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64 posts from December 2009

December 31, 2009

News happenings on New Year's eve

Just want to wish you a happy and healthy New Year. Please don't drink and drive this holiday because I don't want to lose any readers. I wish you all much health and many blessings for 2010.

Let me share with you some information:

Running back Ricky Williams, nursing a shoulder injury, was limited in practice according the team's practice and injury report Thursday afternoon. He was the only Miami player limited in any way. He will play against the Steelers, but it is possible the Dolphins will make Kory Sheets active to guard against losing Williams during the game.

The year went out with quite a bang from the media perspective Thursday. The final question to coach Tony Sparano for 2009, indeed for the decade?

"Coach, will you be the coach at Alabama?"

Sparano cracked up.

I am quite comfortable reporting to you Sparano will not be leaving the Dolphins after this season. He loves his job. He does it well and he has more than earned his third season as Miami's head coach in 2010.

His staff? That's another matter.

My guess is despite regression by the defense, Paul Pasqualoni will be retained as defensive coordinator for 2010. Sparano has a lot of respect for Pasqualoni.

My guess is Sparano wants offensive coordinator Dan Henning back in 2010, but that is harder to predict because Henning is up there in years, doesn't need the job or the money, and so he will decide after the season his own status. Sparano would like Henning back, but it's impossible to know if the elder statesman of the Miami staff will return.

For the record, both Pasqualoni and Henning were asked their desire or intentions for 2010 and both dodged the questions.

Jason Taylor also declined to discuss if he is planning to return to Miami in 2010 or not.

“I am planning on trying to win a football game Sunday and that is the only thing I care about to be honest,' Taylor said. "I am not going to talk about anything else. Only thing is to try and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and get to 8-8 and see what happens."

The answer is telling and here is why: I reported two months ago that Taylor was perfectly happy in Miami and wanted to return in 2010. He even told one of the TV crews as much during a production meeting prior to a game. But I now must report that has changed somewhat. Taylor is now undecided about returning to Miami in 2010, according to my sources.

The Dolphins, you see, started putting Taylor on the sideline on obvious passing downs in November. I told you about the curious strategy back then. I also told you Taylor didn't like it. And that is causing him to re-think his future in Miami because the guy is one of the decade's best pass-rushers and to not use him in that role is to not use him correctly.

So I am told Taylor will have some soul-searching to do before deciding where he wants to play in 2010. Stay tuned.

I think the Dolphins need Taylor. Maybe they can live without the eight or so sacks he can deliver. But you saw him chew out Miami's young defenders on the sideline last week? The Dolphins need that type of veteran and that type of leadership.

They need Taylor. Let's hope he feels the same way.

Again, Happy New Year's everyone.

Dolphins salary cap figures for entire roster

My e-mail box was full Wednesday morning with many of you commenting on the post I put up regarding Miami's total payroll in 2009. (It's below this one in case you missed it.)

Let's make a deal: If you have comments, leave them here please. I read most of the comments posted here the same day. I can also answer here. I do not always get around to reading your e-mails the same day and on days like yesterday cannot respond to everyone.

So say your peace on this forum as many of the e-mails were quite interesting and gave me ideas for future posts. This is one of those.

Many of you requested I post the salary cap numbers for the Dolphins if I had them. You're darn tootin' I have them. The salary cap numbers are important because there is a cap limit of $127,997,000 in 2009.

Obviously the Dolphins were under the limit this year, at approximately $113 million in actual cap cost plus another $8-9 million in dead money, or players no longer with the team that are still on the books -- players such as Ernest Wilford, Vonnie Holliday, Matt Roth ($1,087,000) and others.

Remember, the player's cap value is not necessarily what he is making in the season. Cap is figured by adding the player's base salary, plus pro-rated signing bonus, plus other bonuses. The pro-rated signing bonus means that if Vernon Carey received $12 million to sign his new contract, he got that money this year and it went on the total payroll.

But for cap purposes only $2 million of that $12 million counts on a pro-rated basis for 2009 because Carey signed a six-year deal and $12 million divided by six years equals $2 million per year against the cap.

What follows are the 2009 salary cap values of the players on the Dolphins roster. These figures were obtained by The Miami Herald from sources far and wide.

