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71 posts from August 2012

August 24, 2012

Live blog of Dolphins vs. Falcons (plus pregame info) here

Guard Artis Hicks is out with a neck injury. John Jerry starts at right guard, as I reported yesterday. Kevin Burnett (back) is not playing so Gary Guyton starts for him. And as I previously read on this blog, Karlos Dansby (knee) also isn't playing while Austin Spitler takes his spot.

The rest of the Dolphins scratches tonight:

David Garrard (knee), Kelcie McCray (foot), Kevyn Scott (leg), Jonas Gray (knee), Burnett (back), Dansby (knee), Lydon Murtha (foot), Tony McDaniel (leg) and Brian Hartline (leg).

The Murtha injury is interesting in that he missed much of last season with a foot injury. It is unknown if it's the same foot but this is not good.

Vontae Davis is scheduled to play so you can now totally discoun the idea he's going to be traded in the next day or so.

And finally, we have a live blog going this evening. I'll meet you in the comments section at kickoff.

Dansby to miss second preseason game, eyes Sept. 9

The Dolphins defense, particularly the starting unit, is expecting a major rebound from the first two preseason games. After those games, coach Joe Philbin made the point that the unit basically hasn't stopped anyone yet in the preseason.

Middle linebacker is supposed to be a major cog in that unit. He's its highest-paid player. He's in the middle of everything. He's barking the play-calls. He's supposed to make the most tackles.

But this preseason has become something of a calm before the storm for Dansby because after playing in the opener, he missed practices leading up to the Carolina game, sat out the game, and missed work again this week. And Dansby, still nursing a knee injury, is going to be out tonight.

Indeed, the Dolphins and Dansby are eyeing the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Houston as his return to the lineup. He may practice before then but play tonight or the preseason-finale against Dallas? That's not the priority.

That means Gary Guyton and Austin Spitler and Jason Trusnik may all see time in the middle as the Dolphins continue looking for a suitable backup middle linebacker for Dansby.

Tannehill doesn't have ticket buyers excited ... yet

The Dolphins announced first-round rookie draft pick Ryan Tannehill had won the starting quarterback job on Monday. And the lines have been out the door and around the block at the Dolphins ticket office ever since.

No. Not really.

I'm told ticket sales have been steady but there has been no appreciable surge of ticket sales since the Dolphins got themselves a new quarterback. Now, folks in the club's business offices are hopeful that Tannehill can eventually show so much promise on the field that fans truly get excited about the team again and indeed do flood the ticket windows.

But Dolphins fans, who have been through 16 other starting quarterbacks since Dan Marino, apparently want to see the product perform before they plunk down money to, well, see the product perform. This is not a faith exercise anymore for them.

And that is the reason tonight's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons is important to the Dolphins on multiple levels. Yes, from a football standpoint it is a priority for Tannehill to reward his coaches' decision to start him by playing well. It will make the entire football team feel good about its signal-caller.

But as the Dolphins are a for-profit business the club is also hoping Tannehill shows up bigtime so that fans react, so that the excitement that has been lacking returns, so that ticket sales pick up. "A 70-yard bomb on the first series would be nice," is how one club source put it.

Amen!

Let's face it, football isn't the same when the stadium has wide swaths of empty seats. Fans don't have as good a time and the team doesn't enjoy as strong a home field advantage, which as everyone agrees, is important. In Miami it can be downright depressing when opposing fans arrive in legions and the home fans can't muster the same type of enthusiasm or noise to make life difficult for the opposing offense.

The Dolphins need an injection of good news throughout the organization. They need fans to get excited enough about the team to actually buy tickets and attend games. That will help the team win at home. But it's a Catch-22.

The fans aren't going to come out to help the team win until the team wins.

Maybe if Ryan Tannehill plays exceedingly well tonight, it can be a first step in that cycle. That makes his performance tonight important to the organization on multiple levels.

August 23, 2012

Is Vontae Davis on the trade block?

The NFL is aflutter tonight because the Indianapolis Colts are working on a big trade and, of course, no one really knows the specifics but fans across the league are speculating it involves their team.

Miami fans being no different, there is much speculation the Dolphins might be involved. And that speculation further includes the idea that Vontae Davis is the player the Dolphins have on the trade block.

Before we go that far afield let me share the facts:

Indy owner Jim Irsay tweeted Thursday, "SERIOUS TRADE WINDS Swirling! We're talking given (sic) up a high pick for SERIOUS Vet/Starter! ...these deals often crumble n don't reach completion"

Then the Colts' colorful owner added, "Colts fans.. Your GM Mr. Grigson isn't afraid to roll the dice n aggressively improve OUR Indiananpolis Colts n my check book stands ready."

Well, the Colts are in serious need of offensive line help. They are also known to be needing cornerback help. So Dallas cornerback Michael Jenkins comes to mind. Except the Cowboys, through sources, are denying Jenkins is going to be dealt.

And Davis comes to mind because he lost his starting job to Richard Marshall this training camp when he came to camp overweight and out of shape. Davis is back in shape now, but he has still not been able to regain his starting job. And, if you have any memory, you know Davis has a history for being suspended -- having suffered that fate once last year when he showed up late and hung over to a practice after a night of drinking and also in 2010 when he was similarly kept out of the starting lineup but got into the game in the second quarter for breaking a team rule.

Aside from that, it must be said, Davis is not a star. He's a roller coaster -- sometimes very good, sometimes bad. He averages three interceptions and 10 passes defensed per season.

None of this means Davis is about to be dealt. That must be said. But I have an uneasy  feeling about this. Call it instinct.

I did try to reach out to sources to either confirm or deny that Davis is on the block. No one returned a text. Not a one. This, by the way, is rare. The only time this happened in the past 12 months is when I asked if Chad Johnson would be released. Obviously, no one wanted to say anything until the player was actually cut. Afterward, I got confirmation texts on the topic.

All I'm saying is I'm getting the silent treatment on this topic and that raises flags for me.

[Update: At 1:56 AM I got a text message back from a team source. The source was aware of what is being said about Davis and called it, "rumors." So that suggests this is not serious.]

Having said all this, I believe we'll get a very, very clear message on whether Davis is indeed on the block Friday evening when the Dolphins play the Falcons. If Davis does not play you can just about bet the Dolphins are trying to deal the former first-round draft pick.

So would I be surprised if Davis is traded? At the risk of sounding naive, yes I would. He's only 24 years old. He's a kid. There is reason to be optimistic he might mature in the next couple of years and become the player his gifts suggest he could be.

He is also cheap. Davis is signed through 2013 and because he's still on his rookie contract, he'll be making only $957,500 this season and $1,136,250 next year. That is a bargain for a starting cornerback. That is a bargain for a No. 3 cornerback.

And ...

Even if Davis is a failure as a starter, the value of a No. 3 cornerback in the NFL is huge. That player is on the field anywhere 50 to 65 percent of the time in today's pass-happy league. I would suppose the Dolphins would be more comfortable with Davis in the game than Nolan Carroll, who is a nice player, but hardly a lockdown cornerback with the same potential as Davis.

The only way this is a great idea from a purely football standpoint -- off-field and drinking issues notwithstanding -- is if the Dolphins get a first-round pick in return for Davis. That's what they paid for him. A second rounder? Yes, the Colts may not be a very good team and might again draft quite high next year.

But it's simply bad form to continue giving up players that cost high picks in exchange for lower picks. That's what the Dolphins did in trading Brandon Marshall for two third-round picks after giving up two second-round picks for him.

So getting a second or third-round pick for Davis after drafting him in the first round would feel wrong. There is, of course, a caveat to that. What if the Dolphins could get a second-round pick and tight end Coby Fleener or perhaps a wide reciever.

