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25 posts from July 2013

July 30, 2013

Coaches digest the scrimmage buffet

The Dolphins coaching staff will meet today and go through Monday's night's scrimmage to see which players took steps forward and which stumbled as they prepare for three more days of practice starting Wednesday before they head to Canton, Ohio this weekend for the Hall of Fame game.

One of the issues the staff must manage is the wide receiver situation.

Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace were held out of the scrimmage. Hartline seemed to tweak a lower leg muscle, possibly a calf, in the warmups and drills prior to the scrimmage. Wallace was held out for an undetermined issue, although signs point to him also nursing some sort of minor injury. (Remember, the Dolphins do not comment on injuries and coach Joe Philbin didn't even address the media after the scrimmage. He addressed the crowd after many of them had already walked out. And he gave the media relations department two quotes about the scrimmage, neither of which addressed Wallace's absence. This, by the way, is not typical of NFL teams. Head coachess speak after practices and scrimmages and preseason games and regular season games and playoff games and Super Bowls. Win or lose).

At any rate, Philbin is expected to explain the Wallace absence Wednesday in some fashion because he is also not available to the media today -- a day off for the team.

It's really a shame about Wallace. No, I'm not too worried about the player's injury if that is what kept him out. Again, if he's injured it's minor. I'm sad for the franchise that is trying to increase a lagging season-ticket base and a growing disconnect from local fans. Last night the club had 22,876 interested fans in the stands -- more than the Patriots had at Gillette Stadium for a practice on the same night. All of those fans are potential season-ticket customers. I'm certain they all expected to see Ryan Tannehill (3 TD passes), Dion Jordan (one sack and one pressure), Cameron Wake and Mike Wallace.

And Wallace was only there to roam the sideline in his uniform but out of action. Shame.

That's not anyone's fault. It's just tough luck for the organization.

As to the rest of the wide receiver corps: Even as the team engages in talks about adding a body -- Laurent Robinson and Austin Collie are on the radar among others -- there will no doubt be a longer look at undrafted free agent acquisition Chad Bumphis.

Bumphis had two catches for 41 yards on Monday night. One of those was a 28-yard catch and run down the right sideline that showed both burst and field awareness. Bumphis has been mired on third and fourth teams so far in camp. If the scrimmage performance doesn't earn him more reps and perhaps some with the second team, it certainly puts him on the radar pior to the HOF game.

Bumphis wasn't the only back-of-the-roster type who caught the eyes of coaches:

AJ Francis, another undrafted rookie, was very active. He collected a sack. He batted a pass at the line of scrimmage. The Maryland kid showed up.

Will Davis, who frankly had struggled during practices, came through with a huge interception in the end zone during a goal line situation. (By the way, the Dolphins scored one of the TDs in goal line on  a pass and another run TD was questionable whether the runner got in although it was awarded. What's the point? I don't know).

The Dolphins are putting a huge emphasis on turnovers this season. Joe Philbin wants to be plus-16 this year as a starting point. The club was minus-10 last year. That means more turnovers for the defense. It's a great way to get in good graces.

And on offense a turnover is a good way to make a place in the doghouse.

Today, safety Kelcie McCray, Davis, defensive end Olivier Vernon, and Francis are in good graces. Mcray returned his interception of a Matt Moore pass 50 yards for a TD. Vernon had a sack and caused a fumble that Randy Starks recovered. Francis batted a pass that offered another interception opportunity. And, of course, Davis not only saved a touchdown but got the ball back with his interception.

By the way, this turnover emphasis is real. Consider what defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said:

“We constantly look for better ways of teaching, from little things like we’ve got footballs hanging from the walls in every defensive meeting room that they have to go in, when they walk in and out of the meeting rooms, they’re stripping and punching, just reminders," he said.

" We’ve shown them tape from around the league of teams that cause the most fumbles, how they were caused, what situations we may have had an opportunity to strip the ball and we didn’t.  We’ve talked about sacks, sack fumbles, we got a lot of sacks, but we didn’t get a lot of sack fumbles.  We like to believe there were opportunities at times last year to get a fumble as well as a sack, so we’ve showed them players throughout the league who have done that consistently and it’s an awareness factor. 

"So we’ve looked at the teams that create the most fumbles last year, it was New England, Chicago, and Cincinnati, we’ve studied every one of those fumbles, we’ve showed them those things on tape, and hopefully it will start to translate onto our play."

Conversely, losing turnovers is a no-no. So who's in the doghouse today?

Mike Gillislee was good against second- and third-team competition running the ball. He rushed for 21 yards on six carries. But he had a fumble that he lost. And he dropped a pass that would have gone for a first down.

Quarterbacks Moore and Pat Devlin also made key mistakes that turned otherwise mediocre nights into a problem. Neither threw a TD pass. Neither looked exceedingly comfortable. Both threw interceptions that cost his team TDs. Devlin's interception obviously was in the end zone. And Moore's interception was returned for a TD. Moore also had a fumble so two turnovers for him. Yuck.

Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, played a lot better than he's been practicing. He threw three touchdowns without and interception and that was without his two top wide receivers available. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 72 yards. His throw to Dustin Keller for a TD was a thing of beauty in that it was placed where only the TE could catch it for the score.

You know that mantra Philbin has about everyone is fighting for a job and there are no starters? It's doesn't apply at QB.

 

July 29, 2013

Live blog of tonight's Dolphins scrimmage

There will be no television. There will be no radio. There will be no live streaming on the internet. And the Dolphins will not be providing official statistics.

But this blog will be live and in living color the whole time.

I'll give you play-by-play as well as I can. I will tell you everything I see. And I'll do it in the comments section.

By the way, the Dolphins released their tentative depth cahrt for the Hall of Fame Game. No surprises.

The starters?

Offense

Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace at WR, LT Jonathan Martin, LG Richie Incognito, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Tyson Clabo, TE Dustin Keller, QB Ryan Tannehill, FB Jorvorskie Lane, RB Lamar Miller.

Defense

LE Olivier Vernon, DT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks/Jared Odrick, RE Cameron Wake, LB Phillip Wheeler, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Koa Misi, CB Brent Grimes, CB Richard Marshall, S Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones.

Specialist

P Brandon Fields, K Dan Carpenter, KR Marcus Thigpen, PR Marcus Thigpen, LS John Denney.

Second team

Offense

WR Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews, LT Jeff Adams, LG Dallas Thomas, C Josh Samuda, RG Lance Louis, RT Nate Garner, QB Matt Moore, RB Daniel Thomas, FB Evan Rodriguez, TE, Charles Clay.

Defense

LE Vaughn Martin, DT Kheeston Randall, RE Derrick Shelby, LB Austin Spitler, Jason Trusnik and Jonathan Freeny. CB Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson. S Jimmy Wilson and Kelcie McCray.

Yes, there's a third-team also. I tweeted it earlier. Follow me @Armando Salguero.

Ok, meet me in the comments section at 7 p.m.

Dolphins to work out Laurent Robinson

The Dolphins were very interested in Laurent Robinson last offseason until the Jacksonville Jaguars swooped in and signed the receiver coming off an 11-TD season to a $32.5 million deal. That didn't go well because Robinson suffered from concussion issues in Jacksonville and was eventually cut.

Well, with the Dolphins needing wide receiver help and Robinson still available it is apparently time to revisit the idea.

Robinson will be in South Florida and will work out for the team by tommorrow, according to The Herald's Barry Jackson who broke the story on twitter. Follow him!

It's likely the Dolphins will be looking at other WRs as well after losing Armon Binns to a catastrophic knee injury on Sunday. Binns reportedly blew out his ACL and MCL during practice.

Robinson has been making the rounds on workouts. He visited New England, Detroit and the Jets and didn't sign with any of them.

The concussion limited Robinson to seven games and 24 catches a season ago. But he had a monster season for Dallas in 2011 when he caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 TDs. That performance obviously made him a free agent prize.

Now he's hoping to land a job with a team that has already signed several free agent wide receiver prizes -- Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson -- this offseason.

Other names on the receiver free agent market include Austin Collie, Randy Moss, Chad Johnson, Early Doucet, perhaps Donald Driver and Steve Breaston.

Don't bank on Johnson or Moss being in the mix, however. They simply don't fit Joe Philbin's style, as we already saw with Johnson last year.

