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76 posts from September 2011

September 30, 2011

... and the curious case of Chad Henne

Still puzzled. Today, what to make of Chad Henne.

He has improved. No question about that. He is more aggressive. He looks to make the downfield throw a lot more. He moves his team from 20-yard line to 20-yard line like the dickens. He's completing 56.5 percent of his passes, which is lower than last year, but he has four touchdowns and three interceptions which is a better stat than his upside down more-intercepts-than-TDs ratio of the past two seasons.

So that's good.

But there is something missing. Still.

He's still not very good on third down.

His passer rating on third down is 69.6, which is 13 points lower than his overall rating. He completes only 53 percent of his passes on third down. And he's ranked 21st in the NFL on third-down passing. This stat is important because big-time NFL QBs make their money on third down. That's why it's called the money down.

It was eye-opening to see young, unproven Colt McCoy lead his team to a winning TD late last week and Henne not be able to move his team 15 or 20 yards for a responding and winning field goal. That all came in the fourth quarter.

Henne has been bad in the fourth quarter as well this year. He is the 31st-ranked (of 33 players) fourth-quarter passer this season. His fourth-quarter passer rating is atrocious at 48.7. By comparison, the Dolphins defense this weekend faces the top-ranked fourth-quarter passer in Phillip Rivers of San Diego. His fourth-quarter rating is 136.4

Henne so far is completing fewer than half his fourth quarter passes. His completion percentage is 42.9. That is the worst in the NFL.

So while Henne has improved from last year, he has a long way to go yet. And, it should be considered, every statistical category you look at with him, indeed, every stat you study for the Dolphins offense must be done with this in mind:

The Dolphins opened the season against a team whose defense is the worst in the NFL right now. That's right, the Patriots have gotten lit by everyone on defense this year and are ranked No. 32 in that category this year.

Anyway, this is a full text of Henne's meeting with the media this week:

(On Brian Hartline’s progression this season) - “Yeah, I thought Brian (Hartline) stepped up big. In the previous game, he hasn’t got a lot of balls because we had some one-on-one coverages with other guys and they were first in the progression, but now teams are starting to take away some of our receivers away. Brian has done a great job one-on-one and I feel confident going to him if we have that matchup."

(On practicing toe-tapping catches on the sideline and back shoulder throws) - “Yeah, the back shoulder throws has evolved. I think every team works it in practice, one-on-one routes. Quarterbacks are becoming a custom to it and receivers are doing a great job adjusting, but Brian (Hartline), his toe-touch and his way to stay in bounds is just amazing. He does it in practice a lot, goes against our defense one-on-one and it shows in practice he gets it done and carries over."

(On Brian Hartline’s ability to run after the catch) - “Yeah, I think he’s quick in transition when he gets the ball. He tucks it under and looks to get yards up field quick, he’s done a really good job with that."

(On Reggie Bush not receiving many catches lately) - “Well, I mean, sometime they’re bring some pressure where he has to stand and protect and other times, he’s out there, but we’re completing balls down the field. We’re looking to complete balls down field first, not the underneath routes. If it comes a case where we have a matchup out there and I need to come down to Reggie (Bush), I’ll come down to him."

(On Reggie Bush not receiving many catches due to Daniel Thomas catching good as well)- “Well, I mean, we’re switching them in and out. We’re giving them a good mix and whoever is in on that play, we will see who will get the ball, but nobody’s going to tell. We’re trying to look down field and make big plays, if not, we’ll get it down to those guys."

(On not having red zone success psychological or execution) - “It’s all about execution, I mean, we have the plays…whether we need to study more in there or more things down there, but we just got to execute. Execute our game plan. If it’s there, take it, we got to be aggressive down there and make plays and if it’s not, it’s not much we can do. We can run the ball, throw the ball, we just got to go down there, be confident in ourselves, and make the plays."

(On Brandon Marshall being frustrated and getting the better of him) - “No, I think sometimes he gets frustrated because they’re double covering him, he feels they’re holding him, but Brandon (Marshall) has done a great job. It’s his attitude towards our team and on the field so we’re going to keep going to him and give him a shot."

(On Daniel Thomas change from the preseason to the regular season) - “I think it’s confidence and just understanding our offense in the running game. Just understanding where the blocks are going to be, where the holes are going to open up and he’s definitely confident where he’s running, how he is running so he’s done a really good job trying to get the extra yards for us."

(On what stands out regarding Daniel Thomas) - “I mean, he’s a powerful back. He’s slapped together, he’s a pretty muscular guy so he’s going to get the extra yards for us. It’s fun to watch when he runs."

(On what you can do to rally the team after being 0-3) - “I mean, enthusiasm in practice, try to get the guys going, not feeling down on ourselves, try to keep a positive attitude as much as we can, look them in the face and say hey, I’m confident, I’m confident in them. We have the players, we have everybody in the situation, we just got to go out there and do it, all of us, believe it, do it in practice, prepare well in the film room, do the extra things. We got to go, we can’t make excuses, can’t point fingers. We just got to be a team, come together, and play."

(On facing a 0-3 deficit in the past) - “I mean, I think you can, but it’s different faces here so a lot of guys haven’t been through it and some guys have. I think it just comes back as coming as a team, playing well, executing on Sunday when our number is called. If it’s 49 or 45 seconds left in the game and the offense is out there on the field, we need to make the plays and score the touchdown.”

September 29, 2011

The curious case of Reggie Bush

Some things puzzle me about the Dolphins. The defense's regression puzzles. The continued inability to win at home puzzles. And the team's use of Reggie Bush puzzles.

On several levels now.

It puzzles that the Dolphins look at Bush -- a 6-foot and 205-pounder -- and somehow believe him to be an inside running threat. Bush proved long ago in New Orleans he wasn't that. He's proven this year he isn't a dude that will run through 300-pound defensive linemen or create his own hole where there is no hole.

Yet the Dolphins have through three games repeatedly asked him to run between the tackles. They did it less last week as there were attempts to use Bush on pitches. But if this were my team, he would never be asked to stick his facemask in the A-gap.