Vontae Davis for a second-rounder and T.Y. Hilton?

I might do that.

 

Dolphins tight ends need to get better

A football team is like a series of links fastened together as a chain. When one link is weak, it weakens the entire chain.

Think of that when considering the Dolphins offense. And now tell me which is the weak link?

Well, the wide receivers, right?

It's not just me saying it. Coach Joe Philbin has made the point that he's not completely comfortable with the group. General Manager Jeff Ireland has said the group has several No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 receivers but he's yet to see someone step up as a No. 1 or No. 2.

So that being established, the receivers are the weak link. And the problem is that affects the other links. And the link I see that could probablly be considered acceptable if the receivers were strong but now gets scrutiny is lacking because the receivers are lacking is the tight end position.

Miami's tight ends have potential. But so far that potential is unmet.

Anthony Fasano is today the best tight end on the team and we all know he is never going to be mistaken for Jason Witten or Rob Gronkowski. He's is a good blocker and would be fine as the second TE behind a dynamic pass-catcher that can threaten the middle of the field and dominate in the red zone.

But the Dolphins don't have that.

"Fasano is very steady," Philbin said. "You kind of know what we have with Anthony. He’s a guy that has good experience, he’s a good in-line blocker, he’s got good hands."

The problem is that while the Dolphins believe they have talent behind Fasano and potential behind Fasano, the production of the players behind Fasano falls off a cliff.

Charles Clay is developing but he was simply terrible the first two weeks of practice. He's been better lately but it's a long way between better and really good and consistent.

"I think Charles Clay has quietly had a good camp," Philbin said. "Early on there were some things that we weren’t totally fired up about, but I think he has really developed the last couple of weeks. The last two or three weeks he has really stepped his game up. We’re going to need him to do that obviously through the course of the year."

The Dolphins drafted Michael Egnew to be an Aaron Hernandez type of player. They want him to tear down the seam of the secondary and make it his personal pass-catching playground. Instead, he's had a terrible first training camp and has been equally bad in games. He's dropped passes, missed assignments and generally not played very fast. He has what I call the thousand yard stare, like he is overmatched with what's going on.

"I said to Mike Egnew on the field today that I thought I saw some progress with him on the tape," Philbin said this week. "Even some more with him blocking wise, where we knew he was going to be behind the curve due to his experience in college, but there are some signs there."

The Dolphins also have Jeron Mastrud and Les Brown in camp. But let's face it, Mastrud is like Fasano except not as productive, not as good a blocker and not as experienced. The team wants to upgrade from him in the best case scenario. If he's on the team, something went wrong with Egnew or Clay.

Brown? He's done. He couldn't block when he arrived in camp and he still cannot. That would be somewhat acceptable if he was a dynamic playmaker in the passing game. He is not. He gets open sometimes but the speed simply does not translate consistently enough. He should strike fear into the hearts of linebackers covering him. But they stay with him.

And I believe the Dolphins are ready to end the experiment. There will be cuts on Monday and I would expect Brown to be among them. He certainly is not making the 53-man roster. It's a shame because I love the idea of a TE that runs 4.4 in the 40 yard dash. (I wouldn't mind re-signing Brown to the practice squad and seeing if he can develop over the next month and give signs of hope.)

"Mastrud is very steady and doing a nice job, and Les, Les is learning day-by-day," Philbin said. "It’s a good group and we’re going to need those guys. We’d like to be a versatile as we can be and get different personnel groups and use them in different spots, so I think they’re capable. They’re smart guys, and they’re giving us a good work ethic, so I think we’re going to be in good shape."

I don't.

You see, getting back to the chain, the lack of dynamic receivers begs for the Dolphins to find passing yards from the tight ends. If they were great, the need at receiver would be very well hidden. Look at the New England Patriots. Aside from Wes Welker, they haven't had any great receivers on the field for a couple of years. But they've had excellent tight end play from Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. So the problem at receiver is covered up a bit. (Obviously the Patriots realized this and signed Brandon Lloyd this offseason).

But the Dolphins have neither the dynamic receiver nor the dynamic tight end. They have one "steady" tight end and two or three projects.

That's rough.

The hope, obviously, is for Clay to suddenly explode with the advent of the regular season. If he can learn the offense to the point it is instinct to him, I believe he has the potential to be the answer. The Dolphins need that to happen.

They need to tighten up that weakened chain.

August 22, 2012

Eric Steinback retires: The good and bad

For weeks we've discussed how the much-anticipated competition for the starting right guard spot between Artis Hicks and Eric Steinbach never materialized. Steinbach couldn't muster a performance worthy of giving him first-team repetitions and he certainly couldn't be asked to do that at a position the longtime left guard simply has never played.

Well, Steinbach was so unhappy with his body's ability to come back from last year's injury-riddled season that he up and retired today. He told coach Joe Philbin who passed along the message to the media.

Steinbach, as we saw on Hard Knocks, had been mulling retirement for about a week now.

So much for adding him as an acorn.

What does it mean?

It's great news for John Jerry. Out of shape and overweight as he is, he's practically assured a spot on the roster now. Simply, Jerry is the team's third-best guard at the moment and has a chance to crack the starting lineup for the regular-season opener. It makes Nate Garner more valuable, too. And if rookie Chandler Burden shows something in practice and perhaps late in Friday night's game against Atlanta, coaches might continue to consider him for a roster spot.

"We're still evaluating that position," coach Joe Philbin said. "We'll see ... I'm sure we'll be fine."

Part of the evaluation is starting Jerry Friday against the Falcons. Mike Pouncey said today that was the plan. I can confirm to you that's currently the plan.

The Dolphins will keep anywhere between eight and 10 offensive linemen.

Meanwhile, this is not great news for the Miami personnel department. They plucked Steinbach off the scrap heap as a gamble. Everyone gets that. But the perception -- true or not, thanks to Hard Knocks -- is that they signed Steinbach over Braylon Edwards.

In the first Hard Knocks episode we see both Edwards and Steinbach coming in for a workout and the club let Edwards leave town while signing Steinbach. We see the Dolphins basically evaluate two players and pick one who's skills had basically evaporated.

That's not a good look regardless of whether the perception is in fact a reflection of what actually happened.

Look, I get on the personnel department just like anyone else. If you don't believe me, check my column in today's newspaper that complains about Miami's lack of playmakers to help Ryan Tannehill.

But I have to raise the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this decision might not have been made in the context of being able to sign only one of two players and the Dolphins picking Steinbach. If that was the case, it was indeed a swing-and-miss.

But leave open the possibilty that it wasn't. Let's be fair.  

August 21, 2012

Hard Knocks episode 3 review right here

A pretty uninspiring, unremarkable and somewhat uneventful Hard Knocks tonight, folks.

Last week was stunning and brilliant for capturing the Chad Johnson meeting with Joe Philbin, for the insight of the David Garrard injury, for the drama of Mike Sherman practically going postal on underperforming players in that now memorable team meeting.

This week? Eh.

Joe Philbin opens the show channeling his inner public relations maven. He tells the players in a meeting that they don't have to agree with decisions he or his coaches or general manager Jeff Ireland make. But by all means don't actually complain about those decisions publicly.

"You're not going to agree with every decision that Jeff (Ireland) makes or the input I have in it, but ultimately, you have to be supportive," he says.

We find out this week that Reggie Bush is a hard worker and works hard after practice. We find out that rookie RT Jonathan Martin had a tough game against Carolina. We find out that John Jerry has been overweight since the first day of training camp and has struggled in practice.

"A player descending fast and I was a fan of his in minicamp," Sherman says.