"We're always looking to improve from within or without," Philbin said today. "We're not afraid as an organization to improve the ballclub at any position."

The offensive line and how it can affect Dolphins O

This morning my column in the Miami Herald explains the state of flux the Dolphins offensive line is in since John Jerry's knee injury disturbed the relative peace of the unit. It explains how several players are moving around, including players you wouldn't have thought. It explains how offensive coordinator Mike Sherman sounds a bit uncertain about how such juggling might affect players.

But allow me to go a bit further here as we have more space to dig into the issue. (I'm so glad the Internet is not yet full to capacity).

One of the reasons the stability of Miami's offensive line is profoundly important this year is because the Dolphins are undergoing something of a transformation on offense and it greatly depends on the ability of the front wall to stay sturdy.

The Dolphins, you see, are apparently going away from their typical offense this year. So far this training camp the use of the FB as the lead blocker has been rare indeed. I think I've seen the Dolphins in a traditional I formation with Jorvorskie Lane leading Lamar Miller through a hole perhaps a handful of times in over 700 snaps.

Basically, the Dolphins are attempting to make the most of their offseason acquisitions of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson by putting them on the field with Brian Hartline. So the Dolphins may be transitioning to a three-receiver set team. Except that when you add a WR to the offense you have to subtract another player because, well, the team's request to play with 12 offensive players in 2013 was denied by the NFL.

So the fullback position has been practically eliminated. (Now we understand why the Vonta Leach chase kind of fizzled).

In a typical Dolphins huddle this camp you have Gibson, Wallace and Brian Hartline as the other starting receiver. No Lane. No fullback at all, really.

Yes, the tight end or H-back (depending on personnel) can serve as the lead blocker. But even that is hardly considered a hammering attempt to be physical because Dustin Keller often is asked to serve as the lead blocker. And if you are aware of Keller's histroy you know he's an accomplished pass-catching tight end. But as a blocker ... he's an accomplished pass-catching tight end.

And Charles Clay's blocking will never be confused with Leach's lead blocking.

So with less blocking from the fullback position and sometimes zero blocking from the fullback position -- because the formation is a one-back set -- the Dolphins would obviously depend on excellent blocking from their offensive line to power their running game.

Do you understand now the higher need this season to have good, stable offensive line play? Simply, if that unit doesn't win up front, there is no fullback reinforcement coming through the hole to help. It's win or the play loses.

Except that, as you'll read in my column the line is definitely not stable right now.

Yes, it's early in camp. Most clubs just opened camp this past weekend while the Dolphins have already been in camp since July 22. But Jerry will be out at least another week at best and perhaps three more weeks. He definitely isn't playing the preseason opener against Dallas in the Hall of Fame game. So time is precious.

Obviously, the Dolphins could decide to shelve their three-wide look as a base offense. (God, I hope not). But that would mean they're putting one of their better players on the bench in favor of a lesser player simply to make the running game better. It's upside down logic.

No, the Dolphins need the offensive line to step up so that the plans so clearly laid out this early in camp aren't scrapped and the 2013 Dolphins don't go back to the more traditional and boring and not as effective in a passing league I-formation sets we've seen in the past.

[NOTES: I will be doing a twitter live chat at 1 p.m. today so if you don't already, follow me on twitter. If you are tech challenged and social media makes your head explode, you can still connect with me today. I'll be here during the scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium starting at 7 p.m. to share some play-by-play with you and answer questions as much as I can.]

July 28, 2013

Update on Jerry, today's practice [Updated]

The Dolphins are hopeful that John Jerry's knee injury will respond to treatment and not require surgery but as there's a possibility the treatment won't work the team will continue searching for possible starting combinations for the interior line that obviously don't include Jerry.

[Update 1: I'm told, as clarification, there is a possibility Jerry's already had surgery and treatment would be for post-op rehab. My source declined to be specific for fear of retribution from the Dolphins who fine players for speaking about injuries, admonish agents not to speak to the media and otherwise want to keep all injury information out of the public eye. Either way, Jerry is expected to miss 2-4 weeks total.]

Think Josh Samuda as either a guard or center.

Think Mike Pouncey as either a center or guard.

Think Dallas Thomas as a left guard.

Think Richie Incognito as either a left guard or right guard.

It's complicated, folks and today I'll be writing my column for tomorrow's paper on the topic. As for the column in today's paper, that was on Cameron Wake and his continued expected excellence. Today' for example, Wake blew up two plays in the backfield, making experienced right tackle Tyson Clabo look bad on the plays.

As I write in my column, Wake started this training camp by passing his conditioning test. He didn't run his test with other defensive linemen, however. He ran with the defensive backs. Please read the column.

As for today's practice, Armon Binns injured his left knee during one-on-one drills versus defensive backs. He limped over to trainers and eventually spent the rest of the practice watching on the sideline. I'd assume he'll have an MRI but don't think it's a catastrophic injury because he wasn't carted off the field and actually walked off after practice on his own power.

[Update 2: Despite limping off the field, Binns is apparently done for the season. The Herald's Barry Jackson is reporting Binns tore his ACL and MCL. The Dolphins should be looking for more WR help this evening.]

Rishard Matthews, meanwhile, was something of a mystery. He was around for stretching in the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble but then was not present when the team moved practice outdoors. Coach Joe Philbin declined to speak about either Binns or Matthews as is his policy about injured players and players not present at practice.

[Update 3: The Herald's Adam Beasley is reporting Matthews will be out for several weeks, citing an NFL source. Not good for a player that needs repetitions in practice to make the team.]

Kicker Caleb Sturgis (groin), running back Cameron Marshall (hamstring) and defensive back Jamar Taylor (hernia), were all held out of practice.

On the bright side for the Dolphins, today was the first day first-round pick Dion Jordan participated in all the drills. He was in during the team period. He got into the one-on-ones versus offensive linemen. He also worked on special teams, as he's been doing for several days now.

My initial impression?

Jordan is lean and long but I didn't see any explosiveness from him in pass rushing. Obviously it is only one practice. Obviously, it is his first getting physical. So This means practically nothing. But if you want to know what I saw from him today ... not a lot initially. He's got to pick up steam.

As to those one-on-one drills between the OL and DL, allow me to share one full period of padded, helmeted, big man football:

Jonathan Martin vs. Dion Jordan. Win to Martin.

Josh Samuda vs. Randy Starks. Draw.

Mike Pouncey vs. Paul Soliai. Win to Soliai.

Richie Incognito vs. Jared Odrick. Win to Incognito.

Tyson Clabo vs. Cameron Wake. Clabo jumps, so illegal procedure.

Jeff Adams vs. Dion Jordan. Draw.

Dallas Thomas vs. Vaughn Martin. Draw.

Sam Brenner vs. Kheeston Randall. Draw.

Lance Louis vs. Tracy Robertson. Win to Louis.

Nate Garner vs. Koa Misi. Win to Garner.

Will Yeatman vs. Olivier Vernon. Win to Yeatman.

Randy Starks blew up somebody but I missed the number of the Olineman.

Andrew McDonald vs. Tristan Okpalaugo. Win to McDonald.

Martin vs. Emeka Onyenekwu. Win to Martin.

Samuda vs. Starks. Draw.

Brenner vs. Chris Burnette. Win to Burnette.

Incognito vs. Martin. Win to Martin.

Clabo vs. Derrick Shelby. Draw.

Chris Barker vs. Jordan. Win to Barker.

Thomas vs. A.J. Francis. Win to Francis.

Burden vs. Randall. Draw.

Louis vs. Robertson. Win for Louis.

Yeatman vs. Onyenekwu. Win to Onyenekwu.

Brian Thomas vs. Burnette. Win to Brian Thomas.

Brenner vs. Francis. Win to Brenner.

Barker vs. Randall. Draw.

Andrew McDonald vs. Okpalaugo. Draw.

Martin vs. Vernon. Win to Vernon.

Samuda vs. Tracy Robertson. Win to Samuda.

Burden vs. Burnette. Bad snap and win to Burnette.

Pouncey vs. Randall. Win to Pouncey.

Clabo vs. Misi. Win to Clabo.   

