Armando Salguero, the usual resident at this most popular Herald blog address, is on vacation. Coming over from The Herald's FIU sports blog to do a little blogsitting with occasional posts during Armando's vaca will be me, David Neal, or the Dolphins/Heat/Hurricanes/Marlins Sports Buzz in your ear, Barry Jackson.
Both of us sat through this week's pair of high end flag football practices in Davie. There's only so much you can say about shirts-and-shorts low-contact football. Lorenzo Booker looked good under those conditions.
Caveat stated, some observations, a few of them relevant:
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill's ball placement, particularly on his red zone throws, grazed perfection. His quick slants to the slot imitated good fastballs: low, inside, tough for the opponent to reach and yet right on target for the catcher. His throws to the end zone sidelines described perfect parabolas for the task. The last time the Dolphins excelled in the red zone, nobody but football coaches paid attention or called it "the red zone." Tannehill being better there could be worth an extra win.
I saw Pete Stoyanovich take the kicking job from Fuad Reveiz in 1989 and you knew it was happening as it happened. Same thing when I saw Dan Carpenter take the kicking job from Jay Feely in 2008. By comparison, Andrew Franks kicked like he hoped to hang around long enough to inherit the job from injured Caleb Sturgis. Kicking from 36 and 46 yards, Franks hooked a few inside the upright, hooked a few outside the left upright. Sturgis can only shine the kicking shoes of Stoyanovich, Reveiz, Carpenter or Feely, but Franks' didn't give Sturgis even more reason to regret playing a little kickball.
The Dolphins mixed and matched like your kid with Legos in the secondary and on the offensive line. On the o-line, Mike Pouncey at center and Ja'Wuan James at one tackle spot were the constants. Otherwise, seemingly everybody got a turn with the No. 1s. This is the epitome of "check back in August." That includes Brandon Albert. Albert did conditioning on the unused fields or sidelines. He moved as if he'd need every minute between now and the first serious snap of the late summer to be ready. (Quick digression: Pouncey said this year's birthday party would be a small thing at his home. Clearly, the man learns.)
In the secondary, among those getting a look at nickel corner was Brice McCain, part of the Dolphins' hat trick of McCains -- rookie corner Bobby McCain, fast and tough, which could make him as solidly good on kickoff returns as he was during his sophomore and senior years at Memphis; and linebacker Chris McCain, who could start at outside linebacker after minimal snaps last year. About his minimal snaps last year, Chris said he got what he earned and needed to spend more time studying the Dolphins' scheme. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said the same thing, but more politely.
To simulate haivng to operate in a noisy stadium, instead of cranking canned crowd noise, the Dolphins went for truly annoying and blasted music. Not bad music, not good music, not old music, not new music. All of the above. It seemed far more effective a test for non-verbal communication than the crowd noise, which is laughable even at its loudest. The pass completion to Kool Moe Dee's "I Go To Work" went to Greg Jennings, the only wide receiver born when the song was released.
The Dolphins are taking it slow with Reshad Jones -- at least so far this week.
During Monday's practice in preparation for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, Jones was back on the field and getting a full complement of repetitions. But those repetitions did not come with the first-team defense.
The first-team safeties remained Jimmy Wilson and Louis Delmas.
This despite the fact Jones was the starter before he was suspended for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs. This despite the fact Jones came back from the four week suspension in great shape.
“Very, very pleased with the condition that Reshad has come back in," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "He’s only had a few practices, so we’re still trying to get him up to speed in a lot of areas. But his conditioning has been very good and his play speed has been excellent.
"Sometimes guys give each other a hard time about having fresh legs when somebody comes back from either being injured or what have you, but he’s noticeably fast out on the field right now and covering a lot of ground and doing a good job."
So what's the issue? Why not put Jones right back where he belongs?
Well, the Miami defense has developed some since Jones went away. And Jones needs to catch up to the developments.
And while that can conceivably happen within a week or 10 days for some players, it can take coaches some time to believe the process is complete. They must be convinced Jones has the new material nailed down particularly with the fact the defense is about to face one of the NFL's most explosive offenses and Coyle says the Dolphins cannot afford to give up any cheap points.
"This is the type of team that you cannot give them any plays," Coyle said. "In other words, I guess that sounds simple, but you have to make them earn every yard. They’re going to earn some yards. But you’ve got to keep them putting the ball back in play. You saw the couple of bombs that went off in the (Minnesota) Vikings game early on, the post-play to (Jordy) Nelson. Against Chicago, they had a couple of guys running wide open down the field that he hit. You can’t do that. They’re too good.
"They’re going to move the ball, get some first downs. You’ve got to be able to make them earn every yard. You’ve got to be able to slow down, contain their run game and then get [Aaron Rodgers] into situations where you have a chance to try to mix it up against them and do some things against the passing game. The scary thing is that when they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’re an up-tempo team that gets a group out on the field. They’re not overly fast, but yet their tempo is very good and, when he gets in rhythm, he’s scary.”
It might just be that to prevent what he fears are breakdowns, Coyle and the Miami defensive staff defer to the status quo, keeping the lineup as it has been for four weeks.
