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64 posts from December 2009

December 10, 2009

Thursday afternoon's Dolphins happenings

With Joey Porter missing his second straight day of practice this week and third dating back to last Friday, the media is focused in on Cameron Wake now.

It is understandable because Wake is interesting, Wake is a fan favorite and Wake might the future. But listening to coach Tony Sparano and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni talk today, I don't get the feeling Wake is going to see a ton more action that what we've been seeing of late.

Pasqualoni and even Jason Taylor mentioned the name Dwight Freeney when comparing Wake's body type and speed to the Pro Bowl Indianapolis player. But as Taylor noted, "I wasn't putting him in the company yet, I was just explaining the difference in body types."

Sparano: "My sense would be that when [Wake] is in the game, he factors at what he does. He played 10 plays a week ago, had two opportunities where he ran by the quarterback and hit the quarterback once. That was his 10 plays. Some of it been really good, some of it has been uneventful.

"Meaning (he) hasn’t had opportunities or even when he has been out there and had the opportunity, just didn’t have the opportunity. The ball is out fast or whatever the case is, any of those types of things. Doing a good job of what we are asking him to do right now and he is coming along as a linebacker.”

Sparano went on to explain that Wake is part of a certain defensive package and it isn't up to the defense to dictate when that package is used, but rather, it's up to the offense and the down and the distance. So until Wake graduates from that package, he likely isn't getting a whole lot more snaps than he currently is.

The Dolphins got good news today when Taylor (shoulder) returned to practice. Nathan Jones (hamstring) and Jake Grove (ankle) also practiced but only on a limited basis.

If you read this blog, you know that Taylor has been used differently of late than he was earlier this year. He is often coming out of games on nickel and dime situations, which is interesting because he's the NFL active career sack leader and Miami's career sack leader.

But Taylor had a tough month from late October to November as he didn't get a sack. Perhaps that had something to do with Miami's use of a OLB rotation. Maybe the fact none of Miami's other OLBs can defend against the run very well and Taylor can is the reason JT is in on early downs and has been sidelined on rush down.

I don't know. But this is clear. Even though he isn't complaining about not getting more chances to turn quarterbacks into ground beef, Taylor obviously would prefer to be in there on passing downs. That was clear when he was asked what he thinks of his play the last month.

“The last month of the season? I don’t know what our record is," JT said. "Me personally, it’s been different. It's been a little different. But I do what I’m called on to do -- plug me in where you need me, and I’ll do what I’m told.”

Finally, the Dolphins added cornerback Evan Oglesby to the roster. He fills the spot created by the placing of OL Lydon Murtha on the injured reserve list. Murtha was injured his ankle on the final play of Wednesday's practice, according to coach Tony Sparano.

The team didn't expect the issue to be a big deal until MRI results Thursday revealed a problem.

The internal debate about Wildcat-Direct Snap

the previous post sparked the debate wether the Dolphins should continue using Pat White and the Direct-Snap-Spread-Option (DSSO) package. That debate was had on Tuesday by the Dolphins coaching staff.

The fact is the Dolphins coaches have discussed how, when, if to continue using both the Wildcat and the DSSO going forward.

But before we go any further let me define for you the difference between Wildcat and DSSO. The wildcat is only when motion comes across the formation as we used to see with Ronnie Brown as the triggerman and Ricky Williams coming across.

The DSSO is when you have a shotgun snap to a Williams or White and they either run, pitch or throw. The DSSO has been something of a disaster lately. Williams threw an interception out of it at Buffalo and White carelessly pitched what became a fumble for a 15-yard loss against New England last week.

And so Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning explains the debate between using these and not.

"We have to be frugal with it," Henning said today. "I think if you go back, way back, you remember the man from New Haven [Tony Sparano] told you that if there was going to be balls on the ground, there wasn't going to be much of it anyhow.

"So when the ball's on the ground and you lose 15 yards, you get some word to the wise. It might not even be a statement. It might just be a hrumph. You have to take all that into consideration and we do have certain parts of the field we like to do it even though we haven't had a lot of yards with it, we have had touchdowns.

"So we take advantage to the point we think we can take advantage. From time to time ... we certainly have not abandoned it. When you get behind, that's not the prudent way to go. You have to get back in the game. There's a lot of factors involved in how we do it and who we do it with. And we're short-handed without Ronnie."

[That's the quickie update. I'll have more stuff for you soon. Come back.]

Why the Spread Option Direct Snap anymore?

At one point during his press conference with the Miami media Wednesday, Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was asked one question about the wildcat package. Then another question about the wildcat package. And then he got a little annoyed.

 “Why the infatuation with the Wildcat?" Del Rio grumbled.

And that leads me to this: "Why the infatuation with the Pat White spread option?"

I have been no fan of this package throughout the season but I've been biting my keyboard, trying not to speak against it, deferring to a coaching staff that obviously believes in it because they see it in practice. So I've been waiting for it to, you know, actually work.

But after what we saw last week during the New England game, the thinking here is the so-called WildPat or PatCat or Spread Option or Direct Snap or whatever you want to call it needs to go away. Please!

So what happened last week?

In case you didn't see the game or the replay Wednesday night on NFL Network, you missed another step in quarterback Chad Henne's maturation process. For the first time this season, the Dolphins put the game on his shoulders, asked him to win for them, and he did.

Yes, he won the first meeting versus New York with some timely passing. But that game was won primarily by the Dolphins running up and down the field on the Jets.

Sunday's 22-21 victory over New England was won because Henne threw 52 passes and completed 29 of them for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Henne outplayed Tom Brady in that game.

Henne also didn't have to concern himself with shuttling in and out of the game a dozen or so times while the team ran the Wildcat and the Spread-Option-Direct-Snap-Mumbo-Jumbo.

The Wildcat was on the shelf. And White ran two plays out of his package -- one on which he tossed wildly to Ricky Williams for a fumble and a 15-yard loss, and the other for which he had no gain.

