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75 posts from October 2009

October 31, 2009

Much roster adjusting for Dolphins on Sat.

NEW YORK -- The Dolphins are in Gotham, well, on the New Jersey outskirts across the river, and they are busy.

They have downgraded ILB Channing Crowder to out for Sunday's game against the Jets. Reggie Torbor is expected to start in Crowder's place on Sunday. Crowder is nursing a left shoulder injury and missed the entire week of practice.

The Dolphins thus have an open spot on the active game day roster and that is likely to be taken up by LB Matt Roth, who was activated onto the active roster on Saturday. To make room for Roth on the 53-man roster, the club waived TE John Nalbone.

Nalbone will now go through the waiver process. It is possible if another team doesn't claim him, he could be signed to Miami's practice squad next week.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Roth, who has not played this season while he was on the non-football injury list, is used on special teams, as an outside linebacker or even gets snaps at inside linebacker. It is possible he will do all three.

Roth, you should remember, suffered a mysterious groin injury just prior to the opening of training camp. He missed all of training camp as a result and was placed on NFI as a result. He became eligible to start practicing against after the sixth week of the NFL season, and after missing some more time with a tweaked ankle, he returned to practice and worked all of this past week.

Roth was Miami's starting strongside linebacker in 2008, the job Jason Taylor has won this year.

If winds are biting, pick Henne over Sanchez

NEW YORK -- Outlined against a slate gray sky my plane landed in Gotham (Grantland Rice started flowing through my fingers) and I was reminded that a game in the Meadowlands lurks for Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez.

If you are a daily reader of this blog, you might vaguely remember that on Oct. 18, during Miami's bye weekend, I blogged about Sanchez before he began a nightmare performance against Buffalo. If you remember or check out the archives, you'll know I predicted Sanchez would have a horrible game because the winds were swirling at the Meadowlands and I have been told by three NFL personnel people that Sanchez simply won't be that good, in the short-term anyway, in those type of conditions.

The personnel folks told me being a Southern California kid who hasn't really experienced either cold weather or swirling wind conditions, it will take Sanchez a while to figure out how to handle the Meadowlands because the winds are so unpredictable.

Well, Sanchez that day threw five interceptions and had a defining outing in that the offense has since been taken out of his hands and put in the hands of the New York running backs. Anyway, Sundays game against the Dolphins is the first for Sanchez in the Jets back in the Meadowlands since that disaster game on Oct. 18.

Not surprisingly, the issue of weather and swirling winds came up this week, in part because I brought it up, and offensive coordinator Dan Henning seems to agree with my NFL sources, at least in part, about Sanchez and the Meadowlands.

"Yes, I think Sanchez might have some problems," Henning said only half-kiddingly this week.

If the winds are biting, absolutely. Remember, it's not necessarily about cold temperatures, although that can also be a factor. The weather Sunday is expected to be in the 50s so that really isn't frigid. But the winds, the winds are the big factor.

“It’s important to get a good grip on the ball and practice in those elements, but it’s one of those things where it’s football, you just have to play," Sanchez said. "Trust your instincts, body guys up in the rain, you have to make sure they’re not jumping and tipping balls up in the air and it slips through their hands, and you just have to be even more accurate and more conscious about the football and ball security.

"We will for sure go through that playing here in the Meadowlands, and we just need to be ready to play in it.”

I contend that if the winds are kicking on Sunday, it is the Dolphins, quarterbacked by Chad Henne, that will have an advantage getting the ball out and to their intended targets. Henne has a better arm than Sanchez and has more experience playing in difficult climates than Sanchez. Henne played at Michigan while Sanchez played at USC.

“I think sits going to be difficult for all of us to adjust to the climate," Henne said. "Obviously we’re down here in warm whether all the time, we haven’t played in a cold weather game yet, so we’re going to have to adjust to the climate, adjust to the winds.

"I’m kind of accustomed to that with college being in the north and adjusting to the cold weather and the wind. I don’t think that should be a factor to me, and hopefully we can just adjust to it.”

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October 30, 2009

Dolphins-Jets rivalry borders on thuggery

The rhetoric surrounding this Dolphins-Jets rivalry has always been fun. The players bark back and forth the week before the game. The fans get drunk on game day, fight each other and go to work the next day with fewer teeth. The players knock heads on the field and then go home and brag about it.

It's always been a visceral clash of division rivals and their fans. And it's always been relatively harmless.

But this year the rivalry has climbed to new heights and Thursday, to a place no professional sports rivalry should ever go. Whenever you have players from each team talking about hurting a player on the other team, someone needs to stop and ask if the rivalry has crossed the line of good taste and fun and is now residing in thuggery territory.

Now, the players and some fans that read this will dismiss it as a geeky sports writer getting involved in something he knows nothing about -- competition and emotion and answering a physical challenge. That's crap.

I appreciate a physical battle between finely tuned athletes as much as anyone. I experience the full range of emotion like everyone else in the world. And I'm as competitive a person as they come. Trust me on that last one.

But I'm also a fan of the NFL. And the NFL is many things, but threats about hurting another team's players, or even joking about another team's players being injured and out for the year -- as New York coach Rex Ryan did recently at Will Allen's expense -- is wrong and should be out of bounds.

And yet, here we are discussing how New York's Bart Scott this week told a handful of New York writers that he wanted to hurt Miami QB Chad Henne and knock him out of Sunday's game.

"I hope to get him out of there," Scott told the New York writers.

Asked by New York Daily News writer Rich Cimini how he plans to do that and if that included hurting Henne, Scott replied: "I want to hit him and get him out of there. That's for anybody who touches the football, period. It's that type of game. Write it down however you want to write it down. You don't have to do something dirty to get somebody out of there."

No, but you have to be someone dirty to be thinking that way. Henne is a professional. He makes his living playing football. And Bart Scott wants to hurt him and knock him out of his job? He wants to somehow assault another player to the point that guy can no longer compete against him?

So the old saying, 'To be the best you have to beat the best,' now has changed in Scott's warped mind to, "To be the best you have to injure the best?' Scott wants to hurt Henne and thereby hurt the Dolphins and thereby hurt the NFL.

