August 19, 2008

Four Dolphins rookies vying for starting jobs

The roster is obviously beginning to crystallize for coach Tony Sparano and today he shared some of his views on it, making it obvious that four Miami rookies might be starters when the season begins Sept. 7.

The rookies? Donald Thomas at right guard, Jake Long at left tackle, Kendall Langford at left defensive end, and Chad Henne at quarterback. That's right, Chad Henne at QB.

Langford got his first start of the preseason Saturday against Jacksonville and is scheduled to start again this weekend against Kansas City.

"We put Kendall in there and Kendall hasn't missed a beat," Sparano said. "He's playing against good people. I like him in there. He might be there for a long time."

Everyone has been assuming for a while that Chad Pennington will be Miami's starting quarterback and that is that. Except the Dolphins are not making that assumption because, so far this preseason, Henne has been the team's best QB by all the combined measures this staff is considering, including game management.

"This guy has shown me great poise, he really has," Sparano said of Henne. "He's been in some tough situations and handled it well. He's probably made the most heads-up plays at that position. Now that being said, he's played the most."

I asked Sparano how he feels about the possibility of playing a rookie QB and Sparano didn't seem bothered by the notion. "If he's the best guy, I play him," the coach said.

So Henne is still in the QB duel with Pennington. It is not settled yet. And it says here he could be the team's starter before this season is over.

Thomas has been a starter for going on three weeks now and Sparano basically said that unless the rookie collapses he's the guy at right guard.

"I think it's Donald's job to lose at that position right now," Sparano said. "I say that in all honesty and if we don't play well enough, we'll find someone else that does. And this is a marathon and we're going a bunch weeks in a row so you got to be able to do it and be consistent, but we're not going to change.

"He's continuing to get better and as long as that happens, he's going to stay there."

------------------OTHER STUFF FROM TODAY'S PRESSER--------------

Joey Porter is hurt again. After missing the preseason opener with a back injury, Porter missed today's practice with a couple of injuries. The back is acting up again and he's got some knee injury, too.

It has gotten to the point where one reporter asked Sparano about Porter "stacking" injuries

"His back was a little sore again today and we tried to get him loose," the coach said. "He also kind of tweaked a knee. We're  dealing with that right now. I'm not sure what the status is of that is. I think it might just be a sprain."


The coaching staff has zeroed in on Derek Hagan and Ted Ginn Jr. as their starting receivers. They will start Saturday and, barring a terrible night by Hagan, that is the duo that will open the season versus New York.


Finally, as was reported earlier on this blog, Sparano shot down the ESPN rumor that Ronnie Brown will be playing elsewhere in 2008.

The exchange:

Q. Is there any chance you guys might trade Ronnie?

A. "No. There's no chance we'll trade Ronnie ... There's been no discussion of that internally or externally."

August 13, 2008

Some nuggets from Wed. morning presser

If you read this blog yesterday you saw the recount of an exchange between Bill Parcells and cornerback Michael Lehan. It was pretty clear that Parcells was tweaking Lehan.

Today, I asked coach Tony Sparano about Lehan and it seems clear, reading between the lines, the team is drawing near to that moment when they want the player who has nursed a high ankle sprain for over two months to get back on the field.

"Pretty soon it becomes important," Sparano said. "We're getting to a point right now where we're trying to make decisions as we get on with this thing on this team ... We need to see Michael out there ... We want to see Michael out there."

Lehan has been working off to the side and, according to my eyes, has been moving quite well. He was cutting pretty aggressively yesterday. "It looks like he's making great progress right now," Sparano said.

And it says here that progress needs to translate to getting back out there. "There's a lot of things taking place out there right, the competition is going on and he hasn't been out there," Sparano said. "There's a lot of things going on. Once he gets out there and he's healthy, I think he'll be fine, but he has to compete just like everyone else."


Don't expect to see Charlie Anderson (hamstring) on the practice field any time soon and he is not likely to play Saturday. Vonnie Holliday, nursing the same injury, is "probably close" to returning to practice so I believe he may play Saturday.


Expect Ronnie Brown, Jason Allen, Derek Hagan, Ted Ginn Jr., and the entire starting offensive line to get more playing time against Jacksonville Saturday night.


