The Dolphins have an open OTA session Tuesday (June 1) and again on June 9.
I will miss them. I'll be on vacation until a few weeks before training camp. That's in July.
For the latest Dolphins coverage you should come to the Herald's Dolphins pages and sports pages. If I get something I absolutely have to share with you, I'll have it for you here. But that will be the exception rather than the rule.
We've done this every summer for a couple of years now so I'm sure you will survive the dry period.
We'll get back at it in July for what promises to be a very eventful 2010 season.
Oh, one more thing before I go:
As you know I've been sort of beating the drums about the Dolphins versus Jets rivalry the past few weeks. The other day I tweeted that Tony Sparano had lost 30 pounds this offseason and had done it through hard work and not using a lap band.
Profootballtalk.com ran with the comment, suggesting I was taking an enormous swipe at Rex Ryan, and now Jets fans are aflutter that I disrespected the New York coach. I can deal with that. I think Rex Ryan is an adult. He's made some life decisions and should be ready and probably is ready to deal with the scrutiny those decisions bring.
But Jets fans are starting to bug me. I always wondered why Dolphins fans and Jets fans always seemed to get into fights at games. I think I get it now. Some of those folks are annoying.
Some of that annoying point of view can be found right here on a Jets blog. I encourage you to go to that blog and give those folks your view how the Dolphins match up with their team, how Tony Sparano matches up with Rex Ryan, how this blog matches up with that one.
Be respectful, please. But make your voices heard.
And share in the comments section here what you told those people over there.
The Dolphins are done with their minicamp ... so let's discuss it.
I will be hosting the morning drive-time show today (Monday) on 790 The Ticket today. Yes, it is Memorial Day so I would assume many of you won't be driving, or working. Many of you will be recovering from your holiday before going back to work tomorrow.
But if you get the hankerin' to talk Dolphins football, you can join me on the air. You can listen live at 790theticket.com and call the show at 786-360-0790. You can also text the show.
Anything is inbounds, including O.J. Atogwe, Phillip Merling, Brandon Marshall, my column in today's Herald on Jake Long, or anything else you can think of.
I do wish to wish all veterans out there a very warm greeting on this Memorial Day. You are heroes, all of you, and I honor your service. To the fallen, thank you for the ultimate sacrifice.
Minicamp is over. The offense didn't look like it's ready for the season quite yet. The defense looks better.
During today's morning practice the offense:
Saw a bad shotgun snap from Jake Grove to Chad Henne that had Henne diving on the ball in the backfield.
Had confusion among first-teamers in the Wildcat formation, causing Henne to call time out.
Had a fumble by the halfback in the Wildcat run by the second team.
Had Joey Haynos catch a pass and promptly let it slip around his hip and behind his back and plucked out of the air by the pleasantly suprirsed defender.
Koa Misi got all the snap with the first-team defense today and that is the third consecutive day that happened. John Jerry got all the first-team snaps at LG with the starting offense, and then got some third-team snaps there as well, which if you ask me, is a great way to get a rookie up to speed faster.
"The more reps (Misi) gets here against Jake Long and those type of people the less guess we're going to have down the road when we're closer to playing him but we still haven't seen him against that caliber player," Coach Tony Sparano said. "He's competing every day against the first group right now so from our standpoint it's taking the gray area out of the projection down the road.
Karlos Dansby talked to the media today and one of the topics, believe it or not, is his size 16 shoes. I saw them up close. They are boat-like.
"It's all about my insoles, man," Dansby kidded. "It stretches the shoe about another inch-and-a-half. I really wear about a 14 1/2 but with the insoles in them it stretches the shoe out."
The shoes have become something of a topic in the Miami locker room.
"Not only the coaches but the players," Dansby said. "They said they want to ride the boats. They talk about water skis. All that kind of stuff. During running drills Channing [Crowder} has been giving me hell about it. But that's cool."
Sparano is obviously pleased with the minicamp.
"I love the energy and attitude of this team," he said.
The Dolphins will continue installing the offense and defense in an OTA session Tuesday. I asked Sparano how Brandon Marshall, who isn't getting any snaps while he recovers from hip surgery, is learning the system.
Sparano said Marhsall stands by offensive quality control coach Steve Bush during practice and Bush quizzes the receiver on what he is supposed to be doing on each play. Sparano said Marshall is also tested on his assignments in meetings.
Sparano reports he is very pleased with the work Randy Starks has put in as the team's new starting nose tackle, calling him a "tough guy to block."
Starks has a good combination of speed and strength that allows him to shoot gaps and as well hold the point and that has become obvious to coaches -- even in this camp with no real contact.
I'm writing a column for tomorrow's Miami Herald on Jake Long. I asked Sparano about him and he said Long has gained six pounds this offseason while dropping body fat. So that would make him around 317 pounds now. Scary thought.
Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning spent about five minutes schooling some reporters about the X, Y, and Z receivers and their duties.
The more interesting part of the conversation to me was Henning explaining why he has to plan for winning while not necessarily doing it with his best players.
"With what goes on in the National Football League today and the ability we have with technology to study opponents and do much more in-depth film or video tape work, these defensive coordinators have become more and more flexible in what they do with people in schemes," Henning said.