The guy needs to be out in space. It is obvious to anyone with eyes. Yet, it hasn't happened enough.

Interestingly, the Dolphins agree Bush is better outside, in space, where he can use his speed and agility to escape defenders.

“Well, we got to get him in some space," coach Tony Sparano said. "I think that’s important.  I think that trying to get Reggie touches early is important.  We didn’t do … we did do a good job of getting him the ball early in the ball game the other day. Unfortunately, his first carry was the second play of the game and it was a penalty. He did catch a ball out of the backfield.  But we got to get him involved a little bit earlier, try to get him going a little earlier that way. It’s just you’re trying to get him going, trying to get Brandon (Marshall) going, you’re trying to get some things going that way. You don’t want to get caught in that mode too many times where you’re trying to feed players particularly.  That’s a bad thing for the quarterback...I get to yell at the quarterback go back there and play. If the read takes him then the read takes him there or any of those types of things. We can do a better job of getting Reggie in space. I think that’s important.”

Yes, it is important. I think it is also important to use Bush in situations where his presence is a matchup problem for the defense. In that regard, it's puzzles me why the Dolphins don't use Bush is a base formation and then motion him out wide to the slot or elsewhere.

This forces the defense to cover Bush with a linebacker or strong safety out in space. That is a mismatch problem for the defense. It makes sense to use. And the Dolphins practiced this tons in the preseason. It was evident to anyone who attended the open practices.

They apparently continue to practice it since workouts have closed to all outside eyes. But the puzzling thing is they don't use it in games.

And that puzzles Bush as well.

“We do it a lot at practice," Bush said. "It just hasn’t been called in the game. It’s going to come."

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is in charge of calling the plays. He is scheduled to speak to the media today and my guess is he'll be asked why he's not calling those plays.

"I know he’s going to make those calls, I will be spread out wide there. I’ve done a little bit, but as much as obviously in my past so like I said, we do it all the time in practice, it just hasn’t shown in the game yet.”

Like I said: Puzzling.

September 28, 2011

Dolphins claim RB Steve Slaton from Houston

The Dolphins have claimed and been awarded running back Steve Slaton off waivers from the Houston Texans.

The team assumes the remaining portion of running back''s $1.2 million salary. And now it gets interesting in the backfield.

Slaton comes to the Dolphins from a team that had a crowded stable of runners. The Dolphins have a crowded stable also. But only one of those players -- rookie Daniel Thomas -- is so far producing to satisfactory levels.

The same cannot be said of primary back and starter Reggie Bush, who has only 80 yards on 28 carries. Bush has also been nursing a tender groin.

Slaton comes to the Dolphins in his fourth NFL season. His best year was 2008 when he gained 1,282 yards and averaged 4.8 yards a carry in 16 games. It hasn't been nearly as good since.

In 2009 his production dropped to only 437 yards and a 3.3 average in 11 games and then he had only 93 yards on 19 carries all of last season. That season, Slaton fumbled four times in four games early in the season, leading to his limited use. He worked his way back into good graces but then on Dec. 9 sustained a shoulder injury and was placed on injured reserve.

The Texans have Arian Foster, the NFL rushing champion from a year ago, and Ben Tate in their backfield so Slaton was expendable. This year Slaton had 20 yards on seven carries, a 2.9 average.

The Dolphins are clearly searching for talent at running back since parting ways with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Earlier this year they signed, cut, signed and cut again running back Larry Johnson.

They've also worked out players such as Clinton Portis and Tiki Barber. No, none of this means Slaton will compete for the starting job.

It is not yet clear whom the Dolphins will cut.

List of candidates: Will Yeatman (they can always put him on practice squad), Nate Jones, Roberto Wallace, Marlon Moore, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Ryan Baker, or, yes, Phillip Merling. This is just speculation on my part. Just stirrin' [poopie], as I was told by someone within the organization today.

[Yup, yet another update: The unlucky player cut is Ryan Baker. Good guy. Tough guy.]

Five things on my mind this morning

Let me give you a piece of my mind (not that I can spare too much) this morning:

1. The Dolphins are stunning in their defensive fall from grace so far this season. They got lit up by New England. They improved somewhat against Houston but still, it wasn't good enough. And then, most disappointing to me, they gave up a game-winning drive to Colt McCoy and a Browns offense that was without running back Peyton Hillis and the club's starting right tackle Tony Pashos this past weekend.

So the Dolphins defense is ranked 30th in the NFL so far this year. Terrible, right? Team can't win until they get better, right?

Yeah, well, the Patriots have the No. 32 ranked defense in the NFL this year. That is dead last.

The difference is the Patriots have the best QB in the NFL so having the worst statistical defense in the NFL is not quite as painful as it is in Miami. It's vexing. But season-killing? Not when you can light up the scoreboard.

For the record, the Dolphins averaged 17 points per game last year and that was obvioulsy not good enough. This year the new, revamped, rebuilt, refurbished offense is averaging 17.6 points per game through three games.

2. As you might know, I reported Monday that the Dolphins are in money-saving mode. I've been told this by very high ranking sources within the football side of the organization. [UPDATE: Another high-ranking and annoyed source within the organization says the team is not in big money-saving mode, it's just going by a budget and there is no big deal afoot.]

Anyway, I got a call from yet another source within the organization Monday explaining that the team's salary cap space -- estimated between $7-$8 million under the $120 million -- will eventually be used this year.

I was told the space was left with the thoughts of using toward signing extensions with certain players whose contracts expire after this year. Among those players are Kendall Langford, Chad Henne and others. The team might even visit the idea of signing Cameron Wake before his deal expires after 2012.

Except, I asked this source, why such a need to save cap space for players who are basically taking you to a winless record? What's so great about them?

"That's a consideration that we might have to re-examine," the source admitted.

I would think so.

Yes, Langford is nice player. But he's not great. He's basically a space eater. He's got two tackles in three games so far this year. Igor Olshansky had two tackles in one game against Cleveland. Jared Odrick has four tackles. Randy Starks has 10 tackles.

