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65 posts from August 2009

August 03, 2009

Doings for the Dolphins on Mon. evening

Rothgate should reach some sort of resolution Tuesday after Matt Roth and coach Tony Sparano talk for the third time since training camp began about the mysterious circumstances that now surround the outside linebacker's health.

Here is what I know:

After Roth failed his conditioning test with Miami over the weekend, Sparano talked to Roth about the reason for the poor showing. The coach and the player had this discussion not once, but twice. Both times, according to Sparano, Roth said he was ill.

Except that Roth apparently has a groin injury that he failed to mention to the coach -- an injury his agent Drew Rosenhaus has confirmed on local television. And after blood results seeking an illness came back negative Monday, it seems the groin is the real health problem for Roth.

But Roth has another problem. I am told privately Sparano is upset with Roth because the coach believes the player lied to him, not once, but indeed, twice. That's the reason Sparano and Roth were scheduled to talk Monday evening -- to iron things out.

Advice to Matt Roth: Get your story straight and tell the truth.

Roth has not talked to the media but might do so Tuesday. Sparano talks every day and he laid out his view on the issue.

"I believe Matt Roth when Matt Roth is tellig me that he is sick," Sparano said. "This groin thing ... it is the first time I have heard of it. We are going to investigate it, but I have been told on two different occassions that it is an illness. [A groin injury] is not what I was told was the reason for the performance [in the conditioning test] that I saw [Sunday]."

We'll see what happens Tuesday. If it goes much longer, it might call for a Woodward and Bernstein investigation. What has this all meant on the field?

Well, as I write in my column which appears in Tuesday's Miami Herald, I tell you how Roth's famine has been a feast for Jason Taylor. Read the column and you'll see how long Taylor is telling his confidants how much longer he wants to play. 

On the field Tuesday afternoon, the highlight of the practice was the competition between wide receivers and cornerbacks. Here's the play-by-play of that:

Will Allen vs. Greg Camarillo. Allen knocks the ball down for a win.

Ted Ginn vs. Eric Green. Catch and win for Ginn.

Davone Bess vs. Vontae Davis. Bess with a short catch over the middle.

Anthony Armstrong vs Sean Smith. Smith breaks up the pass for a win.

Brandon London vs. Jason Allen. Allen with a pass breakup.

Patrick Turner vs. Nathan Jones. Turner wins with a diving catch.

Brian Hartline vs. Joey Thomas. A catch and a win for Hartline.

Chris Williams vs. Will Billingsley. Williams catches a TD on a 9-route. Billingsley is struggling which would explain why Sparano yells, "Same [thing] I watched yesterday, Billingsley."

Camarillo vs. Yeremiah Bell. Bell wins on an interception.

Ginn vs. Gibril Wilson. Ginn catches a deep TD pass.

Armstrong vs. Tyrone Culver. Armstrong with a catch on a crossing route.

London vs. Ethan Kilmer. London with a catch on a short route.

Turner vs. Courtney Bryan. Turner muscles Bryan for the football and a catch.

Hartline vs. Will Allen. Allen breaks up a pass. He's having a good camp so far.

Camarillo vs. Thomas. Camarillo with a TD on a deep ball.

Ginn vs. Smith. The rookie scores a pass defensed. Very impressive.

Bess vs. Jason Allen. Bess puts on a double move and beats Allen deep for a TD.

Armstrong vs. Davis. Amstrong wins with a catch on a short route.

London vs. Thomas. London catches the in-cut.

Hartline vs. Kilmer. Hartline catches a deep TD.

Williams vs. Billingsley. Billingsley scores a win.

Camarillo vs. Allen. Camarillo makes a catch.

Ginn vs. Culver. Ginn with another deep TD catch.

Bess vs. Will Allen. Bess catches a short pass.

Armstrong vs. Bryan. Bryan breaks up the pass.

London vs. Thomas. London with a catch.

Former University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was at practice Monday afternoon. He saw his former player, Jason Allen, having one bad moment when he couldn't get lined up correctly for a seven-on-seven drill.

There was confusion in the coverage and before bad became worse, Will Allen simply stopped the play by saying, "Hey, wait. Stop. Stop."