"I don't think you can just go into a game and say, 'Because we have these players, we're going to do this and you can't stop us.' I don't believe you can do that. I believe if you have one or two good players, when you play a guy like Belichick or Rex Ryan, they can find a way to take those guys away and say, 'What else you got?'
"So you have to be creative no matter what you have. And the fact we have added a guy into the higher echelon of our receiver corps who brings us not only ability, experience, but height, weight, speed, hands and toughness, I don't know, its nicer to have a guy with that kind of ability."
Henning also said quarterback Chad Henne, getting most of the work in practice this year as opposed to last year, is getting that time with the better offensive players on the team.
"I see him because of that, he's much more efficient," Henning said. "He's growing faster and to a higher degree than he would have been last year."
One last thing: Yesterday I told you about Jon Amaya's interception streak. His name was apparently misspelled because it was spelled as Jonathan by the Dolphins on their roster and website. That was changed today and corrected to Jonathon.
It is the third and final day of the Miami Dolphins minicamp and while we're waiting for the start of the morning practice, let me share with you some Pat White knowledge.
As you may know, I wrote my Sunday column on White, making the point he needs to improve dramatically andbeat out Tyler Thigpen to earn a spot on the roster this year. He's definitely not on the team yet.
Well, there were topics that came up during my interview with White that didn't make it into the column. One such topic was the quarterback's ordered discarding of his glove on this left (throwing) hand.
White says that move affected him, but not necessarily physically.
"Did it affect me? Probably more mentally than physically," White siad. "It was just a little extra grip. I spent four or five years in West Virginia where there's not really a lot of humidity and then in snow games when your hands are frozen it helped out a lot. I just got accostomed to it."
I also asked White about that regular-season finale when he got knocked out. Seems White can joke about it.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I don't remember anything about none of that. I just don't remember," White said seriously.
Then he smiled. He was putting me on. He remembers.
"No, I would just like to say it made me wiser," he continued. "This is the NFL. Guys do this for their job. We like to call it here recess, but a lot of guys out there are bigger, faster, stronger."
White said he has to recall his baseball days in the future and slide.
[Practice begins in about 30 minutes. I will update you after the workout and interviews right here. You can also follow me on twitter for quickie updates from the field.]
The Dolphins have already had one practice today and are headed for another in the next hour. And safety Jonathon Amaya is going into that practice with something of a streak on the line.
He has an interception in each of the last two practices this minicamp.
What does that tell coach Tony Sparano?
"Tells me the ball comes to him," the coach said. "One thing I also know off the film is unless there's someone else in that body, this guy is going to hit you."
Amaya, an undrafted rokie free agent, apparently hasn't been making too many mistakes, either. "Not many mental errors," Sparano said.
[Afternoon practice update: Amaya didn't get a pick in the afternoon work Saturday. Steak over.]
Sparano talked about Pat White during his press conference today and part of the conversation was about the quarterback's weight. The coach said White has gained 18 pounds since he was drafted by Miami while lowering his body fat. He has gained between 8-9 pounds since the end of last season.
Speaking of weight, Sparano said he's dropped 30 pounds since the end of the season. And he lost it in the orthodox fashion: Working.
The strength coach is kicking the heck out of Sparano and he's looking good.
(I remind you another AFC East coach has lost weight this offseason but decided to do it by having a lap band surgery.)
On other matters: Lionel Dotson, who has not worked in this minicamp, is nursing a tweaked shoulder ... Linebacker Brian Johnson missed this morning's practice. Sparano said he was excused.
I must share with you the highlight of the morning practice: Handoff to Ricky Williams, he sprints outside the tackle and runs stright into Koa Misi. Misi falls back on his butt. Trucked. Welcome to an NFL practice, rookie.
Finally, coach Sparano confirmed that Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo and Brian Hartline are all competing for one starting job -- the second starter job alongside Brandon Marshall. Each brings something good to the table.
My prediction: Hartline wins the job because he is the best combination of size, speed, and intelligence. He can also play all the positions. We'll see. Nothing is set in stone.
[Afternoon practice update: Phillip Merling had a sack during the team period. (Insert cynical comment here if you wish) ... Karlos Dansby impressed the heck out of me on one pass play when he ran step-for-step with Lex Hilliard down the left sideline. Dansby is 6-4 and 250 pounds. Hilliard is 5-11 and listed at 240 pounds ... Corey Procter seems very comfortable only a week or so since joining the team. He's working at left guard and is getting some snaps with the starting unit, although most are coming with the second-teamers.]
As you may already know, my column in The Herald today shares the feelings the Dolphins have about all the moves and boasts the New York Jets have made this offseason. I talked with cornerback Sean Smith to gather information for the column and I wish to share here some of the material about Smith I didn't use in the column.
Smith, who started all 16 games at cornerback as a rookie, is locked in a competition with Will Allen and Vontae Davis -- three men wanting two starting jobs. My opinion is Davis is going to win one of those jobs and it will fall to Allen or Smith to decide the other.
So what does Smith think of how he did in his rookie season with hindsight giving him clearer vision of 2009?
"I think I did some real good things out there," he said. "I don't think there was a game where I was getting my butt whipped all game. I would say there wasn't any receiver that had my number for a whole game. I think my coverage was solid for the most part. Even though I didn't have any interceptions, I'd say my play was above average for a rookie."