Look, the Dolphins can sign Langford to keep him from hitting free agency. But the hope is the deal is modest. Because his playmaking has been modest.

Henne presents another interesting situation. Do the Dolphins sign him to an extension now? I say if the season continues on its present course, I would absolutely not do that.

Simply, if the Dolphins continue to stink, they will be in favorable position to pick a quarterback very, very early in the draft. Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Landry Jones and perhaps Robert Griffin III might all be available next draft.

So why invest in Henne now?

Now, if Henne goes crazy the next 13 games, absolutely, you re-sign him. Why? Well, if he goes crazy, he will have proven his worth and at the same time would have probably played the Dolphins out of the top rung of the draft anyway.

But again, you don't do that anytime soon. You let it play out until late in the year or  even after the season when teams have an exclusive negotiating window with their free agents.

So again, that cap space now makes no sense.

And while we're on the topic, Phillip Merling is out of contract after this season. Two words following his one tackle against Houston and coming off what was apparently a healthy scratch last week: Bye. Bye.

[NOTE: By the way, I'm thinking I've got to start cutting down on sources particularly when they all work for the same team and they're not all on the same page. Sheesh.]

3. I wrote in my column that coach Tony Sparano struggled to walk out of Cleveland Browns Stadium, moving gingerly and stopping once to, ahem, adjust because he was in obvious pain as he continues to recover from double hernia surgery.

I'm told by a source close to Sparano the coach was told his surgery required a short hospital stay followed by 10 days of bed rest. Sparano was in bed for one day and walking the next. While in bed, 75 minutes after the surgery, he was breaking down tape of the team's final preseason game.

Does that make him a great coach? No. Does it make him one very tough and dedicated dude? You betcha.

4. Thinking back to No. 2, there are other players who are likely in their final years with the Dolphins:

Vernon Carey, Will Allen, and possibly Paul Soliai because he's expecting a big payday after this year and the Dolphins might not be willing to meet his price -- as they've not been able to do in three separate contract offers since last October. Yup, three total offers aside from the franchise tag tender is what the team has put in front of Soliai's agent.

5. I like Jimmy Wilson. He's a rookie. He's a seventh round draft pick. And he took responsibility for "losing the game" against Cleveland Sunday. For the record, Wilson gave up the catch that resulted in the winning touchdown.

But he didn't lose the game.

Football is a team sport. It's won by teams. And lost by teams.

You have to admire Wilson's view anyway. He's a no-excuses guy. And he didn't much mention the interception he had earlier in the game, which happened to be the first of his career. Wilson, by the way, has one more interception than either of Miami's starting cornerbacks -- Sean Smith or Vontae Davis.

That means Davis and Smith have zero interceptions.

I cannot decide which is more disappointing: That Smith and Davis had trouble holding on to balls that would have been interceptions last year. Or that this year they haven't had any passes in their hands that they might have converted into interceptions.


September 26, 2011

How other teams scored from red zone 41 times Sunday

The Dolphins had three red zone trips on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. They scored one touchdown and settled for two field goals.

So drives that could have been maximized for three touchdowns, 21 points, resulted in only 13 points.

That is a big deal when one considers this game was decided by one point.

So, again, why are the Dolphins not maximizing? Why are they not cashing in?

I've stopped looking to the Dolphins for answers.

I'm looking elsewhere -- like the rest of the NFL. And in the NFL on Sunday the rest of the league scored 41 red zone touchdowns.

Of those 41 touchdowns, 13 were scored when quarterbacks hooked up with wide receivers for the six-pointers. Quarterbacks found their tight ends for 11 of those 41 red zone touchdowns. And quarterbacks connected with running back for three red zone passing touchdowns.

All told, of the 41 red zone touchdowns scored by teams not named the Miami Dolphins or Cleveland Browns, 27 came via the pass. So teams that got into the end zone once they reached the red zone did it by passing 65 percent of the time.

The running scores?

Running backs scored on runs nine times. Quarterbacks had touchdown runs five times.

So what does all this mean?

It's quite clear, really.

The most important player in the red zone is the quarterback. On Sunday, the quarterback threw a touchdown or scored himself 32 of the 41 red zone successes teams had. The wide receiver is obviously the next most productive player for teams in the red zone and the tight end is not very far behind him.

But here's the problem: The players manning those positions for the Dolphins are not delivering in the red zone.

Yesterday, for example, quarterback Chad Henne completed 65.5 percent of his passes for the game. But inside the red zone he completed only 2 of 5 passes for a 40 percent completion rate. He also broke a team red zone rule by taking a sack. (Obviously, that may or may not have been something he could have avoided.)

Brandon Marshall had four catches for 43 yards yesterday, which by the way is not very good at all. Anyway, Marshall was worse in the red zone. He was unable to beat one-on-one coverage from Joe Haden and his lone red zone pass went incomplete.

That pass, by the way, was catchable. Yes, it would have been an outstanding catch, but those are the kind of catches big-time receivers are supposed to deliver. Marshall did not. And don't take my word for it. The pictures, sent in by this blog's rising screen grab specialist Justin Reardon, show the play in all its inglorious outcome:

Marshall redzone1 
Above Marshall has practically no separation, but the ball is headed right to his hands. It's a good throw.

Marshall redzone2 
Now the ball is in Marshall's hands. Joe Haden is still trying to bat it in the air, but it's too late. The DBs only hope now is batting it from Marshall's grasp or having Marshall drop it.

Marshall redzone3 
Well, Haden can stop hoping to bat it from Marshall's grasp because it's in the guy's hands. Now he has to hope Marshall simply drops the ball.

Marshall redzone4 
And that is exactly what happens. As Haden whiffs, Marshall has let the ball go through his hands. Incomplete. No touchdown.

Davone Bess was targetted once in the red zone. He wasn't really open. Anthony Fasano was targetted once in the red zone. Nothing.

Fasano is of particular interest to me. The tight end, you see, is supposed to make his money in the red zone. He needs to be a presence there and that point is made in the stats I related above. Tight ends are supposed to be major red zone weapons.

Fasano is not. Hmmm, this is more evidence the Dolphins need that upgrade at tight end the team still refuses to do.

