December 12, 2010

We get evaluated, Dolphins should be evaluated top to bottom

All of us that have jobs are evaluated at least once a year to mark the progress or regression we've made on the job. Am I right?

So an evaluation isn't an insult.

So, as I write in my Sunday column, the Dolphins need to perform a comprehensive top to bottom evaluation of the entire football side of the franchise.

In other words, coach Tony Sparano needs to be evaluated.

General manager Jeff Ireland needs to be evaluated.

All the players need to be evaluated.

All the assistants need to be evaluated.

I tell you in the column what result the evaluation of Sparano and Ireland should be, barring a final month collapse by the Dolphins.

I also tell you why the Dolphins need to encourage a couple of other high-ranking assistants to find something else to do next season because their work in 2010 won't stand up very well to an honest evaluation, regardless of what happens in the final four weeks of the season.

Those final four weeks begin today, by the way, with the Dolphins facing the New York Jets. We will have a live blog around 4 p.m. I will update the blog and and get us set up for the live blog, with pregame news, well before then.

So come back. 

December 07, 2010

Henne remains the starter, but evaluation coming

Despite another three-interception game, Chad Henne remains the Dolphins starting quarterback -- for now.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Monday he is not considering benching Henne (again), this time for Tyler Thigpen. "No, I don’t think so right now," Sparano said.

But ...

Sparano admitted some re-evaluation will take place by the Dolphins at the quarterback position. Perhaps not now, but eventually? Absolutely. Like at the end of the season.

“Listen the guy’s a young player right now. He’s, I think, getting better at a lot of things. At the end of the year we’ll have to sit down and from our standpoint we have to evaluate the whole big picture, I mean, we really do but there’s obviously some areas there where Chad needs to continue to improve and he would tell you that. One of the areas is, is this, this turnover thing.

"We just cannot, nobody can; I mean I’m watching one of the best in the league the last couple weeks have some problems that way (Peyton Manning), so you just can’t overcome them in this league. The margin is, it’s just too hard to overcome those kind of turnovers and unfortunately what you see is the guy throwing the football doing it. We don’t see all the other factors around it and there are a lot of other factors that go into how the quarterback plays in general and, and I think what the outcome is. In other words the result of an interception or all and any of those things.

"I mean, we had two protections yesterday where for all intensive purposes we’ve blocked these protections 150 times during the course of the season and what occurred yesterday on those two protections should never occur in that particular protection but it did and he got hit as he was throwing and at the end of the day you don’t convert a third and four. That stops a drive and that kills you in some of those things. The quarterback kind of takes the blame for that and there’s a lot of people around him.

"I feel like we got to make sure that the people around him are getting better as well. That’s probably a long answer to a short question but I do think this guy’s getting better. We’re going to have to evaluate everything at the end of the year."

Seems like Henne will get at least this coming game to get out of the Cleveland hole he dug himself. If he wins, he continues. If he loses, well, he probably continues because benching him at that point would be moot. The Dolphins would be out of the playoffs for sure, rather than almost definitely out of the playoffs.

The only reason Sparano would have for benching him at that point is if the coach believes Thigpen has a better chance to win him some games and he feels the need to get himself some wins for his own job security.

It otherwise seems wise that Henne might just keep his job until the end of the season and gets those games to prove himself.

Either way, it seems the Dolphins will go quarterback shopping this offseason. They will either try to find backup help or a quarterback that can compete for the starting job. That, of course, will all depend on that evaluation of Henne that will come when 2010 is over.

December 01, 2010

Henne getting more comfortable in his own skin

There is a feeling from those around Chad Henne that he is feeling more comfortable these days.

That's interesting because so many critics called him robotic and unfeeling and just not comfortable in his own skin when he was on the field in recent times, most notably before his benching following the Nov. 7 loss to Baltimore.

But that seems to be shifting a bit these days. I cannot exactly quantify for you that Henne is feeling more comfortable with his status on the Dolphins because there is no statistic for that. But it's just a hunch, a gut feeling, that he seems more at ease.

The most tangible example of that is what Henne said today about throwing interceptions. Look, Dolphins coaches have beat him over the head with the dogma that he must not make the big mistake and throw interceptions.

These coaches preach not losing the game as much as winning it.

But the truth, as has been discussed on this blog before, is that great quarterbacks throw interceptions. It's a fact of greatness. If the QB is going to expose himself and gamble sometimes and stretch skills to the breaking point, sometimes the result will be an interception.

The measure of greatness could include making sure the touchdowns far outnumber the interceptions. But the interceptions will come. And the great ones, while not accepting the interceptions, understand they are a fact of life.

Henne showed on Wednesday he understands interceptions are to be avoided. But they are sometimes a fact of life.

"This isn't life or death," he said of the miscues. "There's worse things in life out there that you can do. Obviously it hurts you deep down inside, but you have to let those things go. You have to keep on trucking ...

Henne cracked a smile.

"That's like Will Ferrell there, huh? No, you just have to put it behind you and move on to the next play because you can't let something despise you and shy away from it. You have to keep confident and keep throwing the ball out there."

I like it. I don't want the Dolphins quarterback playing scared.

On the other hand, Henne isn't a wild child, either. He has a sometimes funny, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes edgy streak he rarely shows the media. But it is there.

On the other hand, he is still big on saying the right thing. So when he was asked today if Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson blew it by smiling and laughing on the sideline in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to San Francisco on Monday night, Henne straddled the fence.

He would never condone what Anderson did. But he didn't want to rip a fellow QB, either.

"I think you take the game seriously," Henne said. "It's not time to joke around, I guess, on the sideline. I mean, sure, if someone says something funny, you're going to laugh but I think staying focused and staying in command at all times shows the team you're there to play, this is a business, this is a game. You have fun and I'm sure whatever Derek did wasn't to say, 'Blow off the game or my mind's out of the game.' "

Well, that's polictically correct Henne. Maybe he's not totally comfortable being himself yet. But he seems to be headed in that direction.


November 12, 2010

Namath has 'love' for Pennington move

Joe Namath knows about playing quarterback from his days with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams (yes, many years ago). He knows Chad Pennington from the current Miami quarterback's days with the Jets.

And Namath apparently has "love" for the move coach Tony Sparano made earlier this week when he benched Chad Henne and promoted Pennington to the starting quarterback job. At least that's what Namath said today on the Broadway Blitz, his show on Sirius NFL Radio.

“I gave that a lot of thought and I love the move," Joe Willie said. "Not just love it because I’ve got so much respect for Chad Pennington. Hey, man, he’s owned up every time he’s given a chance. The only problems he’s had is that Lady Luck biting his right shoulder now and then, his injuries. 

"But as far as this change, I can see coach Sparano to a degree, and I don’t know if he thought about this, but at this point the team, to me, has to be questioning Henne. You know, when they look at the replays of the games and the snaps and the things that aren’t done that you’d think your quarterback might be able to get done more consistently, that might be catching more eyes with the players than in the past."

Hadn't thought of that and it is a good point. And Namath believes the timing is right for the change.

"Now they have a tough opponent coming in this week.  Now is the time to change because they can go back to Henne some other time. I believe Pennington, dealing with any NFL defense, is as good as it gets when it comes to the mind analyzing, knowing what to do, where to go. So he’s giving that offense a better chance … That season is not lost for the Dolphins just because they are changing quarterbacks at this point.  That defense is still good and they are still in the hunt.”

Follow me on, as Jets fans pronounce it, twittah.

September 14, 2010

One final look at Bills victory and Jets news

First the news that indirectly affects the Miami Dolphins: Rex Ryan announced moments ago that NT Kris Jenkins is out for the season (again) after re-injuring the same knee that forced him to miss much of last season. Jenkins suffered the injury Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have signed defensive end Lionel Dotson off the Denver practice squad, according to the Herald's Barry Jackson. Kenny Zuckerman confirmed the signing to Jackson.

[Update: The Dotson signing makes sense because defensive end Jared Odrick is very likely out this week against Minnesota, according to test results the team got back today. Odrick's injury is not serious enough that he's done for the year. He is week to week. He will remain on the roster, obviously.]

