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26 posts from April 2014

April 03, 2014

WR Nate Burleson visiting Dolphins today

The Dolphins have shown no intention of standing pat as the bargain-hunting portion of free agency is well underway and to prove it, beyond the signing of Jason Fox on Wednesday, the team is bringing in veteran receiver Nate Burleson today, per sources.

Steve Wyche (Miami Herald alum) of NFL AM was the first to report the story.

Frankly, this one is a little curious. Burleson is not young (32), he's not particularly fast (4.51) and he's not particularly big (6-foot). He might be cheap, agreeing to a veteran minimum salary contract because he's coming off a two unimpressive years in Detroit.

Still, I do not get it.

Burleson isn't really an upgrade over any of Miami's top four wide receivers -- Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson or Rishard Matthews. He obviously could be a good experienced backup as a No. 5 wide receiver to guard against Hartline or Gibson not being fully recovered from last year's knee injuries.

But the No. 5 wide receiver rarely makes it to the game-day roster and when he does, usually has to play special teams. I don't think Burleson would be enthusiastic about either of those two ideas because he hasn't returned a punt since 2009 nor a kick since 2010.

Another thing: This draft is deep in WR talent. Rookies cost one-third against the cap that a veteran such as Burleson costs. 

This move reeks of something else being afoot. It demands explanation.

On the other hand, Burleson hasn't exactly been in demand so maybe ....

Dolphins need to let Mike Wallace run up on safeties

The last week of seemingly non-stop coverage of DeSean Jackson got me to thinking about, what else, the Miami Dolphins.

Much like the Eagles a season ago with Jackson, the Dolphins have a lightning-fast wide receiver in Mike Wallace. Unfortunately, the Miami coaching staff failed miserably to maximize Wallace and so he caught 73 passes for 930 yards and five touchdowns.

That's good, but not dynamic player good, not $60 million contract good.

But here's the thing, if the Dolphins in 2014 apply some of the principles to Wallace the Eagles applied last year to Jackson, there is a very good chance Wallace's statistics will grow to dynamic proportions.

And, with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor coming from his job as the Eagles quarterback coach a year ago, he is perfectly suited to apply those principles to the equally explosive Wallace that Eagles coach Chip Kelly applied to Jackson.

More specifically, I'm talking about how the Eagles moved Jackson around -- sometimes putting him in the slot -- so that he could use his speed against a linebacker or a No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback and then deep against the safety.

If you'll look at the highlights below, you'll see at the 3:30 mark, Jackson in the slot against Tampa Bay. (I'm sure former Bucs personnel man and current Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey loved seeing this). And the Bucs play a zone with a LB under and a safety over the top.

Well, Jackson runs out of the LB's zone in a blink and the safety is not nearly fast enough to pick him up over the top.

The touchdown is caused because Jackson is extremely fast. But it also happens because the Eagles gave Jackson a matchup that allowed his gifts to simply blow away the Tampa scheme.

The Dolphins didn't do that last year with Wallace. He lined up 90 percent of the time on the right side of the line of scrimmage out wide. He rarely went into the slot. He rarely motioned.

Look again at the 5:27 mark of the highlights against the Vikings. The Eagles line up Jackson in the slot and the Vikings answer by matching up with safety Robert Blanton.

How do you think that went?

Jackson ran up on the safety and left him in the dust.

Lazor saw this time and again last season. He has a player on the Miami roster that offers exactly the same kind of explosion as Jackson.

If he's smart, Lazor will give Wallace the chance to run up on safeties in 2014 as Jackson did last year for his Eagles. The results could be dynamic.

 

April 02, 2014

Dolphins add OT and WR

Busy day for the Dolphins ...

Right tackle Jason Fox, who is visiting the Dolphins today, has signed a one-year deal with the team, according to a league source. ProFootballTalk.com was the first to report the signing. I don't expect this will be much more than a minimum salary type addition.

[Update 1:44: The Dolphins have confirmed the signing.]

[Update 1:51: An NFL source tells me Fox got $795,000.]

Meanwhile, the previous blog discussed how the Dolphins are not in the market for high-end wide receiver but will be adding receivers for the bottom of the roster, for depth, for special teams possibilities and he will preferrably be a bigger body type.

Well, the Dolphins have agreed to terms with receiver Kevin Cone, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Cone is 6-2 and 216. He is what former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland would have termed an acorn. Despite four years of experience, Cone has one career reception.

He has played 28 career games but most of the work has come on special teams.

Clearing out the notebook: Free agent Fox visits, more

The Dolphins are bringing in former Detroit Lions right tackle Jason Fox, formerly a University of Miami standout, for a visit, according to a league source.

The idea of Fox is to add a veteran presence and competition for the right tackle spot that currently has no clear cut starter at the position. If all else fails, Fox offers depth for the position, assuming he signs.

Fox, 25, has started only three games in his four NFL seasons.

This is not the right tackle answer for the Dolphins. This would be a move to shore up depth.

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The Dolphins have the second-most salary cap space in the AFC East this morning with $16,680,752. They have only 58 players under contract and that represents the fewest players under contract of any team in the NFL.

But the interesting thing is the players the Dolphins have under contract generally represent the core of the 2014 team.

Said another way, if you look at the Dolphins current roster, you can pluck out the starter or potential starter at every position except only two -- right tackle and one of the guard spots. And even at guard, the Dolphins have players on the roster such as Dallas Thomas, Nate Garner and Sam Brenner, who will likely get an opportunity to compete for the starting job.