The zero interception statistic is obviously one Smith isn't thrilled about. He says, indeed, guarantees that number will change in 2010.
"I guarantee that will change this year," he said. "Guaranteed. No way I will go another year without an interception. It's impossible."
Smith might have thought he was going to be an interception machine after collecting two in the 2009 preseason. But the real games are different and the higher stakes obviously affected Smith's coverage plans.
"The first year I moved to corner from wide receiver, I had four [interceptions]," Smith said. "So I was like, 'It's not really that hard, I don't see how guys struggle.' Next year I had five. Then I had two in the preseason and I thought, 'We'll keep rolling.' But then you get in the game when it really counts and you don't want to be that guy that messes up.
"At times I was being a little bit too hesitant. And we were in some close, close games and if I gamble one time and I get beat, I'm like, 'No way. I'm not bearing that on my shoulder.' You can't play like that."
So how far does Smith believe he's come one year into his career?
"I'm a lot more comfortable," he said. "I'm talking out there. I'm more vocal. I'm able to disguise things. I'm able to feel like a real vet, you know what I mean? I got the rookies asking me things. It's good to give advice instead of asking all the time."
Smith is also being smarter about his body and training regimen. Last year, he'd eat fast food and not concern himself with massages or icing down. Now he's eating more vegetables and fruits and staying away from fast food.
He hopes that will help him avoid the letdown he felt the final five or six games of last year when he felt somewhat worn down.
"I seen guys getting ice the first couple of weeks and I figured, 'I'm fresh I'm good,' " Smith said. "But after a while I had to take their advice. It was tough but I got through it.
"As the year went on I started to get the feel for body language of the receivers, learning how he lifts when he's going to break down. When you're watching things from the side you can tell when he's going to stop but when you're watching things from dead on its harder to tell when he's going to (drop) the hips."
It should be an interesting competition at cornerback.
[Check back throughout the day Saturday for updates from Day 2 of minicamp.]
The Miami Dolphins just finished their first minicamp practice.
The housekeeping first: Restricted free agents Ronnie Brown and Anthony Fasano were present although they have not signed their tender. Brown, by the way, said he would eventually sign the tender. He also said he has not been offered a long-term contract by the Dolphins.
Patrick Turner, Brandon Marshall (hip), Lionel Dotson, Nate Garner (foot/toe), and Jason Ferguson (quad) were not practicing as they are all continuing to treat injuries. The new one of those is Dotson, who did participate in OTAs but sat out this morning. It is still unclear what injury exactly Turner is nursing.
Inside linebacker Channing Crowder, who missed the last OTA session as he continues to recover from foot surgery, was on the field today. Good news there.
Phillip Merling, who was arrested for aggravated domestic battery Wednesday, was at practice today but did not speak with any reporters today.
Now the more interesting (to me) news: Rookie Koa Misi worked with the first-team defense today. He was at the weakside outside linebacker spot. It was interesting to see Misi match up with Jake Long on one play during team drills. Um, Long won the battle blocking him one-on-one.
Left guard John Jerry, a third-round pick, also worked with the first-team offensive line this practice.
It was a good practice for Chris Clemons in that he came up with an interception of Chad Henne on a pass intended for John Nalbone but somewhat overthrown.
It was not a great practice for Nalbone. He dropped at least one pass that I though aside from not really making a great effort for the Henne pass that was picked off.
Second-team quarterback Tyler Thigpen was erratic. He overthrew a potential TD in the back corner of the end zone and was also late on the throw. But he followed that with a nice TD pass to Fasano.
By the way, Sean Smith spent a good bit of time talking about his offseason and so forth. The topic of his ZERO interceptions last year came up. Smith is apparently confident that number will change:
"I guarantee it will not be that number this year," Smith said. "That's for sure."
Finally, want to give some props to reserve running back Kory Sheets. He's locked in a tough battle for a roster spot. But in this practice he looked very quick and decisive in his runs.
[Check back as Tony Sparano will speak at 1:45 and I will update as necessary.]
Drew Rosenhaus doesn't like to tell folks exactly how many clients he has because other agents use the number against him, believe it or not.
Whatever the number, you can consider it increased by one.
Today, Miami Dolphins first-round pick Jared Odrick signed with Rosenhaus, joining a stable of clients that include a handful of other Dolphins players.
Rosenhaus works well with the Dolphins. The most recent example of that is the Justin Smiley situation that seemed bogged down since March but got resolved within three weeks of Smiley hiring Rosenhaus. I'm not saying Rosenhaus resolved the matter, but he probably helped it by reworking Smiley's contract so he could be traded to Jacksonville.
Odrick, selected 28th overall by the Dolphins in April, fired previous agent Peter Schaffer last week.
Anyway, practice starts in a few minutes. Come back for updates after practice. For real-time updates, follow me on twitter.
A quick glance at the calendar tells you a couple of notable things about the Dolphins.
Today is May 28 so the team's mandatory three-day minicamp begins in earnest with a 10 a.m. practice. You should be here throughout the day for updates and also follow me on my twitter account for quickie 140-character updates, including some as practice is happening.
