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.

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 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.

March 06, 2010

Thoughts going into the 2nd day of free agency

Three thoughts going into the second day of free agency:

1. You guys know I'm kinda sorta obssessed with the Dolphins landing some top-caliber wide receivers, right? You know that I am convinced a team cannot win an NFL championship with second-tier wide receivers and the only reason I believe that is because it's true.

So I'm kind of distressed about Miami's wide receiver problem. And I'm distressed about the Dolphins weren't signficant players in the derby to trade for Cardinals star WR Anquan Boldin.

The fact is three teams with very solid personnel departments chased a Boldin trade on Friday. At one point in the day the New England Patriots were in the talks and when I heard that, I felt a bit vomititious. You see, the idea of facing Randy Moss and Wes Welker is bad enough. The thought of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Anquan Boldin?

Luckily, Boldin ends up in Baltimore.

But I have serious concerns that Miami isn't pressing enough on the WR issue. And the unrestricted free agent receiver pool is practically dry. Terrell Owens is out there but Bill Parcells won't go for that. Antonio Bryant is out there but the Dolphins haven't made any serious overtures of interest as of this writing. There was a report the Dolphins might be interested in Derrick Mason but I believe he wants to return to Baltimore.

So where does that leave us? Restricted free agency?

Restricted free agent Brandon Marshall is visiting Seattle today. That's their problem.

Philadelphia's Jason Avant can be signed for a second-round pick but he is primarily a slot receiver. New Orleans's Lance Moore can be signed for a second round pick but he's often injured and smallish. Arizona's Steve Breaston is available for a first-round pick but it's a first round pick! Dallas's unproven Sam Hurd can be had for a second rounder but he's unproven.

I don't believe the Dolphins would invest a 1st and a 3rd on San Diego's Vincent Jackson or Malcom Floyd.

We're screwed!

Face it, Owens for one year might be the best investment. Is he a pain? Not usually the first year.

Is he no longer capable of playing? I think he proved to Vontae Davis (below) that he's still got it. Owens caught 55 passes for 829 yards and 5 TDs last year. He did it on a team that fired its offensive coordinator one week before the season. He did it on a team that had no quarterback. He did it on a team that fired its head coach during the season.

And his 829 yards and five scores still would have led the Dolphins.

Does Parcells hate the idea? Of course, but desperate times call for desperate measures and it's not like one year would constitute a long-term commitment.

I know, I'm dreaming. But I think it could work as well as, say, chasing Antonio Bryant.

2. I'm happy for Chad Pennington. He has been offered and is expected to sign a one-year contract with the Dolphins. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Pennington will not receive the no-trade clause he was seeking for the Dolphins. Instead the team got over the obstacle with, what else, money.

The $2.5 million offer I reported to you yesterday is still the deal but it now also includes, according to Mortensen, a $1.515 million trade bonus. So if the Dolphins decide they aren't keeping Pennington and can get him traded, they must pay him the bonus.

A couple of things:

First, the Dolphins could not give Pennington the no-trade on philosophical grounds as much as anything. If they do it for him, they might have to do it for others. And they don't want to do it for anyone else.

Second, Pennington wants to stay in Miami next year. The Dolphins might trade him anyway.

3. Nate Jones agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos Friday for what was reported as a four-year deal worth up to $13.6 million if he reaches all his incentives. Jones clearly is a free agency winner but I'm certain the Dolphins could have gotten him for less if they'd offered him a contract in the weeks prior to free agency. They didn't.

And that makes me wonder how the Dolphins could let Jones, their nickel cornerback and a good special teams player, go without an offer, but they keep Jason Allen, who couldn't beat out Jones the last two years?

Things that make me go, hmmmmmm.  

February 03, 2010

The behind-the-scenes Dolphins soap opera

Like the sands through the hour glass these are the last days of Joey Porter's Dolphins career.

The countdown clock is winding to Porter's certain release from the Miami Dolphins. If that isn't clear to you by now after it's been written on this blog time and again, then you certainly must be getting the drift as Porter continues to slime the team in radio and television interviews the past three weeks.

I must say the best of those interviews came Tuesday and was done by the fine folks over at 560-AM (WQAM in Miami). It was the best because Channing Crowder, paid by the station, convinced Porter to come on for nearly 15 minutes and simply unload.

And by the time the segment was over, Porter had pulled back the curtain on exactly how dysfunctional the Dolphins really were in 2009. As he and Crowder talked you understood players don't really love coach Tony Sparano. You understood how Sparano's penchant for putting a happy face on everything is truly just propaganda. And you recognized how utterly, undeniably delusional Porter really is.

At one point in the interview, Porter actually let these divergent thoughts stream from his mouth as if they could ever belong together: "I got no problem being here," he said. "I think we're headed in the right direction. But I can honestly say I don't want to be back."