"You watch the tape on Jerry, he's a catastrophe on tape today," adds offensive line coach JimTurner.

The truth is Jerry played relatively well against Carolina. He was probably the best lineman in his group. We got about 40 seconds of that upside part of the story.

It is interesting that left guard Eric Steinbach, who missed all of last season with a back injury, visits with Philbin and the player admits "the product I thought I had and you were bringing me in for is not exactly showing out there."

Steinbach says he doesn't want to bring up the word "retire," but in so doing, of course, he's bringing it up. Look, Eric Steinbach is going to be hard-pressed to make the club. He's struggling. He's great to have in the locker room. He's experienced. But can he get his body to do what it once did?

Not so far.

By the way, I love Sherman. He's the only coach that apparently recognizes the obvious struggles of the wide receiver corps. He talks about someone stepping forward. He talks about someone making plays against Carolina to unbunch what is obviously a struggling group.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is similarly honest as he's calling the game from the Carolina pressbox. As the Panthers are shredding his unit, he pounds the desk in front of him and yells, "What the hell are we doing?"

Later he says, "We're going to find out about these guys tonight because the way this group is playing, there's going to be spots to be won."

The episode wastes our time trying to convince us that the Plantation hotel where the team is staying during camp is somewhere near Miami Beach. In truth, it's about 40 miles away. We seeJake Long at home eating a meal with his wife. We see tight end Les Brown, who will be cut in the coming weeks, and his girlfriend at an airboat ride facility somewhere in the Everglades.

We see quarterback coach Zac Taylor on Sunday tell Matt Moore that Ryan Tannehill has won the starting quarterback job. We see Tannehll in the same meeting have pretty much the same reaction in learning hes got the job as Moore had in learning he doesn't have the job.

When Philbin meets with Moore the coach says he can't "put my finger" on the reason Tannehill is the pick. Moore, showing tons of grace, says, "I gotcha." 

Salary cap, circumstances may force Garrard exit

You already know what the Dolphins are planning to do with Ryan Tannehill so that's yesterday's news. But the question now becomes what the team will do with its remaining quarterbacks.

Will the team keep all four -- Tannehill, David Garrard, Matt Moore and Pat Devlin -- or will someone have to go?

It must be said that Miami could very well keep all four, assuming all the pieces fall into place. Those pieces include Garrard accepting a backup role, Garrard getting healthy, Pat Devlin going to practice squad and no other team offering a trade for either Garrard or Moore.

But logic, financial ramifications and circumstances may lead the Dolphins to jettison one of the two veterans.

Let us examine the scenario.

First, accept the fact Joe Philbin and his staff are comfortable with three quarterbacks. He has said as much so I take him at his word. Also accept the fact the Dolphins are in a relatively awful salary cap situation.

How awful?

The Dolphins are in the bottom five NFL teams on cap space. The club's cap space hovers between $2 million and $2.31 million, depending on the week. Last week, that was third-worst in the NFL with only the Steelers and Lions having less cap space than the Dolphins.

Now, how a team without a proven franchise quarterback and a lack of bigtime playmakers can find itself in such a compromising cap situation, I haven't the answer. But that doesn't change the facts.

Understanding Miami's tough cap situation, you now understand one reason why Jake Long's much-anticipated contract extension hasn't been signed. And you hopefully understand that some of the roster decisions the team is about to make may be driven, at least in part, based on salaries.

Said another way, if the team can decide between two relatively equal players and one is making considerably less than the other, the more expensive guy is more likely to go.

That brings us to Moore and Garrard. Keeping both is a salary cap luxury. Moore is scheduled to make $2.25 million in base salary this year. Garrard is scheduled to make $2.75 million in base salary. Cutting or trading one would make sense. The Dolphins would lower the price they're paying for backup quarterbacks, which now promises to be at a relatively expensive $6.5 million in salary cap space for both players.

Most teams allocate anywhere between $3-$5 million in cap space for the backup quarterback. So you see the Dolphins are way above that.

And how does the team get down to a more acceptable number if it is looking to clear some cap space? It either cuts, trades or in Garrard's case perhaps negotiates an injury settlement, with one of the players.

Where would that leave the Dolphins?

With one veteran backup and a developmental player (Devlin) either on the roster or more likely on the practice squad. (Devlin is eligible for the practice squad.)

So which backup would the Dolphins prefer?

Moore.

He is healthy. He is good in the locker room and in the quarterback room. He is accepting of the fact he has lost the quarterback competition to Ryan Tannehill even while he feels "frustrated" that he didn't play better this training camp and preseason.

Moore also has a history of having helped the Dolphins to a 6-3 finish last season as the step-in starter once Chad Henne was injured.

Why not Garrard?

He's injured. He's not going to be ready for the start of the season. He's the more expensive player. And there is a question of how accepting he would be of being the backup, given that he was the starter when he got hurt and his stated goal is to once again start in the NFL.

With Garrard, the Dolphins also have to consider that he is developing something of an injury history and reputation. He was out all of last year because of a back injury. While he says that is completely well, he hasn't taken a hit since then so questions remain. And even without taking a hit, Garrard injured his knee. He's also not exactly ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation.

All of this raises questions as to how long Garrard could hold down the proverbial fort if, say, Tannehill is injured or benched and the backup must play for extended weeks.

So while a healthy Garrard may be a better quarterback than Moore, he's not necessarily the better option to be kept now.

One more thing: This all would all have to play out before the first week of the season. That's the timetable because as vested veterans, both Garrard and Moore will have their full base salaries guaranteed for the year if they're on the roster for the start of the first regular-season week.

Speaking of salary cap space, check out the numbers below that show the bottom 10 NFL teams. They are from last week, which were the latest numbers available to me.

32) Steelers: $2.16 M 

31) Lions: $2.19 M 

30) Dolphins: $2.31 M 

29) Chargers: $2.87 M 

28) Falcons: $2.93 M 

27) Rams: $2.94 M 

26) Ravens $3.123 M

25) Giants: $3.125 M 

24) 49ers: $3.24 M 

23) Texans: $3.30 M 

August 20, 2012

Philbin, Dolphins make the right call on Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins starting quarterback for the regular-season opener on Sept. 9, coach Joe Philbin announced this afternoon.

And after the coach talked about it being a "close" call and saying it was made based on tape study and gut and discussions among, coaches Philbin did not take a bow.

But he should have.

The Dolphins coach made a hard decision. Made a timely decision. And, most importantly, made the right decision.

In choosing Tannehill over Moore, Philbin picked the quarterback of the future to take over now. So that's good. The future -- meaning whatever Tannehill will ultimately become as a player -- will get here sooner, we all expect. Furthermore, Philbin made the right call for now in that he picked the better player now.

That's right, if you've been following along on this blog or on my twitter handle or on TV, you've heard me make the point that Tannehill has outplayed Moore since he arrived for training camp.

I recognize this decision is not a slam dunk. Tannehill, as rookies often do, might struggle and the cynics will make it seem as if it was wrong to pick the rookie. But that would be the short-sighted view.

Understand that this season is not about Tannehill taking the Dolphins to the playoffs. This season is aobut making Tannehill better, giving him the experience to ultimately succeed in the future.

Peyton Manning didn't light it up as a rookie. Neither did Steve Young or Brett Favre. But they laid a foundation for what they ultimately became in their rookie years. If the Dolphins had waited until next year with Tannehill, we'd be a year behind where we're likely to find ourselves by the end of this year.

So get on with it, I say.

And a warning: When Tannehill struggles and he will, manage your expectations. Manage your commentary. He's a rookie. He started 19 games in college. He's got a lot to learn, even by his own admission.