So White's stats this game was two rushes for zero yards and a fumble that resulted in a 15-yard loss. But the stats are not what we're concerned about right now. The point is that as Henne was finding himself, the Dolphins asked him to leave his position twice.

And is that important? Only to Henne, who agreed Wednesday he plays better when he gets into a flow, a rhythm of the game.

“Yes. You definitely do," Henne said. "The more you throw the more I guess consistent (you get). It really puts you in that rhythm and you just feel comfortable out there, you know bang I am going to hit that throw and on the next play you get another pass play and another opportunity. You definitely get in that rhythm.”

Understand that Henne is not complaining about being taken out. He would never do that publicly and probably not privately at this stage in his career. But the fact is taking him out and putting another QB in can be counter-productive. That's not just a reporter telling you that. Coaches say it. Players say it.

The Dolphins have ignored all that this year because they have that conviction that White adds something to the offense. But -- and here is where statistics come into play -- that fact is White has actually added precious little.

He has thrown three passes this year -- one against Atlanta, one against New England in the first meeting, and one against Tampa Bay. He did not complete any of those throws.

He has rushed 14 times in eight games this year for a total of 50 yards. That's not terrible, except when one considers 45 of those yards came in that first New England loss. In the other seven games White has carried the ball, he's rushed eight times for five yards.

Eight times. Five yards.

That is not production worthy of playing time. In fact, that playing time is starting to feel like stubborness on the part of somebody that is expecting White to bust loose more often for the type of gain he had in that first New England meeting.

In that first game against the Pats, White had a 33-yard run. That singular run is the only reason I can see for continuing to use Pat White while shoving aside Chad Henne.

I can, meanwhile, give you 335 passing yards worth of reasons why White should not be on the field any more. He should either be replaced by Tyler Thigpen if the Dolphins want to continue running the Spread Direct Snap, or shelved altogether along with the package that hasn't been working.

December 09, 2009

Advantage Dolphins: Chase, protect the QB

This is what's going on at this hour:

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Nathan Jones is nursing a hamstring injury which is the reason he did not practice today. As I reported in the previous post, Jones, Joey Porter (knee), and Jason Taylor (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.

The irony is that Porter and Taylor have to be vital parts of Miami's chances of winning against Jacksonville on Sunday. The Jaguars, you see, have struggled mightily in two areas this year: They don't protect the quarterback very well and they don't rush the passer very well.

Porter and Taylor and Miami's primary pass-rush threats along with Randy Starks and Cameron Wake. I asked Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio about his team's work protecting the passer and getting after opposing QBs.

"Not very good," he said. "I think that's the one thing that's held us back a little bit from being a better football team. We have to protect our guy better. He's getting hit too much. And I know the Dolphins do a good job of getting after the quarterback.that's a concern for us this week."

The Dolphins defense has 35 sacks this season. That's second in the NFL in sacks per pass play.

The Jacksonville offensive line has yielded 34 sacks this season and that's 28th worst in the NFL.

Advantage Miami!

The Dolphins have a similar advantage in protecting Chad Henne. Miami has yielded 25 sacks of its QBs and that is a middle-of-the-road 16th in the NFL. But middle of the road is pretty good when one consideres the Jags have a bunch of JAGs (just a guy) chasing the QB on defense.

Jacksonville has 12 sacks so far this year. That means they are dead last in sacks per pass play on defense.

Advantage Miami! 

"The other thing we have not been strong at is getting after the quarterbback," Del Rio admitted. "That's something we have to get better at going down the stretch to have a chance against these good football teams like the Dolphins."

Interestingly, an issue that was hot on this blog about  20 months ago came up again today because, well, because I brought it up. Seriously loyal readers will remember I reported way back then that Jacksonville had a strong interest in acquiring Jason Taylor to improve their pass rush. It was a big issue even then.

The Jaguars denied the reports at the time. Taylor was eventually traded to the Redskins. Well, today, Del Rio admitted the Jaguars indeed had an interest.

"There were discussions at the time but nothing ever materialized," he said.

One final thing: Center Jake Grove returned to practice today on a limited basis. He is recovering from a high ankle sprain and tibia injury. Tony Sparano said the team will monitor his status Thursday -- to see how he handles the work and whether he suffers any setback --  and that will help him determine whether Grove will be available against Jacksonville.

Miami Dolphins waive David Martin off IR

Tight end David Martin, who was placed on the injured reserve list before the season began, is no longer a Miami Dolphin.

Martin, 30, was waived off the injured reserve list on Monday. He can be claimed off waivers and is free to sign with any team except the Dolphins for the final four games of the season. A source said Martin is ready to play after rehabilitating a right knee surgery he underwent in September.

It is still possible Martin, who becomes a free agent after the season, could re-sign with the Dolphins if they offer him a contract in 2010. That issue obviously will be addressed in the offseason.

The Dolphins missed Martin this year.

Martin contributed 31 catches for 450 yards and an impressive 14.5 yards per catch average in 2008. He also scored three touchdowns.

Tight ends Joey Haynos and Anthony Fasano this year have combined for 34 catches for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Haynos, who replaced Martin, has 10 catches for 104 yards and is averaging 10.4 yards per catch.

[Practice update: C Jake Grove was working at least on a limited basis today. OLB Jason Taylor (shoulder), Joey Porter (knee) and Nathan Jones (undetermined) did not practice.]

[Blog update: Big doings this afternoon so check back in a little while for all the day's news.]

December 08, 2009

Jason Taylor on SI's all-decade team

We're getting ready to close out another decade in a few weeks and Sports Illustrated is celebrating the passing of 10 years with its latest all-decade team.

Aside from giving copious attention to the New England Patriots for their great quarterback play (Tom Brady), great personnel work (Scott Pioli), great coaching (Bill Belichick), great success (three Super Bowl wins) and great cheating scandal (Spygate), SI does make time for one quick wink to Miami's Dolphins.

Jason Taylor.

Taylor earns the right defensive end spot on the all-decade team.

Taylor missed only five games in the decade and averaged 11 sacks a year during the past 10 seasons from 2000-2009. And that is good stuff for anyone wondering whether Taylor eventually will be in the conversation for Hall of Fame status when he hangs them up.

