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64 posts from December 2009

December 02, 2009

The doings for the Dolphins as NE prep begins

The Dolphins are preparing for the Patriots today and that preparation included some interesting nuggets.

Coach Tony Sparano told his team that following a fourth-quarter meltdown at Buffalo, they were going to work on a fourth-quarter period in practice today. And during that period the coach wanted to see every play run right.

And so if a play wasn't run right, practice reverted back to the play and it was run until it was done right. That, by the way, usually does not happen.

"The message was that we have lights out there," Sparano said. "Whatever it took for us to get it right, we were going to get it right. And every player in that locker room was on board for that. Those guys are anxious to get it right. They really are. But to be honest with you, practice ran over about six minutes."

The Dolphins practiced for two hours and 35 minutes, according to Sparano.

As I reported to my twitter followers, center Jake Grove didn't practice today. Sparano said he's "getting a little bit better," as he nurses his ankle injury, but still didn't work. Joe Berger worked with the first-team offensive line at center.

It's a big week for Berger. He faces New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork, one of the most dominant NTs in the NFL. If you remember, the Patriots moved Wilfork to DE throughout the game against Miami Nov. 8.

That hasn't been the case since. 

"It really hasn't shown up since our game," Sparano said. "It's hasn't shown up. Two plays since our game, that move has shown up. I don't know why they did it since our game. I don't know if it was matchup or tendency of runs, those kind of things. I have my hunches, but I'll keep my hunches to myself."

Good natured, fun-loving dude Joey Porter talked to the media gaggle for a few minutes today. He didn't really say anything interesting about the Patriots, which is probably wise considering he fired that team up before the last meeting by saying they "cheated" him out of a Super Bowl trophy and that Tom Brady could force officials to call penalties at will.

He wasn't asked about that today, but The Herald's David J. Neal asked Porter if it's tough being athlete today in the fishbowl of twitter and facebook and cell phone cameras with the Tiger Woods scandal as the obvious backdrop.

And so Porter bit at that like a Great White on a defenseless tuna.

"It is what it is. It depends how far ya'll want to dig for a story," he told the gathered reporters. "Ya'll can dig as deep as you want to. It depends on what ya'll want to put out there. The athletes haven't changed. The access to athletes has changed. So I think we made ourselves too accessible to you.

"And at the end of the day it backfires on the athletes. We don't get to write a story about ya'll. The secrets, the stuff ya'll trying to keep away from other people and stuff like that, they don't write that story about sports writers. But athletes make that mistake, everybody wants to write about it. That's how it happens. Ya'll get to put all the stuff you do bad out there. Nobody put out the stuff everybody else do bad out there. So it's a one-way street. That's how it always been. If we don't give you nothing to write about, you can't write about it. That's how it go."

I'm going to miss Porter next year.

The injury report just came out. The Patriots have 22, count 'em, 22 guys on the report. Only one of those players -- running back Fred Taylor -- did not practice. He has an ankle injury. The Dolphins listed four players on their injury report. Aside from Grove missing, DE Lionel Dotson was limited with an ankle injury, while SS Yeremiah Bell (thumb) and RB Ricky Williams (chest) were able to practice full.

Final word that might be interesting only to me: After ripping his team for looking like a "3-7" unit during the fourth quarter of Sunday's Buffalo loss, Sparano was doing a little rehabilitation of his troops today. He made the point his team is 4-1 in games decided by seven points or less. He also noted the Patriots are 2-3 in those games. 

Miami Dolphins personnel dept. good not great

One of my twitter followers (which you should join, by the way) asked me Tuesday afternoon what order of responsibility I would assign to Miami's current struggles. OK, let me be more honest: He asked who I blame for Miami's problems this season.

Well, with the Dolphins the responsibility (blame or credit) for a season's performance goes to the players, who must execute, the coaches, who must develop players and put them in a position to succeed, and the personnel department, who delivers the players to the coaches.

This blog usually focuses on the players and coaches.

Today we focus on the personnel department.

And that personnel department is pretty much the kingdom of Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland -- The Big Tuna and the Tuna Helper, as I sometimes amuse myself designating them. (I'll stop if one ever asks me to.)