So understand the circumstances. This is not Tannehill's make or break year. This is, however, his foundation laying year.

It's clear Tannehill should be the starter

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has been deliberate and coy about his quarterback decision this preseason. He doesn't give a lot of clues. And he has taken a systematic approach to getting the right player on the field with the first-team offense.

This week appears to be no different. Philbin wanted to name a starter for Friday's Atlanta game this week and that's very important because that player is probably going to be the starting QB in the regular-season opener against Houston.

But Philbin has tapped the brakes on the idea of making a final decision.

"We may have a decision soon, but we may not until, we may play it out another week," Philbin said. "That’s still up in the air. We certainly haven’t come to any decision on that."

Well, my question would be why not?

It is clear as day to anyone with eyes that Ryan Tannehill has so far gotten the better of Matt Moore in the quarterback competition.

Tannehill has looked better than Moore when you compare their starting assignments this preseason. Tannehill also looked better than Moore when each played with the backups this preseason.

The statistics show more definitively what we've seen on the field:

Tannehill is 25 of 44 (56.8 percent completion) for 267 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT. He has an 82.3 quarterback rating.

Moore is 12 of 27 (44.4 percent completion) for 136 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT. He has a 44.7 quarterback rating.

The competition has been closer in practice, but Tannehill has generally been as good if not better than Moore in that venue.

Beyond that, Moore has not led a TD drive yet this preseason. Tannehill has.

So what decision is there to make?

Ryan Tannehill should start against Atlanta Friday night. And he has done more to win the regular-season starting job than Moore.

Preseason results meaningless, performances meaningful

Repeat after me: It's only the preseason. It's only the preseason. It's only the preseason.

There. That should give some solace about the fact the Dolphins are so far pretty bad this preseason. If you remember that preseason greatness does not necessarily translate to regular-season greatness and preseason struggles don't always continue in the regular-season, that should get your through the next couple of weeks.

A team's won-loss record is irrelevant to, well, everything. Poor teams with outstanding reserves, guys that either won't be on the team or won't play a lot in the regular-season, often win in the preseason. Good teams that rest their stars often lose in the preseason. Young teams, regardless of how loaded they prove themselves to be, often lose in the preseason. Teams with new offensive and defensive systems often struggle in the preseason as they get comfortable with the schemes.

Feel better?

Well, let me balance that surge of optimism. The preseason is a good indicator about where a team is at that point in time It can be an accurate snapshot in time of individuals and personnel groupings.

It can tell you how far young players have come and how far they must yet go. It can tell you if there is visible improvement week to week.

So forget that Miami is 0-2 this preseason. But do not dismiss the idea that there are problems that are showing up consistently.

One of those issues for the entire team is there have been no consistent playmakers among the starters. None. Not on offense or defense.

Defense, in particular, has been troubling because aside from the fact big plays have been missing, I've seen a lot of missed tackles and the team isn't winning on third down.

"We haven't stopped anybody," Joe Philbin said after the most recent Carolina loss. "We haven't tackled real well, we haven't gotten off the field on third down. We haven't gotten a good pass rush. I mean, I guess I better stop there."

By the way, the Dolphins have blitzed in the preseason, at least last week. But there can be more pass-rush generated by blitzes in the regular season. That's good. This isn't: Any team that must create its pass-rush with blitzes exposes itself eventually in the back end to big plays. The gamble can be worth it if there are stars in the secondary, but if there are not, that can be trouble.

I also look for invididual young starting players' abilities early in the season.

Said another way, it is unlikely that right tackle Jonathan Martin, for example, will struggle in the preseason (as he has) and suddenly become dominant in the regular-season opener. Or by the second game. Or perhaps by the third game.

It takes a while for players to grow. And the regular-season typically is tougher on young players initially than the preseason. They are often ill-prepared to deliver that higher gear that the regular-season requires, at least initially.

And so if you think Martin will suddenly become a fortress in time to face the Houston Texans, I'd say dial back on the expectations.

Similarly, the preseason does offer an important snapshot of what one can expect from certain positiions on the team. This preseason, for example, has pulled back the curtain on how troubled the Dolphins are at wide receiver and tight end.

The receivers who are having trouble separating from defenders in the preseason, will not suddenly be able to do it in the regular season. It simply will not happen. Players that are dropping passes in the preseason don't suddenly start catching them in the regular season.

(An aside: You'll notice Miami's wide receiver issues is generally not about dropping passes. This group typically catches the passes thrown, with a couple of notable exceptions. But the greater and more concerning problem to me is these guys don't really get open quickly and consistently. They either don't separate or don't find soft spots in the zone to sit down. I don't know what it is because I am not a coach and don't pretend to be one, but something is obviously lacking.)

I'm also concerned about Miami's tight ends. Anthony Fasano is the starter and that's fine. He is typically a C+ to B- player, depending on the game. He's a good blocker. He is a good enough receiver. But he doesn't worry a defense down the seam. He isn't a player the opposing defensive coordinator worries too much about. He's not part of the problem. But unfortunately, in most games, he's not the solution.

That is why the Dolphins drafted Charles Clay last year and Michael Egnew this year. Unfortunately, Egnew has had a terrible first NFL camp. He's not ready and he doesn't look to be getting better results as the weeks have progressed. He's obviously putting a lot of pressure on himself.

Clay has the potential to be a threat in the red zone and down the seam. But he's inconsistent as heck. He has one great practice and then disappears. He has one good preseason game and then disappears the next. Clay is very inconsistent so far. It was that way last year and it remains that way now.

And until one of these two or someone else added to the roster gets it and delivers some help, the Miami struggles in the red zone and down the middle of the field will continue to plague the offense.

Of course, things can still change. Remember? This is only preseason.

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August 19, 2012

Joe Philbin discusses Carolina loss, upcoming week

Joe Philbin says most of the Dolphins systems have been installed. That's good. But obviously no one has won the starting quarterback job so he's not certain if he's going to name a starting QB this week as he hoped to do. That's not so good.

This the rest of what the Dolphins coach told the media today:

(On what the team has accomplished since training camp started) – “We’ve got our entire, 98 percent of our offensive, defensive and special teams systems in place. We’ve covered a myriad of situations from backed up, two-minute, four-minute, goal line, red zone, short yardage, last plays of the game… hurry up, third-and-one, quarterback sneak, run-on field goal, onside kicks. I think we’ve done a good job situationally. I think our team is in relatively good physical condition. I think they’ve practiced extremely hard. We’ve accomplished an awful lot – three-quarters of the way, two-thirds of the way through an evaluation process in terms of how we’re going to formulate this roster. Certainly, we haven’t had the tangible results in the on the field success in the competitive games that we would like to have that we anticipate having. I think we’ve had a very productive camp.”

(On if the goal this week is to treat the week of preparation like a regular season game) – “To a large degree. It’s not totally, but to a large degree, yes. Today, for the players, is like a Monday. For the coaches, it’s kind of like a Monday and a Tuesday. We’re combining things because we got back so late from Carolina. We didn’t want to bring the players in yesterday. We wanted to give them a day off. We brought them in here this morning as if they had played a game yesterday, much like we’ll do September 10th. They’ve lifted already or in the process of, actually they’re done lifting. We’re going to have a team meeting at 12:30 where we’re going to begin the process of re-visiting the Carolina game and making the corrections that we think, obviously there’s a lot to be made. We’re going to begin that process. Then, they’re going to watch the whole film with their coaches from A to Z. We’re going to clean up the Carolina (game). We’ll just touch touch briefly on Atlanta. We’ll have kind of a walkthrough, jog-through type practice, much like they would the day after a game. It’s a little different cause tomorrow obviously can’t be a Tuesday for the players when they’d be off, but then we’re going to kind of go through a typical game week for the most part. It’s not going to be totally, exactly the same, but it’s going to be relatively close.”

