September 10, 2014

Wallace: Miami Dolphins could have scored 50

The Dolphins are still basking, at least a litte bit, in the afterglow of their 33-20 victory over New England in the regular-season opener and part of that is recognizing what went right and what went wrong.

And although plenty went wrong enough on offense that needs correcting, that fact also speaks to this truth:

"Honestly, it's not bragging or boasting but but I honestly feel like we could have scored at least 50 points," Wallace said Wednesday.

Wait, Wallace thinks the Dolphins could have hung 50 on the New England Patriots? On defensive guru Bill Belichick?

Well, you might think so too also after hearing Wallace go through the litany of mistakes the Dolphins made to stop themselves.

"I had a fumble early in the game, Lamar [Miller] had a fumble, we had a double move that should have been a touchdown, we had an interception when I ran a post that should have been a touchdown, we had a throw to Clay (which he dropped) that should have been a touchdown, we missed wide open ones," Wallace said. "That's already 21 more points so we could have had 50."

Actually, Wallace seemingly forgot a throw to Dion Sims that should have been a touchdown which he dropped. So that's four more points as the Dolphins settled for a field goal.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on Monday and quarterback Ryan Tannehill Wednesday talked about leaving points on the field.

The Dolphins have apparently been adding those points up. Yes, had they made all the plays, they might have eclipsed 50 last Sunday. 

 

September 05, 2013

Whole must be better than parts for Dolphins OL

I'm talking with a Dolphins person earlier this week and this person tells me there's only one area on the team to worry about because it can wreck the season.

Tight end, I guess because Dustin Keller's injury really, really hurt this team.

Nope

The secondary, I guess because I'm not sure about Dimitri Patterson, the rookies (Will Davis and Jamar Taylor are injured) and Nolan Carroll is, well, Nolan Carroll.

Nope.

The running game, I guess because Lamar Miller is mostly an unknown, Daniel Thomas is average on good days, and the offensive line is still coming together.

You're close.

The offensive line.

And then I hear how the line is still an issue and if it remains an issue, there goes the running game, there goes the deep passes to Mike Wallace, and there goes Ryan Tannehill.

One unit affecting everything on offense.

And not in a positive manner.

So that got me thinking -- which is rare and never good. What is it about this offensive line? Is it truly an issue? Is it a team weakness? Is it bound to be the reason the Dolphins offense struggles?

There is evidence that suggests there's reason for concern.

First there's what offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said this week:

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

Think about this. We are three days from the regular-season opener and the offensive line is still a work in progress? Pardon me for being old school, but the preseason and training camp was the alloted time for doing the work and progressing.

The regular season is here. It's time to roll.

Also this: John Jerry is the saviour of this line?

John Jerry is an average NFL guard. He's not Larry Allen. The fact the Dolphins are seriously counting on him to be healthy, well-conditioned, and then play at a high level without many missed assignments tells me there's a lot of wishful thinking going on.

Jerry is not in great shape yet. Yes, Sherman said Jerry inexplicably lost weight during his five weeks of knee rehab, but I don't imagine him being slimmer is the reason coaches identified him as the only starter on the entire team that needed to play in the fifth and final preseason game.

So what is it about this offensive line that worries?

Well, it's simple. This line today seems to have solid parts (assuming Jerry gets up to speed). The individuals are good. But as a line has to play as a unit -- with one heartbeat and soul and purpose -- the Dolphins offensive line seems lacking because the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

And what you need is for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Consider that, again, the parts range from excellent to solid.

At left tackle Jonathan Martin has come miles from the first eight days of training camp when he struggled as Miami's new fulltime left tackle. He was beaten like a drum by Olivier Vernon that first week. Since then, he's played very well in preseason and been a non-issue. He may not be the beast Jake Long was when healthy. But he's good. Solid.

At left guard, Richie Incognito is a snarling bulldog that can push bigger men backward with his initial punch. That is great. He's smart. He knows all the tricks. He moves better than he's given credit for. Not an issue.

At center, Mike Pouncey is not quite elite yet. But he's darn close. He's excellent. He's smart. He studies the opposition. He moves very well. He's cleaned up his shotgun snaps. I'd say 90 percent of NFL would take him as their starting center.

At right guard, John Jerry is the saviour. Having him is "huge," Sherman said. I kid, obviously. But the truth is last year was a good season for Jerry. He emerged. So he has the talent to be solid.

