Normally, when Tony Sparano and Phillip Merling have had conversations or meetings, it hasn't been good for Merling.
Merling's been over his weight at times in his Dolphins career. And he's had to meet with coach.
Merling's been late at times. And he's had to meet with coach.
Merling's been suspended. And he's had to meet with coach.
Merling's been acting entitled at practice. And he's had to meet with coach.
Today, Merling met with coach again. But this time the cringe that might have started forming on Merling's face as coach approached was not warranted. This meeting was one in which Sparano tried to encourage the Miami defensive lineman.
"I talked to him today," Sparano said. " ... I told him you got to keep swinging ..."
Translation: Keep trying. Don't get down.
Sparano doesn't want to lose Merling even though Merling has been somewhat lost this season. Merling's been inactive six of 11 games and wasn't active at all in October. But recently, because the Dolphins had injury and performance problems with Igor Olshansky before cutting him and because Tony McDaniel was late to a team meeting and de-activated against Buffalo, Merling has gotten back on the field.
And he might continue to see playing time as long as he stays ahead of recently re-signed Ryan Baker in the rotation.
I cannot tell you everything Sparano said to Merling in their quick little confab. But I understand the reason. The coach needs Merling. And he needs Merling to play better.
The truth is Merling, in a contract year given he is in the final year of his rookie deal, hasn't been good enough. He has three tackles this season. He had one each in games against Houston, Buffalo and Dallas.
The hope among Dolphins coaches is that the production increases. Otherwise another meeting might be in the offing.