp. Wide receiver Lamar Thomas was one such former Cane brought in in '96.

Thomas was quite accomplished at Miami but his early career in Tampa was derailed by inconsistent performance and some off-field issues that included domestic violence. Despite this, Johnson brought Thomas to the receiver-starved Dolphins in '96 and was rewarded with the player being on his best behavior for a season.

And things were going well for Thomas until the Aug. 23, 1997 preseason game at Tampa. On that road trip, Thomas was in the team hotel parking lot with then-girlfriend Ebony Cooksey. The two had a very rocky relationship.

Well, at one point in their parking lot visit in the car Cooksey brought to the team hotel, the couple began to argue. It was animated enough that hotel parking lot security noticed and told the Dolphins. Jimmy Johnson was livid that Thomas, with a questionable domestic violence reputation at the time, had allowed himself to be involved in a public argument with his girlfriend. So Johnson sent Thomas home without letting him play that night against the Bucs.

No one would confirm why Thomas was sent home, so I called his then-agent Howard Weinberg, who explained to me on the record the reason Thomas got sent home. "It was nothing, Armando, seriously, nothing," Weinberg said. "But you will not believe me if I tell you."

Tell me, Howard.

"You won't believe it," he said.

I want to know Howard. You need to tell me everything.

"OK, but when you write it, you have to be very careful how this sounds," he said.


"Lamar and Ebony got into an argument in the car because Lamar passed gas," Weinberg said.


"He farted," Weinberg said. "And it offended Ebony and they got into an argument about it. It really is pretty innocent."

So I wrote the story for The Miami Herald. And The Miami Herald refused to publish it because the story had the word flatulence in it. Until, of course, Pulitzer Prize Winning humorist Dave Barry thought it classic enough to use in one of his stories. What follows is two paragraphs from Barry's story:

"Team sources said that the cause of the argument between Thomas and Cooksey was that he didn't want to let her have the keys to a house he maintains in Tampa. But Thomas' agent, Howard Weinberg, told The Miami Herald that the real cause was -- I am not making this up -- flatulence. (You did not read this in The Miami Herald, because the subject matter of the story, written by our excellent Dolphins beat writer Armando Salguero, was deemed to be below the taste standards of our sports section. Fortunately for you, here at Tropic magazine we have no taste standards.)

"Weinberg claims that while Thomas and Cooksey were sitting in her car, talking calmly, Thomas -- to use football parlance -- sliced a major hunk of Limburger, thereby causing Cooksey to rapidly exit the car and yell at Thomas in a laughing and good-natured fashion. The Dolphins contend that it was not good-natured. We'll probably never know what really happened, but since an agent is now involved, the whole matter could easily be tied up in some kind of arbitration for the next 10 years. "

Thomas recovered from this foul start to his Dolphins career and played with Miami until 2000. To this day, he remains one of my favorite people for his good heart, strong sense of competitiveness and desire.

And obviously, I feel pretty good about things today because, after all these years, I finally get to tell the story for The Miami Herald. 

Thurs. morning practice report right here

The Dolphins had to move their scheduled outdoor practice inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble this morning as threatening skies opened up and delivered a couple of kneeknocker thunderclaps early during drills.

The fans who came to watch their team work missed a doozy of a practice, featuring some good receiver play.

Let me get this off my chest right now: I have been first in line hoping, praying, lobbying for an upgrade at the wide receiver position with a dazzling, accomplished, proven veteran. That didn't happen this offseason, but I'm starting to believe the team just might be alright without one.

Today I watched excellent work from Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, Ted Ginn and even the two rookies -- Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline, who has now put together three consecutive solid practices.

The most impressive play to me was a sideline grab by Ted Ginn that he caught with the DB draped over him, bobbled, re-caught as he was going down, and still was able to get both feet inbounds for a 12-yard gain.

Bess had a similar sideline grab, only his was one-handed and the cornerback was not providing as tight a coverage.

Hartline had at least three long TD grabs on varous routes. He caught a 40-yard TD from Chad Henne up the seam when he cleverly pushed off on Joey Thomas, creating good separation for the score. By the way, these practices include officials and there was no flag on Hartline. Hartline also caught a 40-yard pass from Pat White for a TD in the same 7 on 7 drills. Hartline also had a nice comeback pattern catch against Sean Smith in the one on one drills between DBs and WRs.