At right tackle, Tyson Clabo is a consummate professional. He typically knows his assignments. He knows his opponents. He uses good technique. And with his experience and all the other factors, he can usually overcome what physical deficiencies he might have. It can be argued the Dolphins upgraded at right tackle to start this season over last season when they had Martin starting as a rookie.

So that's the rundown of the individuals. All good.

Yet as a group, there's still something missing. Something is still not quite right. It's still "a work in progress."

Last season, the Dolphins had a new starting right tackle, a new starting right guard and Jake Long was working to get his knee 100 percent during the latter stages of training camp. And the group played very well early in the season, anyway. The Dolphins had the NFL's second-ranked running game after two weeks in the regular season.

But here's the bad news: They got worse as the season wore on.

The running game went to No. 4 in Week 3 ...

No. 5 in Week 4 ...

No. 8 in Week 5 ...

No. 11 by Week 8 ...

No. 13 one week later ...

Then it jumped around in the upper teens until finishing the season at No. 17.

The line was getting worse results even as Long was still in the lineup and Martin and Jerry on the right side worked together longer.

The worse results also affected the passing game because the protection for Tannehill got worse. The Dolphins gave up 16 sacks the first half of the season -- only three the first three games. And 21 sacks the second half of the season, including 10 in the final three games.

None of this means the Miami line will get worse this year. I believe these individuals should be good enough to provide the offense with a good running game. I believe these individuals should be good enough to protect Ryan Tannehill and give the passing game a chance to succeed.

But these individuals must come together quickly. They must play better as a group.

The whole must be better than the sum of the parts.  

 

 

September 03, 2013

Update from practice and who is Danny Watkins?

Here's a quick update on what's going on at practice today:

The rookie cornerbacks are still not practicing. Will Davis (ankle) and Jamar Taylor (hernia) missed the second straight day of preparation for the Cleveland Browns.

Davis, in a walking boot Monday, is out of the boot today. He was walking quite gingerly. Interestingly, yesterday Davis wore the boot on his left tankle. The team complained to at least one reporter about writing which ankle was wearing the boot. Today, Davis is wearing wrapping and a sleeve on his right ankle. Pretty sly, those Dolphins.

By the way, The Herald's Adam Beasley has reported Taylor will likely not play against the Browns. Just as well. He was bad in the preseason finale and clearly not ready to compete on an NFL regular-season level.

Long snapper John Denney and quarterback Pat Devlin were also absent from drills today. No reasons for those absenses yet, although Denney's, at least, is believed to be excused for personal reasons.

Newcomer Danny Watkins was at practice today, as expected. I believe the best use for him is as guard-center swing guy. Watkins is a former first-round pick waived by Philadelphia after only two years.

Why the bust in Philly?

The media in Philadelphia questioned his passion for football and Eagles GM Howard Roseman questioned his toughness, which is never good for an offensive lineman. Or a football player.

“When you watched Danny play, the toughness, the hockey-playing aspect of him, never translated to Philadelphia, and that’s one of the things that I told him today, was that when you watched him at Baylor and when you watched him at the Senior Bowl and when you met him, he had this innate toughness about him,” Roseman told CSNPhilly.
 
“You felt like you were getting an enforcer, and he never let himself go here on that, and I don’t know why that was. I told him that was what I was the most confused by. Because that was something that everyone at Baylor told you about and you saw on his play on the field, and I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here."

Roseman interestingly believes a change of scenary will help Watkins.
 
“He put a lot of pressure on himself, and he couldn’t just go out and play, and I think getting away from being Danny Watkins the first-round pick and just being Danny Watkins will really help him,” Roseman said.

Well, that takes care of Watkins' aggressiveness. But the media in Philly also questioned his dedication and passion. It is no secret Watkins' first love is firefighting. He came to the United States to become a fireman, not a football player.

From today's Philadelphia Daily News:

"That photo on the firefighting site Northeastbravest.com the Inquirer uncovered, of Danny dressed out in full Rescue 1 gear at a Northeast Philly fire last Dec. 16, carrying a motorized saw, is really all you need to know about Danny and passion. His passion was for firefighting, which is what he left idyllic Kelowna, British Columbia, to come to the United States to learn more about. He got sidetracked by football. When somebody tells you that you can win a college scholarship, and then make millions of dollars doing something professionally, you pay attention. But paying attention does not put you on the intensity same level as someone who has spent his life hungry to play the game, living it, breathing it.

