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69 posts from November 2009

November 19, 2009

Dolphins still in thick of a wild card race

A common thought among some Dolphins faithful is that the team will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs unless it catches the New England Patriots and wins the AFC East -- which, granted, is looking like a difficult task.

Well, not so fast my fine, football friends.

Below you will find the current race for the AFC's wild-card spots. Remember there are two wild-card qualifiers. The chart suggests the Dolphins are very much in this deal if they can beat the Carolina Panthers tonight and put some sort of streak together.

The Dolphins currently find themselves two games out of the wild card race with seven games to play. It is not an impossible deficit to erase. Three games out with six games to play is obviously a much more daunting assignment.

The fact is Miami has already lost to San Diego so they are effectively two games plus a tiebreaker behind the Chargers. Miami also swept two games from New York so they count themselves ahead of the Jets. The Dolphins have games remaining with Pittsburgh, Houston, Tennessee and Buffalo.

Those remaining games mean the Dolphins can find themselves one game behind those teams -- Pittsburgh, Houston, Tennessee and Buffalo -- but still qualify ahead of them if they beat those teams.

So the Dolphins find themselves in the middle of the AFC pack. But to be considered in the AFC race, Miami's overall record is key. So games against NFC opponents are also vital. It does the Dolphins no good to have a solid AFC record but not be in the hunt because they cannot beat NFC teams.

So far this season the Dolphins have a 1-2 non-conference record -- they lost to Atlanta and New Orleans but defeated Tampa Bay.

The bottom line here is the Dolphins are still solidly in the race for a wild-card spot despite losing their starting quarterback, a starting tight end, a starting running back and a starting cornerback.

What they do tonight, however, will obviously factor into whether they stay in the thick of that race.

Team       Record   AFC

Pittsburgh   6-3   4-2

San Diego   6-3   4-3

Baltimore    5-4   5-3

Houston     5-4    4-3

Jacksonville 5-4    4-2

Miami        4-5    3-3

NY Jets     4-5    4-4

Tennessee  3-6   2-6

Buffalo       3-6   1-5

[BLOG NOTE: There will be, as always, a live blog of tonight's game versus Carolina. Come here prior to kickoff for the latest news and notes from the stadium and the live blog itself.]

November 18, 2009

Brown's on IR, injuries mounting [updated]

We knew Ronnie Brown, nursing a potentially serious foot injury, wasn't going to play Thursday against the Carolina Panthers. Now we know he won't be playing against anyone else, either.

The Dolphins have placed Brown on injured reserve, meaning he is out for the remainder of the season, according to a soure. This decision was reached within the last 35 minutes as Brown is currently in Charlotte with the team.

The Dolphins landed in Charlotte at approximately 6 p.m. [Update: The Dolphins have now confirmed the move.]

The move is a crushing blow for the Dolphins hopes to repeat as AFC East champions. Brown is their leading rusher (648 yards), their leading scorer (8 TDs), and the triggerman to their Wildcat package.

Ricky Williams now must pick up the slack for the considerable loss. This marks the second time in three seasons that Brown is placed on IR midway through the season. In 2007, Brown was averaging 5 yards per carry when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Brown recovered well enough in 2008 to lead the team in rushing and earn his first Pro Bowl berth.

The Dolphins have signed safety Nate Ness from the team's practice squad to fill Brown's roster spot.

We also know nose tackle Paul Soliai (ankle), tight end Anthony Fasano (hip) and linebacker Erik Walden (hamstring) also will not play against Carolina.

The Dolphins announced as much on their injury report today. It is the final report prior to the game. None of the players that are out will travel today to Charlotte.

The Dolphins are listing two players as questionable: Guard Justin Smiley (shoulder) and safety Tyrone Culver (ankle). Smiley will play a source tells me. He practiced full today. Culver suffered a tweaked ankle in practice and was limited in his participation. Although listed the same as Smiley, his status is less certain.

Safety Gibril Wilson, nursing a hamstring, is listed as probable. He will play.

The Panthers are also quite beat up as game day looms.

We already knew cornerstone left tackle Jordan Gross was out for the remainder of the season with a broken ankle.

Safety Charles Godfrey (ankle), FB Brad Hoover (ankle) and DE Charles Johnson (pectoral muscle) are listed as doubtful. None of the three practiced Wednesday.

DT Damione Lewis (shoulder), RB Jonathan Stewart (Achilles), and RB DeAngelo Williams (knee) are listed as questionable. Lewis and Stewart practiced on Wednesday. Williams did not practice. All three are expected to play.

November 17, 2009

Pennington future not decided until March

On the same day the Dolphins will board their flight for Charlotte to meet up with the Carolina Panthers, former starting QB Chad Pennington will be on his way to Birmingham, Ala. to see his doctor.

Pennington said Tuesday he has completed the first phase of his rehabilitation from season-ending shoulder surgery -- his third such surgery -- and now must map out a recovery program for the next six weeks.

At this stage, Pennington said, he's not certain he'll play again. He might not make that decision until March. But regardless of what that decision is, the chances of him playing for the Dolphins again are quite slim.

The Dolphins, you see, are moving on. They have a starter in Chad Henne. They have committed time (this entire season) and resources (a second-round pick) on making backup Pat White a success. They also have Tyler Thigpen under contract.

So where does that leave room for Pennington?

It doesn't look, at this point, like it really does.