Secondly, June 1st is approaching and everyone is expecting a decision from the St. Louis Rams on what to do with free safety O.J. Atogwe. As the Herald first reported months ago, Atogwe will become a free agent unless the Rams sign him to a long-term contract, offer him a one-year tender at 110 percent of his 2009 salary (it was $6.3 million so the tender would be $6,993,000), or trade him.
I cannot see the Rams simply letting Atogwe go without getting something for him. That would be personnel malpractice. If a trade is in the works, Atogwe will sign his tender no later than Monday and then be dealt. Atogwe will not sign his current tender and stay with St. Louis.
Will the Dolphins be interested? Again, as The Herald reported months ago, Miami will be a player if Atogwe is out there.
The question is to what degree?
The Dolphins set a budget for what they believed two free safeties were worth this offseason when they chased Antrel Rolle and Ryan Clark. They landed neither. I believe the Dolphins will set a price for Atogwe internally and if they can get him for that, then so be it.
(It must be noted the Dolphins just saved themselves $3.05 million by cutting Reggie Torbor on Thursday so they have dollars in the 2010 budget to work with.)
But it's not a certainty the Dolphins would be able to land Atogwe if he becomes available because in a best-case scenario it could require a bigger contract Miami is willing to offer, as other teams will also be interested. In a worst-case, it could even require trade compensation and a big contract to land Atogwe.
One has to wonder how desperate the team is to make this move ...
Are the Dolphins desperate enough to offer a draft pick or player to the Rams in trade? Are they only desperate enough to jump into a bidding war? Is Miami's interest limited to a signing that would be big, but not fiscally irresponsible?
Or are the Dolphins out of this derby because they are truly happy with second-year player Chris Clemons at free safety?
Logically, I believe you can rule out the latter choice because the Dolphins already showed they want to upgrade the position beyond Clemons. Sorry, Chris.
The other questions that will tell us the extent of Miami's interest will be answered soon enough.
This much is certain, Atogwe will have suitors -- perhaps in Dallas, perhaps Chicago.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Rams step up and pay him.
Defensive end Phillip Merling is in the Broward County main jail this morning after being arrested Wednesday for aggravated battery on woman, according to the Broward Sheriff's office.
Details of the incident that led to the arrest are still forthcoming but this one is not good: The woman Merling allegedly hit is pregnant.
And the initial report says Merling knew or should have known that.
Merling is the fourth Dolphins player arrested since the end of the 2009 regular season. Will Allen (DUI), Ronnie Brown (DUI) and Tony McDaniel (domestic battery) were also arrested this offseason.
The Dolphins are still gathering information and have no comment at the moment.
This is never good news. But the news is worse when the player combines off-field problems with those on-the-field.
And Merling, it could be argued, has had problems on the field. After being drafted 32nd overall in the 2008 draft -- the 32nd pick is typically a first-round selection but was the first pick of the second round in '08 when New England lost its pick -- Merling has been inconsistent at best.
His practice habits have been internally criticized by coaches. Merling admitted as much to me last year. His performance in games has been better, but still not good enough to earn him a starting job.
Merling was working with the first-team defense in Miami's most recent OTA session open to the media. The Dolphins begin a three-day minicamp on Friday.
The biggest thing happening in South Florida in the next few days is the Memorial Day weekend celebration on South Beach that is commonly known as Urban Beach Weekend or Hip-Hop weekend locally. In other news, the Miami Dolphins will conduct their mandatory three-day minicamp on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Having this minicamp at a time some Dolphins player might otherwise head to South Beach for what Luther Campbell calls an arrest fest is either great coincidence or great planning on the Dolphins' part. Either way, however, it is great.
The timing suggests Dolphins players will be too busy or perhaps too dog tired after two practices Friday and Saturday to drive from the Davie, FL. practice facility to the party scene on South Beach -- easily an hour drive with traffic being what it is on the beach -- have their night out, and be ready for morning practice the next day.
That means maybe, just maybe, we won't have the police and the football players and all their testosterone hanging out on the same turf at the same time when it's hot, crowded and sometimes violent.
That also means the chances of a repeat of the Memorial Day weekend 2009 incident in which nose tackle Randy Starks was charged with assaulting a police officer -- a charge that ultimately was whittled down to a traffic violation -- are lessened.
It's not that Dolphins players can't conduct themselves correctly in public -- although some were arrested this offseason for DUI. It's not that Miami Beach police cannot perform their duties professionally. It's just that folks seem to be on edge during this event. Last year, 548 arrests were made during the few days of the event.
It is simply just better to avoid the whole situation altogether, don't you think?
Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells has long advised his players to stay out of the clubs. I don't think he coined the phrase, but I know he's also told his guys that, "Nothing good happens after 2 a.m."
Maybe Tony Sparano should institute a curfew during this minicamp also.
Meanwhile, I encourage Jets, Bills and Patriots players to come down to South Beach and party this weekend. You'll have a great time. Really.
Let's be honest, the stars of the 3-4 defense are usually the outside linebackers and more specifically, the weakside outside linebacker.
Yes, the defense needs great play at cornerback, nose tackle and safety but if the pass-rush is not getting to the quarterback, it is simply going to be a long day for any 3-4 defense. The weakside backer has to be the player collecting the sacks, ending drives, causing fumbles on strip-sacks, sometimes recovering those fumbles, maybe even running for touchdowns off those.
The guy has to be a game-changer.
