October 31, 2013

Dolphins starting to string embarrassments together

How has this Dolphins season, only seven games old, already been something of an embarrassment?

Consider:

We start with Mike Pouncey pictured wearing a cap requesting the release of suspected murderer Aaron Hernandez. The picture hits the Internet and causes a public outrage. When Pouncey wants to apologize for photo to quell the public indignation, as his brother Maurkice immediately did on the advice of his team the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins forbid the center from saying anything. They apparently think saying nothing will make those offended feel better.

They also forbid Pouncey from saying anything after is subpoenaed to testify in front of a Grand Jury in relation to the Hernandez trial. Glad to see the team learned a lesson. Not really.

Right tackle Jonathan Martin on Monday then goes AWOL from the team when he gets upset over a lunchroom prank by teammates. He hasn't been around for three days. But the Dolphins, who refuse to acknowlege the national story, list Martin as doubtful for tonight's game against Cincinnati.

Defensive tackle Randy Starks, upset he is demoted from his starting job after going to the Pro Bowl last year, celebrates a sack by shooting his bench a one-fingered salute. The player denies it publicly, but the gesture was aimed at the coaching staff.

It took receiver Mike Wallace one game to show his unhappiness with the Dolphins game plan when he wasn't targetted at all in the first half of the season opener and only five times all game. Wallace, by the way, has toned down his distaste for how he's being used publicly but not so much privately.

Other players are also questioning the approach of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Guard Richie Incognito is unhappy Sherman stopped calling running plays in the second half of the New England loss and has been public about the Dolphins abandoning that which was working.

"I think we should just keep running the football 30, 40 times a game," Incognito says. "That's our blueprint for success. We have to run the football for four quarters."

The dislike for Sherman's play-calling can be found throughout the Dolphins organization. One high-ranking person within the team is dumbfounded by Sherman's approach in some situations, saying the coach misses "101 stuff" -- meaning fundamental things.

Coach Joe Philbin's relationship with the media has grown tense and, earlier this week, even combative. It wasn't that way last year even during a 7-9 season. The difference this year is the increased influence of Executive Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte, a member of the New York State bar and a Bill Parcells disciple. Aponte, originally hired to manage the salary cap underJeff Ireland, got from under the general manager's umbrella when the two clashed. She has become a close Philbin ally.

Aponte shadows Philbin during television interviews, radio interviews and press conferences. During one recent taping of Philbin's coaches' show, she stopped the taping to straighten the coach's tie.

The second-year coach meets with Aponte before every press conference and accepts advice on what to say to the media. Can you ever imagine Don Shula doing this? Aponte's typical advice is for Philbin to say as little as possible even though the mission statement from team owner Stephen Ross, Philbin's and Aponte's boss, was to have the Dolphins become a more transparent and fan-friendly organization after the Parcells departure.

Bottom line?

The Dolphins are trying to be just as insulated since the Parcells departure as before because Aponte believes in the approach. Except these Dolphins should probably concentrate more on improving their play than they do at honing their message. Except neither Aponte nor Philbin have any of Bill Parcells' credibility for winning anything, much less multiple Super Bowls. 

And it doesn't look like that will change this season.

September 09, 2013

Joe Philbin has work to do

The Dolphins won their season-opener on Sunday. They have a 1-0 record and are tied for the AFC East division lead.

And coach Joe Philbin has a problem.

That's because the Dolphins head coach has at least three players who are quite unhappy even after the Dolphins are coming off a 23-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

You already know that receiver Mike Wallace was unhappy after the game and I have confirmed through a source close to the WR that he was livid because he fact he didn't get a pass thrown his way in the first half and it got little better in the second half.

Wallace actually declined to speak because he didn't want to throw coaches under the bus. But despite his effort to not make waves, Wallace's actions -- an obvious display of displeasure over the way he was used  -- show he's a problem now.

How else to describe a player who pouts after his team wins?

Then there's Randy Starks. He is not a happy camper either, although he played very, very well on Sunday as shown by his 1.5 sacks.

He did not start Sunday, making that only the second time in the past 64 games with the Dolphins that happens. And Starks has let it be known to his teammates and others he's not happy about his status as a backup.

He believes he was the starter last year and should be so again this year. He believes he is Miami's franchise player, which he is, and did nothing to lose his job.

Yet there was Jared Odrick in the starting lineup Sunday.

Sound minor?

It's not to Starks. He is not happy about this. It is a major issue for him, believe it or not.

And then there's this:

Starks and the Dolphins have exchanged contract proposals. So far, there is no deal. Starks isn't thrilled about that, either, although this is considered a secondary issue at worst. It's not major for Starks at this point. So that much, I know.

I cannot, however, tell you with certainty whether Starks showed his displeasure with the coaching staff, or perhaps the personnel department that is negotiating with his agent, when he flipped off the Dolphins sideline after a sack Sunday -- pictured below.

That would be speculation and I'm not ready to connect those dots.

Let's just say it looked like a message. It didn't seem coincidental even if it might have been.

Starksflips

Then there's Paul Soliai. He is very, very angry, according to a source close to him.

Why is a member of the Dolphins leadership council upset at the team?

Well, it's a contract thing. Soliai and the team have been trying to negotiate a new extension for a couple of weeks. The talks heated last week and the Dolphins offered three new years that would have kept Soliai with the team through the 2016 season.

But the sides couldn't agree on guaranteed money.

And the sides couldn't agree on tactics.

It seems Soliai believes he's been a good soldier and took less money to stay with the Dolphins two years ago when he signed a two-year, $12 million deal. Soliai, I'm told, walked away from a five-year deal worth $35 million with $15 million in guaranteed money in 2010. And he did so happily.

He loves South Florida.

And when this round of negotiations opened for the player in his final contract year, Soliai told his agent, David Canter, to do whatever it took to stay with the Dolphins again.

But then, Dawn Aponte, the Dolphins executive Vice President of Football Administration who is handling this negotiation for the team, seriously insulted the Soliai camp with one of her offers.

The e-mail offer was dubbed a take-it-or-leave-it offer and Canter not only left it, he walked away from the negotiations altogether. And then he took to twitter to rip the Dolphins for their "tactics."

"We're fed up with their tactics," he wrote on twitter.

Canter called the Dolphins approach one of delivering "ultimatums."

Another Soliai source said the offers so upset the player that he feels he's ready to no longer be part of the team in the future and that the idea of asking for a trade was floated within the family. No such request has been made, but you get the idea.

Paul Soliai is hurt and borderline angry. He feels he's been loyal and the Dolphins rewarded him with a lowball contract offer followed by a take-it-or-leave-it offer that wasn't even delivered in person.

So where does that all leave us?

Well, Philbin basically has to resolve this avalanche of unhappiness before it spreads. It's up to the coach to get his locker room in order before small issues turn to larger issues. It's up to the coach to solve the crisis.

I must tell you, the situation with Starks and Soliai is already spreading. Both are respected players and are considered team leaders. And although they aren't complaining publicly, for the most part, they are complaining to other teammates. The men in the locker room know there are issues with these guys.

And those with an opinion agree with Starks and Soliai.

I'm not certain what effect the Wallace issue is going to have. I don't know if there are issues between Wallace and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. I don't know if there are issues between Wallace and Philbin. I don't know if there are issues between Wallace and Tannehill because the quarterback didn't even look toward him in the first half Sunday.

But I know there are issues in general.

And there is only one person that can solve it -- Philbin.

Frankly, the Starks issue is one Philbin helped create. Seriously, what right thinking coach with a finger on the pulse of his locker room doesn't discern that starting is a big deal to a prideful veteran such as Starks and probably not nearly as big an issue to Odrick?

Well, then, start Starks. Problem solved.

Issue erased.

And yet, Philbin didn't see this coming even when outsiders such as the media and others could see it a mile away. The coach didn't act. And, as a result, he was standing on the sideline that Starks flipped off.

The Soliai issue is not Philbin's fault. But it is apparently one the he must resolve. Philbin has to somehow convince Soliai that he's appreciated and loved even while his consigliere, Aponte, is turning the screws on Soliai's agent.

Is Philbin capable of being so diplomatic? Is he capable of being a good actor? I have no idea. I have no idea if he even would want to do that.

The Wallace issue is more complicated because at the core, Wallace has a reason to be upset. He's the team's best receiver. He shouldn't be a decoy. If the team doesn't throw him the ball at all in the first half of a game, something's wrong with the game plan. Something is wrong with the philosophy behind that. Something is simply wrong.

No, Wallace didn't handle it well, although he tried. But he has a point.

Where does this all leave the Dolphins? I perceive Philbin will be talking to these players privately in the next few days. At least he should be.

If he doesn't, add this to the list of problem Joe Philbin has:  Not handling issues while they're still manageable.

 

September 02, 2013

Coyle guarantees significant role for Jordan

Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has good news:

Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan is in the game plan for Sunday's game at Cleveland. And he "guarantees" the first-round pick will have a significant role in that plan.

Jordan, as you must know, missed a significant portion of training camp and the preseason with a shoulder injury. He returned to practice last week. He worked in team drills today.

This is the rest of the what Coyle told the media today:

(On how concerned he is about depth at defensive back) – “You are always concerned going into the season with your depth at a number of positions, but I think we’ll be fine. We’ve got some guys, a number of guys, who have played in games and started games for us still at the corner spot. We have some flexibility with some other players at the safety spot that have skills we can use if we got into a real jam and had to use them outside at corner in some situations. I feel fine. I wish we had everybody up and running as it makes the decision easier to who would be active. You can’t keep them all active for gameday. As it is, in most cases, you aren’t going to have 11 guys up. At the same time, we hopefully very soon will have a full complement of (defensive backs) ready to roll.”

(On Dion Jordan and his role for the upcoming game) – “You are trying to get me to give away the game plan (laughs). Dion has missed some practice time, so we are starting to add to what we perceive he will be able to handle for the game. We haven’t made any final decisions yet. Today he got a good number of reps in practice today, so we are excited about that. At the end of the week, we’ll really feel better to judge exactly where he’s at, but he’s going to have a significant role in the gameplan this week, I can guarantee you that.”

(On if he feels he has three starting defensive tackles for two spots) –“Absolutely, there’s no doubt. And I hate to differentiate between any of them because to me they are all top level quality players in the upper echelon of defensive tackles in the league.”

