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48 posts from August 2013

August 20, 2013

Watch the '72 Dolphins at the White House here

In the spring of 1973, after the Dolphins won Super Bowl VII and completed their undefeated season, there was no White House trip to celebrate the victory for the team because, well, let's just say President Richard Nixon had other worries on his agenda.

Like the Watergate scandal.

Well, here we are 40 years later and another President with worries on his agenda -- Obamacare defunding, Benghazi, the IRS scandal, unemployment, and the NSA scandal -- is nonetheless making time for the Dolphins.

About 30 members of that perfect team will visit with President Barack Obama today at the White House and get their just recognition. Pretty cool.

The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. If it doesn't start on time, blame the politicians.

You can watch it live below. If the player doesn't work properly, blame the politicians:

Next two weeks loom large for Dion Jordan

The Dolphins hope to start working rookie Dion Jordan back into practice this week. He still might be limited in the scope of things he's able to do but the team desperately wants Jordan back working because, well, he needs the work.

And that leads me to this:

I'm starting to hear grumblings from inside the team that Jordan's first camp has been a disappointment because it has been derailed by injury to the point he's not looking like a major contributor early in the regular season.

That's not me saying that. That's what I'm hearing.

And that isn't wrong.

Let's face it, when a player is picked No. 3 overall in the draft and for whatever reason, including durability which was measured before the draft, he isn't a factor in the team's opening day plans two weeks from that day, you have a bad situation.

Jordan is not going to be a starter. We know that's going to be Olivier Vernon, who has had a good training camp, according to coach Joe Philbin.

But Jordan is supposed to bring a level of athletic freakishness to the defense, with his speed and ability to attack the quarterback, that was to raise the bar on Miami's pass rush and ability to chase ballcarriers to the boundary.

We've only seen that ability in flashes during camp and the preseason.

Instead, Jordan has spent much of this summer rehabilitating a shoulder injury for which he had surgery in February, came back from in July, and had to return to rehabilitating two weeks ago after re-injuring it in a preseason game.

He didn't practice last week, unless you count a walk-thru a practice. And so he's falling behind. The Dolphins, meanwhile, signed an experienced 4-3 defensive end in Antwan Applewhite as insurance against Jordan not being able to contribute.

This would not be bad if Jordan were a proven veteran. If Cameron Wake missed a couple of weeks of the preseason and a bunch of practices, the Dolphins wouldn't be too worried.

But the fact is Jordan needs to work to get better because he's not game-ready at the moment.

That makes the next two weeks huge for him. If he can indeed get some work this week and perhaps play one of the final two preseason games, he might earn playing time in the regular season opener. If he doesn't do that, it will be difficult to simply put him in the season-opener and hope he figures it out.

The Dolphins badly want him to get on track. They need him to get on track.

This week will be a major test to see if Jordan can begin to do that.

Now, before anyone goes off on a rant that Jordan is a bust, stop. Breathe. We are talking a snapshot in time here. We are talking now. And we are talking the next couple of weeks.

I am not saying Jordan will be unavailable for the next two years. This is about the present.

The future might still be bright. It's just that the present has some issues.

August 19, 2013

Two young players, two different approaches

Josh Samuda and Will Davis are two young Dolphins players. They're both trying to impress coaches. They both had difficult moments during Saturday's preseason game against Houston.

But despite those things they share in common, the two took vastly different roads in the manner they handled the adversity of playing poorly and dealing with the apparent social media criticism that followed.

Davis, a rookie cornerback, gave up a long TD on fourth down in the second half and dealt with the bad play by actually apologizing to fans and promising better:

"I apologize for the double move, 4th and short and I jumped the double move. Glad I learned it now then later, learning everyday," Davis wrote on his twitter handle after the game.

Samuda, a starting right guard who gave up a sack of Ryan Tannehill early in the game and was sometimes good, sometimes bad throughout his time in the game, took a different approach.

He tweeted that people who were critical of his play didn't know what they were talking about and challenged them to try to do his job. He suggested that anyone that cannot do the job better than he does has no right to be critical of him.

The tweets were up for a day but Samuda apparently came to his senses or was told by Dolphins staffers how dumb that sounds so he deleted the tweets by Monday. He then tweeted:

"Thank you to every one who has showed me support. Also, I apologize for my tweets and to anyone who might of took offense to it."

Wise move because the original tweets made Samuda seem overly defensive given that he plays in front of 60,000 people every week and they pay to cheer or boo or judge his play. His coaches, by the way, also judge his play and are critical and none of them can play right guard for the Dolphins, either.

He would be better served concentrating on blocking defensive linemen than twitter followers.

Davis, meanwhile, continued to engage fans and seemed to disagree with the approach Samuda took -- perhaps not directly, but definitely on a philosophical level.

"iKnow you guys cant do what I do, but I know if you guys could, you'd take advantage of every opportunity. Thats why iWork hard," Davis tweeted.

"Don't like when people use the excuse, "if you were in my shoes" cuz I know many would kill to be in them. #phinsup #LoveLife."

Davis shows incredible maturity. He gets it.


August 18, 2013

Dolphins react to Dustin Keller's knee injury

HOUSTON -- Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who has a curious habit of not even fielding questions about injuries, had no choice late Saturday but answer questions about the right knee injury to tight end Dustin Keller.

Philbin said it is too early to determine the seriousness of Keller's injury, although sources within the team are fearing the worst. Philbin said he's hopeful the club gets Keller back sooner rather than later.

The mood in the locker room wasn't nearly so upbeat. Players saw the replay. Some heard Keller writhe in pain when he took defensive back D.J. Swearinger's helmet to the side of his knee. They saw Keller have to be helped up to get on a cart and leave the field via that cart.

"Really painful," receiver Brian Hartline said. "Guy worked his tail off. He was going to be a big part of our offense. It hurt. It's a shame. It's part of the game. There's not much you can do. It's part of playing the game. I'd like to see a higher tackle but you can't blame a guy for trying to make a play."

"It's just an unfortunate thing that happened out there," receiver Mike Wallace said. "Big part of our offense, but that's football. Things happen all the time but it's unfortunate. He's a great guy. Great player. I hate to see that happen. It looked pretty bad. I'm pretty sure he'll be out for a while but it's next man up. Play for him, through him. He's going to watch us, I know that. We just have to keep playing."