Obviously, it is way early to make a call on this, but if Pennington decides he wants to play again, he will almost certainly want a chance to compete for a starting job and be ready to settle in as the backup if he loses the competition.

Well, the Dolphins have a starter in Henne and definitely don't want a competition that might have the potential to split the locker room with one side backing the youngster and the other backing Pennington. So that's not an option.

I suppose if Pennington is willing, he can come in to compete with White for the backup job as long as everyone -- including the public -- is aware the fight is for No. 2. But it's hard to fathom Pennington, being the competitor he is, wanting to do that. 

I know that isn't the Hollywood script that Pennington's career should follow at this stage. It's not what should happen to the good guy that Pennington is. And if you measure the appreciation and respect the Dolphins have for Pennington, one has to figure he would get another chance in Miami.

But professional football is a business, not an admiration society. So ...

The Dolphins cannot, and will not commit to anything.

“We all know the business, we understand that there’s a part of the business that sometimes gives you what you want or doesn’t give you what you want in some of those situations," coach Tony Sparano said. "I will say this, I would miss the guy a bunch, I really like Chad Pennington being here. He’s a tremendous leader, he’s great for our young players, great. But more importantly, this is a guy that every player on the team voted for for captain. Not one player did not vote for this guy.”

That's all very well and lovely. But all that hasn't kept Sparano himself from treating Pennington no differently than he treats other players that are out for the year. Pennington is welcome and encouraged to rehabilitate at Dolphins camp every morning. He is welcome and encouraged to continue leading through conversations with younger teammates -- I witnessed one such conversation between Pennington and Davone Bess on Monday.

But Pennington is not allowed to travel with the Dolphins on road games. And he is not welcome to be on the Land Shark Stadium sideline on game days. That's the rule for everyone else and it is the rule for Pennington.

“It is something I have really wrestled with a little bit, to be honest with you," Sparano said, "but I don’t think so right now. Consistency is important in that decision right now. There have been some other injured players that I have not let down there and it is just part of my philosophy that is not a good thing to do. Just part of my philosophy that it is not a good thing to do.”

Basically, Sparano doesn't want players in other players' ears. He wants active players to be listening to coaches. He does not want the message to be filtered or altered or somehow changed. It makes sense, really.

“Sometimes it can be a distraction," Sparano. "In [Pennington’s] case, he has great knowledge, but sometimes that is not the case. It depends on the player, it depends on the position, it depends on any of those things.

"But rather than have six set of rules, there is just one rule. The players understand it. I think for the most part they respect it. In a lot of situations it doesn’t pay to travel the guys that are injured. You leave them back here, you let them get a little bit extra treatment, get some of those things. There are a just a bunch of things that go into it and that is what I am used to.”

I think it's the right call. I think one does not make exceptions for one player over another. Sure, Pennington would probably be of great help to Chad Henne, imparting experience and so forth.

But Miami's rookie corners could similarly argue that Will Allen should be allowed on the sideline to impart his experience. And then the tight ends might want David Martin imparting his experience. And pretty soon the sideline has a lot of chiefs and not enough indians.

Sparano is doing the right thing. And Pennington isn't complaining about not being on the sideline now. Whether he'll ever be on a Dolphins sideline again, well, that's another matter.

Ronnie out, Porter in versus Panthers

Running back Ronnie Brown will not play versus Carolina on Thursday, according to head coach Tony Sparano. Sparano also said linebacker Joey Porter will play against the Panthers and the coach thinks the linebacker "will start," against the Panthers.

That's what is happening inside the Dolphins at this hour:

Porter, the subject of a Chris Mortensen report in which the ESPN information man said the linebacker will not play against Carolina Thursday, was asked by the Herald's David J. Neal if he saw the report Monday night.

"Yeah, I saw the report," Porter told Neal. "I got no comment on that."

Sparano had a definitive comment. I asked him if there was any doubt in his mind whether Porter would play and Sparano said, "No."

So Porter plays despite a Mortensen report to the contrary.

A Dolphins In Depth report from yesterday that Brown would not play is correct, meanwhile, because Brown went to see a foot specialist today and isn't playing Thursday.

Running back Ricky Williams, expected to start for the Dolphins at running back because Brown is out, agreed to speak to the media for the first time in several weeks today. The reason he agreed is because he was told by the Dolphins if he did not cooperate with the media, he risked being fined.

So Williams complied. Sort of.

The interview:

Q. How does Ronnie's situation impact you workload if he can't go?

A. "Obviously I have to carry the ball a little bit more."

Q. And that would include the Wildcat and taking on that role?

A. "I don't know what the coaches are going to do about it."

Q. Ricky you've always said you're happy sharing time, how do you feel about stepping in and being the guy again. Feel like you can do that?

A. "Yeah."

Q. Well, how do you feel about it?

A. "It's my job right now."

Q. Do your legs feel fresh for the second half compared to the past when you carried the load?

A. "We'll find out."

Q. Ricky, how good would it be to get a victory within the span of such a short period of time.

A. "We're here to win games so I think every game is important we always try to get a win."

Q. Ricky, you've said before you prefer not to throw out of ...

A. "Alright, I'm done. Thank you, guys."

Terrible questions, I know. Thankfully, I didn't ask any of them. And I know you guys will always side with the player over the media, although you depend on the media to give you a view of the players.