(On if the defense can carry the team to postseason success such as the Ravens, 49ers and even the Jets from a few years ago)  – “When we play defense, we hope we are going to do our part to put us in position to win every week. I’m a firm believer, being a defensive coach, that if you play great on defense and you play great in the kicking game that you have a chance to win every ball game in this league. That’s been proven by the teams you mentioned. You also can go back to some of the Tampa Bay teams over the years that won the Super Bowl by playing great defense. Offensively they did what they had to do to win games. I believe in our offense. I know our offense is going to get it rolling. Hopefully it will be this Sunday. In our room, we talk about the fact that if we play like we are capable of playing, we are going to have a shot to win a lot of football games. That’s what we expect.”

(On if his defensive players relish the role of carrying the team)  – “I think our veteran players like the idea. They enjoy the challenge. They want to be among the best defenses in the league. Now it is a matter of us proving that we can be in that same conversation. The only way you do that is consistently playing defense that way from the first game to the seventeenth week of the season.”

(On going up against former Miami Dolphin wide receiver Davone Bess and if he presents an interesting challenge)  – “He sure does. I have nothing but great respect for Davone. I loved being around him when he was here. (He was) a great competitor, a guy that is a tireless worker, and those types of things. Having our guys know what he is capable of, and I think in some ways that has heighten their preparation because when you look at a guy on tape you haven’t seen a lot and hasn’t played a lot in the preseason, if you didn’t know him it would be hard to get a feel for him. Our guys would know we had a heck of a time trying to cover him out here for a long time last season. He proved to be such a clutch guy, and he’ll be a go-to guy for them. We anticipate that. He’s got our attention, and we are going to have to do a great job because he is a very, very nifty slot receiver.”

(On Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and what he has seen on film from him) – “He’s an outstanding young quarterback. I think sometimes he kind of gets lost in the discussion with all of these young quarterbacks that have come out of late, but this guy has a terrific arm. Coming out of college he set all kinds of records. He was a great thrower. He can make all of the throws. He’s got a big-time throwing arm. Last year, like a lot of young quarterbacks, he kind of went through a learning stage. He looks much more poised and comfortable in this offense coming back. We are going to have to play great against him because he can make all of the throws. He’ll throw the ball down the field vertically as good as some of the top ones in the league.”

(On if he has any real concerns about the defense) – “You have concerns that everybody just gels together here early in the season. We do have some new faces. The communication, just the pre-snap dynamics that go on during the course of a game, you have some new linebackers and some new guys in the secondary. Hopefully I think we’ve shown in preseason that this group is a good cohesive group, but we are going to have to do it when we are out there and it’s live, it counts. I’m confident if we play like we are capable of, we will be very good against the run. We will have a heck of a challenge this week because the running back we are facing this week is strong, explosive guy. Their offensive line, I’ve got to tell you, is extremely physical. (It’s) one of the more impressive offensive lines that we will face. They work great together as a group. This will be a challenge in the run game. Hopefully we can create some long-yardage situations and do the things we like to do on defense on third down.”

Everything OC Mike Sherman said today

The Dolphins offense needs to improve dramatically this year. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman understands this.

This is what he said today after the Dolphins had their first practice of the week in preparation for Sunday's game at Cleveland:

(On what he is thinking after the preseason games and training camp) – “I don’ think you can draw any conclusions until you actually do it. I think what happens on the field is the only conclusion you can draw. Certainly we are trying to get to that point. We’ve practiced accordingly, but the proof is in the pudding, as my grandma used to say, but we will have to see and see what happens."

(On if they kept much to themselves in the preseason) – “You can only keep so much. You still have to play the games. You do run your core offense, but they are a good football team and they are going to anticipate what they are going to anticipate. We are going to anticipate what we are going to anticipate. We’ll see what happens. The evaluation will be at the end of the year, ultimately."

(On if he feels comfortable with the starting offensive line and the way it is with John Jerry out there) –“I still think it is a work in progress. John (Jerry) is coming off of an injury. Getting him back into the fold is going to be huge. He’s been out for a little bit, but I’m excited about having him back. We certainly needed him back. I’m anxious for him to get more comfortable in there with the other guys and get more used to what we are doing."

(On if he would like to have a fifth wide receiver on the roster) – “I think everybody wants one more of everything (laughs). I’ll take one more of whatever I can get at any time. I like the four that we have. It will serve us well."

(On how much better John Jerry can get in terms of conditioning) – “John has always been able to run pretty good, even when we first got here and he was a little overweight. I never questioned his stamina. He ran around, you know. His movement suffered when he was a little bit heavy, but he can run all day long. That was never a problem, in my mind anyway. He’s in much better shape now. Actually, to my surprise, he lost weight while he was injured, which most guys don’t do that. I’m thinking about going on IR myself thinking it might help (laughs). He has done a good job of being on IR and lost some weight. I give him credit because that’s hard for a guy that hasn’t been able to run around and be out in this heat, to lose weight, and he’s done that. That tells you the type of commitment he has, and I applaud him for that."

(On if he is surprised there hasn’t been more separation between Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas) – “Not really because they are different type of backs. One offers one thing (and) the other offers something else. They are just different dynamics between the two of them. I think because they are so different they offer, as I said, a different dynamic when in the game. I think there will be a challenge defensively to be able to put both running backs on the field separately."

(On what the key will be to converting in the redzone) – “You know we’ve had some opportunities in the red zone, we just haven’t taken advantage of them. That’s one thing. A couple of games ago I thought it could have been a better job calling some runs down there. I didn’t call some good runs. We have to be able to run the ball better in the redzone because people really defend the pass pretty well. There’s just so many defenders up there in the short areas. They just make it impossible to throw some times. We have to be able run the football down there and be diligent about that. And if you can run the ball down there, it opens up some throws in the passing game. Maybe you can play past them, vacate a window and get some balls in there. I think all of your problems end if you can run the football a little better. It helps everything."

(On saying Ryan Tannehill would have the biggest leap of the second-year quarterbacks this season) – “It’s the quote of the year (laughs). You guys won’t let me forget that. Neither will Coach (Joe) Philbin."

(On if he still thinks Ryan Tannehill will have big improvement now that training camp has concluded) – “I think that Ryan Tannehill is a diligent, hard (working), intelligent, competitive man. I think every day he walks onto this field he is going to get better, I really do. I believe in Ryan Tannehill."

(On if he expects to see as many eight-man fronts this year with new running backs) – “We had a pretty good running back. Reggie (Bush) had respect of his own as well. We started out running the ball pretty well, and we didn’t finish running the ball very well. That wasn’t indicative necessarily of just Reggie. We just didn’t run the ball very well. That was a collective effort on our part. We have to prove it. We have to prove that we can run the ball in order to determine what they are going to defend, if they are going to defend the run or the pass. If we are throwing the ball better, we will get seven-man fronts. If the run is beating them, we will get eight-man fronts. It is hard for me to determine what they are going to do. (Cleveland defensive coordinator) Ray Horton is a great defensive coordinator, and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of eight-man front against him like we did last year. I’m sure we will see more of the same."

(On tight ends and if there are plays he can no longer call because Dustin Keller is not available) – “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Dustin had talent of his own we certainly enjoyed having, but as one guy leaves another guy steps up. I’m hopeful the other guys will step forward and take his spot. There is no guarantee that everybody was going to stay healthy, so you always prepare for that possibility happening. He certainly was a savvy player and did some things, but I’m not going to say he is going to put handcuffs on us because he is not here. I’m hopeful we will be able to do some things with (Dion) Sims and (Michael) Egnew."

(On Dion Sims) – “I think I’ve already said this once before, I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t think this guy has got a chance.’ He came back for the OTAs and the rest of minicamp, and this guy made unbelievable progress. I really think he’s made a lot of progress since he’s been here. He made two catches out here. He has long arms on really low and high catches that normal tight ends weren’t going to make. He’s improved his blocking. He’s improved his route running, and I can’t say enough about the progress. Does he still have a ways to go? Yes, he has a lot of progress to make, but he’s come so far. In college he was a 280 pound tight end. I didn’t think he moved very well. To the credit of our personnel staff, they projected if he lost the weight he would be able to be the tight end he is right now. He’s done a very good job, and I think he’ll be a fine tight end in this league."

November 10, 2010

Harris for Allen doesn't mean things got better

The Dolphins signed cornerback Al Harris and waived cornerback Jason Allen today. And in the coming hour you'll hear how coach Tony Sparano feels that Harris is a good player that can help the team the same way you heard him say Allen was playing really well earlier this year.

Throughout talk radio and on this blog's comment board you see people extol the virtues of this exchange -- cutting a first-round bust for a player whose playing his final NFL days -- as improvement.

I don't care about any of that. That is just people's opinion.

This is a fact: The Dolphins today have cut a player they thought was good enough to start seven games for them. They cut a player who still leads the team with three interceptions. The Dolphins, in thinking this guy was good enough to start one week and cut two weeks later, just told you how terrible their cornerback situation has really been.

If you are cutting a player that you said was pretty good and you were starting most of the season, you are admitting that player really wasn't all you said. You are admitting he wasn't good enough to keep around, particularly if the reason you're cutting him is all about his performance rather than some strange chemistry or police blotter reason.

Then there's the other side of this coin -- the adding of Harris.

Harris was cut by the Green Bay Packers this week. They cut him not because he's a problem child or because he's in a contract dispute. The man has been an outstanding NFL cornerback for 12 years. But that changed in year 13.

So the Packers cut Harris because he's going to be 36 years old next month. They cut him because he hasn't played sinced Week 11 of last season. They cut him because his knee problems hadn't allowed him to be 100 percent healthy so he could get on the field this year.

The Packers cut Al Harris because they realized he cannot help them anymore.

And so this is the player that can help the Dolphins?

What does that say about the desperation of Miami's cornerback situation?

Well, combined with the cutting of a player who was starting, this tells me the Dolphins are in some desperate times. And their response to desperate times is this desperate measure.

If that shakes your confidence in this team's defensive backfield, then you're on point. Remember that according to coaches, Allen was the best answer at one cornerback spot up until last week's game at Baltimore. But, by the same token, he was only good enough to kick out the door.

(By the way, this blog has known Jason Allen wasn't the answer to any question that had anything to do with defensive back play about two two years ago.)

So what does Allen's ability to hold off Sean Smith for a starting job in seven of the past eight weeks say about Smith? Remember, the coaches believed Allen was better than Smith up until last week. Now we're supposed to believe all is well?

And we're supposed to believe that Harris could be a viable, solid, good answer if he gets his chance?

The Dolphins are basically trying to patch leaks now. Allen wasn't the long-term answer. Harris isn't the long-term answer. It can be argued whether Smith is a long-term answer.

Point is nothing about this move suggests things are improving. I'm not hating the move, but rather giving you what the move means. It means the Dolphins are trying not to drown. They're just hoping to tread water.