Think Lawrence Taylor years ago, and more recently Elvis Dumervil, DeMarcus Ware, and for one year at least in 2008, Joey Porter.
As the Dolphins play a 3-4 defense, the men slotted to play outside linebacker must produce in 2010 for the defense to get off the field. And no spotlight is brighter than one currently on Cameron Wake.
Wake seemingly must have a big year in 2010 for the Miami defense to climb from its No. 22 overall rank of a year ago. He must have a monster year if the unit is to be feared.
Well, he was the up-and-coming pass-rusher that seemed to give the Dolphins the confidence to cut Porter and not re-sign Jason Taylor. After collecting an outstanding 39 sacks in two CFL seasons in 2007 and 2008, Wake had 5 1/2 sacks for Miami in 2009 -- his first year in the NFL.
The NFL numbers came with limited snaps so everyone figures more snaps as a starter this year would translate to more more production. The problem -- admittedly temporary at the moment because it is still only May -- is that Wake isn't currently a first-teamer on the Miami defense.
To the surprise of some, Wake was second-team during the recent OTA session witnessed by the media and it has apparently been that way all offseason. Charlie Anderson and Quentin Moses were the first-team outside backers at that last OTA day. Both Anderson and Moses switched off working strong and weak sides.
Was Wake disappointed he's not running with the starters?
"The coach said right before we went on the field, 'It's a starting point. It's not the finish line,' " he said. "So guys are out there playing and I'm going out there to show what I can do."
But make no mistake, Wake doesn't see himself in the same situational pass-rusher role he filled last year. It is important for him to win a starting job.
"I would say so," he said. "I'm always hungry for more. Everybody wants to do that. But I'm always hungry for more. That's what got me in the situation I am now. It's about not being satisfied. I wasn't satisfied with Canada. I wasn't satisfied where I was last year. I'm not satisfied where I am here. Every day I want more."
To want more, Wake has to show more on run-downs because last year coaches weren't comfortable enough with his run-defense to put him in there on those downs. That, in part, is what Wake has been working on during team OTA periods and should continue working on during the club's minicamp that begins Friday.
"Like I said last year, I'm trying to be a good all-around football player," Wake said. "Obviously I'm working on my pass rush, but there are other things also. We have a new scheme, new coordinator, new coach, so I've been picking their brains."
Wake says he's also been working on his body.
"Bigger, faster, stronger," he said. "That's always the goal. And I've been here all offseason. I didn't go anywhere. I'm working on power and explosion, putting on good body weight and finding out where they want me to be."
One assumes coaches want him to be in a starting job by the time the regular-season rolls around. But for now, Wake has more work to do if he aims to become the playmaker on Miami's 3-4 defense.
It's late May. The NFL is starved for news. And so I'm writing about a Justin Smiley trade, a conditional seventh-round pick, and a physical slated for Tuesday morning.
I need a minicamp really quickly.
Anyway, if Smiley passes his physical today, the Dolphins will garner from the Jacksonville Jaguars one whole, exciting seventh round pick in the 2011 draft.
If Smiley does not somehow pass his physical, the Dolphins will strongly consider simply releasing him before the start of Friday's minicamp.
Bet on Smiley passing because, well, teams have wide latitude on what constitutes a passing and failing physical outside of a positive drug test. Consider that Brandon Marshall passed a Miami physical recently ... and then required hip surgery.
Consider that Daunte Culpepper once upon a time passed a Miami physical after being traded from Minnesota and his surgically repaired knee was nowhere near 100 percent. Or 80 percent.
So if the Jags want Smiley, they will get Smiley because the physical is something they can pretty much grade on a curve if they wish.
The Dolphins have signed offensive interior lineman Cory Procter to a contract. The team beat out New England as well as Denver in adding Procter.
Procter had visited both the Broncos and Patriots before visiting Miami last week.
As reported on this blog last week, Procter is insurance against injury as well as adding another veteran with experience to the mix.
Procter, 27, was released by the Cowboys last Monday. He is 6-4 and 311. He was active for every game last year but barely played. He played in place of the injured Kyle Kosier at guard in 2008 for Dallas.
It was good knowing you, Justin Smiley -- um, pending a physical.
The Dolphins starting left guard of the last two seasons has been traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to a league source. The trade is contingent on Smiley passing a physical in Jacksonville.
Smiley is expected to be in Jacksonville no later than tomorrow to take the physical.
Terms of the trade are not known. Fact is, what is usually a routine measure -- the taking and passing of the physical -- is not that this time around because Smiley's shoulder issues do not guarantee he will pass the physical.
As reported here last week, Smiley had requested the Dolphins finalize his status before the start of Friday's minicamp, which is mandatory. Although compensation in the trade is not known, the Dolphins have certainly tried to fulfill the player's request.
When and if the trade becomes official, the Dolphins will likely not divulge the parameters. The deal might be for a conditional pick, depending on how much Smiley contributes.
Smiley was signed by the Dolphins in 2008 to a five-year, $25 million deal. Regardless of whether this deal passes muster or not, Smiley has played his final game for Miami.
The Miami Dolphins offensive line is an interesting subject these days because what seemingly was an established unit now has a number of moving parts and issues that speak of possible improvement and, yes, the possibility of regression.