I just went through the Miami Dolphins victory over Buffalo one last time. Here are my observations:

The pass rush: It was obviously very good and definitely not vanilla as it had been in preseason. You know already that the first sack of the year, which came when Karlos Dansby came on a blitz after he lined up outside of Cameron Wake, was a thing of beauty. Dansby came unblocked. But what you probably didn't notice is that it was a zone blitz. Even as the Dolphins brought four men and one was unblocked, nose tackle Randy Starks backed out into zone coverage in the middle of the field. Beautiful.

On the next series, the Dolphins answered the call on a third-and-two situation by sending six men after QB Trent Edwards. Six guys, including safety Yeremiah Bell. Koa Misi was unblocked this time and hurried Edwards although the QB completed the pass. On the next pass down, the Dolphins brought three-men and by this time Edwards' head was spinning. He wasn't really pressured by the thee-man rush, but hurried his throw anyway underneath.

When it was done, Dansby, Misi and Cameron Wake had sacks. Wake, by the way, showed exceptional quickness on his rushes. He had a hurry that caused an incompletion aside from his sack and was often around the QB. Starks, who had seven sacks a season ago, didn't pick up any Sunday but did have a batted pass.

Clock management: Normally this topic involves coaching. Not this time. This time it involves quarterback Chad Henne. One of the trademarks of a good offense is shutting the door on a comeback. The Dolphins had a chance to do that when they got the ball with 5:03 to play Sunday and did a good, not great job on closing that door. It would have been a much better job had Henne handled the play clock better. With the game and play clocks winding, Henne snapped the football with 11 seconds remaining on the play clock on first down. He snapped it with 10 seconds remaining on the play clock on second down. He snapped it with nine seconds remaining on the play clock the next down. He snapped it with 11 seconds remaining on the play clock on second-and-two.

What is the point? Henne is obviously trying to manage everything right now but he has to manage the play clock as well. If he snaps the ball with, say, two seconds remaining each of those times I just mentioned, that takes an extra 35 seconds off the game clock.

That means when the Bills get the ball back, they would have had 1:13 to work with instead of 1:48. That is a big difference, folks. Henne must learn and coaches must remind him that the clock can be his friend. As Sam Wyche would say, "Milk it, milk it, milk it!"

Double tight? Not so much: The Dolphins have made a virtual living off the double tight end formation in the last two seasons. It has been a staple with Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos or Anthony Fasano and David Martin. This year the Dolphins have keep Fasano and John Nalbone. They used the double tight end formation only four times the entire game. The Dolphins decided, at least in this game, that putting three-wides out there is more likely to open things up across the defense. Thank you, God! I hope it is a tendency that lasts.

The offensive line: The Dolphins yielded three sacks on Sunday. One of those was given up by an offensive lineman. Ricky Williams gave up a sack on a blitz in the first half and in the fourth quarter, Ronnie Brown and Fasano blocked the same edge rusher while Bryan Scott ran past Fasano on a delayed blitz. The other sack was given up by Vernon Carey. Don't get too down on Carey or left tackle Jake Long, however. They were very good. They were primarily in man-to-man situations on passing downs and they moved the pile extremely well in run blocking situations. The Dolphins also tried the unbalanced line on a handful of occasions -- placing Long on the right side outside of Carey. It had only mixed results.

John Jerry was fine most of the time. He had a couple of ugly moments where his technique put him in awkward situations. His footwork was off a little bit a couple times -- so much so that Henne tripped over him twice. But in the straight-ahead blocking department, he was good. The Dolphins used Incognito to pull on several occasions. It didn't really work. Incognito isn't smooth pulling out and running across the formation to lead the blocking going against the flow. He is, however, quite powerful in the straight ahead stuff. The Miami line is what it is in that they get a good push off the ball straight ahead. But fleet of foot? Not so much. I will say that if Miami runners start bouncing runs outside more, there is yardage to be made there. Ronnie Brown showed this a couple of times, including his 17-yard run in the fourth quarter. Williams didn't have his best game and seemed to be content keeping his running between the tackles.

A receiver rewind: Brandon Marshall had that one notable drop on the long pass. He took responsibility for it on the field, basically telling Henne it was his fault. But Marshall was very good both with what he contributed that appears on the stat sheet and the stuff that doesn't. He had one viscious block that leveled a Buffalo defender. And his mere presence helped Fasano be so readily available down the seam. Rookie Marlon Moore dropped the only pass thrown his way. Brian Hartline had a tough day also, dropping two passes and having a first-down catch erased by a penalty. Davone Bess was excellent, particularly in the second half. He practically took over at one point. I must tell you, Hartline needs to produce soon in games or Bess might take that second receiver job away from him.

The no-huddle defense: The Miami D yielded 39 yards during Buffalo's first nine drives of the game. Then the desperate Bills went to the no-huddle and went 80 yards in 10 plays for their only TD of the day. I think the Minnesota Vikings will see that. I believe Brett Favre is pretty good in the no-huddle offense. The Dolphins need to tighten this stuff up.

August 22, 2010

The postgame analysis of Dolphins 27-26 victory

As I tell you in my column off of tonight's 27-26 preseason victory for the Miami Dolphins over the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is plenty of good to celebrate and some bad to be worried about.

But the bottom line is the Dolphins showed improvement from preseason game one to preseason game two. I saw it. You saw. Coach Tony Sparano saw it.

 "I feel like we got a little bit better this week during the course of practice and I think Chad [Henne] and Brandon [Marshall] played a little bit better," Sparano said. "Chad was efficient with the football ... And I thought Brandon made some plays. One of the things I really enjoyed was Brandon with the ball in his hands. He's exactly what I thought we might have when he gets the ball in his hands.

"We weren't very good a week ago so making improvement this week was critical. And we have a long ways to go and there's a lot of areas out there we can get better in. I'm fine right now where our team is but we got to make the same kind of jump this week in practice.

"We're nowhere near where we plan to be, but I do believe we made some progress tonight."

The biggest jump was made by Henne, which is important because he plays the most important position on the field. He completed 11 of 14 passes with two of those incompletions the results of drops -- one by Ricky Williams and one by Brandon Marshall.

"The first series was a slow start but overall we're seeing things clearly out there and trying to be more effective and efficient in our offense," Henne said. 

Henne had a 55 yard TD pass to Anthony Fasano and an 11 yard TD to Fasano. Both showed how Brandon Marshall helps even when he's not catching the football. On the first, Marshall blew up two defenders with the block that sprung Fasano for the score. On the second, Marshall's presence opened things up for Fasano.

"They split the safety and tried to double-cover Brandon out there so Anthony came open with a linebacker and I threw it because the linebacker wasn't looking," Henne said.

All in all, the outing was a confidence-building experience for Henne.

"Coming out here and performing well definitely builds it up and helps you going into the next preseason game and going into the season," he said. 

The Dolphins went into the game thinking Chad Pennington would play only if Henne got his work in the first half. If that happened early enough, Pennington would get his preseason opportunity. That's how it played out as Pennington completed 3 of 4 passes and led a touchdown drive.

"I thought Chad did fine," Sparano said. "First of all it was tough duty. He knew going into the game that depending on what the situation was like at the end of the half, he may or may not play. So it's tough being in that kind of situation and as I've been saying all along, he gets it. He wanted to underthrow Brandon just a little bit on the deep throw and Brandon did a good job of working back to the ball ... He even ran one there so that was pretty nice."

Although much about this night came in a good-new package, there were the sour moments, too.

Pass protection was good early. Later it was bad. The team gave up five sacks. One of those sacks was yielded by the starting offensive line, the rest by the reserves.

The special teams were troubling.

"We had another kick blocked tonight which, to be honest, was a flat-out concentration error," Sparano said. "And they have some good returners. I thought it was up, it was down, It was inconsistent. Nolan [Carroll] had a couple of decent returns. It was up and down, a little inconsistent."

To be fair, the kick coverage team has been a mish-mash of personnel as coaches try to find the right combos. Sparano promised that will be resolved in the coming week.

While Henne looked good against the Jacksonville defense, David Garrard performed surgery on the Dolphins secondary. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 79 yards with one touchdown. His passer rating was 145.3.