And that doesn't instill a lot of confidence.

 

September 29, 2010

Karlos Dansby dishes on Pats, prep, past

I am convinced Karlos Dansby was an amazing offseason pickup for the Miami Dolphins. He means nearly as much to the Dolphins defense as fellow offseason acquisition Brandon Marshall means to the offense. And I am convinced because of his even-keel nature and consistency, he might become a better investment for the Dolphins long-term than Marshall.

I am not, however, convinced I've done a good enough job of letting you hear from Dansby so far this season. So let me attempt to correct that a little bit.

What follows is the transcript of the conference call Dansby did today with the New England media. Enjoy:

(On what he’s seen from the Patriots on film this week) – “They’re pretty efficient. They do a lot of things to get defenses off balance and then like say they…they attack - they’re an attacking style offense and like I say they don’t hold anything back. Tom Brady is an efficient quarterback and he’s going to get it to the right guy at the right time.”

(On if this week’s preparation is more complicated due to how much is being thrown at him) – “No, not at all. You just have to be sound at what you do and go out and try to execute better than the opponents. That’s what you have to try to do every week and there’s nothing different this week that I wouldn’t do in the past weeks.”

(On what it’s like preparing for the tight ends and the receivers) – “They got two guys that could block very well and then you got a receiver. They say, they’ve been making a lot of plays on their offensive side of the ball. Like I say, they’ve been getting down the field and scoring touchdowns left and right and making big plays left and right. So, like I say, we just got to be sound in our technique and finish plays. I think that’s what we didn’t do against Dustin Keller and it allowed them to have a lot of success out on the field. Like I say, we were playing with bad technique and the communication was off - it was a lot of things that allowed him to have success out on the field.”

(On if he’ll carry the adjustments that he has made after the last game against the Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) – “Definitely, those (are) two great guys right there. Like you said, they are efficient in they offense and like I said, Tom Brady gets those guys the ball a lot. And like I said, those guys tend to get open a lot and he tends to find them. We got to be…we got to be in position and be in place to…in order to disrupt some of the balls being thrown to them or knock the timing off a little bit.”

(On if he’s ever played with Jonathan Wilhite in the past) – “Nah, I don’t think I played with Jonathan Wilhite. I haven’t had the opportunity to play with him.”

(On if the last time he played with the Patriots sticks with him going into this week (due to it not being a successful game for him)) – “Nah, I kind of left that where it was. (You know) that’s the year we went to the Super Bowl I think and like I say, we left that game there in New England. Like you said, it was a bad outing by our team. We didn’t get an opportunity to finish the way we…well it didn’t seem like we got a chance to start that game (you know what I’m saying) (laughing). They put a beating on us pretty bad. And like I say, they taught us a lesson though and it showed and it carried over through the playoffs when we had that opportunity, so. This year it’s a totally different team, totally different personnel right now and like I say I’m just looking forward to this opportunity to get our opportunity to play against these guys, so. After, like I say, after seeing them play for so long and seeing some of these guys - like I say I never had the opportunity to play against Tom Brady, I played against Matt Cassel, so, I think it’ll be fun for me.”

(On the defensive unit and if he sees some of his personality in this defense) – “Right now our unit is…I think we’re tough, we’re smart and we’re disciplined. Last Sunday we didn’t have a great outing and we knew that. Like I said, we’ve been here working for the last couple days; we’ve been getting it in, and guys have been putting in extra time. Like I said I think they’re following suit right now. I’m always in, always trying to get the information, always trying to figure out what it is that I can do to make this team better and make the guys around me better. Like I said I think the guys are starting to catch on and pick up, the intensity is starting to pick up in practice and in the weight room and in the film room asking questions just all around. We’re simply just trying to get better as a team and as a unit and hopefully we can show Monday that we, that we have done that.”

(On Brandon Marshall and what he brings to the Dolphins offense) – “He’s very dangerous, he’s very dangerous. Like I said we’re doing a good job of getting him the ball right now. Chad Henne and him are trying to build their relationship as the season grows and goes on. Like I said, we’re just trying to get better as a team all the way around. The offensive line is doing a great job of protecting and giving him an opportunity to get the ball down the field, and Brandon is making plays left and right. He’s an awesome addition to this team. Like I said him, just bringing him in the locker room has made us ten times better.”

(On if signing with the Dolphins has been everything he’d hoped for) – “And more, and more, and more. Everything I hoped for and more. Like I said, I checked the personnel out. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Having the opportunity to play for Bill Parcells and under Coach Sparano, it couldn’t be a better two, two guys to play for and represent. Like I said the history of the Miami Dolphins period; you have to be perfect man. You got to live up to this perfect atmosphere day in and day out, you know what I’m saying? You guys went what, 16-0 the 1972 Dolphins; you got to live up to that day in and day out. That’s what we’re working to; we’re just trying to be great in every aspect of the game on and off the field. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and it’s been everything I expected and more.”

(On how he and Mike Nolan getting along and whether he likes his aggressive style) – “Oh definitely man, definitely Coach Nolan has a lot of trust in me right now. I’m always in his ear always picking his brain trying to figure out what he’s thinking. Not only what he’s thinking, I’m trying to add a little bit of myself to him also just to let him know, hey coach we, we got your back. Whatever you want to call, we can get it done and just letting him, having the confidence in us to go out and execute his plan. Like I said last night we kind of let him down a little bit and I know that so we’ve been here working and grinding just trying to build his confidence up so he can call anything he wants to call and let us go play.”

(On whether he has kept track of his old team, the Arizona Cardinals) – “Well you know, I talk to Adrian (Wilson) on a regular basis. Like I said he’s, he’s kind of frustrated over there a little bit I think, but he’s playing hard. He’s not going to lay down, and like I said he’s just trying to rally the guys just like I’m trying to do, rally the troops. We got to play at a whole other level in order to have success in this league because it’s getting better week in and week out. Like I said guys are around you, man your peers are definitely getting better day in and day out. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, so he’s trying to lead his team over there also.”

June 01, 2010

Tony Sparano on Tuesday's OTA

Yes, I'm on vacation. But I have not gone anywhere yet. And I cannot stay away from the information. So I'm going to share with you everything coach Tony Sparano said after Tuesday's OTA session, courtesy the Dolphins media relations department.

Head Coach Tony Sparano:

(On how Channing Crowder is coming along) – “He’s coming along good. We were able to get him involved a little bit more today. You know, it’s a little positive getting him out there and getting him running around. So, we’ll just take it slow. We’re going to have five or six more of these so little by little here we’ll check again with him tomorrow to see how he does after today’s work and we’ll maybe start to get him involved a little bit more. So hopefully by the end of this we’ll have a big chunk of it anyways.”

(On the green dot (signal calling) and if they worked with that today – “We did a little bit. If fact today out there we had the offense on the defense’s and the defense on the offense’s, so it was out of whack today. But we’ve done a little bit in the last three or four games, yeah.”

(On if the green dot usage will be a training camp decision) –“Yeah, right now we have it in Channing (Crowder)—well, not Channing (Crowder) but I believe in Karlos (Dansby) and (Austin) Spitler’s helmet today out there. Just linebackers and safeties. Yeremiah (Bell) has one in there right now, so, we’ll see.”  

(On if the green dot usage makes it easier on the offense”) – “Yeah, very easy on the offense because they knew the call (laughing).”

(On Chad Henne and what areas of improvement he wants to see) “I would say that probably the greatest thing that we needed to see improvement in from Chad is certainly the decision making process of taking care of the football. Sometimes the impulse throws, feeling like you have to do it all on one play, you know, or maybe have to do it all on one play, those types of things. Some of the up and down throws, the touch throws that are necessary in the middle of the field. He’s showed improvement in both those areas right now. His numbers are off the chart here right now. On Sunday he was 12 for 12 in practice. So, this guy’s numbers are outstanding as we speak going through these practices and OTA’s and he’s made good decisions and is taking care of the ball. Today, backed up, first play, our backs against the wall, he throws the ball away…it’s a good decision.”  

(On Vernon Carey and his veteran leadership) – “Vernon is a veteran player that’s played an awful lot of games; he’s started a lot of games in this league. So, I think that alone should create a little bit of leadership that way and I think what Vernon has done really well is he and Jake (Long) mesh pretty well together. I don’t think you find too many places where the two of them aren’t together. So, that’s worked out pretty well within that group as well. So, I like what Vernon has done, he’s a guy that always comes out here every day, he practices and you can count on him in the ball game. So, those types of leadership qualities are pretty good when you find a guy that’s dependable like that.”

(On how Vernon Carey helps with the young players) – “He’s good. He communicates well with the young guys. That group is pretty…well, there not selfish in that group at all. A lot of those guys don’t mind sharing information. You got (Joe) Berger, and (Jake) Grove who are competing with each other out here and everyday they’re in the weight room lifting together. So, these guys are pretty unselfish that way and they try to help each other out.”

(On Chris Clemons being an overall quiet guy on and off the field) – “Well, I’ve noticed that Chris has opened up a lot right now. Now again, off the field I’m not sure what Chris is like when he’s off the field that way, but while he’s in this building he’s been strictly professional that way and speaks—when you know, he’s very vocal when he needs to be vocal. So, I was just talking about it today to the team this morning—Chris had 256 scrimmage plays right now in practice. 256, that’s the most on the team by any player. Those are live scrimmage reps and he’s got minimal, minimal, mental mistakes. So a lot of that is due to the fact that this guy is a communicator and sees it pretty clear. He’s been doing a nice job that way. So, I guess when he gets out here it must be a good ‘ham and egger’ day.”

(On Chris Clemons learning the defense and if it has to do with learning his personality) – “Yeah, I think so. It just comes with learning the defense really. And I think it comes with a little bit more confidence too. When you see it in Chad Henne in the huddle and you know, a year ago, there was questions about Chad Henne in the huddle, and now here he is with a bunch of games under his belt and when the guy is completely different in the huddle, well, Chris (Clemons) had a good taste last year. He got out there and got to play in some ball games and he’s getting a big dose right now out here. So, I think with playing time, I think these guys open up a little bit more out there and he’s been crystal clear to me.”

(On if he’s challenging players with weight loss in junction with his personal weight loss) – “Not getting into any of those competitions like that. So, I’ve heard a few of them that were running around the league but, I haven’t gotten into many of them. But, I’ll challenge any of them but to bang in the tires and flipping them if they want.”