Player   Cap value

Jason Allen        $2,280,000

Will Allen           $5,631,240

Charlie Anderson  $2,583,333

Akin Ayodele    $2,756,240

Yeremiah Bell $4,450,000

Joe Berger $789,573

Davone Bess $394,740

Ronnie Brown    $6,056,933

Greg Camarillo  $1,750,000

Vernon Carey    $5,400,000

Dan Carpenter    $394,990

Chris Clemons    $350,625

Pat Cobbs $755,000

Channing Crowder $4,016,000

Tyrone Culver   $1,047,906

Vontae Davis   $1,225,000

John Denney   $725,500

Lionel Dotson $401,310

Anthony Fasano   $541,240

Jason Ferguson   $4,006,240

Brandon Fields    $479,758

Ikaika Alama-Francis $460,000

Andrew Gardner   $337,443

Nate Garner    $391,240

Ted Ginn Jr. $2,694,323

Jake Grove   $4,600,000

Brian Hartline   $436,243

Joey Haynos   $391,240

Chad Henne   $607,740

Lex Hilliard   $316,240

Nate Jones    $755,000

Kendall Langford  $672,305

Jake Long   $9,606,240

Brennan Marion  $215,000

David Martin   $1,270,000

Tony McDaniel  $1,025,000

Phillip Merling   $2,149,615

Quentin Moses    $466,240

Lydon Murtha   $200,588

Chad Pennington  $5,750,000

Lousaka Polite $1,006,240

Joey Porter   $7,400,000

Kory Sheets        $218,000

Justin Smiley   $3,800,000

Sean Smith     $546,250

Paul Soliai $583,740

Randy Starks $3,640,000

Jason Taylor    $1,102,860

Tyler Thigpen   $378,824

Donald Thomas   $338,657

Reggie Torbor $3,600,000

Patrick Turner    $488,575

Cameron Wake   $635,000

Erik Walden $391,240

Pat White    $726,175

Ricky Williams   $4,250,000

Gibril Wilson   $4,000,000

December 30, 2009

Dolphins have second-highest payroll in NFL

Dolphins salary documentation obtained by the Miami Herald on Tuesday shows the team may not be getting good return for the money it is spending on players in 2009.

According to those documents obtained from sources, the Dolphins spent $126,855,921 in total payroll in 2009, not including incentive bonuses. That is not only up from last year's $114,649,660, it is the second-highest total payroll in the NFL.

The New York Giants have the highest total payroll in the NFL in 2009 at $137,638,866. The Houston Texans, which defeated the Dolphins 27-20 on Sunday, settle in just behind the Dolphins with the third-highest total payroll at $122,573,860

The Giants are 8-7 and have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Dolphins are 7-8 and need a multitude of scenarios to play out over the weekend to make the playoffs. The Texans are 8-7 and similarly need help to get into the playoffs.

The figures obtained by The Herald show that paying premium money for talent is not necessarily a guarantee for success in 2009. Only four of the teams in the top ten for total payroll have already clinched a playoff spot.

How wisely the Dolphins are spending their money is a question that shows up tangibly all over the field.

The team's highest-paid player in 2009 is right tackle Vernon Carey who is making $15 million, with $12 million of that coming in the form of a signing bonus he received for signing a new contact in the offseason. Miami's return on that investment has not paid great dividends as Carey has slumped in the season's second half and has played poorly in recent weeks.

Center Jake Grove, who came to the Dolphins with a reputation for getting hurt, was rewarded with a free agent contract that is paying him $14.2 million this season. That makes him the second-highest-paid player on the team. Grove played well early in the year but has missed five consecutive starts with a high ankle sprain and tibia injury.

The Dolphins invested a lot of money in the deep secondary in 2009 -- $16.6 million to be precise. That means Miami has the most expensive set of safeties in the NFL.

Yeremiah Bell, making $8.6 million this season in the form a $6 million signing bonus, a $2.55 million base salary and $50,000 in other bonuses, is the league's second-highest-paid safety behind Kerry Rhodes of the New York Jets. Rhodes is collecting $9.95 million this season.

Bell, Miami's fourth-highest-paid player in 2009, leads the Dolphins in tackles and has made a couple of tackles that prevented touchdowns.

But free safety Gibril Wilson, the NFL's third-highest-paid safety in 2009, has been a bust for Miami.

Wilson struggled to tackle well early in the season, has struggled in coverage the entire season, and has no interceptions to show for his work. At one point this season, Wilson's struggles led coaches to use rookie Chris Clemons in his place in certain situations.

And all this at a price of $8 million, the fifth-highest salary on the team.

Jake Long, who was the No. 1 overall selection of the 2008 draft and was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, is Miami's third-highest-paid player behind Carey and Grove. Long is being paid $8,006,240 this season.

In focus, Miami has gotten mixed results from its top five paid players.

Long and Bell have been worth the money. Carey and Wilson have probably not played up to their lofty salaries. Grove has earned his money when he's been healthy, but as had been his history prior to coming to Miami, he missed over one-quarter of the season with an injury.

The fact three of Miami's five top-paid players are offensive linemen should not surprise anyone. The Dolphins field the most expensive offensive line in the NFL, costing $156 million in total contracts for the starting five and $39,597,240 in total salary this season for the starting five. (The latter figure can vary by a few thousand dollars depending on who starts at right guard.)

The sixth-highest-paid player on the Dolphins in 2009 is inside linebacker Channing Crowder. He is making $6,516,000 in 2009 based on $1.5 million in base salary, $3.75 million from the signing bonus of contract he signed this year, and $1.266 million in other bonuses. The Miami Herald was the first news outlet to report that Crowder definitely would not play against the Steelers in the season-finale.

The Dolphins do have instances where they are getting great return on their investment. This typically comes from players the team drafted, rather than signed as free agents or re-signed once their contract expired.

Starting quarterback Chad Henne is making $950,340 before incentives this season. That makes him the second-lowest paid full-time starting quarterback in the NFL behind Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys. Romo is making $625,980 in total salary this year. Romo signed a six-year, $67.4 million deal in October 2007. The 2009 salary is the lowest in Romo's contract and his salary rockets to $8.5 million next year.

The bargain the Dolphins are getting from Henne offsets the $5,750,000 they are paying injured quarterback Chad Pennington.

Other Miami players that have been relative bargains this year or played above their pay scale include outside linebacker Jason Taylor ($1,102,860 before incentive bonuses), defensive end Randy Starks ($2,625,000), wide receiver Davone Bess ($391,240), offensive lineman Nate Garner ($391,240), and fullback Lousaka Polite ($1,206,240).