Anyway, forget the stuff about Porter being unhappy with being platooned. I've covered that in previous posts. Porter wasn't happy with that at all. But the guy has no grasp on the fact he was authoring a terrible season much of the year when Sparano instilled the platoon system. He doesn't recognize that Cameron Wake was increasingly looking like a sack waiting to happen every time he came in the game.

And Porter apparently doesn't recognize Jason Taylor was simply a more complete player -- defending the run and the pass as well as rushing the passer.

Porter? Regardless of what Sparano wanted you to believe, the next time Porter set the edge of the defense would have been the first time he did that.

And yet Porter apparently sees himself as vastly superior to his teammates.

"If you let us fight for the job, it's not even an argument," he said. "No shots at nobody (really?), but it's not even an argument. All them guys in my room, love them to death, but the outside linebackers, I'm the best one we got. Period. There's nothing to talk about. That's period. Who am I switching with? Why should I be switching with any of them guys."

Later in the interview Porter showed the disdain for which he held the guy about to replace him.

"If you want to play Cameron Wake and them in the game, go ahead," Porter said. "Good luck to you."

I told you yesterday Porter really only had one advocate at Dolphins camp and that was Tony Sparano. And then I told you he had lost Sparano. Apparently the relations went sour well before the end of the season.

"Last seven weeks of the season after missing the Tampa Bay game was no fun for me ...," Porter said. "Going in and being a captain, I went from talking to the coach every day to not talking to the coach no more. Only time I talked to him was on game day. Not talking to nobody. Seeing Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells and them and nobody saying nothing to you no more. It made me feel like an outcast. The writing's on the wall for me."

Porter was apparently hurt that Sparano lost trust in him and cast him aside like a three-button jacket. And he apparently was somewhat envious that Sparano continued to see Taylor as the team's leader.

"I'm your captain but I'm not in no meetings no more," Porter complained. "Nobody's talking to the captain no more.We lost [Jason] Ferguson. We lost Chad Pennington. We had four. We lost two to injury. So now it's just me and Jason, but Jason't the only one that's meeting with the head coach.

"And he's relaying a message to me: 'Yeah, coach said this because he said you don't want to talk.' Why I don't want to talk? Usually when we call a meeting, you say, 'Joey, Jason come up.' Not just, 'Jason come up.' So everybody don't know everything I went through. That last seven weeks was no fun for me."

BLOG PAUSE HERE. ALTOGETHER FOR JOEY: Aaaahhhh. Joey wasn't having the proper amount of fun as he was making about $5 million last year. Three million people lost their jobs in 2009 but Joey wasn't loving life every second he lived it. Makes me really sad.

Anyway, as I reported to you on January 26th, one of the things that got Porter truly torqued off at Sparano was his suspension for the Tampa Bay game.

And in talking about that episode Porter and Crowder painted the picture of a team on which players don't agree with the head coach and assistants aren't agreeing with the head coach about a player's suspension -- one Sparano was absolutely correct about, by the way.

Team unity was apparently not so united.

"It was an uncomfortable situation amongst the team," Crowder said. "And I know I'm not the only player that thinks that. I know a lot of the guys were too."

Said Porter: "I put it this way, it wasn't a situation to where when [Sparano] sent me home, everybody was on board with that decision. Coaches and players. I got phone calls from coaches telling me, 'Just keep your head up. Fight through it, man. You'll be alright.' Now why you telling me this? 'Cause you know in your heart the deal was just wrong. It was just wrong."

Porter claims he was suspended because after missing two days of practice Wednesday and Thursday, he left his crib Friday night to get dinner. "I went out to get something to eat from 9 to 10:30," he said.

The Dolphins have a different version although they continue to hide behind their veil of silence that frankly has become sort of transparent now. The team believes Porter abused the privilege of being off Wednesday and Thursday by going out Friday night.

"[Sparano] wasn't happy about that, and I've never heard of that before," Porter said. "You know what I mean? Telling a grown man what to do on a Friday. It wasn't Saturday night curfew. I'm talking to him, looking at him and I'm like, "I'm not in here leaking alcohol, getting in the steam room trying to get it out of me. I'm here bright eyed and bushy tailed.' I went to sleep at 10:30. That's good for me. That's great for me."

"Amazing," Crowder chimed in agreement.

Amazing indeed. But not for the reasons these two think.

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.

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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.

August 28, 2009

Game review: Miami Dolphins 10, Bucs 6

The good: Brian Hartline earned a starting WR job. Well, he wasn't actually annointed by the coaching staff, but trust me, he's going to be a starter in the regular-season opener at Atlanta in two weeks.

The kick return team also did a fairly good job, averaging 30.3 yards on three returns.

The bad: A much, much longer list for the Dolphins during Thursday night's 10-6 victory over Tampa Bay. 

"I would assess it this way," coach Tony Sparano said. "Our defense was on the field too long and our offense wasn't on the field long enough."

