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3 posts from July 30, 2014

July 30, 2014

Sturgis competing against kickers not in camp

Darren Rizzi spent a few minutes talking about the grand level of competition on his special teams this year -- "more competition than I've probably had in any of my six years here," he said -- and, suddenly, it dawned on me that at perhaps the most important spots there really seems to be no competition at all.

Let's face it, punter Brandon Fields has no competitor in camp. Long snapper John Denney has no competitor in camp -- other than some backups that are working at long snapping.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis has no competitor in training camp.

And while the lack of competition for the first two is totally understandable because Fields and Denney are at or near the top of their games among NFL peers, there's Sturgis.

As a rookie in 2013 he was not at the top of his game. His 76.5 percent success rate on field goals was 29th best in the NFL. Sturgis missed eight of his 34 attempts, including four from 30-49 yards. From 50-plus yards, Sturgis was not very good at all, connecting on only 3-of-7.

By comparison, Dan Carpenter, who was cut in training camp, connected on 4-of-6 from 50-plus yards and was 16-of-17 from 30-49 yards.

So Sturgis seems like he could probably use some competition because, well, isn't that what Rizzi is preaching?

Well, it seems Sturgis does have competition, according to the Dolphins special team coordinator.

"I think the specialist is kind of a different deal," Rizzi said. "There's always competition there. It just may not be in the building. There's competition around the league. We're always evaluating the specialist's position.

"That's a fluid situation. Although we may not have anyone here, it's always a fluid situation. We may not have a body here in camp doing it, but ... I will say this, I have a lot of confidence in Caleb Sturgis. He's a quality player. But a specialist is a little different than everywhere else. It really is.

"You don't necessarily have to have a body in camp for those guys to feel pressure."

I think what Rizzi is saying is if Sturgis struggles, GM Dennis Hickey will be calling available kickers.

Sturgis had a drought midway through the '13 season in which he missed four of five field goals. Rizzi noted the rookie was good early in the year and good late in the year but the lull in the middle made for a "roller coaster ride" that is not satisfactory.

"You have to be more consistent and he knows that," Rizzi said. "You go out there for one play and you have to get it down, bottom line."

To make the point, Rizzi said he's not asking Sturgis to kick a series of field goals in practice this year. Indeed, the kicker is getting one chance to make his kicks and he either does or does not perform -- much the same way it happens in a game.

"It's make or miss," Rizzi said. "You don't get a second chance."

I think it is time to pay attention to Caleb Sturgis's attempts in camp from this point forward. Because he's got a ton of guys around the NFL who apparently are competing with him.


More competition than I've probably had in any of my six years here,"

Coyle: Defense has 'chance to do something special'

The Dolphins offense has a new coordinator, a new scheme, a new offensive line. It's a great day when there isn't a botched snap in practice -- and so far there has not been a practice day when there hasn't been at least one botched snap.

So with the division rival New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills the first two teams on regular-season schedule one might hope the Dolphins' defense can carry the day while the offense gets acclimated to 2014.

And that's fine because the defense apparently is ready for that assignment.

"We like the challenge," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Wednesday. "We like the challenge of having a veteran group of guys who feel they can be among the league's top defenses. And if we execute we feel we can do that."

While the Miami offense is experimenting and shuffling players -- On Wednesday Nate Garner moved to starting center for part of practice, Dallas Thomas worked some at tackle and Billy Turner took first-team snaps at right guard -- the defense seems relatively set.

The starting unit in most every practice so far:

LE: Cameron Wake

DT: Earl Mitchell

DT: Randy Starks

RE: Olivier Vernon

WLB: Dannell Ellerbe

MLB: Koa Misi

SLB: Phillip Wheeler

CB: Cortland Finnegan

CB: Brent Grimes

S: Louis Delmas

S: Reshad Jones

Even Jimmy Wilson, who is competing at safety, is seemingly set as the starting nickel back.

A competition may develop at safety (Wilson/Delmas) or DT (Jared Odrick/Mitchell) or perhaps at CB (Jamar Taylor/Cortland Finnegan), but the above seems to be the group right now.

This group is building their core scheme that "we believe in," Coyle said, and trying to use players' strengths within the scheme.

"The core of what we do is in place," Coyle said.

So this group is simply refining rather than their offensive teammates who are defining.

And it shows on the field. Today, for example the last two plays of the team team period in practice, Cameron Wake had a sack and that was followed by a Cortland Finnegan interception.

"My instincts tell me the defense had the upper hand," coach Joe Philbin said of the entire practice in which the two-minute offense and defense was stressed.

As it should be. This defense should dominate the offense, particularly at this stage in training camp. But for that dominance to carry into the regular-season against opposing teams, Coyle realizes some things have to improve.

"Being more consistent in the run game and turnover issues," Coyle said. "If we can do that, we'll put ourselves in position to be difficult to move the ball against.

"If we keep building it, we have a chance to do something special."

A warning: Talent more important than scheme

The Dolphins' offense is different this year because the offensive coordinator is new this year. But is that truly a big deal?

It must be noted the Dolphins have changed offensive coordinators more than they have change head coaches in the past decade. And still Miami fans are waiting for an offense that can rival New England's.

Bill Lazor is Joe Philbin's second offensive coordinator. Tony Sparano had two offensive coordinators in his time. Nick Saban had two offensive coordinators in his time. Dave Wannstedt had three offensive coordinators and perhaps more, depending on whom you believe. Jimmy Johnson had a couple.

Lazor brings with him the idea of moving guys around. Motion. Shifting.

And he's pretty confident about that approach.

“My attitude as I walk into a job is that I’m here to make a difference," he said Tuesday. "That’s not to point the spotlight on me. It’s more to put the responsibility on me. I’m here to do positive things. I’m here to provide leadership. I’m here to help with the expertise in any area I can continue to add it. Some people walk into a job and maybe think about, ‘What is that situation?’ I just choose to walk into a job and say, ‘This is what we are going to make the situation.’”

That's good. But as with everything else, there are pros and cons.

The folks who love the shifting and motion and so forth love to tell you it helps keep the defense from locking in on guys. It is harder to bracket a receiver who is moving presnap. It also creates indecision for the defense.

But the folks that approach offense in a stationary presnap fashion -- like the Dolphins did under Mike Sherman the past couple of years -- will tell you their way of doing things is also well-thought.

“When you’re stationary as a football team or ahead of your emphasis on stationary, you might be able to make more adjustments offensively, check a play in another direction, redirect things, signal things differently," Philbin said.

"If you’re snapping a ball and guys are moving, you don’t really have that option. And so you have to kind of go with the play. Your intent is that you’re going to create a little bit of indecision, limit the play speed of the defense with all the shifting and motioning and so forth. The flipside is you’re not always 100 percent sure of the adjustments and you may get stuck into a look that maybe is less than ideal.”

So both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.

Where does that leave us?

It says here that both approaches have won. Both approaches have been highly successful.

The bottom line is talent.

If the offense is talented, either approach will work. If the offense lacks talent, neither approach will work very well.

The point?

Be cautious of believing all will be different or problems will be resolved based on a change in scheme or system. Sometimes there is incremental improvement. Sometimes not.

Exponential improvement, however, comes when greater talent is injected into the equation. That's when things change dramatically. Remember, it's not about the scheme.

It's mostly about the talent.