Rookie starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis ($1,625,000) and Sean Smith ($1,255,000) have also been bargains for Miami. It is not correct, however, to say the Dolphins are getting a bargain for their cornerback money.

The rookies have offset the investment on cornerback Will Allen, who was a starter until he suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season. Allen is making $5,506,240 this season, including $1,506,240 in bonus money.

And reserve cornerback Jason Allen is making $1,360,000 this season in salary and bonus. Allen, a former first-round pick, is almost exclusively a special teams player despite his lofty price.

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December 29, 2009

Miami Dolphins: Playmakers wanted please

The 2010 Pro Bowl team will be selected Tuesday evening and the Dolphins aren't likely to fare exceedingly well in the selection process.

Jake Long will likely be recognized as he was last year, perhaps even starting as the AFC team's left tackle. So congratulations to him.

After that ... it's likely to be a tough sell getting much attention for Miami players.

Fullback Lousaka Polite might get some attention as a backup or alternate. Randy Starks might get some votes as an alternate but the fact is he's only got six sacks, and hasn't had one in the month of December as I noted in my column in Tuesday's Miami Herald.

Ricky Williams might also get an alternate spot but I don't see him beating out Chris Johnson or Thomas Jones or Maurice Jones-Drew to get on the Pro Bowl team as a starter or substitute.

I'll update you with the actual team later in the day.

As for what the lack of Miami players on that Pro Bowl team should tell you, it is this:

Despite the good job Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland have done restocking the Dolphins with talent, the job is not complete and perhaps not even half-way finished.

Why do I say this?

We start with playmakers. Quick, tell me who the playmakers on the Dolphins are this year. Tell me the players on either offense or defense that scare the opposing teams. Tell me what Miami players the Titans were talking about two weeks ago while all the talk in the Miami locker room was about Johnson and Vince Young.

Tell me what Miami player opposing coaches consistently worry about.

I don't know that Miami has any player that keeps other teams awake at night.

Joey Porter was such a player last season, but his 17 1/2 sacks were obviously an aberration and not what we have seen from Porter in either 2007 or 2009. 

Jason Taylor used to be one of those sleep-robbing players but let's face it, the man is 35 years old now and his freakish ability to change the course of a game comes on much more rare occasions than it used to when he was younger.

Williams? He's a good player, no doubt about that. But he also is 32 years old and is talking openly about retiring after 2010. He was a game-changer in 2003, the guy a team could ride to much success. But he is a role player now.

Ted Ginn Jr.? Nope.

In fact no Miami pass-catcher is a game-changer.

Chad Henne? Not yet. Plus Parcells has to give the kid some weapons to work with.

The point is the Dolphins need to add a dynamo or two to the roster in the coming drafts or free agency because all the really good teams seem to have those kind of guys.

Fact is, even the mediocre teams seem to have those kind of guys. Houston has Andre Johnson. Pittsburgh has Troy Polamalu, Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger -- though Polamalu has been injured most of this season.

New England has Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Vince Wilfork.

The Jets have Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington.

New Orleans has Drew Brees and Darren Sharper.

Indy has Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney and Reggie Wayne.

The point is most teams have somebody that scares the other team -- somebody that can make a game-defining play at any moment and does that so often as to make his team dangerous.

The Dolphins don't often get the 45-yard interception return for a touchdown, or the strip-sack-fumble recovery for a TD, or the 75-yard bomb for a score from a receiver, or the 48-yard laser down the seam to a tight end for a TD.

The Dolphins are a team that relies on seven five-yard runs, a 13-yard completion, two Lousaka Polite fourth-and-1 conversions, a nine-yard completion, and a wildcat run to score their TDs. Lightning? The Dolphins wait for it to come from the sky rather than their offensive huddle.

The defense, meanwhile, is also mostly solid. But Sean Smith doesn't have an interception and neither does free safety Gibril Wilson. Yeremiah Bell is solid at run-support and is dynamic at erasing the mistakes of other players by catching people from behind. But he isn't blowing up a ton of people in the secondary or causing a ton of turnovers.

Nobody on defense is doing that.

That is not an indictment on any of the players I just mentioned. They all serve a purpose and all have strengths. They all have value.

It's simply that Miami doesn't have a couple of players whose strength is to make play after play that change the course of games in Miami's favor. And those players and those plays have to come for the Dolphins to take more steps toward being a consistently good team.

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December 28, 2009

Miami's biggest problem on defense: LBs

I've been saying for two years now how badly the Dolphins need to upgrade at wide receiver. But knowing the folks that make the decisions about personnel in Miami, I've also been telling you the position that more likely will take priority this offseason in being addressed first is not wide receiver.

It likely will be the linebacker spot instead.

And rightly so, from what we're seeing lately.

The Dolphins linebacker corps is a nightmare right now.

Channing Crowder left Sunday's game -- as in bounced and was nowhere to be found afterward. He went home and is out for the season finale against Pittsburgh because of a foot injury, according to a source. The club is concerned he has a midfoot sprain or fracture that could mean a lisfranc, which is serious business. More will be known today.

[Update: Crowder is on crutches and wearning a boot today.]

That means Miami's linebacker corps against Pittsburgh will be Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor at inside linebacker and Joey Porter and Jason Taylor at OLB with Charlie Anderson and Quentin Moses as backup OLBs. Rookie J.D. Folsom, on the practice squad, may be added to the regular roster.