You think, coach? The Dolphins, ineffective on offense much of the first half, ran a total of 54 plays. The Bucs, relying on an offense that looked good-not-great while Byron Leftwich was in the game, ran 74 plays and was electrifying by comparison.

During the time Leftwich was in there, the Miami defense looked terrible. Miami defenders mounted precious little pressure on the quarterback. And the secondary blew a couple of coverages some times, while failing to make plays at other times even as defenders were draped around receivers. Luckily Leftwich is a mediocre QB so he didn't make the Dolphins pay for their problems.

"They converted too many third downs," Sparano said. "I have to watch the film and reserve judgment on that. But I thought they missed a few receivers at times during the course of that thing. I thought our guys battled hard and kind of bent but didn't break. We came up with a few good rushes and hit the quarterback a couple of times in certain situations in the course of the game."

This is where I remind you the Bucs did not play their two starting receivers. Antonio Bryant is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Michael Clayton is recovering from a hamstring injury. Some dude named Stovall torched the Miami secondary for 73 yards on six catches in the first half. 

"We have to get off the field on third down," strong safety Yeremiah Bell said. "A completion is a completion no matter who you're against, no matter who's in the game. Like I said, the concepts stay the same, it's just that the first guys are normally better receivers. At the same time we have to make the plays and get off the field."

The ugly: Chad Henne may indeed become the starter at some point this year and more likely in 2010. But he's not ready for that baton to be passed quite yet -- not if this game was an indicator. Henne completed 2 of 8 passes for 55 yards with one interception.

Let me give you some perspective on Henne's night. His passer rating was 16.1. He completed only one more pass to his teammates than to players on the other team. It was a struggle.

"I wasn't excited about how we threw the ball as a whole tonight," Sparano said when asked specifically about Henne.

The Miami defense was disappointing in that it seems a step slow a lot. The rush gets there just after the passer releases the ball. The cornerbacks stick a hand in just after the receiver pulls in the pass. And there was too much shoddy tackling.

One more thing on the ugly. Lex Hilliard did a lot of things well the last seven months to earn a spot on the Dolphins' 53 man roster. And he might still earn that spot. But Thursday night did not help. He was ineffective running the ball, gaining only 32 yards on 11 carries for a 2.9 yard per carry average. He also fumbled, which is a transgression Sparano detests.

Did I mention Brian Hartline played well? I'm telling you he's the starter after he caught three passes for 79 yards. I asked Sparano if Hartline is the starter, because it sounds better coming from the head coach than a goofy columnist. But the coach wouldn't give up the money quote. 

"I got to watch the film," Sparano cliched. "I like what he did, OK? He did make some big plays, which is critical. One of the things we have to do a better job of on offense is we can't take 15 plays to score every touchdown. We have to get some chunk yards and Hartline was able to make some chunk yards tonight. [Greg] Camarillo was able to make a catch out there one time, too, but Hartline was able to get down the field that way, so that was positive."

Well, the head coach didn't give me what I wanted to hear. So I asked Hartline if he has adjusted his goals from simply making the club to winning himself the starting job. And ... bingo!

"Absolutely," he told me. "There's no reason why I can't ... I'm going to try to set goals to maybe so high I can't reach them. I have high goals and I'm always readjusting my goals. But as you saw tonight, we have a lot of good receivers on this team and any rotation or how we're going to use them, that's going to be the coach's thoughts. But I'm changing goals. Probably daily.

"There's a lot of things I know I'm going to learn from this film going against guys like ronde and other guys. There's stuff that I see that maybe you guys might not that when I get a chance to watch the film, I can correct and do better on."

Can I throw this out at you guys without starting an insurrection? Miami's two most productive receivers now, today, as you read this, are Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo. Camarillo is still not at the level he reached just prior to his ACL injury last season. But he's progressing and he finds a way to make a play almost every game.

Ted Ginn Jr.? Almost invisible for the second consecutive game. He had one catch for 19 yards.

"The coverage was dictating where the ball was going and [Hartline] was able to make some plays for us and the ball was going his way quite a bit," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "We're just working on trying to get better. We got some things we have to clean up, polish up and get a little bit better which is disappointing. We've been doing pretty well on third down, made that an emphasis and tonight we didn't do a good job. And that's how you keep your defense off the field and how you keep drives going and create some momentum so we have to do a better job there."

Pennington started painfully slow, missing on five of his first nine passes, which is like a personal disaster for a guy who completed 67.4 percent of his passes last season. But Pennington recovered nicely and finished the night 9 of 16 for 128 yards and one TD. His passer rating was 103.1.

Finally, I've been hearing a lot this morning about how the Dolphins are excused for looking bad in the areas where they struggled because, well, they didn't prepare for the game. They didn't game plan. They didn't have much time between games.

Fair. But ...

They played an opponent that didn't prepare for the game, that didn't game plan, and didn't have much time between games.

June 05, 2009

Pennington gets award, Porter gets busy

The Dolphins didn't hand out an MVP award last offseason because, among other things, the team didn't want to embarrass some player for being the best player on the NFL's worst team.