Somebody then yelled at Jason Allen, who promptly got lined up correctly and off the play went. The two Allens later had a sideline discussion that ended with the elder, more accomplished Allen dismissing the other.

I've been telling you Turner, the rookie receiver, has been practicing well. But he is still a rookie. He dropped one pass in traffic when he was behind the cornerback but about to get popped by the safety. Even though this is practice and there is no contact, Turner dropped the pass obviously after losing concentration and perhaps thinking of the hit that might have been.

Turner also was called for an offensive pass interference.

Monday morning practice post -- with Sparano presser update

Welcome to my dream. The Dolphins have finished their first practice of the day and second practice of training camp. Coach Tony Sparano has also talked to the media.

The coach discussed Rothgate in which strongside linebacker Matt Roth failed his conditioning test and is missing practice because A. he's got an undefined illness as Sparano says, B. he has a strained groin as agent Drew Rosenhaus has said, C. both, or D. its the media's fault.

Sparano's take:

"We have a signed statement from Matt coming in on their medical status, ok, and his was that he had no illness and had no injury. He took the conditioning test, I mentioned that to you yesterday. And he didn't do well on the conditioning test, he didn't pass the conditioning test.

"So Matt and I visited. We visited on two occassions. We talked about what was going on and the conversation with me was that he was sick. He didn't feel good. He didn't feel right. We sent him for blood tests and that came back negative. And that's where we are right now."

So what about the strained groin Rosenhaus said on local television was the reason Roth is out?

"Only thing I can tell you," Sparano said, "is what I know. I believe Matt Roth when Matt Roth is telling me he's sick. This groin thing, first time I heard this thing came up, we're going to investigate it. But I've been told on two different occassions (by Roth) that it was an illness."

Not the groin?

"That wasn't what I was told was the reason for what I watched (in the practice bubble) yesterday by Matt -- two different times," Sparano insisted.

It was a difficult morning for the offense, which I suppose is expected since offense normally lags behind defense early in most training camps.

Chad Pennington, who avoided turnovers like the plague in 2008, threw the first interception of training camp when he was plucked by Will Allen during the team portion of drills.

And although I cannot recall one signature offensive moment throughout the morning, my notebook is brimming with one fumble on a runnning play, one fumble on a bad pitch by Chad Henne, a sack by Rodrique Wright, and very few (if any) completions down the field.

The Miami first, second and third team offenses did complete routine passes to running backs in the flat. Yippie!!!!!

"We didn't finish practice well today," Sparano said. "Ball was on the ground a couple of time, we had a couple of pre-snap penalties ... we didn't finish the practice, we had penalties, sloppy tackling."

Sparano said there were only two penalties in practice Sunday.

Sparano said he's not worried about Ted Ginn Jr. running faster, but instead wants him to play faster. It's about recognizing coverages quicker and letting instinct take over for Ginn. Sparano said he's seeing a little bit of that in practice.

Weakside linebacker Cameron Wake, working on third team, had serious struggles on the first day of camp. You know this if you read my column in today's Miami Herald. He recovered somewhat this morning. Although he is still often matched against rookie left tackle Andrew Gardner in drills, and Gardner continues to get the better of Wake, the CFL phenom did have one play in which he had good pressure on the passer.

In the one-on-one blocking drills, Wake lost two of three battles against Gardner.

The more I watch Gardner, the more I like the kid. He's raw but stout. He has a great ability stay in front of the defender and he doesn't let go. He latches on and seems difficult to shake. Obviously, I'm not saying there's a left tackle controversy on the team. But he's looking promising as a backup.

The Dolphins are working with a handful of players as punt returners -- Ted Ginn Jr., Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Chris Williams. Williams muffed his first opportunity to catch one this morning.

Breaking down this competition, you should know the team will put the most explosive guy back there. But all things being equal, I believe Bess and Hartline will be the favorites to win the competition because they show great consistency catching the ball (no mistakes) and Ginn will have his hands full in the base offense, causing coaches to measure whether to risk using him too much on punt returns.

Guard Donald Thomas continues to work on a limited basis only while Shawn Murphy continues to take the first-team snaps at right guard. Guard Justin Smiley was absent this morning with an excused absence. He and his wife just had a baby, so bigtime congrats!