Finally, I'd say the Dolphins might think of using their RBs more as weapons in the red zone. Their red zone success Sunday came on a screen pass to Daniel Thomas that turned into a 10-yard score. Thomas also carried three times in the red zone for 8 yards. The running plays yielded modest return, but what about using the RBs as receiving weapons?

Isn't Reggie Bush supposed to be this big mismatch with linebackers whenever he's on the field? Why not use him?

Obviously, I'm not a coach and do not pretend to be one. But I have eyes. And what Miami has been doing so far doesn't equal necessarily what the rest of the league is doing.

The positions that are producing the big red zone success elsewhere aren't doing that in Miami. That's a problem.

On many levels.

Dolphins' Ross may be one who needs to 'stop quitting'

CLEVELAND -- Perhaps it was a parapraxis. Or perhaps it was just a tragically constructed sentence.

Either way, Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne uttered this sentence after the Dolphins 17-16 loss to the Browns on Sunday: "I know one thing about these guys," Henne said, "they're not going to stop quitting."


Look, the Dolphins haven't quit. Players haven't. Coaches haven't. They are not getting results because they're not good enough or smart enough or whatever other reason you might cite. But because they quit?

No way.

Here's someone I fear might have quit on this team to a degree: Owner Stephen Ross.

My column in today Miami Herald discusses the topic.

The column discusses how Ross may be as much at fault for Miami's problems as the players and coaches. Why? The man apparently hasn't been fully invested in player acquisition this year.

In short, the column tells you where the Dolphins rank in player expenditure this year. It is a terrible ranking, perhaps the worst the team has ever had. And that, against the backdrop of Miami being second in the NFL behind only the New York Giants in player salaries in 2009, is stark.

So why the significant change? Simply, the Dolphins have been losing money at an alarming rate this year. So they're trying to trim back in certain areas. Player salaries is apparently one of those.

It is so well-known within the organization that two sources have suggested to me Ross has quit on his team this year and set them up for failure.

As the column tells you, I tried to get answers about this and other matters from Ross. Chased him as he was leaving Cleveland Browns Stadium. He didn't want to answer any questions.

Well, until he does, the questions will linger: Has Ross set up the Dolphins to fail this year because he limited expenditures on player acquisitions?

The evidence is damning.

September 25, 2011

Source: Dolphins '100 percent' not firing Sparano now

The Dolphins are 0-3 and they're in disbelief.

They cannot believe they are 0-3. They cannot believe they got there by losing to the Cleveland Browns today, 17-16.

But despite being in last place in the AFC East and one of only two teams standing at 0-3 as of this moment, the club is not planning on firing coach Tony Sparano right now.

I asked a source if there are changes planned in that regard this week. "No, nothing," was the response.

I asked for clarification. Are you 100 percent, I asked.

"One hundred percent," was the emphatic answer.

Sparano, for his part, told me he also has not been told of any change or planned change.

Obviously, folks can sleep on their thoughts overnight. Obviously, we are operating in the span of one hour after a loss and people can change their mind. But that's how things are at the moment as the Dolphins just left Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Miami Dolphins lose to the Browns, 17-16, and still winless

CLEVELAND -- The Miami Dolphins are winless after three games. Jobs are now officially at stake.

I'm not talking at the end of the year. I'm talking this week, tomorrow perhaps, and on the bye week almost certainly if the losing continues.


The Dolphins, field goal kicking experts, must understand that they are always at risk when they don't maximize drives with touchdowns. That's because other teams do maximize drives with touchdowns. And that helps them win.

This is bad folks. Really bad.

Going into the locker room now. Will report back afterward. 

Dolphins lead Browns 13-10 to start fourth quarter

It's money time.

The Dolphins are one quarter from their first victory of 2011. That's good. But can't say it's been scintilating.

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter. The Dolphins lead 13-10.

The live blog, on the other hand, is scintilating. Join us in the comments section below.

Dolphins lead Browns 10-7 to start third quarter

The Dolphins are holding on so far at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Yes, they gave up a TD pass from Colt McCoy to Josh Cribbs that victimized Sean Smith in one-on-one coverage. That tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. McCoy has otherwise struggled, completed only 5 of 14 passes for 73 yards. He has a 47.6 rating right now.

But Dan Carpenter connected on a 23-yard field goal to give the Dolphins back the lead at 10-7.

Chad Henne is playing very well so far. He's completed 15 of 19 for 191 yards and one TD. His quarterback rating is 126.1.

The live blog continues in the comments section below.

Dolphins lead Browns 7-0 to start 2nd quarter

The Dolphins were in the red zone. Trouble right?

It has been this year.

But not in the first quarter of this game.

From the 10 yard line, Chad Henne faked to Clyde Gates on the end around and threw back the other way to Daniel Thomas who had a wall of screen pass blocker set up.

Thomas scored his first TD of his career. And the Dolphins lead 7-0.

The live blog continues in the comments section below.

Dolphins inactives and live blog here

The good news? Browns starting RB Peyton Hillis is not playing for the Browns today. Starting RT Tony Pashos is also not playing today so backup tackle Artis Hicks is starting in his place.

So there's that.

The Dolphins have some injuries, as you know, so those players -- Vontae Davis, Roberto Wallace, Tony McDaniel -- are inactive. But there's the healthy scratch that raises eyebrows: Phillip Merling.

Merling, a second-round pick in 2008, will not play today even though he is healthy. So he's obviously not as good, in the coaching staff's eyes, as Igor Olshansky and Ryan Baker who are active ahead of him. Olshansky was signed four days ago.

Call it another instance of a player not playing up to the talent the team believed he would have.

I wrote about that on this blog yesterday. I wrote about it today in my column in The Herald. Bottom line?

I think the Dolphins will beat the Browns today. But I do not believe this win will change a whole lot about what we know of this team. The column explains why.

There is a live blog today. Go to the comments section below for the first quarter festivities.  

September 24, 2011

Dolphins mysterious personnel staff make some mystifying moves

Let me begin here: I am not a genius and I hate to second-guess. But some things simply do not add up and critiquing what is being done is not second-guessing, it is judging what is happening, and often times failing, right before your very eyes.