Yes, Scott succeeding on his stated intentions would hurt the NFL because the league is diminished when its best players get hurt or knocked from the action.

Now, before you get all aflutter with righteous indignation that the Jets have crossed a sacred line, I must tell you the Dolphins are not innocents here.

Just as one New York linebacker acted a fool by talking about hurting a fellow NFL player, one Dolphins linebacker acted a fool and talked about hurting a fellow NFL player, too.

Disgusting as it is, Joey Porter this week basically echoed Scott's thoughts about knocking out a QB -- except Porter was talking about knocking out Jets QB Mark Sanchez.

During his weekly interview with the NFL Network, Porter was asked about Sanchez eating a hot dog on the sideline of last week's game between Oakland and the Jets.

"I'm not worried about him eating a hot dog on the sideline," Porter responded. "I'm trying to worry about how I can get him on the sideline, maybe with an ice pack on him, so the hot dog doesn't bother me."

Amazingly, the NFL Network interviewer heard Porter make public his desire to knock the opposing QB from the game and instantly followed up by asking Porter if he uses twitter. (Yes, journalism in America is dead.) Anyway, the link to Porter's interview is right here.

I can tell you this pregame banter is not funny to the NFL. The league takes its money and reputation very seriously and when you have players threatening to hurt other players, that affects the NFL's reputation. And if you have players make good on their stated intentions, that affects the NFL's ability to make money.

So be aware that the NFL is monitoring Bart Scott and Joey Porter. And don't be surprised that even if they don't carry out their veiled threats to injure the opposing quarterbacks, both could nonetheless be fined for saying such things.

Because such talk doesn't belong in professional sports.

TEs not helping and associated problems

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning talks to the media once a week for 10 minutes and in at least two of the last four times he did that, he mentioned how the loss of tight end David Martin has hurt his offense.

It is an interesting comment because the Dolphins put Martin on injured reserve at the beginning of the regular season without really making too much of a big deal about it.

They put him out for the season and, as I reported in September, he had surgery Sept. 9. His agent told me at the time that Dr. James Andrews was of the belief Martin could be ready to play again in six to eight weeks. Guess what?

It's been seven weeks.

Best case scenario, Martin might have been ready to play last week. Worst case, he might ahve been ready next week.

That, I guess, is water under the bridge. The Dolphins made the decision they thought was best and are now living with it. But I bring up Martin more to plant this seed in your minds: Martin is unsigned for 2010.

It will be interesting whether the Dolphins, who often lament the Martin injury, make any attempt to re-sign Martin. His agent Terry Williams, told me that while neither he nor Martin were happy with being placed on injured reserve, that will not affect their decision in free agency.

"That will be a decision we will evaluate based on the financial considerations at that time," Williams said.

So we shall see if the Dolphins value Martin as much as they say they miss him. The Dolphins this season are trying to fill the Martin void with Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos. So far, the void ain't filled too good, if you get my drift.

Fasano, coming off his two most productive pass-catching games of the season, still has only 11 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Haynos has two catches for 38 yards.

Haynos obviously hasn't been the down-field threat Martin was. Neither has Fasano. In fact, Fasano hasn't been the threat he himself was last season when he finished with 34 receptions for 454 yards and seven touchdowns.

Coach Tony Sparano explained Thursday that Fasano's diminished numbers aren't all a result of something he is doing wrong.

“I think it matters a little a bit with the quarterback, whether he is comfortable throwing the ball in the middle of the field, I think because that is where most tight ends work," Sparano said, starting to list the reasons Fasano has not been as big a factor so far. "At the same time, I think our run game has a little bit to do with the lack balls that are out there that way."

Sparano explained that the Dolphins have seen a lot of defenses creep their safeties up in order to help stop Miami's outstanding rushing attack. That has, in turn, made the middle of the field a very crowded place for Fasano and Haynos to work.

"What I mean by that is you are not getting the middle of the field open against us," Sparano said. "The middle of the field is closed."

And that explains some things. But it doesn't explain everything.

It doesn't explain how Fasano had two receptions in the regular-season opener and fumbled both. It doesn't explain how he had a 19-yard reception in his hands against the Saints off a Ronnie Brown throw from Wildcat, and dropped the ball.

It doesn't explain his other drops this season. Fact is, Fasano is second on the team in drops this season, behind Ted Ginn Jr.

And, finally, the fact the middle of the field is closed is normally a good thing. You see, teams with passing games that are even mediocre, rarely see safeties playing like they were hybrid linebackers because no one in the pass-happy NFL is stupid enough to gamble like that on defense.

The gamble is your safeties crowd the line of scrimmage, most teams will be able throw the ball over the top for TD after TD after embarrassingly long TD.

But defenses have gambled like that against the Dolphins, hoping to shut down the run, because they have little or no fear of those embarrassing passes. Defenses close the middle of the field because they think they can matchup man-to-man on the outside and usually not get burned.

Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they don't fear a playmaking tight end will run up the seam, past the safety, and into the end zone. Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they believe the quarterback is more comfortable and confident throwing to the outside or to the checkdown running back than zipping a seam pass past a safety's earhole.

So it's wrong to blame the success of the Miami running game for shutting down the middle of the field. It is more correct to blame an ineffective receiver and tight end corps for not winning one-on-one matchups and not forcing defenses to respect them and open up the area. 

October 29, 2009

Dolphins jobbed on Sharper's TD, replay

If you haven't seen the photo in Sports Illustrated that should fry your frank, here it is:

The photo clearly shows that Saints safety Darren Sharper fumbled  before he crossed the goal line in the third quarter of the Saints' 46-34 victory over Miami.

The play was ruled a touchdown in the third quarter of the game, cutting Miami's advantage from 24-10 to 24-17. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano threw a challenge flag. And he lost the challenge and a time out.

What's the point?

The point is this photo proves Sharper did not score. It further means the Dolphins should have gotten the ball at the 20 yard line after a touchback while still nursing a 24-10 lead.