Practice this afternoon will be held inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB) and is closed to the public. So check back later this evening for the update on that one.

August 02, 2009

Notes from the Dolphins first-day practice

The first practice of the 2009 season is in the books and while everyone is breathless about the estimated 3,152 fans that showed up -- according to team historians the most since the Dan Marino heydays in the mid 1990s -- I'm a little more concerned with, well, football.

And information.

Here's what:

*OLB Matt Roth failed the team conditioning test because of what coach Tony Sparano said was Roth "feeling under the weather."  Roth should be OK as it is not an injury. He did have some tests done Sunday morning to determine what's wrong and those should be back Monday or Tuesday. Meanwhile, the team looks likely to give him some recovery time.

[Late update: Well, the Dolphins are obviously trying to mask injuries even at this early stage and they're not in midseason form at it yet. Although Sparano said Roth wasn't feeling well and the team listed "illness" as the reason Roth missed practice, agent Drew Rosenhaus is saying Roth actually has a strained groin. That neither is an illness nor reason to say he's "under the weather." Both those suggest something like an upset tummy or flu. Neither suggest an injury. If this were handled in this fashion during the regular-season, when teams must accurately report injuries and not say strained groins are an illness, the Dolphins would be risking an NFL fine. Roth is expected to have more tests on the groin Monday, according to Rosenhaus.]

*Jason Taylor took over where Roth is typically expected to start, at the strongside outside linebacker spot.Taylor has played for the Dolphins longer than any other player. But, ironically, he's learning a new defense and system and that puts him behind most of his veteran teammates.

"It's new," Taylor said. "It's just like anything, it's new. You just have to get comfortable with it. Some of these things in years past when (Nick) Saban was here, is still a little different. Different terminology and different places. Lining up and playing with different players. It takes a little while to get used to it, more than a couple of hours.

"I need a few weeks and I'll be fine." 

*Coach Tony Sparano said he was impressed in the manner rookie QB Pat White, "got the ball out on time," and was efficient. Personally, I believe White has a loong way to go. He threw one deep pass that hung in the air and allowed defender Will Billingsly to catch up get a PD. White is no longer wearing gloves, by the way.

I will tell you White was better today than he was during the offseason camps and OTA sessions. But the improvement is measured in that he was terrible in the offseason and was much less so today. At least he didn't throw a pass into the street as he did in the offseason.

*As I reported Sunday morning, Donald Thomas is still not 100 percent and while he did pass his physical and did work on a limited basis, he has a ways to go. Sparano said he's "not sure" when Thomas will be completely ready. "We're going to crawl before we walk," the coach said.

"For me, it's like being a rookie all over again," Thomas said. "I've got to start over from the beginning. Last year was last year."

*Second-year player Shawn Murphy worked with the first-team offensive line at RG. "It's his job to lose," Sparano said of Murphy. The coach also said Murphy was among the two or three most improved players on the team in the offseason workouts and camps.

*Talked to Ricky Williams, who is probably the best perspective guy on the roster when he wants to be. "If anything, we don't think we've earned the kind of respect we deserve," Williams said.

I get the feeling these players have something of a chip on their shoulders about still, STILL, not getting much respect despite what they accomplished in 2008. It's like Las Vegas and others have forgotten they won the AFC East. That's a good thing, by the way. Better to have a team fired up about not getting respect and wanting to prove something, than everyone expecting them to succeed and then they fall on their face.

*New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank spent all of practice riding shotgun in the Bill Parcells golf cart. Unlike one OTA practice, Pat White did not throw a pass that sideswiped the cart.

*The second-team secondary is a glimpse of the future in my opinion. You had Sean Smith and Vontae Davis at the cornerbacks. You had Chris Clemons and Tyrone Culver at the safeties. Three rookies on the second team secondary. Impressive.

*The Dolphins practiced for over two hours. The final play of practice was a play out of the Wildcat package. It was a Ronnie Brown keeper. Just for show, guys. I've been told you will not see any of the Wildcat 2.0 plays in open training camp practices. They'll work those behind the Parcells iron curtain -- as it should be, I guess.

*Sparano said something we all know: That Chad Pennington is the starter. "It's Chad Pennington's team," the coach said. But ...