On the other hand, Jones is unquestionably an upgrade over Wilson at safety. So eventually, he will get his job back.
My fear? That the coaching staff tries to split the baby.
In other words, I fear that enticed by Jones being in such good shape and being a physical presence, the coaching staff might try to play him part-time and play Wilson part-time. That sounds like an invitation to have miscommunication in the secondary.
Miscommunication in the secondary leads to blown coverages.
And isn't that what Coyle just said he's trying to avoid?
The next two days will be important for Jones if is about to take his job back. He's already gone a long way toward convincing the coaching staff he's physically able to play. If he can convince them he's up to speed on the scheme and game plan, he'll be back to his job.
I was talking to someone who has been around the Cleveland Browns for 20 years this week and the conversation turned to that team's passing game.
"They have four wide receivers," he said, "and three are slow."
That's the reason when the injury report came out Friday and it had starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson listed as questionable with an ankle injury, and rookies Will Davis (toe) and Jamar Taylor (groin) listed as out, I didn't exactly flinch.
If the Dolphins were playing Atlanta or Denver or any other team with a capable receivers corps, this week would be trouble. But, with all due respect to the Browns, they should not be trouble.
The Browns won't have their most talented receiver Josh Gordon on Sunday because he is suspended by the NFL. That means Davone Bess, who was acquired in trade to be the slot receiver, is now promoted to starter alongside Greg Little, who becomes the No. 1 WR.
Little is a solid player who caught 53 passes in 2012. But he doesn't intimidate with size and speed like Gordon does.
The Browns don't look capable of challenging the Dolphins deep. Indeed, their only deep threat is former University of Miami player Travis Benjamin, who is better known for returning punts and kickoffs than catching passes.
By the way, the Dolphins are hopeful Patterson will indeed be active and play, barring a setback. So even that situation is not as bad as it seems.
If the Dolphins were opening at Indianapolis against the Colts -- the opponent next week -- instead of at Cleveland, there would be major reason for concern. The Colts can throw the ball and boast multiple big-play and deep-threat options.
But the Colts come aren't the opponent. They're opening against the Browns. The Browns don't have that kind of talent.
The question about Dion Jordan much of this preseason was not how he'd be used against the Cleveland Browns in the rookie's NFL debut but, indeed, whether he'd be used at all based on his uncertain injury status.
That question has been answered. Jordan, nursing a tender shoulder much of the preseason, is playing in the Dolphins regular-season opener.
So now we want to know how much. And here are some answers based on interviews with players and coaches.
Expect Jordan on some special teams and on the field with the defense on some passing downs.
None of this is a surprise but what seems uncommon is the Dolphins may use Jordan in something similar to the New York Giants NASCAR pass-rush grouping of years past.
Although Jordan is the backup to Olivier Vernon and plays the same position as both Vernon and Cameron Wake, it is possible the Dolphins want to use the pass-rush skills of all three players.
In the same pass-rush package.
So the Dolphins could include Jordan, Wake and Vernon -- three defensive ends considered Miami's best pass-rushers -- on the field and rushing the passer at the same time.
I'm told there might even be moments when the Dolphins have four defensive end types chasing Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden because linebacker and former defensive end Koa Misi might get in on the act as well.
How exactly the Dolphins would deploy this group of rushers has yet to be seen in 2013 -- not in practices open to the media or fans, not in training camp, not in preseason games -- so I cannot account for how much or little this might be used nor can I account for how the Dolphins would line up. (And even if I had seen it, I wouldn't report it anyway).
If the Dolphins go forward with this plan, it is good news at least on its face. There's been much speculation and hand wringing among fans whether the Miami coaching staff could find a way to maximize its talent at defensive end.
This is also good news because this grouping suggests a better pass rush.
But there are other ramifications because it likely means one of the down linemen will not be playing in a familiar four-point stance. It suggests someone will have to rush from a two-point stance (standing up).
The idea also may mean the Dolphins sacrifice pass rush up the middle for more pressure from the edge.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle hinted earlier in camp that if Jordan was physically ready to play, there would be a package to include him in the game plan. He doubled down on that this week.
"We haven’t made any final decisions yet," Coyle said on Monday. "Today he got a good number of reps in practice, so we are excited about that. At the end of the week, we’ll really feel better able to judge exactly where he’s at, but he’s going to have a significant role in the game plan this week, I can guarantee you that."
Jordan's role on defense is expected to be limited almost exclusively to passing situations while his gifts on special teams seem suited for kickoff coverage and perhaps punt return and field goal block situations.
Jordan is quick enough and fast enough to run down on kickoffs. He's long and athletic enough to possibly block a field goal. He's strong enough to block on punt returns. Just saying.
Jordan worked on the kickoffs team early in camp and coach Joe Philbin has defended the idea of having valuable players -- including the first-round draft pick -- on special teams.
"We'll have starters on special teams," Philbin said Wednesday.
"It’s a critical play in football, the coverage, we’re going to use whoever we feel is going to be the best to help us pin the opponent down," Philbin said Monday. "Whoever that may be."