If Keller is out for a significant time, perhaps even the season, as expected, the Dolphins might turn to rookie Dion Sims. Or they could go with Charles Clay, who is more a hybrid H-back type player but is closer to the seam threat that Keller was. He may have to move to tight end now.

Clay says he's ready.

"It's been something I've worked on a lot, not only last season but this offseason,"Clay said. "It's something that I feel comfortable doing. But it's something I also feel I need to work on as well. If I'm the next guy up, I'm going to go out there and give it everything I have."

Clay says he benefitted from Keller's presence the last few months in that the veteran gave him tips on how to do his job even before the snap of the ball.

"I've been learning the little things that separate the good players from great players," Clay said. "That's the things I've learned from Dustin -- reading coverages, knowing what to expect before the play starts, things like that. I'm still working on it but that's probably where I've made the most growth so far. I've been working really hard on my blocking. I feel like I've come a long way."

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who quickly built a good chemistry with Keller, was optimistic other players would fill the role.

"Those guys are going to have to step up and fill the void," Tannehill said. "I think we have guys that can do it. Now, it's just a matter of making it happen."

August 17, 2013

Live blog of Dolphins vs. Texans here

HOUSTON -- The Dolphins have never beaten the Texans, but I don't care about that tonight.

You know what I care about most?

Lamar Miller.

I want him to win the starting running back job. No, that doesn't mean I am rooting for him over other players at running back. I mean I want him to perform at such a level as to leave no question about which player should be the Dolphins starting running back by the time the night is through.

That hasn't happened yet because, well, I don't think Miller's been given much of a chance. He's only gotten four carries in the preseason.

How is anyone supposed to win a job with four scant opportunities in two games?

As the starters are expected to go at least one quarter, maybe more, perhaps Miller can get 10 carries this game so he can get a feel for the competition and get a good chance to show his stuff. Let's hope.

Rishard Matthews, Lance Louis and Jamar Taylor -- none of whom have played this preseason -- are dressed and expected to play tonight.

And, of course, there is a live blog for your participation on tap:


Dolphins 4-3 defense is good, but is it better?

HOUSTON -- The Dolphins tonight will get their longest look of an outstanding opponent this preseason will offer because the playoff-good Texans are likely going to keep their starters in the game at least one quarter and probably longer.

And while many people will continue to focus on the offense because fans are interested in QB Ryan Tannehill's progress and his chemistry with new WR Mike Wallace and the progress of the running back competition that Lamar Miller has yet to fully win, I will also be looking at the defense.

Yes, the defense.

The Texans, you see, will provide the Miami defense its best test of the preseason. (New Orleans might have done so in the preseason-finale but everyone knows the starters in that game will play perhaps one series and be done).

So this will be Miami's longest view of a solid offense that not only has playoff potential but is considered among the elite units in the NFL.

So why my focus on defense?

Well, I have to admit sometimes when you cover a team, one can overlook the forest from the trees. I admit I did that with this defense. It wasn't until reader Kareen Troitino asked for a critical study of Kevin Coyle's defense that I began to really question this unit.

Now, let me be clear: Last season the Dolphins defense under Coyle as their first-year defensive coordinator was good. They were probably good enough to get a team to the playoffs and if it wasn't for an offense that was bottom-of-the league bad, the Dolphins might have ended up in the postseason.

But the Dolphins defense was good before coach Joe Philbin arrived and hired Coyle to turn the unit from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme. And, in truth, the change in staff and scheme was actually a step backward last year.

That's not an opinion. It's fact.

In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense was No. 6 in the NFL in scoring, allowing 19.6 points per game. Last year, the Dolphins 4-3 unit was No. 7 in scoring, allowing 19.8 points per game. Slight difference but ... Worse.

In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense gave up an average of 345.1 total yards per game. That was No. 15 in the NFL. Last year, the 4-3 unit gave up an average of 356.8 yards per game. That was No. 21 in the NFL. Worse.

In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense was No. 3 against the run, allowing 95.6 yards per game. Last season, the 4-3 was No. 13 in the NFL, allowing 108.4 rushing yards per game. Worse.

The 2011 unit had 16 interceptions. Last year's unit had 10 interceptions. Worse.

The 2011 unit had 19 takeaways. The 2012 unit had 16 takeaway. Neither is very good. But 16 is less than 19 so ... Worse.

The only area where Coyle's 4-3 defense showed improvement over the previous 3-4 defense was in passing yards per game and even then, the improvement was modest. The 2011 Miami defense gave up 249.5 passing yards per game, which was 25th overall in the NFL. The 2012 Miami defense gave up 248.4 passing yards per game, which was 27th in the NFL. So even as the pass defense got one yard better per game, it lost ground in the rankings.

The point?

I'm not convinced this 4-3 approach is an upgrade. It's good. But it was good before. And if the Dolphins are looking to be a "first in class organization" as owner Stephen Ross likes to say, the defense needs to be better than merely good. It needs to be great.

It needs to be better than it was.

It needs to be Super Bowl good.

By the way, last year's Super Bowl teams -- San Francisco and Baltimore -- employed a 3-4 defense. The NFL's No. 1 unit overall (yards per game) was Pittsburgh. The Steelers run a base 3-4.

I'm not saying the 3-4 is a better approach than the 4-3, but the facts suggest Miami's personnel might be better suited for the 3-4.

Remember: Paul Soliai went to the Pro Bowl while playing in the 3-4 as an NT, not the 4-3 as a DT. Randy Starks had his most productive season and went to the Pro Bowl playing in the 3-4 as a DE, not the 4-3 as a DE. Jared Odrick was drafted by Bill Parcells as a 3-4 DE.  Koa Misi was drafted for the 3-4.

Dannell Ellerbe played the 3-4 in Baltimore.

"I'm still getting used to being in the middle," Ellerbe said this week.

A good player is a good player is a good player. And many good players will be good regardless of scheme. 

Cameron Wake is good as a 4-3 defensive end although he started out as a 3-4 OLB for the Dolphins. And once he gets healthy, I assume rookie first round pick Dion Jordan will be comfortable as a 4-3 DE although at Oregon he was often utilized and seems tailor-made for 3-4 OLB work.