But, seriously, does one have to be a total jerk to people trying to do their jobs? It's not like someone asked Williams if he's thought about quitting on the team lately. It's not like someone brought up his multiple positive drug tests.

One thing I can share. Williams is brilliant and does this on purpose. He told a Palm Beach Post reporter earlier this year that he intended to be a jerk to the media this year. Asked why, Williams responded because he wanted to stay out of the newspapers.

So this episode was hardly spontaneous. Williams planned his demeanor, sweetheart that he is.

In other news: Anthony Fasano (hip) didn't practice Tuesday. Justin Smiley (shoulder), Paul Soliai (ankle), Erik Walden (hamstring) and Gibril Wilson (hamstring) were limited in practice.

Faulk: Carolina or Miami RBs? Go young

The NFL Network is broadcasting Thursday night's game between the Dolphins and Panthers and that game matches what would be an interesting matchup of running backs were Ronnie Brown playing. He is not expect to.

[By the way, Brown is not practicing today while TE Anthony Fasano and CB Will Billingsley were off to the side on their own.]

Anyway, NFLN analyst Marshall Faulk was on a conference call with the media from both cities. So I asked the Pro Football Hall of Fame prospect a hypothetical question:

If he were a general manager building a franchise, which set of running backs would he select for his team? The Dolphins' RBs? Or the Panthers RBs?

"That's a tough decision because I feel like it doesn't really matter which backs you get," Faulk said. "It's based on the quarterback you get. The quarterback will dictate which kind of backs you want to have. [Jonathan] Stewart and [DeAngelo] Williams, if you have a Peyton Manning, it's kind of like, 'Is having those two guys really purposeful?'

"I feel like every back and every set of backs brings something different to the table. I like them all. I like all running backs."

OoooKaaay. As I know when someone is talking in circles, I figured it would be fair to seeks a more legit answer. So I told Faulk, "As a general manager you can't pick every running back."

"As a general manager, I should say, I would definitely go with, and this is where I don't know in this whole makeup, I would take the youngest two," Faulk finally said. "Because I feel I would more time with those guys to build around them ..."

Williams and Stewart, Carolina's tandem, are younger. Williams is only 26 years old and Stewart is 22 years old. Miami's Ronnie Brown is 27 years old and Williams is 32 years old.

But beyond age, wouldn't you pick Williams and Stewart also?

Williams rushed for 1,515 yards last year and is already the Carolina franchise's all-time leading rusher with 3,593 yards in his fourth season. Last season, Stewart gained 836 yards and finished fifth among NFL rookie backs despite having fewer carries than any other back in the top 5.

Brown, who is expected to miss Thursday's game, was a Pro Bowl player in 2008. Williams has recorded 21 career 100-yard games in his Dolphins career, including Sunday's 102-yard performance against Tampa Bay.

This season, Williams and Stewart are so far the NFL's top rushing tandem with 1,326 yards. Brown and Williams are thid with 1,206 yards. And in case you're curious, Chris Johnson and LenDale White are second with 1,295 yards.

[BLOG NOTE: Check back in a bit for updates from today's press conferences and open locker room session.]

Miami a destination team for NFL players

Looking out beyond my office's French doors, I can see that it's hazy in South Florida this morning. The sun is nowhere to be found. But it is 75 degrees out there.

And I don't remember the last time I plowed snow from my driveway.

Maybe that's one reason so many NFL players love it down here. Many live here in the offseason. And many more, according to a Sports Illustrated player poll, would like to play here during the season.

In this week's magazine (remember those?) 296 players were asked, "Which team would you like to play for?"

More players picked the Dolphins than the New England Patriots. Can you believe that?

Most respondents (11.1 percent) picked the Dallas Cowboys. The San Diego Chargers were next at 8.5 percent and the Pittsburgh Steelers were third at 7 percent.

The Dolphins were fourth at 6.6 percent. And Miami is followed by New England at 5.9 percent.

Shockingly, neither Big Apple team is in the top 5.

Interestingly, three of the five most popular choices have not even qualified for a Super Bowl this decade.

You might argue the choices are financial ones as the Dolphins play in a state with no income tax. But why aren't the Bucs or Jacksonville up there? And why would San Diego be there with all the crazy taxes California levies?

And the choice also has not much to do with weather. Pittsburgh?

So what NFL city would you most like to live in? What team would you most want to play for?

Discuss ...

[BLOG NOTE: Busy day today so check back often as I will be delivering many updates on the latest news.]

November 16, 2009

Mortensen: Porter not playing anytime soon

Well, this one came out of left field, but because Chris Mortensen is so well-respected and highly decorated as a journalist, it demands repeating here: The ESPN information man just reported Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter is not playing against the Carolina Panthers Thursday night.

Or "anytime soon," for that matter.

"The bottom line is I wouldn't expect to see Joey Porter anytime soon, certainly not Thursday night against the Panthers, although that's a coach's decison," Mortensen said on ESPN's Monday Night Countdown show.

And there you have it, except I have a hard time buying it.

I could understand if Porter is not expected to start. I could understand if Porter is not expected to get a majority of the snaps. But not play? And not for the foreseeable future?

I call Bovine Stool on this report.

I know Mortensen is pals with Bill Parcells because the two worked together at ESPN. I assume as everyone else does that Mortensen gets information from Parcells. And I can see how Parcells, a no-nonsense type guy with little regard for trash talkers that bark loudly but don't bite on game day, might be sick of Porter's big mouth act.