When he was asked about Jordan specifically on special teams this week, Philbin was coy about it but couldn't bring himself to dismiss the idea because, well, the guy's on teams and this coach doesn't lie.
“We think we have a chance to be a very, very good special teams unit," Philbin said. "We want to utilize our personnel in the best way possible. If he is on one of those teams, then we’ve come to the conclusion that is going to help that particular phase of special teams."
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.”
Much of the unrestricted free agent focus surrounding the Dolphins' own players has centered around the offensive backfield in general and running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in particular.
I would tell you that is probably not the place the Dolphins should be placing their priority.
I would tell you the priority should be on defense. Right in the middle of all the action. At nose tackle.
Soliai, drafted in 2007, is expected to hit free agency once the players' union and the NFL get their act together and agree on a collective bargaining agreement. He will not re-sign with Miami before a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, according to a league source, because he wants to maximize his earning potential and the 30 percent rule makes it hard to do that until after his current contract expires and he becomes a free agent.
So the Dolphins have "zero," chance of re-signing Soliai before he hits free agency, the source close to the player said Tuesday.
What does that mean?
It means the biggest body on the Miami defensive line, the player who started 14 games at nose tackle for Miami last year, will hit free agency assuming the league does not establish a lull period during which current teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own players.
I am told if Soliai hits the open market, it will be a free-for-all. He wants to remain with the Dolphins. But he wants to get paid. And there will be interest because there always is for a 355 pound defensive lineman that has proven he can play.
In talks between the Dolphins and agent David Canter, I am told by my source, the Dolphins are being cautious. Canter could not be reached for comment, but I'll keep trying. He is, after all, a weekly contributor on my radio show Armando and the Amigo.
I can understand why no deal has been reached yet. Soliai played better than he has at any time in his career in 2010 so he wants to be rewarded. The Dolphins are almost certainly guarding themselves against Soliai being a one-year wonder because he's been a reserve his previous three seasons.
Thus we have a gap that needs to be bridged.
Soliai was very good last year, tying Kendall Langford for the lead in solo tackles among defensive linemen with 33. He also led all defensive linemen with eight tackles for losses with eight. Bottom line, when the Dolphins lost defensive end Jared Odrick after the regular-season opener and needed to move Randy Starks from nose tackle back to defensive end, Soliai's play made that possible.
I imagine the Dolphins could retry the Starks at nose tackle experiment, but the bottom line is Soliai was more productive than any starting nose tackle the Dolphins have had under their current administration. So they should do everything possible to keep from losing that kind of talent.
There is also an inherent risk for the Dolphins in being overly cautious with Soliai. Unless they get that lull period, they could risk losing him to another team. And the New York Jets could be in the market for a starting nose tackle.
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.
Even as there has been much celebration about Jason Allen's rise from the ashes to starter status this year, you might have noticed that my reaction to his rise has been muted.
I have not joined in the celebration or been prone to grand applause because, well, I'm still not a believer. (By the way, I also didn't rip him for giving up a TD and getting called for a pass interference against the Jets last week.)
I guess I have a hard time thinking that four years of bust do not get erased by four months of boom. And so I have decided to say nothing rather than say I don't trust him as a Dolphins starting cornerback because he's a good man and why rain on his parade?
But it gets serious now. This Dolphins schedule becomes seriously challenging now so I cannot be silent any more.
The next three games, starting with tonight's against the New England Patriots, will tell me if Allen is the resurrected talent everyone thinks he's become ... or something of a blind squirrel who stumbled upon a nut the first few weeks of this season.
The next three games Allen will face receivers such as Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. He will look across the field and see Hines Ward and Mike Wallace with the Steelers. And before too long, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Anquan Boldin will be challenging him.
This is a far cry from the first two games of the season when Allen played wonderfully, but did so, in part, because of favorable matchups and the fact his opponents were diminished.
Allen was excellent against the Bills and Minnesota. But the truth is against the Bills he constantly got help over the top from safety Chris Clemons and that forced quarterback Trent Edwards to not throw even one pass in the first half to Lee Evans, whom Allen was covering.
Eventually Evans caught a couple of passes but Allen got the better of that matchup. No doubt about it. But remember the quarterback that was trying to complete passes against him that day was out of the starting lineup and eventually off the team within a matter of weeks.
Allen had the best game of his career against Minnesota. He had two interceptions and it was excellent work. But please remember he was working against a Minnesota team that doesn't have its best wide receiver because Sidney Rice is on PUP.
So now comes Tom Brady and the New England passing show. Then comes Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing show. Then comes Ben Roethlisberger and the fine receivers the Steelers bring to the field.
There are no excuses now. If Allen plays as well against that trio of teams and those difficult matchups, I will say I am finally convinced he has arrived. I hope he has.
We shall see starting tonight.
[BLOGNOTE: Of course, there will a be a live blog during tonight's Monday night game between the Dolphins and Patriots! Get back here in the hour or so prior to kickoff for all the latest and the chat.]
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.”