(On Donald Thomas and what he wants to see from him) – “Well, I’ll tell one thing, right now what I’ve seen in Donald is that he’s moving an awful lot better. Now this is one of the first and I’m going to say this in regard it saying it. But, it really is the first time that we’re dealing with Donald in one of these off seasons here where he’s completely healthy and he’s had the benefit of the entire off season program to date. So, this guy is moving an awful lot better. I think the mental part of this thing and the game slowing down for him you don’t realize it, but, because you think, well he started his first year here as a rookie, but only played one game. And then he sat the rest of season with an injury and now you get to the last year where he’s really trying to catch up in training camp coming off of the injury So, this guy really hasn’t played a lot of football. So, the game is just starting to, I think, slow down for him in there a little bit. And that’s the biggest thing we need to see, is the game slow down for him so he can play a little faster.”

(On which position he is trying to work with Donald Thomas at-left or right side) – “Well, I think we’re trying to just put these guys—I know Donald (Thomas) can play both sides. I really know Cory (Procter) can play both sides. And John (Jerry) being young I would want him to play one side right now. But I think that we’re just trying to get them in positions here to get enough reps out of them and see them play. As we get out in training camp then we’ll start to pair it down and really work, and getting a little closer to the game we’ll figure out who needs to play both sides and why.”

(On if the number of guards they have are misleading or due to versatility) – “Yeah, I think it probably can be a little bit misleading. Right now, there are a couple of guys out there that are just one whole players, so to speak, at this time. They can play two positions, maybe left and right, which is helpful. But not necessarily move inside and play center and move outside and play tackle. So, there’s a couple of things as we get on in this that still have to happen in that group. Somebody from the inside may have to go to the outside like Nate Garner was able to do for us last year. That’s value at the ball game when you have a guy that can play guard and go out and play tackle as well. Or vice versa, play tackle and can go in and play guard. I think those are valuable pieces to have when you’re at the game.”

(On if he sees Cory (Procter) getting into playing the guard position) – “No, I don’t think so not right now. Maybe somewhere down the road. Right now, we have three centers out here that are working pretty consistently and we need to get all of them evaluated the right way. At some point down the road, we see how this thing sorts out and I’m not going to worry about it. But, I know Cory (Procter) is going to do well. 

(On why Jared Odrick hasn’t seemed to take as many reps with the first team as other rookies such as Koa Misi) – “Not in the first group you mean? Yeah, he was out there today in the first group. I think what we do on defense right now, depending on the day; the subs stuff, the third down stuff, some of those guys are up in the first group, some of them are down in the second group. It’s just a matter; a lot of it is the package. Today, we were working the big packages; the short yardage, the goal lines, those things and Jared was in the first group.”

(On whether he is surprised by Brian Hartline’s big play ability and whether or not that gives him an advantage in the competition at Wide Receiver) – “I would say that anybody that puts up big play numbers there’s an edge. Okay, so I’m not saying that that’s Brian or anybody else, but if the numbers at the end of these training camps and into these preseason games show us that there’s another guy out there capable of posting those kind of numbers, that’s certainly going to open my eyes because that’s what we’re looking for. But the thing I think that Brian did well, to his credit, is his big plays weren’t only catching the ball you know at a certain distance. He was able to run with the ball after the catch. I think that those things, some of those eight yard plays that you know he turned into fifteen, eighteen, twenty yard plays have been really big plays for us too. That is not something that surprised me to be honest with you. I think that he’s really a competitive guy. He’s a guy that understands that half of his job is to catch the ball and then there’s this other half that comes after the catch and think he’s pretty hungry to do those things. So I’ve been with what Brian’s done. He’s in really good shape right now. He’s played well.”

(On whether the media sometimes makes too much of who is taking reps with the first team during OTA’s and Minicamp) – “Absolutely, but I do think at this time right now, everybody’s dealing with the same problem. You know, you have 80 guys. I mean the Karlos Dansby’s of the world; those people are in the first groups. Of course they’re in the first groups; those guys are here to play. But, there’s some guys who are in-and-out and up-and-down, and there’s reasons for all of it, honestly. I mean I’m going to go in there tonight at 3 o’clock and I’m going to meet with my staff and I have the breakdown of the reps every day by practice. So I know who’s taking what reps and we’re sitting in meeting the other day and I’m saying to Todd Bowles, “Hey look, I want (Ross) Weaver and (A.J.) Wallace to get more reps against this group of people right now.” You know, so it’s bringing the third group up to the second group and the second group down to the third group. You know, we switched Pat (White) and Tyler (Thigpen) last week a little bit, you know in those huddles to make sure that that’s happening.  So it’s about trying to get the work against the better people. Different groups competing against different people right now and not necessarily getting stuck on who’s in the first huddle now or any of those things. It really is just about the number of reps. Sometimes the first group, by the nature of the Quarterback on the other side, Chad Henne, can dictate how many reps people are taking because I really don’t want, in the first group, a lot of down the liner’s with Chad. I kind of want Chad, so if Chad’s taking six reps, well we’re going to get as many guys that we think are going to be up in the first couple groups with Chad to work with Chad and that deal, and now the rest of the reps kind of trickle down. Right now, reading an awful lot into it is just going to frustrate you guys.”

(On his prior experience and whether he has had players who have looked good throughout OTA’s, but once you put pads on them, don’t look as good) – “Yeah, well I’ve had experience with it. Yeah, I have. You got to be careful right now and what you’re seeing out here from our end. I’ve said this before, and I do believe that there are some things out here that you can see out here at different positions. I don’t think you’re going to be able to tell a whole lot about these linebackers other than the athletic part of things right now. These fullbacks, these tight ends, those type of things; throwing, catching, the athletic part of things. But all of a sudden when you get out here and you start protecting, and you start run blocking at full speed and you start doing things that way and isolating in the hole with fullbacks. Those are things you can only see when you put pads on. Now the lineman, I think you can kind of see a guy that’s going to take a bite out of you right now, maybe you can get an idea of that. But it’s still too early to tell. So some guys, they look really good in helmets and t-shirts out here and then may surprise you when you get down the road one way or another. Sometimes that can work to their advantage, and sometimes maybe not so much. So, I try to watch that a little bit. When we’re evaluating, it’s more about the mental part of things than the athleticism right now than anything else.”

(On whether he knew Nate Garner would have the kind of season he did last year at this point in the process) – “At this point no, I couldn’t say that, no. To his credit, he did an awful lot of work in the offseason and you know with Nate, Nate was one of these guys that we’re talking about here. When you put Nate out there in pads, he was just; he really was a tough guy. I mean he really was a tough guy. There’s some things Nate can do a lot better, but from a toughness standpoint and a mental, being able to handle the game mentally, you know this guy doesn’t make a lot of mental mistakes and he’s tough. He’ll stay in front of you. So, those were things that you could see in training Camp and it forces you say, get him in the game, put him in the game. And then as he’s doing this in the game, you figure you got a little something here.”

(On what guys have caught his eye while returning kicks thus far) – “Returners, yeah I mean those people all have done a nice job. You know, (Ryan) Grice-Mullen and Kory (Sheets), and a couple of these other guys have done a nice job. I like, obviously what (Davone) Bess has done back there as well. We got (Julius) Pruitt working back there. We’ve got four or five guys working back there that we’ve kind of narrowed this, this thing down to, at least for now as we go into this. I like what they’ve done right now. Today we had a couple deals where we didn’t use good judgment and we have to use good judgment back there.”

(On Cameron Wake whether the media is looking too much into his not taking too many reps with the first squad or if he is waiting for Cameron to take the next step) – “No, I mean I think you’re probably reading a little bit too much into that again too. I think when you look at the number of reps; Cameron has the most reps of any Will Linebacker right now. So anybody who’s playing the Will Linebacker spot, Cameron has the most reps. It goes back to the question that Ethan asked before because if you break down the reps, Omar, he might not start in that group right away. Charlie (Anderson) may be walking out there first, but he’s taking a couple of those reps. He’s getting a couple those first team reps at the end. Charlie may be in for four, he may go in for two and then play that next group of people for three, four, but he has the most reps. At the end of this whole thing, it really is about the amount of reps and how many at bats you can give these guys in different situations. If we’re working a series of six plays in the red area and the tight red, well I may want Cameron to make sure that he gets a play in the tight red and in the red, instead of just giving him two plays in the red area.”

(On if Paul Soliai’s maybe missed his window of opportunity last year to start) – “I wouldn’t say that he missed his window of opportunity. This is still a young player that had an awful lot to learn and he’s behind a veteran player in (Jason) Ferguson at the time and all that, and did go in there and play really pretty, pretty well for us at the time. You know, I mean obviously had ups and downs throughout some of that but played some pretty good football games during that stretch, you know did some things well. I would say that with Paul, the consistency thing has to happen for us in there right now, and he’s getting a ton of work out here as we speak, but making the move with Randy (Starks), I mean I really think Randy’s going to be a good player in there, a really good, solid player in there and you don’t have enough of them. I mean, we really don’t. So Paul’s going to play plenty of snaps in there right now as we look at it, and this guy’s a competitor. I mean he’s doing a good job with his body weight right now and he’s really worked pretty hard. But consistency, I think at that position is important. The people in back of you really want to know that, that you’re taking good care of them.”

(On where Patrick Turner stands with the mental side of the game at this current point in time since he cannot participate in practice) – “Pat, I think he’s really good in the mental part of this right now. In fact, today, I’m just watching tape up there and those guys are huddled up with the Quarterbacks, standing over there today, and they’re going over some of these plays. I think Pat Turner; he’s not going to have any problems mentally. I think he’s done a good job of keeping himself involved that way, mentally and Karl (Dorrell) and Steve Bush have done a nice job also.”

May 21, 2010

Next chapter for Thomas: Fatherhood, coaching?

It is a logical next step for Zach Thomas and he has obviously considered it: Coaching.

But the perfect opportunities aren't necessarily there right now and he doesn't need the money and has a new four-month-old son, Christian Zachery Thomas, he'd like to spend some time with first.

So Thomas probably won't be jumping right into coaching immediately. But would Thomas eventually like to be reconnected with football, perhaps as a coach or scout or something?

“I do," he said. "Right now because of my time commitment I am doing a lot of other things, but I have to stay involved somehow. But I know if I was a coach somewhere, maybe I should start at a high school level or something because I think that I would be even more extreme. When it comes to watching tape, never thinking I got enough, getting everybody prepared. I think I might give too much information, you know, when you get out there with players and they have too much information they can’t even think.