Here's the situation at each position (Coach Sparano, please correct me next time you see me if I get any of this wrong):
The positive: There is a great chance to improve the spot because the Dolphins are separating from Justin Smiley, which means the next player up could be someone more dependable, that will be there every game of every season and not suffer the shoulder problems that plagued Smiley. The Dolphins have plenty of suitable candidates for the job as 2009 part-time starter Nate Garner (pictured) is expected to recover completely from the foot/toe injury that is keeping him out of OTA work. The Dolphins have also moved Donald Thomas to left guard because Richie Incognito is almost exclusively a right guard and a pretty good one at that when he keeps his emotions in check and stays free of dumb penalties. So Thomas adds competition to the spot as does promising rookie John Jerry, for whom the position seems eventually destined if he is the player the Dolphins hope and believe he was when they picked him in the third round of the recent draft. There are good options galore here.
The negative: Smiley was a wiley, experienced veteran and a great help to young Jake Long. Long will miss him. The Dolphins may also miss Smiley's ability to pull, which was one of his strengths. Garner's injury is a setback for him. He cannot compete for the job now as he and the Dolphins would like. He is falling behind. Yes, he can catch up once he gets going in training camp, as scheduled. But right now he's missing time. Thomas is a novice on the left side. He didn't play the spot last year as the team was trying to get him fully acclimated at right guard. He seemingly slumped late last season, which is the reason Garner was able to move over from the left side when Smiley's injuries improved and take over the starting job from Thomas.
The positive: Joe Berger (pictured) and Jake Grove are splitting first-team snaps here. This is probably because Berger played and graded out well while Grove nursed an injured ankle/leg last season. It speaks well of Berger that he started the final six games of the season, including the final two when Grove was well enough to start and otherwise regain his job. So regardless of who wins this competition, the Dolphins will have solid depth at the position.
The negative: Um, the Dolphins paid a bunch of money to Jake Grove to be their starting center. When any team spends $29.5 million over five years on one player to be the starter and $2.5 million over three years for another player to be a swing C-G backup, the two guys should not be equals. And if the two guys are pretty much equals on the field, something is awry. Either Grove underperformed or Berger over-achieved or some of both. I think some of both is the right answer.
The positive: Incognito is an upgrade here and it's his job to lose. He is the first-team player there now. He will play there almost exclusively because that's what he is: A right guard. Coach Tony Sparano has lately been coy about the possibility of moving Incognito around, but if that somehow ends up happening, something went wrong. That's because Incognito is the strongest, ablest, most experienced right guard on the team right now. He is an upgrade over 2009, in case you missed it when I wrote it the first time. But he has to prove it. Also, the Dolphins have depth at the spot because Thomas or Garner offer starting possibilities, also.
The negative: There is a negative only if Incognito freaks out like he did with the St. Louis Rams and in college -- at both Nebraska and Oregon, where he got pretty much kicked off both squads. This would require the Dolphins to go back to last year's answer to start which would be either Thomas or Garner. And then the upgrade would suddenly disappear unless Thomas or Garner are markedly improved.
The postive: Jake Long (pictured) plays there. 'Nuff said. Man's a beast.
The negative: Jake Longis very, very good. But has he fully arrived? Probably not. Dolphins are still working some technical things with him to make him better. Scary thought, by the way. Here's another scary thought: If Long gets hurt, the depth is an issue because it is unproven. The Dolphins drafted Andrew Gardner last year and have worked hard in the past year to make him stronger and a better technician. I have no idea if that project has worked or not because I've not seen him in a live practice or game since the 2009 preseason. Lydon Murtha is also a possibility, but again, I have no clue if the guy can play or not.
The positive: Vernon Carey (pictured) is established and usually solid. He is also proven to be dependable as he's started 75 consecutive games. Gardner has played right tackle before and the game experience he picked up last year is invaluable for a young player.
The negative: Carey seemed to be a little heavy and slower of foot late last year. He was by no means a dominant right tackle so improvement is hoped for, if not required. The Dolphins don't seem to have a lot of competition for this job and that's not necessarily a good thing because the coaches love competition and Carey could probably stand some pushing.
It is a logical next step for Zach Thomas and he has obviously considered it: Coaching.
But the perfect opportunities aren't necessarily there right now and he doesn't need the money and has a new four-month-old son, Christian Zachery Thomas, he'd like to spend some time with first.
So Thomas probably won't be jumping right into coaching immediately. But would Thomas eventually like to be reconnected with football, perhaps as a coach or scout or something?
“I do," he said. "Right now because of my time commitment I am doing a lot of other things, but I have to stay involved somehow. But I know if I was a coach somewhere, maybe I should start at a high school level or something because I think that I would be even more extreme. When it comes to watching tape, never thinking I got enough, getting everybody prepared. I think I might give too much information, you know, when you get out there with players and they have too much information they can’t even think.
"I love the game, I want to stay involved, but I want to be a better husband because I wouldn’t come home much and that’s just the truth, and [wife] Maritza knows that. I thought about radio, but sometimes I am an emotional guy and I don’t have [PR vice president] Harvey Greene right next to me to give me a cool down period right after a game, because you all came rushing to me after we lose and you all knew you were going to get a quote. So I feel like Harvey and them would box out and try to give me a cool down period, because that sometimes gets me in trouble, letting emotions get into it and then you look back and go, ‘Man I shouldn’t have said those type of things’.