But sometimes one scheme turns a good player into a dynamic one. Remember that Jason Taylor was an outstanding 4-3 defensive end. But his best season when he won the Defensive Player of the Year award came when Nick Saban used him in the 3-4 as an OLB.

My points is if the Dolphins are going to be a base 4-3 team, they need to prove that's really the best approach. They need to improve on what they were as a 3-4 unit not just keep pace or, as they did last year, lose ground.

The Texans last year scored 26 points per game and that made them the NFL's sixth-most productive offense. Tonight is a good night for Miami's defense to start showing it is ready to take another step.

August 16, 2013

John Offerdahl to the Honor Roll

Old-time Dolphins middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Latter-day Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas may someday be considered for the Hall of Fame. Both are in the prestigious Dolphins Honor Roll at Sun Life Stadium.

And in a couple of hours at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Kickoff luncheon, the Dolphins will announce that the middle linebacker who was something of a link between Buoniconti in the 1970s and Thomas in the 1990s is also going to be inducted into the Honor Roll.

John Offerdahl, who played for Miami from 1986 to 1993, will be announced as the 26th member of the Honor Roll.

He will be inducted on Thursday, Oct. 31 at halftime of the primetime game between the Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals. There are 24 individuals and one team -- the perfect season team of 1972 -- already on the Dolphins Honor Roll.

Offerdahl, 48, is a deserving choice.

Although his career was way too short for the liking of most Miami fans, Offerdahl was a five time Pro Bowl player from his rookie year in 1986 to 1990. He struggled with injuries throughout his career but when he was healthy, he was the anchor to a defense that definitely could have used more players like him.

Offerdahl went to the Dolphins as a second round pick out of Western Michigan. When he was picked (he was the first player the Dolphins selected in '86 because they didn't have a first-round selection) most pundits said, "Who?"

Offerdahl quickly made a name for himself with impeccable tackling. He was an excellent run-stopper and solid in pass coverage. So, yes, he was a three-down linebacker.

Offerdahl, who is a successful restaurant chain entrepeneur, is having a very good year. He was inducted into the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame earlier this year.


August 15, 2013

John Denney signs three-year extension

Long snapper John Denney is the longest tenured Dolphins player, having joined the team under the Nick Saban coaching staff. Well, he's going to be around a while longer.

Denney today signed a three-year contract extension that makes him the highest paid player at his position in the NFL, according to his agent Ian Greengross. His extension will pay Denney an average of $1,150,029 per year, according to a league source.

Denney was in the final year of his contract and is now signed through 2016.

“He’s a (constant) professional," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said recently of Denney. "The guy is a hard worker. He’s very good at his job, but he’s not complacent. He continues to work, continues to improve. He takes care of himself on and off the field. He’s doing a really nice job."

Denney made the Dolphins in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. He displaced Ed Perry, who at the time was considered a quality long snapper.

Wise decision.

I suppose Denney has blown some snap at some point. He is, after all, human. But I don't remember it. So that should tell you how well he's done his job.

Denney is the second veteran in the final year of his deal that has signed an extension recently. Last week, the club signed Reshad Jones to a four-year extension. Obviously, the Dolphins are trying to lock up players they value before the season begins.

Camp over: Most improved awards

The Dolphins are done with training camp, per se, because next week they begin operating on a regular-season schedule. And as this is the end of two-a-days (well, one practice and a walk-thru), coach Joe Philbin was asked to name players he believes have elevated their game since the start of camp.

"A lot of the guys, some of the first-year guys that we've had going into year two have improved," Philbin said. "Mike Egnew has improved an awful lot. He's a guy we're excited about. Olivier Vernon has taken a step forward. Jonathan Martin, Lamar Miller. A lot of those young players that we have, Josh Kaddu is another that last year at this time was feeling his way through, has made a lot of progress. I think the first or second-year guys have done a nice job."

It's encouraging that Egnew has gone from being totally lost to competing for a roster spot and actually having a chance to win one based on performance. (Last year, he was on the roster based on draft status). Although he is still a second-team player, Egnew might sneak in as a back-of-the roster guy because offensive coordinator Mike Sherman loves having the flexibility of having a jillion tight ends.

Today, I would say Dustin Keller, Charles Clay, and rookie Dion Sims are definitely on the team. All three have had good to very good camps. Egnew's status will hinge on whether the Dolphins consider Clay a fullback and keep him as that -- opening a tight end job -- or perhaps if the team sees him as more valuable than a fifth wide receiver.

As an aside, notice that list of names Philbin mentioned includes just about every second-year player except quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It's probably just an omission. But it bears mention just in case it is not an omission because Sherman this offseason predicted Tannehill would be the "most improved" quarterback in the entire NFL.

And the head coach doesn't include him as one of the most improved players on the team?

This is not a controversy or major issue. Just an observation. 

Here's another observation that might give a peak into the kind of player Philbin wants on his team. In discussing the decision to go with Caleb Sturgis as the team's kicker over Dan Carpenter, Philbin mentioned this:

"I liked his demeanor the other night," the coach said of Sturgis. "He was very professional about things. Wasn't jumping up and down. He did his job and did it well. He was very serious about what he was doing."

Sturgis connected on a 58-yard field goal, which does not happen every day. And Philbin appreciated that the rookie didn't think he'd done something extraordinary. The coach appreciated that the rookie was businesslike.

That's what Philbin wants in players. Businesslike. Not too high. Not too low. Consistent. Basically he wants players that are, well, like him.

Nope, Philbin won't be doing a fist pump after a field goal any time soon. It's just not him. And he likes that Sturgis didn't, either.

Along those lines, defensive end Olivier Vernon, who has pretty much won a starting defensive end job, didn't exactly throw a party once he learned the path is cleared for him to be the starter.

"No, I haven't celebrated, man," Vernon said. "I feel like anyone on this defensive line can start so it's just competition. Still, I don't try to think about it like that, man."

Even when he was told Philbin mentioned him among the most improved players in camp, Vernon seemed unmoved.

"All that means to me, man, is keep going harder," he said. "I don't try to focus what other people say about me. I just try to be the same person every day."

The Dolphins signed six-year veteran defensive end Antwan Applewhite today. He's a classic 4-3 defensive end that helps guard against the possibility rookie Dion Jordan won't be fully ready to play once the season begins. 