The experts are chiming in on the Dolphins before the season begins. Las Vegas thinks the Dolphins over-under victory total this year is a pedestrian 8.5.
Other pundits, thankfully, have a bit higher opinion.
ESPN's Trent Dilfer is generally on board with the idea the Dolphins will be relevent as the season progresses into the early-January chase for playoff berths.
"I think they’re going to be pretty good," he said Wednesday. "I think they’re very well coached. I think the quarterback will play well – maybe not great – but he’ll play well. I think he’ll be manageable. I think the one thing the Dolphins will do nice with – especially with a veteran coaching staff – is they’ll manage the offense and personnel very well. They won’t give [Chad Henne] too much to handle. They obviously added a dynamic weapon on the outside with Brandon Marshall.
"Defensively, talking to some people there last year, they like the foundation of their defense. I think they know how to stop some of the big boys in that division and in that conference. I think the Dolphins are going to be one of those teams that’ll be in the mix the entire way. It’s really going to come down to they lost a couple close games last year and they’ll have to find out a way to win those tight games. All those teams that are kind of in the middle of the league and are borderline playoff teams, it’s going to come down to learning how to win. First you have to learn how not to lose. I think they’ve made that jump, and now it’s learning how to win these close games. If the Dolphins can do that – and they’re going to need a bunch of them – I can see them competing for the second spot in that division."
Tom Jackson is the elder statesmen of the ESPN analysts, as he's been at the network the longest. He also believes the Dolphins' success or failure will be tied to how they come out of close games.
"Well any team that’s fortunate to have [Bill Parcells] understands that you’re going to be a pretty sound football team. Everything right now has pretty much gone as planned. Chad may have been thrown in a little sooner than expected with Pennington’s injury but the plan was for him to come in and be the starter. I think they have an outstanding running game. I’m still old school enough to believe in that, so Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams with the Wildcat. I think they’re the only team that – they run the Wildcat differently than everybody else. You only need to look at the numbers t understand how effective and efficient they are with it. I actually had coach Parcells draw this thing up week in and week out when he was with us, and I would tell him it wouldn’t work and he would tell me it would. And when it was finally unleashed, I saw that he might know a little more about 1930s single wing and double wing than I did.
"They do have a dynamic weapon. I think they have some secondary weapons as well, but might be in as tough a division as there is in football. They lost a couple outstanding pass rushers on the outside. They got to figure out how to get in and get after the quarterback. It is key for them. Chad Henne has to come along. He has to develop a little quicker than he’d like to. But I will say this, he will be helped along by coach [Tony] Sparano and a very sound game plan at running the football. Any team that has Parcells even as a consultant will do the small things well. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot that much. At the end of those games – down by 2, up by 3, and chance to win – I don’t have every answer, but I’ll be very interested to see how many of those games they can walk away with."
As you may already know, my column in The Herald today shares the feelings the Dolphins have about all the moves and boasts the New York Jets have made this offseason. I talked with cornerback Sean Smith to gather information for the column and I wish to share here some of the material about Smith I didn't use in the column.
Smith, who started all 16 games at cornerback as a rookie, is locked in a competition with Will Allen and Vontae Davis -- three men wanting two starting jobs. My opinion is Davis is going to win one of those jobs and it will fall to Allen or Smith to decide the other.
So what does Smith think of how he did in his rookie season with hindsight giving him clearer vision of 2009?
"I think I did some real good things out there," he said. "I don't think there was a game where I was getting my butt whipped all game. I would say there wasn't any receiver that had my number for a whole game. I think my coverage was solid for the most part. Even though I didn't have any interceptions, I'd say my play was above average for a rookie."
The zero interception statistic is obviously one Smith isn't thrilled about. He says, indeed, guarantees that number will change in 2010.
"I guarantee that will change this year," he said. "Guaranteed. No way I will go another year without an interception. It's impossible."
Smith might have thought he was going to be an interception machine after collecting two in the 2009 preseason. But the real games are different and the higher stakes obviously affected Smith's coverage plans.
"The first year I moved to corner from wide receiver, I had four [interceptions]," Smith said. "So I was like, 'It's not really that hard, I don't see how guys struggle.' Next year I had five. Then I had two in the preseason and I thought, 'We'll keep rolling.' But then you get in the game when it really counts and you don't want to be that guy that messes up.
"At times I was being a little bit too hesitant. And we were in some close, close games and if I gamble one time and I get beat, I'm like, 'No way. I'm not bearing that on my shoulder.' You can't play like that."
So how far does Smith believe he's come one year into his career?
"I'm a lot more comfortable," he said. "I'm talking out there. I'm more vocal. I'm able to disguise things. I'm able to feel like a real vet, you know what I mean? I got the rookies asking me things. It's good to give advice instead of asking all the time."
Smith is also being smarter about his body and training regimen. Last year, he'd eat fast food and not concern himself with massages or icing down. Now he's eating more vegetables and fruits and staying away from fast food.
He hopes that will help him avoid the letdown he felt the final five or six games of last year when he felt somewhat worn down.