Fellow rookie Turner caught a 30-yard pass down the left sideline from Chad Pennington that victimized Eric Green in coverage. He also had a TD catch over Will Allen in the one on one drills, effectively giving him long scores over both Miami starting corners this practice.

"He has better quickness than I initially thought," coach Tony Sparano said of Turner. "At the top of routes he can drop his weight and that [helps make cuts on routes]. And the past couple of days when the defensive backs have tried to beat him up a little bit with press coverage, he's been able to play physical out there against the press technique."

Sparano talked about how he and GM Jeff Ireland went on a road trip prior to the draft to scout players at various colleges. They went to Ohio State and were obviously impressed with Hartline. "He's a brilliant kid," Sparano gushed. "He really is."

The Dolphins worked on their two-minute drill to finish the practice and the results of this drill is testament as to why Chad Pennington is the starter and Chad Henne his backup.

Pennington steadily matriculated the ball down the field with three consecutive sideline completions, a 19-yard completion to Camarillo up the sideline and a 14-yard completion to Ginn. Jason Taylor batted one pass, preventing what would have been a nice gain to wide open tight end Anthony Fasano. The first team offense got a 41 yard field goal with 1 second remaining.

The second-team offense, guided by Henne, didn't fare as well against the second-team defense. Incompletion on first down when Cobbs dropped the pass I referred to earlier. Incompletion on second down. Incompletion on third down. There was no fourth-down play.

Third team, guided by White, saw a short completion to Hilliard on first down, an incompletion on second down and an incompletion on third down. Sparano said there will be more two-minute work in the afternoon drills.

Other notes:

As I tweeted earlier today, SirVincent Rogers is gone from the team. Sparano said he left the team. A source tells me he made his exit during a practice, walking off the field before the work was over. Fullback Chris Brown has also been waived. He's been replaced by fullback Matt Quillen.

Jason Ferguson, Channing Crowder and Matt Roth missed practice.

Joe Berger took a majority of the repetitions with the first-team offense at RG. But Donald Thomas got first and second-team reps at RG during the team running period -- in other words, the 11 on 11 run plays. It was the most work he's gotten in a team period in one practice since training camp began.

There were three blown coverages on defense that I counted. Tearrius George was responsible for one of those. Another one, which left Patrick Cobbs all alone in the flat with an entire open field ahead of him was covered up when Cobbs dropped the pass.

It wasn't all offense today. Gibril Wilson popped Lex Hilliard on a pass in the flat, causing him to juggle a pass from Pat White. As Hilliard juggled, Wilson grabbed the loose ball for an interception.

Chris Clemons had a nice pass defensed (PD) against Anthony Armstrong, knocking away what seemed like a certain 35-yard completion in one on ones. Smith, Jason Allen and Will Allen also got PDs in the one on ones.

One of the secrets of figuring out which bubble players will make it onto the 53-man roster is watching the special teams. If a bubble guy is lining up with the first-team punt, field goal, kick return and kickoff, he's more likely than not going to make the team.

Here are some bubble players I saw today working with the starters on teams, suggesting they are in Miami's plans for the moment: Erik Walden, Charlie Anderson, Jason Allen, Cameron Wake, Courtney Bryan.

None of these players has a secure spot on the roster. But all are currently figuring prominently on Miami's special teams. So, it stands to reason, if they excel at their special teams assignments, if they don't do anything to lose their current starting special teams status, they likely will be on the team.

Tony Sparano will conduct his press conference in the next few minutes. Will update you with the latest when he's done.

August 05, 2009

Wed. practice report (with 1992 Classic moment)

The Rothgate saga is almost over. These Dolphins are better at covering up embarrassing situations than Richard Nixon ever was.

The team spoke to agent Drew Rosenhaus and convinced him not to discuss Matt Roth, or his injury, or Roth's signing of a document that promised he was neither injured nor ill, when in fact, he has a strained groin and also told coch Tony Sparano he was ill. The team then made Roth available to talk to the media Wednesday afternoon as long as he talked about, well, nothing.