But ... yeah, there's always a but, the occasion of celebrating Taylor on this dream team causes me to wonder what's happening with Taylor on a real-life team: The 2009 Miami Dolphins.

This season was seemingly going great for Taylor from the time he signed this offseason through the preseason and the regular season. Then something strange happened the past few weeks.

JT kinda disappeared.

Taylor, signed to primarily rush the passer, has been spending a lot of his time the past couple of weeks watching from the bench when the Dolphins are in obvious pass-rushing situations. Orginally, the plan was to let Taylor watch on run downs and then unleash him -- fresh, motivated, and maybe a little angry -- on passing downs.

Great idea because, well, the dude can rush the passer.

But now he's a run-stopper. A run-stopper?

Taylor plays primarily on run downs and then cedes his pass-rushing duties to Cameron Wake or Charlie Anderson or Joey Porter. The guy with more sacks this decade than anyone else is on the sideline for Miami in passing downs.

I'm not sure how the Dolphins reached this point in their outside linebacker rotation. Taylor did not figure in a sack for a month from Oct. 25 to Nov. 29. But I cannot tell you whether his removal on passing down is because he slowed down during that month or because he wasn't given enough at-bats to get to the QB.

I can tell you the coaching staff is intent on giving Cameron Wake more opportunities to rush the passer. The team also seems reluctant to remove Porter from his pass-rush duties. He has been getting more chances than Taylor.

But the idea of using Taylor, Porter and Wake together on rush situation seems to have been tossed somehwere along the way. And for now, more often than not, that makes Taylor the odd man out in pass-rush situations.

Maybe Dolphins coaches should read Sports Illustrated. 

Dolphins WR Davone Bess in his own words

Most of the time I use my own words in this space. Today, thanks to the diligent work of the Dolphins media relations department, I'm going to simply tell you what Davone Bess had to say on Monday following the best game of his career.

Bess caught 10 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. He leads the team with 59 catches for 548 yards and is the team's only wide receiver to already surpass his receptions total from a year ago. All this despite the fact Bess has not started any games this season.

So, folks, I present to you Davone Bess in his own words:

(On the rare opportunity to play many of the teams in front of them in the playoff race) – “We all find that kind of weird, but at the same time, it’s ‘any given Sunday.’ We can’t really get too caught into that, and try to make sure we go out and, pretty much, win. That’s our main objective right now. Obviously, they’re in the hunt too, so they’re going to be just as eager to win, just like us, so it’s going to be a real tough stretch.”

(On scoreboard watching leading up to the playoffs) – “That comes with it, but you really don’t want to get too caught into that because that starts taking you off of what you have to do and our main priority is what we want to get done. We want to win, and we have to grind out during the week and show up on Sundays.”

(On the Patriots making adjustments to defend him during yesterday’s game) – “A few times, they actually did the same thing yesterday. I think the coaches did a great job of making good calls just for that. We had routes put in specifically just in case they wanted to double me inside, or double whoever it was. If they doubled me, obviously, someone else was open. Chad [Henne] did a great job going through his read and getting it done.”

(On if the past game was the most he has had to deal with double coverage) – “It’s kind of been up and down throughout the season. A lot of times they double team me, really on third down. Obviously, they see that I convert on third down a lot, or that Henne comes my way. For the most part, the coaches do a great job of putting us in those type of situations. I think we do a good job at rising up to the occasion and making a play.”

(On going from undrafted last year to being double covered) – “I’m a true believer in ‘hard work pays off.’ I’m trying to go out and be the best I can be. In my eyes, the sky’s always the limit. Like you said, it was devastating not getting drafted, but a year later now, I’m actually not surprised how much success has come my way because I’ve worked hard my whole career to make it to this point. This is only the beginning of it. I still have a long way to go. I still have to learn and get better and better each week.”

(On the work he has put in regarding route depth) – “That’s something that I’ve definitely been having to work on since I’ve been in the NFL. When I was in college, our coaches out there always stressed sense of urgency on your route, and always being aware, versus actually getting your depth. That’s one of the things I’ve been drilling myself, the coaches have been drilling me to do, and it’s been getting better and better each week. I just have to continue to stay focused and understand I can do this.”

(On how he prepares for the depth of a route prior to the play, and if he will literally count out the yardage) – “Sometimes, especially depending on if it’s third down or not. If it’s third down, I want to always look to where the yard marker is, whether it’s deeper than my normal depth, obviously I have to go deeper in my route to get the first down. For the most part, yeah, you go out and you see what yard line you are on, you look at what route you have, and then you go from there. It all happens real fast. It’s not really a thinking matter, it’s just the progressions you go through, and then you go out and do it.”

(On what the game yesterday was like with more emphasis on the passing game) – “It was exciting. It was something that the whole receiving corps was looking forward to, and the coaches definitely had the trust and the confidence in us to get the job done. The offensive line did a great job at blocking and giving Henne time to sit back and pretty much pick apart the defense. Our coach told us that this week, if we’re going to win this game, we, the receiving corps, is going to have to step up and make plays.”

(On what point in the game he felt that he was on the same page with Chad Henne) – “Since the first quarter. He connected with me in some key first downs and that pretty much set the tempo of the day. Like I said, everybody did their part in executing. I would not have gotten open if Greg [Camarillo] or Brian [Hartline] did not get their depth on their routes. All of us work together and that is why it is a team game.”

(On how much pride he takes in being a successful possession receiver, being toward the top of the league on converting third downs) – “I take pride in that tremendously. Any time my number is called, I am willing to rise to the occasion. I am out there every day competing and ready. That all goes back to [the whole offense]. The line giving Chad [Henne] time and giving me time to get ready in my route. If he is getting pressure and rushing out of the pocket, there is no way I am going to be able to separate or any other receiver separate and get open to get the first down too.”

(On if he watches a player like Wes Welker when he is on the sidelines) – “Every time I am on the sidelines I am watching Welker. Even when we were in Carolina, I was watching Steve Smith. I am watching everybody. I want to take my game to the next level, see what I can learn from these players and put it to my game and see where it go.”