"I seen guys getting ice the first couple of weeks and I figured, 'I'm fresh I'm good,' " Smith said. "But after a while I had to take their advice. It was tough but I got through it.
"As the year went on I started to get the feel for body language of the receivers, learning how he lifts when he's going to break down. When you're watching things from the side you can tell when he's going to stop but when you're watching things from dead on its harder to tell when he's going to (drop) the hips."
It should be an interesting competition at cornerback.
[Check back throughout the day Saturday for updates from Day 2 of minicamp.]
The Defensive Rookie of the Year award handed out annually by the Associated Press has been in the news lately because its recipient Brian Cushing was just suspended after failing a test for performance enhancing drugs, and then losing his appeal.
The test, reportedly taken last September, suggests Cushing played 2009 while benefitting from a cycle of PEDs that are banned by the NFL.
So the AP yesterday decided to have a revote. The 50 people who vote annually on the AP All-Pro team and post-season awards got an e-mail ballot that is due Wednesday. I am one of those voters. I had no trouble re-submitting my ballot.
I orginally picked Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd as my DROY choice and was only one of six people to do so. Cushing got 39 votes. I simply stuck with my original vote.
The AP also took a revote on the outside linebacker position. In that one, I had to make a change. I had originally voted for Cushing and Elvis Dumervil. In my new ballot I changed out Cushing for DeMarcus Ware, who was an All-Pro selection even without my original vote.
So here is the question: Do you, as fans, believe a positive drug test can rightfully cost a player a post-season award because his performance was enhanced by a drug?
I obviously do think the award deserved a revote. And I'll live with the results of the majority. But I have a bad taste about giving any award to someone who gains it by cheating.
The reason I'm blogging this is that someone following me on twitter wanted me to vote for Vontae Davis or Sean Smith for DROY. Now, I have no problem voting for local guys. In fact, I feel I know them best as I've watched all their games.
That's the reason I voted for Tony Sparano as coach of the year in 2008 (he didn't win) and voted for Jake Long for All-Pro last year (he got it).
But Vontae Davis or Sean Smith for DROY?
I believe both played well at times. I believe both made strides. I believe both will continue to improve and become better players. But both also had moments in which they struggled.
Davis was beaten deep a handful of times. Smith's coverage was not always as tight as one would want and he didn't have any interceptions. In defending Gibril Wilson at the Indianapolis Combine, general manager Jeff Ireland laid some of the blame for the lapses in the secondary on the rookies.
Byrd, meanwhile, had nine interceptions. No, he wasn't Ronnie Lott in run-support. But which one of you wouldn't have taken nine interceptions from your free safety last year?
We all know the Dolphins made the decision to move Randy Starks from defensive end to nose tackle the first night of the draft.
It is a fascinating approach to solving the team's questions at nose tackle.
But it is a gamble and one that just as easily might not have been necessary.
You will recall the Dolphins traded down from their No. 12 overall spot in the first round to No. 28. The move was brilliant on several levels. It put the Dolphins in position to upgrade the nose tackle spot one way or another and also gave them a chance to add another starter by adding a second-round pick.
The interesting part was that the Dolphins had options. When they traveled from No. 12 to No. 28, the Dolphins had both nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Jared Odrick on their radar. If Williams had not been picked by Arizona at No. 26, the Dolphins might well have taken him at No. 28.
In that regard, reports of Miami's interest in Williams were accurate. And in that scenario, Williams would fill the bill at NT and Starks would have simply stayed at defensive end.
But the Dolphins found themselves with no Williams available, so they picked Odrick instead -- knowing that they would soon be asking Starks to make the move to nose tackle. When Jeff Ireland wouldn't say where Odrick would play (inside or outside) the night of the first round, it was because he still had not told Starks that the move was officially being made.
The next day, after Starks had agreed to the change, Ireland announced Odrick would be a defensive end.
And in moving Starks the Dolphins are gambling.
Starks, you see, is coming off a season when he grew into the 3-4 DE position to the point where my friends at ProFootballFocus believe him to be the second-best 3-4 DE in the NFL in 2009. The PFF guys have Starks as the second-best run-defender among 3-4 DEs and the sixth-best pass rusher.
(Quick aside, Kendall Langford is ranked the seventh-best pass rusher and sixth-best run defender. Phillip Merling is rated 15th best overall, with a slightly better showing as a pass-rusher than run-stuffer. Also interesting in the ranking based on film study is that Vonnie Holliday, who the Dolphins cut last offseason, rated higher than either Langford or Merling.)
But I digress. The greater point is Starks offered the Dolphins a pretty good DE option already. Starks was a known quantity at DE.
So what's the gamble?
Obviously the Dolphins must hope Odrick, an unproven quantity, comes in and plays as well or better than Starks at DE while also hoping Starks moves to NT and upgrades that spot. And the team must hope the the combination of both moves upgrades the overall defensive front more than having, say, Starks at end and Paul Soliai or Jason Ferguson or someone else at nose tackle.
It is a calculated move that could eventually adequately fill all the defensive line needs Miami had prior to the draft. But as with everything else that is unproven, it is, well, a gamble the Dolphins have taken.