Roth was asked about the "misunderstanding" between him and Sparano relative to his never mentioning the groin strain when the coach asked what was wrong. 

"There's no misunderstanding," Roth said. "I'm trying to work hard, get back on the field, get out with my teammates. The medical stuff, I'm not allowed to talk about it. I just want to get back on the field and get rolling."

Did you tell coach you were sick?

"I'm not allowed to talk about anything medical," Roth replied. "It's all about football at this point."

Are you close to being 100 percent?

"Again," he said, "anything medical, I'm not allowed to talk about."

How much does it put you back not to be out there?

"It hurts," he said. "You always want to be out there with your teammates."

At this point, a somewhat frustrated Salguero says, "Tony said you signed a document that states you have no medical issues and apparently you do have medical issues because you're not practicing."

"I don't know what to tell you, man, like I said before," he said. "I'm not allowed to talk about anything medical."

And I'm not allowed to continue this sham. No more Matt Roth updates from me until someone tells the truth or he gets on the field. Period.

As to this afternoon's practice, it was another good one for rookie receiver Brian Hartline (his second in a row) and it was an inconsistent one for CB Eric Green and QB Pat White.

Hartline had a lunging catch of a Chad Pennington pass over cornerback Will Billingsley. He also had a nice pattern down the center of the field that got him open behind Billingsley, and White connected for a score.

White was erratic, however, because he overthrew Anthony Armstrong on an easy sideline pass not 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and also had a ball intercepted by Joey Thomas on an attempt to Anthony Armstrong.

Eric Green was beaten by Armstrong on a deep 40-yard pass from Pennington, but he got some measure of redemption when he also intercepted a Pennington pass. Fact is Pennington has thrown a good number of interceptions the past three days. I've counted five in total.

Patrick Cobbs continues to show fresh legs as he had the most impressive run of the day. He took a draw and burst through a hole and was in the secondary in a blink. I love this guy's quickness.

Cameron Wake also is showing improvement. He speed-rushed SirVincent Rogers once and basically left the rookie tackle grasping at air. In the coming days, the Dolphins will begin mixing and matching guys so they get an opportunity to play better competition. I'll be interested to see what Wake does against either Vernon Carey or Jake Long to get a truer measure of what he's about. 

As I reported to you on my twitter updates, RG Shawn Murphy spent the afternoon with the second-team after spending the first three days of training camp with the starting unit. Joe Berger took the first-team snaps this practice. Look, I will report to you when they change personnel at this position, but the fact of the matter is it's going to be happening a lot.

The Dolphins are searching for a right guard. And they will be plugging different personnel into the spot throughout the next few weeks until and unless someone grabs the job and refuses to let go. That has not happened.

And what about last year's starter out of camp, Donald Thomas? Remember those reports that claimed he was "ready to go." He's still not ready to go, as I reported to you. Yes, he's working. But he has taken a grand total of three plays in a team period. Why?

Well, because he's not really ready to go. It's going to be a couple of weeks yet.

OK, drumroll please ..... What follows is my daily Classic Training Camp Moment. It's kind of like tuning into Dolphins In Depth Classic instead of regular Dolphins In Depth. This episode from training camp in 1992.

At the beginning of the 1992 training camp, coach Don Shula decided he wanted to reward his veteran team by allowing veterans to go home a couple of nights a week rather than sleeping at the cruddy St. Thomas University student dorms.

Well, nose tackle Alfred Oglesby decided not to go home on one of those nights and instead headed out to a strip club in Liberty City. Seems he picked up a dancer, and headed back to her place, and one thing led to another, and next thing he knew it was 10 a.m. the next day.

He had missed meetings. He had missed a practice. He was in deep do.

Oh, did I mention Oglesby also crashed and abandoned teammate Richmond Webb's shiny new BMW 5-series that night?

Anyway, Oglesby shows up at camp and fabricates a story about being kidnapped by people who forced him to go to several ATMs and withdraw cash, then drove him to the edge of the Everglades and told him to start walking home.

Shula bought the story. Club Security Investigator Stuart Weinstein wasn't so sure. "He could have walked backwards back from the Everglades and the timing of the story still didn't add up," Weinstein said years later.