Things are different this year.

Moments ago, the Dolphins announced their 2008 award winners with quarterback Chad Pennington and linebacker Joey Porter sharing the Dan Marino Most Valuable Player Award.

Pennington, as you know, joined the Dolphins during preseason as a castoff from the New York Jets and only threw 19 touchdown passes with seven interceptions while completing 67.4 percent of his passes in leading the Dolphins offense.

Porter was the cornerstone of the defense, leading the team with 17.5 sacks for 96 yards in losses. He ranked first in the AFC and second in the NFL in the sacks category. Porter, by the way, had some thoughts about the coming season that shows what the Dolphins think of all the love the New England Patriots are getting from pundits:

"We proved that that the AFC East comes through Miami, and having that feeling, knowing that we're the champions until proven otherwise," Porter said, according to colleague David J. Neal. "Our mindset is to win the division, set ourselves up for a playoff spot and then anything can happen once we reach the playoffs."

But what about the Pats?

"I don't understand how you put someone in front of us and we were the AFC East champs," Porter said. "We won the championship. We're the AFC East champs. You gotta beat someone to be the champion."

Porter apparently isn't a lone voice in the wilderness on this thought. Neal asked general manager Jeff Ireland if he agreed with Porter's assessment that the division title runs through Miami. The general manager went into a bit about how Porter is known for speaking his mind and so forth before offering this endorsement of the idea:

"It does," Ireland agreed.

Pennington, who received NFL MVP votes last season, also captured the Don Shula Leadership Award, annointing him the voice of the Dolphins locker room.

The Nat Moore Community Service award goes to Akin Ayodele while the Ed Bock Courage Award has been awarded to running back Ronnie Brown. Ayodele has been indefatigable in his service to underprivileged young people while Brown made an eye-popping recovery from a scary knee injury that not only threatened his season but his career.

The awards were handed out at Joe's Stone Crab on Miami Beach. As we speak they are serving breakfast. Steak, eggs and crab cakes are on the menu.

As this is a blog and, more specifically, my blog, I am today officially expanding the list of awards winners. As late as 1995, the Dolphins would give out awards to every position and in other categories. Jimmy Johnson killed that tradition ...

... And Armando Salguero is unofficially reviving it. So here now are the unofficial Mandos:

Newcomer of the year: Pennington, of course. Were it not for his arrival, the Dolphins might have won more like seven games instead of 11.

Outstanding offensive back: Brown. The guy scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards per carry behind an offensive line that had a center team management didn't like, had a hole at RG team management was constantly trying to fill, and had two new starters on the left side.

Outstanding receiver: Greg Camarillo. He was leading the team in receptions and yards through the first 11 games and impressed the team so much, he earned a new contract. He missed the final five games after suffering a knee injury but still finished only one catch off the team lead for receptions.

Outstanding offensive lineman: Jake Long edges out Vernon Carey simply because his arrival not only improved the left side, but also allowed the Dolphins to put Carey back at his natural RT spot -- thus affecting two positions positively.

Outstanding defensive back: You guys know how much love I have for Yeremiah Bell. But Andre' Goodman was lockdown city the last half of the season and led the team with five interceptions.

Outstanding linebacker: Porter obviously gets the prize but you have to admire the work Matt Roth did in converting to a new position and playing with a torn groin muscle much of the season.

Outstanding defensive lineman: Jason Ferguson. He played only 35 plays or so per game, but he was an anchor in the middle and one reason the Dolphins went from last in the NFL against the run in 2007 to 10th in 2008.

Rookie of the Year: Long, but Davone Bess and Dan Carpenter deserve recognition.

Outstanding special teams performer: Carpenter. The kid did the improbable by beating out a veteran kicker despite not being drafted and then he didn't miss a field goal from 39-yards and in all year long. He was also 10 of 14 from 40 yards and beyond. And this year he's the only player on the roster with no one competing for his position.

Outstanding Media Relations person: Fitz Ollison came to the team as the No. 3 media relations guy and brought a depth of experience and expertise from his other NFL stops -- which included San Francisco and Detroit -- that added to Harvey Greene's capable staff. He is No. 2 on the media relations depth chart this year.

Outstanding team executive: He does not talk to the media but his moves speak volumes. Bill Parcells hired budding star GM Jeff Ireland, hired excellent head coach Tony Sparano, and retained outstanding college scouting director Chris Grier. Three excellent moves and there were about two dozen more after that.

Outstanding assistant coach: Quarterback coach David Lee had very little to work with midway through training camp, as both John Beck and Josh McCown struggled at times while rookie Chad Henne was, well, a rookie. Then Pennington shows up and Lee gets him ready to play in the span of about three weeks. Then the team is in desperation mode and Lee shows everyone the Wild Cat package that would surprise New England and become all the NFL rage. Good work.