(On what three areas of the team concern him the most) – “Our slow start number one as a football team. That’s the number one concern to me. Our inability to get off the field on defense has been a concern to me and I would say our inconsistency on offense in terms of, I thought number one in our first game, in terms of just games, we moved the ball relatively well. We knew we had some red zone issues, etc., but I think we’ve been inconsistent there. Probably those would be the top three right now.”

(On his evaluation of the quarterbacks and if he’s close to naming a starter) – “The good news was…you know what’s amazing, we kind of do the, we really believe in the give-away take-away margin is probably the number one indicator and the number two indicator is explosive plays. We had five explosive plays the other night. They had 12. To think that we were even in the ball game, I don’t care who’s playing, first-string, second-string, third, I don’t care if it’s your fifth-string is playing, that we were even in the game, the only reason that we were is because we didn’t hand them the ball. Leading into our quarterback play, do we have to be better? Yes. Were there some accuracy issues? Sure. Was there a time or two our quarterbacks could have stepped up to avoid pressure? Absolutely. At the end of the day, they didn’t throw the ball to the opposition until the last play of the game and they did do some good things. I think we had almost five drops I think, which impacted our ability to move the football. I thought they, overall…the management of the game, we didn’t run a lot of bad plays. We didn’t run a lot of plays where we had no chance. We didn’t throw the ball in double coverage an awful lot. A couple times, we got lucky, but I thought the game management was pretty good. Obviously, we need to be more productive. There’s no question about it. But to think we were even in the game, at least offensive, the credit was we didn’t hand the ball to the opposition a whole lot. Point being, you can hang in some games if you don’t give the games away. I’m not standing up here telling you we played well because we didn’t, but you can compete and you can hang in there if you’re a sound team and you don’t turn the ball over.”

(On the positives he was able to take away from the game other than turnovers) – “It’s a positive and a negative. Again, I’m disappointed in the start of our football team. I think some of our younger guys are showing more energy and zip and enthusiasm on the field than the older guys are. That’s a concern. We’re going to address that. We’ve got to let them know that. They’re going to know that. We’ve got to get off to a better start. I said to the team after the game, ‘You can’t start games down 17-0.’ I’m not a huge stat guy, but I bet if you went back and investigated and looked all that stuff up, you’re not going to win a lot of games doing that – preseason, regular season, postseason. I don’t care when it is. We can’t come out the gate like that. We’ve got to play better early, no doubt it.”

(On if he will determine who will be the starting quarterback this week or next – “It could be. We’re in the process right now, we watched the game obviously, we discussed our personnel obviously and now we’re starting to formulate some thoughts on Atlanta. We’re certainly going to do more game planning this week than we have the first two. There’s no question about that. I was in a run game meeting earlier this morning and we’re going to start narrowing down our personnel. We may have a decision soon, but we may not until, we my play it out another week. That’s still up in the air. We certainly haven’t come to any decision on that.”

(On the play of offensive tackle Jonathan Martin) – “He did some good things. He had a bad penalty the one holding call on the run. It’s not a good looking play on film . One of the sacks that was attributed to him, we felt Ryan (Tannehill) could have stepped up. It’s a seven-step drop and there’s a guy open. The middle was very firm in the pocket if you watch it on tape. That being said, he still has to block it better, but it wasn’t like, I’ve seen young rookies offensive tackles get run over and get beat like that (snaps his fingers). I don’t think that was the case on that particular play. Where you clearly…the sack is his, but we also thought there were contributing factors to that. It’s a growing process. I don’t think anybody makes that kind of transition without a couple bumps in the road. The big thing will be to see how he plays this week. Can he learn from some of those mistakes? He clearly made a couple and we’ll see how he does, but I’m not disappointed in him at all.”

(On his concern over the lack of a big-time wide receiver on the roster) – “Again, part of your job as a coach…I think I’ve said before, part of the fun, part of the challenge is developing players. I’m not (going to label) this guy’s a three, a two, a one, a four, a five, a six. We have to find some guys, as I’ve said before. What are you looking for; we’re looking for guys that can separate versus man coverage, make plays on the ball down the field, catch the ball consistently. They come in all shapes and sizes. If you had asked me in March, boy I would have liked a bigger target down the middle of the field than Davone Bess, but you know what, the guy is a football player; he finds a way to get open. It doesn’t matter if it’s man or zone, he seems to have a knack. We’re looking for good football players. They come in all shapes and sizes. I’m not concerned about the lack of star power right now, but I will be concerned if we are not able to develop some of the players that we have on our roster. Then I will be concerned. But I have optimism that we will be able to do that, and I’m confident we can. That remains to be seen.”

(On how the players that filled in for injured starters on defense played on Friday) – “OV (Olivier Vernon) did a really nice job. The kid did a good job on special teams. I remember early in the game, I mean the kid was lathered up within the first five minutes. He covered kickoff, he was on the punt team, he was playing every snap on defense, and he was playing hard. He’s a football player. I think it was him on the opening kickoff if I’m not mistaken, who came down and made the tackle. I like the way he plays the game; I think he did a good job. (Jason) Trusnik and (Gary) Guyton stepped in and did some good things at linebacker. Overall, obviously the first play of the game, you can’t start a game like that (with) missed tackles. We had a couple of free hats, as we like to say. I’m not saying the play design for Carolina was very good; it’s a good football play, but if you watch the film there’s guys there to make the play and we didn’t. You know Richard Marshall didn’t make it, (Chris) Clemons didn’t make it. Trusnik really didn’t have a hat on him, but he got caught up in the trash a little bit. The game is still about tackling and pursuit and you have to get 11 guys around the ball. We have to do a better job of getting our color jerseys around the ball on defense, even on offense. We have to cover the ball better on offense, we have to cover the balls down the field better, and that’s something we’re going to emphasize here as we move forward.”

(On if he is worried about not being able to evaluate his starting defensive unit together before the start of the regular season due to injuries) – “I’m more concerned that we’re not playing fast. Again, we talked as a staff yesterday as we watched the film and we said ‘look, Kevin (Coyle) didn’t spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out Carolina’s formations and substitutions and who is in the game and who is out of the game.’ That being said, we don’t really know how much time Carolina spent on our guys either. So at the end of the day, it’s still, you make a call on defense and you have to have guys that execute the call. The thing that’s really disconcerting is we had too many mental errors, too many missed tackles, stuff that beats you in football. It doesn’t matter if you game plan for three days or you game plan for 30 minutes, you’ve got to tackle, you have to pursue, you have to have guys in the right gap and you have to have 11 guys on the same page. Some of those big plays; we didn’t have that, and it’s tough to overcome that.”

 (On if he has any more indication on which of the young receivers will play a prominent role this season) – “We’re still working through that Joe (Rose). Part of the reason that our run-pass ratio is a little out of whack is, if you look at the team and you look at the running back pool, we feel like we’ve got some guys that, a) we’ve got some established players who have had some success in this league, we also feel like we have some young players that have a chance to be very good there. Now we’re in a position at receiver where we don’t have as much information on those guys, we don’t have as much quarterback information, so we’re throwing the ball more than we anticipate throwing in a quote unquote “normal game”. With all that being said, yeah you’re right; things have changed. As I like to say sometimes the computer has changed a little bit week to week in terms of, this week (Rishard) Matthews played a bunch of special teams, week one didn’t get a ton of reps, but had some production that we liked the other night. (Roberto) Wallace had a lot of production the first week, not so much this week. (Julius) Pruitt didn’t really factor into the game plan. (BJ) Cunningham didn’t get a lot of opportunities, so we still have some work to do in that area. It’s not a finished product by any means.”