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I care about Dolphins fans. I work for Dolphins fans.

And so I try to keep a finger on the pulse of what you're talking about and one thing that I simply cannot understand is the constant conversation about the wide receiver position.

It seems, based on some of what I've heard, that Dolphins fans think the team should add more wide receiver talent. And I'm talking serious talent.

When DeSean Jackson was cut by Philadelphia last week, fans asked me on twitter about the chances the Dolphins would chase him. A couple of bigtime Dolphins fans were discussing picking a wide receiver in the first round on twitter this morning.

I. Do. Not. Get. It.

The Dolphins wide receiver corps may indeed get three or four young players infused into it before the offseason is over. But those players will be back-of-the-roster possibilities.

I doubt seriously it will be a first-round pick.

Why?

Mike Wallace.

Brian Hartline.

Brandon Gibson.

Rishard Matthews.

Those are your four receivers on game day. And to answer the questions before they arise, Wallace is not being traded according to club sources, Hartline will be ready for the offseason camps after suffering a knee injury in the season-finale, and Gibson is on schedule to be recovered by the start of the regular season, according to a source, after blowing out a knee at New England last October.

So where is there room for a first-round pick? With the money committed to Wallace, Hartline and Gibson, where is the logic in investing more money in a player in free agency when the right tackle spot is bare and the tight end spot needs depth?

The Dolphins would like to add a bigger receiver type. Most of their receivers, outside of Armon Binns, are on the midsize body type. They'd like to add a bigger target receiver. But not at a high price. Not early in the draft, barring the dropping of Mike Evans to No. 19.

Wide receiver is a spotlight position. So I understand the attention. But the Dolphins seem to have the spotlight position covered, for now.

April 01, 2014

Shelley Smith: Line has potential 'to be really good'

Shelley Smith will be asked to both pass protect and run-block on the Dolphins offensive line -- either at left or right guard, which has not be determined yet -- but make no mistake, Smith loves run blocking over pass blocking.

"For me, a big thing is I try to play hard for a whole sixty minutes," Smith said today. "I try to be consistent with what I do. I'm sure most offensive linemen you'd talk to would say they love run-blocking and I love run-blocking."

Smith is not a certain starter, at least coaches have given him no guarantees. He'll have to earn his spot in a competition. But he's got the added advantage of being a scheme fit, according to the Dolphins.

"We had some knowledge of Shelley through John Benton, our head offensive line coach, who worked with Shelley," said general manager Dennis Hickey. "He had nothing but good things to say about Shelley not only as a player but as a person, which is always important for us. And as we watched the film and say the fit for the scheme we'll be employing under [offensive coordinator] Bill Lazor, we just like the fit."

Hickey noted Smith's "athleticism, his ability to climb to the second level and do a lot of things we're going to ask him to do." Hickey called Smith "an ascending player."

Smith, who visited the Giants and Patriots, said he believed the Dolphins were the best fit for him.

"In the zone blocking scheme, particularly how it was in Houston, they kind of looked for offensive linemen that maybe were more athletic, that can move and open up the holes on the outside zone by stretching out wide," Smith said. "I could fit there a little bit."

The Dolphins have added two offensive lineman so far this offseason after giving up a franchise record and league-leading 58 sacks last year. So far, so good, Smith said.

"There's a lot of potential," he said, "for the line to be really good." 

 

 

 

Dolphins will still be searching for an RB in the draft

Dolphins running back coach Jeff Nixon, on the road meeting with and scouting running backs, conducted a private workout with Towson's Terrance West last Wednesday.

"The Dolphins running backs coach [Nixon] likes me a lot. He told me I was high on his board of college running backs," West wrote in his draft diary for the Baltimore Sun.

"We did board work and met and talked and went over some different plays. It was a good background meeting and we got to know each other.""

And that leads me to this:

Despite the fact the Dolphins just signed Knowshon Moreno, despite the fact they like Lamar Miller, I'm told the personnel department would still like to add one more running back -- likely somewhere between the fourth-fifth rounds -- to add juice and get more talent in the backfield.

That player, from what is considered a deep running back class in this draft, must have one of the following abilities:

He needs to make defenders miss.

Or he needs to be able to break tackles (run through tackles) when the running is hard -- such as in the fourth quarter protecting a lead.

The Dolphins want a clock killer. Sure, they'd take a dynamic, big-play runner. But just as valuable later in the draft is a back who can go in with the team up a field goal with four minutes to play and run the ball against a defense that knows the Dolphins are going to run the ball ... and still gain yardage.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, the Dolphins already have that guy. His name is Daniel Thomas. He's young, he's 235 pounds. He's relatively fast.)

Welcome back, gallery. No, the Dolphins don't already have that guy. Thomas has done little to prove he's that guy the last three seasons. He hasn't been a bull in short-yardage. He hasn't been a good pass protector. He hasn't been a break-away back on early downs.

Thomas has been Jeff Ireland's guy since the former GM traded up in the second round of the 2011 draft to pick him. Ireland is gone now. Thomas is going to have an interesting time making the team in training camp with his primary advocate gone.

Why?

Well, Thomas is a 3.6 yards per carry guy in his three seasons. And the Dolphins still have hopes for Lamar Miller. And they just added Knowshon Moreno. And if things go according to plan, they plan to select yet another back in the draft.

The numbers don't add up for Thomas.