(On Wes Welker still having more receiving yards than he did yesterday) – “I saw that. That is OK, he worked hard for it. Good player.”

(On what it takes to earn a quarterback’s trust) – “It starts in practice. There is no way you can go into a game not knowing who you can rely on in certain situations in the game. It all started back last year. I thought it was a little weird, but when we were at the combine, [Chad] Henne was actually throwing me passes during the drills. We talked about that the other day. It all goes back to working hard during practice, continuing to do it week in and week out and building that trust and chemistry.”

(On if the combine was the first time he and Chad Henne had met) – “We met a little bit before that. When I was training in Arizona, he had a quarterback challenge in Arizona. My quarterback [at University of Hawaii] Colt Brennan was up there and they were good friends. We linked up that way.”

(On what wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell has meant to him) – “Everything. He is a great great mentor. He has been one of the main guys stressing me to get my depth on my routes and it has been helping. He adds another dimension to my game, especially from a mental standpoint. Whether it is knowing your splits, trusting a certain technique on a route, just everything.”

(On if he anticipated the amount of film work and preparation that went on to play an NFL game) – “Definitely, because when I was in college I played for Coach June Jones and he was an NFL coach. This system was kind of the same; the way we meet, the way we practice, it was on an NFL level so I was real familiar with everything when I got here.”

December 07, 2009

Sparano on calling plays, Wildcat & Wake

Tony Sparano said today he did not call any offensive plays in the victory over the Patriots.

But he did acknowledge he was adding his opinion on what the Dolphins should run throughout the game.

"I didn't take over the play-calling, Dan did it," Sparano said. "Just was communicating and making suggestions, as many suggestions as we can make. We had great communication out there yesterday in all three phases of the game. I thought the coaches did a really good job preparing guys this week."

On the last blog post (below) I speculated that Sparano seemed to be calling plays at one point in the fourth quarter. He cleared it up during his day-after press conference today.

It was an informative and interesting 18 minutes with the coach. He talked about the fact the Dolphins did not use the Wildcat package even once Sunday. It was the first time the team didn't use the package this season. It might be the first time they have not used it since they introduced it against New England on Sept. 21, 2008.

"We didn't have it up and ready right now, to be honest with you," Sparano said. "We had two plays on the gameplan sheet that we had if we felt we had to go to it, but we didn't feel we had to go to it at this point."

The Wildcat package has been decimated by injuries. Ronnie Brown is out. Patrick Cobbs is out. Anthony Fasano was out for a couple of games. But Sparano was not ready to pronounce the package dead.

Not yet.

"I don't know, it depends on what we see on tape," the coach said. "Whatever we have to do to win."

One thing the Dolphins might want to do to win in the coming weeks and years is use Cameron Wake more. He's improving. He really is. And so coaches are trying to figure out how to get him in games more.

Already the team is platooning at the outside linebacker spots. Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are lately yielding snaps to both Wake and Charlie Anderson. Anderson got more snaps than usual against New England.

But Wake's play in limited snaps screams he should get more snaps.

"Cameron's getting better," Sparano said. "There are some things he's got to do fundamentally. But I've got to do a better job of getting him out there ... He gave us good rushes in the game and a great rush on the last play."

I asked Sparano if more snaps for Wake would suggest fewer for Taylor or fewer for Taylor and Porter.

"It really depends on the package, Armando," Sparano said. "If we put him in there in base defense, it would mean less snaps for Joey. If we put him in the nickel or the dime stuff it could be Joey or JT, depending on how we rotate that threesome."

Was Sparano calling plays in the 4th quarter?

Tony Sparano put a major emphasis on Miami's fourth-quarter play last week and the work done by the Dolphins obviously paid dividends because they outscored New England, 3-0 in that period.

But there was seemingly something more interesting involved in that quarter. At one point I focused on the Dolphins sideline when Miami had the ball and it seemed as if Sparano himself was calling plays.

Normally, Miami's offensive plays are under the auspices of offensive coordinator Dan Henning. But as we know from the Buffalo game, Henning has endured moments when his play-calling has been questioned.

So it would not surprise if Sparano took over the duties for a series even though that would be news. And that's what it looked like from the press box. The Dolphins had failed to move the ball their first two series of the fourth quarter, in fact going three-and-out on their previous series when Sparano, who called plays in Dallas years ago, seemed to take over.

The Dolphins marched from their own 24 to the New England 39 on the series Sparano seemed to call but the drive ended when a fourth-and-2 pass from Chad Henne to Davone Bess fell incomplete. The entire time, Sparano was on his headset, barking orders from behind a play sheet that he used to cover his mouth.

It was typical offensive play-caller stuff.

The next series the Dolphins went with a no-huddle look and Sparano definitely was not calling the plays then.

I must warn you I was not able to confirm the head coach took over the plays on this series and have not been able to do so this morning. I will, however, ask Sparano about it at his day-after press conference today.

I could be wrong. But maybe not. We'll see what Sparano says.

Come back a little later and I'll have an update of this plus whatever other news and notes that come out of the press conference.

December 06, 2009

Miami Dolphins release the (young) hounds

One of the thoughts that crossed my mind Sunday morning was to make sure to talk to Miami's young players about getting more playing time if the Dolphins lost to the Patriots. After all, a loss pretty much would have ended Miami's chances of winning the AFC East and all but dashed their playoff chances.

It would have been time to make an all-out commitment to youth.

Well, the Dolphins won.

And I'm hoping the Dolphins continue to put more responsibility on youngsters for a reason that has zero to do with surrender or getting ready for 2010. The fact is Miami's young players are making leaps that suggest they're ready for more opportunities.

So even as the Dolphins continue to be relevant, they should rely on their youngsters!


Chad Henne, the QB coaches have nurtured because he has started only nine games, showed us he can gladly throw the ball all over the field anytime he's asked. Henne had his first 300-yard game in outdueling Tom Brady.