But shelve Porter indefinitely?

It would make better sense for the Dolphins to simply cut Porter. And I believe that will happen before the 2010 season begins. But just put the guy on ice?

I believe Porter is expected and will play Thursday against the Panthers. I have not been told anything one way or the other. But instinct forces me to believe the Dolphins won't shelve Porter while, for example, Quentin Moses is active for the game.

Nothing against Moses, but a player like Porter does not fall from grace so fast and with such a mighty thud as to be a starter against New England one week and then you don't hear from him again "anytime soon," thereafter.

Now, if Porter were injured, I would understand the possibility of not playing him. But Mort's report did not mention injury, and in fact, made the case that Porter is out because both Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake were outstanding against Tampa Bay.

Porter also practiced Monday, was not on the injury report, and said during his talk to reporters that he is healthy. “I’m good man. I’m ready to go," Porter said. "I’m healthy. I’m ready to play."

Porter, by the way, expects to play against Carolina. He said he was getting ready for Carolina at least twice during Monday's interview. So if he's about to get shelved, he wasn't aware of it Monday.

Another reason I have trouble with the report is what Sparano said Monday, which I reported in the previous post. Yes, there is a rotation set now for the outside linebacker corps. That rotation was set prior to the Tampa Bay game and will continue for the Panthers game.

But Porter is expected to be part of that rotation rather than be excluded from it.

“I will be honest with you and I might have mentioned this after the game, but our plan going in was to have a rotation and we will continue to have a rotation and get as many of these guys in the game that we can get into the game," Sparano said. "I think [Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson] were both productive yesterday so there is no reason for them not to get into the game and play.”

Nowhere in that is a hint that Porter will be left out in the cold. Furthermore, Sparano's almost enthusiastic defense of Porter against what he said was a media "hunt," suggested the coach plans to continue using Porter.

Even the suggestion that Porter has lost some explosion while his sacks have gone from 17.5 last year to 2.5 so far this year, seemed to vex Sparano.

“That’s your opinion," he retorted. "I think that you’re entitled to your opinion, but I think that for what we’ve asked Joey to do right now in the games that Joey’s been out there and been healthy, I’ve seen some of those things happen.

"Sometimes they just don’t go your way. It’s like when you guys sit here, and you say to me, ‘How come the receivers aren’t catching the ball?, How come the tight ends, coach, aren’t getting this, that, and the other thing?’ We want to talk about tight ends today? I think that those things, the opportunities are what the opportunities are. There was a ballgame a couple weeks ago, Joey was playing in, and if you start counting front side runs to backside runs, Joey was on the backside of a lot of those plays, an awful lot.”

So where does this all leave us?

If Porter does not play, it obviously signals the end of the relationship between him and the Dolphins much earlier than anyone expected -- that being by the start of 2010. It would mean the Dolphins have grown tired of his big mouth and diminishing statistics.

Simply, it would be hard for Miami to shelve Porter indefinitely without some backlash from the player. Porter wouldn't take it calmly, trust me. And, frankly, Porter would have something of a right to be angry if the report is true because it would mean the club was laying out its plans for him to a media outlet before telling him. Porter might have heard of Miami's plans on ESPN rather than from a coach that he likes and admires.

That would not sit well with him. He could get ugly about the whole situation. So the Dolphins would almost be forced to cut ties to avoid any drama. In that regard, the bigger story would be Dolphins getting ready to cut Porter.

So we are at a crossroads.

You either have a report that is wrong if Porter plays Thursday. Or you have an accurate report and a head coach who, in his zeal to defend an embattled player, crossed the line from defense to outright deception about that player -- defending him to the media while dumping him otherwise.

That's not how I believe Tony Sparano operates. He might not tell the media everything. But he's not a deceptive type of guy. And he doesn't mince words with his players. If Porter weren't going to play, he would hear that from Sparano, not on ESPN.

So I choose to believe the coach at the moment. I choose to believe Porter will play.

We shall see.

Latest on Ronnie Brown and Joey Porter

This is what we know at this hour: Barring a dramatic and unexpected recovery by Thursday, running back Ronnie Brown's right ankle and foot injury will keep him out of the game at Carolina, according to a source.

A twitter tweet from Jay Glazer of Fox Sports was the first to reveal the foot injury. A source confirms the Dolphins are concerned about Brown's foot long-term. The ankle injury is a shorter-term issue, the source said.

[UPDATE: The Dolphins have put out an injury report and Brown is indeed on there with a foot injury. The ankle is not listed. Brown did not practice on Monday.]

"The only thing I can tell you about Ronnie right now is that we're still in the middle of gathering information and we probably won't know more until a little later on this evening or first thing tomorrow," coach Tony Sparano said.

Brown was still on crutches today. He was wearing his sneakers and not a protective boot. Brown is not expected to practice Tuesday, either.

Barring a quick recovery by Brown, Lex Hilliard will get a chance to carry the football against Carolina, but the Dolphins are more likely to give Lousaka Polite some extra carries. Ricky Williams would obviously be the starter.

On other matters, Joey Porter spoke the local media today following his one-game deactivation Sunday. He declined to discuss the reasons behind the deactivation. After what was an uncomfortable give and take, several media members lingered around his locker.

"Ya'll going to wait for me to fart or something?" Porter asked.