I asked how far along Chad Pennington is in learning the play book because it is not as easy as it looks. The answer is he missed all the installation of plays from early in camp and is expected to pick those up on his own.

"We're not able to go back and start from Day 1," Sparano said. "He's had to absorb that on the fly."

Sparano said Pennington has gotten all the "basic information," meaning he knows formations, the coverages, and obviously Miami's terminology.


Coaches are pleased that Ernest Wilfork this week has recovered from two pretty bad weeks of practice. He has improved visibly the last couple of days.

Sparano also said he has noticed rookie linebacker Titus Brown more of late.


By the way, tight end Aaron Halterman, waived injured earlier in camp, went through waivers unclaimed and his agent was unable to negotiate a settlement with the team. So he is now Miami's second player on injured reserve joining Tab Perry.

August 11, 2008

The words right from Sparano's mouth today

Head Coach Tony Sparano

Pre-Practice – Monday, August 11, 2008

(On the injuries to LB Kelvin Smith and LB Charlie Anderson) – “Here’s where we are injury wise at the end of the game. Kelvin Smith, during the game, he suffered what looks like a pretty serious knee injury. We’re waiting on a little bit more information there, but that injury looks to be pretty serious. And then, Charlie Anderson in the game, he had a little bit of a hamstring deal in the game, so he’s kind of day-to-day right now. But those are the injuries that came out of the game.”

(On LB Charlie Anderson practicing today) -- “I’m not sure. It’s really day-to-day and we’ll be really smart with it, but I don’t see him practicing today.”

(On his plans for LB Kelvin Smith after his injury) -- “Not sure right now. At this time, we’re still waiting for a little bit more information, but it’s not great.”

(On which leg LB Kelvin Smith and LB Charlie Anderson injured) -- “Not positive. I think Charlie’s is the left, I’m not sure.”

(On his impressions of the first preseason game vs. Tampa Bay after watching the film) -- “My impressions after watching the game in general, are that I thought early in the game they did some nice things. They competed really hard. Whatever it’s worth in a preseason game, the score was 7-6 with ten minutes into the fourth quarter of it. I thought the first units competed really well against one another in that game, and really did see some really good things at times, particularly out of some younger guys in there. I was really pleased to see that. What we didn’t do, is we didn’t finish. So that’s something that we talk about. I don’t really care what the unit is that is out on the field at the time, it’s not an excuse. We didn’t finish the game and that’s the way we practice. Those are the things we talk about. We weren’t really disciplined throughout the course of the game. We had nine penalties there for 60 yards. Those are things that we preach about. We had a couple of minus plays out there, which are also things that we talk about. We really didn’t get the ball away from them, meaning they didn’t turn it over. Now, with that being said, neither did we, which is a good thing.”

(On how he splits up the rotation with four QBs in camp)  -- “Right now, we’ve seen an awful lot of a couple of guys here, of three players, so we can see a little bit less maybe of the three players there as we get on in this. We know we obviously have to get Chad (Pennington) work as well here, so we’ll work it around that way. It might be a little bit dominant in here early. We’ll see how it goes where a couple of guys get a couple more reps then a few other guys.”

(On how long he thinks it takes for a QB to learn an offense) -- “Well, that’s interesting. I think to learn an offense, I think a guy can learn the offense and have a pretty good grasp of the offense in a week to two weeks time. I really do, depending on who that guy is. Now Chad (Pennington) coming to us, and this was well thought out, is when we came here, really my first time in Dallas, when I learned our offense with Bill Parcells, that was the same offense that Dan Henning was involved in. So, when we came here, my notebook and Dan’s notebook were put together. And that’s kind of the way we developed our offense here and kind of the way we’re going to attack this thing. To be honest with you, Chad (Pennington) is pretty familiar with some of the terminology. This is going to be a little bit easier than it would be anybody else.”

(On who’s terminology he uses, his or offensive coordinator Dan Henning)  -- “We’re using my terminology. One of the greatest things is formations and how you get guys lined up. That’s the biggest part that comes out of the quarterbacks mouth in the huddle usually is the formation. And those things are pretty consistent. So Chad (Pennington), I think, would have pretty good recall that way. In fact, I know he does.”