"We had things there in man coverage that we didn't take care of," Sparano said. "That concerns me because it's two weeks in a row where the ball is completed down the field on us a few times. We had a couple of chunk plays. They're a good group, but we have to be able to clean some of that up."

I asked Sparano his thoughts about getting or not getting Pat White in the game. He said, "It's circumstance right now. I can't get four guys in the game every week. So I didn't get him in the game this week and that's the way it went."

My guess is that was only the thought he felt he could share. He probably really thought that White is the team's No. 4 QBs and getting No. 4 QBs in games is not really a big priority. After the game, White said he was told he would not be playing.

As you have read here already, he's on his way out, which is surprising because he was a second-round pick, but not surprising when the second-round pick is the No. 4 QB. Right now, it seems only a matter of when, not if, the Dolphins will jettison White.

Maybe they can get something for him in trade.

What can I say? I'm an optimistic kind of guy.

March 29, 2010

The Dolphins' mystery at quarterback spot

One of the interesting side hobbies I've picked up in covering the Dolphins is reading the people I cover. (They read me, so I figure turn about is fair.) Seriously, I like to listen and observe how things are laid out and that often gives you greater hints about what is happening than what these folks are actually saying.

And even when the hints fail to paint a full picture of what is going on, it gives you an idea that something is going on.

Based on that, when I look how the Dolphins are handling and talking about the quarterback situation, it seems painfully obvious something is going on.

Think about it:

At the end of last year coach Tony Sparano declined to name Chad Henne his team's starter. Yet last week, without Henne completing even one pass in anger since the end of the season because the Dolphins have not played any games, Sparano names Henne his starting quarterback. Fine.

Last year the Dolphins were hesitant to re-sign Chad Pennington. They figured they had their three guys in Henne, Pat White and Tyler Thigpen. But then we saw 2009 play out and this offseason the Dolphins gladly accepted Pennington back.

So on the surface the Dolphins have their four quarterbacks. No biggie, right? But that suggests to me either Thigpen or White or both should be nervous. And the Dolphins are making these veiled remarks suggesting there's some strategy about what's about to happen with these quarterbacks. They're talking like either trades, or cuts or draft picks are en route.

"I'm not gonna reveal my hand, but we do have four quarterbacks," Coach Tony Sparano said last week.

Reveal your hand? Well, nobody knew the Dolphins have a hand to play until they declined to reveal it.

I found it interesting that Pennington, obviously sensing something, requested a no-trade clause in his contract. The Dolphins balked, suggesting they didn't want to give Pennington something they don't like giving other players, but also suggesting they perhaps had trading Pennington in mind.

The issue was resolved by giving Pennington a trade bonus that would pay the player a seven-figure sum if he is indeed traded. It's only money. It is an uncapped year. So don't be surprised if Pennington is traded.

Then the Dolphins made Pennington the No. 3 quarterback. The way it was portrayed by the Pennington camp is this gives him time to settle into his work in the preseason rather than feeling pressure to make more throws following his fourth shoulder surgery. The way Sparano portrayed it was different.

"We feel strongly about a couple of players that are there right now, strong enough that we make sure we do our due diligence, making sure those players are going to get the reps needed to continue to grow," Sparano said. "That's important. Chad Pennington completely understands the role he's in right now. 

"Again, I don't want to put barriers around them over there. We're going to let these guys play and see where we are. But we feel strongly about a couple of players at that position."

It is good the Dolphins feel strongly about a couple of players at the position. But they have four players at the position.

And that leads to the next thing that perked my ears and told me something is afoot. Last week, Sparano named Henne the No. 1. He said Pennington is the No. 3. But he declined to name No. 2 and No. 4.

I'm not getting into that," Sparano said as alarms are going off in my head. "You guys have a 50 percent chance of getting that right."

So the Dolphins have a mystery No. 2 QB? And they have a mystery No. 4?


Pat White, a second-round pick in 2009, was the No. 2 quarterback after Pennington went on injured reserve last season. But team sources kept telling me if Henne went down, Thigpen, the No. 3, would start the following week's game ahead of White.

Thigpen finally got a chance to play the final game of the season and he was, well, inconsistent. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 83 yards. He threw a 34-yard touchdown and also threw two interceptions. One could hardly say that is who Thigpen is because he came off the bench with little preparation and no practice snaps.

And yet that was better than what White showed all season long.

White could not complete a pass all season and was not even dynamic as a runner out of the spread option. He simply didn't look like an NFL player. And Sparano, who usually gushes about his players when they have a future on the team, was quite reserved about White.

"My thoughts and my evaluation was at the end of the season there was still work to be done with Pat," Sparano said. "I don’t think Pat would say anything different. There’s still work to be done. There’s always work to be done. I mean, there’s work to be done with Chad Pennington right now. That’s the great thing about Chad Pennington; he’ll let you work with him. There’s a bunch of work to be done with Pat, fundamentally throwing the ball.

"[Quarterback coach] David Lee is breaking those guys down every day. So I think that’s been it. But I did see growth. I saw growth from season’s start to season’s end with what Pat can handle from the offensive standpoint. At the end of the year there were no restrictions. He was able to handle it all mentally that way. And I’ve seen growth from a fundamental standpoint out on the practice field. Now, at the end of the day, with the competition out there, whether it’s going to be good enough or not, that really isn’t up to me. It’s going to be up to those players."

Sparano ruled out a switch in position for White at this time. The fact is he's never really played receiver, isn't exceedingly fast or big. The commitment has to be made for him succeeding or failing at one position before asking him to play another.

But it just seems like White has to take a giant leap to even salvage a roster spot in 2010.

Another issue is whether the Dolphins add a quarterback from the draft or as an undrafted free agent. Don't dismiss the possibility. It is real despite Miami having four quarterbacks on the roster.

And why is it such a tangible possibility?

Because I believe of the four quarterbacks currently on the roster, perhaps only two will be with the team when the regular-season begins. 

March 19, 2010

Henne clarifies Tebow comment, talks WRs

It is a beautiful day in South Florida, a perfect golf day, and that's good because about a dozen Dolphins players are participating in the Athletes in Action charity tournament now.

Chad Henne is participating because he's a good community guy. He talked to reporters today -- The Herald's Jeff Darlington and David J. Neal were there because they love golf -- and they asked Henne about his controversial Tim Tebow comment Wednesday, in which the Dolphins quarterback said, "In my judgment he's not an NFL quarterback. So leave it at that."

Today Henne didn't want to leave it at that. Today Henne was surrounded by reporters that asked better questions. Today Henne backtracked a little bit.

"I didn't really say he wasn't wasn't able to be one," Henne said of Tebow. "We're all in this process, learning how to be an NFL quarterback. Obviously, he's taken the right steps to improve his game. His throwing motion actually looks a lot better with his release and everything. I think his Pro Day went really well and he was happy with it. I can't really say anything. My quarterback coach from college is coaching him in college. We're coming from the same people.

"He's obviously learned a from a lot of good people. And with Urban Meyere up there, he's learned from the best. Those [comments] were way out of proportion, he's not going to be an NFL quarterback. Wherever he goes, he's going to make that team better because he's such a competitor and a great person."

Henne was uncomfortable that the comments got national attention. He was more uncomfortable that his comment was perceived as coming from the Dolphins -- as an inside the Dolphins organization opinion.

"The thing about that is that dragging the Dolphins and our coaching staff into this when it's way out of proportion," Henne said. "I never talked to them about Tebow. They never mentioned anything. It was all what I was perceived to say. I have nothing against him. I really like him as a person. I met him last year up there at Florida working out their receivers and got an opportunity to play against him so he really is a wonderful person and I only wish him the best."

Henne claimed WQAM, where he made the original Tebow remark, cut him off before he could explain his comment. He said he would have liked the opportunity to add that Tebow is working on what he needs to and he liked what he saw.

On the football front, Henne has been consistent in saying he sees improvement from Miami's current WR corps. He believes in those guys. But ...

Henne admits he wouldn't mind the group being improved with a proven player.