"I love the game, I want to stay involved, but I want to be a better husband because I wouldn’t come home much and that’s just the truth, and [wife] Maritza knows that. I thought about radio, but sometimes I am an emotional guy and I don’t have [PR vice president] Harvey Greene right next to me to give me a cool down period right after a game, because you all came rushing to me after we lose and you all knew you were going to get a quote. So I feel like Harvey and them would box out and try to give me a cool down period, because that sometimes gets me in trouble, letting emotions get into it and then you look back and go, ‘Man I shouldn’t have said those type of things’.

"That is probably why I won’t do radio but I want to stay involved with something I am good at. You only have to be good at one thing and (football) is one thing I am good at, and now I am going to move on and see if there is anything else I am good at."

Thomas had an audition to work for the Dolphins new flagship radio station but the same team-employed genius who didn't want me on because I wasn't enough of a homer for his taste -- truth is apparently not a virtue for some folks -- also passed on Thomas because, well, some people simply don't get it.

The Dolphins do have a linebacker coach vacancy they could fill if they wished. But that's appartently not a possibility right now.

Would be sweet though, wouldn't it?

Just sayin'. 

[BLOG NOTE: Come back later today because I'll have an offensive line related post up.]

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.

January 31, 2010

Our scout dives into a full plate of linebackers

Today our Dolphins In Depth scout Chris Cordero looks at the linebackers at the Senior Bowl.

I think we all agree the Dolphins need to address their aging, regressing linebacker corps. Although Cameron Wake had the look of a good pass rusher, we still have no clue if he can become a three-down player while the futures of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor in Miami are uncertain.

Inside, Akin Ayodele didn't perform in 2009 up to the standards of 2008. He was exposed in coverage and wasn't a factor otherwise. Channing Crowder, meanwhile, was hurt a substantial part of the season. Again.

Here's the 3-4 OLBs and ILBs: 

 
 
INSIDE LINEBACKER
 
The Dolphins lack depth here, as well as great talent, and this area must be addressed. Top prospect Rolando McClain of Alabama is an underclassmen and not participating and top seniors Brandon Spikes of Florida and Sean Lee of Penn State are not participating. Many of the prospects in this game are undersized for the middle in a 3-4 as well.
 
1. Sean Weatherspoon - 6-1, 241lbs - Missouri
Career numbers: 388 tackles, 12 sacks, 3 fumbles forced, 4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns
 
Strengths:
-I would be remiss if I didn't start off with his attitude and personality; his teammates love him and he gets everyone fired up and does not stop yapping (I am a fan of that personally) Channing Crowder and him would drive opponents crazy. He is very enthusiastic - a leader.
-Very smooth and athletic - can get out and cover backs and tight ends; makes plays sideline-to-sideline.
-Hits with power - saw him level Mardy Gilyard in one of the practices.
-Strong and explosive - showed power in pass rushing drills.
-Very comfortable in coverage.
-Has a great football IQ and great instincts; flows to the ball and fills gaps due to great reactions.
 
Weaknesses:
-Tends to go for the big hit and not use proper technique when tackling.
-At times would appear heavy legged and take false steps - but this was few and far between.
 
Overall Anaylsis:
If you would have asked me at the beginning of the college football season - he would have been the best LB prospect in the draft. Period. However, he had a lackluster senior season, for his standards, and slipped some in the eyes of most. This week should change that - he is firmly a 1st rounder. I can see him going anywhere in the late Teens to the 20's and if by some miracle; he makes it to the 2nd Round the Fins should jump all over him. He might even be worth trading down for and picking up some extra picks. Is the type of athlete and personality that can define a team.
 
2. Jamar Chaney - 6-1, 241lbs - Mississippi State
Career numbers: 285 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 fumbles forced, 2 interceptions
 
Stengths:
-Smart, tough, disciplined - 4 year starter and leader for an SEC defense.
-Locates and flows to the ball in the run game.
-Has good movement skills; adequate speed.
-Gets good drops in coverage.
-Stays with his assignment and does not get caught out of position often.
 
Weaknesses:
-Lacks ball skills in coverage.
-Not very physical and could be a better tackler.
-Has had some injuries.
 
Overall Analysis:
It looked as if the coaching staff took a liking to him; as Coach Sparano spent some time with him on the field. Would be a great value late in the draft (should we pick up a 5th Rounder or if he fell further); but with the lack of depth and talent at the Inside Linebacker position in the draft - he will probably go earlier (probably 4th) as he should test well at the Combine.
 
3. Donald Butler - 6-1, 244lbs - Washington
Career numbers: 235 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 fumbles forced, 2 interceptions
 
Strengths:
-Very athletic and faster than I thought for a guy his size; smooth, explosive athlete.
-Breaks down and wraps up as a secure tackler.
-Has good recognition skills and is quick to diagnose run/pass/screen pass (blew up a screen pass to a RB pretty nicely in practice).
-Keeps his head up and locates the ball.
-Is very good when moving upfield.
 
Weaknesses:
-Despite his speed; showed slow feet in drills.
-Has trouble in coverage and will struggle outside of the box.
-Also had trouble taking on blocks at times.
 
Overall Anaylsis:
Was a late invite to the game; but showed enough where he should get drafted. Would be a good value if he is available in the later rounds (Rounds 6-7). Is a good athlete who has bulked up and managed to keep his athletecisim - but I worry that with his lack of coverage skills it would be redundant to what the Dolphins already have. Again, with the lack of Inside Linebackers at the combine - he could go earlier than he is rated.
 
HONORABLE MENTION: A lot of the undersized linebackers looked very good in the practices. Daryl Washington of TCU in particular stood out - he has excellent coverage skills, play recognition, and is a hard hitter. If he was a bigger he could be a very high draft pick; as it stands he will at least be a 3rd Rounder. Darryl Sharpton of the University of Miami (the U!) had a decent week as well - looking good as a pass rusher and laying some big hits. Dekoda Watson from Florida State had a rather non-descript week - but seems to be a good athlete. Phillip Dillard of Nebraksa and Roddrick Muckelroy of Texas also didn't stand out and lined up at various linebacker positions. A.J. Edds - who has good size for the 3-4 - looks very good in coverage and could be a good "nickel" backer.
 
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
 
The key to creating pressure on the Quarterback in the 3-4 defense; Many 3-4 Outside Linebackers are college defensive ends - so it is a very projectable position. Some of the better prospects not at the game are Sergio Kindle of Texas, Ricky Sapp of Clemson, Jerry Hughes of Texas Christian and some projectable underclassmen - Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida and Jason Worlids of Virginia Tech. Despite those players not being here; this might have been the strongest position at the game.
 
Here are my rankings for the Senior Bowl 3-4 Outside Linebackers
 
1. Brandon Graham - 6-1, 263lbs - Michigan
Career numbers: 138 tackles, 28 sacks
 
Strengths:
-A pass rushing terror - explodes off the line at the snap and has an array of moves including a sick spin move and a fantastic swim move; locks unblockable at times.
-Is a football player in every sense of the word - tenacious, a leader and is going to whoop you and tell you about it - great prescense on the field with a nonstop motor and great energy.
-Has great strength - heard him say that he was going to bench 225 lbs at the combine over 40 times and I don't think he was kidding!
-Comes off the ball low and hard and with great leverage and technique.
-Better than average speed as he was able to blow by Vladimir Ducasse on more than one occasion.
 
Weaknesses:
-How will he hold up in coverage?
-Can get locked up at times by better Offensive Lineman when they are able to extend and get their hands into him.
 
Overall Analysis:
Wow! Was the best prospect on either team at any position all week. If he wasn't a 1st rounder he definitely is now. The only concern with him is can he make the switch to 3-4 OLB and whether he can be decent in coverage versus backs and tight ends. Absolutely worth trading back for and picking up some extra draft picks. Reminds of Dwight Freeney and former teammate LaMarr Woodley. Could be a star.
 
2. Cameron Sheffield - 6-3, 256 lbs - Troy
Career numbers: 137 tackles, 13 sacks, 1 fumble forced, 1 interception
 
Stengths:
-Is very quick and athletic.
-Plays with leverage and strength.
-Has a nice swim move.
-Didn't embarass himself in coverage drills and came into this game already listed as a linebacker.
-His potential as a pass rusher is apparent. 
-Has good lateral mobility and short area burst.
-Great motor.
-Beat West Virginia OT Selvish Capers with a beautiful spin move on one play.
 
Weaknesses:
-Will need work in coverage despite looking OK in drills.
-Trouble holding up at the Point of Attack.
-Can be fooled by play-action and is late to react at times.
 
Overall Analysis:
Like his teammate Brandon Lang - you could find yourself comparing them to former University of Troy superstar DeMarcus Ware. He would seem to be a better fit in the 3-4 defense than Lang as he has experience playing linebacker already. I think he has great potential and seems to want to improve. Could be a good value in the late rounds.
 
3. Brandon Lang - 6-4, 260 lbs - Troy
Career numbers: 138 tackles, 21 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
 
Strengths:
-Strong upper body and has decent hand usage to keep blockers off of him.
-Is fast and agile off the edge, and comes around with good leverage and low pad level.
-Is powerful and explosive as a pass rusher.
-Fairly quick off the snap.
-Holds up well against the run.
 
Weaknesses:
-As is the concern with most of the prospects - how we he hold up in coverage (although he would seem to be better than most as has some experience).
-Needs to add more strength.
-Has trouble holding ground.
 
Overall Analysis:
It's easy to compare him to fellow University of Troy graduate DeMarcus Ware - but he is not the ridiculous athlete that Ware is. Despite the fact that these players are in great demand - he could fall to the Dolphins in the later rounds of the draft - 5-7 range - with the great depth at this position. Has the foundation to be a good pass rusher.
 
4. George Selvie - 6-4, 247lbs - South Florida
Career Numbers: 206 tackles, 27 sacks, 6 fumbles forced
 
Strengths:
-Very quick off the snap and has some nice pass rush moves; looks explosive at times.
-Knocked Tennessee Offensive Tackle Chris Scott on his rear with a bullrush; showing his strength.
-Able to split the double team and get to the QB.
-Did well against the run and held his own.
-Looked quick and fluid in linebacker drills run by Coach Mike Nolan.
-Plays with good effort.
 
Weaknesses:
-Has a very small lower body and has had some injury history - needs to add strength and bulk so as to prevent injury.
-Will need some work in order to make the transition to 3-4 OLB.
-Can get engulfed by the double team.
-Not an elite athlete and will not have the best timed speed.
 
Overall Analysis:
Has fallen off after his sensational sophomore season. Still, is a talented pass rusher and judging by how well he looked in the drills - could have an easier time making the move to OLB than most of the prospects here. Will more than likely be a 3rd Round Pick - but would present a good value for the Dolphins in the 4th.
 