"That is probably why I won’t do radio but I want to stay involved with something I am good at. You only have to be good at one thing and (football) is one thing I am good at, and now I am going to move on and see if there is anything else I am good at."
Thomas had an audition to work for the Dolphins new flagship radio station but the same team-employed genius who didn't want me on because I wasn't enough of a homer for his taste -- truth is apparently not a virtue for some folks -- also passed on Thomas because, well, some people simply don't get it.
The Dolphins do have a linebacker coach vacancy they could fill if they wished. But that's appartently not a possibility right now.
Would be sweet though, wouldn't it?
[BLOGNOTE: Come back later today because I'll have an offensive line related post up.]
My first conversation with Zach Thomas happened in the summer of 1996, days after Jimmy Johnson recognized remarkable ability in a pretty unremarkable looking player. Johnson graded Thomas in his first preseason game and promptly cut veteran Jack Del Rio because the coach simply knew Thomas was the Miami Dolphins future at middle linebacker.
That move prompted my initial 20 minute talk with the rookie. When it was over I still had no clue whether Thomas would become a great player or not, whether he'd reward Johnson's confidence or not. I had no clue if Thomas would become a starter or a special teamer.
But I realized Thomas was a special guy.
During that first talk, Thomas told me he was still getting used to South Florida and that he had finally found a barber he liked. "I got to talking with the guy and told him I'm a football player," Thomas said. "He asked me what high school I played for."
Thomas then made a couple of other jokes about "having no neck," that made me laugh and then we got serious and I asked what his days were like.
He basically recounted how he was showing up at the training facility around 6 a.m. and leaving around 9 or 10 p.m. "Football is a job for me now," he said, "and if it takes me coming to work earlier and leaving later to be a success, that's what I'm going to do every day of my career."
Special work ethic. Special personality. Special view of reality.
Thomas was just being himself. But eventually he would be inexorably tied to NFL excellence for the next 14 years.
Despite a promising future, it wasn't until the regular-season opener in 1996 that Thomas finally believed he had arrived.
"We were singing the national anthem," Thomas said. "It was the best feeling in the world. I remember it like it was yesterday, playing the Patriots, Bill Parcells was on the other sidelines and it was a good win. Just knowing that I made it, it’s all kind of like a fog to me now, but I enjoyed the whole ride and what is special to me is really the relationships that I made and like I said and I know that I am repetitive but, to play a game and get paid for it I was grateful."
Thomas knew within himself he had arrived during the national anthem. He announced that arrival to everyone else by knocking wide receiver Shawn Jefferson out cold on a bone-jarring hit that reverberates through time in franchise history.
"I think I gave a concussion that day, and I am not trying to brag, because I got my own, but I gave some too," Thomas said, the old competitor peeking through his business suit. "I am not trying to boast over that, because you never like to see anyone hurt and you never try to hurt anybody, but I felt like that was making a statement saying, ‘Hey here is 54.' "
Fifty-four won't necessarily be retired by the Dolphins. Doesn't matter. We don't need a number to go away for the exploits of the player who wore the digits to live on.
I'll remember that hit on Jefferson. And that goal-line stop of Jerome Bettis. And the day he stole the signals from the New England Patriots and caused Tom Brady to complain.
I'll also remember the Zachisms.
He would talk of his defensive unit "getting rattled," on certain downs during certain games. He would hate to lose because losing could, "contaminate your mind." He would get cold sores on his lips because he worried so much about upcoming games.
And there were the eccentricities, too.
He got in the habit of taking tapes home before other Miami players did. He bought a Hyperbaric chamber and slept in it because he swore it made him recover faster. He wore magnets because he was told they drew blood to certain parts of the body and that made that part heal faster. He went on diets that were matched to his particular blood type.
It was all done to get an edge, to be the best he could be.
"I don’t think that I ever viewed myself as having God-given ability, but I knew I would get that edge somehow," Thomas said. "I have seen a lot of talent come in to this team and out real fast because maybe of work ethic or being lazy -- things like that. It doesn’t really matter, talent if you are on the field, even if you run a 4.2 forty, if you can’t read or recognize a play, or if you are a receiver and can’t catch the ball, it’s a whole different game on that field.
"And that is the one thing that, when I was on that field, I felt fast. When I got out there on the forty sprints, man, the D-lineman were out-running me most of them were. At the combine, I mean it was, I just knew that wasn’t the game of football. The combine, I didn’t even touch the opening height on the vertical jump. There were so many things that upset me because of all the hard work that I put in at college, but those don’t really measure up to what you can do on the field. It has nothing to do with it. But that is why I feel like they always put me as an overachiever.
"But when I was on the field, I didn’t feel it, I felt confident on the field. I might have been insecure for sure during the week, but on game day I was confident.”
Thomas often made fun of his own speech pattern. He said it got slower over the years because of all the hits to the head he endured.
This guy was sly as well as wise. When he negotiated his first big contract -- a five-year, $22.5 million deal that included a $4.5 million signing bonus and made him the highest-paid Miami player ahead of Dan Marino -- Thomas told me he made sure the deal wasn't backloaded.