Ayodele has not had what I would call a good season. He is third on the team in tackles, but he's an ILB for goodness sake. He and Crowder should be leading the team in tackles. But alas, Crowder is often injured and both he and Ayodele over-run plays, or miss tackles or shoot the wrong gaps to the ballcarriers.

That's why Miami's leading tacklers are both safeties.

(Note to Dolphins: When your safeties are the leading tacklers, you have issues at ILB.)

The troubling thing is the Dolphins may be looking to upgrade at ILB this offseason after upgrading at ILB the past two seasons. Remember it was this administration that traded for Ayodele. It was this administration that signed Torbor as a free agent. It was this administration that re-signed Crowder to a new contract last offseason.

So if these guys aren't working out -- and they are not -- that is on this administration.

The Dolphins also have issues at OLB. Let's face it, Joey Porter, 33. shows up once every two or three games nowadays. He's not effective against the run and only gets to the quarterback when he's blocked by a tight end or running back. Put a tackle in front of him and he's stopped in his tracks.

The explosive first step Porter used to have is gone, be it because of his knee injuries or age.

Jason Taylor? He plays hard, but he's out of position. He is, at age 35, a part-time pass-rusher. He could be a latter day Trace Armstrong with 14 sacks as a specialist. But Miami's lack of talent at OLB pressed him into a starting role.

And so Taylor is doing grunt work on running downs when he should be chasing QBs on passing downs. That grunt work has Taylor playing with one shoulder the past three weeks or so. It has him getting close to but not quite to the QB. That half-second that has been sapped from Taylor because of an entire season's worth of collisions at the line of scrimmage is costing him sacks or strips of the ball.

And this just in: Taylor will not be getting younger next year.

So you want a big concern as the Dolphins transition after the regular-season finale to offseason mode?

Think of the linebacker position.

It was plain to see Sunday in the loss to Houston. It is a dire need.

December 27, 2009

Don Shula congratulates Colts on losing; A look at Miami's playoff scenarios

On the bright side, the Dolphins today secured their continued place in NFL history by remaining the only franchise to have a team go undefeated.

That is because the Colts lost 29-15 to the New York Jets today.

The Colts entered the game with a 14-0 record.

"While the Jets win today ended Indianapolis' streak and showed onced again how difficult it is to go undefeated, I want to congratulate the Colts on a great run," coach Don Shula said. "Peyton Manning proved once against this season why he is one of the best quarterback in the history of the NFL and it was certainly no surprise to see him lead the Colts to an NFL record 23 straight victories.

I have the utmost respect for Peyton and his teammates, Bill Polian, and the entire Colts organization, who have once again put together an outstanding season."

Outstanding yes. But perfect?


Only the 1972-73 Dolphins have done that.

As for the 2009-10 Dolphins, this is whatmust happen for Miami to get in the playoffs:

Dolphins beat Pittsburgh.

Oakland beats Baltimore.

Cincinnati beats the Jets.

New England beats Houston.

Cleveland beats Jacksonville.

That is it. That is the only way Miami gets in the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins lose 27-20 to Texans

Some holes are simply too deep to dig out of. Some holes are a grave.

And that's what the Dolphins feel like they've dug for themselves today.

They got down 27-0 and then had a good comeback. But for the second week in a row, the comeback fell short.

"Pretty despicable," Jason Taylor called it.

"Embarrassing," linebacker Reggie Torbor said.

This team simply hasn't been ready to play at the start of the game the past two weeks. And the start of the game is kinda sorta important if you want to finish with a victory.

So the Dolphins are 7-8. They are not eliminated from playoff contention. But they are on life support. It doesn't look good.

Texans maintain 27-10 lead in fourth quarter

The Dolphins showed a little fight in the third quarter by outscoring Houston, 7-0.

But they will need a major league comeback to make up the 27-10 deficit they are currently staring at.

Join me in the comments section for thefourth quarter and the finish of this live blog

Texans lead Dolphins 27-3 going to 3rd quarter

The only time the Texans did not score in the first half was when they took a knee just before halftime.

Otherwise, they've owned the Dolphins.

Houston leads Miami, 27-3.

Matt Schaub is 14 of 18 for 247 yards with two touchdown passes..

The Dolphins have had no answers.

If they can author a comeback it would be the most dramatic I have seen from them in person. I don't know that they have the weapons to do it considering Chad henne is inaccurate today. He has completed only 11 of 23 passes and has one interception without a TD pass.

Join me in the comments section to see how this thing unfolds.

Texans lead Dolphins 10-0 in 2nd quarter

One team is playing like they have playoff hopes on the line.

One team is playing like the season is over.

The Dolphins are the latter.

The Texans have found Andre Johnson. Have broken tackles. And have overcome a couple of sacks.

The Dolphins have missed tackles, been unable to cover Johnson and been unable to mount an offensive challenge.

And that's why Miami is down 10-0.

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

Live blog of Dolphins vs. Houston right here

We got the live blog roaring to life as we get closer to kickoff. Meet me in the comments section for that.

The inactives today for Miami are Tyler Thigpen at the No. 3 QB, Kory Sheets, Evan Oglesby, Andrew Hartline, Andrew Gardner, Lionel Dotson, Ikaika Alama-Francis, and Patrick Turner.

Yup, Patrick Turner is again inactive.