"There's definitely guys out there, like you said," Henne said. "There's T.O. [Terrell Owens]. There's Brandon Marshall. There's guys in the draft. Where we're at, we have a bunch of young guys who are definitely learning and going to be explosive in the next coming year.

"But you need kind of a veteran guy that's really going to take hold of our young guys and teach them the right ways."

March 18, 2010

Chad Henne: Tebow isn't an NFL quarterback

Some things in life should not be and I'm about to share a couple with you.

On Wednesday, Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne did an interview on WQAM radio in South Florida and hosts Anita Marks and Curtis Stevenson asked Henne about Tim Tebow.

Thing that should not be No. 1:

"My judgment is that he's not an NFL quarterback," Henne said of Tebow. "So, I'll leave it at that."

Look, Henne has a right to his opinion. But let's be honest here. Chad Henne has started 14 NFL games and thrown 14 interceptions to 12 touchdowns. Henne himself has not yet proven he is an NFL quarterback, either.

Furthermore, if he thinks Tebow isn't an NFL quarterback, what would Henne say about teammate Pat White?

Tebow is a bigger, stronger, more accomplished Pat White. And if Tebow isn't an NFL quarterback doesn't that mean White isn't an NFL quarterback?

Just saying.

Thing that should not be No. 2:

The folks at QAM do a good job. As the former Dolphins flagship station they obviously have spent the past few years overlooking many of the team's flaws. Their ratings, meanwhile, have been on the decline. 

Somewhere along the line if you're going to run a professional sports radio station, you have show at least a tiny semblance of professional journalism, no?

Not at QAM, apparently. After Henne said he didn't think a former Heisman Trophy winner and a two-time National Championship winning QB wasn't NFL material, Marks and Stevenson simply ended the interview.

"OK, enough said," Marks said, abruptly ending the interview.

Actually, enough wasn't said. How about a follow-up question to allow Henne a chance to explain himself and perhaps even get himself off the hook? It doesn't have to be confrontational. How about:

"What are the reasons you have that opinion?"

And if the station needed to go to break, they could have easily held Henne over a segment and asked the follow-up after the break. The point is the show had interesting stuff on the hook but simply threw it back in the water for no good reason.

March 12, 2010

Twelve Dolphins players get at least $100K in performance pay bonus for 2009

Donald Thomas, a sixth-round selection in 2008 who started 12 games at right guard last season, led all Dolphins players in the NFL's 2009 performance-based pay program.

Thomas  made $316,577 in addition to his base salary of $338,397, according to a league document obtained by The Miami Herald.

Cornerback Sean Smith, who started all 16 games, pocketed an extra $212,282 to place second on the team in performance pay while tight ends Joey Haynos and Anthony Fasano followed in third and fourth place, respectively, among the highest collecting players in the performance-based system.

Haynos collected $207,264 in addition to his regular salary of $390,980 while Fasano got $189,412 atop his salary of $535,850. Wide receiver Davone Bess, an undrafted free agent in 2008, rounded out Miami's top five earners in performance pay, adding $185,902 to his base salary of $394.480.

The league's performance-based pay system sets up a fund on each team to reward players based on how their playing time compares with their contractual financial compensation. The system won't exist in the 2010 season because the NFL collective bargaining agreement has moved into an uncapped year.

But in the final capped season of the current CBA, 12 Miami players added at least $100,000 to their base salaries.

Performance-based pay is meant to reward lower-paid players who outperform their contracts. The system does, however, also reward higher paid players based on play time.

And the system does not judge the quality of the play, but rather the quantity.

Maybe that's the reason safety Gibril Wilson, a high-priced free agent aquisition and a bust, collected an extra $31,764 in performance-based pay. Wilson was cut last week after one season with the team.

Tackle Andre Gardner, a sixth round pick in 2009, brought up the rear of the performance-based pay sheet, having collected $681.

In total, 61 Dolphins players collected $3,422,875 in performance-based pay.

December 30, 2009

Dolphins have second-highest payroll in NFL

Dolphins salary documentation obtained by the Miami Herald on Tuesday shows the team may not be getting good return for the money it is spending on players in 2009.

According to those documents obtained from sources, the Dolphins spent $126,855,921 in total payroll in 2009, not including incentive bonuses. That is not only up from last year's $114,649,660, it is the second-highest total payroll in the NFL.

The New York Giants have the highest total payroll in the NFL in 2009 at $137,638,866. The Houston Texans, which defeated the Dolphins 27-20 on Sunday, settle in just behind the Dolphins with the third-highest total payroll at $122,573,860

The Giants are 8-7 and have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Dolphins are 7-8 and need a multitude of scenarios to play out over the weekend to make the playoffs. The Texans are 8-7 and similarly need help to get into the playoffs.

The figures obtained by The Herald show that paying premium money for talent is not necessarily a guarantee for success in 2009. Only four of the teams in the top ten for total payroll have already clinched a playoff spot.

How wisely the Dolphins are spending their money is a question that shows up tangibly all over the field.

The team's highest-paid player in 2009 is right tackle Vernon Carey who is making $15 million, with $12 million of that coming in the form of a signing bonus he received for signing a new contact in the offseason. Miami's return on that investment has not paid great dividends as Carey has slumped in the season's second half and has played poorly in recent weeks.

Center Jake Grove, who came to the Dolphins with a reputation for getting hurt, was rewarded with a free agent contract that is paying him $14.2 million this season. That makes him the second-highest-paid player on the team. Grove played well early in the year but has missed five consecutive starts with a high ankle sprain and tibia injury.

The Dolphins invested a lot of money in the deep secondary in 2009 -- $16.6 million to be precise. That means Miami has the most expensive set of safeties in the NFL.

Yeremiah Bell, making $8.6 million this season in the form a $6 million signing bonus, a $2.55 million base salary and $50,000 in other bonuses, is the league's second-highest-paid safety behind Kerry Rhodes of the New York Jets. Rhodes is collecting $9.95 million this season.

Bell, Miami's fourth-highest-paid player in 2009, leads the Dolphins in tackles and has made a couple of tackles that prevented touchdowns.

But free safety Gibril Wilson, the NFL's third-highest-paid safety in 2009, has been a bust for Miami.

Wilson struggled to tackle well early in the season, has struggled in coverage the entire season, and has no interceptions to show for his work. At one point this season, Wilson's struggles led coaches to use rookie Chris Clemons in his place in certain situations.

And all this at a price of $8 million, the fifth-highest salary on the team.

Jake Long, who was the No. 1 overall selection of the 2008 draft and was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, is Miami's third-highest-paid player behind Carey and Grove. Long is being paid $8,006,240 this season.

In focus, Miami has gotten mixed results from its top five paid players.

Long and Bell have been worth the money. Carey and Wilson have probably not played up to their lofty salaries. Grove has earned his money when he's been healthy, but as had been his history prior to coming to Miami, he missed over one-quarter of the season with an injury.

The fact three of Miami's five top-paid players are offensive linemen should not surprise anyone. The Dolphins field the most expensive offensive line in the NFL, costing $156 million in total contracts for the starting five and $39,597,240 in total salary this season for the starting five. (The latter figure can vary by a few thousand dollars depending on who starts at right guard.)

The sixth-highest-paid player on the Dolphins in 2009 is inside linebacker Channing Crowder. He is making $6,516,000 in 2009 based on $1.5 million in base salary, $3.75 million from the signing bonus of contract he signed this year, and $1.266 million in other bonuses. The Miami Herald was the first news outlet to report that Crowder definitely would not play against the Steelers in the season-finale.

The Dolphins do have instances where they are getting great return on their investment. This typically comes from players the team drafted, rather than signed as free agents or re-signed once their contract expired.

Starting quarterback Chad Henne is making $950,340 before incentives this season. That makes him the second-lowest paid full-time starting quarterback in the NFL behind Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys. Romo is making $625,980 in total salary this year. Romo signed a six-year, $67.4 million deal in October 2007. The 2009 salary is the lowest in Romo's contract and his salary rockets to $8.5 million next year.

The bargain the Dolphins are getting from Henne offsets the $5,750,000 they are paying injured quarterback Chad Pennington.