(On what he liked from QB Chad Henne’s play in the preseason game against Tampa Bay)  -- “I’ll tell you two things I thought that were really telling to me. First of all, he did step up in the pocket and he did make a couple of pretty good throws in there. One of those throws was, I’m going to say to (Anthony) Armstrong in the game and then the other one was to (David) Kircus. Those are two pretty good throws, I mean really big-league throws. The ball out of bounds, there was another deal during the course of this game, we drill it all the time out here, and we talk about it a lot. But from a field goal standpoint, our second score, we were probably on about the 36-yard line at the time, somewhere in that range, maybe a little bit longer. But we were just outside of what we thought might have been (Dan) Carpenter’s field goal range. And we went back to pass, and Chad (Henne) was smart enough there not to take a sack, put the ball down and get positive yards out of this, which was something we talked about. I think he might have gained four yards in that situation and gave us the opportunity to make a field goal. That’s a heads up play for a young guy to make. Some young guys would take the sack there in that situation and you have no chance for a field goal. The other thing I thought is that he got hit twice in that game, it didn’t bother him at all.”

(On his evaluation of the first team offensive line against Tampa Bay) – “I thought that the first team offensive line, the course of that game, aside of the first two plays of the game, which we were not quite on the same page with, played  pretty well.  I was pleased with what they did in there.  I was really pleased as a group with what they did, but obviously when you look at your young players, Donald Thomas being out there for the first time, I was pleased with what Donald did during the course of the game.  There are a lot of things he has to get better at and we talked about it and Jake (Long), the same kind of deal.  I thought Jake played pretty well in that ball game and got challenged a little bit in that game.  Some speed rush up the field and he handled it pretty well.  He was pretty good in the run game.  Again, some things he has to get better at as well.”

(On his evaluation of Matt Roth at outside linebacker against Tampa Bay) -- “I see tremendous strength and he really set the edge a few times.  He did a nice job that way.  He put good pressure on the quarterback in some rush situations.  When I say, ‘set the edge,’ I mean in the run game.  He really set the edge, played on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage.  But in the pass game, his pass rush was really solid.  He’s down the middle usually of his defender.  Now that being said, we need to work on some things that way.  Down the middle is good, but down the middle of a 300 pound tackle every single down, we need to come up with a little something different there.”

(On why Ernest Wilford seems to be struggling catching the ball) -- “I think sometimes when you’re a skill player like that, and you don’t always get a lot of at bats, and it doesn’t come to you a bunch, you have one or two and then it becomes a confidence thing a little bit one way or the other.  But he’s a pretty confident kid.  In fact, he and I sat down and visited a little today and I told him that I am confident in him and that we just got to get him into a point where we just practice one practice at a time here and we finish that practice and we know we had a good day.  And we go to the next practice and worry about it.  Maybe spend a little bit more time doing some things with him on the jugs.  We’ve got four arms in camp now so we can use some of these quarterbacks after practice and do some things that way too.”

(On not playing Joey Porter against Tampa Bay and injury updates on Vonnie Holliday and Jay Feely) -- “Vonnie is still day-to-day right now.  He’s doing a lot better.   We were smart in doing what we did with him.  As far as Joey goes, Joey had a little bit of a sore back.  He kind of tweaked it in practice last week.  It was fine then it kind of flared up on him so it was a little bit sore and we just wanted to be cautious with it.  That was all it was in that situation.  It was good for us to be able to see a few of the younger guys, too, in that deal.  Joey is going to be day-to-day right now and I would expect Joey, as we get on in this week to be okay.  As far as Feely goes, he’s still day-to-day right now as well and we’ll see where he is.”

(On if he’s comfortable with John Beck doing the check down or would you like to see him step up more downfield) -- “I think it depends on what’s happening out there, coverage-wise.  I know when Chad (Henne) got out there, there was a little bit more man coverage at that time.  Tampa usually plays a lot of two-deep and tries to keep the ball underneath you, underneath them I should say.  John had a few of those kind of opportunities where they were playing shell and he had to check the ball down a little bit.  He made the right decision.  We have talked a little bit to John just about being able to get the ball down the field.  You don’t want to force feed that to a quarterback and then he goes out and throws three interceptions because he’s trying to push the ball.  One of the big things is that it’s okay to check the ball down in our offense.  We threw a check down to Reagan Mauia.  To be honest with you, we weren’t in the right place when we threw the check down, but we threw the check down to Reagan and he gains nine or ten yards.  That’s what you want to see.” 