5. Koa Misi - 6-3, 244lbs - Utah
Career numbers: 198 tackles, 10 sacks, 5 fumbles forced
 
Strengths:
-Already making the transition to Linebacker here; so he will have a leg up in that regard.
-Has good balance and plays with strong effort and a high motor - wants to learn and get better; with a good work ethic.
-Looked fairly natural in coverage in most drills and scrimmages.
-Has good speed sideline to sideline and very good athleticism.
-Good quickness and lateral mobility.
-Has a good push with decent strength and explosiveness.
 
Weaknesses:
-Is not the pass rusher that some of the other prospects here are and was often a step late getting to QB.
-Needs work on his tackling.
-Lacks ball skills.
-Over pursues on run plays.
 
Overall Analysis:
Had a strong week here and could be moving up the draft charts - could play in a 4-3 at this point as well. If he can come up with some pass-rush moves he could be pretty good. That being said - I don't see him as being better than a 5th Rounder - but could go before that.
 
HONORABLE MENTION: In all honesty; after Brandon Graham - most of these guys were interchangeable - there are just so many of them and they all have their pluses and minuses. Antonio Coleman of Auburn looked pretty good in most of the practices and is a good athlete that didn't look terrible in linebacker drills. Justin Cole of San Jose State is another great athlete who has experience playing outside linebacker, and really every position outside of the secondary on defense, already and could also warrant a late round look. Austin Lane of Murray State might be a little big to make the move - but he is worth a mention as he plays with a high motor. The one disappointment for me was Eric Norwood of South Carolina - I had very high hopes and he looked like nothing more than a one-trick pony. He struggled in space and lacked any feel for coverage - but did block 2 punts.
 
Tomorrow: A recap of the game as well as reports on some top Interior lineman.

January 27, 2010

Joey Porter issue: The analysis and opinion

I learned a lesson in 1993. Having grown up on Dolphins football, I had great admiration for what Don Shula and Dan Marino and Mark Clayton and Mark Duper did in the 1980s.

When I started covering the team in 1990 I had to suppress some of those feelings because now I was interviewing and writing articles about the very men I grew up watching on TV. And dealing with Shula and his band of stars, I came to realize what I saw on TV or had read in the papers wasn't the full picture.

I realized, for example, that Clayton was a supremely gifted, intelligent, pain in the behind. Shula loved what the wide receiver did on many game days, but wasn't thrilled with Clayton on many Mondays through Saturdays.

But despite many trips to Shula's office and many verbal tongue-lashings, Clayton remained on the Dolphins because, well, he produced.

Then in 1991, after posting three 1,000-yard seasons in the the previous four years, Clayton wasn't producing so much anymore. His catches dropped to 44 from 70 the previous year. His yards fell to 619 from 1,053 the year before. And fate of fates, Clayton was also now a free agent.

So you know what Shula did with his star receiver who had done so much and meant so much but was also a pain in the behind and was now on the decline?

Buh-bye.

No farewell press conference. No ceremonial celebration at the training facility or the stadium. Clayton was just ... gone.

Shula was asked why the Dolphins didn't retain Clayton and all he said was, "He's a free agent and he's free to make whatever decisions he needs to make. And we're free to make whatever decisions we need to make."

That was it. Nobody asked about Clayton again. Shula never talked nostalgically about Clayton while he was coach, that I could recall.

Within months, Shula traded for Irving Fryar, who did get an introductory press conference at the stadium. And Fryar promptly delivered a 1,000-yard, a 1,200-yard, and a 900-yard season the three years he was in Miami.

So why am I telling this story? Well, it relates to another supremely gifted, intelligent, pain in the behind player currently on the Dolphins roster: Joey Porter.

Porter has been interesting his three seasons in Miami. He was a terrible free agent bust in 2007. He was a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in 2008. And he was somewhere in between in 2009, with the scales tipping slightly closer to '07 than '08.

And throughout that time, he's done some things that have made Dolphins coaches -- both staffs -- gleeful he was around and also unhappy he was around. But, regardless, Porter stayed around because he (mostly) produced on Sundays despite the fact he was sometimes a pain Monday through Saturday.

The problem for Porter is that his pain in the behind factor (PITBF) rose significantly in 2009 while his performance went in the other direction. It wasn't a big problem when Porter refused to come off the field during one game in 2008. Porter was simply fined by Sparano.

But as you read in the previous post, it wasn't cool for the Dolphins when Porter had issues with in 2009 as he was mired in a sack drought. He got suspended for disciplinary reasons. See the difference in the response?

And, as I reported first, Porter became an unhappy camper by season's end and he let coach Tony Sparano know as much in a private meeting.

Porter told Sparano he didn't agree with the suspension in an end-of-season talk. I also reported first that Porter also told a hometown Bakersfield, Califorinia radio station he wasn't coming back to the Dolphins and wanted to play closer to home.

And so now the Dolphins have a decision to make on Joey Porter. 

The current labor situation in the NFL means there probably won't be a salary cap in 2010 so the Dolphins are able to jettison Porter with no sort of cap hit whatever. Yes, they have to pay him $2.4 million in guaranteed money that his contract calls for. But they certainly don't have to give him another $1 million he is due on March 1 as a roster bonus.

And whatever they do will not hurt them against the cap because there will be no cap, as it stands now.

So the next move belongs to the Dolphins. Porter is only along for the ride here. He might do a million interviews and say he wants out or say he wants to stay and it will not matter because the Dolphins have hand over this issue.

So will Miami keep the player that has some talent left but also has a high PITBF? I don't know.

I'm too busy thinking Mark Clayton.

January 13, 2010

Dolphins to interview Steelers assistant for DC

The Dolphins have requested and received permission to interview Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler for a defensive assistant job, most likely the defensive coordinator job, according to a club source.

The interview, first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was expected to take place before the end of this weekend, the source told The Herald.

Butler, 53, has ties to coach Tony Sparano. Both worked under head coach Chris Palmer in Cleveland in 1999-2000. While Sparano went to the Washington Redskins in 2001, Butler remained with the Browns through 2002 before joining the Steelers in 2003.

Butler is considered a possible heir to the Pittsburgh defensive coordinator job if and when Dick LeBeau decides to retire. His work under LeBeau suggests he is familiar and comfortable with the 3-4 defense but also an attacking style of that defense that includes a vast array of zone and other type of blitzes.

Under LeBeau, Pittsburgh has at times been referred to as Blitzburgh.

With Butler as their coach, Pittsburgh linebackers have feasted on great seasons. James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans all had varying degrees of success under Butler.

Harrison in particular stands out. He was the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and has been named to he Pro Bowl three times.  

January 05, 2010

Unsavory possibilities during Super Bowl week

As you might have read at the top of my column in Tuesday's Miami Herald the Dolphins practice facility will be the headquarters for the AFC Champions the week before the Super Bowl.

And so Miami players had to clean out their lockers to make room for another team --  a better team -- to come in and use the space before the Super Bowl.

The truth is the entire practice facility will be on lockdown the week the AFC champs are in town. No Dolphins players will be allowed to work out in the weight room or use the training room. And the second floor of the facility, while open to Miami staff, will be locked up in certain places so folks like Tony Sparano or Bill Parcells or Jeff Ireland won't be peeking at the AFC champions' practices.

I've been told it is possible Sparano will give his coaching staff that week off so as to limit the insult of not having full run of the facility and also maximize the efficiency of the weeks they are working on post-season evaluations.

"That's crazy and what really hurts is you look up the street and see the Jets made the playoffs," Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell said. "I mean, we beat them twice this year. But at the saem time, they earned it. They found a way to get it together at the end of the year and get themelves in. It is what it is and we'll try again next year."

Can you believe it?

There is a possibility -- a small one I admit, but a possibility nonetheless -- that the team using Miami's facility will be the New York Jets. Yeah, the same team that scoffed at the Dolphins twice this season after Miami beat them twice.

There's also a chance the team using the Miami facility will be the New England Patriots. The Patriots have an easier road to the Super Bowl than New York as they actually will have at least one home playoff game when the tournament begins this weekend.

The fact of the matter is four three of the six teams in the AFC playoffs beat Miami this year -- San Diego, Indy and New England. Baltimore and Cincinnati did not play the Dolphins in 2009.

And then, of course, is this usavory irony: One of the coaches that might be using the Miami facility before the Super Bowl? Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

[BLOG UPDATE: I have a notebook full of stuff I need to get to you in the coming days, so I'll be posting at least twice a day for the next few days. So please check the blog in the morning and come back in the afternoon for any news and further updates. And follow me on twitter for notifications and news alerts from the blog.] 

December 17, 2009

Emptying the notebook for big doings Thursday

Clearing out Wednesday's notebook:

A couple of weeks ago the Cleveland Plain Dealer "reported" Bill Parcells was on the Browns' radar and that a source believed he might be swayed into being interested in the job as Browns football czar.

Um, that report doesn't resonate so well right now as Cleveland has offered the job to Mike Holmgren.

The truth of the matter is Parcells has been spending the past few weeks meeting with Miami's scouts and studying tape as if there was a soon coming exam. The tape he studies is of Miami practices, Miami games, Miami opponents, and college players he will be interested in draft next April.

And if he is drafting next April, it will be for the Dolphins. I cannot report this as fact. But call it a prediction that I'm fairly confident about.

The truth is Parcells has it pretty good in Miami. Worries that new owner Stephen Ross would become a pain for him have not materialized. Ross, very active on the business side, has not asked Parcells for the keys to the franchise that Wayne Huizenga tossed the future Hall of Famer in December 2007.

Parcells would also be hard pressed to quickly reproduce elsewhere the results he has brought in Miami because he basically hit the ground running here. He had "his guys" that are familiar with his system and he hired them here.

Those men have contracts with the Dolphins. It would be difficult for Parcells to then take those guys to say, Cleveland, and have his golfing and dining partner (Dan Henning) as an offensive coordinator, his apprentice (Jeff Ireland) as a general manager, his former assistant (Paul Pasqualoni) as the defensive coordinator, and his former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach (Tony Sparano) as the head coach.

Simply, it would be hard for Parcells to reproduce the quick turn-around he did here because he would have to start from scratch with a lot of people and he didn't have to do that here.

Another issue is that Parcells' job isn't truly done here. Have you noticed? The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl. Haven't won a conference title. Haven't won a playoff game. They are better than they where they were when Parcells arrived. But they are by no means elite. And Parcells was hired and is being paid to make them elite.

So if he leaves, he leaves the job unfinished and I don't believe he wants to do that. Not this time. Finally, where else is Parcells going to go that would offer him the lifestyle that South Florida offers? He can play golf in December. Hialeah is re-opening. Spring Training is around the corner.