The problem for Oglesby is that Weinstein called Miami-Dade police to report the kidnapping. And upon arriving at Dolphins camp, they were going to take a sworn statement from Oglesby. And upon a professional police investigation of a high-profile person surely showing Oglesby to be a liar, Oglesby was going to face jail time for filing false police reports, perjury, etc ...

Weinstein made this clear to Oglesby who wisely confessed. Except that Shula had already given the media the player's concocted story. And Shula wasn't about to take the fall for Oglesby. So Weinstein and Oglesby had to go before the media and basically say that Oglesby fibbed.

That night, during the team meeting, an angry Shula informed his veterans their go-home privileges were rescinded because of Oglesby. The veterans were livid. And led by Mark Clayton, they grabbed Oglesby after the meeting and tied him to a tree.

If fellow nose tackle Shawn Lee had not untied Oglesby two hours later, he might still be tied to that tree. Not surprisingly, Oglesby was cut during that training camp.

By the way, I wrote this column for Thursday's Miami Herald. It talks about how the Dolphins are blessed. Read the column which tells you how. By the way, there's a classic training camp moment in the column. Please check it out.

Finally, you need to follow me on twitter if you're not already doing so. And if you have an IPhone, do yourself a favor and get the app as 1,500 people have already done. Yeah, a BlackBerry app is in the works.  

Update following morning Sparano presser

Tony Sparano just held court with the reporters. I love this guy!

He will not always tell you everything he's thinking. He will never criticize players. But if he doesn't believe he's giving up information that will affect Miami's competitive advantage, he'll become somewhat entertaining.

Sparano is something of a stat freak in that he knows every player's practice repetitions, every player's weight, every player's number of plays from last year. Example:

Rookie Andrew Gardner, who has amazing potential once he gets stronger, leads the team with 103 repetitions. Jason Ferguson, a 34-year-old veteran that Miami must keep healthy, has 53 repetitions.

The groin injury to Matt Roth, which Sparano said "isn't significant," has thrust Jason Taylor to the starting job at strongside outside linebacker. And he has 72 practice repetitions the first three days of training camp.

Sparano says in the coming days and particularly after Saturday's "standup" scrimmage, he will adjust players' repetitions. The players battling for roster spots or starting job that do well in the coming days will get more repetitions next week. Those that don't perform as well will get fewer repetitions.

That's how players separate one from another in the coach's eyes.

Sparano confirmed my report from Tuesday that receiver Brennan Marion suffered a season-ending knee injury. He added that Marion has been waived injured. I asked him what the team is likely to do with the open roster spot created by Marion's departure and he said no receiver is likely to be added right away.

That could mean a couple of things: The players that came in for workouts Tuesday didn't impress and more are on the way. Or the Dolphins might want to add a player at another position to increase the competition at that spot.

As far as Rothgate is concerned, the mystery has become somewhat boring to me. Sparano, still masking the fact he was peeved at Roth for not being totally forthcoming about his injury-illness, is now hinting the player was ill at least early on. Now, obviously, the issue is the groin and that is apparently going to be attended to with rehab and treatment as it has been the past couple of days. 

Finally, mentioned Brandon London during the press conference and said he's "starting to feel him a little bit more," which is coachspeak for London has been making a few plays of late. He added that both rookie draftee receivers -- Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline -- have both "flashed" but they are still trying to get from under a mountain of information.

When the information decreases sometime next week, Sparano expects the youngsters to think less and play faster. We'll see.

Hey, the classic training camp moment is a big hit! As a result, I will attempt to share a classic training camp moment after the evening practices. So check back tonight and you'll get the afternoon practice update, PLUS a classic training camp moment update, PLUS an IPhone app update. 

August 04, 2009

Tues. evening practice report with a twist

Let's start with the news first: As I first reported on my twitter, which I hope you begin following,  WR Brennan Marion has a torn ACL and is out for the season. The Dolphins are attempting to sign a replacement.

They worked out a couple of receivers Tuesday -- one of them being former Ravens practice squad player Edward Williams, who fits Miami's receiver mold at 6-4 and 215 pounds.