Well, if Henne can do this kind of work against a solid New England team, he should continue to be given the benefit of the doubt on his number of snaps. Personally, I think plays that take the ball out of Henne's hands and give it to Ricky Williams to throw, or worse, to Pat White, should be discarded.

Henne deserves all the snaps he can get. He has not arrived yet and is still learning and improving. But he has earned the responsibility of throwing all of Miami's passes. Let Williams do what he does best, which is run. Let White do what he does best, which is ... which is ... I'll come up with something.

Well, let Pat White continue to learn how to be an NFL QB on the bench by holding the clipboard. Enough with the ill-timed, ineffective direct snap spread offense that doesn't really fool anyone or gain much yardage. Henne is good enough that putting the ball in his hands gives Miami its best chance to succeed.

Then there are a couple of young receivers. Brian Hartline showed he's coming along very nicely. He and Henne are forging chemistry. So give him more plays. Look, Ted Ginn Jr. is, at best, going to be a part-time player next year. At worst, he might not be on the team. So isn't it time to let the already-better Hartline maximize his snaps?

Same with Davone Bess. He has been Miami's best receiver all season long. Unfortunately for him, the Dolphins don't have a deep threat go-to guy that would do for him what Randy Moss does for Wes Welker. I covered Welker and am now seeing Bess up-close. Bess is every bit the player and would get similar results if and when Miami finds a star receiver.

That addition will free Bess to play the slot rather than outside. And that's when you'll see this kid take off because he is perfect for the position against nickel backs and safeties.

That brings me to the defense.

I just about wanted to throw up when Joey Porter put on some army fatigues after the game and started talking about how this game was the time to go to war.

“There are just certain games that you know it’s going to be a war out there," Porter said. "Today was one of those games for us because honestly if we lost we were out of it. We needed to win this just to have a chance. We came out and played with a purpose, played with passion. Coach said our passion had been lost a little bit, so we wanted to make sure we came out and played with some enthusiasm and some passion, and we did that today.”

Really? This game was a war?

And how many people got shot? How many guys lost limbs? How many guys went without food or water? Porter's remarks minimize the sacrifice of the real heroes -- our military that right now is fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other evil, sick fricks.

Football is a game. War is life and death. Those two are not equal and if Porter doesn't know that he's got bigger issues than his inconsequential Sunday performance.

Porter had four tackles, none of which I remember. He had zero sacks or pressures.

First-year player Cameron Wake, meanwhile, is perpetually in the other team's pass pocket. Wake had the game's most important pressure when he forced Tom Brady to throw an errant pass that Channing Crowder intercepted to dash New England's hopes. 

Personally, I hope to see more of Wake and less of Porter as we proceed the last month of the season.

Sunday was an important day in the growth of Miami's puppy cornerbacks -- Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. Both had their difficult moments Sunday. Davis was part of the double-coverage that failed on an 81-yard TD pass from Brady to Randy Moss.

Smith had single duty against Sam Aiken when the New England receiver outfought Smith for a catch and an 81-yard TD.

But despite those difficult moments, the pups bit back.

Davis had a big interception in the end zone on second-and-goal from the 5 to thwart a potential Patriots touchdown that would have made it 27-19 with an extra point coming. Smith also had some solid moments.

But what you might not have noticed is that Miami trusted the rooks to the point they matched up all over the field -- at times swapping sides so Davis could shadow Moss wherever he went. The Dolphins also rolled their coverages and mixed up their coverages.

In other words, the Dolphins did things in the secondary with two rookie starting corners that teams usually don't do unless they have experienced players at those positions. That's growth.

“What we did was we tried to double these guys a little bit," coach Tony Sparano said. "We had Vontae moving with [Moss] a little bit. The first touchdown was double-coverage. The big play to Wes was double-coverage. He just split it.”

I wrote about Miami's advancing youth movement in my column for Monday's Miami Herald. But if you click on the column, you soon will see this column offers another measure insight than what I just tried to paint for you.

The Patriots, you see, are the other side of the coin to Miami youth movement. While the Dolphins are increasingly in position to use younger players and get results, the Patriots are going in the other direction -- the wrong direction. It's not a pretty picture for them. Check it out.

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Dolphins forge upset with 22-21 victory

It wasn't supposed to be this way, but one week after the Dolphins lost to the Bills in a game they were supposed to win, they beat the Patriots in a game few believed they could win.

The Dolphins got a 41-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter with less than two minutes to play and then Channing Crowder intercepted Tom Brady to dash New England's last chance at a comeback.

22-21, Miami.

The Dolphins are now just one game behind the Patriots in the chase for the AFC East title.

Can you believe it?

Pats lead Dolphins 21-19 in 4th quarter

The Dolphins are staying with the Patriots, using their passing game.

Can you believe it?

Chad Henne has thrown for a career high in completions and yards.

Davone Bess has a career high in receptions and is over 100 yards.

Brian Hartline has a TD.

It's 21-19 because the Dolphins missed a two-point conversion.

Join me in the comments section as we close this tight one out.

Pats lead Dolphins 14-10 to start 3rd quarter

It threatened to be a blowout, particularly when the Pats scored on their first possession and then built a 14-0 lead.

But the Dolphins have fought back, scoring 10 unanswered points.

The final field goal was a momentum swinger in more ways than one. The Miami defense stopped New England on fourth-and-1 from the 6 yard line. And then the offense drove for the field goal.

Defensive heroics followed by offensive heroics.

When was the last time that happened?

The Dolphins get the ball first in the secon half. Join me in the comments section for the continuation of the live blog.

Pats lead Dolphins 14-0 in 2nd quarter

Well, if the Dolphins were hoping to catch the Patriots suffering from a hangover after losing Monday night, it hasn't happened.

If they were hoping Tom Brady was injured as the rumors were claiming, they were disappointed.

The Patriots scored on their first possession on a 58-yard pass from Brady to Randy Moss. And on their second possession, they have driven to the Miami 6 yard line.

[Update: Faulk ran over from 6 yards on the quarter's first play. It is now 14-0.]