Sparano was asked today if he saw the photo (by the way, if you want to see a bigger image, click on it).

"Yes," he said.

And his thoughts?

"No comment," the coach said after a pause, obviously not wanting to say anything that would incur a fine from the NFL.

You, however, are encouraged to comment.

Thurs. afternoon with the coordinators, Ginn

The Miami coordinators -- Dan Henning on offense and Paul Pasqualoni on defense -- just had their weekly 10 minutes with the media. And Ted Ginn made himself available for three minutes.

The highlights:

Ginn said he understands his playing time is likely to be diminished starting Sunday against the Jets.

"I ain't the first time I've been through it," he said. "All I can do is play the time they ask me to play and make the plays they ask me to make."

Ginn said he's had at least one conversation with a coach about Miami's desire to see him improve. I asked if he was told in that conversation he was being demoted.

"We haven't had a conversation like that," Ginn answered. "It was more of a motivation talk. Get better. You have to get better. Do what you do but get better."

Ginn knows he need to improve because he is not deaf. He's heard the criticisms directed at him this week.

"Oh yeah, I hear it," he said. "I heard a lot after the game. It's a part of football. You just got to grow up, play hard and keep playing. I heard what people say. You going to hear it through other people, you're going to see it. It's just something you have to deal with."

Ginn said he's staying close to his family in this rough time.

I asked Pasqualoni about FS Gibril Wilson's "interesting" tackling techniques that have cost the Dolphins a ton of hidden yardage this season and even a couple of touchdowns.

"Well, a part of it the guys he's tackling, too," Pasqualoni said. "He's been on some real quality, quality players. Last week it was Reggie Bush. He's working very, very hard at it. I think despite everything I think he's improving at it. He's got a great attitude. We still have a lot of football to play and we're still going on the premise that we're getting better each week. I think that's part of the process."

Henning was asked his take on the whole Ted Ginn Jr. saga.

"Let me address Ted Ginn," he said. "Now, there's been a lot of conversation, a lot of arrows, a lot of attacks on this guy. Ted Ginn made less mistakes in that game than at least 9 other players on that offense. Ted Ginn's the only player we've had since we've been here that's gotten behind anybody's defense and been able to knock the top off a defense."

Henning was asked why the Dolphins ran the ball only eight times for 17 yards in the second half after having 22 rushes in the first half for 120 yards.

"Two reasons," Henning said. "We did run the ball successfully in the first half. We did not run the ball successfully in the third quarter. They come out and they were behind and they knew they were behind and they went all out. They were bringing nine men. In order to stop that you have to be successful in the passing game to get them off your back and therein lies why we were not successful in the fourth quarter.

"We had a number of errors -- protection errors, dropped balls, we had a number of times we didn't hit what we were aiming at. You can give credit to the New Orleans Saints defense. Now, they took a chance because you saw what happened when Brian caught the ball and went down the field. And later they were still coming after us and we were hitting on some and weren't hitting on others.

"But that's a very risky proposition to bring nine people and play the safeties 12 to 14 yards deep. And we hit some things and didn't hit some things. But that's the reason."

Basically, what Henning is telling you is that the Dolphins were betrayed by their inability to throw the ball effectively. The Dolphins have trouble throwing the ball. No revelation there. 

"Ted Ginn had a game he's not happy with and we're not happy with. But it's just like my children. I'm not always happy with my children, but I love my children. I'm going to support my children. They're what we have. He won the job. He came out of camp as one of the top 4. I believe he's one of the top 4. We're going to continue to use Ted Ginn the way we think is best to use him to help this football team."

Ted Ginn is a Miami Dolphin. Ooops, that slipped.

Actually, I've been told that regardless of Henning's defense of Ginn, it is Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo who got most of the first-team receiver reps in practice today. I didn't see that but that's what one source is contending. The source also said Ginn will be active against the Jets Sunday so expect him to play.

But that doesn't seem to rate in Henning's mind.

"We don't start anybody," Henning insisted. "If you notice, our business with the receivers is by committee. I don't think you can call anybody the starter."

Or the playmaker.

Jets all hot and bothered by Ronnie quote

[Blog Note: This week you have pushed this blog's comment total over the 100,000 mark and that only measures comments dating back one year. It also doesn't count all the comments that don't print because you use naughty words I don't allow on here. Congratulations on reaching the milestone and keep it coming!]

To get his little minions all excited about Sunday's game against the Dolphins, Jets coach Rex Ryan used a quote that appeared on this blog following the first Miami beatdown of the Jets on Oct 12.

"Coming into the game we're watching how they blitz and we were like, 'OK we'll just sit back and play football then, and let's see who has the tougher 11 people on the field,' " Ronnie Brown said on Oct. 14.

Well, you'd think Brown had stolen Ryan's buffet ticket because the coach was so vexed he actually read the quote aloud to his players during a team meeting on Wednesday.

So the Jets, who wanted revenge against the Dolphins before hearing the quote, now reeeaaaaalllly want revenge against the Dolphins. Oooooh, now they're reeeeaaaallly, reeeaaallly motivated. Now that Brown's incendiary quote has set the Jets' collective britches on fire, they're going to reeaaaallly study their game plans and reeeealllly practice reeeaaaally super duper hard.

"I got the quote and it's a great quote," Ryan said without attributing it properly. "Obviously, they must have thought they were the tougher team on that Monday night. We'll see who the tougher one is this week."

Hear the silence? That's the Dolphins' knees not rattling one against another in fear. I saw no sign of apprehension, consternation, panic or trepidation in the Dolphins locker room Wednesday. (Also saw no sign of Ted Ginn Jr. either, but that's another story.)

The Dolphins, to be succinct, seem to be simply going about their business this week.

“I think we’re definitely going to look back at that tape and anticipate what we can attack them on, and what did work for us," said quarterback Chad Henne. "We’re going to take bits and pieces from that game, but obviously there are going to be adjustments. There’ are going to be some change-ups for us, and we will try to keep them off guard.”

Anyway, Rexy seems to want his team on guard (even if it was only Wednesday) and they came out of that team meeting spewing anger over that Brown quote.

