Armando's out so this will be David J. Neal doing my best Earl Morrall/Don Strock for the next few days. Thanks for the welcomes yesterday. Oh, by the way, I won't be policing comments as vigilantly as Armando does and I'm certainly no prude, but please try to keep it clean.
From September through December, Thursdays make me nostalgic the college weekends that started when I walked out of the last class or filed my last college newspaper story on Thursday.
Vontae Davis went through all the drills at practice, yet didn't appear to be moving smoothly. He again said his knee was OK, then ambled off looking terribly stiff. Offensive tackle Andrew Gardner had an excused absence. On Atlanta's injujry report, defensive end John Abraham fully participated at practice Thursday after limited practice Wednesday. Safety William Moore didn't practice with a bad hamstring, missing his second straight practice.
Each Thursday, the coordinators will be unmuzzled and allowed to speak to the media. They went about 20 to 25 minutes earlier than scheduled today, so I was in the midst of a McDonald's run when defensive Paul Pasqualoni spoke and was just coming back in with Darlington's Chicken McNuggets and my Double Quarter Pounder meal when Dan Henning took the podium.
Perhaps most interesting was what Henning said about Pat White. Saying White joked with him after the preseason that he's becoming a "four-minute expert" after closing the preseason games, Henning said, "That was his job under those conditions. But, he never got an opportunity to show that he can do other things and, if he has to go into the game, I'm confident that we're in a position that right now, we can manage Pat and we can win with him."
Of course, we'll only find out this season if both Chads go down. Unlikely, but hardly impossible.
One of my main themes this preseason has been "cheap points." Last season, aside from the Wildcat stuff, the Dolphins scraped by week after week without getting many quickie touchdowns -- special teams touchdowns, big plays out of the base offense, interception or fumble returns for scores or that set up touchdowns. With unspectacular special teams also not helping with field position, their touchdown drives tended to be laborious affairs, relying on a minimum of mistakes and maximum effort. Excepting the Wildcat debut and the game against Kansas City's buffet defense (take what you want, when you want), the Dolphins had 28 touchdown drives. Of those, 18 were longer than 70 yards.
Just because they were able to do it for 16 games last year, often against teams that would need GPS to find a first down marker, doesn't mean the odds favor them doing it again. You can have a good defensive game against Atlanta, New Orleans, Indianapolis (although Indy might still be in Getting Comfortable mode), New England and Houston and still wind up allowing 24 or 28 points. That's why Sparano wanted to see more from Chris Williams ("I see a guy who can change the field..."). It's why they really want Ted Ginn to develop into a true big play receiver.
I asked Henning if they would be more explosive out of the base offense. He asked, "Are you saying we weren't last year?" Well, yeah, I said. He pointed out Pennington was top five in yards per attempt (actually sixth). Then, he quickly admitted that's not yards per completion.
"Who was it, Bum Phillips, who said statistics are like a loose woman -- you can do anything you want with them?" Henning said. "We will be as explosive as people allow us to be and we had some players that are obviously explosive players -- Ricky, Ronnie, I think Teddy's an explosive player. I think, at times, Pat Cobbs can be an explosive player based on system and what they're allowing you to take. I saw in the playoff game last year, we had Davone Bess catch a pass and go 45 yards down to the 3-yard line against the Ravens.
"So, we are attempting to be what we can be. As John Wooden would say, "To be the best you can be, that's being successful."
Maybe I said this yesterday, but today, you could feel the malaise even more during the locker room and media sessions. Players, Sparano, media all just want Sunday to come so there's something else to talk about.
I'm usually not big on lists from the national publications. That said, The Sporting News put together a panel of 106 experts that actually included Hall of Fame players -- which the actual Hall of Fame selection committee should start doing -- to select the Top 100 players in the NFL. Peyton Manning came out No. 1, Tom Brady No. 2 in a mild upset. The top defensive players were Washington's Albert Haynesworth at No. 6 and Baltimore's Ed Reed at No. 7.
The only Dolphin on the list was Joey Porter at No. 48. The Lions actually had two players on the list, wide receiver Calvin Johnson at No. 82 and linebacker Julian Peterson at No. 72. With the trade (but not yet reporting) of Richard Seymour, the Raiders have two players on the list.
Personally, I find little to choose between Brady and Manning -- Brady has more rings mainly because the Pats defense threw it down hard in the Super Bowl against the Rams and in the 2003 AFC title game against Indianapolis -- but Reed would be my next choice. Whether blocking punts, returning punts, returning punts or fumbles, nobody changes a game like he does when he gets his hands on the ball. I can think four games just off the top of my head in which the Ravens were getting gangsta slapped and an Ed Reed play swung the game 180 degrees. There's a great NFL Films clip of Herman Edwards, then with the Jets, screaming at Lamont Jordan to not throw a halfback option pass with, "No, no, no! Ed Reed!" Sure enough, Reed picked it off and took it house to house (called back on a dumb block in the back by Will Demps).
That's my opinion, for what it's worth. I might update it more a little later. Talk amongst yourselves...