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

Live blog of Dolphins versus Pats starts here

We will be blogging live today as the Dolphins and Patriots play at Land Shark Stadium. The game and the live blog get going around 1 p.m.

I will be here earlier to give you the heads-up on pregame news, including inactives.

In the meanwhile, you should take a look at my column in today's Miami Herald that suggests the Dolphins need to get a lot more aggressive than they have been in free agency and the draft starting next year.

The point is we've seen Big Tuna Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland lay a foundation for this team the past two years with safe, logical moves. Well, mostly anyway. It's time to get a little more aggressive now.

One aggressive move I suggest is targetting Vince Wilfork, New England's star nose tackle who is scheduled to become a free agent in the offseason. Before you say, New England will never let Wilfork go, I ask you this question:

Do you know for sure?

Has Bill Belichick called you and detailed his plans to you?

You don't know and neither do any of the people commenting about the column. And yes, I know the Pats can franchise Wilfork. You know what that would do? Still help the Dolphins. It would put such a burden on New England financially that they might not be able to make other moves.

It is aggressive and competitive and a good idea.

In the midst of this conversation during pregame, I will be keeping my eyes on New England quarterback Tom Brady.

No, I don't swing that way. I do want to see if the rumors concerning some sort of finger or hand injury that has caused Las Vegas degenerates bookies and gamblers to dramatically alter the line on this game is a real concern or not. I'll be looking for hints of an altered passing release. I'll be looking for hints that perhaps the Dolphins will have an advantage when Brady attempts to throw.

Anyway, we can discuss your thoughts on these topics in the comments section. Same place the live blog begins. 

December 05, 2009

More snaps for Hartline means fewer for ...

Although I included this in Thursday afternoon's blog about the coordinators, it bears repeating because on my housetop where I constantly scream to the world the Dolphins need wide receiver help, any nugget of news suggesting the help is coming is going to get extra attention.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning did say this week that rookie Brian Hartline is going to get more playing time very soon, and I'm told that soon starts Sunday against New England.

"Hartline is coming along," Henning said. "We haven't pushed him to the front as much. We probably will here in the near future. We like him. He's making plays. He seems to show up as much as Greg [Camarillo] showed up in training camp the first year we were here, albeit we know and he knows what his shortcomings are. But he's an accountable guy.

"Hartline isn't quite as accountable yet. He hasn't been through the ropes and once in a while he'll blow this or blow that. But he has the ability to make explosive plays and we do need to get him the ball more."

Well, unless the Dolphins plan to open in a three- or four-wide package and stay there all game long, or unless the offense gets 30 or so more snaps than usual, the fact is when Hartline gets more snaps, someone will have to get fewer.

So who gets bumped down?

The choices among Miami's receiver corps is, well, almost everyone and anyone.


Greg Camarillo? I love this guy because I still believe he is Miami's most polished and dependable receiver. But something obviously happened between last year and this year because of his knee injury. Coaches don't believe him to be as explosive (which is bad because, running 4.6 40s, he was never a track star to begin with).

And the proof that something is up is in Camarillo's numbers. Last year he caught 55 passes for 613 yards and a 11.1-yard per catch average. He also scored two touchdowns. And he did this in only 11 games because he went on injured reserve after that 11th game.

Well, through 11 games this year, Camarillo's production has dropped by about half. He has only 28 catches. He's gained only 281 yards and he hasn't scored a TD. His yards per catch is also down by 1.1 yards.

So he is a candidate for less time.

Ted Ginn Jr.?

He was demoted earlier this season, at New York and New England, following that meltdown game against New Orleans that made it clear to me he'll never be a go-to guy. But for some reason, Ginn quietly worked himself back into the coaching staff's good graces and started games against Tampa Bay, Carolina and Buffalo.


Given some new life in the five games since New Orleans, Ginn has responded with a resounding seven catches. Seven catches! In five games! Seven catches is a half of work for Wes Welker, but I digress.

The fact is I'm not all that troubled by Ginn's number of catches. The fact is the troubling numbers with him are his average yards per catch and his drops.

Ginn has 25 catches this year. And he has eight drops. That means Ginn drops almost one-quarter (24.2 percent) of the passes in his hands. And in the last six games, Ginn has not once climbed into double figures on average yards per catch. Miami's alleged deep-threat receiver is averaging 8 yards per catch since Oct. 25.

So you know what happens to kids in high school and college who drop one out of every four passes they touch and average only 8 yards per each rare catch?

They get moved to cornerback.

Ginn? He regained his starting job.

For perspective and to be fair, I want you to know I'm not picking on Ginn because he is failing to meet standards set by Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald or anyone else playing outside his universe. He is failing to meet standards set by, well, Ted Ginn.

Last year Ginn led the team with 56 receptions for 790 yards. He had a 14.1-yard-per-catch average and scored two touchdowns. So far this year, he has less the half the number of catches (25) for a humilating 268 yards. And his yards per catch have dropped by nearly 4. In the year we expected him to step forward, to break out, to improve, he has taken a drastic step backward.

So maybe the Dolphins have seen the light. He is a candidate to lose receiver snaps.

Davone Bess is not really a candidate to lose snaps. Although his yards per catch average is down from 10.3 last year to 8.8 this year, he be hella ballin' of late, with 13 catches for 169 yards (13.0 yards per catch) the last three games.

Bess is on pace to finish this year with more catches and more yards than he did last year. In that regard, he is alone on the Miami receiver corps.

So, my opinion which player gets fewer snaps Sunday? Both Ginn and Camarillo.

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December 04, 2009

The truth and spin about the Miami Dolphins

I try to read most of your comments. And one theme I'm noticing lately is how some of you feel disappointed when one of the coaches says something that is clearly, patently false or just a bunch of hooey.


"Ernest Wilford is improving every day in practice," when everyone knows if he was improving he'd be playing.

"I don't have information on that yet," when discussing injuries that are already diagnosed and have a prognosis and the third person to find out that information (after the doctor/trainer and player) is usually the head coach.