"It's kind of like he disrespected our defense in a way," cornerback Darrell Revis told the New York Post. "That shows what they think about our defense, that we're not tough enough and we're not strong enough. It hurts. I think a lot of guys are taking it personally on this team, because we don't want to be looked at like that as a defense.

"We believe we're a tough group and that's what we're going to show."

Outsider looking in observation: Brown did not say the Jets are not tough. He did make it quite clear the Dolphins thought prior to the game they could challenge the Jets and they would be happy to play and see which was the tougher team.

This just in: The Dolphins were the tougher team that night. They plowed the field with that defense Revis plays on, rushing for a 151 yards and two touchdowns.

And doesn't Revis have other concerns? Last we saw him, he was chasing Ginn, by no means a stud, into the end zone on the embarrassing end of a 53-yard touchdown pass.

The Jets on Sunday will be without their best defensive lineman and run stuffer Kris Jenkins, who went out of the lineup with a knee injury in the Buffalo game two weeks ago and is out for the remainder of the season.

And yet, the Jets don't seem concerned. They've got their macho attitude on this week.

"The toughest 11? We'll see this week," defensive end Shaun Ellis told The Post. "There's no doubt about it, that we have tough players on this team. Everybody was watching that last game and it was like, 'Wow, we laid an egg.'"

Well, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and lays eggs like a duck ... it's a duck.

October 28, 2009

Sparano: Starting WRs to be determined

With reports here and there, at ESPN.com and Profootballtalk.com and miamiherald.com, speculating whether Ted Ginn Jr. has lost his starting job or playing time or his blankie, I figured it's time to cut to the chase and ask coach Tony Sparano whether Ginn has, in fact, lost his starting job or not?

"No. Well, we'll see where we are at the end of the week," Sparano said. "Right now I'm kind of upsetting the whole apple cart and let's see where this thing goes. I don't want to say 'Yes,' I don't want to say, 'No' right now."

The Dolphins on Wednesday basically began a WR tryout with each of the five wideouts given a chance to earn playing time and their starting jobs for Sunday's game versus the Jets.

"Today we went in there and said, 'Let's let it fly and we got five guys in there playing this position so let's let them all work and we'll go from there.' "

And that basically means practice, more than anything else, will determine what receivers -- Ginn, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Patrick Turner -- you'll see get the most work versus New York.

"It always does," Sparano said. "It really does. It always does from my end. In my mind we have five players at that position and at the end of the week, we see where it goes."

So much for all the speculation.

During the open portion of today's practice, Camarillo was the lone WR with the starting group. It is not known how much work any of the receivers got with the first team during the remaining 90 minutes of practice, which should suggest to you the media (including me) doesn't know what happened during the close part of practice.

Ginn, by the way, came into the locker room during the open media session for about five seconds today. He saw reporters there and turned and walked out. Ginn had told the media relations department he would talk on Wednesday. So much for promises.

By the way, Channing Crowder did not practice today. He has, as was reported here two days ago, a shoulder injury. Crowder is all but certain to play Sunday against New York.

"I feel like crap," he said to me when I asked about his status. "I would have practiced today but that's Tony decision."

As for Sunday ... "That's Tony's decision, but I'm sure he's going to want his dog there with him."

Crowder is one of Sparano's dogs.

Jason Ferguson (foot) was limited in practice while Ricky Williams (thumb) took all his repetitions in practice. Matt Roth, who missed practice last week with an ankle injury, returned to work today.

For the Jets, David Clowney (ankle), Brandon Moore (foot) and Lito Sheppard (quad) missed practice Wednesday. Bart Scott, Shaun Ellis, Jerricho Cotchery, Brad Smith, and Damien Woody, were limited for the Jets with various injuries.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez just said he expects Cotchery, who has missed the past two games, to play this week versus Miami.

Jets coach Rex Ryan had his conference call with the South Florida hacks. He was asked his thoughts about the Dolphins losing starting cornerback Will Allen for the season.

"We lost a Pro Bowl nose tackle and Pro Bowl running back," Ryan said. "So boo hoo hoo."

Finally, if you want a breakdown of the NFL's best running back tandems, go the The Herald's Rollout blog and check out how Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams compare to the other top tadems around the league. 

Pace backs away from "nonsense" controversy [updated]

It's Jets week.

So get over the Saint hangover. And get ready for an interesting week of great Rex Ryan quotes, some Jets fans trolling this blog, some trash talking from both sides and the usual Wildcat disrespect from Calvin Pace ... oops. Hold that thought.

Seems Pace, the Jets linebacker who called the Wildcat "nonsense" after Miami's 31-27 victory Oct 12, isn't going to be in the mood to relaunch his campaign against the offense he "can't respect."

“I’m not doing any talking about what I said earlier,” Pace said via conference call with New York writers earlier this week. “I said it. I meant it. But I really feel like what Channing Crowder said, about, ‘If you don’t like it, stop it,’ was true. That was a true comment. We don’t like it, we’ve got to go out there and stop it. And that’s what we have to do.”

You will remember that there was a little post-game back and forth between the Jets and Dolphins -- not to mention the pregame back and forth -- when Pace made his "nonsense" comment and Crowder responded with the clarity of a renaissance philosopher.

“We ‘nonsensed’ their [butts] all the way up and down the field,” Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder replied. “Wildcat is an offensive formation .. They have thousands of plays on film about it ... Go stop it.”


Pace, by the way, also ran away from calling Chad Henne a "clown quarterback," another comment he made after the first game.

“I think their running game, and their ability to establish that, helped him,” Pace said when asked about Henne. “Any time you’ve got two backs getting 5-, 6-yards here and there, and they’re doing that, and you have a quarterback where he’s just got to make smart throws, it’s making his job easier.

"Like I said the past couple weeks, we have to get to a situation where we’re making it third-and-9, third-and-10, where Henne has to beat us, instead of just giving him a quick checkdown where a guy can just fall for it for a first down. That’s really going to have to be our main focus for the week, to eliminate the running game, and then make Chad Henne go out there and try to pick us apart.”