(On his evaluation of the special teams overall and the impact that Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego has had)  -- “First of all, Bono’s impact I think is outstanding.  The players like playing for Bono in special teams and that’s a big part of it.  He keeps it interesting there.  He tells them when they do it right, he tells them when they do it wrong and he’s pretty good correcting it.  He uses a lot of visuals for them in meetings so that they can understand what it is that we should be doing and how we should be doing it out there on the field.  I think they’re excited about what he brings to the table in special teams.  As far as the game goes, I thought early in the game we competed pretty well.  What I didn’t like is there were 70 yards worth of punts returned in the kicking game.  And that’s 70 yards.  You take 70 yards there, you take 60 yards worth of penalties you’re at 130 yards.  You add four sacks for 23 yards, now you’re at 153 yards.  I think we got back three sacks for maybe 13 yards.  So at the end of the day there was 120 yards of hidden yardage left on the field.  My team knows this, they know about how you win and lose.  And of 123 yards when you look at it, in our game 100 yards is seven points.  It’s probably about nine points in the game.”

(On what you are looking for out of Chad Pennington today in his first practice) -- “Obviously I just want to watch him manage the huddle a little bit and see how he does that way.  See exactly what his recall is. We’re going to get him out there and let him go a few reps.  He’ll grab a bunch of reps today.  And we’re going to watch him and see what his recall is.  I want to watch him throw the ball a little bit, but more importantly just how he interacts with the players and the team.  He’s already done that, its kind of been a pretty nice couple days, transition that way.  You could feel his presence around a little bit.”

(On what the wide receivers need to improve on)  -- “Catching the ball.  I want them to catch the ball and I want to see run after the catch.  But your question is a good question.  The other thing is man-to-man.  I don’t think we’re doing a great job at the second level avoiding people.  They’re getting their hands on us a little bit, it’s happened in practice.  They disrupt the route there a little bit.  We need to have a better plan at the second level from a receiver’s standpoint and we have to win in man-to-man situations.  We have to win.”

(On is he going to have a set plan with four quarterbacks or play them by feel) – “I’m going to do it by feel right now, kind of what we need to get as we get on in this thing.  Honestly, right now it’s going to be feel for a lot of the guys on the team.  We’re kind of out of the hurting people’s feelings business right now.  We’re getting into the real deal here.  We have three preseason games left and really after today we’ll have nine true practice days left before we get into game week.  We’ve got to get people ready to play that we think are going to be headed to the game and get enough guys work that are on the bubble as we look at it and see guys that still have a legitimate chance to make this team.  There are a lot of guys that have that chance to make this team.  Really, there’s very few things that are set in stone but we got to get guys ready to play."

August 04, 2008

Some interesting tidbits from Monday's work

Ernest Wilford had a starting receiver job when this training camp opened. It was his job to lose.

But after not getting any separation with any consistency the 10 days of camp, Wilford started losing the job Monday. Derek Hagan, who has had some flashes while working with the second team and as the slot receiver, was promoted to first team.

Wilford worked mostly with second-teamers. Nothing is set in stone so I just come out here and compete and come out here and practice hard," Wilford said.

So why hasn't Wilford produced? "It's a little bit of everything," he said. "It's still preseason, the season is still young. Nothing is set in stone until you get to the preseason games. I'm a gamer. Derek is a gamer so everything is going to work out come preseason games."

Truth be told, Hagan has been a fine outstanding practice player and outstanding citizen on the Dolphins. But he hasn't really been a gamer in his career yet. Wilford, meanwhile, did start plenty of games for Jacksonville.

So does he think he'll get better once the games begin?

"I think so but you still need to come out here and prove it on the practice field," Wilford said. "Right now we just have to continue to work on consistency on the practice field and just try to come out here and catch balls."

Actually, it's get open, then catch balls. Otherwise he'll catch hell.

Matt Roth, Vonnie Holliday, OLB note:

Just so everyone understands: It is the preseason and the Dolphins are experimenting. So just because Vonnie Holliday works some as a standup SOLB for a week, it doesn't mean he's being converted to SOLB.