By the way, today's practice featured the first fracas of training camp. Samuda and Odrick had a little difference of opinion and that resulted in a wrestling match that had the offensive lineman on top of the defensive lineman. When the pair got untangled, Odrick snapped off his helmet and wanted to go back for more but by then the coaches and other players had stepped between him and Samuda. No harm done.

July 27, 2013

Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers give Dolphins a lesson

On the first day of training camp one of the housecleaning issues that should have been properly handled was putting the "Free Hernandez" issue in the rear view mirror for Mike Pouncey.

The Dolphins fumbled badly in the attempt.

After an internal debate on how to handle the issue of Pouncey wearing a cap that read "Free Hernandez" during his and brother Maurkice's birthday bash at a South Beach nightclub, the Dolphins decided not addressing the topic and definitely not apologizing for any lack of sensitivity was the best way to approach it.

Coach Joe Philbin wouldn't discuss it publicly other than to say he wants players doing the right thing. Pouncey did not address it in his first availability, saying he was only prepared to talk football.

This approach came after a debate that had multiple people within the organization saying Pouncey should apologize for the cap that asked for the release of jailed and accused murderer Aaron Heranandez, a former roommate of the Pouncey twins at the University of Florida.

But what set the Dolphins approach apart was its contrast to how the Pittsburgh Steelers handled the situation with Maurkice Pouncey, the starting center in Pittsburgh who apologized almost immediately.

Well, apparently the reason Mike Pouncey didn't apologize or even address the issue is because the Dolphins wouldn't allow him. Unlike the Steelers, who wanted the situation handled quickly, the Dolphins took the bunker mentality approach.

Even when Mike Pouncey felt bad about the situation.

"I talked to Mike, and his team handled this situation a lot different than (the Steelers) did,” Maurkice Pouncey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I'm sure Mike wanted to apologize, but that's how they handled it.”

So Pouncey wanted to apologize but the Dolphins prevented him. And, according to sources, Pouncey wasn't the only one who wanted this issue handled differently. I'm told several people within the organization wanted to have Pouncey apologize and let the issue simply die right there.

Those folks obvioulsy lost the argument. The winner of the argument?

Philbin.

He wanted the bunker approach and got it.

I assume the coach figured not saying anything and definitely not apologizing would make the issue go away quicker. He was wrong. It makes the issue linger because the question is still out there, new details now arise from Maurkice that Mike wanted to apologize, and there's the whole idea of the coach going against owner Stephen Ross's stated approach on how the club is going to be run.

You'll remember in March of 2012, Ross said that to the extent it didn't hurt any competitive edge, his team would be run in an open and transparent manner. He said the team had to emerge from "the dungeon" of the past tight-lipped football administrations.

He made this proclamation after hosting his football people -- including Philbin -- at his home in Palm Beach the day before and giving them marching orders about his new way of doing business.

Well, that is not how the Dolphins approached this. And the fact the Steelers, an far more successful and respected organization, handled the same issue in a vastly different manner makes the Dolphins look worse.

By the way, how does Mike Pouncey feel today? I mean really?

He's an open guy. He speaks his mind obviously. But he was clearly told to shut it down and not apologize for asking the release of an accused murderer. He feels he made a mistake, according to his brother, but the club won't let him make amends? You think he appreciates not getting that off his record, so to speak?

An apology makes it go away. Claming up makes it linger. Philbin, a second-year coach, apparently doesn't understand this. The Pittsburgh Steelers do. Maurkice Pouncey, a third-year player, does.

“I think manning up to the things you do is always important for any man with any position in life,” Maurkice Pouncey said. "I think I came out here and did that in front of everybody. I think it'll mean lot to everybody in Pittsburgh and all around  the country."

Except in Miami. Where Mike Pouncey was stifled. 

Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/4401987-74/pouncey-hernandez-mike#ixzz2aGH9tVSF
Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook

July 26, 2013

Jerry injured, Dolphins experimenting with OL

Dolphins coaches last night told rookie Dallas Thomas he should prepare himself for work at guard with the first-team offense today. Thomas, a third-round pick, had played only tackle since training camp began. And he hadn't taken any first-team snaps.

"Nothing is set in stone right now and they just want me to learn the whole offense," Thomas said.

The reason for the sudden promotion and change of position?

John Jerry has an unknown injury. He was not on the field today, neither in practice nor on the side rehabilitating. Coach Joe Philbin was asked about Jerry's absense but said the club's policy is to not comment on injured players -- which I suppose eliminates the possibility Jerry was absent for some other reason.

And so with their presumed starting right guard out today, the Dolphins basically blew up the starting offensive line.

Jerry went out.

Thomas went to left guard.

And Richie Incognito switched over from left guard, where he's started the past three years, to right guard.

So today, the Miami starting offensive line had one player back from a year ago playing a position he played all of last year. That was Mike Pouncey at center. You'll recall right tackle Tyson Clabo is new to the team. Jonathan Martin was mostly at right tackle last year. Incognito was exclusively at left guard and Jerry was at right guard.

That makes today all the more curious. One would think that the easy fix for replacing Jerry would be to plug in Thomas at right guard. (And although he took a couple of snaps at right guard, most of the work was at left).

You would think that Incognito and Martin, who are getting a feel for each other on the left side, wouldn't be broken up.

You would think that Thomas, a rookie, and Martin, a second-year player, form something of an inexperience issue on the left side.

Nope. Coaches would disagree. Philbin cited the fact it's still early in camp and that allows coaches to experiment a bit.

Thomas said he was initially "nervous" about working against the starting defensive line and with the starting OL. He added it is ultimately a good thing because it helped him know what "game speed" against better players is like.

(I got news for him, that wasn't game speed).

Anyway, the moving aorund of the different players is interesting because, frankly, the ofensive line hasn't been very good since camp opened. The defensive front has generally gotten the better of the unit and on blitzes the holes in the A-gap were sizeable.

So coaches are facing this question:

Do you only plug in the rookie and not shake things up and hope the unit comes together?

Or ...

You make more significant changes and see if that's way better.

By the way, I am only speculating here but if Jerry's injury were serious the move to blow things up makes more sense. Thomas, after all, is more comfortable on the left side and Incognito is a more natural right guard anyway.

But if Jerry is returning tomorrow and all will be returned to normal, today was something of a waste in the OL's search for cohesion.

Makes you wonder how serious Jerry's injury really is.

July 25, 2013

The Dolphins address various issues of note

What are the Dolphins saying their first full week of practice. Here are some snippets (love that word) on various topics:

Coach Joe Philbin on left tackle Jonathan Martin: “We saw a lot of progress, we saw developments there. His technique is good, he needs to work on his punch a little bit better, the consistency of the punch, but I thought overall he played well. He had five games roughly that he played at left tackle last year, so he needs to have frequent snaps but we’re expecting a lot.”

Is Philbin comfortable with the depth along the OL? “Not necessarily, I don’t know that I’m comfortable with the depth of any position yet. We’re still in that initial phase of camp, still a lot of teaching going on, not overly concerned with who’s getting a rep against who at this point in time. We’re more concerned about the volume of work that we can get done, the amount of things we can teach, get a look at it on the practice field, then go back and reinforce some of the things in the meeting room.  We haven’t really gotten to that stage yet, but I don’t know that I’m comfortable at a lot of positions yet."

What are John Jerry's thoughts on the OL? "We are going to be alright up front. We have five preseason games, so that will benefit a lot of guys."

Jerry on the eventual challenge from Lance Louis for his starting RG job: "I’m a competitor. Lance is a competitor. We are going to compete. We are going to help each other. We are going to make each other better."

But, but, but John, Lance Louis wants your job: "You know, I think he has that mindset, and I’ve got that mindset. At the same time, we are just trying to get better."

New receiver Mike Wallace and quarterback Ryan Tannehill haven't connected on any significan deep passes in live team periods yet. Is that a product of the installation of the offense, Mike? “We have different days where we do different things. I have all the confidence that Coach (Mike) Sherman is going to put it in how it is needed to be put in. I’m not really worried about that. I think that will come in due time. It is only day (four at practice). We have a lot more days to go at camp and especially before the regular season. I think everything will fall in place. I think they have a good plan in place for us."

Cameron Wake sort of took Olivier Vernon under his wings, so to speak, in the offseason and the two defensive ends -- one accomplished, one wanting to accomplish -- spent time together in the offseason.

What happened during that time, Cam Wake?