By way of a prize, each award winner has the option of spending five minutes with me, spilling every team secret he knows, so I can pass them along to you.

So give me your award winners ... And what are your thoughts on the AFC East? Do you agree with Porter?

January 06, 2009

Is Chad Pennington Miami's championship QB?

Chad Pennington had a wonderful regular-season playing quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. His one playoff outing was terrible.

So where does that leave the Dolphins?

They have a great game manager. A great leader. A fine regular-season quarterback that can surely help them go from 1-15 to 11-6.

But do they have a championship quarterback? Do they have a guy that can help them not just reach the playoffs but win in the playoffs? Do they have the guy who can help them go from 11-6 to something greater and maybe even a Super Bowl?

Coach Tony Sparano believes so. I asked Sparano Monday if Pennington will be his starting quarterback for 2009 or if the player who threw four interceptions against Baltimore must earn the starting job all over again?

Sparano, who preached the need to have competition at every position last preseason, said Pennington is his starter for 2009. So much for the idea of Chad Henne getting a chance.

“There are a lot of issues that go on out there during the course of the ball game that can lead to throwing interceptions, fumbling the ball, giving up sacks," Sparano said. "Normal things when you give up sacks, it’s the line’s fault; well you don’t really know that. It can be the backs, it can be the receivers not running the site adjust, it can be a bunch of different things.

"There are a lot of things that went into why we didn’t play well enough yesterday, particularly on that side of the ball. That quarterback has played very well for us the entire year. I think the guy is just an outstanding player.”

Pennington indeed is an outstanding player. But again, is he a championship quarterback? That question can not be answered with facts. Pennington has not won a championship. And the game against Baltimore showed his flaws.

He threw several passes into double coverage, which I hadn't seen him do most of the season. But of greater concern, he sailed a couple of passes and Ed Reed plucked one of those out of the air and returned it for a touchdown.

I am reminded that in 2000, Jay Fiedler led the Dolphins to the AFC East championship. Much like Pennington, Fiedler was a fine leader, a guy good enough to help a good team win in the regular season. But the Dolphins believed he could also help deliver them to playoff success.

They were wrong then.

Do you think they are right this time with Pennington?

December 27, 2008

Pennington's arm more sound than Favre's?

The New York Jets scored their first touchdown of the season and first touchdown of their first game against the Miami Dolphins this season on a 56-yard bomb from Brett Favre to Jerricho Cotchery. It was an eye-popping throw that seemed to immediately make the contrast between Favre's legendary arm and Chad Pennington's arm of lesser renown.

Except that the 56-yarder would be Favre's longest pass of the season.

Except that Favre has spent parts of the last two weeks complaining that something is wrong with his throwing arm.

Except that Favre is having a terrible December in which he has under thrown several key passes.

Except that, by comparison, Pennington is humming along with no apparent issues with his throwing shoulder or arm.

So in the irony of ironies, it is possible to say the quarterback with the more sound arm and greater confidence in his ability to get the ball to a receiver on Sunday will be Pennington and not Favre. Amazing.

Favre has talked about having an MRI after the season and it showing "something" wrong with his throwing arm. At the very least, it sounds like he's got tired or dead arm. Of course the Jets are denying all of that. In today's New York Daily News Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Cotchery dismiss the idea Favre's arm strength is diminished.

So who to believe? Favre himself or the people around Favre who don't really know?

I believe Favre is telegraphing his dead arm. I believe him.

And that leads me to this: The Jets discarded Pennington in favor of Favre because they had grown weary of the limits Pennington's weaker arm put on their offense. But now they go into their most important game of the season, with playoff implications on the line, against Pennington, and their pass offense is again seemingly limited.


December 24, 2008

Unfiltered: Chad Pennington on playing the Jets

Chad Pennington's story -- you know, the return to New York to play the team that discarded him after seven seasons -- is a big deal. ESPN is focusing on it this week. CBS is focusing on it during Sunday's pregame show.

But you're here so you get to read what Pennington said about the matter only moments ago:

Q. How much do you relish the opportunity to play this game against a team that essentially showed you the door?

A. "Well, as only fate would have it, this is how sports always works out. This situation doesn't surprise me and I pretty much banked on it. It's a good thing. I'm excited about it. The whole team is excited about having a chance to have one shot into the playoffs. That's what you work so hard for the whole season, to get to this point to have an opportunity to play an extra game."

Q. How much more incentive do you have to win this game especially since the Jets brought in Brett Favre and out you go. He gets a Pro Bowl spot that maybe you deserve. How much more incentive is there for you to win this game?

"To be honest with you it's the same. As far as the emotion, the emotional part happened in the first game. And I'm glad that it did happen in the first game. So now it's strictly business trying to win a football game. It just so happens we're playing my former team. Will there be some emotions? Sure. You're going back the Meadowlands where you played eight years. But I just don't think it will be to the magnitude that it was in the season-opener when the situation was so fresh and so new. It's a little bit different now. We've got two really good teams that are vying for a playoff spot. And it's going to be an exciting game."