"We brought him in here, he had a good workout and we wanted to see what he could do," Philbin said.

Applewhite's first day is obviously the last day of training camp so he's behind, but he doesn't seem to worried that's going to be an issue.

"It's not my first go-around. I've done it before," he said. "Two years ago I got to Carolina in like week 5. I was in San Fran two weeks into training camp before that. So, I'm pretty used to that. I'm going on my seventh year so I know pretty much how teams schedule and stuff goes. It's just learning all the new verbiage and putting it in my head how I can understand it."

August 14, 2013

Dolphins dump Carpenter, keeping Sturgis

It raised eyebrows when Dan Carpenter struggled last season. Then the Dolphins drafted kicker Caleb Sturgis out of the University of Florida in the fifth round and that led to whispers. And those whispers got louder when Sturgis went nuts the other night in the preseason game against Jacksonville, connecting on a 58-yard field goal and booming all six of his kickoffs into the end zone.

Well, today the move that has been coming for months happened as the Dolphins terminated the contract of Carpenter and, in so doing, awarded the kicking job to Sturgis.

"On behalf of the Miami Dolphins, I would like to thank Dan for his contributions he has made as a member of the organization," GM Jeff Ireland said in a statement.

"For the past five years seasons Dan has been a tireless worker on the field while devoting countless hours of his time off the field to the beterment of the South Florida community. He has been a productive player and an outstanding citizen and we wish him and his wife Kaela all the best."

All the service Carpenter gave the Dolphins ultimately was overshadowed by two factors:

1. Sturgis was simply better this preseason, connecting on a higher percentage of long field goals than Carpenter.

2. Cutting Carpenter means a significant cap savings. The Dolphins save $2.675 million by cutting Carpenter in the final year of his contract although they will carry $337,500 in dead money as a result.

Sturgis will cost the Dolphins $441,140 against the cap.

So the actual cap savings of keeping Sturgis over Carpenter is $1,896,360.

Carpenter connected on 22 of 27 kicks in 2012 for a success percentage of 81.5, which is the second-lowest mark of his career and marked his second disappointing season since 2010.

It's unclear if Carpenter requested his release but the Dolphins apparently did right by letting him go this early. It gives the five-year veteran a better chance to get picked up by another team. On the other hand, Carpenter's wife is expected to give birth today or tomorrow. So that timing is interesting.

Among the team looking for kickers?

The Cleveland Browns ... Miami's opponent in the regular-season opener.


John Jerry back on the field today for some work

The Dolphins are back working at an 8 a.m. practice today and are in their shorts and helmets. And John Jerry has on his shorts and helmet. And he's taking part in at least part of the drills, at least in the walk-thru portion.

And he's linining up at starting right guard.

And suddenly the world is looking brighter for the Dolphins offensive line.

Jerry, starting the fourth week of what I reported would be a two-to-four week regimen to return from a knee injury, is seemingly right on schedule. He will be limited today and for a couple of days. He will not play against Houston on Saturday. But if he avoids a setback he might be able to play some in the Dolphins fourth preseason game next week vs Tampa Bay and be ready for the start of the season Sept. 8.

Jerry is dealing with multiple issues. Yes, he has to be full-go with the knee but he also needs to regain whatever conditioning he can and get in football shape by the opener. For Jerry, who historically struggles with his weight, getting in shape and avoiding a setback are the biggest questions now.

But he has taken a positive initial step.

This seems to be right on time as Nate Garner, who had been working at starting right guard earlier in the week after Josh Samuda struggled at Jacksonville, is not present at practice today. Samuda is working with the the reserves but will get some first-team reps when Jerry sits out drills.

Samuda had three weeks to win the RG  position and although he headed the pack of candidates for a couple of weeks, the poor Jacksonville outing was an eye-opener for coaches. He nonetheless will get first-team reps while Jerry is limited because, well, the team is short on bodies at that spot. Lance Louis remains mostly on second team.

[Update: Garner suffered a "bad" shoulder injury Monday and is out indefinitely, Jeff Darlington of NFL.com is reporting.]

The Dolphins re-signed quarterback Aaron Corp today. Why?

Well, Pat Devlin is not at practice for some unknown reason having to do with health. He is obviously injured again.

DT Randy Starks continues to be out with a knee injury.

DE Dion Jordan is not practicing today, either -- at least not in full throttle mode. He will continue to be held out of most drills as the team is being careful with his surgically repaired (and retweaked vs. Jacksonville) shoulder. Do not expect him to play Saturday vs. Houston.

[Practice update: Remember yesterday I posted a column noting how little Ryan Tannehill throws to Mike Wallace in most practices? Well, today Tannehill targetted Wallace more than perhaps any other practice this training camp. The two combined on at least two deep TDs of 45 and 50 yards.Both seemed to have fine practices today. Message received? Maybe.]

August 13, 2013

Tannehill, Wallace need to connect more in practice

MIke Wallace caught slant pass from Ryan Tannehill midway through practice Monday and about 40 minutes later caught a deep pass from the starting quarterback over the top of the defense for a touchdown.

That was good.

That was also it.

Tannehill targeted Wallace three times in practice and the duo connected twice. And that's fine except when you consider that Tannehill actually attempted more passes to reserve receiver Brian Tyms. And tight end Dustin Keller. And Brian Hartline. And just as many to Jeff Fuller, another reserve receiver who may or may not be on the team in three weeks.

So if you ask me are the Dolphins feeding the Tannehill-to-Wallace connection a good diet in practice, I would say absolutely not. The fact is Monday's work was pretty much typical of what has happened in all the practices I've witnessed this training camp when counting Tannehill-to-Wallace connections.

Sometimes they hook up twice in a practice. Sometimes three times. Rarely more than that. Sometimes they go an entire practice and don't connect at all. Meanwhile, Tannehill connects with Keller all the time. He has a definite chemistry with Hartline. And he seems pretty comfortable throwing to Brandon Gibson as well.

All that is good -- except that none of those other guys are the caliber of playmaker that Mike Wallace is. None are being paid what the Dolphins are paying Wallace. None are feared around the NFL as Wallace is feared.

So why is Wallace catching fewer passes in practice than his peers? And, incredibly, why on this day was he targeted fewer times than a receiver who is fighting for a No. 4 or No. 5 WR job?