Over the weekend I shared with you the list of players that must step up from what their career byline has been so far in order to turn the Dolphins from also-rans to playoff contenders in 2010. In that regard, I served up positive spin because many of the guys I mentioned could indeed turn into excellent players.
But there is, of course, the famine side to the feast I served.
Players obviously can go in the other direction as well, playing well one year and then laying an egg the next. Joey Porter took that route in 2009. Chad Pennington was on that path the season's first three games until he got injured. Akin Ayodele also went in that direction in 2009 after a solid 2008.
Well, the folks at Pro Football Focus have put together an NFL-wide All-Declined team. That team is comprised of the players whose careers are on the downward trek. But the list also includes players who simply suffered from down years.
One Miami Dolphins player made the team.
ILB Channing Crowder.
Crowder was pretty good in 2008 -- at least good enough to earn a three-year contract from Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano. Crowder led the team in tackles in nine 2008 games. The Dolphins bought in on Crowder.
But after delivering a career-high 114 tackles, six passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2008, Crowder's 2009 production tanked.
He had a career-worst 51 tackles, one sack, three passes defensed, and one interception in 2009. Crowder led the team in tackles in only one game.
"[He was] unable to make the big plays and really out of place in coverage," the Pro Football Focus guys write. "Definition of a down year."
Less than 24 hours from the start of the NFL's new league year and Dolphins fans have cast their sights primarily on one place: Arizona.
It is in Arizona that linebacker Karlos Dansby is about to become an unrestricted free agent. It is in Arizona where safety Antrel Rolle is about to be released, barring an unlikely last-second agreement on a contract restructure. It is in Arizona that wide receiver Anquan Boldin is on the trade block and apparently can be had relatively reasonably.
For Dolphins fans, and to some accurate degree for the Dolphins themselves, what happens with the trio from Arizona will determine how successful Miami's dip into free agency and trades this new league year will seem once it begins at midnight March 5.
So allow me to address the issues of The Three Cards Studs:
Dansby: The Dolphins are interested. There is no doubt about that. Too many NFL people are saying it for it not to be true. The latest to make the point is Andrew Brandt, the former VP of the Green Bay Packers who now writes the business of football column for National Football Post. He direct messaged me on my twitter Wednesday to stress he keeps hearing from his sources that the Dolphins are onto Dansby.
The NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported that three teams are onto Dansby, although he did not know the teams. I also don't know the other teams. But I can tell you Dansby expects something of an auction for his services and he will go to the highest bidder.
By auction, I'm talking Rembrandt type stuff here. Agent sources tell me Dansby will be "asking" $30 million in guaranteed money on a five-year contract that would expire when he's 33 years old.
He wants to set the market's new ceiling for a linebacker so he's going to start out somewhere in orbit. And understand the $30 mil is not the entire deal. The total cost of the deal Dansby will be asking will average at least $8 million annually. Do the math. The guy wants a deal of approximately $40 million with 75 percent of that guaranteed.
Of course, asking and getting are two different universes. But the fact more than two teams are apparently interested is a good sign for the former Auburn standout.
I would tell you Dansby would be the prize of unrestricted free agency for the Dolphins should they land him. But landing him will be neither easy nor cheap.
It is clear he's not worth the $4 million roster bonus due him March 9 plus the $8 million salary he's scheduled to earn from Arizona in 2010. Thus, the Cardinals will cut Rolle as early as Friday. They will allow him to test the market and see what he can find, while obviously believing they have a good enough sense of his worth that their offer to him will stand up with whatever the market is offering.
I regard this a case of more Rolle wanting to play for the Dolphins than the Dolphins wanting Rolle to play for them. He's a good player. He's a playmaker. But he, too, wants big bucks. (Shocking ain't it?)
The Chicago Tribune is reporting Rolle wants a contract that averages $8 million. The Dolphins will absolutely not come anywhere close to that. You might argue Miami paid an average of $5.5 million to Gibril Wilson to be a resounding bust, and that would be true.
But $8 million per year is more than game-changers Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu make on an annual average.
The interest the Dolphins show in Rolle will be the first test of Jeff Ireland's credibility when he suggested the team was expecting Wilson to play better in 2010. If Rolle is added, there would be no room for Wilson on the roster at all.
I believe Ireland to be honorable. I believe the Dolphins won't be making a strong bid on Rolle. We'll see.
Boldin: As The Miami Herald reported last week, Arizona is ready and willing to trade the former Florida State standout. On Wednesday, the NFL Network's Michael Lombardi reported the Cardinals want "only a third-round pick" for Boldin.
The question is whether that is what they are asking or if that is what it will actually take to move Boldin. I've reported in the past that Dolphins football czar Bill Parcells has a healthy respect for Boldin. Many NFL people do.
Parcells likes Boldin's toughness. Likes his production. Likes his size. Likes his game. Yes, there are questions about Boldin's age. There are also questions about his recent rash of nagging injuries. And then there's the contract -- more on that in a moment.