Well, you've not heard the last of this stuff. Ryan will talk to the Miami media at 2:35 p.m. today. Mark Sanchez will call in at 5 p.m. and hopefully wait until the call is over before having a hot dog or something for dinner.

The Dolphins practice at 11 a.m. and their locker room opens at 2:15 p.m. [Update: Channing Crowder, nursing an undisclosed left arm/shoulder injury, is not practicing today. Linebacker Matt Roth, who missed practice late last week because of an ankle injury, is back to practicing today.

By the way, coach Tony Sparano was riding some receivers hard during the portion of practice open to the media. After Brian Hartline and Ted Ginn Jr. dropped passes after getting behind the defender, Sparano yelled to the next receiver, imploring him to, "go get the (expletive) football."

As expected, Ginn did not take his snaps with the first-team offense.]

Check back here often today for more updates. I'll have a locker room update, a Ryan update, a Sparano update and a Sanchez update. It should be a full, full day.


October 27, 2009

The recipe for rehabilitating Ted Ginn Jr.

Ted Ginn has excellent straightline speed. He has good enough hands -- no, really. He has the physical ability to emerge from what is clearly a terrible outing against New Orleans and a season that is threatening to define him negatively.

But he needs to be managed now.

Today, as the Dolphins coaches are drawing up their plans for the Jets game, the issue of what to do with Ginn has to be decided. It is clear Ginn will lose some snaps at the wide receiver spot. Tony Sparano practically said as much when he said rookie Brian Hartline was about to play more.

More work for Hartline will mean less work for Ginn. That is a certainty.

But I have a hard time believing the Dolphins will simply deactivate Ginn. I don't think that would be the smart thing to do. I don't think that's what coaches will do.

First, I think one of Ginn's major problems now is he is lacking confidence. His body language is terrible. And his performance is showing that because that drop in the fourth quarter near the sideline Sunday showed he seemed to be pressing.

So what do you do with a kid like that? Do you deactivate him? For some guys, that would send a message and force them to buck up and respond. For guys like Ginn, I fear that would basically collapse what little belief in himself he has left.

Deactivating Ted Ginn would basically crush him emotionally.

Plus, that would also leave the Dolphins without their best return man on Sunday. Nope, deactivating Ginn would be dumb.

So do you demote Ginn, taking the starting job from him and giving it to Hartline? Well, that might make fans feel better, but what good would it do for the team? We already established Hartline will get more snaps at WR and Ginn will get fewer.

Does it really matter if one of the snaps taken from Ginn is the first offensive snap of the game or not? I do not know if Ginn will be benched. But I say even as I'm all for him getting fewer WR snaps, I don't really care if one of those is the first snap of the game or not.

In fact, let Ginn take the game's first snap. Throw him the ball or hand it to him on an end around. Get him immediately involved. Give him a chance to make a play, thus allowing him to rebuild his waning confidence.

Then put him on the sideline in pressure situations as Hartline gets more snaps throughout the game.

One thing the Dolphins absolutely, positively must do: Do what Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller planned when Ginn first arrived in Miami. Give him a chance to return every punt and every kickoff the Dolphins take first and foremost.

Ginn has a history of doing those things well. Give him a chance to regain his confidence while returning kicks. Give him a chance to feel like he's a player again. Give him the ball on special teams every chance you can.


Well, for one, Ginn is better at it than any other Miami player. Let's face it, Davone Bess will always make the first guy miss on punt returns but his lack of speed will never allow him to bust one loose. So he's always going to average 4 or 5 yards per return.

Ginn doesn't make too many people miss, as he's not as shifty. But if he sees a crease, he can hit it faster than anyone else on the team. Give him a chance to find one of those creases. Have him take every punt and kick return in practice this week to build his confidence about fielding the ball (also making sure he won't fumble) and then give him a chance to make the plays in the game.

Same with the kickoff returns. The Dolphins tried to turn Patrick Cobbs into their top return man even though he wasn't nearly as fast as Ginn -- tougher, but definitely not faster. Well, count on Ginn for that, too. Give him "ownership," as Dan Henning would say, of Miami's return game. Tell him it's on him to make big plays in the return game.

If Ginn can do that as well as he did in college, perhaps the Dolphins can use that as the foundation for rehabilitating him as a wide receiver.

The bottom line is Ginn's confidence is currently shot. It's up to the coaching staff to rebuild it or risk losing Ginn as a contributor. So what better way to accomplish that than giving him a chance to improve a special teams unit that sorely needs the help anyway?

By the way follow me on twitter and you get instant updates on when I post new blogs. 

Miami Dolphins rookie CBs to the rescue

Amid all the venom spewed toward Ted Ginn Jr. and Gibril Wilson and the strange play-calling and use of timeouts during the New Orleans loss, it became kind of easy to miss perhaps the most significant fallout from Sunday's 46-34 loss.

The Dolphins are now the only NFL team starting two rookie cornerbacks, according to the depth charts at NFL.com.

Fact is, only the Rams and Jaguars have even one rookie cornerback starting for them and that's Bradley Fletcher, who has started three of seven games for St. Louis, and Derek Cox, who has started all six games for the Jags.

So Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, Miami's starting corners Sunday against the New York Jets, are pretty special.

But beyond beyond special, it says something about these young men that no one is having a major anxiety attack that the Dolphins are starting the two rookies the remainder of the season. Some folks, in fact, are even eager to see it because that's what was likely going to be happen next year and beyond anyway.

That the time table has been accelarated by Will Allen's blown out knee is a shame because Allen is a good player.

But it's not a disaster.

Smith has started every game this season for Miami. He's given up some plays and does not have an interception. But he is coming off perhaps his best game of his still-young NFL career.

"Sean Smith’s byline [Sunday] was 69 plays with only three minuses," coach Tony Sparano said. "Three minuses in the game. These guys are playing at pretty good levels."

Indeed, Davis has been sharing time with Smith, playing about 40 percent of the plays to Smith's 60 percent. And Davis has also played quite well during that time. He has an interception which he returned for a touchdown against Buffalo. He saved a touchdown on special teams against the Saints.