"The right guard job is Shawn Murphy's to lose," when everyone knows the second Donald Thomas can put one foot in front of the other he's starting and Murphy is really not going to pan out in Miami.

"I thought Matt played really well," when Matt Roth plays his first game after being on the non-football injury list but is cut three weeks later for poor performance and other reasons.

"I like our receivers," when Miami's receivers don't often win one-on-one battles and are all flawed in one significant way or another.

The words don't always match the facts. Your eyes tell you one thing while the Miami coaching staff tells you something different.

Well, it happens because that is what the Dolphins staff feels it must do. When your team is as flawed, as filled with voids as the current Dolphins are, you cannot as a coach, fire a broadside into your own ship and add yet another hole. It would be dumb considering the coaching staff is on that ship.

So Tony Sparano and Dan Henning and Paul Pasqualoni tap dance. They try not to outright lie. But they cannot really tell you the whole truth about their Dolphins.

Some of you, and even some media, often forget this fact. You take what coaches say as gospel. It often is not. It often is spin.

"I've got people upstairs that I'm accountable to," Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning explained Thursday. "And when I'm called in to be accountable to them, I explain it to them exactly like it is. They don't like to hear it all the time but that's the way I explain it.

"I can't do that with you and Tony can't do that with you [media]. Because if I explain to you that this is a liability for us and this is a plus for us, then pretty soon that gets written or somebody speaks it on the TV and then somebody on the other side [on other teams] writing that down says, 'Well, they won't do this because he thinks that's a problem,' that type of thing. Understand that from us. You guys know that. I don't have to explain that to you."

So understand, when you read quotes from Sparano or Henning or Pasqualoni that stretch credulity, don't think them unwise or fooled by their own team. Trust me, the Miami's coaches know they have talent problems. They know this team is a work-in-progress.

But what are they supposed to say? We stink like a sewer?

And that leads me to this:

The Dolphins offense and Dolphins defense stink like a sewer.

Naw, not really. But they are both very, very troubled.

The offense has scored 26 touchdowns in 11 games. That averages to 2.4 touchdowns per game. You know what team made the playoffs last year averaging 2.4 touchdowns per game? None.

And it's not just that the Dolphins struggle to score. It's how they score that is also troubling. In a league that is all about electric, dynamic offense, the Dolphins look like a team straight out of the 1970s. They plod along, slow and sometimes steady on 13-, 14-,15-play drives.

The "chunk" plays Sparano is always talking about? Wait until next year the earliest for them.

This year the Dolphins have scored three, count 'em, three touchdowns from outside the 20 yard line. Three!

Don't blame the running game for this fact. It's all about a terrible passing game. Fact is the Dolphins have eight running plays of 25-yards or more this season. The passing game has contributed the same number of plays of 25-yards or more. That, in a word, is horrible.

For context, consider that Miami's defense, not exactly a slice of swiss cheese, has yielded 26 pass plays of 25-yards or more.

About that defense. If it's the fourth quarter, Miami's D Fence more closely resembles a swinging gate. The Dolphins have yielded an NFL high 134 fourth-quarter points this year. Aside from being an NFL worst, it is already a franchise worst.

The 2007 Dolphins, the 1-15 debacle of a team, yielded 126 fourth-quarter points.

So this year's team has already surrendered more fourth-quarter points than the worst Miami team of all time. And there are still five games to play!

And what does Pasqualoni say when he's asked about that terrible, terrible fourth-quarter performance?

Hint: He's not saying, Phillip Merling isn't playing like a first-round pick, Joey Porter gets sacks only when he plays backup tackles, Channing Crowder isn't making any big plays, our young corners are going to be good some day but not yet, our safeties were out of synch the entire first half of the season, and our front seven is slow to the football.

Pasqualoni is saying: "We've been real good in the red zone. We've been real good, to me, it's field position as much as anything. Just so happens that some of that stuff has come up in the fourth quarter, but we've got to do a better job of finishing there's no question about that. And we've got to do a better job of just flat-out executing."

You didn't expect him to put another hole in the ship, did you?

December 03, 2009

Coordinators explain selves, decisions

The first question to offensive coordinator Dan Henning today was why he called a halfback pass out of the direct snap formation against Buffalo last Sunday. The question came today because Henning only talks on Thursdays and because the play was an utter disaster, having been intercepted when Ricky Williams was hit as he threw on the first-and-goal play.

"Amazing that would be the first question," Henning said. "Let me just say this, we had 23 times we've been inside the 10-yard line this year. Two of those times the clock was running out and we kicked a field goal on first down. So that makes it 21 where we had opportunities to make touchdowns. We made 18 touchdowns in those 21 times. That's No. 1 in the league by far.

"My job is to get the ball in the end zone when we get down there. I don't make excuses for how we do it. And if you look at the 18, you'll find out there are some other calls that you would be asking questions about had they not been successful. We had a fumble and we had an interception. We don't apologize but we lament like everyone else."

Henning was asked if he understands why fans and media are perplexed why he called that pass play when Williams has publicly said he doesn't like throwing the ball and the Dolphins were plowing the Bills on previous plays in the drive.

"Certainly, I do," Henning answered. "I wonder about it. I'd like to have every call that wasn't successful back. Can't do it. That's not the way this works. Sometimes the players bail you out on a bad call that they make a good play. Sometimes they don't make a good play on what you think is a good call.

"We have to be accountable for that. You guys don't. I can only tell you our job is to get it in the end zone. We've done a good job of that. We didn't get it in there, that's a bad job."

I asked Henning what was his mindset in calling the play. Was he trying to fool the Bills?

"My mindset is Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday night," Henning said. "I do all the second-guessing you guys do and I still make that call. Because I thought it was our best opportunity at that time for the overall picture, OK? We didn't score there, we come back on the next series, we went ahead 7-0.

"There's a lot of things that I know when you go home to dinner at night, you don't have to worry about. I have to worry about it. I can only tell you that''s our job to get it in there. When we played New England last time, I can tell you we were down there and ran two straight plays. Runs. And we got stuffed. And then there was a guy named Ronnie Brown, he slipped out of there and threw a toucdown pass. You know what I heard about that one? That was innovative.