Given the variables, and deciphering sometimes painful conversations with sometimes reluctant sources, I reported on my twitter that Miami definitely would not give up a second round pick for Boldin but might possibly give up a fourth-rounder under perfect circumstances.
So the question is, again, are the Cardinals absolutely stuck on getting a third for Boldin? Or is the third their initial negotiating stance that they'd be willing to come down from?
Now, about that contract. The contract is the primary reason Boldin is on the market. He's been unhappy with his current deal for two years and would be unhappy again in 2010 in what is the deal's final year. So he wants a new deal that pays north of $7 million per season and probably closer to $9 million per season.
That is a ton of money even in an uncapped year and it could raise eyebrows because teams aren't absolutely certain what the financial realities will be beyond this coming year.
So anyone, including the Dolphins, that considers a trade for Boldin must weigh whether they can find a younger, cheaper receiver in the third or fourth round and accept the risk of that player never panning out. And the teams must also weigh whether adding a proven 29-year-old Boldin is worth a draft pick plus a big contract.
It's all measuring risk versus reward.
That's how it is when you make a play for The Three Cards Studs.
Dolphins fans have spent over a month thinking change was coming to the inside linebacker position -- be it because everyone saw Rolando McClain trading his Alabama Crimson for Dolphins aqua, or because Karlos Dansby rumors are flying everywhere, or because no one really liked the play of Akin Ayodele or Channing Crowder.
But on the same day Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland suggested Gibril Wilson will return as the free safety in 2010, he also seemed to confirm Ayodele and Crowder also will be back in 2010.
"Well, you know, I think we have to get more production from the inside linebacker position," Ireland said when asked his comfort level with Crowder and Ayodele.
"They know that. We know that. You guys know that. So that's something I think those two guys are going to bring to us next year, too."
Read that last sentence again. It predicts higher production from Crowder and Ayodele for next year.
Well, to make that prediction, one has to believe they will be on the team to play up to the prediction. And if that be the case, then the Dolphins might not necessarily be thinking McClain.
I still believe the Dolphins will do their homework with Dansby. I still believe they will be in the derby to a degree. But it is an expensive chase and there is no way Ireland could or would predict the Dolphins will absolutely get him.
So the GM cannot talk as if Dansby is definitely coming. He can, however, speak to Miami's intention to keep Crowder and Ayodele. And I think that is what he did.
Frankly, in conversations I had Thursday with two folks somewhat familiar with what Dolphins people are saying, it seems the team is focusing on addressing three positions as their "must haves" this offseason.
Outside linebacker. Wide receiver. Nose tackle.
Those seem to be surfacing as the priorities.
Outside linebacker is important because, as Ireland stated, Miami has "age" at the position. And no, Joey Porter is not returning to Miami under any circumstance despite this report that raises the possibility that the rift can be patched.
U.S. Special Forces troops will patch things up with coward Usama Bin Laden before Porter and the Dolphins reconcile.
Nose tackle is "a priority," Ireland said because there are only so many men on the planet that fill the size requirement for the position and you get those guys when you can.
And wide receiver is important because the Dolphins could not throw the football very well last season -- No. 20 in the NFL -- and have to provide quarterback Chad Henne more weapons to change that fact.
"Every offense needs big playmakers, Ireland said. "Every offense does. This offense is no different. We need big playamkers. We need players that make chunk yardage.We need players that score touchdowns. This offense is no different. We need chunk players."
"We do need a big-play playmaker in my mind .. We need to get more production out of the wide receiver position."
So that's important.
Well, as I've stated before, the Dolphins cannot also include ILB as a need. Perhaps the Dansby gambit works. Perhaps not.
But at least the Dolphins have to be thinking they have guys already on the roster capable of playing the position as starters. And those guys -- Crowder and Ayodele -- seem likely to be back in 2010.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has the Dolphins picking Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain with their No. 12 overall pick of the first round in the upcoming draft.
But Kiper believes the Dolphins will have a healthy and perhaps heated discussion whether to go with McClain or Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant if the wide receiver is on the board when Miami selects.
"Dez Bryant, I think he'll be in the discussion, but you look at him and he could go higher," Kiper said today on a nationwide conference call. "I have him going at No. 10 to Denver still ... [The Dolphins] certainly need wide receiver help and you got to get it at some point and I think they will try get in this draft.
"But at that point, I think McClain would be the best option if Bryant's gone. And even if Bryant's there it's going to be a heck of a discussion, I would think, even if Bryant is still on the board."
Yeah, I could see that discussion going something like this:
Jeff Ireland: Bill, we've got a wide receiver and a linebacker on the board and ...
Bill Parcells: I'm Bill freakin' Parcells and I love linebackers.
Ireland: Linebacker it is.
Seriously, the Parcells penchant for drafting linebackers is well-known. And picking McClain, whom Kiper says has "a Ray Lewis-type enthusiasm and Bill Parcells will see that in McClain," seems logical.
"You look at Parcells when he was with the Giants and at other places, he loves linebackers that have that type of ability, especially guys with his kind of size too, with LT and Carl Banks and those type of guys," Kiper said. "This is an inside linebacker that looks like an outside linebacker."
