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3 posts from December 6, 2012

December 06, 2012

Changes afoot around the NFL, but not in Miami

In New York, there's speculation general manager Mike Tannenbaum will be demoted. In San Diego, both coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith reportedly will be gone after this season. In Cleveland, the future of general manager Tom Heckert Jr. is uncertain and rumors are swirling about a successor.

Carolina is in the market for a new general manager, Scott Pioli is on the hot seat as the general manager in Kansas City, and there could be other moves elsewhere.

Yup, it's that time of year.

But not in Miami. Probably not this year.

Despite the fact the team is likely headed to a fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs and perhaps a fourth consecutive losing season, I am told there has been zero discussion about replacing general manager Jeff Ireland. And obviously, head coach Joe Philbin isn't on the one-and-done road last traveled by Cam Cameron. He's not going anywhere, either.

So firings in Miami seem at this point unlikely.

Now, this comes with a caveat: The season is not over. All the data is not known with four games to play. And everyone will be ultimately evaluated by owner Stephen Ross once the season is over. So no decision is final at this point.

If the Dolphins collapse the next four Sundays or if quarterback Ryan Tannehill plays so poorly as to suggest drafting him was a major error, then all bets are off.

But the Dolphins are typically an easy team to read on such matters. If someone as high-ranking in the organization as Ireland were on the outs, the signs would be there by now. Last year, for example, it was clear coach Tony Sparano was on his way out only weeks into the regular season.

No such signs this year. Quite the opposite, actually. Last week, for example, Ireland spent the entire week grinding on tape with his scouts and other personnel people as they prepare for the coming Senior Bowl in January, Indianapolis Combine in February, and yes, NFL draft in April.

Ireland's relationship with Ross also remains strong. The men continue to speak almost on a weekly basis and some weeks more often than that. Same with coach Joe Philbin. By contrast, once Sparano fell out of favor with Ross, the two talked only occasionally.

Another reason there isn't a huge likelihood anyone will be fired is Ross is a strong believer in continuity. He is convinced an NFL team needs it to succeed. Ross, you'll remember, stayed with Sparano and Ireland once he took over ownership even though he had no allegiance to either man.

He kept both even after he was already displeased enough with Sparano that he met with Jim Harbaugh, now in San Francisco, when that coach wanted to make the jump to the NFL from Stanford University.

It was only after the Dolphins got off to an 0-7 start in 2011 and his relationship with Sparano rotted that Ross dismissed Sparano. And, it must be said, Ross kept Ireland at that time even though the general manager was very unpopular with the fan base.

Ross kept Ireland even though fans hired banner planes to fly over Sun Life asking for the general manager's firing. He kept Ireland after fans showed up at training camp to protest the general manager's offseason moves.

As someone in the organization told me recently, "Jeff survived that and other uncomfortable moments, what makes you think he'd be fired now?"

It would take an epic, disastrous final four weeks to make is a possibility. Otherwise, all quiet in Miami. 


Jimmy Wilson could be out Sunday but that's not terrible

The Dolphins are not optimistic nickel cornerback Jimmy Wilson will be able to play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Wilson has missed practice on Wednesday and was limted Thursday. His status for Friday is uncertain.

It's possible Wilson won't even travel with the team when it leaves for the west coast Friday.

That means the Dolphins have to fill the need and a likely candidate is Bryan McCann, who played last week against the Patriots. McCann has been on the roster about a month.

The Dolphins can also use either Nolan Carroll or R.J. Stanford at the nickel and have the other playing the outside but that seems less likely. There's even a remote possibility the Dolphins can use newly signed Tyrone Culver in dime work as he played that role for the team for several years before he was waived in the preseason.

The injury's fallout?

The truth is Wilson has struggled in coverage this season. And McCann was not severely tested by New England although Wes Welker had a typically productive day. So this might actually be something of a net plus for the defense.

Obviously, Wilson has been very good on the corner blitz and as the Dolphins want to continue to use the strategy, it will test someone else's blitz ability.