“He’s one of the guys I was talking to some of the guys earlier, he’s probably one of the most improved guys on the team.  I spent a little time with him in the offseason. He’s a guy who’s hungry and from the day he got here, you knew he was one of those guys with that mindset, being a small defensive end like me and some of the other guys on the team, you can’t go in there timid.  It’s not for the meek and mild. You have to go in there, throw your body in there, doesn’t matter if he’s 6’8 and 400 pounds, you have to go after him and tackle him.  It’s that pit bull mentality. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog. So he’s that kind of guy."

Does Wake like Vernon's approach?

"He came here with a lot of that, and I don’t want to toot my horn too much but, I like to think that I’m a guy that he can learn some things from and take some pieces of my game and incorporate his own style too.  He brought a lot already when he signed up here, but that guys is a hell of a player and I know he’s only going to get better."

 

 

July 24, 2013

Longest practice of the season (officially) is over

The Dolphins just finished what Dolphins coach Joe Phiblin said would be the longest practice of training camp. And we had had touchdown passes today!

That's right, Matt Moore had a couple and Ryan Tannehill connected on his first TD throw in team drills of the training camp. Both came in red zone situations which was the focus of today's practice.

The stars of today's work?

Wide receiver Brian Hartline was one. He caught a TD from Moore and had two other catches in team work. He did drop a pass on a quick out and was open in the back of the end zone for another touchdown but the ball delivered by Ryan Tannehill was knocked down at the goal line.Brian Hartline In the picture (Courtesy Joe Rimkus of The Miami Herald), Hartline is snagging one of his catches as cornerback R.J. Stanford defends.

Dustin Keller, as usual, was the most active pass catchers in terms of catches and that is no surprise but second-year player Michael Egnew was very active in today's practice as well.

Egnew started out poorly. In Miami's fumble drills inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble offensive players hold a ball in their left arm and another in their right arm. Then two defenders standing on either side try to snatch the balls from the offensive players' grasp. After surviving this, player must run a gauntlet past coaches the pummel them with pads.

Egnew was one of only two players to fumble today. Running back Daniel Thomas was the other.

But Egnew got better once on the field. Yes, he dropped a seemingly easy catch along the sideline during 7 on 7 work, but also caught a touchdown and had one other catch. Inconsistent? Yes. That's still better than usual.

Free agent Marvin McNutt, good the first couple days of work as he vies for one of the open WR jobs, dropped one pass and had to double-catch another in traffic today. He did have one good catch from Tannehill but overall not a clean day for him.

Rishard Matthews, another WR vying for a job, caught the touchdown from Ryan Tannehill. It was, as mentioned earlier, Tannehill's first TD in team drills this camp.

After practice offensive right guard John Jerry stood out in the heat and answered media questions for a few minutes. Why is this important? Well, he was able to be upright. He wasn't vomiting. He wasn't spent. The guy is in better shape this year than a year ago at this time when he was 18 pounds overweight.

"It's like night and day," Jerry said comparing his conditioning now to last season. "I'm way ahead in my conditioning."

Jerry declined to divulge his weight but he's listed at 335 pounds and cannot be far from that.

Mike Wallace and Tannehill are still searching for the signature moment when the starting quarterback drops five steps, waits a count or two, and fires a strike to the new big play receiver deep down the field. But Wallace is catching a lot of outs and slants.

And he is battling, as expected, in one-on-one drills against cornerbacks. And I do mean battle. In the picture (Courtesy the Herald's Joe Rimkus) Wallace and cornerback Nolan Carroll are going at it in the end zone on one-on-one drills. That one was won by Carroll who eventually knocks the ball away.Dolphins25 breakup jwr

The kicking competition continued today and it wasn't great for rookie Caleb Sturgis who missed consecutive kicks in the NSMB, from 47 and 49 yards. Both sailed wide left.

I shared with you yesterday that the three incumbent specialists -- Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields and John Denney -- are very close.

"Very tight," Philbin confirmed today.

And they're often seen together while Sturgis, the rookie, is alone and apparently on the outs.

So is breaking up that veteran trio a consideration in the decision as it pertains to affecting team chemistry?

"We told the players the first day of the meeting that our job, my job is to play the best players and there's not going to be any favoritism. I think every player deserves that and that's what we'll do."

Interesting.

Defensive end Dion Jordan continued his slow climb toward practicing full tilt. I believe once the team gets back from Thursday's off day, the heat will be turned up on Jordan relative to work in team drills.

As it stands, the rookie first round pick has not participated in any significant contact work yet. He's not been in team drills or one-on-ones versus offensive linemen.

"We thought he was moving around well yesterday," Philbin said. "He's picking things up relatively well."

On the injury front, running back Cameron Marshall pulled with an apparent hamstring injury during kickoff drills. He did not resume work. And cornerback Jamar Taylor missed his third day of drills while nursing soreness from the effects of his hernia surgery. 

[BLOG NOTE: Come back later this afternoon for actual play-by play of practice. And follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero].

July 23, 2013

Some highlights and observations from Tuesday's practice

I promised you some practice highlights from Tuesday's first day of work in pads and here it is:

First, the actual contact work was light.

I sat with former Dolphins defensive end Kim Bokamper during practice and we both looked at our watches and noticed there had been no real hitting a full 90 minutes into the practice. Bokamper said in his day there would have already been a goal-line drill and some live team period done.

Coach Joe Philbin said he's going to bring the contact along slowly. Some Tuesday. More Wednesday. Team is off Thursday. Then a bit more Friday on, leading up to a scrimmage next week.

The Dolphins have completed a ton of passes to WR Mike Wallace so far, but most have been on out patterns along the sideline and slants. Ryan Tannehill did connect with Wallace on a 25-yard throw down the middle of the field early today. The reason for the connection?

Broken coverage.

Wallace was by himself, which should never happen on defense.

I will say that cornerback Brent Grimes has been excellent so far. He's faced Wallace one-on-one on several occasions and is battling on every pass. He had a beautiful PD today when he basically ripped the ball from Wallace's grasp as the two fought for it.

Good news, bad news

I'm particularly interested in the fates of Michael Egnew and Jorvorskie Lane this camp. I'm interested to see the team's plans for two players that made the team as rookies and had moments but are under pressure this year and might not make the team.

Today, for the first time, the Dolphins put Lane into his familiar lead blocker role at fullback with the first team offense. Miami has been mostly in one-back sets and using the TE as a lead blocker the first few days.

The news on Egnew has been encouraging if you trust that him doing something (anything, really) is more than he did last year. He caught a few passes Monday. On Tuesday, he caught a nice pass down the seam from Matt Moore delivered and just as I was thinking, 'That's the reason he's here and needs to do more of that,' he got stripped of the ball.

Fumble.

De'Andre Presley stipped the ball as he took Egnew to the ground. The interesting thing to me is that once the ball was out and defenders picked up the ball and started charging back up field with the turnover, Egnew remained on the ground.

He didn't immediately get back up and try to get the ball back with a strip from behind. Perhaps I'm making too much of this but every athlete is going to lose sometime. But if he's going to lose and accept it, instead of reacting by getting up and trying to change the play back to his favor, he's got no chance.

Remember Don Beebe in the Super Bowl? He ran down a Dallas defensive tackle and turned what seemed like a certain Dallas defensive touchdown off a turnover into a fumble for Buffalo and a touchback.

Beebe refused to be defeated on that play. He didn't give up despite being in a tough situation.

By the way, how many times have you seen a QB throw an interception but then make the touchdown saving tackle on that very play? Sometimes it doesn't matter, but sometimes that tackle becomes a big deal when the defense refuses to let the other team score.

Egnew should learn not to accept that once he fumbles the play is over and he remains on the ground. That's the time to get up and chase the ballcarrier to try to cause a fumble for your team.

Speaking of tight ends, Charles Clay is being more productive this camp than in previous camps. He had a very nice catch down the seam against Phillip Wheeler today. The new LB had close coverage but Ryan Tannehill fit the ball in a tight space and Clay caught it.

The Dolphins need that from Clay in actual games because 18 catches last season just isn't productive enough.

The kicking competition:

It was Dan Carpenter's day to do all the kicking. Carpenter connected on kicks from 50 and 52 yards inside the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble (NSMB) and from 49 yards on the practice field. Carpenter has been hot so far in camp, not missing even once, but that streak ended when he failed from 54 yards out.