Having said that, I do not get the Dolphins' pesonnel moves sometimes. I also don't get their non-moves sometimes. In other words, when it comes to personnel acquisition, I often do not get the Miami Dolphins.

Let us begin with the latest and work our way back. You'll notice that today, as the Dolphins travel to Cleveland for their third game of the regular season, the team's secondary is one pulled muscle from being in shambles.

CB Vontae Davis is out with a hamstring injury. S Chris Clemons is questionable with a hamstring injury suffered weeks ago. Will Allen is questionable with a hamstring injury suffered in practice Thursday.

The Dolphins are starting Nolan Carroll at one CB spot even though he struggled in the preseason and then has struggled so far in the regular season.

It is a difficult situation authored, in part, by happenstance of injuries. It is also a difficult situation authored by strange personnel decisions.

To wit:

At the end of the preseason, the Dolphins decided Benny Sapp was their best option as the nickel back. He won the job and I agreed with it because he made plays in games (one interception) and had tons of plays in practice. Will Allen was mostly injured, nursing a hamstring injury for three weeks, after he missed the past two seasons with knee issues.

So I got that Sapp was on the team. The decision spoke for itself. The Dolphins saw what everyone else saw and they made the right call with Sapp.

Then after one game, they changed their minds. The Dolphins played one game in which Carroll, Davis, Sean Smith, and Sapp were beaten for significant gains or scores and decided that Sapp had to go.

The only guy that made any plays in the secondary in preseason, indeed, the only defensive back that made a play against New England, got fired.

Yes, Sapp had given up a 99-yard TD catch to Wes Welker. Yes, he gave up a 2-yard TD grab by Welker also.

But guess what? Jones took a bad angle on that Welker play and could have made the tackle around the 40-yard line if he hadn't. Guess what? Sapp played that WR screen perfectly in the first half and forced the tip that Jared Odrick intercepted, and that remains the only play the Miami secondary has made so far this season. Guess what? Players give up 2-yard catches in the NFL all the time.

Still, Sapp got the axe.

So basically, Miami's personnel decision-makers watched Sapp throughout six weeks of training camp, in four preseason games, in countless practices and nearly a thousand repetitions, and deemed him worthy of being on the team.

And then changed their mind in four quarters of football against the best quarterback in the NFL the past decade and an offense that led the league last year and is en route to that again this year?


So Sapp was out, even though as a vested veteran, the Dolphins were then on the hook for his 2011 salary.

Then they brought back Will Allen to replace him. Yup, the guy who's been injured most of the time since 2009 and was injured most of training camp was brought back last week to replace Sapp. And guess what? One week later, he's injured again.

Brilliant thinking, personnel department!

With Davis also down, the personnel department had to go find another cornerback. They couldn't rehire Sapp, although he knows the system and he's obviously in shape and would fit right in because, you know, that would look bad. It would look like somebody made a boo-boo in hastily firing him after New England.

So they go and sign Nate Jones. They go get a former Dallas Cowboy, of course!

Jones actually was not a bad player -- around 2009, that is. In 2008-2009 he was brought to Miami as a nickel back. He served a purpose and then was allowed to leave because, frankly, he has flaws and he was paid handsomely by the Denver Broncos. It was the right decision to move on.

Except now Denver has moved on. They've apparently found someone better. And the Dolphins?

They're back to 2009's solution. You know what that tells me?

The Dolphins haven't really addressed the nickel position well enough since 2009 to avoid having to resort to the old answers. Two years have passed and they're still trying to solve problems with old answers. What were they doing the past couple of years? Why didn't the issue get resolved in two offseasons of free agency and drafts with a better, younger, more expensive player?

Why are we trying to solve old questions with old answers you've already decided weren't good enough?

This example is not the only one bothering me about the personnel department.

They draft A.J. Edds in the fourth round in 2010. Nice pick. But after he gets injured and is out for the entire season, they cut him before the 2011 season begins. The kid got no opportunity to be in a Dolphins offseason conditioning program. He didn't have the luxury of OTAs or offseason camps. He was basically brought to camp a year after reconstructive surgery and told perform or you're cut.

And he led the team in tackles in the preseason. And he was cut anyway.

And for what?

Dante Rosario.

Yup, the Dolphins cut Edds to make room for Dante Rosario. No disrespect, but a great personnel man whom I greatly respect said this to me about Rosario when the Dolphins picked him up: "Rosario sucks!"

I took it with a grain of salt because I figured the Dolphins knew what they were doing. I will not make that mistake again.

Rosario was cut by Carolina. He was cut by Denver. He was then signed by Miami. And he was cut two weeks later because they found out what the other teams and that personnel man already knew. He's not the answer for them at tight end.

By the way, speaking of tight end, I'd like to hear from the personnel department why they looked the other way all of free agency and the draft on tight end. Jeremy Shockey signed with Carolina. Zach Miller signed with Seattle. Greg Olsen was traded from Chicago to Carolina for a third round pick.

And all the time the Miami pesonnel department is wanting us to believe the Dolphins are fine at tight end? No upgrade needed? Ok, if that is your best evaluation of your situation, fine. I will defer to your expertise.

But then you throw that expertise to the four winds and once other teams start cutting tight ends, you pick them up, one after another, like a homeless person picks scraps out of a garbage can?

What? The proven guys were too good?

You had a really good feeling about Jeron Mastrud, who has zero catches in 10 NFL games?

All I can say is Charles Clay, a running back in college, better be a stud tight end.

He also better be a short-yardage stud and blocking fullback stud because the personnel department decided Lousaka Polite was expendable. Polite was excellent in the locker room. He was one of those players that fit the team's "right 53 players" outlook the past three years.

And on third-and-1, he was nails. Polite carried the ball 15 times on third-and-one or fourth-and-one last year. He converted 14 times.

This year the Dolphins are only 2 of 4 on third-and-two or less. They are only 1-for-2 on fourth and 1. So already they've blown three times more short yardage plays in two games than they did all last year handing it to Polite.