The Eagles were off that day in December when Danny toted gear around for his fire department buddies. But less than two months earlier, he had left the starting lineup with an ankle problem, and then he’d lost his starting job to journeyman Jake Scott, signed off the street. You’re a recent No. 1 pick consigned to the bench. Wouldn’t you want to spend every extra minute watching tape, perfecting technique, working in the weight room to get bigger and faster?"

Interesting.

September 02, 2013

Everything OC Mike Sherman said today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2010

Marshall, Henne to reunite after nearly a month

Brandon Marshall will be back on the field for the Dolphins this Sunday when they play the New York Jets, according to a source. That barring a setback to Marshall's hamstring, which must be guarded against as he sits with little legroom in a Broadway theater watching the play Lombardi with his teammates this evening.

Sheesh.

But I digress.

Marshall must show up big Sunday. He faces New York's Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. He must account for and overcome the likely absence of teammate Brian Hartline, who is recovering from surgery on a hand. And there is always that stuff about being on the same page with quarterback Chad Henne.

Marshall hasn't played with Henne in three games, as Henne missed the Chicago game and then Marshall missed the next two. So the two haven't played together since Nov. 18.

Marshall addressed all those issues at his weekly press availability. Here's what he said:

Ooops, wait a second. Before you go to the words from Marshall's mouth, I encourage you to read the words from Ronnie Brown's mouth that he used this week to inspire folks. Frankly, much of the news about the Dolphins has not been positive lately. But Brown shared much of his personal life and that might lift your spirits today.

(On if he’s ever been to a Broadway show) – “Yes.” 

(On if he’s looking forward to going see the play about Lombardi) – “Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a good thing for our team, our organization, and to get a chance to hang out with the guys and spend some time. That’s always good.” 

(On how much does he know about Coach Lombardi) – “You know what, I think we all know something and something about him, but I don’t think we know enough. (You know) I think he’s definitely a pioneer to this game and this is an opportunity for us to learn more.” 

(On how hard did he lobby Coach Sparano for him to be able to play last Sunday) – “You know what, I lobbied pretty hard. But I think it was in the best interest of our team for me not to play. There definitely was some soreness in there and the four days…the three or four days that I had extra to rest was huge, a big difference. I felt pretty—felt okay out there running around on Sunday, but, coming into practice Wednesday was totally different and gave me an opportunity a piece of my mind that thing is healed in there and I should be able to make the plays that I’m normally capable of making.” 

(On how tough was it to watch from the sideline again, especially when Brian Hartline went out) – “Well it was really tough, but we got to have faith in the guys that we have on our roster and they have to step up and for the most part they did a great job. Of course we made some mistakes out there…and I wish we could have some of those plays back—But, at the end of the day it didn’t make any sense to go out there and play fifteen great plays and on the sixteenth play re-injure my leg but now I’m done for the season, so. I feel good where I’m at now and this week of practice has been great. The excitement is high and we’re ready to play.” 

(On if he watched the Jets vs. Patriots game on Monday night) – “Oh yes, I’m the type of guy, anytime there’s a team in our division on I’m going to watch them with my pen and my pad and take notes. (You know) so that was an opportunity for us to get ahead a little bit and get in front of those guys.” 

(On how he can get more involved in the offense) – “Absolutely I think the great players around the league want to be put in position to help the team but sometimes like Coach Sparano taught me and is trying to teach me still, some days it’s a shot glass and some days it’s a wheel barrel. You got to understand that and you just got to try to be mentally tough and it’s a struggle when you’re used to catching a bunch of balls or being so involved but we got to do what’s best for the team and hopefully get a couple wins here and have some things fall into place for us and get in that postseason.” 

(On what the possible absence of Brian Hartline means) – “I mean that’s all perception. The reality of it is I’ve stretched the field plenty of times. Marlon Moore is probably the fastest guy in our receiver room and he’s more than capable. It’s all about opportunities; it’s all about situation. You understand the way our offense is built teams were kind of afraid to let us go down the field so when you have a shell, you’re going against a shell defense it’s tough to just run down the sideline when you have a guy, his job is just to play you three yards and beat you up at the line and then there’s a guy over top. That’s what we’ve been seeing a lot of and that’s why you see us in the range of five to ten yards working those routes and we did a great job at times but we definitely need to take advantage of more opportunities.” 