Davis has so far lived up to his draft status even as Smith has outperformed his draft status.

So what will we see with the rooks the next 10 games?

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know the answer to that question," Sparano said. "What I mean by that is, they need to mature really fast. I don’t know, I don’t really know if they’re equipped for 10 games in a row of doing full-time duty without having Will Allen out there with those two guys being able to play 60-40, or whatever it was that we were going with those guys.

"But I would say this: they’re both in good shape, and they’re both smart players, don’t have a lot of mental errors, they both like football, they like to compete ... You're asking me long haul and what I'm saying is sometimes some of these young guys are ready to check out around Thanksgiving. I’m thinking we need to do a great job with these two guys of refocusing and understanding that we do have ten of these left."

I would say that just as fans and media have been critical of some coaching and, yes, personnel decisions of late (see the first paragraph concerning Wilson and the time out situation) one must also be fair. And in all fairness, the personnel department apparently did excellent work with Davis and Smith.

And the coaches did an excellent job in recognizing they needed to develop both rookies and not just the better of the two. The coaches get a kudos for playing Davis even while Smith was starting. The platoon system that caused every second or third series seemed odd for a while.

But it got both players game experience. It got both guys used to the speed of the game.

And now, as a result, the hole the Miami secondary finds itself in after losing Allen for the remainder of the year seems more like a pothole than a grave. 

October 26, 2009

Sparano blames self, defends Ginn (sort of)

Coach Tony Sparano has just finished his day-after press conference and he started it by confirming that cornerback Will Allen is out for the year with a torn ACL on one of his knees. Allen will be placed on injured reserve and the team has called William Kershaw to add him to the roster.

Kershaw helps on special teams but is also an insurance policy for the fact ILB Channing Crowder is nursing a left arm/shoulder injury suffered against the Saints.

Sparano also took the blame for the screw-up just prior to halftime on Sunday versus the Saints. In that situation, the Saints were lined up for a field goal with five seconds left and no timeouts. The Dolphins called one of their time outs to make sure they had the right personnel on the field. The Saints then brought the field goal unit to the sideline, trotted out the offense and used the time remaining to score on a Drew Brees dive over the top.

It gave New Orleans seven points instead of three.

"I want my players to do this, I need to it myself," Sparano said. "I have to take ownership of the situation that happened at the end of the half yesterday. I always have the power of trump and I did not do that. [I] should have lived with what was out on the field in that situation. So it was a bad decision on my part."

If you've seen my column in today's Miami Herald and the previous post on this blog, I've called for Ted Ginn's benching. I asked Sparano, with all due respect, why he would continue to start Ginn when the player is clearly not performing, and, indeed, hurting Miami.

"Well, Armando, I thought some of the situations right now that have occurred, quite honestly, are circumstances," Sparano answered. "In other words, what I mean by that is there are a lot of things that go into some of these things.

"It's like asking me about Chad Henne's performance. Chad Henne's performance yesterday there's a lot of things that go into that. There's dropped balls, missed sight adjusts, things like that. Well, there are some of those things with Ted as well. In other words, the ball isn't thrown on time, he does beat the coverage and we don't get a chance to throw it.

"I think Ted is a young guy who is getting better and has been improving along the way. He just didn't have a real good ballgame yesterday."

I also asked if Ginn should have caught the pass that he instead tipped up in the air and was intercepted by Darren Sharper and returned for a touchdown. Sparano called the pass, "a very good ball," but said he wasn't sure if someone got a hand in Ginn's face to cause him to miss the pass.

Ginn was in the locker room today playing dominoes. After cruising from the locker room without talking on Sunday, he declined to speak with the media again today. He told a Dolphins media relations person he would speaking on Wednesday.

Sparano, meanwhile, said you can expect more playing time for Brian Hartline, who caught three passes for 94 yards. (Obviously, the player whose snaps will be diminished when Hartline's are increased should be Ginn, but Sparano did not say that.)

"With me," Sparano said, "how you play in the game kind of merits whether you should play more and I think Brian played good enough yesterday to merit playing more."

Discuss while I get you more stuff ...

What now? Dolphins should learn a lesson

We could use this space to discuss why the Dolphins folded like a cheap lawn chair against the Saints Sunday after building a 24-3 lead. We could discuss why the Saints were able to tie the record for the greatest comeback in franchise history, outscoring Miami 36-10 in the second half and 22-0 in the fourth quarter.

I can tell you Tony Sparano and his coaching staff blew that time out situation just prior to halftime -- allowing Saints coach Sean Payton to change his mind about kicking the field goal his team was already lined up for and get a momentum-swinging TD instead.

I can tell you Ted Ginn Jr. once again proved he's not ready for prime time -- as he turned a catchable pass in his hands into a bobble that got plucked out of the air by a defender and eventually returned for a TD. I can tell you Ginn later dropped another pass in a crucial fourth-quarter situation.

I can tell you Anthony Fasano continues to be the incredible shrinking tight end -- turning what was a fine season in 2008 into a distant memory in 2009 as he regresses with dropped passes or fumbles.

I can tell you Gibril Wilson continues to struggle.

I can tell you offensive coordinator Dan Henning must have blown a mental gasket, calling 20 run plays in the first half in helping the Dolphins take a 24-10 lead, but calling only eight more runs in the second half as the Dolphins watched their lead evaporate in the hot evening air.

All those are reasons the Dolphins blew it Sunday, and if you want the graphic details click here to see why this team continues to lay Ostrich-sized eggs against good teams.

But let me quote a wise Dolphins receiver here:

"Every time you lose there's a lesson to be learned," said Dolphins receiver Greg Camarillo. "Every time you win there's a lesson. There are lessons to be had. We'll look at the film and we have to learn the lessons. We've lost too many games. If you do't learn the lessons now, you keep losing games."

So what are the lessons we've learned from this season's 2-4 start?

Let me start with the receivers. Guys, it is time to bench Ted Ginn Jr. I'm not saying cut the kid. I'm not saying punish him in any way. It's not his fault he's not up to answering the call most of the time as he drops key passes, or plays scared, or fails to make plays any good receiver would make.