Then he got into an exchange with a Palm Beach Post reporter who asked why Porter seemed so angry. 

"Did I say something personal to you?" Porter asked.

At that point Dolphins media relations man Harvey Greene stepped in and told the media to disperse.

And the clouds over Porter's sudden deactivation are clearing. According to a club source, one reason Porter was basically shelved Sunday was because his conduct was not what coaches expected throughout the week and including the moment when he was told he would be sharing time with Charlie Anderson.

Sparano and the Dolphins have declined to say specifically why Porter was deactivated.

But the source said coaches "were not happy with Porter's professionalism" in handling his knee injury and the news he would play less.

If Porter rebelled against sharing playing time, he'll simply have to get over it -- because it is going to continue.

"I'll be honest with you and I might have mentioned this after the game," Sparano said, "but our plan going in was to have a rotation. We'll continue to have a rotation and get as many of these guys in the game as we can get in the game. I think [Anderson and Cameron Wake] were both productive yesterday. There's no reason for them not to get in the game and play."

Despite Porter's shelving, despite production that has dropped dramatically, Sparano continues to defend a player who is clearly one of his favorites.

"I see different things Joey does, different things Joey's gotten better at," Sparano said. "Things you guys won't see unless you're watching the film with us.

"I just talked about setting the edge of the defense. I see this guy getting much better with his hands, much better in the run game versus some of these tight ends, the back side of things, retracing plays, all these things, that a year ago, while you're watching him get sacks and you think that's the measuring stick, we're sitting up there saying, 'God I wish he'd play this this way, I wish he'd do things this way.'

"We're starting to get some of those things from him. That's a credit to Joey."

One would expect Sparano to defend his player because he sees the media as being, "on a hunt," as he put it, over Porter. But the coach's defense borders on guileful because it's not the media that has forced Porter's statistics to drop dramatically.

And it's not the media that decided last year's club sack-leader was losing his fulltime gig and had to start sharing snaps with Anderson and Wake.

[ANOTHER UPDATE: TE Anthony Fasano (hip) did not practice Monday. G Justin Smiley (shoulder), NT Paul Soliai (ankle), LB Erik Walden (hamstring) were limited in practice Monday. For the Panthers, T Jordon Gross (broken ankle) is out. S Charles Godfrey (ankle), FB Brad Hoover (ankle), DE Charles Johnson (pectoral), DT Damione Lewis (shoulder) and RB Jonathan Stewart (Achilles) did not practice. TE Dante Rosario (knee) and DE Julius Peppers (hand) were limited in practice.]

Are the Dolphins backups that good?

It is the proverbial two-edged sword that the Dolphins now wield with the handful of players that sat out Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay and those players that took their place.

Obviously the Dolphins won the game, so the replacements were good enough to help Miami to victory. But because the Dolphins won the game, one has to wonder about the players who sat.

Here's the thing that is frying my brain right now: Were Miami's replacements that good? Or were the players being replaced not as good as we thought and thus easily substituted for?

Let's take it position by position:

At outside linebacker, Joey Porter was benched for reasons the Dolphins don't want to divulge. But in keeping those reasons and Porter under wraps, something very interesting became quite public. Porter can seemingly be easily replaced.

Either that, or the Dolphins have amazing depth at OLB.

Think about it. Porter has not had a full sack since September. He's been missing practice time. He was invisible in last week's game at New England. So he gets deactivated and, voila, Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake not only pick up the slack, but play much better than Porter has recently.

Anderson had five tackles -- almost half as many as Porter has contributed the entire season -- and added a sack and two forced fumbles.

"I was able to get back there and I knew the guy was tough to take down, but he can't go anywhere without the ball," Anderson said. "A couple of guys were like, 'Hey go for the ball,' The second time I was able to do that."

And he did. So do you think Anderson is a super sub? Or do you think Porter has been playing so poorly that this is the type of production the weakside outside linebacker position should be delivering regardless of who is playing there?

Oh, by the way, with Porter out, Cameron Wake also got a few extra pass-rush opportunities than usual. He turned in a sack, bringing his total to four, and had two tackles -- again better than what Porter has been giving.

At the tight end spot, the Dolphins played without starter Anthony Fasano because he is troubled by a hip injury. To cover the void, the Dolphins moved Joey Haynos to the starting job and used rookie Kory Sperry in double-tight end alignments.

Well, in his first NFL outing, the rookie tight end caught three passes for 31 yards, including a touchdown. In other words, Sperry now has as many TD catches as Fasano has had this season. So did the Dolphins miss Fasano on Sunday?

That would be a no.

Is it because Sperry is really good, a diamond found in the practice squad rough? Or is it because Fasano just hasn't been producing up to par to the point a rookie could match the veteran's typical production with little problem?


By the way, Sperry was brought up from the practice squad because he has been consistently out-performing fellow rookie John Nalbone in practice. Nalbone was a Miami fifth-round selection. Sperry was not drafted out of Colorado State. So much for all the draft experts out there.

Anyway, the Dolphins were also without LG Justin Smiley on Sunday. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Nate Garner. I'm not going to try to fool you and say Garner played well or as well as Smiley might. I have no idea.

I do know the Dolphins didn't give up any sacks. I do know they rushed for 199 yards. So obviously the offensive line -- including Garner -- was doing something right.