The overall grade of the personnel department since March of 2008 has to be considered a B-minus as of today. That department took a 1-15 team and cleaned a very dirty house. I believe the accurate percentage of player turnover has been in the 75 percent range as only 16 players that were on the team before the current regime arrived are still on the team. That figure includes players on injured reserve.

The grade can and will change as this season's final month unfolds, but the point is the personnel department has done relatively well.

But great? Wonderful? Amazing?

Not really.

Quick, which player did this personnel department sign, draft or trade for that has been a game-defining player? Yeah, nobody. 

Jake Long might be an excellent player for the next decade but you're supposed to get that and more when you get the first pick of the draft. And Long doesn't change the game or force opponents to scheme and game plan for him. He's a foundational role player.

The point is we cannot name one player that we know will be a superstar for the Dolphins in the coming years. You hope Chad Henne might be that player. But there are almost as many reasons to doubt he can be that guy as there are reasons to believe he will be.

We hope Vontae Davis or Sean Smith become lockdown cornerbacks in the coming years and become perhaps the best CB combo in the NFL. But they're not there yet. Not even close. And so we can give the personnel department kudos for picking two starters, but no credit (yet) for finding greatness.

Cameron Wake has potential. But he is a project that might take another couple of years. Lousaka Polite is a fine player at fullback but he is a role player, not a star.

Anyone else on that roster that might be getting Pro Bowl consideration in the coming weeks or seasons?


We hope Phillip Merling goes there, but frankly, he's kind of a disappointment in that he didn't pick up this year where he left off last season and then rise from there. Kendall Langford is good enough to start, but not great. Randy Starks is a nice player, but he's not going to the Pro Bowl, folks.

The rest of that highly paid $156 million offensive line? Not a Pro Bowl player on there despite high hopes for the future of Donald Thomas. Again, good stuff, but no greatness yet.

The fact is the personnel department has hit on a ton C and B players. But the A and A-plus guys have yet to show themselves.

Miami's personnel department has also missed some as well, and that, of course, lowers the overall grade.

The personnel department's biggest and most obvious mistake is in its failing to find a playmaker for the offense. Here we are in Year 2 of Parcells and Ireland and we are relying on Ricky Williams to carry the offense.

Ricky Williams!

The guy was carrying the offense in 2002. So Parcells and Ireland are threatening to fall into the same abyss that swallowed Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban and Cam Cameron in that none added two or three offensive players that turned Williams into a role player. Saban almost did it by drafting Ronnie Brown, but even he complained in 2006 that one reason the Dolphins finished 6-10 was that his best weapon was not available as Williams was suspended for the season.

Cameron wanted to get rid of Williams because he disliked everything Williams represented, but even he found himself needing Williams.

And now these Dolphins need Williams. Too much. The truth is today's Dolphins have no real hope of winning games if the 32-year-old running back doesn't play great. That Miami finds itself in this unseemly situation is ... is ... really bad personnel work.

The personnel department has yet to find a star wide receiver. The Dolphins weren't interested in Terrell Owens, didn't trade for Braylon Edwards, didn't draft Hakeem Nicks, and now Miami has no receiver that is an appreciable threat to defenses. The team did draft Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner. Hartline has been OK as a rookie, while Turner cannot get on the field.

The personnel department blew it on Ernest Wilford. That's all I got to say about that.

The personnel department was looking for an upgrade at free safety this year and paid Gibril Wilson $27.5 million to be that guy. The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, paid Darren Sharper $1.7 million for one year. Which of the two players has taken over games this season? By the way, it was a personnel decision to let Renaldo Hill go to Denver. He also has played better than Wilson.

No personnel department is flawless. Miami's is not. But the outstanding personnel departments cover a multitude of misses by adding one game-changing player a year or two. Look at Minnesota, who has added Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Brett Favre the last three years.

No, they didn't draft two of those players. So what? All three are key reasons the Vikings are playing exceedingly well now.

The Colts do it through the draft, but they seem to get production from their rookies almost immediately. Look up WR Austin Collie's numbers. Look at what rookie CB Jerraud Powers is doing as a starter. And I'm not even mentioning Donald Brown, who we last saw plowing over Gibril Wilson en route to a TD at Land Shark Stadium.