I'm saying the experiment needs to end.

He needs to stop getting snaps in key, pressure situations. By benching, I'm not saying he should lose his starting job. I'm saying he needs to lose snaps. I don't care if he's in on the first play or not. I care that he's not there for the important plays.

Brian Hartline is today already a more productive receiver. Think about it. Ginn had eight passes thrown his way Sunday. He caught two for 16 yards. Hartline had five passes thrown to him. He caught three for 94 yards. Ginn is faster. But Hartline is better. Give the better receiver more plays and let the faster receiver go return kicks or something.

Or here's another idea: How about you make Ginn inactive and play Patrick Turner, too? I don't know exactly the reason Turner hasn't been able to earn playing time. He's been inactive every game. But each of those games Turner sat out, with the exception of the Jets game, Ginn has proven he is not the future for this franchise.

Turner might be in the future.

I say the Dolphins should get about the business of finding out if Turner is part of the future. Bench Ginn. Play Hartline and activate Turner and get him some snaps. They can't be worse than Ginn. Learn the lesson!

The Dolphins obviously made a mistake on Wilson in free agency. I predict that, barring a swift turnaround from his current course, he will not be with the team next season. The guy is always a step slow in coverage and does not tackle well. How's that for a great combination?

His attempted tackle of Jeremy Shockey on that 66-yard gain Sunday was a clinic on how not to do it. Afterward Wilson talked about how "Shock is a great player. It was Shock being Shock."

Well, why haven't Miami coaches tired of Wilson being Wilson?

Tyrone Culver seems better to me. And, with Chris Clemons active for the first time this season on Sunday, the hope and expectation is that he is on the come. So try Clemons also, if you must. The point is, Wilson has had six games to resolve his myriad issues.

He has not done it.

Instead he has shown why the Giants let him go in free agency and then the Raiders cut him one year after they signed him. The Dolphins made a mistake on Wilson and that mistake was multiplied several times when one considers the team did not re-sign Renaldo Hill, did not sign Darren Sharper -- you know, the dude that had a 42-yard interception return touchdown -- and did not sign Brian Dawkins as free agents.

So the Miami personnel department bypassed three better players in order to get Wilson.

The Miami personnel department is smart in that it quickly cuts ties with players that fail -- eliminating mistakes rather than nurturing them. The Miami coaching staff needs to follow suit and eliminate players such as Ginn and Wilson from the lineup so that the same sad story doesn't continue to read the same sad way in game after game after game.

That would be a good lesson to learn.

October 25, 2009

Saints comeback beats Dolphins, 46-34

The Dolphins hit the Saints in the mouth. They had a 68 yard touchdown run from Ricky Williams.They had two more Williams touchdowns after that.

The Dolphins were leading 24-3 in the second quarter.

And then reality hit.

The Saints got an interception return for a touchdown. Then Drew Brees woke up.

Then Brees realized the Dolphins cannot cover tight ends and started feeding Jeremy Shockey, who went for over 100 receiving yards.

And then there was another 54-yard interception return for a touchdown.

And that was the recipe for an upset-gone-bad.

The Dolphins held a 34-24 lead going into the fourth quarter. And the Saints whizzed by them like a Corvette passing a Pinto.

Final: Saints 46, Dolphins 34.

Discuss ...

Dolphins lead Saints 34-24 to start the 4th quarter

It is officially a thriller.

The Saints erased a 24-10 halftime lead and got within 27-24 in the third quarter. But moments ago, Chad Henne and Brian Hartline combined for a 67 yard completion and Ricky Williams scored his third TD of the game to extend Miami's lead again.

And so we have a barn burner.

Join me in the comments section for the fourth quarter to see if the Dolphins can finish the upset they have started. 

Dolphins lead Saints 24-10 going to 3rd quarter

The Dolphins have owned this game.

Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have combined for 111 yards and three touchdowns.

The Miami defense has caused two turnovers.

And Miami is blitzing and pressuring Drew Brees, which is one reason he has completed only 12 of 22 passes for 104 yards and two interceptions.

But the momentum is with the Saints.

They scored on a 1 yard dive by Brees with two seconds to play in the second quarter.

We'll see how the Dolphins respond.

And we'll see that in the comments section of this post. Join me there.

Dolphins lead Saints, 14-3 to start second Q

The Dolphins are on fire!

They have scored two touchdowns on Ricky Williams runs, one that went for 68 yards and one that covered 4 yards.

The defense, meanwhile, has come at Drew Brees and Co. with blitzes and pressure and has an interception from Tyrone Culver that led to the 4-yard Williams TD.

So it is a good start.

Join me in the comments section to see if it continues.

Live blogging Dolphins vs. Saints at 4:15 p.m.

As I just got done saying on my radio show for the last two hours, today's game is a defining one for the Dolphins.

Notice I did not say it is a must-win. It is not that.

But it is one that will tell us exactly what we have in these Dolphins. It will tell us if this team can successfully compete with the elite teams in the NFL -- which, in turn, will tell us how legitimate a playoff contender Miami is.

Or it will tell us that the Dolphins are what they have been the first five weeks of this NFL season -- a good team that can hang with elite teams, but cannot actually beat elite teams.

The 2-3 Dolphins are a on a two-game win streak and that's great. They are undefeated in the AFC East and that's great. And they hung with Indy and Atlanta earlier in the season. But ...

The teams Miami beat are a combined 5-7. At some point the Dolphins have to beat a really good team to convince everyone, including themselves, they are a legitimate playoff contender.

And what better time than today? The Dolphins are coming off a bye so they've had extra time to prepare. They're at home. They're playing a team that had an emotional game last week and has difficult division games the next two weeks after this one.

So the time is now. Today we find out about these Dolphins.

Today defines the Dolphins.

Join me in the comments section for the first quarter of the live blog.

Come strong so you can show the New Orleans trolls, whodatbeattheSaints.

