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2 posts from December 17, 2012

December 17, 2012

Tons of news and notes from Dolphins coordinators

Coordinators Monday was very interesting today. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle gave insight into a number of topics including the future at left tackle, the surprise at right tackle, Ryan Tannehill, Jason Trusnik, and more. 

I thought the most revealing statement of the day came from Mike Sherman, who gave team credibility to the idea that next year's left tackle might not necessarily be JaKe Long. As you know, this space and my column has discussed at length the idea that if Jonathan Martin plays well at left tackle, that will affect the Dolphins approach to re-signing Jake Long for next year.

Bluntly, Martin is cheaper than Long and if he's about as good as Long, Long has a problem returning to Miami at a high salary.

Sherman gave voice to this stream of thought.

"I think he has a chance to be a very good tackle in this league," the offensive coordinator said of Martin. "He still has some growing up to do and learning and whatnot and strength development. But I think he has a chance to be an excellent left tackle or right tackle in this league, wherever he ends up next year."

Martin has started two games and faced two premier pass rushers both times in Aldon Smith and Jason Babin.

By the way, the Dolphins are pleasantly surprised by Nate Garner at right tackle. He was struggling to make the roster in camp. Now?

The club is still concerned mostly about his pass blocking, but so far so good.

"He's put together a couple of really good games," Sherman said. "You worry about how he's going to handle the pass rush but he's done a good job."

Up next for Garner will be Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills.

As you know, this season is mostly about the progress of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Well, call Sunday a step in that progress because Shermas was very pleased with the rookie's performance to the point he said it "would have to be right up at the top" of his showings this season.

"Yesterday was a good indication of what he's capable of doing," Sherman said. "I think he's had some very good games. I think he shows a lot of promise. You have to understand, he hasn't played that position as much as some other quarterbacks have at a very high level. He's learning on the job. I think he processes things and tries not to make the same mistake twice.

"I think he has an excellent future and he'll just continue to get better."

Sherman says of Tannehill there's "not a whole lot of things we don't ask him to do." One thing the Dolphins don't ask Tannehill to do a lot is run the ball a la Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III. Obviously, they're concerned about him getting hurt.

So don't expect a ton more of spread option runs for Tannehill even though he's shown good mobility and ability to gash the defense on certain runs.

"I think at this level you have to be very careful," Sherman said. "You don't want to build your offense around that in particular. I think we want to do it when people aren't really defending that as much and you just throw it on them once in a while. If people are defending that, there's ways to defend it and it can really cause some havoc for your quarterback. And also, if they do that, your offense.

"You have to be very judgmental when you do that. It's something we'll do but not a heavy dose."

Some side notes from Sherman:

Receiver Armon Binns had 10-12 snaps and "had a winning grade," according to Sherman. Not bad considering he joined the team on Tuesday and played on Sunday.

When Charles Clay went down Sunday, the team moved Anthony Fasano to his position. It was a position Fasano hadn't played all year.

"He knew exactly what to do as we had to move the tight end group around," Sherman said.

Fasano this year has been spread out, in tight. even In the backfield. Yes, he's versatile. Not great. But good enough to be versatile.

On defense, the issues are different. The defense is frankly ahead of the Miami offense. While the Dolphins offense is striving for consistency, the defense has mostly reached that and is looking to take the next step.

I believe this is a playoff defense that is a couple of playmakers from taking a step to dynamic. I asked Coyle if his unit is a playoff defense.

"Well, it's tough to say," he said. "I think statistically in a lot of areas we're doing fairly well. They're key area we've talked about a lot during the course of the season -- scoring defense being one. Looking at the stats today I think we're No. 6 in scoring defense. When you can keep people from scoring, you're going to have a chance to win a lot of games. Consequently, you're going to put yourself in position to be contending for the playoffs. So that's a positive.

"Third down defense has been a positive. I think right now we're fifth in the league in third-down defense. there's a lot of good things that way. We're No. 1 in red zone defense after looking at today's stats. We were down there a few times yesterday and fortunately we didn't let them in the end zone. All those things being positives."

But what makes defenses good enough to get a team in the playoffs into defenses that succeed in the playoffs? Big plays.

"We've got to make more impacting plays on defense. We're not making the turnovers that [the media] has alluded to. We're not creating field position like great defenses do. Ultimately that's what we want to be. We want to do all the things we're doing now, but do them better and create more opportunities for offense and score on defense. We're not pleased that we haven't put the ball in the end zone."