Ted Ginn Jr. starts as do Joe Berger at center for Jake Grove and Nate Garner at guard for Donald Thomas. 

Having said that, I have to address a story that is elsewhere in The Herald website -- that of having Andre Johnson join the Dolphins.

Um, he's signed through 2014 with the Texans. He's the best wide receiver in the NFL. The Texans are in the business of keeping great players, not giving them away. He was the No. 3 overall pick when he was selected in the first round.

He's not the kind of player to make a stink about being traded.


He is not going to be coming to the Dolphins anytime soon. Not next year. Not the year after. So please forget it. It's not happening.

It is happy speculative fodder. But it is not happening, not only because Houston won't do it, but because the Dolphins would never pay the draft day price it would take to pry Johnson away from Houston -- which I would imagine would be multiple first-round picks, plus other considerations.

So can we move on?

About today, the Dolphins must be more concerned with covering Johnson than acquiring Johnson. It will be a test for Miami's young corners, as I wrote earlier this week.

December 26, 2009

Chad Pennington: Plan is to play again

Quarterback Chad Pennington has been missed this season. There is no question about that.

Even if you are big Chad Henne fan and realize that the transition to Henne was necessary, you have to realize the Dolphins have not gotten the type of quarterback play this year they enjoyed last year.

That's not a knock on Henne, it's just that his 10 TDs and 12 INTs and 59.3 completion percentage and 73.8 QB rating don't compare favorably to the 19 TDs and 7 INTs with a 67.4 completion percentage and 97.4 QB rating Pennington posted last season.

Even folks that expected Henne's stronger arm to deliver more long passes has to concede that Pennington had a 7.7 yard per attempt average while Henne's has delivered 6.43 yards per attempt. Henne's longest completion this year is 67 yards. Pennington's longest completion in 2008 was 80 yards.

So the statistics say Pennington played better for the Dolphins even as reality states the change from one QB to the next would have become necessary eventually had Pennington not suffered a dislocated shoulder Sept. 27.

Now it is Henne's team for the foreseeable future.

But a couple of questions remain about Pennington.

First, is he going to play again after undergoing a third surgery on his throwing shoulder?

In this interview conducted with WSAZ-3 in Huntington, W. Va., Pennington seems very optimistic about continuing his pro career.

"My plan is certainly to play again in the NFL," Pennington says at one point.

He is proceeding with his rehabilitation and hopes to have full range of motion of his throwing arm by Jan. 1. Then he'll begin his routine breakneck offseason training regimen and "get ready to try out for some teams and throw for teams," says Pennington, who is an unrestricted free agent past this season.

Pennington is ready to move on if he has to. But he doesn't discount the possibility of returning to the Dolphins, which obviously means he doesn't discount coming back as a backup, because he knows the starting job is already filled.

(No, there will be no competition next year if Pennington comes back. The job belongs to Henne. So don't bother posting those comments as they are not based on reality.)

I think having Pennington as a backup would be great. He's experienced. He's a leader. He's a team player and plays his role -- whatever that is -- perfectly.

The issue I have is that the Dolphins don't seem to be making the most of his abilities now. I know I earlier this season, I agreed with coach Tony Sparano about not having Pennington on the sidelines. It is a Dolphins commandment or something that injured players, those on IR, aren't allowed to travel or be on the sideline with teammates. Most don't even attend the games at all.

But I think the time has come to make the exception with Pennington.

Look, Henne has had a couple of games now where he's basically melted down in a very quick and ugly span.

The Buffalo game was one such incident. Tennessee was another.

My belief is it would benefit Henne to have Pennington calming him down, talking him through his progressions and reads. I think it would only help to add that resource that neither QB coach David Lee nor offensive coordinator Dan Henning can provide because neither have been on the field, rushed by large, angry men anytime lately.

Having Pennington talk to Henne and pour confidence and logic and right-thinking into him at a time the game is going bonkers might be a help.

The idea was considered and rejected by Sparano earlier. At a time when the Dolphins are calling for all hands on deck as they push for a playoff berth, maybe it's time to reconsider.

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December 24, 2009

Christmas wishes for the Miami Dolphins

'Tis Christmas eve. On this night, Cubans celebrate Noche Buena, which translated means Good Night. It is the night we believe Mary and Joseph settled in to the manger at the Inn and prepared for the birth of baby Jesus, who is the Christ.

It is a time for glad tidings and festive wishes. We also eat a lot and I plan to do much damage at my in-laws' house. Tomorrow we'll have Christmas dinner at my house. I hope yours is a joyous holiday.

Meanwhile, these are my Christmas wishes for the Miami Dolphins and Dolfans everywhere:

A week of open practices so I can judge for myself how much or how little Pat Turner is progressing.

More screen passes. Remember those?

Better touch passing for Chad Henne.

Better accuracy for Chad Henne.

Better protection for Chad Henne.

Better weapons around Chad Henne.

More of Jason Taylor on passing downs.

Less of Joey Porter on run downs.

Fewer sideline patterns for Ted Ginn. He finds the sideline often enough as is.

More recevier screens with Greg Camaillo running hard for six yards.

A shovel pass every once in a while.

A Pat White completed pass every once in a while.

A Gibril Wilson intercepted pass every once in a while.

A Nathan Jones corner blitz. Remember those?

More tackles for Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele at the line of scrimmage.

