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."

November 12, 2009

Vontae Davis has the attitude to be excellent

An NFL employee whose opinion I respect was talking to me about Vontae Davis recently when he put the Dolphins' rookie in perspective by saying the kid is bright, but he's not a deep thinker.

And that is absolutely true.

The Miami cornerback figures things out. But he's not Aristotle, sitting around trying to figure out the existential meaning of junk.

That is the perfect approach for an NFL cornerback.

And that was evident in Davis on Wednesday, the first day he needed to start thinking ahead to this weekend's assignment against the Tampa Bay Bucs, and the last day he should have been thinking about Randy Moss and the New England Patriots.

Don't misunderstand, Davis looked at his game against the Patriots.

He had his ups -- with a jaw-dropping interception in the first quarter and a great second-quarter tackle of Wes Welker for a one-yard loss on a receiver screen. He had his downs -- giving up a 71-yard TD on a crossing route and being flagged for pass interference.

And he did it all while he was healthy and after he was injured. Davis injured his quad early in the game but took a shot to deaden the pain and get back in the game and continue competing against Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"I look at it like it's the little stuff that needs correction," Davis said. "That's what makes the good players great, when you go back and criticize yourself real hard."

But this is what also can help make a cornerback great: That he doesn't freak about what went wrong. That he doesn't lose confidence or go into a funk after a tough game. That he believes he can man-up with any and all comers, whether it be true or not, play after play after play.

And, yes, Davis has that. 

"I know people are going to catch ball [on me] but my mentality is, 'Can you do it again?' Davis said while I privately jumped with glee at hearing the words. "I don't think they can do it again. And when they do do it, it was because of something I did wrong. That's the mentality you have at this cornerback position."

But it doesn't end there. The mentality, as Davis puts it, also has to include a fierce competitive spirit. Not everyone has it, and you can look at the Dolphins roster to a former first-round pick that has failed to become a fine cornerback because, in part, he isn't driven by that competitive fire.

So you tell me if Davis has the fire after reading this exchange:

Salguero: Are you looking forward to the next time you face Moss?

Davis: "Yes, yes, yes, oh yes."

[BLOG NOTE: Be certain to check back here later today. I'll be updating with the latest from the coordinators, the locker room and coach Tony Sparano. Enjoy the video.]

August 28, 2009

Game review: Miami Dolphins 10, Bucs 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair. But ...

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

September 03, 2008

Yeremiah Bell next to get an extension?

The Dolphins extended running back Ricky Williams' contract before this season began and now sources tell me the team is doing business on other contract fronts as well.

The Dolphins recently have exchanged contract extension proposals with strong safety Yeremiah Bell, with the idea of locking up that starter beyond 2008. Bell is currently playing out a one-year deal he signed after last season.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus is traveling and could not be reached for comment and his brother Jason Rosenhaus declined to comment. But a source close to Bell says there have been on-going discussions between the player's camp and the Dolphins.

No deal is imminent. But both sides are eager for the regular-season to begin and offer a gauge of what Bell can deliver. Bell missed all of last season when he ruptured an Achilles tendon in the season-opener.

So the Dolphins want to see Bell play up to the potential he showed during the 2006 season and in the 2007 and 2008 training camps. That would convince them to lock up Bell. Bell, confident he has come back from that injury, obviously wants to show the Dolphins he can play at a high level and stay healthy.

Both sides are expected to continue exchanging proposals because it makes sense to lock up Bell before the season ends and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. For the Dolphins, a new contract would lock up a starter and perhaps the most explosive player in their secondary in a year they have plenty of cap space to do that.

For Bell, signing an extension before the end of the season makes sense because it would put money in his pocket immediately rather than waiting for free agency. It would also provide Bell security knowing where he's going to be playing next year and beyond.

The Dolphins have two other notable players in the final year of their contracts. Starting inside linebacker Channing Crowder and starting right tackle Vernon Carey are both unrestricted free agents after this season.