The greater point is this: If the Dolphins can manage to get such good production from their backups, they are a team that either enjoys great depth, as I said before. Or they are a team with some starters that aren't much better than their backups.

One is very good. The other possibility is troubling.

Only the coaching staff knows the true answer. And I'm sure the answer is different in each individual case.

But if the Dolphins have reserves that can deliver pretty well on Sunday, perhaps using those players might be a good idea in the future. Maybe applying the thought to other positions might be worthwhile.

Perhaps Tyler Thigpen might get better results in the spread formation than Pat White. Perhaps giving Patrick Turner some snaps with the offense (he was limited to special teams duty far as I saw on Sunday) might actually surprise people with production.

The old adage is the starter starts because he's better than the backup. Perhaps with the Dolphins that isn't always true.

November 15, 2009

Dolphins survive scare, beat Bucs, 25-23

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't a dominant performance. But it counts.

And so the Dolphins delivered a 25-23 victory Sunday in what reminds of victories over Seattle and Buffalo and St. Louis and San Francisco a year ago.

These are not masterpieces. But they are also not Ls.

The Dolphins had to drive 77 yards in five plays that took 1:04 to take the final two-point lead. The only reason those heroics were necessary is because quarterback Chad Henne threw an interception that set the Bucs off on a 26-yard drive that gave them a 23-22 lead.

Regardless, it is a victory.

And that's important because the Dolphins find themselves with a 4-5 record and in second place in the AFC East. The Dolphins and Jets both have 4-5 records but Miami beat New York twice this year.

Final quarter: Dolphins lead Bucs 19-9

Lots of hitting but not much in the way of scoring in the third quarter.

The Bucs got a 54 yard field goal by Connor Barth.

That was it.

Ronnie Brown did leave the game in the quarter with an ankle injury. He is questionable to return.

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

Dolphins lead Bucs 19-6 to start 3rd quarter

The Dolphins are getting good play from their defense, bad play from Tampa Bay, and some breaks from the officials.

The result is Miami leads the Bucs 19-6 as they prepare to start the third quarter.

The Dolphins got their last touchdown -- a 5-yard pass to Kory Sperry -- after Jason Taylor set Miami up deep inside Tampa Bay territory. That interception, by the way, was a gift from the officiating crew after a replay review that clearly showed the Bucs had a completion from Josh Freeman to Mark Clayton.


The Dolphins have a sack from Cameron Wake. They have two catches from Sperry, a tight end activated only yesterday. And some excellent play from Taylor.

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

Dolphins lead Bucs, 6-3 at start of 2nd quarter

The Dolphins fell behind early today because the Tampa Bay special teams are good and Miami's are not.

The Bucs connected on a 51 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

But ...

The rest of the Tampa Bay team is terrible.

The run defense is bad. The offensive line is poor. Their best receiver is out and their quarterback has already fumbled twice.

So the Dolphins lead 6-3.

Join me in the comments section as the live blog continues.

Here's what's up prior to the live blog

The Dolphins will be without three starters today -- tight end Anthony Fasano, left guard Justin Smiley and outside linebacker Joey Porter -- and will be juggling the lineup more than any other time this regular season.

As Joey Haynos now becomes the starting tight end, Charlie Anderson replaces Porter, and Nate Garner replaces Smiley, the Dolphins are also promoting Ted Ginn Jr. back into the starting lineup.

The starting receivers will be Greg Camarillo and Ginn, according to the club.

The complete list of inactives is: Kory Sheets, Erik Walden, Porter, Smiley, Fasano and Paul Soliai, who has an ankle injury.

Note that Patrick Turner will be active for the first time this season.

Anyway, the live blog will take place in the comments section below.

Live blog of must-win game today

The Dolphins must win today's game against the Tampa Bay Bucanneers.

That sounds strange to the ears because we are only at the halfway point in the season, a loss wouldn't mathematically eliminate Miami from any race and good things could still happen. But the importance of today's game goes beyond sheer mathematical calculations relative to playoff possibilities.

The reasons Miami must win are two-fold.

The team finds itself 3-5 and the coaching staff has hung a short-term goal of evening that out at 5-5 in the span of five days. In other words, coach Tony Sparano has told his team that despite being 3-5, by next Thursday they could be at .500 if they do good work against Tampa Bay today and on Thursday against Carolina.

"We have two games in a week and we need to get a handle on the first part of this first," Sparano said, "but as I said before there are 16 teams right now that are somewhere between 3 and 5 wins. Well, in a week we can be right in the middle of all that mess, instead of kind of at the end of all that mess. I would say they know the importance, I say they know the importance very much of this football game first. Then we will worry about where we are.”

There is another reason today is a must-win game. Because today is the tipping point. I have noticed on blogs and radio shows that some fans are no longer following the lead of Sparano and Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland in zombie-like fashion.

I've noticed fans starting to question, even disagree at times.

That still represents a minority of fans because Sparano and Parcells and Ireland are still drinking from the resevoir of good will they filled with an 11-5 season in 2008. And rightfully so.

But lose to 1-7 Tampa Bay and the level of that resevoir drops dramatically. The Dolphins, you see, are still not a championship team. But they are a team that has beaten teams they should beat. They might lose games against superior teams, as they have this year and folks understand that.

But they have not lost any games the past couple of years to inferior teams. So fans have an expectation about beating certain bad teams. And the Bucs are inferior. They are young, have a rookie coach, a rookie quarterback, and not a ton of talent. So Miami should beat them.