Fewer tackles for Yeremiah Bell five yards from the line of scrimmage.

Stability on the offensive line.

An offseason shakeup at WR.

An impact play or two for Kendall Langford.

Double-digit sacks for Randy Starks.

That Pro Bowl berth that follows double-digit sacks for Starks.

More playing time for Brian Hartline.

Fewer fumbles for Davone Bess, who leads the team with six.

A tight end that can eat up the seam route and catch the ball between a linebacker and safety.

A tight end that makes the other team's safeties seem overmatched.

A wide receiver that averages 16 yards per reception.

The same receiver having 82 receptions. (Do the math).

The death of the Orange Carpet.

The rebirth of the Flipper tank.

Cheerleader calendars that aren't rated R.

National anthems sung loud and proud at every game.

Military flyovers at every game.

Victory for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a tie. Not a respectful retreat. Victory!

Peace in everyone's heart.

More Miami players that talk the talk ...

... and then walk the walk.

Visiting Jets fans that know when to shut up.

Jets teams that aren't pompous ... even after getting swept.

A rematch with the Patriots ... in this year's playoffs.

A chance to avenge this season's 31-14 loss to Buffalo ... by playing the Bills in next season's AFC title game.

A speedy recovery for Ronnie Brown.

And Jason Ferguson.

And Patrick Cobbs.

And Chad Pennington.

And Will Allen.

All the privacy Ricky Williams so covets ... after he retires.

More attention and appreciation for Tony Sparano, because it's not all about Bill Parcells.

More time for Parcells in that darkened film room, because he loves it there.

More time for Parcells in that white bright afterglow of a Super Bowl victory, because he loves it there even more.

And finally, one request for myself: A sign from Heaven that my mom and dad are pleased with me and are waiting to see me up there some day.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Dolphins feelings on Davis, Smith show Sunday

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring ...

Yeah, about the Dolphins cornerbacks: I told you folks long ago that you should listen to just about every word coach Tony Sparano says about his players. You should gauge those words. And then you should measure those words against what the Dolphins do either on the field or in contract talks or with their personnel decisions.

That's how you find out what these Dolphins really think of their players.

Sparano, you see, has a no-public-criticism policy relative to players. So a dude can fumble four times the past two games and you will not hear Sparano tell you he's displeased. A player can miss a dozen tackles and you won't hear the coach utter a reproach.

But you'll see guys benched. Or demoted. Or something on the field will tell you how the coaches really feel.

So this week you'll see what coaches think of their two young cornerbacks, Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

Publicly, both players are playing well and both players need to continue improving to reach their potential. Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, and more specifically against Andre Johnson, might offer the most challenging test either rookie has faced.

That's because Johnson is statistically the best receiver the Dolphins have faced this season and because subjectively, he might be up there with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as the best player the Dolphins have faced all year.

(And I'm not just saying that because he went to Miami High, like me, and went to The U, like me.)

"When you’re playing against players of this caliber week-in and week-out, it does help you," Sparano said Wednesday. "I’ve seen both of them learn from playing against some of these players along the way at different times. I think that it will help them, sure I do."

But how the Dolphins play Johnson will tell you what they think of their rookies.

Remember earlier this year when the Dolphins would allow their corners to match up with whomever lined up opposite them? That lasted a while until the Dolphins starting matching up. And typically it was Davis lining up against Randy Moss or Terrell Owens or the big reputation receiver, despite his smaller (5-11) stature.

That told you that coaches felt Davis, shorter but more physical, had a better chance of working successfully against the taller receivers. It didn't work out too well. Sure, Davis had his moments. But he gave up long TDs to both Moss and Owens.

Well, last weekend, the Dolphins had a switch of tactic. The Dolphins put Smith. who is 6-3 and 215 pounds, against fellow long and lanky rookie Kenny Britt. Britt, 6-3 and 218 pounds, was Tennessee's leading wide receiver.

Smith held him to two catches for 32 yards -- a good outing for Smith.

Davis had a tougher day against the Titans. He had an interception, to be sure. But he also gave up two touchdown passes -- one to Justin Gage and one to Nate Washington.

So this Houston game will tell you which player the Dolphins believe is currently their best young cover corner. Smith? Or Davis?

This game will tell you which player the Dolphins believe is more ready to challenge the best wide receiver in the game.

Of course, the chances of Miami putting just one of their corners on an island against Johnson should be low -- better be low or coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will have to answer for it next week.

But the corner that draws the assignment for Miami against Johnson? That's the kid the coaches really believe is their best on the roster. No question about that.

[Update: Everyone practiced today, including Jason Taylor, who is nursing a shoulder injury. The game has been declared a sellout and will be televised locally.]

Merry Christmas everyone! My gift to you is the video below. Enjoy and God bless you all! 

December 23, 2009

The simplest, most direct route to the playoffs

At the risk of saying what is terribly complex is actually quite easy to figure out, I would tell you the Dolphins greatest and best chance of making the playoffs is based on one simple three-part scenario.

If you study the scenario on this YahooSports NFL playoffs scenario generator you will see the Dolphins might find themselve back in Foxboro in a few week for a third meeting against the Patriots if three things happen:

1. The Dolphins win out. They do this, we're on our way. They fail to do this, forget everything. So Miami must beat Houston this weekend and Pittsburgh next weekend. Both are home games. This is doable.