You don't get that anywhere else.

Nope, Parcells isn't leaving the Dolphins for another NFL job. If he ever leaves, it might be for television. But another team? Hard to imagine.

----------

The motto that other Dolphins teams have used -- without much success, I must add -- made its 2009 appearance around the Dolphins facility on Wednesday.

Why not us!

It was plastered throughout the locker room. Just like that. The phrase is actually a question, but it was punctuated by an exclamation point. And what purpose does the phrase serve?

"How can I put this," cornerback Sean Smith told me, "no offense, you guys the media, the evil media, everybody's talking about the playoffs and whatnot, but nobody's mentioned the Dolphins from what we've seen. Even though that doesn't really matter to us, I think it's a message to ourselves that even though a lot of people aren't talking about us, why can't it be us?"

Although the Dolphins admittedly have little room for error if they want to get in the playoffs -- needing to win out and also needing other teams to lose -- they like their chances. They like their chances even if they've perceived that the media (mostly national) pretty much ignores them.

"We're doing positive things so why can't we finish it off by getting the playoffs?" Smith asked rhetorically. "It's a reminder to us not to worry about what everybody else is talking about. Let's play our game and worry about what we do in these walls."

It's classic bunker mentality. But hey, if it works, whatever gets you through the night.

----------

I had a handful of followers on my twitter asking me Wednesday if receiver Patrick Turner would be getting playing time before this season is over. This is what coach Tony Sparano said about Turner on Wednesday:

"Patrick's done a nice job, he really has," Sparano said. "He's a work in progress right now. Obviously, you wish you could take every player to the game and we can't do that. We've carried four receivers on a lot of occasions. He's been active a couple of times and played sparingly on special teams. But the guy works very hard in practice. I see great improvement out of him and he's a guy sooner or later here that is going to get an opportunity and I'm sure make the most of it."

Translation: Unless something significant changes in the final three weeks of the season, such as an injury to one of the other wide receivers or unless Miami's playoff hopes are dashed by a loss or two, Turner isn't going to be playing at all on Sundays.

He's just the fifth horse in a five-horse race and that doesn't qualify him to be active on game day.

The fact Miami has had two receivers -- Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo -- go over 100 yards in receiving the past two games also means the coaching staff isn't going to sit anyone just to play Turner.

So Turner's time may just have to wait until 2010.

------------

The last word on the Ted Ginn Jr. versus Chris Johnson match race that never was: Ginn didnt want to step up and take Johnson on, either by words or deeds. And one would expect most of Ginn's teammates to step to the receiver's corner.

But not all of them.

Asked if Ginn or Johnson is faster, linebacker Channing Crowder picked Johnson.

“I’ll put him and a cheetah up," Crowder said. "The cheetah might have a step on him, but he is ridiculously fast, explosive and just a great back.

Asked if he believes Johnson could give Usain Bolt a run for his money, Crowder has no doubts.

“He probably can," Crowder said. "He might run with Bolt in the damn 100. Y’all don’t know how fast that boy is. I know y’all look at numbers. He is fast – fast, fast; flat out period fast. There’s game speed and this explosion and good cut, good feet, no. He’s fast. He’s fast, period. Capital letters. Write it down in your report. I know I’m going to give y’all what you need to write down. He’s fast. Y’all know how to spell it, with a capital damn ‘T’ at the end."

------------

Thursday is a big day at Dolphins camp. The coordinators talk. The locker room is open We'll see if Reggie Torber (hamstring) practices after missing Wednesday. I'll have an update on Vince Young's status. And I'm sure a couple of surprises are bound to crop up. So ya'll come back often, ya'hear? (Getting my Tennessee talk all polished).

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.

December 03, 2009

Coordinators explain selves, decisions

The first question to offensive coordinator Dan Henning today was why he called a halfback pass out of the direct snap formation against Buffalo last Sunday. The question came today because Henning only talks on Thursdays and because the play was an utter disaster, having been intercepted when Ricky Williams was hit as he threw on the first-and-goal play.

"Amazing that would be the first question," Henning said. "Let me just say this, we had 23 times we've been inside the 10-yard line this year. Two of those times the clock was running out and we kicked a field goal on first down. So that makes it 21 where we had opportunities to make touchdowns. We made 18 touchdowns in those 21 times. That's No. 1 in the league by far.

"My job is to get the ball in the end zone when we get down there. I don't make excuses for how we do it. And if you look at the 18, you'll find out there are some other calls that you would be asking questions about had they not been successful. We had a fumble and we had an interception. We don't apologize but we lament like everyone else."

Henning was asked if he understands why fans and media are perplexed why he called that pass play when Williams has publicly said he doesn't like throwing the ball and the Dolphins were plowing the Bills on previous plays in the drive.

"Certainly, I do," Henning answered. "I wonder about it. I'd like to have every call that wasn't successful back. Can't do it. That's not the way this works. Sometimes the players bail you out on a bad call that they make a good play. Sometimes they don't make a good play on what you think is a good call.

"We have to be accountable for that. You guys don't. I can only tell you our job is to get it in the end zone. We've done a good job of that. We didn't get it in there, that's a bad job."

I asked Henning what was his mindset in calling the play. Was he trying to fool the Bills?

"My mindset is Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday night," Henning said. "I do all the second-guessing you guys do and I still make that call. Because I thought it was our best opportunity at that time for the overall picture, OK? We didn't score there, we come back on the next series, we went ahead 7-0.

"There's a lot of things that I know when you go home to dinner at night, you don't have to worry about. I have to worry about it. I can only tell you that''s our job to get it in there. When we played New England last time, I can tell you we were down there and ran two straight plays. Runs. And we got stuffed. And then there was a guy named Ronnie Brown, he slipped out of there and threw a toucdown pass. You know what I heard about that one? That was innovative.

"And believe me, Ronnie doesn't throw the ball any better than Ricky does in that area of the field."

Henning said the Dolphins practiced the play in question for three weeks and that it worked every time in practice. He did admit Williams was not rushed in those practices.

Henning also admitted Williams has told him he doesn't like throwing the football. Despite this, the offensive coordinator that always asks his quarterbacks to list their favorite and least plays -- so he can call the ones they like and avoid the ones they don't -- doesn't apply that logic to his running back.

"Now Ricky would tell you he doesn't like to throw the ball. But over time, with all due respect to my boy Ricky, and I love him, he can tell you a lot of things he doesn't like to do or he might like to do and you might not agree with any of them," Henning said."So we have to deal with all that also. We understand that."

Henning's 10-minute interview was not all centered around the Buffalo call. He made a little news by saying the Dolphins are going to start using rookie receiver Brian Hartline more as we go forward.

"Hartline is coming along," he said. "We haven't pushed him to the front as much. We probably will here in the near future. We like him. He's making plays. He seems to show up as much as Greg [Camarillo] showed up in training camp the first year we were here, albeit we know and he knows what his shortcomings are. But he's an accountable guy.

"Hartline isn't quite as accountable yet. He hasn't been through the ropes and once in a while he'll blow this or blow that. But he has the ability to make explosive plays and we do need to get him the ball more."

The press conference with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni was not quite so touchy. But I did ask who was responsible for losing leverage and letting Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick pop wide and down the sideline for a 31-yard TD.

"Everybody," Pasqualoni answered. "Thats everybody's job. That run there is 31 yards. And the shame of it is, if we keep the leverage there, he's probably going to get sacked because nobody blocked the right end who forced him to his right our left, anyway.

"The guys up  front are responsible for it and they got to keep [the quarterback] inside. And we have to react in the back end and not give him a 31-yard run. We have to tackle him and get ready to play red zone defense. So it's just a matter of proper execution. That's all it is."

December 02, 2009

The doings for the Dolphins as NE prep begins

The Dolphins are preparing for the Patriots today and that preparation included some interesting nuggets.

Coach Tony Sparano told his team that following a fourth-quarter meltdown at Buffalo, they were going to work on a fourth-quarter period in practice today. And during that period the coach wanted to see every play run right.

And so if a play wasn't run right, practice reverted back to the play and it was run until it was done right. That, by the way, usually does not happen.

"The message was that we have lights out there," Sparano said. "Whatever it took for us to get it right, we were going to get it right. And every player in that locker room was on board for that. Those guys are anxious to get it right. They really are. But to be honest with you, practice ran over about six minutes."

The Dolphins practiced for two hours and 35 minutes, according to Sparano.

As I reported to my twitter followers, center Jake Grove didn't practice today. Sparano said he's "getting a little bit better," as he nurses his ankle injury, but still didn't work. Joe Berger worked with the first-team offensive line at center.

It's a big week for Berger. He faces New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork, one of the most dominant NTs in the NFL. If you remember, the Patriots moved Wilfork to DE throughout the game against Miami Nov. 8.

That hasn't been the case since. 

"It really hasn't shown up since our game," Sparano said. "It's hasn't shown up. Two plays since our game, that move has shown up. I don't know why they did it since our game. I don't know if it was matchup or tendency of runs, those kind of things. I have my hunches, but I'll keep my hunches to myself."

Good natured, fun-loving dude Joey Porter talked to the media gaggle for a few minutes today. He didn't really say anything interesting about the Patriots, which is probably wise considering he fired that team up before the last meeting by saying they "cheated" him out of a Super Bowl trophy and that Tom Brady could force officials to call penalties at will.

He wasn't asked about that today, but The Herald's David J. Neal asked Porter if it's tough being athlete today in the fishbowl of twitter and facebook and cell phone cameras with the Tiger Woods scandal as the obvious backdrop.

And so Porter bit at that like a Great White on a defenseless tuna.

"It is what it is. It depends how far ya'll want to dig for a story," he told the gathered reporters. "Ya'll can dig as deep as you want to. It depends on what ya'll want to put out there. The athletes haven't changed. The access to athletes has changed. So I think we made ourselves too accessible to you.

"And at the end of the day it backfires on the athletes. We don't get to write a story about ya'll. The secrets, the stuff ya'll trying to keep away from other people and stuff like that, they don't write that story about sports writers. But athletes make that mistake, everybody wants to write about it. That's how it happens. Ya'll get to put all the stuff you do bad out there. Nobody put out the stuff everybody else do bad out there. So it's a one-way street. That's how it always been. If we don't give you nothing to write about, you can't write about it. That's how it go."

I'm going to miss Porter next year.