But, maybe the personnel department would argue it had the answer for a fullback. Paul Soliai!

How'd that work out against New England.

Look, the truth is the personnel department wouldn't argue anything. General Manager Jeff Ireland is not talking to the media. He hasn't spoken since the draft. I asked to speak to him this week. Nothing.

His right hand man, Brian Gaine? Hardly ever see the guy. Doesn't mean he's not around, but he is definitely a behind the scenes guy.

And that's fine. They can stay behind the curtain. But their moves?

I promise you, from this point forward I will continually put them before your eyes.

September 23, 2011

Vontae Davis out vs. Cleveland, Will Allen injured again

Pick a cliche: When it rains it pours. Or perhaps, the hits just keep on coming. Or how about kicking a man when he's down.

They all fit the Dolphins right now.

You'll remember they are winless after two games and need good news, right? It didn't come this afternoon when the team announced cornerback Vontae Davis is indeed out of the Sunday's Cleveland game with a hamstring injury.

It gets worse.

Will Allen apparently tweaked a hamstring (again) sometime between practice Thursday and the end of practice Friday and was limited in practice Friday. He is now on the injury report for the first time this week. He's listed as questionable.

Did I mention free safety Chris Clemons was limited in practice all week for the second consecutive week because he's nursing a hamstring injury? He is listed as questionable.

So where does that leave the Miami secondary?

Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll are expected to start at cornerback. Reshad Jones is expected to start at free safety. Yeremiah Bell is the starting strong safety.

Miami's nickel and dime packages get a interesting if Allen cannot play or somehow tries to play but cannot finish. Allen is the nickel cornerback. Jimmy Wilson is probably the dime cornerback.

If Allen drops out, Nate Jones would probably be the nickel cornerback. Jones was signed Tuesday.

Oy vey.

Brandon Marshall most targetted plus more Daboll video

Brandon Marshall is a very self-aware individual. He is fascinating in that regard.

He isn't a perfect person. He knows he isn't a perfect person. He knows that applies both on or off the field. Right now I want to share with you his view of his situation on the field.

Marshall leads the Dolphins with 13 catches for 218 yards. That's very good, but it could be better and Marshall knows it because as the chart below shows, the Dolphins are looking for him a ton so far this year. That's why Marshall is tied for the league lead in targets -- meaning, the number of passes thrown his way.

Top 10 Targets 2011

1t) Miles Austin – Dallas Cowboys – 24

1t) Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers – 24

1t) Brandon Marshall – Miami Dolphins – 24

4t) Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys – 23

4t) Kenny Britt – Tennessee Titans – 23

4t) Wes Welker – New England Patriots – 23

7) Mike Thomas – Jacksonville Jaguars -21

8t) Matt Forte – Chicago Bears – 20

8t) Steve Johnson – Buffalo Bills – 20

8t) Andre Johnson – Houston Texans – 20

8t) Mike Wallace -- Pittsburgh Steelers - 20.

The fact Marshall is tied for most targets is great news because it shows progress over last year when he was sometimes lost in the offense. But getting so many targets while being tied only for 18th with 13 catches is not good news for the Miami receiver.

He knows the wider the gulf between targets and actual catches means something wrong is going on between the time the ball leaves the quarterback and arrives where he is.

"Last year was the first year that I wasn’t the most targeted receiver," Marshall said this week. "It’s always been that way and the thing being the most targeted receiver is good, but you want that ratio of completion percentage to go up so you’re targeted 180 something times a year, which I’ve been since I’ve been in the league means nothing if you’re only catching 50 percent of those balls.

"So we want to see that ratio change a little bit and be more efficient and effective when the ball comes my way whether it’s me catching the ball or throws, me being put in better situations."

So what is the ideal target ratio in Marshall's opinion?

“I’m not sure right now," he said. "I would like to be up in the 80s if possible, but I don’t know. That’s a stat that I have kept my eye on in the past and never liked where it was so I would like to see it go up a little bit.”

Don't misunderstand. Marshall is fine with the amount of targets right now. He merely wants to increase the number of catches. He definitely is not complaining.

“Wow, that would say a lot about me if I were complaining about the targets I’m getting right now, but I wish the ball would come my way every time," Marshall said. "But then that ratio would probably drop a little bit. We have guys like (Anthony) Fasano, we got (Davone) Bess, (Brian) Hartline, that we can get the ball to and win."


Yesterday, I shared with you Brian Daboll passionately discussing the need to improve the Miami red zone offense. Today, I want to share with you his views of getting both Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas in the game at the same time.

And, you'll notice, he neither confirms nor denies the possibility the Dolphins might eventually run a Wildcat type formation once in a while. 

One more thing: Yes, I sit in the front row whenever I can so I can share these videos with you. And Daboll notices. As you'll see.


September 22, 2011

Brian Daboll on red zone, JT on kicking @ss

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has one glowing-in-neon issue with his unit and that, obviously, is Miami's red zone offense.

Yes, the Dolphins have been in the red zone a bunch so far this season -- 10 times in two games. That's very good. But they have scored only six times in those trips and that's bad. The 60 percent scoring rate is tied for 31st in the NFL.

The stat is important because the Dolphins are searching for a win and wins normally come down the highway of more points. So the topic of improving the red zone offense is something of a passion now for Daboll. And this video of Daboll speaking to reporters today makes that plain:

Did you catch that last part? No, not the part about the Colt McCoy biography. The part about Charles Clay.

Clay, Miami's rookie tight end/fullback, has not played yet this season as he's been recovering from a hamstring injury. But that might change this week. If he is active, and I believe he will be, Clay will have a package built for him.

Look for it.

You guys will remember I can show you only a limited amount of video. But audio? I can give you tons of unlimited sound.

I present to you today's Jason Taylor's press conference with the media.

He discussed his stance on where the team is. He talked about his disappointment that his talk about upgrading the team's practice habits, which I wrote about in Tuesday's Miami Herald, became public. (Sorry big guy, but news is news.) Taylor also made a very, very interesting point on what he thinks is going to happen this weekend in Cleveland:

"I always have a good feeling," Taylor said. "I believe we're going to win every game. And I believe we're going to get in this airplane Saturday and go up to Cleveland and kick somebody's ass."