(On any added pressure to win games in the preseason for the sake of the fans) – “Sure, but the stage that we’re at, we can’t necessarily be focused on the outcome right now. We have to be focused on watching the film and seeing development. So that’s a concern; when you have more MA’s (missed assignments) in week two than in week one. I’m more concerned about that. I love our fans, and we need every single one of them, but the seat I’m in, I have to be more worried about that stuff than I do if our fans want this guy to play more or this guy to play less, or if they want us blitz more or blitz less. Hopefully as a coach you have to stay true to the film and what you see, and there are some things on the film that are concerning that we need to get straightened out quickly. They’re (players) going to hear about that in 15 minutes. We’re going to start that process. There’s no magic wand; just because I say it doesn’t mean (it’s going to happen). Let’s be honest, none of us are miracle workers. It’s going to take a lot of work, but that’s what we’re here for.”

(On his perception of the pass interference call on Sean Smith in Friday’s game) – “It looked like a good play, but again, that’s part of football. You’re not going to get every single call. It looked to me from where I was that he was in relatively good position, but the referee, the official saw something and threw the flag. There’s nothing to whine about because you’re not going to win that argument anyways. Hopefully you can keep them out of the end zone and hold them to a field goal. We had a real bad first drive, but we held them to a field goal. We had a chance to make that, but for whatever reason they called it a penalty, so the next thing you have to do is keep them out of the end zone.”

(On how much Marcus Thigpen helped himself with Friday’s performance) – “He played well. You know you feel him out there, he made an impact. We thought his special team returns were good; we liked what we saw there. He did some good things. Now let’s see if he has some consistency, and some improvement and development. That’s what we’re looking for this week.”

August 18, 2012

Post-mortem after 2nd loss in 2nd preseason game

Worried about the Dolphins?

Well, it is not exactly time to push panic buttons. But it is time to identify where such buttons are located because another month of this stuff is going to be bad.

"We know we're better than what we've showed," Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore said after last night's 23-17 loss to Carolina, a game which wasn't as close as the score because the Panthers totally outplayed the Dolphins early when the starters were in the game.

"Yeah, we should be a little concerned."

This was a game that was supposed to give clarity to the Dolphins quarterback competition. It didn't. Coach Joe Philbin was asked if he'll be able to go through with his plan of naming a starter for next week and he seemed at a loss for an answer.

"I don't know that to be honest with you," he said. "I really don't."

Nobody was happy with their work. Ryan Tannehill wasn't.

"Obviously, it didn't go the way I wanted it to go but I was excited to ge out there, compete with the guys and I think it's a starting point," he said.

True.

This also is true: As I wrote in my column Tannehill didn't get much help from anyone. Moore, meanwhile, failed to step up when he had the chance.

"We got a lot of work to do," Moore said. "You have to credit Carolina, they came out and played well. But we have a lot of stuff to work on."

The Dolphins ran the ball 12 times for 37 yards Friday night. Yet Philbin wasn't all that concerned about it. He said it has not been a point of emphasis. That's good. But maybe the Dolphins should start emphasizing it a bit.

Because the regular season is coming.

Check out Tannehill below in part of his post-game talk:

August 17, 2012

Inactives and live blog right here ...

You know Ryan Tannehill will start at quarterback tonight. You know we have a live blog starting at the 8:07 kickoff. Do you know the inactives? Do you know Tannehill is not the only significant rookie starting his first game for Miami?

Let's get caught up:

Cameron Wake (back), Karlos Dansby (knee), Kevin Burnett (back), Eric Steinbach (knee), David Garrard (knee), Tony McDaniel (leg), Jonas Gray (knee), Brian Hartline (calf), and Kelcie McCray (foot) are out.

Rookie Olivier Vernon starts for Wake. Gary Guyton and Jason Trusnik start for Dansby and Burnett.

Interestingly, Artis Hicks is scheduled to play. He missed a couple of days of practice with an unknown injury. So much for the much expected competition between him and Steinbach.

Reasons why Tannehill starts tonight

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wasn't kidding. He said the quarterback competition was open. It is. He said Ryan Tannehill would have a chance to win that competition. He does.

And that's primarily the reason Tannehill gets his opportunity to start tonight against the Carolina Panthers.

Tannehill may not necessarily be better than Matt Moore right now. He may not necessarily be ahead of Moore. But he starts tonight while Moore comes in afterward because the Dolphins coaching staff wants to go into next week's Atlanta game with their starting quarterback decision made.

And the only way to come to that decision is to see if Tannehill can have the same sort of success against starting-caliber competition while leading Miami's starting offense that he had against backup competition last week.

We know that Moore was good but not great in the starting role against Tampa Bay's first-string defense. Now the Miami coaches have to see how Tannehill does against Carolina's first-string defense. Coaches can then have an apples-to-apple comparison of both their starter candidates against first-string defenses.

That's important because Phiblin would like to go into next week week's third preseason tilt with his quarterback decision made.

And that meant Tannehill had to face starting defenders before next week. Put another way, the Dolphins could not have been certain that Tannehill would face starting-caliber competition tonight if Moore started. Philbin has said he does not contact opposing coaches before preseason games to set play-time plans so he couldn't be certain the Panthers would keep their starting defense on the field beyond one series.

It also helps Tannehill that he's been quite good in practices since joining the team and has shown improvement with each passing week. That's the reason I told you Monday not to be surprised to see Tannehill start against Carolina.

And having said all this, we have to take a very long look at this evening.

Remember that Tannehill starting tonight doesn't mean he's won the starting job by any means. So we must survey the landscape after tonight to see what we see.

If Tannehill plays exceedingly well but Moore does not, that will make Tannehill the favorite to open the season as the starter because David Garrard (out probably another two weeks) is out of that starting picture.

If Moore plays out of his mind and Tannehill struggles, then Mooe will be the favorite to be the starter because coaches will likely believe the rookie simply isn't ready yet.

The gray area will be if both Tannehill and Moore play out of their minds. Or both struggle. Then what?

If both deliver similar performances tonight and we're basically all tied up in the quarterback competition going into next week then Philbin may not be able to have his clear-cut starter by the third preseason game as he hoped.

At that point, the two players will continue to be evaluated -- even into the coming game -- until somebody takes the job. This scenario also raises the possibility Garrard gets the opportunity to start the first or second regular-season game because, remember, he was leading this quarterback race when knee surgery sidelined him.

August 16, 2012

Handful of starters likely to miss Carolina game

The Dolphins want the third preseason game to be their dress rehearsal for the 2012 regular season. They'll treat the week like a regular game week. Starters will probably play into the second half. By the time the game is over, the club wants direction on its starting quarterback for the start of the season.

So what does that make the second preseason game?

The game Friday night against Carolina?

An off day for a handful of veterans.

This week has seen more players miss practice due to some sort of bump, bruise, tweak or twitch than at any time during the preseason. And most are likely to miss the Carolina game as the team focuses in on the greater importance of the Atlanta Falcons in the third preseason game.

That means as many as five starters will sit out Friday night.

Don't expect two-thirds of the starting linebackers to play as neither Karlos Dansby nor Kevin Burnett have practiced this week. Don't expect Cameron Wake to play as he continues to recover from an undisclosed injury after being involved in an auto accident. Don't expect to see backup defensive tackle Tony McDaniel. That's three starters on the front seven and a key backup likely out.