Other Miami players that have been relative bargains this year or played above their pay scale include outside linebacker Jason Taylor ($1,102,860 before incentive bonuses), defensive end Randy Starks ($2,625,000), wide receiver Davone Bess ($391,240), offensive lineman Nate Garner ($391,240), and fullback Lousaka Polite ($1,206,240).

Rookie starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis ($1,625,000) and Sean Smith ($1,255,000) have also been bargains for Miami. It is not correct, however, to say the Dolphins are getting a bargain for their cornerback money.

The rookies have offset the investment on cornerback Will Allen, who was a starter until he suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season. Allen is making $5,506,240 this season, including $1,506,240 in bonus money.

And reserve cornerback Jason Allen is making $1,360,000 this season in salary and bonus. Allen, a former first-round pick, is almost exclusively a special teams player despite his lofty price.

Follow me on twitter.

December 29, 2009

Miami Dolphins: Playmakers wanted please

The 2010 Pro Bowl team will be selected Tuesday evening and the Dolphins aren't likely to fare exceedingly well in the selection process.

Jake Long will likely be recognized as he was last year, perhaps even starting as the AFC team's left tackle. So congratulations to him.

After that ... it's likely to be a tough sell getting much attention for Miami players.

Fullback Lousaka Polite might get some attention as a backup or alternate. Randy Starks might get some votes as an alternate but the fact is he's only got six sacks, and hasn't had one in the month of December as I noted in my column in Tuesday's Miami Herald.

Ricky Williams might also get an alternate spot but I don't see him beating out Chris Johnson or Thomas Jones or Maurice Jones-Drew to get on the Pro Bowl team as a starter or substitute.

I'll update you with the actual team later in the day.

As for what the lack of Miami players on that Pro Bowl team should tell you, it is this:

Despite the good job Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland have done restocking the Dolphins with talent, the job is not complete and perhaps not even half-way finished.

Why do I say this?

We start with playmakers. Quick, tell me who the playmakers on the Dolphins are this year. Tell me the players on either offense or defense that scare the opposing teams. Tell me what Miami players the Titans were talking about two weeks ago while all the talk in the Miami locker room was about Johnson and Vince Young.

Tell me what Miami player opposing coaches consistently worry about.

I don't know that Miami has any player that keeps other teams awake at night.

Joey Porter was such a player last season, but his 17 1/2 sacks were obviously an aberration and not what we have seen from Porter in either 2007 or 2009. 

Jason Taylor used to be one of those sleep-robbing players but let's face it, the man is 35 years old now and his freakish ability to change the course of a game comes on much more rare occasions than it used to when he was younger.

Williams? He's a good player, no doubt about that. But he also is 32 years old and is talking openly about retiring after 2010. He was a game-changer in 2003, the guy a team could ride to much success. But he is a role player now.

Ted Ginn Jr.? Nope.

In fact no Miami pass-catcher is a game-changer.

Chad Henne? Not yet. Plus Parcells has to give the kid some weapons to work with.

The point is the Dolphins need to add a dynamo or two to the roster in the coming drafts or free agency because all the really good teams seem to have those kind of guys.

Fact is, even the mediocre teams seem to have those kind of guys. Houston has Andre Johnson. Pittsburgh has Troy Polamalu, Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger -- though Polamalu has been injured most of this season.

New England has Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Vince Wilfork.

The Jets have Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington.

New Orleans has Drew Brees and Darren Sharper.

Indy has Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney and Reggie Wayne.

The point is most teams have somebody that scares the other team -- somebody that can make a game-defining play at any moment and does that so often as to make his team dangerous.

The Dolphins don't often get the 45-yard interception return for a touchdown, or the strip-sack-fumble recovery for a TD, or the 75-yard bomb for a score from a receiver, or the 48-yard laser down the seam to a tight end for a TD.

The Dolphins are a team that relies on seven five-yard runs, a 13-yard completion, two Lousaka Polite fourth-and-1 conversions, a nine-yard completion, and a wildcat run to score their TDs. Lightning? The Dolphins wait for it to come from the sky rather than their offensive huddle.

The defense, meanwhile, is also mostly solid. But Sean Smith doesn't have an interception and neither does free safety Gibril Wilson. Yeremiah Bell is solid at run-support and is dynamic at erasing the mistakes of other players by catching people from behind. But he isn't blowing up a ton of people in the secondary or causing a ton of turnovers.

Nobody on defense is doing that.

That is not an indictment on any of the players I just mentioned. They all serve a purpose and all have strengths. They all have value.

It's simply that Miami doesn't have a couple of players whose strength is to make play after play that change the course of games in Miami's favor. And those players and those plays have to come for the Dolphins to take more steps toward being a consistently good team.

Follow me on twitter. Or don't.

December 24, 2009

Christmas wishes for the Miami Dolphins

'Tis Christmas eve. On this night, Cubans celebrate Noche Buena, which translated means Good Night. It is the night we believe Mary and Joseph settled in to the manger at the Inn and prepared for the birth of baby Jesus, who is the Christ.

It is a time for glad tidings and festive wishes. We also eat a lot and I plan to do much damage at my in-laws' house. Tomorrow we'll have Christmas dinner at my house. I hope yours is a joyous holiday.

Meanwhile, these are my Christmas wishes for the Miami Dolphins and Dolfans everywhere:

A week of open practices so I can judge for myself how much or how little Pat Turner is progressing.

More screen passes. Remember those?

Better touch passing for Chad Henne.

Better accuracy for Chad Henne.

Better protection for Chad Henne.

Better weapons around Chad Henne.

More of Jason Taylor on passing downs.

Less of Joey Porter on run downs.

Fewer sideline patterns for Ted Ginn. He finds the sideline often enough as is.

More recevier screens with Greg Camaillo running hard for six yards.

A shovel pass every once in a while.

A Pat White completed pass every once in a while.

A Gibril Wilson intercepted pass every once in a while.

A Nathan Jones corner blitz. Remember those?

More tackles for Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele at the line of scrimmage.

Fewer tackles for Yeremiah Bell five yards from the line of scrimmage.

Stability on the offensive line.

An offseason shakeup at WR.

An impact play or two for Kendall Langford.

Double-digit sacks for Randy Starks.

That Pro Bowl berth that follows double-digit sacks for Starks.

More playing time for Brian Hartline.

Fewer fumbles for Davone Bess, who leads the team with six.

A tight end that can eat up the seam route and catch the ball between a linebacker and safety.

A tight end that makes the other team's safeties seem overmatched.

A wide receiver that averages 16 yards per reception.

The same receiver having 82 receptions. (Do the math).

The death of the Orange Carpet.

The rebirth of the Flipper tank.

Cheerleader calendars that aren't rated R.

National anthems sung loud and proud at every game.

Military flyovers at every game.

Victory for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a tie. Not a respectful retreat. Victory!

Peace in everyone's heart.

More Miami players that talk the talk ...

... and then walk the walk.

Visiting Jets fans that know when to shut up.

Jets teams that aren't pompous ... even after getting swept.

A rematch with the Patriots ... in this year's playoffs.

A chance to avenge this season's 31-14 loss to Buffalo ... by playing the Bills in next season's AFC title game.

A speedy recovery for Ronnie Brown.

And Jason Ferguson.

And Patrick Cobbs.

And Chad Pennington.

And Will Allen.

All the privacy Ricky Williams so covets ... after he retires.

More attention and appreciation for Tony Sparano, because it's not all about Bill Parcells.

More time for Parcells in that darkened film room, because he loves it there.

More time for Parcells in that white bright afterglow of a Super Bowl victory, because he loves it there even more.

And finally, one request for myself: A sign from Heaven that my mom and dad are pleased with me and are waiting to see me up there some day.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

December 15, 2009

The great transition that is, was, & must come

I wrote a column in today's Miami Herald that focused on how the Dolphins have continued winning despite undergoing a difficult transition at quarterback, cornerback and nose tackle. Those transitions are the toughest there are in the NFL --  obviously at quarterback but particularly at nose tackle if the team runs a 3-4 scheme.

Check out the column and you'll see some fascinating statistics that prove Chad Henne, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Paul Soliai have been exceedingly effective in replacing valuable veterans.