For the Dolphins sake, that somebody should probably be wearing a Browns jersey and helmet.

The full audio:

Download Taylor

Coaching hot seat needs to chill until after season

In two of the three newspapers that regularly cover the Miami Dolphins, today's editions include opinion pieces on how coach Tony Sparano is on the hot seat.

One treatment, in this publication, cites a friend of owner Stephen Ross as saying the owner is unhappy with the team -- join the crowd, Mr. Billionaire. The piece also quotes the mystery friend as saying Ross believes the team is not holding up its end.

(Hopefully when Ross promises to forever stop selling Jets shirts in his own team store, stops scheduling Florida Gator Lovefests in the stadium the University of Miami leases from him, and actually shows up on a week day to work around his team rather than just parachuting in on game day, we'll be able to say he's holding up his end.)

Anyway, the other opinion piece in The Palm Beach Post makes the point that if the Dolphins are 0-4 at the bye week -- which would assume losses at Cleveland this weekend and at San Diego the next, then Ross should fire Sparano. And hire Mike Nolan.


Where to begin? OK, how's this:


I know it is not the popular opinion. I know that even on this Dolphins fan forum, many of the team's supporters won't agree. But firing Sparano without letting him finish what he's started is exactly the wrong thing to do.

First, let's address this from a practical standpoint. History says that changing coaches midstream in a season solves absolutely nothing. Quick, tell me what NFL team in the past decade has fired its coach during a season and solved its problems well enough to make the playoffs?

Yeah, I can't think of any, either.

Secondly, who do you want to replace Sparano at the midpoint in a season? Jon Gruden is busy. So is Bill Cowher. Rob Ryan, whose name is making the rounds lately, is busy as well. Elite guys like Jeff Fisher don't take over teams at midseason.

So that means the Dolphins would have to go inside the organization for the solution. Yes, cough, that sounds like, cough, a solution.

You want Mike Nolan to succeed as coach? The same Mike Nolan whose defense is ranked last in the NFL? The same Mike Nolan whose best thinking was to ask Benny Sapp to cover Wes Welker man-to-man? I don't think so.

Yes, Nolan did fine work with the Dolphins last season. I get that logic. Sparano did fine work in hiring Nolan last season and took the team to the playoffs in 2008. So, I imagine you get that logic.

What else you got? Didn't think so.

The Dolphins are indeed 0-2 and there's nothing good about that. But the truth is they lost to New England. The Patriots are a Super Bowl contender. They lost to the Texans. That team is expected to win the AFC South. Disappointing? Sure.

Devastating? No.

The Dolphins play Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, Washington, Oakland and others that they can and should beat this season. They will face up the Jets as they always do. Same with Buffalo. Yes, they have to upset clubs such as Philadelphia, the Giants to salvage a playoff berth.

But that is possible. You're going to say replacing the coach now and going with someone else will make any of this more probable?

Then there is this: Many of you have continually hoped out loud the Dolphins would not fare well this season so they can draft a franchise quarterback. I'm not on board with such thinking. But for those of you that want to "Suck for Luck" should probably want the Dolphins to continue their current course.

I don't agree with that thinking, but that is out there.

Look, Sparano and his assistants and players and front office will be evaluated after this season is over. That's how it should be. That's fair and right. But to pull the rug out now? Or in two weeks?

What will that resolve? It is change for change's sake.  

September 21, 2011

An insider's view of the Soliai-Dolphins negotiations

The deadline came and went on Tuesday but the Dolphins and nose tackle Paul Soliai were not able to reach agreement on an contract extension that would have effectively replaced the franchise tag number on the big fella, helped the Dolphins clear cap space, locked the player up for at least three more years, and settled an issue both sides will now have to revisit in the future.

It didn't get done.

Solia, who is making $12.476 million this season with every bit of it counting against the cap, cannot sign an extension now. He can become a free agent at the end of the season unless the Dolphins use the franchise tag on him again. Putting that tag on Soliai in 2012 would cost Miami a whopping $14.971 million -- crazy money for one year.

So why didn't the sides come together?

Well, this morning on my radio show, Armando and the Amigo on 640-AM in South Florida, agent David Canter broke what he termed as a self-imposed media silence on the matter and peeled back intricate details of the negotiation from his viewpoint. (I'd love to get it also from the Dolphins viewpoint, but I dropped my Iphone in the pool so I've been without ability to send or receive calls or texts for a week now. I also doubt the team would be much interested in exchanging either phone calls or texts on this matter with me anyway.)

But I digress.

Canter said on my show that he and the team were, "basically in completely different mindsets" as it relates to the negotiations. That's bad.

I asked him how far apart he was with the team and after asking how far Earth is from one of the outer planets, he got much more specific:

Ultimately, Canter said, the Dolphins wanted to pay Soliai "$8 million and change" per season to extend him to 2014. Their offer included $6-$8 million in "new guaranteed money." Understand Miami's thinking here. The team obviously viewed the $12.4 million this year that is guaranteed as part of the overall guaranteed money on a four-year deal.

Canter didn't see it that way. He was initially asking for $24 million in new guaranteed money before lowering that to around $18 million in new guaranteed money for three more years beyond this one. That would be on top of the $12.4 million his client is making this year.

So while the Dolphins were offering Vince Wilfork money, Canter was asking for a deal that falls above the three-year, $27 million contract extension Cleveland nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin signed on Sept. 11. Rubin got $18 million in guaranteed money for three more years and is locked up through 2014.

The problem? The Dolphins were willing to give $18-$20 million as the total guarantee for four years. Canter wanted to treat this year at the club's current structure -- with $12.4 million guaranteed --  and then get $18 million in guarantees for the next three years, just like Rubin got.

Contrary to a published report, neither side was ever talking about the Haloti Ngata deal the Pro Bowl player signed with Balitmore this week. That deal is worth a reported $61 million for five years -- over $12 million per season. That deal pays Ngata $27 million guaranteed money this year and $13 million in guaranteed money next year. Ngata is now signed through 2015.