By the way, it is an interesting dynamic this competition between Carpenter and rookie Caleb Sturgis because it obviously also involves long snapper John Denney and punter Brandon Fields.

Fields, Denney, and Carpenter have been together since 2008 and have developed a friendship. They hang together in practice. They have lockered together. They're like the Three Amigos.

Now comes Sturgis, a rookie, trying to beat out Carpenter and break up the trio because, well, that's his assignment.

Well, it was interesting to watch today as Denney, Carpenter and Fields standing together on the sideline -- as they usually do -- while Sturgis was by himself on the sideline and obviously not a part of that group of specialists.

I'm not saying the veterans aren't being professional or are giving the rookie the cold shoulder. I'm just saying sometimes human nature is very apparent.

[NOTE: Follow me on twitter for real-time updates during practice.]

Dolphins Tuesday practice: In pads for first time

The Dolphins brought out the football gear today as there was some, but not a lot, of contact for the first time this training camp.

Contact or no, this much is clear:

The Dolphins defense -- a unit with two new starting cornerbacks, two new starting linebackers and a new starting defensive end -- is way, way, way further along than the offense. Indeed, defensive tackle Jared Odrick said the defense's goal is to lead the NFL in sacks and be a Top 5 defense and the way they looked today, one shouldn't doubt that is attainable.

On the other hand, the offense ...

Oy.

Not good.

Put it this way, the first play of the first team drill in front of the fans who came to watch practice was supposed to be a run left but quarterback Ryan Tannehill tripped over an offensive lineman's feet and fell down.

It wasn't a good day for Tannehill. He threw an interception to Chris Clemons in team drills. And he threw an interception to Dannell Ellerbe in seven-on-seven work. He seemed to be holding the ball a bit. Yes, he completed a beautiful pass to Charles Clay down the seam despite good coverage by Phillip Wheeler. And yes, he did have a 30-yard completion to Mike Wallace on a broken coverage by the secondary.

But otherwise, Matt Moore was the superior quarterback today. Moore, by the way, also threw an interception -- which Jimmy Wilson collected.

"I told the team I thought for our first day in pads we had a very productive practice," coach Joe Philbin said. "Obviously, we have stopping the run on defense. We had a good team run period. I was glad to see we had some takeaways there on defense."

Understand that bad news on offense is good news on defense. So when the Dolphins worked inside blitzes from linebackers Ellerbe and Wheeler that would have collected multiple sacks on Tannehill and Moore, Philbin viewed it as both good ... and somewhat distressing.

"It's good we got in there," Philbin said. "Conversely, you don't like to see two guys running free up in the A-gap."

You don't like to see the offensive line not getting in synch. And that was the case today. Jonathan Martin continues to lose the battle against Olivier Vernon. The interior offensive line did mostly manage a stalemate against Paul Soliai and Randy Starks and Jared Odrick.

But stalemates are not great for the offense but very good for the defense.

When Tannehill connected today it was mostly to backs out of the backfield or tight end Dustin Keller or receiver Brandon Gibson short across the middle. I predict either Keller or Gibson will lead the team in receptions this year. It makes sense. Both are vets. Both make themselves available to the QB. Their patterns are easy ones to complete.

The best news out of today's practice is that rookie first-round pick Dion Jordan is on track to be full go in practice perhaps Wednesday but almost certainly the weekend after the players get Thursday off.

Jordan, recovering from shoulder surgery, was in pads like everyone else today. He didn't participate in any major contact work. He didn't participate in team drills or live contact. But he is clearly progressing and concerns his injury will linger are unfounded. 

"We're teaching him the system, getting him acclimated to the schemes, concepts, teaching of that and then the fundamentals," Philbin said.

Philbin diminished the importance of the time Jordan missed during the offseason and the first couple of days of training camp. (I wonder if veterans who would love to miss minicamps would point the coach to his own words).

"He sat in the classroom. he's watched all the practice film and the correction. Obviously there has to be a point in time when he's got to do it for himself and feel it for himself and make a couple of mistakes and learn from them and move forward as a player." 

Jordan said he's not worried about the shoulder injury.

"I'm trying to put it beind me, no sling or anything," he said. "The next step is getting out there and doing more live drills."

The step after Jordan is fully immersed is starting a competition with second-year veteran Olivier Vernon. Right now, Vernon is killing it. He has easly gotten the better of Martin at least once in each practice on pass-rushes. He is, in my opinion, much better than the player I saw last year. 

Jordan is going to have to work very hard to take snaps away from Vernon.

"He's getting off on the snap count very, very well," Philbin said of Vernon. "He's got good leverage. I was down at the one-on-ones and he showed a nice spin move. He's doing some good things. He really is."

While Vernon is progressing, Jordan is obviously going through all the usual rookie issues. One of those is dealing with Paul Soliai, who had his annual hairdressing of the rookies Monday night. All of them along the defensive line are now wearing terrible color as part of their hairstyle.Dionjordan

"It's part of being a rookie. But I told him I'm a good vet," Soliai said of his conversation with Jordan. "I'm not going to have him do it the whole preseason. He's just got to wear it for two weeks starting today. I told him after that you can do whatever you want to do."

[NOTE: Come back in a bit for more practice highlights.]

July 22, 2013

Dolphins camp Day Two in the books

I think I've figured it out. It took me a couple of practices and talking to a couple of people, but it is clear to me why the Dolphins applied the stiff-arm to fullback Vonta Leach late last week.

It's just that the Dolphins are going to use a one-back look with four pass-catchers (three receivers and a tight end) or an I-formation look with the tight end as the lead blocker look going forward. And none of that leaves a lot of room for a fullback on the roster.

It makes sense, really.

When you consider the Dolphins have three starting-caliber and high priced receivers in Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson on the team, it makes sense to get them on the field as much as possible. When you consider Dustin Keller is an experienced and solid tight end and the Dolphins are heavily invested in the position with Charles Clay, Dion Sims, Kyle Miller and Michael Egnew, it makes sense to have an extra roster spot not occupied by a fullback and instead used on an extra tight end.

Voila, mystery solved.

So at the end of this camp, it is possible the Dolphins can keep either an extra tight end, or perhaps use the spot elsewhere such as cornerback or linebacker or receiver, and not feel the pinch of being lessened because the fullback spot has become marginalized, anyway.

 I remind you the Dolphins still have two fullbacks on the roster: Jorvorskie Lane and Evan Rodriguez. But neither has gotten even one snap with the first or second-team offense in two days of camp that I've noticed. Both are in a deserate fight to merely make the team. I don't like their chances.

Now, I know at least a couple of you scoffed when you read Michael Egnew's name among the tight ends the Dolphins have invested in. Obviously, he was a disappointment last year. But today he had a relatively good day.

He caught a handful of passes (four actually) and that included a grab from Matt Moore between two defenders in tight coverage on a seam route that stretched 17 yards. It almost brought a tear to my eyes to witness. Almost.

Some other practice highlights:

Big men go one-on-one

I love the one-on-one pass rush drills when offensive and defensive lineman match wits, girth and physical attributes. Todays highlights?

Second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon, who is working with the starting unit and doing well in my opinion, schooled new left tackle Jonathan Martin on an inside move. Martin allowed his feet to get tangled. It was ugly.

Not surprisingly, veteran Randy Starks abused rookie Brian Thomas, a free agent out of Texas A&M, and he didn't even look like he was going full speed.

The Dolphins have an interesting situation working at defensive tackle. Jared Odrick has been impressive at the position which he's been playing exclusively so far in camp -- no defensive end work -- and so it could be Soliai and Starks on early downs and then Starks and Odrick on passing downs. Obviously, whichever player doesn't start will get plenty of playing time in rotation.

It's also possible Odrick might still be used at defensive end but, as I said, he hasn't worked at end yet in camp.

Devlin works with 2s

QB Pat Devlin got some second-team snaps today. Matt Moore worked some with the third-stringers. It was interesting perhaps only to me because I recall that Devlin has a reputation for being among coach Joe Philbin's favorite players.

I'm not saying Devlin is challenging Moore for the backup role. Moore's experienced, his ability to enter a game and win it (against the Jets last year) and his salary preclude such a sudden shift to Devlin. But it was interesting to see. Moore, by the way, had a good day of practice and was probably the best QB on the field today.