The point here is the Miami personnel department is in great hands with Parcells and Ireland. They've done a good job. But you cannot honestly say they've done a great job until we see some great players on the field. We cannot say they've done a great job until we see a team that's better than 5-6.

December 01, 2009

Dolphins Pro Bowl player? Jake Long

Only three weeks remain in the fans voting for the Pro Bowl and while Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning leads all vote-getters with 853,565, there is one Dolphins player leading all other players at his position with the most votes.

Jake Long is the AFC's leading vote-getter at tackle. He has 169,801 votes as of this writing.

Long, in his second season as Miami's left tackle, is the only Dolphins player leading in votes at his position. Frankly, the only other Miami player I can fathom having any chance to make the Pro Bowl might be Ricky Williams if he continues the three-game, 100-yard-per-game string he's currently on until season's end.

Fans can vote for their Pro Bowl choices at NFL.com and can do so for another three weeks. The NFL combines the votes from fans, coaches and players to determine their Pro Bowl teams. The Pro Bowl this year will be played in my town on Jan. 31, 2010.

The voting, of course, says nothing about whether Long truly deserves a Pro Bowl berth or not. The voting is subjective. The fact is Long has played well of late if one discounts the fact he is the second-most penalized player on the Dolphins offensive line this season.

So, yes, it would be nice if the hometown team could manage at least one representative to the game.

Dolphins defense needs new approach vs. Pats

Just watched the New Orleans Saints demolish the New England Patriots. It was such a thorough whipping of the AFC East leaders that coach Bill Belichick pulled his starting offense out of the game with 5:38 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Belichick, by the way, has the look of a coach in his final season at New England. That is just my instinct and not anything I am reporting -- just a feel.

Anyway, the point here is how the Saints were able to so dominate the Patriots on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense.

The Saints made Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and the rest of the Patriots offense seem ordinary. And New Orleans did it while playing a rookie cornerback (Michael Jenkins) and two vets signed off the street within the last couple of weeks (Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister).

"It's pretty amazing those guys weren't part of our team two weeks ago," New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. "The fact they got out there and contributed as much as they did, it's pretty amazing considering we do some pretty complicated things on defense."

Amazing, indeed, in that Brady was intercepted twice and left the Big Easy with a terrible 55.0 QB rating.

"They did what they do," Belichick said of the New Orleans defense. "They played zone. They double-covered. They rushed. They played man."

The Saints did it all and this is where I'm hoping Dolphins defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni stayed up past his bedtime watching the game.

In Miami's 27-17 loss to New England on Nov. 8, the Dolphins came after Brady and put their cornerbacks in man-coverage on practically every play. It was the blueprint borrowed from the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory over New England.

That plan failed the Dolphins the first game -- in part because they don't have the personnel the Giants had two seasons ago. Well, the Miami defense needs to protect its corners on Sunday as much as the Saints had to Monday night. The Dolphins need to diffuse the Moss big-play threat as much as New Orleans did. The Dolphins need to frustrate Brady as much as New Orleans did.

So why wouldn't the Dolphins try to confuse Brady? Why wouldn't they try to protect their two rookie corners with some zone and double-coverage as well as some man? Why wouldn't the Dolphins come with six-man rushes followed by three-man rushes and eight-man coverage?

Why wouldn't the Dolphins do the unexpected rather than what they have been doing practically all year long?

The truth of the matter is Pasqualoni's defense has been a disappointment so far this season. It has allowed a whopping 275 points this year, which averages out to 25 points per game. Miami is 26th in the NFL in scoring defense, and considering points are what determine the outcome of games, that's an important and distressing statistic.

It is a statistic that has fans quite unhappy with Pasqualoni because the Dolphins have devoted many resources to making the defense a good one since Bill Parcells took over the football decisions in 2008.

The Dolphins have drafted seven defensive players the past two years -- including first-rounder Vontae Davis in 2009 and what-should-be-considered-a-first-rounder (32nd overall) Phillip Merling in 2008. Three defensive players were added via trades and six more players were signed as unrestricted free agents.

That's 17 players the new regime has added to play defense. And they are giving up 25 points per game compared to 27.3 points per game in 2007 under Cam Cameron and 17.6 points per game in 2006 under Nick Saban.

So yeah, doing something different vs. New England might be a good idea for Pasqualoni.