A different source tells me the Dolphins have not reached out to those players and have not had preliminary discussions about extensions.

Despite this, I look for all three of these players to be locked up with new deals before the end of this season, assuming they remain healthy. I can't see the Dolphins not acting proactively on this matter.

But frankly, the deals for Carey and Crowder will be more difficult to get done. Both those deals will have to be multi-year, large signing bonus deals because that is what both those players will command on the open market.

If any of the three players mentioned in this post make it to free agency, I would think Crowder is the most likely to do that. I am told Crowder would not mind testing free agency.

August 21, 2008

Get your complete roster breakdown here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 21, 2008

Update from Wednesday OTA practice

Here are some nuggets from today's OTA practice, hot off the presses:

The biggest news is that John Beck is taking most of the first-team snaps at quarterback. But that's just today. It does not mean he's the starting quarterback -- remember there will be a competition -- because he and Josh McCown are splitting days taking first-team snaps.

In other words, Beck took first team snaps today, McCown will tomorrow, Beck will Friday and so on. Rookie Chad Henne, who is present despite being unsigned, doesn't know the offense well enough yet to get thrown in with starters.

"This way is better than going back and forth," McCown said of splitting first-team snaps day to day. "It's better for continuity."

Running back Ronnie Brown was on the field and working. Good news considering he is recovering from ACL surgery. But don't go overboard here. A non-contact practice in shorts and no pads is not an indication Brown is ready for the season opener. But this is encouraging.

Safety Yeremiah Bell, injured all of last year with an Achilles' tendon tear, is indeed working, and as a starter no less. So he is obviously healthy. Jason Allen is also taking first-team snaps.

Another player injured much of last year -- cornerback Andre Goodman -- is working with the starters ahead of Mike Lehan, who was the starter most of last year

Justin Smiley is working at right guard which leaves something of a hole at left guard. Look for Ikechuku Ndukwe as a dark horse at that spot -- at least for now. Obviously, Trey Darilek and rookie Shawn Murphy are possibilities, also.

The Dolphins are making the most of their linebacker acquisitions. Reggie Torbor, Charlie Anderson, and Akin Ayodele are all looking like starters at this point. Obviously that doesn't account for Jason Taylor not being here. That starting group is also joined by holdover Joey Porter.

Porter is still playing the strong side linebacker spot. Anderson is the weakside, or rush linebacker that Taylor would play if he were here.

Torbor (Giants) and Anderson (Houston) were acquired as unrestricted free agents. Ayodele came in a trade with Dallas.

Players predictably played down Taylor's absence today.

"It doesn't matter to me that he's not here," Porter said. "I'm not concerned about Jason. He'll be here eventually and he'll learn everything he needs to learn."

The Dolphins have injuries they are nursing. The most disappointing is nose tackle Paul Soliai who was practicing at the end of last year but has somehow found a way to be not able to work today. Will try and report his injury later.

Other injured players sitting out work today are safety Renaldo Hill, tight end Anthony Fasano, and guard Steve McKinney. Linebacker Channing Crowder, who finished last season on IR after knee surgery, was on the field but was limited. That's why he wasn't in with the starting linebackers when they competed in team drills.

Things to look for out of today's OTA reveal

The Dolphins today will unveil their entire team -- minus Jason Taylor, of course -- to the media for the first time this offseason, and some issues bear noting.

Some guys that only a year ago seemed assured of long futures with the Dolphins are, shall we say, fighting for their lives. Before actually seeing today's organized team activity or whatever they call this stuff, I am pretty comfortable telling you this much:

1. Jason Allen, who finished last season as a starter, hasn't been running with starters during the early days of OTA practices. He will get first-team snaps, but he is definitely in a battle to keep the job he held last year. He is locked in a battle to keep his spot against the likes of Renaldo Hill and Chris Crocker and even Keith Davis.