Tim Bowens had signed a backloaded deal and was at that time in danger of not collecting that last big year of pay because he was injured and his play had declined. Thomas made sure his deal paid well up front as well as at its end.
And Thomas delivered at both those ends. He made his first Pro Bowl in 1999 and his last in 2006.
"I remember when Zach first showed up as a rookie, I thought he and Larry Izzo would make pretty good special teams players," Dan Marino said. "I was right about Larry, but wrong about Zach. He wound up being much beter than that. He used his determination, grit, and love for the game to become one of the best players on our team.
"He was a great teammate. He never took a play off, not even at practice. and his enthusiasm for the sport was contagious throughout the locker room. I'm glad I got a chance to play with him, and I'm happy that he's able to retire as a member of the team he cared so much about."
Thomas kidded that whenever he intercepted a Marino pass in practice, he would call friends to tell him about that thrill. Typical Zach.
In his final minutes as a Miami Dolphins before retiring Thursday, Thomas thanked his family, his coaches, former teammates, trainers, equipment manager Tony Egues, and current and former club media relations people. He also thanked the media.
But mostly Thomas thanked you, the fans, for cheering him on, for wearing his jersey, for being in his corner.
"As for the fans, it has been a great ride," Thomas said. "We have had our ups and downs, but I really feel like you have showed unconditional love for me for the whole time I was here. I am sorry we couldn’t bring you a Super Bowl ring.
"Now that I am fan like you guys, I know that I am excited -- not just because they let me come here and retire, but I know they are on the right track and it is a process and I like what they are doing. I feel like they are going to bring us a Super Bowl ring. Even if I am not involved with the team, I will be a fan and I will be celebrating with these guys. I'd like to thank you for all of your loyalty over the years to me. If I had a bad game or a good game, you always had my back. So I want to thank everyone for coming out today. I appreciate you and go Dolphins."
Super-agent Drew Rosenhaus doesn't like to tell folks how many clients he has anymore because other agents use it against him, believe it or not. But he does represent seven Miami Dolphins.
And I asked him about two of those moments ago after the Zach Thomas press conference. (Rosenhaus represented Thomas throughout his 14-year NFL career.)
I asked Rosenhaus about guard Justin Smiley, who is admittedly in limbo. Rosenhaus said he's asked the Dolphins to resolve the matter of trading or releasing Smiley by the time minicamp happens next week.
"It's obviously in the Dolphins hands," Rosenhaus said. "They're trying to trade him. And they're wanting to get the right compensation for him. But that can be tough when other teams know the situation."
The situation is the Dolphins have moved on from Smiley. They've moved Donald Thomas to left guard and were scheduled to host free agent Cory Procter no later than Friday, according to an NFL source. So the team is basically moving on and everyone knows it.
The minicamp next week (May28-30) is mandatory. The team could and probably will excuse Smiley -- same as it has from offseason conditioning and OTAs.
This much is clear: Smiley has played his final game for Miami.
Rosenhaus also represents running back Ricky Williams. While the agent is not keen on discussing Williams, it is no secret he is advising Williams to play at least one more year after his current contract runs out after 2010.
Williams, 33, gained over 1,000-yards last season in what was something of a renaissance year for him. He is currently the Dolphins starter at running back because he's played well and Ronnie Brown is coming off lisfranc surgery.
Williams originally was planning on retiring after 2010. But the running back apparently is rethinking that and listening to Rosenhaus. He is now non-commital about playing beyond 2010.
"It'll depend on what kind of season he has and how his body holds up," Rosenhaus said optimistically.
The question that will come up now as a fun exercize and in five years as serious business is whether Zach Thomas merits Hall of Fame consideration and ultimately will get into the Hall of Fame.
Thomas, 36, will officially retire from football today at a 4 p.m. press conference at Dolphins camp. As I reported this morning, he will sign a ceremonial contract with the Dolphins to retire as a Dolphin. In five years he will become eligible for HOF consideration.
So does his 12 seasons with the Dolphins merit consideration?
"Oh boy ... It's a hard question because there are so many good middle linebackers," The Miami Herald's Edwin Pope told me a while ago. Pope is the South Florida representative in the Hall of Fame voting so he not only gets a vote, but would present the case for Thomas in five years.
"Yeah, I think he's worthy of consideration," Pope continued. "And I think someday he'll be getting it. His body of work is certainly deserving. Smart, aggressive, great team player, great locker room presence. He measures up in every respect except height and that didn't seem to hold him back."
There are currently 19 linebackers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Dolphins already have one HOF linebacker in Nick Buoniconti.
The greatest inside or middle linebackers? Dick Butkus. Jack Lambert. Mike Singletary. (Sorry, I never saw Ray Nitschke play but he was voted the NFL's greatest linebacker of all time in 1969. There's been 41 years of great linebackers since.)
Butkus had 22 career interceptions with none returned for touchdowns. Thomas, by comparison, had 17 career interceptions with the Dolphins with four returned for touchdowns. The four TDs tied him for fourth with other linebackers behind Jack Pardee (5) and Bobby Bell and Derrick Brooks (6).
Thomas recorded 1,202 career solo tackles during his dozen seasons in Miami. Singletary had 885 solo tackles during his 11 seasons in Chicago.
The full list of HOF players is here. You can compare Thomas with the other 19 LBs and decide if he's worthy yourself.