When you became a Dolphins did you dream or anticipate this scenario would play out?

"Sure. I think if you don't have those expectations for yourself as an individual, especially as a quarterback, if you don't believe you can help change a team, help a team, and lead a team to victory, you really don't have business being behind center. And so I didn't know exactly what to expect. I think our whole team didn't know what to expect for ourselves. But at the same time we expected ourselves to play well. We expected a lot out of ourselves and we expected ourselves to be successful. To what level of success, we really didn't know based upon our youth, and all the new people that were part of the team, and all the different scenarios. Are we shocked we're here? No, not at all. Because we've worked extremely hard and talked about this opportunity and this position for quite some time now."

December 18, 2008

December to remember for Chad Pennington?

In case you are in the minority and do not subscribe to The Miami Herald, you may have missed the blowout sports front page story on Chad Pennington and his battle against the elements in December's wintry weather venues. So please click here and catch up.

The point of the article is that Pennington was found lacking by the New York Jets after three consecutive years in which he either struggled in December or simply didn't make it to December because of injuries.

In December 2007 Pennington completed 51 of 72 passes (72.9 completion percentage) for 448 yards (224 yards per game). He threw one TD and two INTs. His QB rating was 82.3.

In December 2006 Pennington completed 112 of 168 passes (66.7 completion percentage) for 1,178 yards (236 yards per game). He threw six TDs and five INTs. His QB rating was 86.4.

Pennington played no December games in 2005 because he was injured.

Based on his ability or inability to finish the season and do so with a flurry, the Jets decided to go a different direction this year. And Pennington, now with your Miami Dolphins, has responded with a very good December so far.

In December of 2008 Pennington has completed 35 of 48 passes (72.9 percentage) for 337 yards (168.5 yards per game). He has thrown three TDs and zero INTs. His QB rating is 112.9.

Great stuff in 2008 if Pennington can keep it up. But can he keep it up?

The fact is Pennington's two December games this year have come under hospitable conditions. Miami played its first December game indoors in Toronto and played last week at Dolphin Stadium under partly sunny cloudy skies.

The next two games? The final two games? The games that will decide Miami's playoff fate?

At Kansas City and at Giants Stadium. Brrrrrr.

But forget the cold, it is the rain, snow, and particularly the wind, that plays havoc with passes in these venues during the winter. If you clicked on my story, you read the Sunday forcast for KC includes 22 MPH winds. That was yesterday's forcast.

It's worse today. Click on this weather report for the sobering update.

So the questions that face Chad Pennington now is can he play up to the standards the next two weeks that he set the past two weeks to put a signature finish on a fine season? Or does he revert to what the Jets saw the past couple of seasons, which is a quarterback who threw as many interceptions as touchdowns in December?

Which do you think it will be?

[Side item 1: Channing Crowder, who missed practice Wednesday with knee stiffness, is back at practice today. He was limited.]

[Side item 2: Hey I got through this entire blog without mentioning arm-strength. Cool.]

August 21, 2008

Get your complete roster breakdown here

The Dolphins play their third and most important preseason game Saturday night so now is as good a time as any to take a look at the entire roster on a position by position basis.

I am not assuming anything on here as you will see. I think, given some of the moves of this new regime, that is a safe way to go. Let me know where you agree and where you disagree.

QB: In: Chad Henne, Chad Pennington. On the bubble: Josh McCown and John Beck: The skinny: Although Sparano has said the team might carry four guys, that is hard to fathom. More likely the team keeps three with McCown and Beck sweating out the cuts. The Dolphins are hoping some QB around the league goes down this weekend, making a trade involving McCown or Beck palatable.

RB: In: Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. On the bubble: Patrick Cobbs, Jalen Parmele. On the outs?: Lex Hilliard. The skinny: Despite the ESPN rumor that Brown might be gone from the team this season, it is hard to believe the Dolphins would simply push him out without getting value in return. And no one is giving up a first-round pick for Brown so there is no return value seemingly available. The coaching staff, particularly Sparano, likes Cobbs. But despite his effort and desire, his production (10 carries, 25 yards) has been pedestrian this preseason. Parmele runs a little high, but he runs hard. Hilliard has disappeared at times this training camp and can hope for a practice squad spot at best.

WR: IN:Ted Ginn Jr, Derek Hagan. On the bubble: Ernest Wilford, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Anthony Armstrong. On the outs? Jayson Foster, David Kircus. The skinny: The Dolphins probably keep five of these guys. They would listen to trade offers for Wilford with a return trip to Jacksonville a slight possibility. Absent that, a good game by Wilford on Saturday assures him of making the team. Camarillo and Bess have been fairly consistent but they need to excell on special teams to nail down a position. Armstrong has become Miami's most explosive receiver in practices the last week or so. Kircus, perhaps Miami's best deep threat in practices, had a good chance to make the team until Armstrong started flashing skills.