At the other safetey, Yeremiah Bell apparently has been moving quite nicely while recovering from his Achilles' tendon tear in the 2007 season-opener. While perhaps not 100 percent yet, he's very, very close. And coaches like him enough that he is projected a starter.

Hill, recovering from an ACL tear, is also working his way back and should be ready for work by training camp. And Crocker and Davis are Ireland/Parcells/Sparano additions so they have a built-in advantage over Allen. The point is Jason Allen, who was starting to look like something other than a bust at the end of last year, is fighting to keep from being that again.

2. Matt Roth, a second-round pick of Nick Saban in 2005, is going to have to impress during the coming minicamps and into training camp and the preseason to keep his roster spot. That after he started nine games last year.

Roth sucked was something of a disappointment as a starter last year and doesn't seem really suited for the 3-4 because he's neither super big, nor super strong, nor super quick. He's really more a 4-3 end -- except the Dolphins aren't running a 4-3 most of the time. So the pressure is on.

3. I am assuming here, but I think you'll hear today that Josh McCown is taking a majority of the first-team snaps with John Beck taking the second-team snaps and rookie Chad Henne starting out with the third team snaps. It is the logical order, if Salguero is coaching the team.

If this is not the order, it should be news because it means Beck or Henne, two youngsters have caught the staff's attention while McCown, the veteran, hasn't translated his experience to an early advantage. Whatever the case today, eventually McCown and Beck will share first-team snaps and playing time in the preseason as coaches stoke the QB competition.

4. It should be interesting to see what the tight end rotation is. And one question to Bill Parcells: Why isn't Kyle Brady on this team?

5. If you read stories of Ronnie Brown continuing to look really good and even taking snaps in the coming camps, don't pay much attention. The fact is his real test will not come until the regular season. It is not too difficult to hide a knee injury in the preseason. Remember Daunte Culpepper? But the rigors of actually getting hit in full contact work throughout an 18-carry game is a whole different story than training camp or even moderate preseason work.

And that won't happen until the games count for real. So hold your breath because the early returns may not be indicative of reality.

Anyway, I'll be blogging live during Wednesday's practice. Oh, no I won't. The Dolphins don't want anyone doing that because it might upset their competitive advantage. Never mind that the Giants allow their media to blog live from practice and it didn't seem to affect their competitive advantage too much.

I will, however, provide a post-practice update. God willing.

May 17, 2008

Ferguson may make Samson Satele better

I talked to Jason Ferguson late this week and related his thoughts about how good the Dolphins may or may not be in a column I wrote for The Herald's print and online editions.

Regardless of how you feel about Ferguson's view of the Dolphins -- he believes they can be pretty good in 2008 -- there can be no denying his presence on the team will affect the offensive line as well as the defensive line.

Ferguson, you see, will be practicing every day opposite second-year center Samson Satele and the hope is he can help the young offensive player improve just as he helped Kevin Mawae (with the Jets) and Andre Gurode (with Dallas) become better players.

Both have been Pro Bowl performers, by the way.

"The last two teams I played with, I faced the best two centers in the league," Ferguson told me. "That was Kevin Mawae when I was with the Jets and Andre Gurode with the Cowboys. When you go against Pro Bowlers every day in practice, it made me better. And I think I helped make them better."

Ferguson says he and Satele should become close -- just as he did with the other two centers -- because it suits everyone's best interest as well as the team's.

"You become one of the guy's best friends because you go and check with him every day and ask questions that help each other," Ferguson said. "You say, 'What about my technique? How was it then?' And they ask me the same about themselves. That's what I expect from the young guy here.

"I think he's a good worker. He's a good, athletic kid. When I watch him, I say, 'Hey, he's not going to sit there and just take it.' You don't want no offensive lineman taking it."

Although I've talked to Ferguson only once, I like him already. He promises to improve the run defense, and his attitude is wonderful.

Example: I asked him how he did in his practice work against Mawae and Gurode: "You don't go in thinking I'll win this one and he'll win that one. I want to win nine out of 10."