If the Dolphins do as they are supposed to, everything will remain calm. But if the Dolphins lose today, oh boy, the natives will become restless. The bloom would be off the rose. The honeymoon would be over.

The Dolphins don't want restless natives, finished honeymoons, or de-bloomed roses in their midst. So that makes today's game a must-win.

I request you join me to see what happens during today's live blog of the game. It starts in the comments section below. I will be updating posts with whatever news comes out of the pregame. Meantime, discuss whether today is must-win for the reasons I outlined.

Remember: The Dolphins must win a game they should win. Otherwise, the resevoir of good will is lost.

November 14, 2009

Dolphins downgrade Joey Porter to out

Joey Porter will not play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.

It is not because he is injured.

It is because coach Tony Sparano has decided to sit him for this game.

The official line is that Porter is out because of "coach's decision."

Club spokesman Harvey Greene tells me that is different than the coach deciding Porter cannot play because of an injury. Were injury the reason, the Dolphins would say Porter is out because of a knee or ankle or whatever.

They obviously are making a distinction that injury is not the reason for the benching. The Dolphins are not offering details for the benching but one can assume performance is also not the reason. Even in the case of benchings for performance, the Dolphins would still use Porter in the game. He will be inactive.

Porter missed two days of practice on Wednesday and Thursday because of a toubled knee. But he returned to practice Friday and was listed as probable on the team's injury report.

Something clearly happened between Friday afternoon when Porter left the practice facility and this afternoon to cause Sparano to bench the weakside outside linebacker. Sparano, it should be noted, seemed quite pleased with Porter during his Friday press conference.

The coach was asked if he believes Porter has been frustrated seeing as the player hasn't had a full sack since September.

“No, I don’t, certainly not," Sparano said. "I see no frustration, I don’t think that he’s affected, but what I do see is a guy that’s played in enough football games to know ‘there’s some things I need to do better out there.’

"There’s a lot of things that people say about Joey that are not always favorable, but one of the good things about Joey is [that] the guy’s a pretty good pro. He sees it, he knows. When he sees it, and he knows, he takes it personally. The guy cares, and I think that’s a hell of a quality to have when you’ve played the game for as many years as Joey, Jason [Taylor], Jason Ferguson, [Chad] Pennington, those kind of guys who’ve played the game.”

Porter has been under the microscope this week after a game in which he had neither a sack nor even a tackle against New England. Prior to that game, Porter called out the NFL and New England quarterback Tom Brady -- basically making the point there exists a conspiracy between the league and Brady on roughing the passer penalties.

After he failed to contribute in Miami's 27-17 loss to the Patriots, Porter refused to speak with the South Florida media most of the week. He did do his weekly scheduled interview on NFL Network in which he vowed to continue being himself.

"I'm going to be me," he promised. "That's the good thing you have to like about me. Win, lose or draw I'm going to tell it like it."

I doubt he'll tell it like it is after this episode.

With Porter out for the game the Dolphins are likely to start Charlie Anderson at weakside outside linebacker or move Jason Taylor from the strong side to the weak side and start Matt Roth on the strong side.

The St. Pete Times, meanwhile, is reporting WR Antonio Bryant and DE Stylez G. White did not travel with the Bucs to South Florida and will not play Sunday.

Dolphins honor our military -- God bless them

The Dolphins will celebrate and salute America's military and its veterans Sunday at their home game against Tampa Bay. And I salute them for that.

The team will have a moment of silence in memory of the Fort Hood soldiers and civilians killed or injured by the treasonous, traitorous, terrorist act of Nadil Malik Hasan. The Dolphins will be collecting donations at all stadium entry gates in memory of the fallen Fort Hood soldiers, with the contributions going to the Fisher House Foundation.

The Foundation provides travel, comfort and lodging to military families at a time of illness or injury.

There will be a pregame flyover of four T-38s from the 50th Flying Training Squadron. There will be a halftime rendition of God Bless America, a performance by the Parris Island Marine Band and a Military Stand To and enlistment ceremony with 300 members of all five branches at the end of the first quarter.

Outside the stadium, there will be a display of military vehicles and banners along with performances from the National Guard Band at the Grand Plaza.

The Veteran's Day celebration, although a few days late of actual Veteran's Day, is something for Dolphins fans to embrace. You root for the guys in Dolphins uniforms all the time.

We all should unfailingly root for the guys in U.S. military uniforms first and foremost. They volunteer to serve, if necessary shedding their blood, so that our American way can endure. God bless them.

Anyway, I got an email from a reader who passed along a poem from U.S. Marine corporal Aaron M. Gilbert, who years ago served aboard the U.S.S. Saipan in the Persion Gulf. The poem was sent by corporal Gilbert to his father. The poem:

We all came together,
Both young and old
To fight for our freedom,
To stand and be bold.

In the midst of all evil,
We stand our ground,

And we protect our country

From all terror around.

Peace and not war,
Is what some people say.

But I'll give my life,

So you can live the American way

I give you the right
To talk of your peace.

To stand in your groups,

and protest in our streets.

But still I fight on,
I don't fuss, I don't whine.

I'm just one of the people
Who is doing your time.

I'm harder than nails,
Stronger than any machine.

I'm the immortal soldier,

I'm a U.S. MARINE!

So stand in my shoes,
And leave from your home.