FB/TE: IN: Anthony Fasano, David Martin. On the bubble: Reagan Mauia, Boomer Grigsby, Justin Peelle, Sean Ryan. On the outs? Matthew Mulligan. The skinny: The Dolphins will probably keep five from this group and that normally breaks down to two FBs and three TEs, but because the Dolphins use TEs in the backfield as blockers, the team has flexibility on personnel. The decisions will boil down primarily to special teams. The better special teamers will get the nod and, based on past performances, that is an advantage for Grigsby and Peelle first, followed by Ryan and Mauia.

OL: In: Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Samson Satele, Donald Thomas, Vernon Carey, Trey Darilek. On the bubble: Darren Heerspink, Matt Spanos, Irechuku Ndukwe. On the outs?: Mike Byrne, Shawn Murphy. The skinny: Thomas is the most pleasant surprise of any rookie given his draft status (6th rounder). Long has played as advertised while Darilek is a Dallas Cowboys favorite of Sparano's and he also plays multiple positions. The Dolphins have very poor depth behind the starters so even those players making the roster should hold their breath until after Miami studies the talent available on the waiver wire. Murphy, promising in offseason camps, has not physically won a job on the roster although his draft status could still save him.

DL: In: Kendall Langford, Vonnie Holliday, Jason Ferguson, Matt Roth, Phillip Merling. On the bubble: Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Rodrique Wright. On the outs? Anthony Toribio, Lionel Dotson. The skinny: The Dolphins are encouraged by their youngsters (Langford and Merling) and have to feel good about the maturity and professionalism Ferguson and Holliday bring. Beyond that, the depth is questionable. Starks has been slow to get comfortable in Miami's system and Soliai has been inconsistent as he tries to learn to be a professional. The cuts here should not be difficult.

LB: In: Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, Reggie Torbor. On the bubble: Joey Porter, Charlie Anderson, Quentin Moses, Titus Brown, Edmond Miles, Rob Ninkovich. On the outs?: Kelly Poppinga, Maurice Fountain, Junior Glymph. They skinny: I know, I know, you think Porter is definitely on the team. That may be true based on reputation and his contract, which included a $20 million guarantee. But if you measure guys making the team based on production this preseason, Porter is a big question mark based on his inability to contribute because of injuries. The Dolphins may think this is the start of a troubling trend and may try to trade Porter. Anderson was starting early in training camp but injuries have kept him from earning a roster spot as well. He was back practicing this morning and may try to play Saturday to open the coaching staff's eyes. Brown is a darkhorse that coaches love for his desire, effort and potential. Moses needs to show more consistency.

DB: In: Andre' Goodman, Will Allen, Joey Thomas, Yeremiah Bell, Nathan Jones, Chris Crocker. On the bubble: Jason Allen, Michael Lehan, Renaldo Hill, Keith Davis. On the outs? Will Billingsley, Courtney Bryan, Chris Roberson. Allen, Lehan and Hill are probably on the team so I don't want to hear any crap about where I put them. The fact is there are still questions among the coaching staff on all of those guys so one cannot simply anoint them to a roster spot or assume they have one locked up -- no matter what anybody says. Davis can make the team with a solid special teams performance Saturday evening. The guys on the outs were in the game last weekend when Jacksonville bombed the Miami secondary in the final quarter.

Spec: In: K Dan Carpenter, P Brandon Fields, and LS John Denney. The skinny: It must be nice to be them.

August 13, 2008

Last update of the day for Wednesday

The idea that Jay Feely needed to be cut by the Dolphins, in a small part, because he was too vocal in the media and with his teammates is not foreign to some players still on the team -- even one player who calls himself Feely's friend.

"Jay's my boy," linebacker Joey Porter said Wednesday. "I like Jay Feely a lot. But at the same time, certain players get to do certain things and certain players don't. Nothing against Jay, but kickers don't get to be as vocal as I would be. I don't care who you are. [Mike] Vanderjagt tried and he got kicked out of Indy and he was the best kicker in the game. Kickers don't get to talk a whole lot."

Porter said the Dolphins picked, "the cheapest player," in the kicking competition.


Josh McCown and John Beck had the best day of Miami's four quarterbacks in Wednesday's practice because, well, they took only a handful of snaps in team drills while Chad Pennington and Chad Henne took the 36 between them and stunk struggled.

Pennington was 6 of 21 with zero touchdowns and two interceptions during the entirety of the team drills, which were split up into three parts. Pennington and the starting receivers were not always on the same page but he was also victimized by some horrible happenstance.

On one sure TD pass he hit TE Sean Ryan in the hands and the guy not only drops the pass, he drops it into the hands of Joey Thomas for an INT. Pennington's second INT was legit as Will Billingsley simply plucked a weak pass in the corner of the end zone out of the air. Derek Hagan, by the way, didn't exactly defend well, which is what he's called to do when he doesn't have a chance to catch it himself.