On offense, don't expect to see starting right guard Artis Hicks. Obviously wide receiver Brian Hartline will not play. Neither will quarterback David Garrard, who was supposed to start last week before suffering a left knee injury and is not yet one week into a three-to-four week rehabilitation period after urgery.

You would think the Hicks injury opens the door for Eric Steinbach to make the much-expected charge to the starting unit. But no. He's got an undisclosed injury as well and hasn't practiced the past couple of days and is questionable to play.

So what does this all mean?

Well, John Jerry probably starts at right guard.

Gary Guyton and Jason Trusnick will fill in for the injured starting linebackers. Rookies Derrick Shelby or Olivier Vernon will likely start at defensive end.  

August 15, 2012

Players respond to Hard Knocks embarrassments

Reshad Jones was on fire today. He had three, count them in French -- un, deux, trois -- or in Spanish -- uno, dos, tres -- interceptions during today's practice.

Very impressive. Very, very, very impressive. One of his picks came as Ryan Tannehill, who was also enjoying a good practice, was marching the first-team offense down the field in the two-minute drill. Jones stepped in front of a seam route throw from Tannehill to Anthony Fasano to end the drive at the 15 yard line.

That's the highlight of today's final training camp practice. Yes, the Dolphins are breaking camp today. Veterans get to go home to their families.

Rookies remain in the hotel for the most part. And among those is Michael Egnew, who was featured prominently on Hard Knocks Tuesday night. If you read the post about Hard Knocks you know that both Egnew and Roberto Wallace came off looking badly on TV.

Wallace was the butt of coaches' jokes as they watched tape of a practice. They called him "Ankle Weights Wallace" as they all sat around the table joking. I can tell you that Roberto Wallace put on a good face for the media today about that episode.

But he's not happy.

"At the end of the day it's a show," Wallace said. "That''s what they'll do. Obviously they pointed out all of the negatives which is part of the show. People like drama more than anything. They did it to Vontae (Davis) last week. I try to come out here and try to get better. Whatever criticism the coaches have, I can't control that. What I can control is my effort and my attitude. So I come out here with a positive attitude every day and leave it at that."

Egnew, who has been virtually invisible in practices except for his missed assignments, got ripped by Mike Sherman on Hard Knocks. I thought the kid was going to break down.

"Terrible, terrible," Sherman tells Egnew of his work in practice. "I would cut you today if I was the general manager. I would cut you."

Egnew this afternoon was asked if he got any texts from friends or family after the show last night, either offering support or perhaps some good-natured ribbing.

"I shut my phone off," he said without smiling. 

"I guarantee any player can tell you the experience. It's one of those things that happens a lot because he wants the best out of his players. It just so happens that mine made the episode and it's ok."

Wallace, Egnew and tight ends Charles Clay and Les Brown all are obviously working toward not being the goats on future Hard Knocks episodes. They put in extra work after practice (which you see below) to try to avoid the unwanted scrutiny.

August 14, 2012

Hard Knocks review: Episode 2

Hard Knocks just concluded. Without further delay my thoughts...

Episode 2 had heroes, goats, raised questions, caused some laughs, and tugged at some heartstrings.

The heartstrings: Coach Joe Philbin's wife, Diane, attended the funeral for Andy Reid's son Garrett, who was found dead in his dorm room at the Eagles training camp last week. Obviously the Philbins now share a sad, terrible common pain with the Reids as they also lost their son, Michael, last January.

The goats: Every tight end not named Anthony Fasano has had his moments of utter ineptitude. Les Brown still cannot block. "He's not built like a normal tight end, he's built more like a wide receiver," tight end coach Dan Campbell said. Brown is definitely a project -- at best.

Rookie draft pick Michael Egnew couldn't hear snaps counts, didn't know plays and has this perpetual deer-in-headlights look that is troubling. In a meeting, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman tells him, "I'd cut you today if I was the general manager. I would cut you. Get your head out of your (butt). You were drafted as a high pick. Get your (bleep) going. It's not good enough."

Charles Clay similarly is having trouble with the plays. "Charles, I'm telling you right now, I've got nothing to say about you at these meetings other than, he's not doing his job," Sherman tells Clay in a meeting. "You hurt us the other day."

During the same meeting, Sherman tells the tight ends, "We watch a practice like this, we're calling tight ends around the league. That's how it works. There's no full scholarship."

It should be said, Clay played well against Tampa Bay. Egnew was relevent. Brown barely played and didn't catch a pass. Roberto Wallace also played well in the preseason-opener but coaches are still wondering why he's not a star.

The man has height, weight, speed, athletic ability. Even the Dolphins aren't sure why he's not better. And then we find out during a meeting ...

Coaches joke in that meeting about how Wallace cannot separate from the defender. They start calling him, "ankle weights Wallace."

Obviously, Chad Johnson had his time on the show. He didn't know some of the plays. He makes "a rookie (bleeping) mistake" by his own admission. And of, course, he got cut. The Hard Knocks folks had the entire meeting between Johnson and Philbin in which the veteran was cut. Great work by them.

The heroes: Chris Hogan, whom I told you about two weeks ago on multiple occasions, has earned himself a nickname if not a big promotion from third and fourth-team work: "Always open." Reggie Bush calls him 7-11. "Always open."

"I can live with that nickname," said Hogan, who didn't catch a pass in the preseason-opener but was wide open for a TD. Pat Devlin didn't see him.

The offensive line got approximately two minutes on the show. It's Jake Long and Jacquies Smith getting into a little shoving match that is quickly joined by Richie Incognito, who then announces the offensive is a band of brothers and if you mess with one, you mess with all. That's cool. As long as they, you know, block.

The laughs: The Dolphins have taken to giving their rookies the worst and most embarrassing haircuts on Earth. It is rookie hazing at its height. The worst happened to Josh Samuda, who lost his eyebrows to a razor and had a mohawk shaved into his head in the shape of a penis. Funny. For a pay cable channel. "Glad we're such a first-class organization, Josh," Philbin tells the player in a meeting.

Classy.

And finally this question: Philbin has this policy he's contrived in which he refuses to even address that injuries happen. He was asked about David Garrard after last Friday's game but refused to explain why his starting quarterback didn't play, citing this policy. Great, I get it. You don't want to give opponents a heads up on injuries.

Except that on Hard Knocks, we find out Garrard suffered his left knee injury while playing with his kids in a pool -- which is a non-football injury. We learn Garrard had 100 cc of fluid drained from the knee the night before the game. We find out the Dolphins really expect him to miss 3-to-4 weeks instead of the 2-to-4 weeks Garrard's camp has been putting out there through back channels.

So much for competitive advantage. Ridiculous.

 

Philbin: It's 'good' to let Tannehill start in preseason

I told you several days ago not to be surprised if Ryan Tannehill starts Friday's preseason game at Carolina. I told you in a post earlier today that Tannehill was the best of the three quarterbacks in the two-minute drill today.

So the stage is set for tomorrow's practice, which will be the last one of training camp, to see the Tannehill versus Matt Moore competition for Friday's starting job.

Coach Joe Philbin today explained why starting Tannehill at some point this preseason makes sense:

“It would give him a chance to work with the first group in a game situation against better competition, and I think that would be good," Philbin said. "Our plan all along was at some point in time, whether it be this week, next week or the week after, our plan all along was to let all three of those guys have some opportunities. That’s kind of what our thought was, so if it happens this week; obviously we have one more day of practice so we’ll take a good look at it.

"Obviously we haven’t sat down yet today but we’ll start that in a few minutes, but we’ll just evaluate this week. He’s going to play a lot, Matt’s (Moore) going to play a lot, and Pat (Devlin) will probably play some, we have three guys. We’ll take it from there.”