Perhaps I'm making too much of this. But it has happened on a number of days that I've watched practice. And, if you believe like coach Joe Philbin does, that practice is important and eventually will reflect what we see in games, then this trend is potentially alarming.

Tannehill doesn't seem to throw nearly enough to Wallace in practice to suggest this is going to be an elite combination in the NFL this season.

(Return of the peanut gallery here: But Mando, you're just a dumb columnist who never played the game and you're making a big deal out of nothing and, after all, Allen Iverson said this is just practice.)

Fine. So I asked Wallace the simple question: Is he getting enough passes thrown to him in practice from Ryan Tannehill?

"Ahhhh, I think it's going to come," he said seemingly surprised by the question. "Obviously I didn't practice for like a week and a half so that kind of takes away shots I would have had. But I think I get enough balls. Well, I wouldn't say ... We have a lot of periods in practice so you're going to catch a lot of passes. At the same time we have so many guys and there's so much going on so fast that you're not always going to ge the ball."

Stop right there. Wallace is a professional. He's not a troublemaker. But neither is he a liar. So he's clearly hedging his answer. He obviously doesn't want to say something that could potentially make folks look bad. But neither does he want to suggest something that is so clear is not true. He also doesn't want to sound like he's complaining.

So he just talked in circles a little bit.

"You know, there are certain plays that my coach wants to see me in and for those plays I make sure I get the rep and I get extra plays as well," Wallace said. "But there are certain plays he wants to see me run a certain route and I might not get the ball but this is the look we'll look for. I understand what's going on so you're not going to see too much frustration out of me just like I need to do this or that. I feel like I'm doing a great job at doing the things I plan to work on -- just getting in my spots and learning the offense. I feel like I'm a playmaker on the field. That's what I do. I'm not really worried about that. As long as I know where I'm going and I'm able to play fast, I think I'll be fine."

So to recap, does Mike Wallace think he's seeing enough passes from Tannehill in practice?

Ahhhh, at some point that will happen. I was injured for a while. I get enough passes. Well, maybe. We've got a lot of guys on the team and they have to get there's so I'm not always going to get the ball. There are plays I'm just running to see what the defense is doing. I'm not going to get too frustrated about this. I'm not complaining. I'll be fine.


The only reason this is even a minor issue is because Wallace made his preseason debut last Friday and didn't catch a pass. Indeed, Tannehill never looked at him.

Was he open?

"I had a couple of shots out there we could have took," Wallace said. "But there's a lot of things that go into that. Obviously, it's not just me getting open. We have a lot going into that so everything has to flow together and I think we'll take care of it and I think we'll hit those shots I think we have."

Yes, getting the ball to Wallace deep means the offensive line has to block well and give Tannehill time. And then the QB has to feel confident about throwing it to Wallace.

Neither of those happened against Jacksonville.

"There was one where we came out and started a drive with a play," Tannehill said. "I ended up moving around and hitting Gibson over the middle, but going back and looking at it, I could have stayed in the pocked a little bit, just pushed up and kept my eyes downfield. Mike ended up winning on the outside. Other than that, that’s kind of the way the game fell."

The Dolphins studied the tape of the Jacksonville game and say they are committed to improving their ability to getting the ball downfield to Wallace.

"That’s one thing we are working on this week is using the pocket, getting a little bit better protection, but using what I have to do better, stepping up and finding a way to get the ball downfield," Tannehill said.

The irony here is that in a practice where that's a focus, Wallace only caught two passes. In a practice where the idea is to get the ball deep, Tannehill is throwing to Tyms more often. Really?

Obviously, it is still early. The Dolphins have the chance to multiply many times what we're seeing so far. But how that's going to happen in games, particularly ones that count in the regular season, if it doesn't happen in practice stumps me.

That has to change. Soon.

Because if Mike Wallace continues to catch only a couple of passes from Tannehill in practice, he's not catching two or three times that many in real games.

August 12, 2013

Vernon likely starting DE, Lane demoted

First round pick Dion Jordan is unlikely to win the starting defensive end job opposite Cam Wake because he hasn't gotten enough work in practice or games to mount the challenge and is unlikely to get much work any time soon as he nurses the recurring shoulder injury that has nagged him this year.

Jordan, who had shoulder surgery in February and missed all of the offseason and the start of camp, re-injured the same shoulder in Friday night's preseason game against Jacksonville. It is not considered serious but he did not practice the past two days and while his status is day-to-day, he may not even play in the preseason game against Houston Saturday.

"We're obviously taking some precautions as we move forward with Dion," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "We don't want to overload him at this point. We got a plan in place to get him ready to participate at the level we feel best at at the beginning of the season so we'd like to see as much of him as we can but we're going to be careful how we proceed."

While the Dolphins do expect Jordan to be ready for the Sept. 8 opener at Cleveland, his role will likely be as substitute on passing downs. Olivier Vernon will be the starting right end, barring an unforseen circumstance.

The only way Jordan could change that is by getting more work in practice. But, of course, that's not likely to happen now that the team is taking "precautions" with the rookie because of the shoulder.

"He hasn't gotten the reps that would be necessary to put him out there and start at this point," Coyel said. "But you still have three weeks of training camp. It's a little bit premature to determine exactly what his status will be at the beginning of the season. We're taking it one day at a time."

Today it became clear Jorvorskie Lane is struggling to keep his spot on the roster, much less his starting fullback job from a season ago. Lane was relegated to snaps with the reserves while Evan Rodriguez took all the available first-team snaps at fullback.

That endangers Lane's spot on the roster because the Dolphins are going to keep one fullback at most when they trim the roster to 53 players and the backup fullback won't be one of those.

That doesn't, however, mean Rodriguez is secure in winning a roster spot. He must still perform well but even if he does, the Dolphins may still decide to go without any fullbacks on the roster and instead let H-back Charles Clay fill that role as well as his duties at tight end.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has said he likes using Clay and tight end Dustin Keller in the lineup at the same time and that makes the fullback position one of uncertainty.  

August 11, 2013

Handful of starting jobs still wide open

The Dolphins begin their fourth week of training camp and will prepare for their third preseason game this week but there are still issues as fundamental as picking starting personnel at a handful of positions that need settling.