Fight for the people who hate you,

With the protests they've shown.

Fight for the stranger,

Fight for the young.

So they all may have,

The greatest freedom you've won

Fight for the sick,
Fight for the poor

Fight for the cripple,

Who lives next door.

But when your time comes,
Do what I've done.

For if you stand up for freedom,

You'll stand when the fight's done.

November 13, 2009

Friday? Must be Happy Hour for Dolphins

Coach Tony Sparano's mood was better today. Fact is, it was good again.

After seeming gruff, curt and borderline ornery on Thursday, Sparano was his old self against today. His mood was good enough that I asked him why he is in such an obviously bad mood the day before.

"Terrible lunch upstairs," he said, tongue-in-cheek.

The fact is, as I wrote yesterday, the Dolphins are under much pressure. They realize they are 3-5 and that makes them a bad team, a team that isn't looking like a playoff team, much less an AFC East defending champion.

So Sparano has ordered something of a reset to make sure his players understand that 3-5 is not acceptable. The Dolphins have a chance to go from 3-5 to 5-5 in one week.

Sparano doesn't want his players to blow that opportunity by not being focused on their tasks -- on their jobs.

"I just made a specific emphasis that the fun and games need to be out there on the field," Sparano said when asked about the declining number of domino games in the locker room. "But I think these guys really understand the importance. They understand where we are. Concentration, all those things, paying attention to the details.

"Only thing I've asked them is I want the conversations around here to be a little bit more about football. There's nothing wrong with, and I am pro the players on their down time relaxing and interacting with each other, It's critical. But it's ok to talk about football, too. I talk about football all the time with my wife."

Sparano seems pleased with his team's preparation this week. He said the team had "three really good practices," and that Friday, "was one of the best practices in a long time."

Sparano said all of Miami's injured players were "a little bit better," today. But that was before the injury report came out.

Paul Soliai was limited in practice Friday after not practicing Wednesday and Thursday. Soliai is doubtful for the game despite the upgrade.

Justin Smiley (shoulder) and Erik Walden (hamstring) adid not practice and are also doubtful for the game. Anthony Fasano (hip) is questionable after being limited in practice all week long.

Heat fans boo Porter -- are they right?

Just did a segment on the Jorge Sedano Show here on South Florida's radio waves and he tells me that Joey Porter was at the Heat game Thursday night, ostensibly to watch the Dwyane Wade and LeBron James matchup.

Well, all the good will Porter built during last season's 17 1/2 sack season has apparently faded already this year. That comes from judging the reaction of Heat fans when the big screen on the scoreboard showed Porter in the crowd as one of the celebrities in attendance.

The fans, Sedano said, booed Porter.

So is that a reaction that you would share?

Porter is having a terrible season. He has not had a full sack since September. Last week, in a big stage moment, Porter didn't even play a featured role against the New England Patriots, failing to make a sack or even a tackle in the game.

And he has been avoiding the South Florida media much of the week while big-timing it on NFL Network.

But does he deserve being booed?

Put another way, should Dolphins fans show Porter their displeasure on Sunday as surely as the Heat fans did?

Tony Sparano issues challenge to the OL

In the last week Tony Sparano has called out his offensive line.

The question remains if anyone has answered the call.

Sparano, a former center at New Haven and a former offensive line coach at both the college and NFL level, keeps a keen eye on his offensive linemen. One wouldn't say they're his pets. But they are his dogs.

Sparano, you see, wants the Dolphins offensive line to be the personality of the offense. He wants them to attack the other team. He wants them to win their battles. And, if it escapes him it certainly does not me, they should be doing this because they are the highest paid unit on the team at a whopping $156 million.

One problem: The Miami offensive line has been up-and-down inconsistent this year.

The unit has been dominant in games against Indianapolis and the first meeting with the Jets. The unit has also been unspectacular in games against the Falcons and the second meeting with the Jets. And that's not what Sparano wants.

“I just want to see better play," the coach said Thursday. "I want to see [fewer] sacks. I want to see [fewer] minus plays. I want to see more of us on the other side of the line of scrimmage. I want to see us finish blocks, do some of these things that are necessary for us to win, and that is something they can do."

When he was in Dallas coaching players such as Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode, Sparano believed his unit determined the destiny of the team. Those guys could take over games.

The coach wants the same from the Miami offensive line.

"I told you before, I believe a line, a good line, can take over a game, can be the personality of a team," Sparano said, "and that’s what I would like to see out of that group.”

So Sparano laid down the challenge to the group prior to the New England game. And the Miami OL returned mixed results. The club did rush for 4.3 yards per carry, but only because Pat White got loose on a 33-yard spread option run play that New England obviously wasn't expecting. Chad Henne didn't get beat up, but he was sacked twice and hurried an additional five times.

It was an average performance. And it wasn't good enough for Sparano, who this week has a new set of problems.

Right guard Justin Smiley is having persistent shoulder issues, which he has had the past two years, and has not practiced all week. On Thursday Smiley was sent to the shoulder specialist for an MRI and a more definitive diagnosis of the problem.

That means the team is looking for a right left guard to fill the potential vacancy at right guard by, basically, holding tryouts. Nate Garner took first-team snaps Wednesday, Lydon Murtha took some Thursday, let's see if Joe Berger or Larry Little take some Friday.

It's safe to say Sparano, who challenged his linemen last week, desperately needs someone to answer that challenge.