"And believe me, Ronnie doesn't throw the ball any better than Ricky does in that area of the field."

Henning said the Dolphins practiced the play in question for three weeks and that it worked every time in practice. He did admit Williams was not rushed in those practices.

Henning also admitted Williams has told him he doesn't like throwing the football. Despite this, the offensive coordinator that always asks his quarterbacks to list their favorite and least plays -- so he can call the ones they like and avoid the ones they don't -- doesn't apply that logic to his running back.

"Now Ricky would tell you he doesn't like to throw the ball. But over time, with all due respect to my boy Ricky, and I love him, he can tell you a lot of things he doesn't like to do or he might like to do and you might not agree with any of them," Henning said."So we have to deal with all that also. We understand that."

Henning's 10-minute interview was not all centered around the Buffalo call. He made a little news by saying the Dolphins are going to start using rookie receiver Brian Hartline more as we go forward.

"Hartline is coming along," he said. "We haven't pushed him to the front as much. We probably will here in the near future. We like him. He's making plays. He seems to show up as much as Greg [Camarillo] showed up in training camp the first year we were here, albeit we know and he knows what his shortcomings are. But he's an accountable guy.

"Hartline isn't quite as accountable yet. He hasn't been through the ropes and once in a while he'll blow this or blow that. But he has the ability to make explosive plays and we do need to get him the ball more."

The press conference with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni was not quite so touchy. But I did ask who was responsible for losing leverage and letting Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick pop wide and down the sideline for a 31-yard TD.

"Everybody," Pasqualoni answered. "Thats everybody's job. That run there is 31 yards. And the shame of it is, if we keep the leverage there, he's probably going to get sacked because nobody blocked the right end who forced him to his right our left, anyway.

"The guys up  front are responsible for it and they got to keep [the quarterback] inside. And we have to react in the back end and not give him a 31-yard run. We have to tackle him and get ready to play red zone defense. So it's just a matter of proper execution. That's all it is."

Jake Grove out vs. Patriots, possibly longer

Center Jake Grove will miss Sunday's game between the Dolphins and Patriots, barring a sudden and unexpected recovery from a high ankle sprain and tibia injury, a club source said Thursday.

It is also possible Grove, who already missed a start against Buffalo last week after suffering the injury against Carolina the week before, will miss time beyond Sunday. Although the Dolphins have opted not to place Grove on the injured reserve list, the worst-case scenario is he could be out through the end of the season.

The club is hopeful it will not come to that. But a high ankle sprain typically takes four to six weeks to heal depending on its severity. Grove has already been out two weeks because the injury happened during a Thursday night game on Nov. 18.  

Some players are able to get back on the field quicker due, in part, to their tolerance for pain and the positions they play. A center is more likely to be able to play with the injury than a player who has to perform in space. So that is a plus.

The tibia injury, however, complicates matters in weighing recovery time.  

With Grove out, the Dolphins are expected to continue starting Joe Berger at center. Berger started in Grove's place against the Bills.

“I thought Joe Berger played very well yesterday, I really did," coach Tony Sparano said Monday when asked to assess Berger's performance. "Really pleased with what he did."

Grove did not practice at all last week and did not practice Wednesday when the Dolphins began preparations for the Patriots. Sparano was asked about the center's condition and responded, “Did not practice today, getting a little bit better."

Not having Grove hurts the Dolphins because he was signed as an unrestricted free agent, in part, because he played well last season for the Oakland Raiders against AFC East nose tackles. The Dolphins were said to be particularly impressed with his performance against Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets.

New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork is one of the most versatile players on the Patriots front line and is perhaps the team's best run-stopper.

Grove's injury is a setback and a disappointment because he came to the Dolphins to upgrade the running game. The Dolphins signed Grove to a five-year, $29.5 million contract that includes $14.5 million in guaranteed money.

But Grove also came to Miami with a reputation for being injured. He missed six games because of injuries in 2005. He missed nine games in 2007. He missed four games in 2008. The only season in which Grove did not miss any games came in 2006 when he started all 16 for Oakland.

December 02, 2009

What does Jason Taylor really want?

Several media outlets serving the greater Boston area this evening reporting that Jason Taylor is open to joining the Patriots for the 2010 season.

If you read this blog daily, you know I've reported that Taylor wants to return to the Dolphins in 2010.

So what gives?

Well, let's handle the Pats idea first. Taylor was on a conference call with Boston media and was asked if he might revist the idea of signing with the Patriots when his deal with the Dolphins is over.

"We’ll see after the season's over," Taylor responded. "I know my deal ends at the end of the year. We’ll reevaluate where we’re at at the end of the year, what the teams want to do and take it from there. You never close off any of your options, you don’t burn any bridges and you always keep an open mind."

So Taylor isn't slamming the door shut on New England. What do you expect him to say? He is not the type to alienate anyone, least of all an organization he respects led by a coach and owner he respects and quarterbacked by friend Tom Brady.

Taylor also has received no guarantees from the Dolphins that they want him back after 2009 as those conversations won't begin until after the season.

But ...

Make no mistake: Given the choice, Taylor will pick Miami over New England practically every time, I'm told. It's not that he has any personnel disagreement with playing for New England. It's just that, barring a change in Taylor's domestic life, he wants to be close to his family and his home.

And his family and his home are in South Florida. Simple.

Taylor did tell the Boston media he has no regrets not going to New England even though the Pats were courting him with inviting quotes from the owner and phone calls from head coach Bill Belichick to Taylor's agent.

"No regrets. I have no regrets," Taylor said. "I’m here in Miami. I’m happy. I’m home. Obviously, it meant a lot to me that coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft and the organization would have me, [but] it was meant for me to be here and I will leave it at that."

If the Dolphins will have Taylor back next season, at age 36, Taylor will want to come back. If not, he has obviously left himself a viable option, which obviously is good business even if it causes Miami fans to question (wrongly, I believe) his loyalty.