Chad Henne will get a lot of playing time in the preseason. One situation Sparano vows Henne will see is finishing up the second quarter, going into the halftime locker room for adjustments, and coming out in the third quarter and implementing those.

"That doesn't sound like much but there's a lot of things that go on in that eight minutes when we are in the locker room that a quarterback has to handle and I think that's a situation that when you are a backup quarterback, you're handling that a little different from when you're the starting quarterback," Sparano said.

Let the Miami Dolphins practices begin!

It is for real now.

[Update: The Dolphins have cut offensive guard J.D. Quinn and TE Jared Bronson to get down to the 80 man limit before practice.]

No more offseason OTA. No more minicamp, or precamp, or pre-minicamp camp. The Dolphins hit the field at 2 p.m. today and that will kick off the roster competition for the 2009 season.

As I write in this column in Sunday's Miami Heraldthe Dolphins are a mystery now. We can hope their offseason moves at center, wide receiver and cornerback will translate to a better team this year. But does anyone really know for sure?

By the same token, you might be worried having the NFL's toughest schedule and playing in the NFL's toughest division is a recipe for a step-back season, but is there anyone that knows for certain?

That's the beauty of today ... everything and anything is still possible for your favorite football team.

With that in mind I'm going to share some thoughts about this team and we'll see in the coming days and months how those thoughts hold up through the rigors of an NFL season.

First, I know you guys don't want to hear it, but the truth is while the Dolphins addressed important issues this offseason, holes continue to exist. The interior offensive line which was a worry throughout all of last season, will again have a microscope trained on it.

Health is a concern for the interior line. C Jake Grove, who plays with better leverage than Samson Satele and had some of his better games against the AFC East last year, will be an upgrade only as long as he stays healthy. And staying healthy has been a challenge for him the past two seasons.

LG Justin Smiley is completely healthy after ankle surgery that cut his season short in 2008. It was the second consecutive year he finished on injured reserve. On the bright side, I'm told Smiley's shoulder which was still a problem last year is not an issue now. Can he finally stay healthy?

The RG spot was a concern all of last season and remains an uncertainty now. Yes, Donald Thomas is supposed to be ready to go by the time the season begins. Yes, I've read the reports where he's said he's ready to go for the start of training camp. But I have one source that tells me Thomas will not be completely cleared at the start of camp so we'll see what happens.

Finding a right guard the team can trust game in and out is not so important for a team trying to merely get through the season. Finding a consistent player there to plug in with the rest of the $154 million line is imperative for a team hoping to get in and advance in the playoffs.

QB Chad Pennington has worked long and hard to make sure he doesn't fall back to the troubling career trend of following one good year with a bad one. But all his offseason work has been focused on keeping him healthy. The truth is no amount of work Pennington has done has increased his velocity on his passes. He still will not be able to make 17-yard deep sideline passes from the far hashmark without the ball sailing a bit. Sorry, you'll just have to deal with it.

WR Ted Ginn Jr. has spent much of the offseason learning to get open early rather than having to run past defenders to get open. This is important because Pennington often did not throw Ginn the ball deep last year based on the fact the receiver didn't get open early enough. The frustrating thing for Ginn was that he would eventually get open downfield, but by that time, the ball was out to someone else.

I'll be watching during camp to see how often Pennington looks for Ginn. Chances are if Ginn's not catching many passes in practices, he won't be catching many in games. That will give a hint whether Ginn will indeed get his opportunity to have the breakout season everyone hopes for.

The Dolphins are planning to use the spread option in 2009 which should be exciting for anyone that likes wide open football. But don't look for a pass on every down nor a shotgun snap on every play. The Wildcat is morphing into the spread option and that means passes out of the formation and other wrinkles. I would be floored if we see any of this in the preseason.

A true story: Bill Parcells once talked to Tom Landry about how to judge players. Landry explained to Parcells that a player gets the benefit of the doubt on production in his first year. Landry said he wanted to see something from the player in the second year. And if Landry hadn'tt seen anything from the player by the third year, the dude was gone.

The Dolphins have a handful of players that have to show Parcells and coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland something this training camp to stick around.