And that is where Kiper and I disagree. I believe the Dolphins have a greater need at OLB than ILB. But Kiper doesn't see any OLB as worthy of the No. 12 selection.
I believe Michigan's Brandon Graham is more than worthy of that pick, talk of his short arms be damned. I love Graham! I have put in adoption papers for Graham because I want that guy in my family if he's not going to be on the Dolphins!
And here's the kicker, despite saying Graham rates around No. 20-32, Kiper also seems to love Graham.
"I've liked him all along, that's the one guy I've been consistent with all the way through," Kiper said. "He's got that great work ethic, he comes hard every play. He took advantage of some offensive tackles that were very suspect, obviously, and in the NFL that's not the case."
Kiper believes Graham will somehow wind up chasing Dolphins quarterbacks someday, either for a Miami division foe, or a team the Dolphins must eventually beat to become great.
"I actually have him going to New England in the latest projection I did from the standpoint of being a 3-4 outside backer," Kiper said. "As a 4-3 defensive end situational guy if Indianapolis looks at him in that rotation with [Dwight] Freeney and Robert Mathis it makes sense. I think his character and every game bringing it, the way he did production-wise is the reason why he's a pick to go now between 20 and 32."
I think that's precisely the reason the Dolphins should take him at No. 12. The kid brings it every play. Every single play. And he brings it with speed and explosion and good instinct and discipline.
Why isn't he rated higher?
Anyway, if the Dolphins decide to address their 3-4 OLB need later in the draft, Kiper has a handful of guys rated after the first round. They are:
Jerry Hughes of TCU, Ricky Sapp from Clemson, Antonio Coleman at Auburn, Cameron Sheffield at Troy, Eric Norwood at South Carolina. Kiper had Wisconsin's O'Brian Schofield rated as a first-rounder until he blew out his knee at the Senior Bowl in January.
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.
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:
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.
-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.
-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.
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.
-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.
-Lacks ball skills in coverage.
-Not very physical and could be a better tackler.
-Has had some injuries.
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.
-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.
-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.
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.
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
-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.
-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.
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.
-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.
-Beat West Virginia OT Selvish Capers with a beautiful spin move on one play.
-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.
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
-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.
-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.
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
-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.
-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.
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
-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.
-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.
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.
When the 2009 season ended for the Dolphins, the team obviously had issues on defense that still need addressing.
As I explained to you a couple of days ago, the linebacker corps was one of those issues. But the question is where is the bigger problem -- with the inside linebackers or outside linebackers?
Yesterday you saw Mel Kiper vote ILB as his first mock draft of the offseason had the Dolphins taking Rolando McClain of Alabama -- a tackling savant that will be an inside backer tackling machine in the NFL.
Well, lesser known Bucky Brooks of NFL.com comes back and votes OLB as Miami's bigger issue. In his first mock draft of 2010, he's got the the Dolphins taking Texas OLB Sergio Kindle at No. 12 in the first round.
One reason Brooks has the Dolphins taking Kindle might be he also has Denver taking McClain one pick before Miami. In that regard, Brooks apparently agrees with what I wrote yesterday about the Broncos. You see, Kiper had Denver taking Dez Bryant at No. 11, but I think that's not the direction they will go because you can still find good WR help later in the draft, and Bryant has been away from the game for much of a year as he served an NCAA suspension.
It would be interesting to know what Brooks thinks the Dolphins would do if both McClain and Kindle are on the board for Miami. Stop dreaming! But in his scenario, he sees Miami's OLB corps as needing urgent care.
"Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are at the end of their careers," Brooks writes. "so finding an athletic edge rusher is paramount."
Brooks obviously believes Cameron Wake doesn't fill that paramount need and I don't think any of us think Charlie Anderson is the answer, either.
If you've read this blog every day (it's good for your soul) you already understand how the Dolphins break down how they go about filling out their roster. As I've told you several times in the past, they have three primary categories: Wants, Needs, Must haves.
The Must haves is the priority category. It is the category that must be filled.
The Needs is the second most important. This category is what the team needs but can extend out if lesser players are on board.
The Wants is the luxury category. The Dolphins want a running back that will be ready to step in when Ricky Williams retires and Ronnie Brown is out of contract. But the team can probably survive 2010 if it doesn't address that want.
It is clear inside linebackers and outside linebackers fall either in the Needs or Must haves. No one not named Big Tuna Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland knows which position has risen to the priority category. Even they might not know because free agency might play a role in affecting this stuff.
You can argue the Dolphins have bodies at ILB with Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele. Sure, Ayodele didn't play well in 2010 and Crowder is often injured. So the team needs to address the position. But will things fall to pieces if Crowder and Ayodele are the starters again in 2010?
You tell me. The Dolphins will tell us.
At OLB, meanwhile, neither Jason Taylor nor Joey Porter might be coming back in 2010. I know both of them won't be back. That was a disaster last season. So the Dolphins need to add a body here to go with Wake and Anderson and Quentin Moses. But is this position a Must have?
You tell me. The Dolphins will eventually tell us.