(On whether he’s excited to face Darrelle Revis Sunday) – “Well I didn’t say I was excited to play against that particular guy. I mean it’s an opportunity you guys built players around the league up to be great. He is a great cornerback, one of the best in the league now. I’m the type of guy that I love the challenge and look forward to playing against that Jets defense, great defense, tough defense and just want to win.” 

(On whether there is a big difference in the Jets secondary without Jim Leonhard) – “Well you know that guy, you got to give him credit. He’s the quarterback on that defense; he gets guys lined up so definitely when you lose a guy like that it definitely affects your team but this is the National Football League. Those guys are more than capable of making plays and getting the job done. They’re coming off a tough week and we’re going to get their best.” 

(On how much he can take from the Monday Night Football game this past Monday) – “I think you definitely got to study, you got to study that game and see what we can do that the Patriots may have done but at the end of the day it’s about us. We’re coming off of a, off of a bad game and have a nasty taste in our mouth too so we’re excited about this opportunity to play on the big stage and compete out there.” 

(On the Jets trying to position themselves for the playoffs) – “We’re trying to position ourselves for the playoffs too.” 

(On the Jets coming off of being routed) – “Well what about us getting routed? Hey they’re all the same; whether it’s three or 40. Whatever it is that’s a route. We got routed (laughing). I’m just messing around.” 

(On how much the chemistry has developed between him and Chad Henne) – “I think Sunday people will see the connection.”

September 18, 2010

Dolphins to run on the Vikings? Bet on it

To run the football ... or to not run the football. That is the question facing every team that plays the Minnesota Vikings. That is the question facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

The Vikings pride themselves, among other things, on being one of the NFL's best run-stopping defenses. They were No. 2 against the run in 2009 and folks in Minnesota were upset about because they were No. 1 against the run in 2008.

And in 2007.

And in 2006.

No. 1 against the run.

The Vikes boast the Burly Wall of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams inside and have an athletic set of linebackers. Perhaps that is the reason the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints basically decided not to try running the ball against the Vikings in the NFL season-opener -- at least not in the first half.

The Saints decided it was best to soften up the Vikings in the first half by throwing 21 times and running just three times. It wasn't until the second half when the Vikings were seemingly expecting the pass that New Orleans began to run. The Saints finished with 36 passes and 25 runs.

The Dolphins, however, aren't that type of team.

They are a run-first team. If you have any doubt about that consider that offensive coordinator Dan Henning said this week his dream would be to never pass the football.

"You want the honest-to-God's truth?" he said to me. "I'd like to line up and run the ball every down and get in the end zone on every drive. We'd go to the Super Bowl and we'd win. Without ever throwing!"

He added, "of course it doesn't happen that way," but that is what he'd love to do.

So what do the run-first Dolphins do when they run headlong into the best run-stopping team in the NFL the last four seasons?

I spoke to one offensive player this week who told me the answer is simple. The Dolphins will run.

"They're a physical defense. We're a physical offense," the player told me. "Let's see who is more physical. We're going to do what we do."

This should not come as a surprise. Last year the Dolphins faced a couple of Top 10 run-stopping teams -- the Jets and Steelers. And they tried to run the football. The results were mixed.

In the first meeting with New York, Miami rushed 36 times for 151 yards and a 4.2 yard per carry average. In the second meeting, the Jets obviously adjusted. Miami rushed 23 times for 52 yards and a 2.3 yard average. The Jets were the No. 8 rush defense in 2009.

The Dolphins rushed 25 times for 99 yards against the Steelers for a 4.0 average per rush. The Steelers were the No. 3 defense against the run in 2009.

I recognized this is a new year. The Dolphins have two new guards and Joe Berger is settling in at center. I recognize Ronnie Brown is healthy. I recognize Ricky Williams is a year older. Miami also has a star wide receiver option outside in Brandon Marshall that it didn't have a year ago. So yes, the dynamics have changed.

But has the philosophy changed in Miami? Are the Dolphins going to abandon running the ball just because Minnesota is perhaps the NFL's best run defense?

Um, I wouldn't count on that.

September 09, 2010

ESPN pundits chime in on the Dolphins

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."

September 05, 2010

Battle for the starting C spot settled ... for now

The battle for the starting center spot was perhaps the most heated competition in training camp for the Dolphins.