The club has yet to fully decide on a starting running back, starting right guard, starting defensive tackle next to Paul Soliai, starting cornerback opposite Brent Grimes, and perhaps even starting defensive end opposite Cameron Wake.

At running back, it's obvious Lamar Miller is the presumed starter but he hasn't exactly wowed yet, despite enormous potential to do so. The fact is he had the tough moment fumbling against Dallas and didn't really do much in carrying two times for 6 yards against Jacksonville.

Daniel Thomas, who has been given a smaller share of first-team snaps in practice, has avoided the turnover but also hasn't impressed in two games. Thus, we've got a no-decision so far.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman today said the competition is "pretty close."

At right guard, it seemed as if Josh Samuda had established himself as the favorite once John Jerry went down with a knee injury. Multiple players inlcuding Samuda were tried as part of the guard competition. But Samuda, who has started two games at the position, struggled against Jacksonville, giving up a sack and showing poor technique on another play. So he regressed somewhat.

That means the job is wide open again. Coach Joe Philbin said today that Nate Garner is "absolutely in the competition" for the starting job. Lance Louis has a chance as well, although he has yet to play in the preseason despite practicing. Louis is recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Best case scenario for the Dolphins is Jerry gets back to work this week and plays in two weeks. And he's in shape. And plays well.

Yeah, all that could happen.

Oh boy.

The kicking job is obviously open. Rookie Caleb Sturgis was brought in to replace veteran Dan Carpenter and after getting off to a slow start, has picked things up lately. He connected on a 58 yard field goal against Jacksonville, booted every one of his six kickoffs into the end zone and got four touchbacks for the trouble.

Message sent.

Do not be surprised if the Dolphins start shopping the loser of this competition in trade as both are actually kicking well this camp.

The cornerback job opposite Brent Grimes is being decided between Richard Marshall and Dimitri Patterson. Want a darkhorse?

Rookie Will Davis continues to make plays and although he is "inconsistent," according to coaches. He is seemingly always around the ball. He had an interception against Jacksonville and another against Dallas. Yes, he also had a PI against Dallas in the end zone, but picks are valuable commodities.

The competition for a starting job between Randy Starks and Jared Odrick was supposed to be a slugfest. Starks, however, has been battling a knee injury for over a week so he's not been in the battle. Odrick is the guy right now but if Starks gets back this week or next, the competition will resume.

Either way, the Dolphins plan to alternate DTs. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has said he has two starters at that position although it is obvious only one player plays the opening snap. The two players are good at different things so the job may alternate depending on the offense they face.

Everyone assumes the left defensive end job belongs to Olivier Vernon. Well, yes, he's making it hard to think otherwise. He's practicing well and there's nothing about his play against Jacksonville (only game he's been in) that suggested regression.

But ...

Rookie Dion Jordan is being groomed for that spot. The team wants him pushing Vernon. The team wants him to be good enough to be a three-down player. If he doesn't win the job, well, that's life and he can be used as a passing-down specialist. But that decision has not been made yet.

So that job, like the others, is still open. 

August 09, 2013

Dolphins beat Jaguars, 27-3

JACKSONVILLE -- Congratulations to Joe Philbin on the first preseason win of his career. Yes, this 27-3 victory was only preseason, but it beats the alternative, no?

This was a solid performance for the most part.

The starting defense played three series and yielded only 14 yards. Cameron Wake looks ready for the season. Dannell Ellerbe was active with three tackles.

The Dolphins, stressing turnover margin this training camp, won that battle with a plus-3 for the evening. They had one turnover and plucked four, including interceptions for Nolan Carroll and Will Davis.

Matt Moore threw an interception and that was Miami's only turnover, although Chad Bumphis was sketchy as a punt returner, muffing a punt but not losing it. Moore was 5 of 9 for 58 yards but that interception he threw was a poor decision. His passer rating on the night was 35.6.

The Dolphins punt team has things to clean up. It gave up two punt returns of 22 yards. Not good.

Some quickie impressions:

Dallas Thomas played much better at RT this week and then played at LT last week. He hasn't necessarily found a home but the kid is much better off on the right side. (Personally, I think he should be a guard).

Mike Wallace played but didn't have a catch. Indeed, he didn't even have a target. Truth is quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't really look at him downfield. It's tough, I'm sure, to look for the deep threat when you're scrambling trying to not get sacked, but even when Tannehill had time he didn't look for Wallace.

Tannehill and Dustin Keller are in synch. That's a done thing. They combined for two completions and 46 yards. Tannehill struggled early but recovered nicely. He finished 5 of 9 for 75 yards with a touchdown. His passer rating was 120.1. He did throw a couple of passes that more accomplished corners might have intercepted but the bottom line is those balls fell to the ground and his 22-yard pass to Dustin Keller in the end zone didn't.

Josh Samuda didn't look good. He struggled. Sen'Derrick Marks beat him to the QB.

Ryan Tannehill apparently didn't notice because after the game he said the starting OL "did a good job."

Rookie cornerback Will Davis continues to impress me. He's always around the ball. He batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on a corner blitz and had an interception.

That 58-yard field goal by rookie Caleb Sturgis and his repeated ability to kick the ball in the end zone (6 for 6) and get touchbacks (4) seems to give him an edge currently in the kicking competition. Good night for him. Tough night for Dan Carpenter, who didn't kick at all.

The battle for the third RB job has been joined. Mike Gillislee is the favorite but Jonas Gray is making him quite valuable as a short-yardage and goal line producer. Gray scored two touchdowns from 1 yard out tonight. He ran hard.

For the night, Gray gained 32 yards on 14 carries. Gillislee gained 37 yards on 12 carries. Tough competiton.

Chris Clemons, who left the game in the first quarter and went to the locker room, said after the game he is fine.

By the way, the Jaguars are a mess. They had an issue on the sideline with players arguing. One of the guys arguing was wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who wasn't even playing and is suspended for four games. Are you kidding me?


Live blog with Wallace playing

JACKSONVILLE -- Mike Wallace is playing tonight.

That's the first thing you should know. So will Brian Hartline, as I reported earlier in the weeks. So the Dolphins will finally have their starting QB-to-WR battery this preseason.

QB Ryan Tannehill will play about a quarter tonight.

This is live blog night. That means get aboard and see you there.

