Good morning, folks. Armando's still out. David J. Neal substituting.
The Friday injury report lists only one Dolphin, cornerback Vontae Davis, and he's Probable with his knee injury. For Atlanta, rookie safety William Moore is out with a hamstring injury. Under Probable are defensive end John Abraham (knee), running back Jerious Norwood (knee), long snapper Mike Schneck (knee), center Todd McClure (calf), linebacker Tony Gilbert (hamstring) and defensive end Chauncey Davis (foot).
Sparano said he's more nervous now than he will be Sunday. He's a prep nut who, like most coaches, is a worrier: "I just got off the elevator with (outside linebackers coach) Jim Reid. I said, "That was practice No. 40. I wish we had 40 more."
Contrast that with rookie cornerback Sean Smith, who almost seems to float about happily. Sparano chuckled, "Sean's a young player. Those guys feel a little bulletproof. That's OK. It's us old hunting dogs who like to play the "What If?" game and look for loopholes, obstacles, all the things that jump in front of you. Sometimes, you are looking for things that aren't there. These young guys...look, they come from big colleges, play in front of big crowds, played with pressure. So, for them to be a little loosey-goosey is OK. As a coach, when I look at our team, that's one of the things I don't want to stop. I'd hate to have a bunch of robots out there."
In practice, attendance was perfect. The Friday music in the Little Nicky Memorial Practice Bubble was "I'm So Hood" followed by Aerosmith's "Dream On." As for practice itself, the defense seemed to be using a safety on the tight end. If the Dolphins were really worried about me putting that in this blog, they wouldn't have done it with the entire media standing there. Heck, maybe they're hoping I do put it in and then do something different. Whatever.
I'll be writing Matt Ryan and Jake Long for the paper tomorrow. I understand what the Dolphins did in playing it safe with Long even if Ryan turns out to be a better player. The Imperial Triumvirate's philosophy is you start up front with people who can move other people and protect your quarterback. Makes sense if you look at what's happened to some pretty good quarterback prospects who went to bad teams that couldn't run and/or couldn't pass protect (see "Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Tim Couch, David Carr"). Plunkett won two Super Bowls with very good Raiders teams as he revived what had been a dead career, but he had one of my favorite lines on just how much a quarterback's success relies on those around him.
Plunkett had just had his comeback season that ended with the Raiders winning the Super Bowl, the same year Peyton's daddy, taken No. 2 overall after Plunkett in the 1971 draft, had just gone through the 1-15 Aints season in New Orleans. Pittsburgh had won four of the six previous Super Bowls.
"My career wouldn't have had all these peaks and valleys if I had been with Oakland for 10 years. You know who I feel for? I feel for Archie Manning. He's a nice guy and a hell of a quarterback, and if he had been with Pittsburgh all along and Bradshaw been with the Saints, Archie would be the star and Pittsburgh still would have won those Super Bowls. It's the team you're with that matters."
Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were helped by running games that took the heat off of them and not with just one back, but two and three who could arrest a defense's attention by ripping off chunks of yardage behind a strong line. Flacco had Derek Mason, a veteran possession guy. Ryan had Rowdy Roddy White, a big play guy who also lead the league in third down conversion catches. The Dolphins didn't have the line or the receivers to support a Ryan or Flacco going into the 2008 draft. So, you build the support system while finding a quarterback.
Besides, quarterbacks are such a dice roll. Many a good NFL personnel man still working and respected would've taken Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft. In terms of raw passing talent, many coaches and scouts will tell you few if any in NFL history surpassed Jeff George and look at his career. What you can't always tell about quarterbacks are the intangibles -- leadership ability, physical and mental resiliency. As Ben Roethlisberger said in Sports Illustrated's quarterback round table, toughness is playing the worst game in your life, everything going wrong and staying in there, still trying to pull it out.
It's still too early to gauge how good Long's going to be as is the case with Ryan. Long does strike me as the methodical type who would literally list his deficiencies, put the list in a desk drawer, then work quietly, patiently to check each one off as he removed it from his game.
Speaking of lines, Sparano didn't sound entirely comfortable with where the offensive line is right now because he feels they didn't truly get their five starters set until relatively late in training camp. I think the run game matchup Sunday favors the Dolphins in a 150-yard rushing day kind of way. It'll be interesting to see what they do against a weak run defense.
I'll update again later. Discuss, disagree, but keep it PG.