And the winner is ... Joe Berger.

Didn't I tell you guys that on Aug. 18? Here it is right here in case you missed it the first time.

The interesting thing is that Berger has won the starting job for the regular-season opener. But this is a battle that may continue throughout the season.

The fact is Jake Grove doesn't seem 100 percent healthy as he nurses a shoulder injury. So Berger, who has played well and is healthy, gets the call versus the Bills.

But Berger must continue to play well even as Grove returns to health. Once Grove is 100 percent healthy, the Dolphins will re-evaluate the situation. At that point, it could be that Grove is the better call. At that point, it could be Berger is playing so well the Dolphins won't make a switch.

I cannot predict the future so I can't tell you what will happen then. I can tell you Berger is the Dolphins starting center against Buffalo. 

I'm off today (Sunday). Follow Jeff Darlington for all the latest Dolphins news today. I will be back to work Monday morning on my radio show, Armando and the Amigo, on 640-Sports in South Florida. If you're not in South Florida, you can listen here every weekday 6-10 a.m. 

March 29, 2010

The Dolphins' mystery at quarterback spot

One of the interesting side hobbies I've picked up in covering the Dolphins is reading the people I cover. (They read me, so I figure turn about is fair.) Seriously, I like to listen and observe how things are laid out and that often gives you greater hints about what is happening than what these folks are actually saying.

And even when the hints fail to paint a full picture of what is going on, it gives you an idea that something is going on.

Based on that, when I look how the Dolphins are handling and talking about the quarterback situation, it seems painfully obvious something is going on.

Think about it:

At the end of last year coach Tony Sparano declined to name Chad Henne his team's starter. Yet last week, without Henne completing even one pass in anger since the end of the season because the Dolphins have not played any games, Sparano names Henne his starting quarterback. Fine.

Last year the Dolphins were hesitant to re-sign Chad Pennington. They figured they had their three guys in Henne, Pat White and Tyler Thigpen. But then we saw 2009 play out and this offseason the Dolphins gladly accepted Pennington back.

So on the surface the Dolphins have their four quarterbacks. No biggie, right? But that suggests to me either Thigpen or White or both should be nervous. And the Dolphins are making these veiled remarks suggesting there's some strategy about what's about to happen with these quarterbacks. They're talking like either trades, or cuts or draft picks are en route.

"I'm not gonna reveal my hand, but we do have four quarterbacks," Coach Tony Sparano said last week.

Reveal your hand? Well, nobody knew the Dolphins have a hand to play until they declined to reveal it.

I found it interesting that Pennington, obviously sensing something, requested a no-trade clause in his contract. The Dolphins balked, suggesting they didn't want to give Pennington something they don't like giving other players, but also suggesting they perhaps had trading Pennington in mind.

The issue was resolved by giving Pennington a trade bonus that would pay the player a seven-figure sum if he is indeed traded. It's only money. It is an uncapped year. So don't be surprised if Pennington is traded.

Then the Dolphins made Pennington the No. 3 quarterback. The way it was portrayed by the Pennington camp is this gives him time to settle into his work in the preseason rather than feeling pressure to make more throws following his fourth shoulder surgery. The way Sparano portrayed it was different.

"We feel strongly about a couple of players that are there right now, strong enough that we make sure we do our due diligence, making sure those players are going to get the reps needed to continue to grow," Sparano said. "That's important. Chad Pennington completely understands the role he's in right now. 

"Again, I don't want to put barriers around them over there. We're going to let these guys play and see where we are. But we feel strongly about a couple of players at that position."

It is good the Dolphins feel strongly about a couple of players at the position. But they have four players at the position.

And that leads to the next thing that perked my ears and told me something is afoot. Last week, Sparano named Henne the No. 1. He said Pennington is the No. 3. But he declined to name No. 2 and No. 4.

I'm not getting into that," Sparano said as alarms are going off in my head. "You guys have a 50 percent chance of getting that right."

So the Dolphins have a mystery No. 2 QB? And they have a mystery No. 4?

Strange.

Pat White, a second-round pick in 2009, was the No. 2 quarterback after Pennington went on injured reserve last season. But team sources kept telling me if Henne went down, Thigpen, the No. 3, would start the following week's game ahead of White.

Thigpen finally got a chance to play the final game of the season and he was, well, inconsistent. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 83 yards. He threw a 34-yard touchdown and also threw two interceptions. One could hardly say that is who Thigpen is because he came off the bench with little preparation and no practice snaps.