Fast start, sure, but Dolphins need more than that

By now you know Joe Philbin was asked what he's looking for tonight as the Dolphins play the Jacksonville Jaguars in their second preseason game. "Fast start," he said.

That was it.

Next question.

I sort of get it. Last week in the preseason opener against Dallas, the Dolphins got off to anything but a fast start. The starting defense gave up some yardage that flipped the field on the opening drive and then the offense, starting from their 9 yard line, fumbled on their first play.

The Cowboys then converted the turnover into a touchdown.


And that was after the Dolphins defense picked up a pass interference penalty in the end zone. And it soon became 17-0.

So, yes, the Dolphins don't want to make a habit of starting that slow anytime, not even in the preseason.

But as Philbin says he's looking for a fast start, I'm looking for more.

How about flipping the turnover margin? The Dolphins have invested a lot of time and energy and focus on winning the turnover battle every game this season. They preach ball security to the offense. They preach stripping and intercepting and taking the ball away to the defense. They even have footballs hanging in every defensive meeting room hanging from walls and alike so that players punch at them and get used to snatching them.

Well, last week, the Dolphins lost the turnover margin to Dallas. And two of those -- the Lamar fumble and an interception by Matt Moore that was returned 75 yards for a score -- led to points for Dallas.

So the focus the team has put on turnovers needs to start paying dividends.

From a team perspective I also would like better tackling. The tackling was bad last week. It was, as noted earlier on this blog, so bad that Dallas gained 93 rushing yards after contact on the Dolphins. That's got to get cleaned up before the season.

And then there is the rush defense. Last week the Cowboys gained 170 rushing yards. No, Randy Starks didn't play. Neither did Jared Odrick or Olivier Vernon or Dannell Ellerbe. I expect all of those except Starks to play today. With Maurice Jones-Drew not playing tonight for Jacksonville, the situation is set for the Dolphins to improve their defense against the run.

[BLOG NOTE: Check back later for the live blog and I'll update you on the status of Mike Wallace for the game.]

August 08, 2013

The lesser known DE is having a big camp

You know Cameron Wake. He's one of the NFL's top 100 players as selected by his peers.

You know Dion Jordan. He was the player the Dolphins boldly moved up in the draft to take at No. 3 overall and has already been likened to Jason Taylor and Aldon Smith.

You know Olivier Vernon. Much has been written about his fine start to this training camp and his potential to be a starter this season.

You should know Derrick Shelby.

He's having a fine camp. He had a sack in the scrimmage. He had a sack in the preseason-opener against Dallas. Coaches love him.

“Derrick is a very sound football player," coach Joe Philbin said. "He is going to do it exactly the way [assistants] Kacy Rodgers, Charlie Bullen and Kevin Coyle want it done. I love him because he keeps his shoulder pads square. He gives effort. He is in the right spots when he is supposed to be. He knows what gap he has. He’s not jumping around things. He plays through people. He’s doing a nice job."

Shelby made the team last season as a rookie that took well to coaching and rarely made mistakes. This camp, he's trying to make the jump to actually making plays.

And so far, so good.

"I see more production out of Derrick, stating the other night," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. " He’s always a guy that you can count on the be in the right place, he’s very dependable, yet we saw that playmaking ability the other night and we’ve seen it throughout training camp.  He’s been difficult to block, he’s gotten more pressure on the quarterback, he’s been the guy that we feel very pleased with at this point in camp and he’s made a lot of progress."

As the Dolphins added talent at defensive end in the draft -- obviously with Jordan -- the idea of keeping Shelby seemed like something of a luxury. But Shelby so far has earned his spot. He is so far entrenched on the second team defense.

And because he's 280 pounds, he seems more able to hold the point on early run downs aside from his growing pass rush skills.

In other words, Shelby is finding a good niche on the team. And his prospects of staying on the team seem very, very good.

[Injury update: FB Jorvorskie Lane, who missed practice Wednesday with an unkown injury, is expected to play against the Jaguars Friday. The Dolphins are still finalizing decisions on playing Lamar Miller (ankle) and Mike Wallace (groin). Jared Odrick (groin), Brian Hartline (calf) and Olivier Vernon (groin), all of whom missed the preseason-opener, are expected to play. Dannell Ellerbe, who missed the preseason opener, is expected to play. Randy Starks (knee) and John Jerry (knee) are definitely out.]

[Update: Miller, who has been nursing the tender ankle the last two practices, is expected to play barring a last minute complication ... CB Jamar Taylor (hernia recovery) is not expected to play.]

Follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero


August 07, 2013

The day's doings at Dolphins camp

I've had several readers and twitter followers ask me about the Dolphins lack of tackling acumen in the preseason opener and, as they saw the Bengals run an Oklahoma drill on the premier episode of Hard Knocks, they asked me why the Dolphins aren't doing that.

It's a fair question because the Dolphins know they struggled tackling the ballcarrier in the preseason opener.

"I thought the tackling was poor, very bad," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Wednesday. "But it's not atypical of a lot of preseason games that I've been involved in for many, many years. I seem to recall many games where we've come right back and talked aobut how poor the tackling was."

The tackling was so bad against Dallas, the Dolphins yielded 170 rushing yards and five yards per carry. According to Coyle, 93 of those rushing yards came after a first opportunity to make a tackle failed.

"If we had made the tackle after the initial contact, we would have had a heck of a game," Coyle said. "But we didn't so I'm not making excuses."

Coyle believes the tackling issue are understandable early in the preseason.

"We've only had one true tackling experience and that was in the scrimmage the week before," he said. "So all of a sudden the speed of the game increases, the angles change a little bit and the backs are running harder than they do in practice when you're tagging them off. So we've got to be better and worked hard this week both days in practice, I don't know if you guys noticed, at doing a number of tackling drills. So during the course of the preseason I think you'll see the tackling improve. I do believe that's something we need to improve and hopefully we'll be much better at it this week."

As to the Oklahoma drill that the Bengals and other teams use, Coyle is familiar with it because he came from Cincy before joining the Dolphins.

"The Oklahoma drill is a one-shot deal," he said. "I was somewhere where it was a one-shot deal. We did it the first day of camp and everybody got one shot at it and we didn't do it again until the next training camp. There's not many teams that are going to feature that kind of contact at training camp.