Pennington did have the nicest completion of the day -- a 40-yard-plus connection with Greg Camarillo. Camarillo also had a leaping grab of a Henne pass across the middle later in the practice so he had a good day.

Henne was not so good either. He completed 7 of 15 passes without a TD nor an INT. Henne also took a sack.


An item in today confirms an item on this blog from Saturday that Chad Pennington's deal could be worth $11.5 million but only if the guy takes Miami to the Super Bowl and he wins the MVP. The real value of the deal is more like $8 million. He got $500,000 to sign last week.


It was surprising to see but only hours after coach Tony Sparano said he's seeing improvement from Ernest Wilford in practices, I see him fall another notch in the ever-changing depth chart.

While we all know Wilford dropped from starter to third receiver last week behind Ted Ginn and Derek Hagan, today while the team worked in three-receiver sets, he wasn't one of the three receivers. Rookie Davone Bess, Ginn and Hagan were the three WRs working with the starters. Wilford was working with the second group. Interesting.


The Dolphins want to find a place for RB Patrick Cobbs on this team so don't be surprised to see him on kick returns Saturday versus Jacksonville.


Quickie Jake Long update: Good news. Nothing to report. He doesn't give up sacks, he doesn't jump offsides. Does he have work to do? Yes, on his technique. But he's never overmatched.

August 12, 2008

Porter returns, Henne struggles in afternoon drills

Joey Porter returned to practice this evening as the Dolphins held their practice in the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble.

Porter's return to the starting lineup meant Quentin Moses returned to second-team work. The two outside linebackers were Porter and Matt Roth.

Vonnie Holliday and Michael Lehan are still not practicing and I think the Dolphins are getting a little antsy about Lehan who has been nursing a high ankle sprain since early June. I saw Bill Parcells tweaking Lehan a little bit on the side.

As for the hour by hour quarterback update, Chad Pennington looked good working with the starters in team and 7-on-7 drills. Chad Henne didn't look so great. Henne was 1 of 8 with an interception by Renaldo Hill in the two-minute drill. Later in the practice he completed four passes in a row but didn't get the team in the end zone.

Pennington also didn't get the team in the end zone, by the way. The offense stalled inside the 20 yard line when Pennington was at the helm. He did complete a sweet 25 yard pass down the middle to get Miami inside the 20, however.

Look for Pennington to get playing time this weekend against Jacksonville..

A couple of quick roster observations: The Dolphins are still starting rookie Donald Thomas at right guard but don't be surprised if Trey Darilek eventually emerges as the starter there. Tony Sparano loves Darilek and Parcells has been spending time with him after practice, particularly today.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for continuing to come to this blog for Dolphins information, analysis and opinion. We're at 1.6 million views for 2008 and the regular season hasn't even begun. Today, for example, this blog was the most visited offering on The Miami Herald webpage.

Thank you, again.

[UPDATED] Tues. morning practice report

Easy morning for Josh McCown and John Beck at practice this morning. Neither quarterback took a snap in team or 7-on-7 work.

Basically, the Dolphins are showing their hand with the Chads. Or as Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland calls them, "Penny and Henne."

One is the Mr. Right Now. The other one seems like Mr. Right for the longterm future of the team. Coach Tony Sparano said it is pretty obvious that Pennington will play versus Jacksonville Saturday evening. I would imagine, based on the work so far this week, either he or Henne would start.

Pennington took 33 snaps this morning. He was 5 of 9 with a TD to David Martin. Henne took 25 snaps and was 4 of 8 with a TD to Ted Ginn.

By the way, the catch by Martin in the corner of the end zone was the best play I've seen from the tight end since he's been a Dolphin. The throw to Ginn by Henne was zipped between two defenders on a slant. Good stuff on both counts.

Receiver Anthony Armstrong, who had a good night on returns Saturday, seems to be in the mix on starting kickoffs now. He got as many reps with the first-team kick return team as Jayson Foster and Ted Ginn Jr.

Matt Roth continues to work at OLB, getting ALL his snaps at that position.

Rookie Donald Thomas continues to run with the first team OL, at right guard.

Speaking about the decision to cut Jay Feely, Sparano said the veteran simply got beat out by rookie Dan Carpenter. According to Sparano, Carpenter has connected on 93 percent of his 40 field goal tries and until he missed one in practice today, he had connected on 23 consecutive kicks.

"The numbers weren't close," Sparano said.

Sparano also noted the Feely has, "been hurt twice," since the spring, the most recent a groin injury that sidelined him the past week or so.

On the injury front: Vonnie Holliday (hamstring), Michael Lehan (ankle), Joey Porter (back), Charlie Anderson (hamstring) missed the practice. Ricky Williams seemed to tweak his ankle on one play but returned later.

Sparano said he expects Porter back on the field pretty soon -- I would guess as early as this evening.