Henne getting "ownership" of Dolphins offense

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning handed each of his three quarterbacks a two-sided play sheet late this week and asked them to individually study each section of plays and mark the play in each section the players like most. Each QB was also expected to mark the play he liked second-most and mark, in red ink, the plays he didn't like.

When each QB returns the sheets, they are rarely marked the same.

"They all see the game differently," Henning said. "They see the game in terms of them, not their predecessor or successor."

On Saturday night, as he prepared his own play-call sheet, Henning looked at the answers starter Chad Henne said he liked most. Those are the plays Henning will call against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

If Henne goes out of the game and either Tyler Thigpen or Pat White have to play, then Henning will refer to the answers they gave on their sheets. And he'll try to call those plays, as long as he's got confidence the QBs can run them.

But I digress.

The fact Henning pays attention to the answers Henne gives is important because the offensive coordinator must seamlessly transition from the plays he used to call for Chad Pennington to the ones he now calls for Henne. And the answers from Henne help.

"I think I know what he does the best and what he doesn't do the best and that's another thing you have to take into consideration when you're putting a game plan together for him as opposed to Chad Pennington," Henning said.

But there is perhaps a more important purpose the returned play sheets serve: They make Henne feel like he has say over the Miami offense. And for the second-year player, that seems to be important.

Henning recalls that when the Dolphins were looking at quarterbacks to draft in 2008, he, coach Tony Sparano, and GM Jeff Ireland locked themselves in a room with Henne and asked the youngster about what he was doing in his final game against Ohio State and the bowl game against the University of Florida.

Henne, according to Henning, wasn't too enthusiastic about discussing the Ohio State game. He was quite effusive, however, in discussing the Florida game. Perhaps it was partially because Henne played poorly against the Buckeyes and lit up the Gators.

But Henning has another idea. He later learned that Henne actually helped author the game plan against Florida.

"That made me feel like, 'When he takes ownership, he's going to make it work,' Henning said. "And that's what we try to do here. We try and make sure they take ownership. When they take ownership, they play pretty [well]."

And that's exactly how Henning expects Henne to play today against the Saints. The 4 p.m. game is going to require that Henne keep the New Orleans defense honest as it tries to take away Miami's rushing attack. And if the Dolphins fall behind, then Henne will have to do some winging of the ball.

"I expect he will play [well]," Henning repeated. "That doesn't mean he might not on occassion do well. But I think he has the goods ... I think he has the temperment for this business."

[ANNOUNCEMENTS: I will be on the air from 1-3 p.m. at 790-AM in South Florida Sunday to discuss the New Orleans and Dolphins matchup. You can listen live at 790theticket.com and you can call the show at 786-360-0790. You can also text me at 74965. Afterward, I will head over to the stadium and we will be conducting our live game blog, as always, to discuss the action and get the latest information from the stadium.]

Finally, if you want to find out why Tony Sparano is coaching the Dolphins and not for the Saints today you should click on the link and find out. 

October 24, 2009

Have Dolphins talked themselves out of upset?

Dolphins players have been hearing about the Saints, watching the Saints, living the Saints throughout the course of the bye week and this week. Coaches have been telling them how good the Saints are. The media has been telling them how good the Saints are.

And so late this week, players reached the tipping point and screamed a collective, "Enough!"

"I have heard plenty of it," OLB Jason Taylor said of the Saints prowess. "Being off for a week, then having them play the Giants, you hear plenty of this crap for the last couple of days and quite frankly I am tired of hearing about it to be honest.

"We are going to go out there…they are going to run the ball and throw the ball and we are going to go out there and run the ball and throw the ball. We are both going to play defense and we are going to kick the ball when we have to on special teams and let the best team win.”

Taylor, Miami's defensive captain, pretty much reflects the mindset in the Miami locker room that the Saints can be beaten -- even if that has not yet happened this year.

“They have a heck of a quarterback," he said. "They give up hits. The Saints are a good football team. Don’t get me wrong. They have a lot of talent and they play well. They are just like everybody else. There quarterback has gotten hit like I said; you put in a couple of games and you can see them … guys getting pressure on them and doing a good job. They haven’t lost a game this year, but there are plenty of things you can do to try and get some advantages for yourself.

"We need to come out and play and play to the best of our abilities but not overestimate what these guys are too and come in scared.”

The Dolphins are not scared. And some of them think the Saints might be getting a little comfortable with their own record and press clippings and abilities. That's not me saying that.

"They're undefeated, they're probably smelling themselves, rubbing each other's [testicles] and [crap]," linebacker Channing Crowder said.

And maybe they were. But only until the Dolphins started saying so. And then the quotes got back to New Orleans and coach Sean Payton.

"I think paying attention to a lot of it, when you look at the dialogue, [the Dolphins are] looking forward to playing a game," Payton said. "Really if you study it closely there's probably mutual respect with both in terms of the capabilities. I don't think we've really taken it that way looking closely at the dialogue. I think that both teams understand what's necessary to win, the importance of eliminating mistakes in a game like this and being able to handle the weather. It will be warmer. I think they're looking forward to playing a game just like we were. You get a little antsy."

And when he was finished giving the politically correct answer to the media, when he was out of sight of the microphones, Payton laughed a sinister laugh and schemed how he could use the quotes from Miami players to his advantage.

 And then he made sure Saints players heard the quotes. According to this video blog from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, "there is no doubt" Payton has brought the Miami quotes to his players in an effort to keep them interested in playing a 2-3 team.

And so now the Saints probably are not rubbing each other anymore -- or probably not rubbing each other as much.

So have the Dolphins awoken a sleeping giant? Did the bye week, which is a preparation advantage, work against the Dolphins in regards to saturating them with so much Saints bile that it leaked into the public sphere? Or is bulletin board material a bunch of hooey, meaning the better team always wins robotically regardless of motivation and emotion and stupid things like that?

My take is the Saints benefitted from the quotes out of Miami. It's human nature that a team coming off a big win last week  against New York and facing big games the next two weeks (Atlanta and Carolina) might suffer a letdown game against a 2-3 team.

But when that 2-3 team basically calls you out, that can change your outlook on the game. And I think it has for New Orleans.