One ominous warning, however: I have found no scenario where the Dolphins make the playoffs at 8-8. If they lose this weekend, or next weekend, they are eliminated from the playoff chase. (I worked the scenario generator for 20 minutes to get to this conclusion. If you find a scenario in which and 8-8 Miami makes it, please post it, but I don't think it exists.) 

There is one scenario where the Dolphins make it at 8-7-1 but that's a reach. The Jaguars, interestingly enough, can make the playoffs at 8-8 under one scenario.

But I digress. Back to the original scenario:

2. The Patriots beat Jacksonville this weekend. This is also quite doable. The Patriots are favored against Jacksonville. They have a better record than Jacksonville. And it's a home game for the Pats.

3. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore this weekend. This one is huge. The Dolphins are currently trailing Baltimore in the tie-breakers. But if Pittsburgh makes the Ravens squack, the tie-breaker reverts to Miami -- assuming two victories by the locals. Obviously the Steelers would be in after this weekend and Miami would still be on the outside. But a Miami victory in the final week of the season -- assumed above -- corrects that issue.

It is also vital that Baltimore loses to Pittsburgh. If the Ravens beat Pittsburgh this week but lose to Oakland next week, they still get in ahead of Miami. This is key.

So there it is. The simplest, most direct route to the playoffs for the Dolphins.

You don't have to worry about the Jets, even if they win their final two games. They would not qualify. You don't have to worry about Denver, even if they win their final two games. They would be the No. 5 seed while Miami picks up the sixth seed.

And you don't have to worry about New England. They would win the AFC East and host the Dolphins.


[I stand corrected, the Dolphins make it at 8-8 assuming they beat Pittsburgh, Jacksonville ends up 7-9 and Baltimore loses to Oakland and Pittsburgh. Unlikely to say the least, but I guess it is remotely possible.]

Kubiak: Touch passes come with experience

Gary Kubiak played QB in the NFL. He coached QBs in the NFL. So he knows something about QBs in the NFL.

And today on his conference call with the Dolphins media, Kubiak explained that those touch passes some quarterbacks -- Chad Henne for one -- have to master come with work and experienced.

"I think you just have to play," Kubiak said. "Quarterbacks develop when they play a lot of ball. It’s like the young man we have here [Matt Schaub], he’s played his best football for us this year. He’s still, I want to say he’s at 37, 38 starts in this league. That’s not a lot of starts.

"You don’t develop all the tools and everything until you get those starts under your belt and you start playing every week of every season. It’s repetition, and anybody who’s in this league has talent, but repetition is what’s going to make you better, and make you as good as you can be in the long haul."

I think we forget that Henne has only 11 starts under his belt. Most QBs don't hit their stride until their 25-35th start. By then you know if you have a star on your hands. By then the issues -- interceptions, touch passing, etc. -- have to be resolved. By then there are no excuses.

Henne's at least one year away from that point.

By the way, if you recall, offensive coordinator Dan Henning said last year and repeated this year that Henne would be just as good as either Baltimore's Joe Flacco or Atlanta's Matt Ryan -- two quarterbacks picked in the same class with Henne.

I always thought the comparison was unfair because the Dolphins haven't surrounded Henne with the type of talent that surrounds the other two. Nonethelss, the comparison endures.

And so looking at all three so far this season, Flacco has thrown for 3,345 yards and 19 TDs this year. Ryan has thrown for 2,443 and 17 TDs. Henne has thrown for 2,416 yards and 10 TDs. Henne, who has thrown 12 interceptions, is the only one of the three youngsters that has thrown more INTs than TDs.

[Update: The Dolphins have added rookie punter Britton Colquitt to the practice squad. And Jason Taylor, nursing a shoulder injury, sat out the portion of practice open to the media, suggesting he's not practicing today.]

Come back in a while. More stuff coming. 

Dolphins biggest 2009 opponent? Themselves

Last season the Dolphins had a style of play which they rode to the playoffs.

The roster was not busting at the seams with talent, but the Dolphins found a way to keep the ball longer than the other team, found a way to close out games, and rarely, if ever, beat themselves -- at least not until the playoffs came around.

Today we focus on the third of those three points. Today we focus on turnover ratio.

Last season the Dolphins set an NFL record, along with the New York Giants, by having only 13 turnovers. As a result, Miami led the NFL with a plus-17 take-away, give-away margin.

Said poetically, the Dolphins didn't beat themselves.

This year, the Dolphins aren't doing such a good job of helping the opposition.

"It’s ridiculous, it’s very critical," a concerned Tony Sparano said. "Looking at it right now, we’re about 10 more interceptions and 10 more fumbles more right now than we were last year at this time. That’s not good football, that isn’t winning football. That’s not what we talk about, that’s not what we try to practice, just not good. Can’t win like that. Can’t win consistently."

The Dolphins this year have dropped to 25th in the NFL in turnover margin. They are at minus-7 with 25 total give-aways. Those gifts come on 15 interceptions and 10 fumbles.

"There’s a lot of energy put into overcoming those things," Sparano said. "We overcame it last week and won the game, fought our tails off this week and didn’t win the game, but got back into the game only to lose. There’s a lot of energy spent overcoming turnovers, overcoming untimely penalties, those type of things. This team’s been pretty good with penalties all year long. We had a few [against Tennessee].