Jason Allen is in his fourth NFL season and has failed to live up to his 2006 first-round status that raised hopes he could be a starter. Allen told me this offseason his goal was to win a starting job. I don't think that will happen, considering he was running third-team the entire offseason. As I've written before, Allen sometimes reverts to techniques he used in college or for other coaches instead of playing like these coaches want him to.

He's got to change that if he wants to earn a spot. I do think, however, he'll be able to keep a roster spot based on his ability to play special teams. But his margin for error is small.

NT Paul Soliai was overweight when training camp began in 2008. He was overweight this offseason. If he is overweight Sunday, he's in trouble. The Dolphins believe he is a hard worker -- which Cam Cameron did not, by the way -- but they want to see some maturity from Soliai. They want to see some self-motivation. They don't want to have Jason Ferguson needing to babysit him so much.

I like Ernest Wilford. He is a good man, who never once complained about not getting much playing time in 2008 despite being a veteran with more experience than any other Miami WR. But being a good man doesn't win anyone a roster spot. As Nick Saban once told me, the Dolphins are not fielding Father Flanagan's Boys' Choir.

I know you have heard Wilford struggled catching the football in practice last season. You probably have not heard the team was frustrated he had absolutely zero explosion off the line of scrimmage which also was a big problem. It seemed as if he was running in quicksand sometimes.

Well, he's getting a chance as an H-back this training camp. But in the practices I saw this offseason, he was still operating in sloooow moe. If he doesn't pick up the pace, he's toast.

I'm expecting big things out of certain players this year. Phillip Merling was flat ballin' toward the end of the 2008 season. It was so obvious, the Dolphins felt comfortable releasing Vonnie Holliday because they knew the veteran wasn't going to be on the field more than 15 percent of the plays if he stayed.

Merling is stronger and more experienced now and I expect those to translate on the field.

Matt Roth seemed to be in trouble when the Dolphins signed Jason Taylor. Some fans and even some writers still think Taylor will be starting ahead of Roth. That is not the plan at this point. Roth is better on the edge against the run in early downs. Taylor is better chasing quarterbacks on passing downs.

Moreover, Roth is set for a big season. He's in a contract year. He is healthy after having played most of 2008 with a groin injury. And he is playing a position he played all of last year for the very first time. I like his chances to shine.

I will be at Dolphins camp serving as your eyes and ears Sunday -- assuming you're not there, too. If you want real-time updates of what is happening you must follow me on twitter and set the account up so you can get instant updates to your mobile device.

I would also appreciate if you continue to make this a destination blog at The Herald as I work to give you the latest and most comprehensive Dolphins information possible. Check back often Sunday for the lowdown on practice, comments from players and coaches, analysis, and opinion. 

August 01, 2009

Which Dolphin steps up as a playmaker

It is pretty simply, really. The NFL team that scores more and yields the fewest points is usually the best team at the end of four quarters.

So it stands to reason the team with the most dynamic players that can score points and the most outstanding players that can prevent scores and turn in plays that can go in the other direction has the best chance of winning.

The guys that turn in those plays are playmakers.

And the Dolphins have not had enough of them in recent years. So, as I wrote in my column in today's Miami Herald, I believe the chief assignment of the Miami coaching staff during training camp is finding playmakers.

I give you a list of guys in the column who might step forward and become playmakers. None have as of yet. I'm hoping in the comments section you can tell me which player you have the most "trust and confidence in" (Nick Saban term) to step forward this season.

One more thing not mentioned in the column: The Dolphins have allowed themselves a rainy day fund of sorts, salary cap space and money set aside through training camp, in case a player they like comes available unexpectedly.

Do any of you know of a playmaker that might come available as Chad Pennington did last year? Anquan Boldin, under a new agent after firing Drew Rosenhaus, is now much less likely to be traded than he was last season, so that has fizzled.

I know the Broncos will attempt to trade Brandon Marshall by the October trade deadline, but I have serious doubts the Dolphins will be the most interested team based on his history, Denver's asking price, and the demand from other teams.

Guard Brian Waters, unhappy in Kansas City, is not a playmaker. Good lineman, but not a playmaker.

So who might come available? I trust you guys have a name ... or two. Also kindly provide a reason that playmaker might come available.