The injury report just came out. The Patriots have 22, count 'em, 22 guys on the report. Only one of those players -- running back Fred Taylor -- did not practice. He has an ankle injury. The Dolphins listed four players on their injury report. Aside from Grove missing, DE Lionel Dotson was limited with an ankle injury, while SS Yeremiah Bell (thumb) and RB Ricky Williams (chest) were able to practice full.

Final word that might be interesting only to me: After ripping his team for looking like a "3-7" unit during the fourth quarter of Sunday's Buffalo loss, Sparano was doing a little rehabilitation of his troops today. He made the point his team is 4-1 in games decided by seven points or less. He also noted the Patriots are 2-3 in those games. 

Miami Dolphins personnel dept. good not great

One of my twitter followers (which you should join, by the way) asked me Tuesday afternoon what order of responsibility I would assign to Miami's current struggles. OK, let me be more honest: He asked who I blame for Miami's problems this season.

Well, with the Dolphins the responsibility (blame or credit) for a season's performance goes to the players, who must execute, the coaches, who must develop players and put them in a position to succeed, and the personnel department, who delivers the players to the coaches.

This blog usually focuses on the players and coaches.

Today we focus on the personnel department.

And that personnel department is pretty much the kingdom of Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland -- The Big Tuna and the Tuna Helper, as I sometimes amuse myself designating them. (I'll stop if one ever asks me to.)

The overall grade of the personnel department since March of 2008 has to be considered a B-minus as of today. That department took a 1-15 team and cleaned a very dirty house. I believe the accurate percentage of player turnover has been in the 75 percent range as only 16 players that were on the team before the current regime arrived are still on the team. That figure includes players on injured reserve.

The grade can and will change as this season's final month unfolds, but the point is the personnel department has done relatively well.

But great? Wonderful? Amazing?

Not really.

Quick, which player did this personnel department sign, draft or trade for that has been a game-defining player? Yeah, nobody. 

Jake Long might be an excellent player for the next decade but you're supposed to get that and more when you get the first pick of the draft. And Long doesn't change the game or force opponents to scheme and game plan for him. He's a foundational role player.

The point is we cannot name one player that we know will be a superstar for the Dolphins in the coming years. You hope Chad Henne might be that player. But there are almost as many reasons to doubt he can be that guy as there are reasons to believe he will be.

We hope Vontae Davis or Sean Smith become lockdown cornerbacks in the coming years and become perhaps the best CB combo in the NFL. But they're not there yet. Not even close. And so we can give the personnel department kudos for picking two starters, but no credit (yet) for finding greatness.

Cameron Wake has potential. But he is a project that might take another couple of years. Lousaka Polite is a fine player at fullback but he is a role player, not a star.

Anyone else on that roster that might be getting Pro Bowl consideration in the coming weeks or seasons?

Anyone?

We hope Phillip Merling goes there, but frankly, he's kind of a disappointment in that he didn't pick up this year where he left off last season and then rise from there. Kendall Langford is good enough to start, but not great. Randy Starks is a nice player, but he's not going to the Pro Bowl, folks.

The rest of that highly paid $156 million offensive line? Not a Pro Bowl player on there despite high hopes for the future of Donald Thomas. Again, good stuff, but no greatness yet.

The fact is the personnel department has hit on a ton C and B players. But the A and A-plus guys have yet to show themselves.

Miami's personnel department has also missed some as well, and that, of course, lowers the overall grade.

The personnel department's biggest and most obvious mistake is in its failing to find a playmaker for the offense. Here we are in Year 2 of Parcells and Ireland and we are relying on Ricky Williams to carry the offense.

Ricky Williams!

The guy was carrying the offense in 2002. So Parcells and Ireland are threatening to fall into the same abyss that swallowed Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban and Cam Cameron in that none added two or three offensive players that turned Williams into a role player. Saban almost did it by drafting Ronnie Brown, but even he complained in 2006 that one reason the Dolphins finished 6-10 was that his best weapon was not available as Williams was suspended for the season.

Cameron wanted to get rid of Williams because he disliked everything Williams represented, but even he found himself needing Williams.

And now these Dolphins need Williams. Too much. The truth is today's Dolphins have no real hope of winning games if the 32-year-old running back doesn't play great. That Miami finds itself in this unseemly situation is ... is ... really bad personnel work.

The personnel department has yet to find a star wide receiver. The Dolphins weren't interested in Terrell Owens, didn't trade for Braylon Edwards, didn't draft Hakeem Nicks, and now Miami has no receiver that is an appreciable threat to defenses. The team did draft Brian Hartline and Patrick Turner. Hartline has been OK as a rookie, while Turner cannot get on the field.

The personnel department blew it on Ernest Wilford. That's all I got to say about that.

The personnel department was looking for an upgrade at free safety this year and paid Gibril Wilson $27.5 million to be that guy. The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, paid Darren Sharper $1.7 million for one year. Which of the two players has taken over games this season? By the way, it was a personnel decision to let Renaldo Hill go to Denver. He also has played better than Wilson.

No personnel department is flawless. Miami's is not. But the outstanding personnel departments cover a multitude of misses by adding one game-changing player a year or two. Look at Minnesota, who has added Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen and Brett Favre the last three years.

No, they didn't draft two of those players. So what? All three are key reasons the Vikings are playing exceedingly well now.

The Colts do it through the draft, but they seem to get production from their rookies almost immediately. Look up WR Austin Collie's numbers. Look at what rookie CB Jerraud Powers is doing as a starter. And I'm not even mentioning Donald Brown, who we last saw plowing over Gibril Wilson en route to a TD at Land Shark Stadium.

The point here is the Miami personnel department is in great hands with Parcells and Ireland. They've done a good job. But you cannot honestly say they've done a great job until we see some great players on the field. We cannot say they've done a great job until we see a team that's better than 5-6.

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.

Interception.

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.

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November 25, 2009

Miami Dolphins players must produce quickly

Surprised by the waiving of Matt Roth?

If we can cast aside for a second the conspiracy theories about this move, of which there are many -- theories that are unproven and therefore unfair (for now) to relate -- Roth was waived based on performance. He had four weeks to prove he could contribute to the Dolphins this year and beyond and he failed.

He had four tackles in four games and so the Dolphins did what they always do: They acted quickly and decisively to get rid of a player they no longer needed.

(I happen to love that about this regime.)

Unlike other teams that nurture draft picks, coddle free agents, or hold on to veterans perhaps one year too long, sometimes adding to a mistake by refusing to eliminate that mistake, these Dolphins recognize their mistakes and get rid of them.

It sounds harsh because players are men not meat and these men have families to feed. But the NFL is a business and the Dolphins treat the business with little emotion. These guys are Vulcan-like in their rational, logical approach to casting out roster weakness.

That's why no player or coach can feel safe on the Dolphins unless he is producing.

Remember only a few weeks ago, coach Tony Sparano was saying of Roth, "it was good to get him out there," and a couple of weeks later he's gone. Remember I told you how Shawn Murphy got a figurative pat on the back from Sparano about how well he was coming along and two days later he was waived?

Here yesterday, unproductive today, gone tomorrow.

We've seen it time and again.

Samson Satele started all 16 games last year but was a weak link that glowed in neon in losses to Baltimore and other games. He was traded.

John Beck was talked up and credited for his professionalism all last year and in training camp. He was waived.

Eric Green was signed as Miami's free agent answer to its cornerback problems. He was cut in training camp.

Ernest Wilford was a huge free agent bust last year and so the team swallowed a $4.5 million salary cap hit to get rid of him.

The club claimed tight end Davon Drew off waivers and to hear Sparano talk, the guy was on Miami's radar for some time and had great potential. And five minutes later, Drew was cut.

And the approach applies to assistants as well. Remember offensive line coach Mike Maser? He spent 2008 cursing at his players and was basically fired one week after the season ended.

And all this leads us to this question: Who is next?

Earlier this year, when the Dolphins were struggling, I was told no one was safe. In other words, no player that Miami would want to cut after the season could relax simply because his contract situation. The Dolphins saw no salary cap situation they couldn't overcome.

Of course, this doesn't include guys like Jake Long or Vontae Davis or some others because the Dolphins wouldn't consider cutting or trading them anyway. But vets who aren't performing this year risk being outta here by next year regardless of their contracts.

And there are, of course, candidates. These players must step up in the coming weeks to avoid finding themselves possibly looking work elsewhere next season:

1. Jason Allen. The experiment has failed, he is a first-round bust. He isn't a starting-caliber cornerback or safety. That fact aside, he isn't exactly contributing a ton in his current role on special teams, either. He has only seven special teams tackles this year.

2. Ted Ginn Jr. Miami coaches will defend him until the cows come home the rest of this season. But in the offseason the team will make finding a legitimate No. 1 receiver one of its priorities. And if someone comes, someone's got to go. Ginn may still stick as a special teams weapon, but barring some sort of epiphany by him as a receiver, his days at that position in a Miami uniform could be numbered.

3. Joey Porter. The Carolina game gave him a huge reprieve because he's under the microscope bigtime. Porter had eight tackles against the Panthers. That's as many tackles as he had since the third week of the season. But coaches recognize Porter did that against a guard that was playing out of position in place of an injured left tackle. They aren't fooled by the stats. Porter, 33 years old in March, has to prove in the season's final six weeks and in the coming offseason camps and conditioning program, that he deserves a spot on this team. It is not guaranteed.

4. Lionel Dotson. Sparano raved this preseason about how Dotson "changed his body" and got stronger and bigger and better. And he's still managed to be active only twice this season after being active only twice last season.

5. Anthony Fasano. I struggled with this one because I know Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland really like this kid. He's good in the locker room. He's a solid citizen. He plays all-out. But his production has fallen off the table this year. He has only 14 receptions for 113 yards. Dallas Clark had more yards against the Dolphins in one game. Fasano has been injured, has two fumbles, and three drops. He's not having the season anyone would want in a contract year. I don't think he'll be off the team, but I think the Dolphins will definitely try to add talent at TE in the offseason and, as I said before, if someone comes in, someone has to leave.

6. Gibril Wilson. I struggled with this one also. If the evaluation on Wilson had stopped in October, Wilson would probably be gone next season. He missed tackles that cost touchdowns and, arguably, games. But something happened starting Nov. 1. Wilson has not had the same dubious tackling troubles and his coverage has been solid. So it's really quite simple for him: If he plays as he did before Nov. 1, he's gone. If he continues to play as he has been of late, he stays.

7. Patrick Turner. He'll be around for training camp next year because the Dolphins did invest a third-round pick on him. But he should look to example of Murphy, a fourth-round pick in 2008, before he gets too secure in his roster status. He must improve by leaps and bounds by next season because the honeymoon for Dolphins players in Miami can be very short.

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