"The turnover thing, it’s hard to overcome. It’s not only us, it’s everybody in the league. You get down like that turnover-wise, hard thing to do. We put ourself in that position [Sunday], and we knew it going into the game. We just knew that that was something – it was one of the keys to the game for us. Every week, we start the week off, ‘This is a key to the game.’ That’s not good."

The fact Chad Henne took over at quarterback for the more experienced but injured Chad Pennington had something to do with the higher turnover margin. Pennington threw seven interceptions all of last year. But the way I see it, the Dolphins have no choice but to grin and bear it, really, with the high rate of interceptions unless they are going to put a big leash around Henne.

And they can't do that in games like Sunday's when the team is trailing 24-6. You have to throw. And the defense knows you have to throw. So the Dolphins have to simply hope time is a friend and Henne's maturation cuts down the interception number.

But the really frustrating stat is the 10 fumbles with two games left to play. Miami fumbled only six times all of last season.

Coaches have been working with ballcarriers on their ball security for several weeks in practice.

It's a good bet when the team goes back to practice Wednesday afternoon, that work will continue. 

December 22, 2009

It's all about U: Dolfans understand the process

My column in Today's Miami Herald (yes, we still print an edition you Internet freeloaders should purchase every once in a while) discusses a topic you should be familiar with:


The fans.

Frankly, as Yoda would say, "impressed with you I am," because many of you don't want to jump off the bandwagon or bench the offense of fire everybody any time the team loses.

The fact is many of you understand what is happening -- slowly but surely -- with the rebuilding of the franchise and to date you are being patient with the process.

That wasn't always the case. Miami Dolfans have had their moments of anger and impatience and near-revolution.

So you tell me on this feedback Tuesday: Is it fair for me to conclude you have found a group of franchise caretakers you have faith in? What areas of the team are you optimistic about? What are you skeptical about?

And how long does the current understanding and bliss extend? Asked another way, when does the honeymoon end and you, the fans, start to expect championships at all costs?

(Not to suggest everyone is thrilled with the Dolphins these days, if you're unhappy with the direction of the team, please say so.)  

December 21, 2009

Three key points following the Tennessee loss

NASHVILLE -- Three things stand out from Miami's 27-24 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

1. The officiating was questionable.

There was the unnecessary roughness penalty on Greg Camarillo in overtime that set up the winning field goal. It looked to me like Camarillo was merely touching down the ballcarrier and didn't spear or hit him. Yet it cost the Dolphins 15 yards.

"I kept asking and really didn't get much," Sparano said. "Only thing I really got was that he was down. I didn't see the play, but that is what they said."

Said Camarillo: "I was told it was a late hit ...  There was no whistle and all his teammates were telling him to get up. I think he was starting to get up. Either get him down or knowck the ball out. Those were my intentions. It is a physical game and it had been a physical game the whole time. That is what they called. That is how it goes."

Jason Taylor also had what appeared to be a fumble recovery. But it wasn't really a fumble recovery because the whistle blew and that's exactly what the officials told Sparano.

"They blew the whistle," the coach said.

2. Chad Henne had another 3-interception game.

Three picks is bad enough for any quarterback on an average offense. For the Dolphins, an offense unable to produce points in droves and easily recover from miscues, three interceptions is a death bell ringing in the distance.

"The last one, I was trying to get it over the defensive lineman," Henne said. "There are excuses, but I am not going to make them. I will just say that I missed the pass and next time I will connect on it."

My take is that Henne would like to tell you his protection up front was spotty and his receivers were inconsistent, but he's not going to do that. He'll take the blame responsibility and move on.

But the fact of the matter is the interceptions were totally on him.

The first one, which he simply threw up as he was being slung to the ground, was a ridiculously terrible decision. On the second one, he locked on to Ricky Williams in the end zone and looked nowhere else on the field. As telegraphs go, Henne did a Western Union on that one.

The final one was simply a bad overthrow.

Interestingly, it could have been worse. Remember that on a third-down, Henne threw a deep pass to Brian Hartline that settled in the grasp of a defensive back. The DB bobbled the interception and Hartline grabbed it for an improbable 57-yard completion. Henne got lucky on that one.

3. The Dolphins are consistent only in being inconsistent.

In my column for Monday's paper I outline for you why the Dolphins are at fault for their own difficult playoff stance. I mean, seriously, this team has tried and failed three times this season to win three consecutive games.

They are hot on offense one drive and anemic the next. Their defense is nowhere to be found in the first half but shows up for the second.

It drives me crazy because you see grand potential one moment and you see a team that seemingly is light years from being effective in the next moment. Sheesh!

December 20, 2009

Titans defeat Dolphins 27-24 in overtime

NASHVILLE -- The Dolphins were certainly game today, scoring 18 unanswered points to erase a 24-6 lead.

But after tying the game 24-24 at the end of regulation, the Dolphins ran out of miracles.

Chad Henne threw an interception on Miami's lone overtime possession and Greg Camarillo was flagged 15 yards for an unsportsmanlike penalty.

The interception and penatly basically set up the Titans for a 46 yard field goal by Rob Bironas. He connected.

"It's hard enough to beat 11 Titans," Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder said after the game. "You can't beat 17 Titans. Put that on your sheet."

Crowder was talking about the officiating crew being on Tennessee's side.

Anyway, Dolphins lose.

Miami is now 7-7 and although the playoff hopes are not dead, they are on life support.

Henne, by the way, was 29 of 46 for a career high 349 yards with one touchdown and three interception. Ouch.