Some notes from Coyle on a handful of players.

The coach said Jason Trusnik, starting for the injured Koa Misi, had a good day.

"He showed up on the fourth down play obviously but there were a number of plays in the run game where he fitted just exactly right," Coyle said. "Coverage-wise there were a number of plays where he covered the tight end down the field where I thought he did a great job. We were worried about their tight end being a vertical threat and Jason on a couple of occasions had him man-to-man and did a good job. He had a couple of good zone drops. Overall, I think he played really well."

The Dolphins had issues in the secondary Sunday -- not so much in performance but in numbers. Both Nolan Carroll and Chris Clemons left the game for multiple snaps -- and that thrust Bryan McCann and R.J. Stanford and Tyrone Culver to step up.

"We had to juggle some people around and that created some opportunities," Coyle said. "Bryan McCann played a number of snaps, quality snaps in the game and came up with some big plays later in the game."

Coyle said the Dolphins got their hands on more footballs and tipped more passes away than other game. Unfortunately for Miami, no interceptions -- even if it was Chad Henne throwing it for Jacksonville.

Jared Odrick is an interesting player. He was drafted in the first round as a 3-4 defensive end. Now he's caught between and betwixt because the Dolphins are running a 4-3 scheme. So Odrick is starting at DE even though that really isn't what he's best suited to do.

Can he play 4-3 DT?

"Could he do it? Perhaps," Coyle said. "I'm not sold that his best position right now."

By the way, safety Chris Clemons had his "most consistent game" for the Dolphins on Sunday. Clemons graded out at 90 percent. That means that on 90 percent of his plays, he got a plus. The Dolphins give a plus and minus on every play.

Execution is a plus. Failure to execute is a minus.

"He's been quietly consistent for the most part," Coyle said.

Winning is better than losing and Bush helps winning

Let's start out by saying that Sunday was a good day for the Dolphins.

Winning is much better than losing anytime, anywhere, anyhow. And, as I wrote in my column for The Herald, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars may not feel like an awesome accomplishment but it was important for Miami because it avoided making today feel like Armaggedon.

Having said that, I saw a couple of things Sunday that raised questions about the entire season:

1. Have the Dolphins maximized Reggie Bush?

Bush rushed 21 times for 104 yards. It marked the first time he went over 100 yards in a game since Sept. 16. And that was also the last time he got the ball 20 times or more in a game. Coincidence?

I don't think so. I think that in the desire to keep Bush healthy and spread the wealth, the Dolphins have made their running game poorer by not using their best weapon enough. At least that's what the statistics say.

The only reason Bush got more work Sunday is because Daniel Thomas suffered a knee injury on his first and only carry of the day. (More on that in a sec.).

So it was Bush that got opportunity after opportunity, which is something he loves. I asked him if he rather tote the ball 20-plus times per game or if he prefers the 12-14 times per game the Dolphins like to limit him to.

“That’s an easy question; 20 and up," he said. "You know what, obviously every game and every scenario is different. Sometimes you are going to throw the ball a little more and sometimes we’re playing from behind so you have to get a quick score. This is a game where I think we controlled the game for the most part, so we were able to kind of dictate what we wanted to do on offense, not coming from behind like we have been in the past throwing a lot.”

Yeah, Bush tried to cover with the idea that sometimes he doesn't get the ball because the Dolphins are trying to catch up and aren't running. But what about the times they simply are sitting him in favor of, well, inferior players?

Let's face it, Bush is better with more carries. Why?

"Why is more better? Because I am a running back, I don’t know," he said. "Running backs always want the ball more. I’m a playmaker and I like having the ball in my hands. I feel like the more touches I get, the more chances I have to make good plays out there.”


Now, about Thomas. You all know how I feel about him.

I simply don't think he's been very good. I don't see nearly the potential in him the Dolphins see. He's just a guy, in my opinion.

And Sunday offered another reason why I believe that:

2. Thomas has durability issues.

He's gotten knocked out of three games this year with injuries. He suffered a couple of concussions and yesterday went out with the knee injury. His status for Sunday is questionable at best.

Well, to me, durability is a critical factor on which players are judged. Some guys are simply more injury prone than others. And while Thomas is not what I would call injury-prone at this stage, there is no denying he's missed more time than any other running back on the roster because of injury.

That is something the Dolphins must consider for next year if they are going to pass the mantle of the RB position to Thomas and Lamar Miller and let Bush walk in free agency.