And just because Matt Roth works at standup SOLB some, as he did in the offseason camps and again Monday and likely the remainder of this week, it doesn't mean he's being converted to a SOLB.

It means it is the preseason and there is a search for an answer underway. And what is the question?

How do you replace Jason Taylor?

The easy way to do it is stick Charlie Anderson in there, play Roth at one DE and Holliday at the other DE and be, well, unsatisfied with the results.

But the Dolphins are not doing that. They are searching for options. They are trying to maximize their players. So maybe the answer is putting Holliday at the SOLB, using Kendall Langford or Phillip Merling as a DE and sending Anderson to the bench.

Maybe the answer is putting Roth at an SOLB and having Holliday, and either Randy Starks, Merling or Langford at the other DE while sending Anderson to the bench. Or maybe it is sending Roth and Anderson to the bench, playing two out of the group of Starks, Merling and Langford and using Holliday at SOLB.

The point is the team is searching for the best combo of guys to create the most pressure. The team is looking at all the options to settle on the best fit. It doesn't mean it will happen. It doesn't mean it won't.

It just means the Dolphins are looking to recover the 11 or so sacks the team traded to the Redskins.

August 01, 2008

Tony Sparano's Friday afternoon interview

Coach Tony Sparano just finished his press conference this afternoon. The highlights:

He said the Quincy Carter workout went relatively well but didn't commit to signing the guy like right this minute. Not at all. "He threw the ball well," Sparano said.

The scrimmage on Saturday will offer an equal number of snaps for the three quarterbacks -- Chad Henne, Josh McCown and John Beck -- currently in camp. Sparano said the coaches are starting to turn up the heat on these guys as we get closer to preseason.

The coach definitely wants to see one of them step up and win the job and would prefer that player not be Henne right away. Understand what I am saying. The Dolphins think Henne is good, otherwise they wouldn't have drafted him. But they don't want him to be the starter right away. That's putting a rookie QB in a very tough position.

The Dolphins would like to see a spark from either Beck or McCown so those two can take the offense at least at the start of the season. If they keep their spot the entire season, then fine. If they struggle later on, then it would be Henne time.

The team has only a couple of more days -- Monday and Tuesday -- of installation, meaning the offense should be pretty much in place by the end of next week.

Remember the special teams practice this morning I told you bored me to tears? Sparano loved it! He said he learned reams of information from it!

And in case you're wondering, Reggie Torbor, Keith Davis and Charlie Anderson -- longtime special teams players -- were among those who impressed Sparano.

OK, next practice is at 5 p.m. Check back afterward for more stuff ...

July 27, 2008

Sunday press conference with Tony Sparano

Coach Tony Sparano just got done speaking to the media. The highlights:

The coach explained that veteran guard Steve McKinney didn't practice Saturday afternoon because that is how the team will bring him along as he continues to recover from his knee surgery. He will practice in the daily practices when the team has only one session. But on days the team is doing two sessions, he will workout only the morning.

"He was the furtherest away, the most recent knee injury if you will, that we had," Sparano said. "He was cleared but his progression was a little bit slower. He'll rehab in the afternoon and practice in the morning. He'll practice again today."

A couple of you took exception to me dismissing newly signed receiver Anthony Armstrong as the answer to Miami's receiver issues. Okay, here's what Sparano said about the kid today. I love Anthony Armstrong. He rocks! He is the next coming of Randy Moss!

"The one thing we knew with Anthony is he can run," Sparano said, dismissing the notion the kid uses a walker. "He really can run. So when we had the opportunity and, we're looking for speed, we had the opportunity to bring in a guy with speed and we took a shot on him, brought him in, worked him out, and signed him."

A star is born!

In all seriousness, I think Armstrong is much improved following his Arena League stint as his hands are better than they used to be. But he has to work on the route-running. The speed, as you might guess, is pretty good.

It is interesting that no one really wrote about the first round pick on the first day of camp. That's a good thing because it means Jake Long did not make any disastrous mistake nor embarrass himself.

Sparano on what surprises him about Long so far:

"What surprised me just a little with Jake, I knew his run-blocking ability," Sparano said. "I think we all did. And I knew he could play left tackle. But his feet are really, really good. When he gets out in space, these are the things he does well. He can adjust in space in the second level and those things. If you can find linemen that can play at the second level, it sounds easy, but it's not the case. The second level is not the comfort zone for linemen. When you can find ones that can play at the second level, that will help your team."