As far as practice is concerned, yes, I'm going to give you the typical blow-by-blow that you're going to get elsewhere. But, frankly, I assume even the hardcore readers can grow a little weary of reading that Will Billingsley struggles day after day. So I'm going to occasionally give you something different to chew on during training camp.

As I've covered this team since the dawn of time, certainly longer than anyone else, I'm going to share some classic training camp moments with you from time to time. Today's moment dates back to 1996 when the Tampa Bay Bucs were invited to the Dolphins practice facility for dual workouts.

So the Bucs show up and are warming up on the field before the practice when defensive tackle Warren Sapp apparently decides he needs to take a whiz. He unbuckles his pants and simply relieves himself at the base of the stanchion that holds up the video platform.

At that precise moment, the Dolphins stream onto their field, led by new coach Jimmy Johnson, who is feeling pretty enthusiastic about his new team. Johnson eagerly trots out, immediately spots Sapp, runs over and extends his had to shake with the former UM player.

Before the handshake, Sapp quickly buckles his pants and extends the same hand that he was using to hold his  ... well, you get the picture. The coach and player shake hands and talk for a while, and the entire time, I'm standing there with WQAM radio host Orlando Alzugaray, just cracking up that Miami's new coach doesn't know as much as he thinks he does.

OK, let me know if you want more of these classic training camp moments from time to time or if this features stinks in your opinion.

As for Tuesday's evening practice inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB):

Tony McDaniels got some reps with the first-team defensive line as Phillip Merling was back with the second-teamers. It's a competition, people, and no one is assured of any spot and everyone will get a fair chance. I love that about this coaching staff.

Brian Hartline was the most active of any previous practice, catching three passes in one-on-one drills vs. the defensive backs. Fellow rookie Patrick Turner also continues to impress indoors. He beat Will Allen twice in the one-on-ones and one of those went for a TD on a deep pass.

Vontae Davis has been providing good coverage in recent days but more than once the completions seems to still get made as receivers make plays or the pass is simply perfect. It happened again in the one-on-ones and DB coach Todd Bowles encouraged Davis to "finish," and "play through the ball."

It seemed to work as Davis intercepted Chad Henne on the sideline during the team (11 on 11) period. Henne was inconsistent as he missed an open David Martin down the seam on another play, choosing instead to check down to Ronnie Brown.

Brandon London was crafting a good practice until he had a pass bounce out of his hands and LB William Kershaw snatched the ball out of the air for a turnover. Another turnover during the practice happened when Patrick Cobbs fumbled during a running play.

Punter Brandon Fields tested the sturdiness of the NSMB roof by hitting the thing at least half a dozen times on punts. He did muff one punt snap and then shanked the attempt after hurrying to get the punt off. But the kid is not easily fazed. He pounded the roof four consecutive times after the shank.

Finally, the guys are starting to get a little cranky and there was some pushing and shoving after a couple of plays. Channing Crowder and Shawn Murphy got into it momentarily. Tearrius George and Nate Garner also exchanged unpleasantries.

Boys will be boys.

The Tues. morning Dolphins camp update -- with Sparano presser

It was an eventful session in steamy Davie, FL. this morning. 

The latest on Rothgate is that the Dolphins have placed outside linebacker Matt Roth on the non-football illness list. And yet they have sent Roth for tests on the part of his body that is actually causing him problems -- his groin.

The contradictions continue and I can see the frustration in coach Tony Sparano, even from behind his dark glasses, because the player told him one thing and it seems it's actually something else.

"As I said yesterday, going into the conditioning test, in my mind, he was healthy. I think in everybody's mind he was healthy. At the end of the conditioning test, it didn't go well. He and I sat down, we talked. We talked about him being sick. And then brought him back up and talked about him being sick again at the end of that first practice. We explained we were going to have a plan, a running plan in place and again talked about not feeling good an not feeling right and being sick. That's really what the conversation was.

"As I said yesterday, I believed Matt Roth telling me he was sick."

Sparano said the team will conduct a "standup" scrimmage on Saturday in the afternoon practice. It will be 90-115 plays that will measure exactly where this team is at before it plays its first preseason game Aug. 17 against Jacksonville.

"We'll have a pretty good go," Sparano said. "Hopefully we'll get another crowd like we had the other day."