Wilson's loss is almost a bigger issue on special teams where he is fourth on the team in tackles.


The matchup against Aldon Smith is worse than you think

Football is a matchup game these days.

It's about your center versus their nose tackle. It's your cover corner against their No. 1 wideout, your punter against their returner, your tight end versus their safeties, your running back must break a linebacker's tackle or make him miss to get into the secondary.

Mano a mano.

And, of course, it is about your offensive tackles against their best outside rushers. That is why Dolphins fans this week greeted the news of Jake Long going down with a torn left triceps as terrible news because now NFL sack leader Aldon Smith comes at the Dolphins when they face the San Francisco 49ers.

And the matchup that was supposed to be Smith vs. Long -- a fracas in 'Frisco, so to speak -- now is looking like Smith vs. Martin. And that seems more like a blowout by the bay.

Well, I have two nuggets of news for you -- one good news, one bad news.

I believe when the now expected Martin vs. Smith matchup does occur, the Dolphins new rookie left tackle will be able to hold his own. I do not expect that Smith will be able to work Martin for 5.5 sacks as he did against Chicago on Nov. 19.

Martin has spent much of his rookie season holding his own at right tackle. He played left tackle quite well at Stanford. And during his time with the Dolphins, no less than Cameron Wake has come to respect his work ethic.

"I know from literally watching him from the day he got here mature and grow in the game," Wake said. "He’s playing like a veteran. We don’t have any rookies anymore. That’s what we always talk about in this facility; there are no more rookies. You’ve been playing, you’ve got to go out there and step up, and even guys who “aren’t starting,” I mean you’re one shoelace away from being in there and (facing) live bullets.

"So him, like I said, from the day he got down here I been watching him mature and get out there and playing the game the way he's been playing, working hard, staying extra. Even him and I after practice kind of working on things. ‘Hey you know what this week I’ve got a guy who likes to give the spin move. Why don’t we work on that?’ And maybe I would say, ‘hey I’ve got a guy who is an outside puncher, help me out with that.’ We’re kind of working off each other so that, come Sunday, both of our jobs are a little easier.”

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has shown confidence in Martin. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached Martin at Stanford, admires the kid and knows he's solid. 

Good news, right?

Well, here's the downside of that.

While everyone else is worrying about Martin vs. Smith, the Dolphins are more worried about Nate Garner vs. Smith. That's right. The moving of Martin from right to left has forced the Dolphins to install Garner as your starting right tackle.

And that's the matchup the 49ers are more likely to try to exploit. And the Dolphins know it.

 "I think it’s a little bit different than it used to be," Philbin said. "Again, I go back to when I started coaching in the National Football League, it was always the premier rusher was always over here (on the right side, the offense's left side). Those days are over, so there’s good rushers everywhere.

"A, a lot of teams have good rushers off of both edges. B, there’s more matchup consideration I think defensive coaches give to pass rush than maybe they did 10 years ago."

In other words, defenses move their permier rushers to either side. So Smith is just as likely to rush from the left side (against the Miami right tackle) as from the right side (against the Miami left tackle). And given the matchup consideration, it will be as much about Garner vs. Smith than any Dolphins fan would want to consider.

So basically, the Dolphins will have downs on Sunday where they will match a backup right tackle, their sixth best offensive lineman, versus the NFL's sack leader.

Let that marinate a moment.



Yeah, not a great matchup for Miami.

Now, Garner is not without experience. He started eight games -- some at guard, some at right tackle, in 2009. And he was in line for consideration as a starter in the 2010 offseason before he injured a foot and spent the whole season on injured reserve.

“You love his versatility," Philbin said. "That was my main thing. When you’re a sixth or seventh offensive linemen on an NFL team, you’ve got to have versatility. You’ve got to be able to do more than one job and, fortunately for us, he’s able to function in a variety of different positions and we’re counting on him to play well."

Against Aldon Smith.

Yeah, that's not a matchup that favors the Dolphins.