Sparano said he was pleased with rookie QB Chad Henne in his first practice, Saturday afternoon after he missed the morning drills. "I was pleased with him yesterday," Sparano said. "...He did a pretty nice job with the practice schedule."

Henne had to review what he missed from the first practice and did that last night. Sparano said John Beck and Henne will get the work today (up) while Josh McCown does not (down).

The tight end job intrigues, not just in the search for a starter but the search for roster spots.

It should concern David Martin that the coaching staff is "getting to know," him according to Sparano while he says they are very familiar with Anthony Fasano, Sean Ryan, and Justin Peelle. Martin? Not so much.

Finally, if you guys live in South Florida and are among the throngs of folks that get one of the three local papers, you probably saw the full-page ad Jason Taylor took out to thank the fans.

Taylor thanked the folks in The Miami Herald, which circulates in Miami-Dade and Broward, and thanked the folks in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which circulates primarily in Broward. He did not put an ad in The Palm Beach Post, the paper that dominates in Palm Beach County.

June 09, 2008

Feely under microscope because of his mouth

I told you yesterday I was working on a Jay Feely column for the newspaper.

Well, the interesting column is up on the website.

So why is a column on Miami's kicker interesting?

Couple of reasons. First, Jay Feely is much more than just a kicker. He sees himself as something of a team leader, as a locker room spokesman and perspective guy, and as a valuable player.

One cannot argue the valuable player thing. Check out the 2007 NFL stats for field goal kicking and they reveal Feely was among the league's best. But that is not the reason he's under the microscope with the Dolphins.

Seems that his kickoff average is a concern and his average for the number of interviews and times he speaks out is a bigger concern for the team. The Dolphins want the guy to "keek ball, get check," and that's it. (Peronally, it was a shock for me to learn Fidel freakin' Castro resides at the Dolphins training facility.)

I asked Feely outright on Sunday if he had been told by the new administration to basically zip it with the media. I knew the answer already but wanted to hear it from him. Feely was straight with me. He said, "Yes..."

Amazing. But not unique.

I've covered a lot of players and teams that were at odds over how the players dealt with the media and how the team wanted them to deal with the media. Trace Armstrong, who I consider a friend, was forever under the gun when Jimmy Johnson became coach because ... well, because Armstrong had a mind.

Don Shula tolerated Mark Clayton because the receiver was outstanding. But the minute Clayton lost a step, Shula ushered him out and brought in Irving Fryar because Clayton's mouth was a pain for the coach.

I compare Feely's situation to that of Armstrong. The problem Feely encounters is a kicker is a lot easier to replace than a pass-rushing savant, which Armstrong was for a few years.

Anyway, the whole scenario raises a couple of questions.

1. Can Feely stop being himself to save his job?

I imagine a guy that bright feels like he's got a lot to add. But a guy that bright also has to realize it is better to be employed than not. So I assume he will try to dial back on his public opinions and spokesmanship. It won't be easy for him.

Example: Team brass noticed that Feely was the only player who asked a question of Ari Fleischer Sunday after the former White House Press Secretary finished a 45-minute presentation on how to deal with the media.

It's not a bad thing that Feely asked a question, in my opinion. But apparently there were eyebrows raised among Miami brass that Feely felt compelled to step up despite previously being told to step back.

The question apparently didn't help Feely, either. He asked how to he might go about defending the organization on issues he might not agree with.

"What I told Jay was, and I get that question a lot," Fleischer said, "is I worked for three congressmen, one senator and one president. They ran on their issues. I'm a staffer. I cannot possibly agree with 100 percent of what they espouse ..."

Fleischer apparently put it in terms Feely, who is interested in politics, could relate with. He compared the player's situation with a political party member that doesn't buy into every plank of his party's platform.

"... You don't have to believe every single thing your party stands for," Fleischer said. "But you have to believe in your party and your people ..."

The second issue raised by this situation is what the Dolphins do in picking a kicker. Do they go with the best player, with no regard for how/when/why that player talks to the media? Or do they allow those factors to have bearing on the decision?

Feely expects to make Miami's decision a difficult one. He told me he expected to be the NFL's best kicker this year.

So what do you think will happen?