Yes, it is available

The read option is in the playbook. All I'm saying on that. 

Talking RBs

Although Lamar Miller is the presumed starting running back, I was told today to assume nothing about that. Yes, Miller is getting the first-team snaps. But Daniel Thomas is also getting some of those. And as a club source told me, the team believes Thomas is ready for a big season if he can stay healthy. Yes, big if, I know. Just sharing what I'm told.

Tannehill-Wallace update

My column in today's newspaper examined the need for quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace to get in synch so that Miami's popgun offense of a year ago might show more explosiveness. Check the column to see what the players said about their work on Day One.

Today, I hate to report, we're still looking for the long TD bomb from the QB to the deep threat receiver. Has yet to happen. Tannehill and Wallace did connect on three sideline out routes. There was even a slant pass completed. But the bomb?

Not yet.

Kicking competition

Today was Caleb Sturgis day as the Dolphins apparently are alternating kicking days between he and Dan Carpenter. Today, Sturgis got only three attempts. He made two but missed on a 47-yarder.

[NOTE: The Dolphins do not allow updates to the blog during the major parts of practice thus I update on a real-time basis on twitter. So if you're looking for the latest on what is happening at practice, follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero].

July 21, 2013

Dolphins camp Day One in the books

The first Dolphins training camp practice of 2013 has come and gone. Here are the highlights:

Rookie first round pick Dion Jordan was in attendance after signing his contract Saturday, but did not practice today. He spent most of the morning on the sideline doing calisthenics. He is on the Non-Football Injury list, according to coach Joe Philbin.

That means Jordan, who had shoulder surgery in February, cannot practice for now. Philbin declined to elaborate as to Jordan's status but one thing is clear, the rookie isn't going to hurry his return.

"Right now I've got to take care of my body first," he said. For any athlete, when this is your job and this is what your whole motivation is, it’s frustrating not being out there and watching the guys go. But I understand my health is the main concern right now. So that’s what I’m going to focus on.”

Frankly, it is five months since his surgery. I don't see this is a major issue at the moment. If we're sitting in the same spot in three weeks, then we have an issue.

On a much more positive front, cornerback Brent Grimes looked great in practice today. Truly. He moved with ease following a season in which he missed all but the first game because of a torn Achilles. Grimes and Richard Marshall, who also missed much of last year because of a bad back that required surgery, were the first-team cornerbacks and got the better of the receivers today.

The most clear sign that Grimes is back is he wasn't even wearing ankle tape to stabilize the repaired area. "I never do, I don't like it," he said. ""No reason to."

While the starting DBs looked good, the same cannot be said of the first-team passing game. The first play of practice on the field before an announced crowd of 2,700?

Ryan Tannehill threw a nine route to Mike Wallace down the right sideline. It was overthrown. It didn't get much better from there.

"It wasn't our cleanest day," Tannehill said afterward. "We definitely have some rust we have to knock off."

Tannehill found Brian Hartline on multiple occasions and that shows his familiarity with the veteran. But none of those were deep connections. Tannehill's throws across the middle were much more crisp. He connected with Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson on seam and in-cuts several times.

But the most productive receiver of the day?

Marvin McNutt, a first-year player out of Iowa. The kid caught five passes.

The much anticipated training camp debut of Jonathan Martin at left tackle was uneventful. He was not beaten on any pass-rushes by Olivier Vernon, who worked with the starting defense at right end.

The same cannot be said of first-year left tackle Jeff Adams. Although quarterbacks aren't being hit (or touched, really) it was clear Adams gave up at least two sacks had this been game action. He had a tough day.

The beneficiary of Adams' struggle was Vernon. He collected both sacks.

Second-team center Josh Samuda also was inconsistent today, with the most obvious sign of that coming when he short-hopped a shotgun snap to quarterback Matt Moore.

Speaking of offensive line, right tackle is not an issure right now. Tyson Clabo, wearing No. 77, looks like a good, solid, professional. He's just ... good. Nice technique. Nice tempo. He knows what he's doing for the most part.

As to the much talked about kicking competition. Dan Carpenter took all the kicks today. He connected on all of them. He was 10-for-10, with the longest from 49 yards out. Caleb Sturgis did not kick today.

The starting units today:

Defense -- DL was Olivier Vernon, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Cameron Wake up front. Jared Odrick spent much of his time inside at DT and also shared snaps with Starks with the first team. At LB Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe in the middle and Phillip Wheeler. Grimes and Marshall were at CB. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons were at safety.

Offense -- OL was Martin at LT, Richie Incognito at LG, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry and RT Clabo. WRs were Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline in two-wide and Brandon Gibson added to the three-wide. Tight end was Dustin Keller and obviously Tannehill at QB.

By the way, I think I figured out why the Dolphins didn't show greater interest in Vonta Leach for the start of this camp: Tight ends worked as lead backs quite a few times today. It was interesting to see Dustin Keller and Charles Clay in that role.

[UPDATE: At tight end it was Charles Clay and Dion Sims behind Keller today. Michael Egnew was on the far field working with the third and fourth-team offense. So much for him having a great offseason. A rookie has already passed him, apparently.]

Due to the collective bargaining agreement, there are no real two-a-days anymore. The second practice of the day is a walkthru and, unlike last year, the Dolphins have closed those to the media. So this is it.

The Dolphins will practice at 8 a.m. Monday. I will tweet in real time until the club shuts down electronic coverage. You can follow me on twitter for those real-time updates. 

Training camp opens and we're off and running

We're baaaack!

My vacation is over -- although I've been posting on here for a few days despite not getting paid for it. And the Dolphins' vacation is over, with players reporting to camp Saturday and participating in their first training camp practice beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday.

First, let me share my column in The Miami Herald today: It outlines how local Dolphins fans reacted to the offseason spending spree, high draft selection of Dion Jordan, and bigtime hopes that Ryan Tannehill with caution and guarded optimism.

I can say that because I share with you the evidence that proves that caution and also tell you how some things have to go just right for the Dolphins to have the kind of season Miami fans have been wanting for a decade.

It might happen. Might not.

We don't know.

This I know:

The Dolphins today are the second-best team in the AFC East with a chance to be the best if things go their way.

The Jets?

The coach is already on the hot seat. The quarterback is still a turnover machine. The receiver corps has questions. The defense isn't the dominant unit it was four years ago and indeed is lessened by the trade of Darrelle Revis.

The Bills?

They have a rookie NFL head coach in Doug Marrone. (At least he led Syracuse to great things and many championships at the college level. Oh wait, he didn't). Their most likely starting quarterback is Kevin Kolb, who washed out in Arizona after being traded from Philadelphia. Of course, the Bills got better by losing their best offensive lineman Andy Levitre, right? Oh wait. At least their wide receiver corps is really solid after Stevie Johnson, right? Oh wait.

Yeah, the Jets feel like a team at the end of a journey that got off course and unless Rex Ryan is carrying a magic compass, he might be gone after this season. And the Bills, well, they're just starting their journey -- again.

So the AFC East feels like the Patriots and Dolphins. And for now, we should view it in that order because (cliche' alert) to be the best you have to beat the best. And the Dolphins have not beaten the Patriots in a while. Indeed, the last time the teams met in last season's finale, the Patriots won by 28 points.

But ...

Anyone paying attention must admit the Patriots seem lessened. Wide receiver Wes Welker has gone to Denver (in free agency). Tight end Aaron Hernandez has gone to jail (for murder). Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard went to jail (for assaulting a cop) and then was arrested again soon after he got out (on suspicion of DUI).

The Patriots lost or have jettisoned four of their top five pass catchers from the 2012 club. And the fifth of those -- tight end Rob Gronkowski -- added a couple of more surgeries to his growing collection of proceedures during the offseason.

Tom Brady will also be 36 in two weeks.

So to say the Patriots are looking great is probably not wise.

None of that means the Dolphins will win the AFC East, mind you. I am not predicting that. No one has seen even one practice so how can anyone say this is a title team or even a winning team.

But it is fair to say the Dolphins had the best offseason in the AFC East.

They didn't have anyone arrested that we know of.

They didn't lose any appreciable talent outside of Jake Long.

They didn't fire their coach.