And yet that was better than what White showed all season long.

White could not complete a pass all season and was not even dynamic as a runner out of the spread option. He simply didn't look like an NFL player. And Sparano, who usually gushes about his players when they have a future on the team, was quite reserved about White.

"My thoughts and my evaluation was at the end of the season there was still work to be done with Pat," Sparano said. "I don’t think Pat would say anything different. There’s still work to be done. There’s always work to be done. I mean, there’s work to be done with Chad Pennington right now. That’s the great thing about Chad Pennington; he’ll let you work with him. There’s a bunch of work to be done with Pat, fundamentally throwing the ball.

"[Quarterback coach] David Lee is breaking those guys down every day. So I think that’s been it. But I did see growth. I saw growth from season’s start to season’s end with what Pat can handle from the offensive standpoint. At the end of the year there were no restrictions. He was able to handle it all mentally that way. And I’ve seen growth from a fundamental standpoint out on the practice field. Now, at the end of the day, with the competition out there, whether it’s going to be good enough or not, that really isn’t up to me. It’s going to be up to those players."

Sparano ruled out a switch in position for White at this time. The fact is he's never really played receiver, isn't exceedingly fast or big. The commitment has to be made for him succeeding or failing at one position before asking him to play another.

But it just seems like White has to take a giant leap to even salvage a roster spot in 2010.

Another issue is whether the Dolphins add a quarterback from the draft or as an undrafted free agent. Don't dismiss the possibility. It is real despite Miami having four quarterbacks on the roster.

And why is it such a tangible possibility?

Because I believe of the four quarterbacks currently on the roster, perhaps only two will be with the team when the regular-season begins. 

March 04, 2010

Brandon Marshall: Great talent, lots of baggage

So the Denver Broncos put a first-round tender (only a first-round tender, it is being portrayed in league circles) on Brandon Marshall and immediately Dolphins fans think Miami should rush to trade for the enigmatic wide receiver.

I don't believe this is today an idea being seriously considered within the Dolphins halls connecting the offices of Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano. Frankly, it would be out-of-character for those men to be currently planning a move for Marshall because they are excellent football men.

And excellent football men don't trade the No. 12 overall selection in the first round -- a premium draft pick by any measure -- then pay a king's ransom in a new contract, all for the right to inherit someone else's headache.

For the record, Marshall is a supremely talented individual. He is 6-4 and 230 pounds and has caught over 100 passes for over 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons.

But guess what? Marshall is not the answer to every Miami problem that is, has been, and will be. Fact is Marshall has helped the Broncos reach the playoffs zero times in the three years he was posting those fat numbers.

And that's not even the first problem with chasing Marshall.

Marshall has shown a troubling side for over a year now. He was witness in the murder trial of former Broncos player Darrent Williams because he was at the club the night the shooting happened and played a small role in the altercation that may have led to the crime.

Show of hands, how many of you remember what Bill Parcells said he tells his players all the time?

"Stay out of the clubs."

Anyway, in his trial testimony Marshall said that not one day passes when he doesn't think of Williams. "Every day," Marshall said. It was an emotional and stirring moment when he said that as his eyes were watering. But that death happened over three years ago. Perhaps it sounds callous, but NFL teams worry about the emotional state of players they are about to acquire.

Any team considering Marshall must gauge this testimony. And they must gauge his history of domestic violence which is best outlined by the video below.

Then there are the other troubling issues. Why do you think the Broncos want to get rid of Marshall? Is it because he's a really good player? Is it because he caught an NFL record 21 passes in one game last year and is a mismatch against practically any defensive back he faces?

KC Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers once said Marshall, "is a defensive lineman playing wide receiver. He wants to inflict phyisal punishment on you. He wants you to try to tackle him so he can shove you off of him and get more yards."

You think that's the reason the Broncos want him gone?

Or do you think it's because they have weighed Marshall's positives against his negatives and have found the negatives weigh more?

Buyer beware, folks.

Marshall had several run-ins with new coach Josh McDaniels last year. That doesn't worry me so much because so did new Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. But Marshall's behavior was unprofessional following those run-ins. He supposedly dropped passes in practices on purpose because he was upset.

That got him benched for the final two games of the preseason. Funny thing is he'd been benched the first two preseason games for conduct detrimental to the team.