The column also gives you a hint where future transitions will be needed.

The column does not address where the Dolphins have already made changes previous to this season. The offensive line and defensive line is where those changes came first. That's where Bill Parcells built his foundation.

And the offensive line has delivered, as well it should since it came at a price of $156 million.

"Here's what has been the most impressive - and when you watch an offensive line play, it's never pretty, it really isn't," coach Tony Sparano said. "Their tenacity, I think is a good word, they really are, they're a pretty tenacious, resilient group. They're doing some ugly things hard, and as long as you're doing them hard, you've got a chance. They're giving us a chance that way. Those guys would probably tell you that's a compliment. First of all, I don't dish many out their way, but secondly, that fact in the offensive line, it's not always pretty. It's a different position than most, yet, they're pretty tenacious, and they're pretty resilient. I think that that's the thing to me that stands out the most about it, it's that even when the game gets a little bit ugly, they keep grinding pretty good."

The defensive line has been effective of late also. Sparano said he challenged his defensive ends to play well last week against Jacksonville. They did. And Randy Starks was excellent.

"I think he’s having a great season, I really do," Sparano said. "I’ve said it before, but Randy was physical again yesterday, he had four or five tackles, tackle for loss in there, made a big play in one of those situations. There's still things Randy can get better at, there really are.

"Fundamentally, go back to that again, there's some things in the game yesterday that Randy will watch the film, and he'll know he left out there on the field. He played pretty good in there yesterday, physical, did a great job I thought. We asked our defensive ends yesterday, Randy, [Phillip] Merling, [Kendall] Langford, to do a hard job in that run game yesterday. Their job was very, very difficult from what we asked them to do from a defensive standpoint yesterday, but I thought the three of them, they really did a pretty good job in that game."

Starks is interesting because he came from the Tennessee Titans as a free agent in 2008. He had never played in a 3-4 defense. He'd always been a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. Well, he kind of struggled in his first year. He really wasn't much of a factor. But he seemed to get it in training camp. The light bulb seemed to flicker on and now it is burning brightly.

"I think I've had a breakout season," Starks said. "This is probably the best football I've been playing throughout my career. It could be the coaching, the coaching staff. The coaches help me a lot, coach Kace, Kacy Rodgers, he's helped me. Maybe this defense fits me better, maybe I'm just a 3-4 type of player, not a 4-3.

"The first time I ever played 3-4 was last year. It was a hard adjustment for me, but now, I'm getting the hang of it."

Discuss ...

And remember to check out the column for those stats and what I've been told is the next coming change of youngsters replacing vets.

Also, follow me on twitter.  You'll be able to see a picture of my Christmas tree the wife and I just finished trimming.

November 30, 2009

Dolphins coaching was a problem versus Bill

There are complaints aplenty about the Miami Dolphins today.

Some of them come from fans, as blogs, message boards and radio call-in shows will be loaded today with complaints about play-calling and coaching.

Some of the complaints come from Miami's locker room and coaching staff. That's the one I decided to focus on for my column in the Miami Herald Monday. Players and coaches alike looked at their fourth-quarter collapse against the Bills, a collapse which turned a 14-7 lead into a 31-14 loss, and everyone agreed the Dolphins have a problem finishing.

The Dolphins are perhaps the NFL's worst team at finishing games. They've blown games against Indianapolis, New Orleans, and the Bills in the final stanza this year. They also got outplayed by San Diego in the fourth quarter of that game.

Read the column and answer the following question: How does a team that cannot finish games, expect to successfully finish the season?

As to matters not in the column:

The coaching by the Dolphins staff was horrible on Sunday. I have great respect for the Miami coaching staff because I believe they often get the most production out of some limited talent. But this blowout upset loss was different.

This was embarrassing.

The facts are the Dolphins were facing an inferior team on Sunday. The Buffalo starting cornerbacks of Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee did not play on Sunday. The Buffalo offensive line was missing two starters and had another dude playing out of position. The Buffalo head coach is a rookie. And Ryan Fitzpatrick from Harvard? Really?

The Bills had nothing to play for but pride while the Dolphins' season was on the line.

Then one has to understand the Dolphins had 10 days to prepare for this game.

And the Bills still won?

"We've got 10 days to prepare and I didn't do a good enough job obviously preparing them," coach Tony Sparano said. "I've got to do a better job."

Sparano, the former play-caller for Bill Parcells in Dallas, has to do a better job of riding herd over offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Henning, who has forgotten more football than most people will ever know, is normally a fine offensive coordinator.

Sunday was not one of those occassions.

Consider that on Miami's first possession the Dolphins moved from their own 45 yard line to the Buffalo 3. Chad Henne completed a 15-yard pass. Ricky Williams ran for 11, then 7, then six, then 5 yards. The Bills were on their heels.

And then on first-and-goal, Henning got cute by calling a halfback pass for a player that hasn't thrown a pass since 2000.


Momentum lost.

"Yeah, you know, I got the ball and Joey Haynos was supposed to block the outside linebacker and then go, and I saw him, and I just didn't put enough arch on the ball and it was picked off by the backside linebacker," Williams said.

But why call the play at that point? I can understand if the Dolphins weren't running well? But they were rolling. Not smart. They used their best runner to throw, thereby not using their best runner's or best passer's greatest assets. Not smart. 

Sparano relegated the criticism of the play-call to "Monday Morning quarterbacking" and said the problem with the play was in its execution. It sounded like a coach who would prefer to blame a player than another coach for a play's failure.

There were other head-scratching offensive calls also.

In the second quarter the Dolphins took a 7-0 lead and then stopped the Bills on a three-and-out. Then the Dolphins complete a pass for 11 yards, Williams runs for 6 yards, Williams runs for 5 yards. And then Henning gets cute again.

He calls an end-around to Ginn on first down. It loses 4 yards. And you know what? The Dolphins make 11 yards on the next two plays but have to punt because they needed 14 yards for a first thanks to that reverse, So that reverse to Ginn costs the Dolphins a chance to keep driving.

The Bills then get the ball and tie the game at 7-7 on their next possession.

Finally, can I ask about continuing to force the issue with Pat White? He is neither one of the team's better runners nor it's best passer. And yet he continues to get plays at strange moments when Miami runs its spread option.

White ran once for 2 yards on Sunday. When did that first taste of action come?

In the fourth quarter. Right after Buffalo took a 17-14 lead. What changed at that point that didn't happen in the three previous quarters when Miami was winning? What was the freakin' point?

The defensive coaching staff doesn't get a pass here, either.

We all recognize the Dolphins are starting two rookie cornerbacks. We recognize they are talented. And we recognize they are capable. But why put them in one-on-one coverage a large majority of the game, every game?

Hello? Other teams watch tape, also ...

It is begging for a game-changing TD. And the Dolphins got exactly what they were begging for when Terrell Owens caught a 51-yard TD pass over Vontae Davis in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick said he recognized the coverage pre-snap and called an audible.

Dagger to the heart.

One more thing: We keep hearing how Cameron Wake cannot get into games more because he is a work-in-progress as a run-defender.

Well, how long does it take to coach up a player to defend the edge of the defense? We're 11 games into the season and Wake's still not ready to tackle somebody running wide?

And if Wake isn't, what makes coaches think Joey Porter is ready? Porter blew edge run assignments time after time on Sunday. Yes, he had a couple of sacks against reserve tackles. But that was Porter blowing the run defense against Fitzpatrick as the Ivy League QB set off on a 31-yard TD run.

So the young player can't be taught to defend the run 11 games into a season and the veteran can't be reminded to keep his assignment discipline? Yes, the players have a responsibility to get this done. But the coaches have an equal responsibility to make sure those players do their job or take a seat on the bench.

Follow me on twitter.

November 16, 2009

Are the Dolphins backups that good?

It is the proverbial two-edged sword that the Dolphins now wield with the handful of players that sat out Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay and those players that took their place.

Obviously the Dolphins won the game, so the replacements were good enough to help Miami to victory. But because the Dolphins won the game, one has to wonder about the players who sat.