"Now if it continues to be a problem, we're going to have to address it if it continues to be a problem but I don't believe it'll be a problem for us."

On to today's practice:

The Dolphins got great news in that WR Mike Wallace returned to full work for the first time since straining a groin nearly two weeks ago.

Wallace's presence was felt as Ryan Tannehill connected with the speedy receiver on a 40-yard bomb over the top of the defense and against Nolan Carroll's one-on-one coverage. The play was a TD.

One thing: I'm not sure I'd blame Carroll exclusively on the play. He had zero safety help over the top. Not a good look for the deep secondary.

Today was a much, much, much better day for Tannehill following his four-INT day on Tuesday. He only threw one interception -- to Dimitri Patterson -- and had three TD passes. So good recovery by the starting QB.

TE Michael Egnew had a very good practice. He caught three TD passes from various QBs and didn't have a drop. All his TDs were from inside the 10-yard line, suggesting a little toughness in a tight area.

Carroll, who was beaten for the deep TD, recovered with an interception of QB Pat Devlin. It was Devlin's first full practice since being knocked out of Sunday preseason opener. It wasn't necessarily a good day for him because he threw two interceptions -- to Carroll and Chris Clemons.

Practice was punctuated by a minor skirmish between the starting OL and second-team DL. Richie Incongnito and Mike Pouncey obviously had a disagreement with defensive tackle Tracy Roberts and although punches were thrown, no one seemed to be the worse for wear after the 30-second scrum.

Other highlights, lowlights, observations:

***Brian Hartline dropped two passes.

***Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon, held out against Dallas, practiced and seemed to have no issues. They should play vs. Jacksonville on Friday.

***Lamar Miller, who left practice with an ankle injury of some sort, was back today with his right ankle heavily taped. He started working and stopped midway through and was limping noticeably. Then he returned to practice for a couple of periods and left again near the end.

When it came time for the final team drill period, Daniel Thomas took the work in Miller's place.

***Rookie Dallas Thomas, who played at left tackle in the preseason opener, is over at right tackle now. And he's still struggling. Cameron Wake abused him on one pass rush situation that made it seem as if no one was blocking Wake. Coach Joe Philbin said Thomas's problem versus the Cowboys is that the opposing DE continually got better hand position on him and thus had better leverage against Thomas. That usually translates to a lineman getting knocked back on his posterior as Thomas was.

***Jorvorskie Lane, fighting for a roster spot, did not practice today with an unreported leg injury. It doesn't seem serious but he's looked in a tight competition for a roster spot so he really cannot afford to miss much time  ... John Jerry continues to rehab his knee on the side. He's in the third week of what is expected to be a four-week issue. One thing I'll say, he looks big.  

[Update: TE Kyle Miller, who caught a TD pass vs. Dallas Sunday night, was not at practice today because he has an ankle injury. It is not considered serious but he isn't playing at Jacksonville.]

Owner Stephen Ross address Dolphins issues

The Dolphins have spent over $240 million in new contract commitments (not counting rookies) and over $100 million of that is guaranteed money in preparation for the 2013 season.

So what does the man footing that bill expect in return from his team? What does he expect on the field? How does he define success for the Dolphins this year?

"We all know the games are played in September, October, November and December and that defines it," said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on his first visit to training camp. "I mean, I think you make moves to really bring back the winning tradition to Florida. You can't make moves and not want to and hope to make the playoffs and see where we go from there. But you want to see progress and that's the most important thing.

"I'm looking to bring a team to South Florida to win consistently and that's the most important thing."

Yes, that is kind of vague. Does he success mean success is having to make the playoffs or not?

"We certainly want to make the playoffs," Ross said. "That was all done with that in mind. But I want to see growth in the team, and building the foundation for this season and future seasons as well. I don't want to be a one-shot wonder."

He wants the organization to the best in class in the NFL. And Ross gave endorsements of the heads of the organization -- the general manager, coach and quarterback -- as the right people for getting the job done

On general manager Jeff Ireland:

"I'm committed to him," Ross said. "I think he's doing a great job and I'm committed to Jeff Ireland."

Despite that commitment, Ireland is in the final year of his contract.

on Tannehill:

"Look what we're doing in the offseason," Ross said. "Who we brought in there. In pro football it starts and you need to have a great quarterback. We believe and hope we selected the quarterback. He understands his position, his role. He's doing everything he can. I love the guy. I think he's the right person to lead the way. But you have to make the right moves as well. You have to plan. You have to be consistent. You have to follow a plan. I think that's what we're doing. We said that last year, I think you can see the changes.

"I think we're [headed] in the right direction. You can see the makings of the team. This coach is different. This organization I think is committed. The moves we made in the offseason show that. We didn't try to sign players who had already reached their potential and were just a name. We had a plan and we're following a plan to really create that winning tradition here."

Early this camp, the Dolphins were tight lipped about the so-called "Free Hernandez" hat  controversy. That happened when center Mike Pouncey wore the hat calling for the freedom of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez during a party on South Beach. Philbin refused to discuss the issue and actually prevented Pouncey from doing so as well, although the player wanted to apologize. He wasn't allowed to do that.

Despite this, Ross defended the organization's attempt at transparency, which he instituted following the departure of Bill Parcells. And he defended Philbin's approach.

"Obviously, I don't condone it. At the same time I think the way team handled it was a matter that the coach and Mike Pouncey and I have total faith in the coach and how they handled the situation. It was done and you know the way we care about the way people act in the community and how they behave and what it means to the Miami Dolphins.

"I have total faith in Joe Philbin, the way he handles things as a person, what he expects of people and I'm not going to second-guess Joe Philbin."

Ross said the Dolphins search for a new CEO is approaching a critical moment. He said he hopes to narrow the field to four candidates in the next week and pick a CEO by September.

That person must have some sports experience but won't have any say on the football side of the organization. Ross said he'll continue to be the final word on the football side of the franchise. That new CEO will be charged with improvig ticket sales, particularly on a season-ticket basis, because those have been lagging so far.

Is Ross worried about the relative lukewarm response from the ticket-buying public after spending all that money this offseason?

"Miami has a reputation. It's a tough sports town," Ross said. "You have to win. You can do all those things but they're looking to see if you're winning. You have to start first. First, we'll be winning then I know we'll get the proper response from there."