They didn't trade their best defensive player.

They did spend a lot of money and trade up in the draft to address significant and obvious needs.

That is a great way to turbocharge the chase for the AFC East title while the rest of the pack is losing spark plugs or seemingly running low on gas.

[BLOG NOTE: I will update this space after practice and interviews around 11 a.m. If you want instant play-by-play and analysis of practice, follow me on twitter because I'll be updating in real time.]

July 20, 2013

Players with $ issues in camp [Updated]

Dolphins players started streaming into the club's Davie training facility this morning and that included multiple players who are not thrilled with their current contracts. But it did not include first-round pick Dion Jordan.

Jordan, the No. 3 overall player selected in the April draft, remains unsigned at this hour. And thus he did not report on time. The Dolphins are "hopeful" Jordan comes to an agreement with the team by the time Sunday's first camp practice rolls around at 8 a.m.

We'll see if that happens.

[UPDATE: Jordan agreed to a four-year contract at around 2 p.m. this afternoon. Everyone is signed. And he will be present for the first day of practice Sunday.]

Meanwhile, safety Reshad Jones is at camp. And defensive tackle Randy Starks is at camp.

Starks, unhappy he was tagged as Miami's franchise player, wants a multi-year deal rather than the one-year tender. He stayed away from practically the entire offseason program and OTAs to make his displeasure known.

Camp is apparently a different story. Although Starks still wants a multi-year deal, he reported.

Seems to me it is unlikely Starks will get a multi-year deal in the very near future. The club has him tied contractually for the season -- at $8.4 million -- and obviously wants to see how he and Paul Soliai perform before deciding which one it will try to keep beyond 2013. (It's possible Miami keeps both players beyond 2013 if both agree to bargain deals, but the likelihood of that is not high).

Jones, in the final year of his contract, wants an extension. He made that quite clear to the team during the offseason. Simply, he believes he's outperformed his fifth-round rookie deal after starting the past two seasons. He threatened to sit out offseason activities in March. The club appeased him by saying it would visit the contract issue in July.

It's July, folks.

He has no new deal, but Jones has decided to be a good soldier as long as he's hearing the right things from the club. Apparently, he's been hearing he right things from the club.

So outside of Jordan, the Dolphins are looking good on dealing with players with contract issues. [UPDATE: Obviously, with Jordan also in the fold, no issues all around. Good start!]

July 19, 2013

Dolphins not signing Leach for camp's start

The Dolphins and the agent for fullback Vonta Leach had a heart-to-heart talk Thursday and the message was clear. The club is not signing the free agent fullback before camp starts Sunday.

General Manager Jeff Ireland told Ralph Vitolo that the club was starting camp on Sunday without Leach and that, although the club likes the player, the only way a signing would occur is if coaches look at the talent currently on the roster and finds it lacking during camp.

That sound you're hearing is Jovorskie Lane and Charles Clay breathing a sigh of relief.

I first reported this news yesterday on my twitter account. That's happening more and more so follow me for the latest Dolphins news and analysis there. The handle is @ArmandoSalguero.

Leach is not completely out of the picture in Miami.

The Dolphins open camp early this year so it might well be that they see something they don't like the first few days of camp and circle back to Leach. Leach, who has a standing $2 million offer from the Ravens, is in no hurry to sign but he is dangling and available. The Texans are a possibility are also a possibility for Leach.

The curious thing about this whole flirtation with Leach is that the team was so hot for him initially and then suddenly and unexpectedly cooled. The Dolphins were the first team to call Leach after his release from Baltimore. The coaches indicated to him they wanted him. The personnel department indicated to Vitolo they wanted him. Coach Joe Philbin told friends around the league he wanted Leach.

But after Ireland and Philbin returned from vacation, suddenly that desire to sign Leach faded. Interestingly, the Dolphins and Leach never discussed money. The sides talked general numbers but there was never an offer from Miami.

Me?

I like the idea of Leach over Lane. Yes, Lane is younger. But Leach is better. Leach is more experienced. Leach is a proven leader. Leach has been on a winner and in the playoffs. And he's healthy and never over weight.

On a Dolphins offense that is young at nearly every position, a little veteran experience would be a plus.

That apparently isn't how the Dolphins view things at the moment.

July 18, 2013

Perhaps one in-house candidate for Dolphins' opening

With Mike Dee leaving the Dolphins as their CEO, two questions linger before a nationwide search for his successor begins:

1. Are there any in-house candidates?

2. Are the Dolphins going to continue their wacky way of operating?

Here are the answers ...

If there is an in-house candidate her name is Dawn Aponte. That's it. No one else.

(I do not count Carl Peterson, former President of the KC Chiefs, as in-house despite the fact he is a close Ross friend and has indeed been working for Ross in other ventures. I count him as an outside candidate, albeit not necessarily a leading one.)

Aponte came to the Dolphins when her mentor Bill Parcells hired her in 2010. She came as the Senior Vice President of Football Operations, which was a long way of saying she was the cap specialist. She came well armed with experience, having served in a similar role with the Cleveland Browns and having worked for the NFL's Management Council prior to that.

Despite that vast experience, one of the first times Aponte was in the spotlight was when the Dolphins cut Joey Porter ... twice. The first time was a salary cap misstep that caused the Dolphins to take Porter back, endure his trashing of an organization he knew was cutting him, and then try the do-over when cap regulations actually allowed it.

Since then, Aponte has been something of a star internally. She has steadily increased her footprint on the football side and after participating in the hiring process in 2012, is one of coach Joe Philbin's closest confidants within the organization.

Aponte was promoted last year to Executive Vice President of Football Administration and her presence has become much more noticeable despite a clear desire on her part to remain in the background. She attends every Philbin press conference. She often has lunch with the coach after practice. She attends most practices or has her assistant attend -- I suppose so that he can report to her what happened.

She wants to be a club president and I don't doubt she'll get there some day. I just don't know if she's ready today.

She is, as I said, uncomfortable in the limelight. She prefers the background. And a club president or CEO cannot be in the background. A CEO needs to be in the community. A CEO has to forge media relationships. Aponte needs to improve or change that to be more viable for the job.

If the Dolphins, or any team, hires her as the club president or CEO, it would also need a CFO to run the nitty-gritty business affairs. Aponte, talented and worthy, is seemingly a better overseeer than a marketing person. And despite her credentials in finance, I don't know if counting pennies for the bottom line would be the best use of her talents.

So is she a candidate? Probably. Is she going to get the job? That question remains.

The next issue the Dolphins have regarding the hiring of this person is that the organization is way too divided into different factions.

Yes, most teams are split into business and football ops. But the Dolphins are seriously, tragically split. Unlike the Don Shula days when both sides of the organization lined up under the coach and marched to the same beat, the Dolphins often do not march in unison because, well, the right hand often doesn't know what the left hand is doing or doesn't care.

Bill Parcells liked a clear line of demarcation where it seemed no one could cross and that line hasn't been well erased since his departure.

And so you had football ops declining to help the business side with simple things such as players filming 30-second clips to be played at the stadium on game days.

You had football ops shaking their heads when they found out (through the media) that Jets T-shirts were being sold in the team store. 

You had Tony Sparano and his owner not really talking because the coach saw the owner as part of teh business side and not really a football man.

The interesting thing is that once Parcells was gone, owner Stephen Ross took over as de-facto president of the team. He was to be the unifying figure for the franchise.

Except that by that time, the business operations had been moved from the Davie training facility to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. So football staff was at Davie and business staff was at Sun Life. And, unfortunately, Ross is in New York.

An absentee owner.

While successful owners such as Jerry Jones, the Rooneys, Robert Kraft, Jim Irsay, Arthur Blank, the Maras and Tischs,  and many others are around their teams day-to-day and thus aware of practically everything that's happening on a daily basis, Ross is busy running his real estate development business.

What does that mean?

He doesn't see things for himself. He relies on the reports of others to tell him what's going on with his $1 billion investment.

That doesn't mean being present as an owner is more likely to bring a winner on the field. But I believe an owner who is fully invested and fully immersed in the day-to-day workings of his team is better equipped to make more sound decisions because his understanding of the various situations is greater.