Moore and Tannehill talked to reporters today. Here is what they said:

Quarterback Matt Moore 

(On his reaction to wide receiver Chad Johnson being released) –“I don’t know. I don’t think I can speak much on it. I knew it was a possibility. It’s up to the organization and Coach (Joe) Philbin and they handled it the way they saw fit.” 

(On the competition between wide receivers Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore) – “It’s good. Those guys are working their tails off. Each making plays when they get the opportunities and trying to showcase their talents. It’s been fun to watch. (They are) both talented guys and it’ll be interesting to see how that kind of shakes out.” 

(On the cohesiveness of the offensive line) – “Yeah, they’ve done well, just with the new offense and everything. They’ve done really well. They are such a tight group anyways. It’s kind of one of those things (where) one guy goes down and another guy step right in and we don’t miss a beat. They’ve done a good job in the room.” 

(On when he expects to hear if he will start on Friday against the Carolina Panthers) – “I don’t know.”

(On if the announcement of whether he will be starting against the Panthers affects his preparation for the game) – “No, not at all. It’s one of those things, just be ready. I’m like a reliever. They need me; I’ll come in and play.” 

(On if he’s interested in seeing what quarterback Ryan Tannehill will do against the starters) –“Football’s football. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against. He’s got to go out and produce regardless." 

(On if being a veteran helps him have a leg up to be a starter based on coach Philbin’s statement that he will start the best person for a game on that day) –“Maybe. I don’t know. These are interesting questions. Yeah, because I’ve had the experience, maybe, but I don’t feel that way. I mean he’s going to do what’s best for the team, who’s going to give us the best chance to win like he said in any given game and that guy will play.”

(On how it has helped him get extra reps in practice with quarterback David Garrard being injured)– “Yeah, the reps are good. You want to see and prepare in this offense as much as you can. You want to see as many defenses as you can. Our defense is definitely throwing a lot at us, but we miss David, but you love getting the opportunities for more throws and more opportunities to do well.”

(On Garrard’s health and how he’s handling things)– “He’s doing good. He’s obviously a little bummed out, but he’s doing everything he can, just rehab wise and he’s a professional, I’m sure he’ll handle it the best way.”

And after Moore was done speaking, Tannehill talked to a huddle of reporters:

(On Joe Philbin saying that he will start the quarterback in the first regular season game based on who gives the team the best chance to win on that day) –“I don’t know. It’s not up to me to decide, but I’m just going to go out here every day (and) try to do the things I can do to make this team better. (I) try to improve my game as much as I can every day and, hopefully, when it comes that time, I’m that guy. I want this team to win, so if I’m not the best guy at that time, I want this team to win.”

(On if he has been told what his role on Friday against the Carolina Panthers) – “No, I have not. I’m just coming out here every day like I said. Just working to get better, try to take advantage of these preseason games. When you get in, get your reps, try to take advantage of them. Don’t know exactly when they’re going to come, but just want to take advantage of them when they come.”

(On if he thinks starting the game will give him a better opportunity to show what he can do) – “I just try to take advantage of those reps. If I get one reps in practice, try to make the most of it. You get the better looks from the one defense, tougher looks. So if I get the one reps in the game, then I’ll try to take advantage of them. It’s a balancing act. Coach Philbin wants all the QBs to get some one reps. Whenever my time comes, just got to take advantage of it.”

(On if he feels like he has improved since the start of training camp) – “I dang sure hope so. It’s a waste of time if I haven’t improved. I feel like I’ve gotten better every day. Still making mistakes, yes, but I feel like I’m learning form my mistakes, getting a better handle, more comfortable with the guys being able to move the ball down the field. Try to get a little bit better every day in every aspect of the game and, to answer your question, yes, I think I’ve improved a little bit.”

(On how comfortable he is checking out of plays at the line of scrimmage) – “I’m pretty comfortable. That’s a big part of our offense is being able to get into a good play at the line. See a lot of looks in this league from defenses. You want to be able to get into a good look. Sometimes, you are not going to have the best play called for what they come out in, so got to be able to get in a good look and there’s also some instances you have to live with it. You’ve got to call a play fast, play with tempo and run the play that’s called.”

(On how impressed he is with the offensive line) –“They’ve done a great job. I don’t think I had too much pressure today in practice at all. I was able to really sit in the pocket, make some throws, get to some late progressions, third progressions. I feel like they’ve done a great job. They’re getting better. I think Jonathan Martin has really improved throughout camp. He seems to be getting more comfortable within the right side with his sets. It’s a great unit and I think they’re getting better.”

(On if he feels he gets overconfident at times)– “I’m confident, but I don’t want to be overconfident. That can be a bad thing for a quarterback. You start forcing balls, trusting your arm too much and you’re not really able to fit it into that window and you try too.  It’s something where you really have to know yourself, be honest with yourself and know when you can get the ball in there and when you can’t.”

(On what quarterback Matt Moore is like as a person that he’s going up against every day in practice)– “Matt’s a fun guy. I enjoy coming to meetings. I enjoy practicing with him. He’s a good guy. He helps me out. I try to help him out. I said all along it’s a great competition. Even with Dave (Garrard) in there, we’re all trying to help each other out. We’ll all have fun in our meetings. We try to learn, soak up all the information we can, but have fun with it. It’s a long season. It’s a long camp, so got to have a little bit of fun in there. We try to laugh a little bit in our room and laugh on the field. Matt’s a great guy. Pat (Devlin) as well. We have a great room.”

(On being nicknamed “The People’s Choice”)– “The people’s choice? I don’t know about that. That’s not what I say.”

(On if he’s going to watch Hard Knocks tonight)– “I probably won’t. I didn’t really watch it last week, so I probably won’t watch it tonight.” 

Today's two minute drill shows promise, problems

The Dolphins ended today's practice with the two minute drill. It was good. And it was bad.

Running the first-team, quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the best of the three quarterbacks in this part of practice. He marched his unit down the field and the ball didn't hit the ground with completion after completion, first to Marlon Moore, then to Charles Clay, then to a checkdown receiver, then Moore again.

Moore was obviously feeling it, at one point yelling at Sean Smith. Soon, the Miami offense was inside the 15 yard line. It was promising.

And then the problems showed up.

Hot and with the defense on its heels, Tannehill fired a sideline pass to Moore that was just a tad high. Moore, coming out of his break and not fully collected, leaped for the ball but it bounded off his hands. The throw wasn't good enough. The receiver wasn't technically sound enough.

Incomplete.

A couple of plays later, Tannehill scrambled out of the pocket and fired a strike to Roberto Wallace in the back of the end zone. By all accounts, Wallace had a fine practice today. But he dropped the TD in coming across the back of the end zone.

Bottom line is the Miami offense was good enough to move but not good enough to score. It made some plays but when it needed a playmaker to come through, it wasn't there.

The second unit, led by Matt Moore, was next on the field. The period lasted about three snaps because one pass was complete, one was incomplete and the third was intercepted by Tyrone Culver.

Good job by Culver and the second-team defense. But you understand the flipside of that, I'm sure.

Third team?

Pat Devlin began with a beautiful sideline pass to Wallace. The ball was in the air before Wallace even went into his cut. It showed good anticipation and accuracy. And Wallace got plenty of separation and made the catch.

But a couple of plays later Devlin also threw an interception.

So it goes. This team is obviously still a work in progress.

Practice notes:

Multiple players sat out practice today. Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake, Kevin Burnett, Eric Stenbach, Artis Hicks and Brian Hartline all missed practice. Sean Smith tweaked what seemed to be his groin but returned to drills.