Ernest Wilford is at 232 pounds according to Sparano and he is working at both wide receiver and tight end, but as the team has been working mostly in the base offense the first couple of days of practice, he hasn't gotten a lot of action from that H-back role.

The Dolphins did work work nickel and substitution packages for the passing game today. Sparano said there were a few blown coverages and some bad routes, but that will be addressed.

If you've been wondering how the Dolphins are going to attack the quarterback on obvious passing downs, the preliminary answer is that their first-team front on the nickel and dime package consists of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor on the edges, and Phillip Merling and Randy Starks up the middle. Dolphins are at times using three tackle types in these sets, effectively having three linemen in addition to Porter and Taylor. Obviously, Porter and Taylor are not coming on every play as they have coverage responsibilities.

And that third lineman has been Randy Starks on first team and Lionel Dotson on second team.

The back end of the nickel and dime packages consist of Will Allen, Yeremiah Bell, Gibril Wilson, Tryone Culver, Eric Green and Nathan Jones (dime only) on first team. The back end on second team consists of Rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, Jason Allen, Chris Clemons, Courtney Bryan and Ethan Kilmer (dime only).

The Dolphins will work on a lot of nickel situations in the comig days so if there's going to be some shakeup in that lineup, it may come after those days.

At work during team drills, Porter had a sack while Lionel Dotson (working from the tackle spot on shifts) and Quentin Moses combined for a sack. Will Allen continues to excel as he had another interception of a Chad Pennington sideline pass.

Brian Hartline had a drop during team drills while Greg Camarillo (old faithful) continues to make himself available for Pennington whenever the QB is in trouble. If Pennington is out of the pocket, he's looking for Camarillo. I would not be surprised -- and neither should you -- if after all the talk of Ted Ginn and Patrick Turner this offseason, it is Camarillo that leads the team in receptions.

Ginn did have a productive practice today. He beat Culver on a post pattern for a 30-yard TD in the back of the end zone. He also was open deep along the sideline once but a Pennington pass got held up in the air, allowing the defender to recover and knock it away.

Ginn did drop a post-pattern TD off the arm of Chad Henne. Wide open. Perfect pass. In the hands. Doink

I continue to be fascinated by the competition between rookie left tackle Andrew Gardner and weakside linebacker Cameron Wake. It was all Gardner the first day of camp. Yesterday belonged to Wake. This morning was a deadlock.

Gardner will make the team, I predict. I asked Sparano about him and the coach said he is "certainly not close," to being a player that can get in regular-season games. But ...

"We have to change his body, we have to make him a little stronger," Sparano said. But the kid has, "a lot of athleticism and the characteristics we like."

"I like what I've seen so far," the coach concluded.

On one pass-rush, Wake leveraged Gardner into the quarterback. On the very next snap, Gardner simply rode Wake wide and out of the play.

Eric Green, who struggled covering the deep ball in the offseason camps and OTAs, is seemingly getting better. He had excellent coverage on a 9-route by Ginn this morning.

Pat White continues to be up and down. I will say this: Having played in the spread formation in college, he is clearly much more comfortable when he's not under center. On a couple of shotgun snaps this morning, White seemed to show more zip on his passes and seemed more decisive with his decisions. It didn't always result in a completion, but he was clearly better when not under center.

I honestly see backup Patrick Cobbs as an emmerging playmaker were he to be given the opportunity. Unfortunately for him, Ricky Williams, the backup tailback, isn't opening the door for Cobbs to get more snaps.

According to Sparano, Williams attended all 46 of the team's offseason workouts and is "physically in the best," condition he's seen him "in an awful long time." The coach said Williams is leaner and has less body fat than last year while his "endurance is up."

Finally, rookie Brennan Marion has a knee issue. He missed the morning practice and has gone for tests on it. Marion is still recovering from ACL surgery. Do not expect him to make the team, people.

With Marion hurting, the Dolphins worked out a couple of receivers this afternoon -- one of them former Ravens practice squad player Edward Williams.

[IPhone app update: You guys are amazing. You're buying the app like there's no tomorrow and I would say you're smart for doing so. It's worth it! Keep it going. And yes, a BlackBerry app is in the works, for those who asked.]