Here's the thing that is frying my brain right now: Were Miami's replacements that good? Or were the players being replaced not as good as we thought and thus easily substituted for?

Let's take it position by position:

At outside linebacker, Joey Porter was benched for reasons the Dolphins don't want to divulge. But in keeping those reasons and Porter under wraps, something very interesting became quite public. Porter can seemingly be easily replaced.

Either that, or the Dolphins have amazing depth at OLB.

Think about it. Porter has not had a full sack since September. He's been missing practice time. He was invisible in last week's game at New England. So he gets deactivated and, voila, Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake not only pick up the slack, but play much better than Porter has recently.

Anderson had five tackles -- almost half as many as Porter has contributed the entire season -- and added a sack and two forced fumbles.

"I was able to get back there and I knew the guy was tough to take down, but he can't go anywhere without the ball," Anderson said. "A couple of guys were like, 'Hey go for the ball,' The second time I was able to do that."

And he did. So do you think Anderson is a super sub? Or do you think Porter has been playing so poorly that this is the type of production the weakside outside linebacker position should be delivering regardless of who is playing there?

Oh, by the way, with Porter out, Cameron Wake also got a few extra pass-rush opportunities than usual. He turned in a sack, bringing his total to four, and had two tackles -- again better than what Porter has been giving.

At the tight end spot, the Dolphins played without starter Anthony Fasano because he is troubled by a hip injury. To cover the void, the Dolphins moved Joey Haynos to the starting job and used rookie Kory Sperry in double-tight end alignments.

Well, in his first NFL outing, the rookie tight end caught three passes for 31 yards, including a touchdown. In other words, Sperry now has as many TD catches as Fasano has had this season. So did the Dolphins miss Fasano on Sunday?

That would be a no.

Is it because Sperry is really good, a diamond found in the practice squad rough? Or is it because Fasano just hasn't been producing up to par to the point a rookie could match the veteran's typical production with little problem?


By the way, Sperry was brought up from the practice squad because he has been consistently out-performing fellow rookie John Nalbone in practice. Nalbone was a Miami fifth-round selection. Sperry was not drafted out of Colorado State. So much for all the draft experts out there.

Anyway, the Dolphins were also without LG Justin Smiley on Sunday. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Nate Garner. I'm not going to try to fool you and say Garner played well or as well as Smiley might. I have no idea.

I do know the Dolphins didn't give up any sacks. I do know they rushed for 199 yards. So obviously the offensive line -- including Garner -- was doing something right.

The greater point is this: If the Dolphins can manage to get such good production from their backups, they are a team that either enjoys great depth, as I said before. Or they are a team with some starters that aren't much better than their backups.

One is very good. The other possibility is troubling.

Only the coaching staff knows the true answer. And I'm sure the answer is different in each individual case.

But if the Dolphins have reserves that can deliver pretty well on Sunday, perhaps using those players might be a good idea in the future. Maybe applying the thought to other positions might be worthwhile.

Perhaps Tyler Thigpen might get better results in the spread formation than Pat White. Perhaps giving Patrick Turner some snaps with the offense (he was limited to special teams duty far as I saw on Sunday) might actually surprise people with production.

The old adage is the starter starts because he's better than the backup. Perhaps with the Dolphins that isn't always true.

November 02, 2009

Victory Monday update from Tony Sparano

The players were off today but the coaches were working and this is what coach Tony Sparano's view of his team is 24 hours after the 30-25 victory over the Jets.

First, after getting the game ball for his two kickoff return touchdowns against New York, it seems unlikely Ted Ginn Jr. will be getting added special team duties as Miami's punt returner anytime soon.

"Right now I'm thinking we'll leave it the way I have it and coach the heck out of it," Sparano said before adding that punt returner Davone Bess, who had a fumble on Sunday, "can't make bad decisions" on his returns.

I think this is a mistake. Ginn played only 22 snaps Sunday and, while he remains limited in what he can do as a receiver, he does have special and elite skills as a return man. So why not use those skills more?

It might be easy to forget that in college, Ginn returned both punts and kickoffs and was actually more explosive on punts. He returned 64 punts for a 14.1 yard average at The Ohio State University and six of those were for TDs. He only returned two kickoffs for TDs.

Ginn actually returned 9 percent of his punts for touchdowns while returning 5 percent of his kickoffs for touchdowns. But hey, Miami's coaching staff is insistent that isn't going to happen right now.

Of course, they were insistent on not letting Ginn return kickoffs until Patrick Cobbs blew out his knee.

Sparano didn't say whether Ginn gets his starting WR job job anytime soon, but did say there were two pass plays against New York on which Ginn got behind the defender and quarterback Chad Henne was unable to get him the ball.

On other subjects:

Sparano said he attempted the two-point conversion when the team was up 11 in the fourth quarter because, "I was trying to take a scenario out of play in that the only scenario that could beat us was two touchdowns."

In other words, Sparano wanted a 13-point lead so that the Jets could not tie with a touchdown, a two-point conversion and a field goal or win with one touchdown and two field goals. Obviously Miami failed on it's bid for the conversion.

This season in the NFL two-point conversions are successful approximately 30 percent of the time.

On the subject of Miami's two rookie cornerbacks, both of whom will be under much scrutiny this week with Tom Brady and Co. on the schedule, Sparano was generally pleased with Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

"Both picked different points to play well," the coach said. "Both had bumps and that's what's going to happen."

Although they combined for a total of 162 plays, Sparano said the cornerbacks had no mental errors. There were, however, technical errors that numbered in the single digits between the two that need to be cleaned up.

By way of a player update, Sparano said rookie receiver Patrick Turner's "had a couple of good, solid weeks of practice right now and he's getting better and better. I would say sooner or later we'll see him."

October 30, 2009

TEs not helping and associated problems

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning talks to the media once a week for 10 minutes and in at least two of the last four times he did that, he mentioned how the loss of tight end David Martin has hurt his offense.

It is an interesting comment because the Dolphins put Martin on injured reserve at the beginning of the regular season without really making too much of a big deal about it.

They put him out for the season and, as I reported in September, he had surgery Sept. 9. His agent told me at the time that Dr. James Andrews was of the belief Martin could be ready to play again in six to eight weeks. Guess what?

It's been seven weeks.

Best case scenario, Martin might have been ready to play last week. Worst case, he might ahve been ready next week.

That, I guess, is water under the bridge. The Dolphins made the decision they thought was best and are now living with it. But I bring up Martin more to plant this seed in your minds: Martin is unsigned for 2010.

It will be interesting whether the Dolphins, who often lament the Martin injury, make any attempt to re-sign Martin. His agent Terry Williams, told me that while neither he nor Martin were happy with being placed on injured reserve, that will not affect their decision in free agency.

"That will be a decision we will evaluate based on the financial considerations at that time," Williams said.

So we shall see if the Dolphins value Martin as much as they say they miss him. The Dolphins this season are trying to fill the Martin void with Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos. So far, the void ain't filled too good, if you get my drift.

Fasano, coming off his two most productive pass-catching games of the season, still has only 11 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Haynos has two catches for 38 yards.

Haynos obviously hasn't been the down-field threat Martin was. Neither has Fasano. In fact, Fasano hasn't been the threat he himself was last season when he finished with 34 receptions for 454 yards and seven touchdowns.

Coach Tony Sparano explained Thursday that Fasano's diminished numbers aren't all a result of something he is doing wrong.

“I think it matters a little a bit with the quarterback, whether he is comfortable throwing the ball in the middle of the field, I think because that is where most tight ends work," Sparano said, starting to list the reasons Fasano has not been as big a factor so far. "At the same time, I think our run game has a little bit to do with the lack balls that are out there that way."

Sparano explained that the Dolphins have seen a lot of defenses creep their safeties up in order to help stop Miami's outstanding rushing attack. That has, in turn, made the middle of the field a very crowded place for Fasano and Haynos to work.

"What I mean by that is you are not getting the middle of the field open against us," Sparano said. "The middle of the field is closed."

And that explains some things. But it doesn't explain everything.