"The Dolphins were more interested in getting us to take $40 million over five years for Paul Soliai," Canter said. "And that's a big divide, unfortunately."

Canter said the club made him the "Vince Wilfork contract" offer several weeks ago. He said he responded with a counter-offer but didn't hear back for a long time. As the deadline approached, he said he called general manager Jeff Ireland and capologist Dawn Aponte and the sides haggled back and forth.

"I made massive concessions," Canter said, "down at least $5-$7 million in guaranteed money and overall structure and they never once upped their original offer one dollar."

But ultimately the Dolphins and agent weren't able to get past the enormous gulf in guaranteed money they were discussing.

Don't ask me who is right here. Both sides obviously think they are. Both sides can make compelling cases why they are being fair and right.

The bottom line is Soliai may well be playing for another team next year or playing for nearly $15 million for Miami if the club franchises him again. If the Dolphins franchise Soliai, they clearly admit being wrong because for a mere $3 million more in guarantees they could have had him for two more years beyond 2012.

If Miami doesn't use the franchise tag again, Soliai will possibly walk.

Might Soliai get less on the open market than he's asking. "That's possible," Canter said. "We're willing to take that gamble and live with whatever happens." But Canter knows someone will sign Soliai. 

For now, meanwhile, nothing got done. And that should disappoint both sides.

Dolphins close but not quite there in the red zone

I was watching Monday Night Countdown on ESPN the other evening when Trent Dilfer and Steve Young began talking about Sam Bradford and his struggles in the red zone. And, of course, I brought the conversation home to South Florida.

To Chad Henne.

To the Miami Dolphins' offense.

And to their red zone problems so far this season.

"You don't make your money in between the 20s," Dilfer said of playing QB. "You make your money from the 20 in against pressure."

Young, a Hall of Famer, agreed.

"The easiest thing to do is go between the 20s [but] inside the 20s is graduate work," he said. " .. you got to realize that for a lot of players that's the final step for them -- how to put it in the end zone. Because nobody is really ever open in the red zone. It's not just against the blitz but also zone.

"A lot of times young quarterbacks will say, 'Read the defense, do a nice job, drop the ball down, and kick a field goal.' And after about 16 field goals in a row you realize that's not the job. You have to throw somebody open."

Again, they were talking about Sam Bradford. But it all applies to Henne and his play so far in 2011. He's had relatively high success moving the team up and down the field between the 20s. But inside the 20s, the Dolphins are ranked No. 31 in the NFL with an unacceptable 60 percent scoring percentage.

Henne has to learn to throw receivers open. He has to learn to make precise, accurate throws and make them with anticipation -- something he's struggled to do at times. Against the Texans, Henne completed 3 of 8 passes inside the opponent 20 yard line for 16 yards and 1 TD. Not very good.

So there is that.

But ...

Miami's struggles in the red zone are not all Henne's doing. Not by a long shot. The Dolphins have struggled the first two games to rush the ball when it counts most. That is very frustrating.

And Dolphins' receivers haven't exactly helped Henne, either. No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall has had two opportunities in the end zone that have hurt his team because he had two drops of potential touchdowns -- one against New England and one against Houston.

One of those at first to me seemed like a late throw by Henne. I said as much on the live blog. But I was wrong. Looking at the throw in the following series of screen shots sent to me by reader Justin Reader, it is obvious Henne threw an amazing pass to Marshall from the 16 yard line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

Miami was trailing 16-10 at the time. Matched against former Dolphins DB Jason Allen, Marshall is in man-to-man coverage:

Marshall drop 1
Marshall beats Allen (no surprise) and the ball is in the air with about eight yards to spare between the players and the end line.

Marshall drop 2
Ball's almost there. Five yards to spare between players and the end line. Allen is watching helplessly.

Marshall drop 3
Marshall's got it. The ball is in his grasp. Now he must hold on and get both feet in bounds. He's got about four yards to work with.

Marshall drop 4
Still looking good. He's got three yards to secure the ball and get his feet in bounds. Allen? Helpless.

Marshall drop 5
This is now looking like a TD. Just hold on, Brandon Marshall!

Marshall drop 6
Whoops! Ball is no longer in Marshall's grasp. He basically flipped it away as he was trying to secure it.

Marshall drop 7
Yup, this is not going well. Now we have to hope Allen doesn't catch the rebound for an interception.

Marshall drop 8
Incomplete pass. Marshall had it in his grasp. He would have had room to tap his feet in. It could have, should have been a touchdown that put the Dolphins ahead 17-16.

Instead Dan Carpenter had to kick a 34-yard field goal to make the score, 16-13 in Houston's favor.

Marshall completes this catch, the game changes. The mood changes. Momentum shifts. Miami's red zone results change.

Instead, I'm writing about the team's red zone problems. Bottom line:

Somebody's got to make a play. Miami's playmakers have got to make a play. If they don't, we shouldn't call them playmakers any more.

September 20, 2011

... Then the other shoe drops on roster-churn Tuesday

Yes, Igor Olshansky fills the need at DE. But what about the defensive back discussed in the last post?

Re-enter Nate Jones.

The Dolphins have signed Jones, who played on the team from 2008-2009, to fill that spot. Jones was cut by Denver earlier this season.

His addition is interesting because it speaks to the uncertainty the team has over the hamstring injury to cornerback Vontae Davis.

If Davis cannot play against Cleveland, the Dolphins will pick among Will Allen or Nolan Carroll as the starter. And then they'll decide whom to play at nickel between the Carroll-Allen non-starter and Jones.

To make room for all of today's predictable moves, the Dolphins cut both Larry Johnson and TE Dante Rosario.

So in summary: Add Nate Jones and Igor Olshansky. Delete Larry Johnson and Dante Rosario from your collective minds. All of the additions are patchwork meant to fill in holes. This isn't make-the-team-better stuff. This is more let's-not-let-the-team-get-worse stuff.

Onward to Wednesday's start of weekly preparations.