Despite this, the Dolphins aren't likely to change course, at least that's what a club source said Wednesday. The set-up will remain the same. Football ops and the business side will remain separate and apart with Jeff Ireland and Aponte and Joe Philbin over on that side -- with none really ultimately answerable to the other. And the new CEO will be over on the other side -- with him or her not really answerable to the football ops people.

All will be answerable to Ross, of course. But Ross will remain in New York except on game days and other visits.  

July 17, 2013

CEO Mike Dee leaving Dolphins for new job

Mike Dee, the Dolphins CEO since 2009, will leave the team within the next month to become President and CEO of the San Diego Padres.

The Dolphins and Padres are expected to announce the move today. Dee will replace Tom Garfinkel, who resigned his San Diego post last week.

[Update: Both teams have announced the hiring.]

"It's a chance to return to my roots," said Dee, who worked previously for the Padres (1995-2002) as well as the Boston Red Sox before joining the Dolphins. "This is a great opportunity to run a team and a facility. It's a chance to sail a ship I helped construct."

Dee will wield unquestioned power in San Diego, where he will oversee the business side of the team and also have baseball operations under his control. The Padres general manager will answer to Dee.

The Dolphins' business model is to split the franchise into a football operations side run by General Manager Jeff Ireland and a business side that is run by the CEO. Both answer to owner Stephen Ross but not each other.

A club source with knowledge Ross's thinking said the club will continue that model going forward. The club has already hired New Jersey based Turnkey Sports as a headhunter to help in the search for Miami's next CEO.

That search has already taken its initial steps and the Dolphins source said while there is no official timetable for filling Dee's vacancy, the club hopes to have a new CEO in place sometime before the end of the 2013 season if not by the time it begins. Dee said he would stay on the next 2-4 weeks to help the Dolphins transition to the next CEO.

Dee met with Dolphins staff at 11 a.m. to tell them of his departure.

While he is excited about returning to major league baseball and a team he was previously connected to, Dee leaves with fond memories about the football team he's always rooted for.

"I love this franchise," he said of the Dolphins. "I have great respect and love for the history of this franchise -- coach [Don] Shula and the alumni. It's been a wonderful four years for me. I got a chance to meet a lot of great men I grew up idolizing and I found out they're great players and better people."

During his tenure, the Dolphins continued their tradition of celebrating their history while also stepping up their participation in community activities and philanthropy. The Dolphins Cycling Challenge raised over $1 million for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center the past two years. Dee also initiated an annual blood drive that was very successful.

Dee was the local eyes and ears for Ross, who spends his time primarily in New York. Although Ross was not a fan of the Dolphins fight song and initially shelved it, Dee forged a compromise to return it to Sun Life after he listened to complaints from fans.

But it hasn't been all success.

Although he negotiated a stadium naming rights deal with Sun Life, Dee met stiff political opposition when he spearheaded the club's attempt to seek partial public financing to upgrade the 25-year-old stadium. The most recent effort to strike a public-private partnership to upgrade Sun Life Stadium failed in March.

The new CEO will have to pick up that torch because the issue has not gone away. Although the Dolphins may not seek public funding again in 2013 -- a decision not yet cemented -- they definitely will seek it again in the future. The new CEO will also have to try to increase the season ticket base that currently stands at about 40,000. It'll be a challenge unless the Dolphins change course on the field after four consecutive losing seasons.

The new CEO, like Dee, will have nothing to do with Miami's football success. Yet, like Dee, the new hire will have to try and translate whatever success football operations has into business success.

Turnkey's search is expected to focus first on people with NFL experience.

In 2009, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell informed NFL clubs that the mandatory Rooney Rule interview requirements currently in place for the head coach position had been extended to the senior football operations position at each club. 

This policy specifically requires clubs to interview at least one minority candidate as part of the hiring process for a club's senior football operations position, whether described as general manager, executive vice president of football operations, or otherwise.

The requirement does not apply in cases where the position is held or filled by the owner or a member of his family, or where a club has a pre-existing contractual commitment filed with the league office to promote a current member of its staff if the senior football operations position becomes vacant.

Although it is not required, Goodell strongly urged clubs in today’s memo to interview a broad and diverse slate of candidates for a wide range of football operations roles, including scouting, player personnel, and contract and cap management positions. "The more thorough the search, the more likely clubs are to find the right candidates, and to be able to groom future leaders from within their organizations," the commissioner said.

Ross released a statement through the team. It reads:

"I want to thank Mike Dee for his leadership over the past four years to the Miami Dolphins and wish him the best in his new position with the San Diego Padres. Under Mike, we have broadened our role in the community, improved our technology footprint within the organization and enhanced our customer service to our fans. As a result of Mike’s leadership and combined with the hard work of our football operations department, I feel that the organization is well positioned for future success both on and off the field. We will begin the process immediately to bring in a new CEO and I have retained Turnkey Sports and Entertainment to lead this search. Mike will be in the office over the next several weeks as he makes the transition to his new position. We wish him and his family the very best in this new chapter of his life."

July 15, 2013

Studying the Vonta Leach situation

No, I'm not totally back yet. I still have a couple more days of vacation left. But I have some information I've shared with my followers on twitter -- you should follow me @ArmandoSalguero -- that I believe should be here as well.

Regarding Vonta Leach:

1. Today is a big day because it marks the first in which Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland is expected back at work after his vacation in, among other places, Australia. That return to work means he's able to actually talk to Leach agent Ralph Vitolo and negotiate a deal for the veteran if he's so inclined. The two have exchanged some text messages in the time both were on holiday during the past few weeks, but with training camp opening in less than a week and both sides at work, the stage is set for something to happen.

2. Is something going to happen at all? Well, the Dolphins want Leach for the right price. And Leach wants the Dolphins for the right price. (Isn't that always the case?) The Dolphins have made no secret of the fact coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman seriously want Leach for an offense that could use some veteran leadership and also needs an upgrade at fullback. Leach wants to play in Miami because he sees the Dolphins as an up-and-coming team that has a chance to challenge for the playoffs this year, assuming everything goes well. Leach, by the way, also has a good sense of the Dolphins system. That should not be a problem.

3. So what do the sides want from each other? Well, the Dolphins don't want to spend a ton on Leach. Nobody does with fullbacks anymore. The position players there are endangered species. But for the Dolphins it means superior lead blocking and experienced pass blocking on early downs. That's important because presumed starting halfback Lamar Miller is inexperienced and could use some veteran help. It's important because any help the Dolphins can give LT Jonathan Martin on early passing downs with Leach blocking in the backfield on pass plays is good. It's important because Leach can be a stabilizing figure in the huddle. He's been there and done that. For Leach, he wants the opportunity of making one last solid contract. I've reported he wants a two- or three-year deal. He doesn't want a one-year deal because he wants some sort of stability. He likes the idea of being a leader. He likes the coaches and has a comfort level with them.

4. So what can get in the way? Well, Leach has a standing offer to return to the Ravens if he wishes. My sense is it's a low-budget offer and that's the reason he hasn't taken it. He wants to do better. But, the Ravens loom nonetheless because they are comfortable for Leach, familiar to Leach, they're defending Super Bowl champions, and they're proven. I remind everyone the Ravens have this way of swooping in at the last minute and re-signing players they value. Yes, they've lost talent this offseason due to cap constraints, but they have a way of pulling surprise moves  -- witness the Elvis Dumervil signing.

5. What does it all mean? The Dolphins have been trying to get better across the board at every position this offseason. They are clearly not thrilled with the work of Jovorskie Lane last year to the extent they can afford to offer him no training camp competition. If they sign Leach, Lane is in trouble. Leach would be the presumed starter and Lane's only chance of making the team is if Leach is a bust during camp or gets injured. Simply, Lane was inconsistent as a rookie. His weight, his knowledge of his assignments, his execution ... all inconsistent. It wasn't terrible. But the Dolphins simply want a chance to upgrade.

So we'll see what happens on this front ... See you later in the week. 

July 14, 2013

Dolphins' battles looming

Camp starts in a week - on Sunday, July 21 - and several interesting position battles loom.

 

Barry Jackson checking in again, with a link to my column on that topic:

http://miamiherald.typepad.com/sports-buzz/

I'll post a couple more of my Dolphins columns in this space later this week before Armando returns.

Follow us on Twitter at @ArmandoSalguero and me at @flasportsbuzz.

Have a good week. Good news: Just seven more days until continuous football until early February.