It doesn't explain how Fasano had two receptions in the regular-season opener and fumbled both. It doesn't explain how he had a 19-yard reception in his hands against the Saints off a Ronnie Brown throw from Wildcat, and dropped the ball.

It doesn't explain his other drops this season. Fact is, Fasano is second on the team in drops this season, behind Ted Ginn Jr.

And, finally, the fact the middle of the field is closed is normally a good thing. You see, teams with passing games that are even mediocre, rarely see safeties playing like they were hybrid linebackers because no one in the pass-happy NFL is stupid enough to gamble like that on defense.

The gamble is your safeties crowd the line of scrimmage, most teams will be able throw the ball over the top for TD after TD after embarrassingly long TD.

But defenses have gambled like that against the Dolphins, hoping to shut down the run, because they have little or no fear of those embarrassing passes. Defenses close the middle of the field because they think they can matchup man-to-man on the outside and usually not get burned.

Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they don't fear a playmaking tight end will run up the seam, past the safety, and into the end zone. Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they believe the quarterback is more comfortable and confident throwing to the outside or to the checkdown running back than zipping a seam pass past a safety's earhole.

So it's wrong to blame the success of the Miami running game for shutting down the middle of the field. It is more correct to blame an ineffective receiver and tight end corps for not winning one-on-one matchups and not forcing defenses to respect them and open up the area. 

October 25, 2009

Henne getting "ownership" of Dolphins offense

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning handed each of his three quarterbacks a two-sided play sheet late this week and asked them to individually study each section of plays and mark the play in each section the players like most. Each QB was also expected to mark the play he liked second-most and mark, in red ink, the plays he didn't like.

When each QB returns the sheets, they are rarely marked the same.

"They all see the game differently," Henning said. "They see the game in terms of them, not their predecessor or successor."

On Saturday night, as he prepared his own play-call sheet, Henning looked at the answers starter Chad Henne said he liked most. Those are the plays Henning will call against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

If Henne goes out of the game and either Tyler Thigpen or Pat White have to play, then Henning will refer to the answers they gave on their sheets. And he'll try to call those plays, as long as he's got confidence the QBs can run them.

But I digress.

The fact Henning pays attention to the answers Henne gives is important because the offensive coordinator must seamlessly transition from the plays he used to call for Chad Pennington to the ones he now calls for Henne. And the answers from Henne help.

"I think I know what he does the best and what he doesn't do the best and that's another thing you have to take into consideration when you're putting a game plan together for him as opposed to Chad Pennington," Henning said.

But there is perhaps a more important purpose the returned play sheets serve: They make Henne feel like he has say over the Miami offense. And for the second-year player, that seems to be important.

Henning recalls that when the Dolphins were looking at quarterbacks to draft in 2008, he, coach Tony Sparano, and GM Jeff Ireland locked themselves in a room with Henne and asked the youngster about what he was doing in his final game against Ohio State and the bowl game against the University of Florida.

Henne, according to Henning, wasn't too enthusiastic about discussing the Ohio State game. He was quite effusive, however, in discussing the Florida game. Perhaps it was partially because Henne played poorly against the Buckeyes and lit up the Gators.

But Henning has another idea. He later learned that Henne actually helped author the game plan against Florida.

"That made me feel like, 'When he takes ownership, he's going to make it work,' Henning said. "And that's what we try to do here. We try and make sure they take ownership. When they take ownership, they play pretty [well]."

And that's exactly how Henning expects Henne to play today against the Saints. The 4 p.m. game is going to require that Henne keep the New Orleans defense honest as it tries to take away Miami's rushing attack. And if the Dolphins fall behind, then Henne will have to do some winging of the ball.

"I expect he will play [well]," Henning repeated. "That doesn't mean he might not on occassion do well. But I think he has the goods ... I think he has the temperment for this business."

[ANNOUNCEMENTS: I will be on the air from 1-3 p.m. at 790-AM in South Florida Sunday to discuss the New Orleans and Dolphins matchup. You can listen live at and you can call the show at 786-360-0790. You can also text me at 74965. Afterward, I will head over to the stadium and we will be conducting our live game blog, as always, to discuss the action and get the latest information from the stadium.]

Finally, if you want to find out why Tony Sparano is coaching the Dolphins and not for the Saints today you should click on the link and find out. 

September 19, 2009

Thoughts (I have a few) on White activation

I know for a fact the Dolphins liked Pat White early in the draft process. Bill Parcells personally fell in love with the kid's play at West Virginia and in the Senior Bowl and was sharing that fact with his buddies at Spring Training games up in Jupiter, FL. early on.

The stuff about the Dolphins being moved to pick White because they feared New England would snatch him is bogus.

And now that Miami has Pat White, it has to figure out what to do with Pat White.

That normally isn't a big issue. If you've got a player that is going to contribute, you suit him up, activative him and throw him out there, hoping he'll succeed. But White, who's position, plays and even game status are veiled in secrecy, is not your ordinary player.

First of all, the Dolphins don't want folks to know when and how they're going to use White. That's a problem because the Dolphins also have made it clear White is strictly a quarterback and the NFL has rules concerning the three quarterbacks on the roster.

Because White is a quarterback, the Dolphins last week decided to designate him the No. 2 while true backup QB Chad Henne was designated the No. 3, or the emergency QB. As ESPN's Len Pasquarelli points out in his Friday Tip Sheet, that immediately tipped off the Falcons that White was indeed going to be used against them.

"When we saw that White was No. 2," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said, "We knew they had some Wildcat stuff planned."

So the Dolphins, try as they might to keep White's status a secret, are dogged by the fact you must designate your QBs 90 minutes before the game so the Wild cat is out of the bag.

To combat this Pasquarelli suggests the Dolphins designate White as a receiver or running back instead, so as to not tip off the opposition before the game. Sounds logical on the face of it. But there are problems with that approach.

First, White cannot be designated a wide receiver because he doesn't wear a WR number. He'd have to change his number to officially change positions. Secondly, the Dolphins did little to no work with White at wide receiver during training camp.

And though White might be able to line up at receiver as he did against Atlanta, that's not what the team has planned for him. The Dolphins want him taking snaps from center and either running or passing out of the spread offense. They have receivers to play receiver a lot better than White can.

Finally, the idea of designating White as a receiver or a defensive tackle for that matter, doesn't change the fact he takes up an active roster spot. And if Henne is taking up an active roster spot, that means someone who was active last week has to be deactivated.

The simple math is if you have White, Chad Pennington and Chad Henne active, someone has to be take a seat in the stands as an inactive player.

That poses a problem in its own right because the Dolphins are freaks about how many plays they will milk from each player they take to the game. If the Dolphins lose one of those players, somebody has to pick up the slack.

So there is no easy solution for making White active. It might be that Chad Pennington, Pat White and Chad Henne might all be active for some game to not tip Miami's hand on the use of White 90 minutes before the game. But that is a fleeting strategic victory as most teams will assume if White is active, he'll get snaps regardless.

That leads me to these two scenarios:

Is White worth having active at all. I would tell you that if White is active versus Indianapolis -- which is NOT a certainty -- he must produce because two consecutive unproductive weeks might cause coaches to conclude he's not yet ready to contribute.

And what makes White any less accountable than any other player, particularly a rookie? You're not ready? You sit.

Also, White has to be productive and do so in a package of plays that numbers at least half a dozen to a dozen. After all, what good is having White active for three plays and plays that fail at that?

So the pressure is on White to show up soon.

One more thought:

This conversation would be so different had White actually completed that lone pass attempt last week to Ted Ginn. That pass connects and it changes everything.

Defenses, you see, expect White to run. So, if they react like the Falcons reacted, they will load the box when he was at QB. That was obvious on his run for zero yards.

But if White completes that fateful pass, defenses have to respect his arm. And now they're not putting eight defenders in the box. And now White can run, which forces them to respect the run. And now they have to respect both run and pass. And that causes problems for the defense!

Had that pass been two feet shorter, it would have changed everyone's outlook on Pat White.

Of course, had I picked the right six numbers last weekend and actually played those numbers, I wouldn't be writing any of this right now. That, like the completion, did not happen.

So White must make something good happen this week. Assuming he gets another opportunity.