Then he was benched for the final regular season game because he reportedly blew off a physical therapy session.

Does any of this sound like a Bill Parcells player? Does this sound like a player Parcells will give the No. 12 pick in the draft for?

On top of all this, Marshall will require a contract that keeps him happy. It is not beyond imagination that he believes he should be paid what the most productive WRs in the NFL make because, frankly, he's among the top producers. The five highest-paid WRs in 2009 averaged $9.5 million in salary and that price is likely to climb for Marshall to be happy.

That doesn't matter now. There will be no salary cap in 2010. But no one knows what is over the fiscal horizon in the NFL -- or in this country, for that matter. So what seems like an acceptable contract now could become an anchor around the neck of a future Dolphins offseason.

I'm not saying Brandon Marshall won't be traded. He likely will.The Broncos want badly to get rid of him and mny teams are actively looking for WRs and want to make a splash.

I am saying any team that lands Marshall will have paid a steep, steep price to acquire a player with great talent and a great amount of baggage.

Does that sound like the Dolphins to you? I don't think so at this time.

Making a play for The Three Cards Studs

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.

Rolle: As you know, The Miami Herald broke the story about Rolle wanting to play for the Dolphins. The former University of Miami standout hasn't changed his mind and he will get a chance to hit free agency because his agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Cardinals have been unable to agree on what Rolle is worth.

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.

  


  

January 25, 2010

Please Dolphins, don't bury your heads in sand

INDIANAPOLIS -- Do you believe me now?

For weeks since the regular-season ended for the Dolphins, I've been on the soapbox preaching the need to pass the football in today's NFL. Well, have you noticed the two Super Bowl teams?

Colts.

Saints.

The No. 2 passing team in the NFL versus the No. 4 passing team in the NFL.

Oh, but Mando, you have to play great defense and run the ball and wear leather helmets to play for championships.

Um, the Colts had the No. 18-ranked defense in the NFL this year. The Saints had the No. 25-ranked defense this year.The Colts had the worst rushing offense in the NFL. The Saints were ranked sixth overall rushing, which makes them supremely balanced, but let's face it: They're a passing team first and foremost.

[Update: A reader reminds me that for the second consecutive year, the team with the NFL's worst running attack is in the Super Bowl. Last year Arizona made it while ranked 32nd rushing. This year Indianapolis is 32nd rushing.]

One thing to worry about: As I wrote in my column for The Miami Herald print edition, the Jets know their "ground and pound" approach is about to change and that's bad news for the Dolphins. You see, the Jets intend to be more balanced on offense going forward.

"They get a big beast at wide receiver," South Florida's Michael Irvin said on NFL Network, "and you got yourself something going forward." 

And as the Jets are already a better team than Miami (you can't bury your head in the sand, they advanced to the AFC title game) that means the Dolphins can't be happy merely celebrating New York's Sunday loss. They have to improve their own passing game as well.

Sure, the Dolphins need to address the defense this offseason. Sure they will continue to run the football in 2010. But Miami must throw the football better in 2010 to keep from being third-best in a four-team division.

As they were in 2009.   

[Newsy Note: Safety Yeremiah Bell is in the Pro Bowl! A source tells me he will be asked to replace Colts S Antoine Bethea, who obviously will be playing in the Super Bowl.]

December 15, 2009

The great transition that is, was, & must come

I wrote a column in today's Miami Herald that focused on how the Dolphins have continued winning despite undergoing a difficult transition at quarterback, cornerback and nose tackle. Those transitions are the toughest there are in the NFL --  obviously at quarterback but particularly at nose tackle if the team runs a 3-4 scheme.

Check out the column and you'll see some fascinating statistics that prove Chad Henne, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Paul Soliai have been exceedingly effective in replacing valuable veterans.

The column also gives you a hint where future transitions will be needed.

The column does not address where the Dolphins have already made changes previous to this season. The offensive line and defensive line is where those changes came first. That's where Bill Parcells built his foundation.

And the offensive line has delivered, as well it should since it came at a price of $156 million.

"Here's what has been the most impressive - and when you watch an offensive line play, it's never pretty, it really isn't," coach Tony Sparano said. "Their tenacity, I think is a good word, they really are, they're a pretty tenacious, resilient group. They're doing some ugly things hard, and as long as you're doing them hard, you've got a chance. They're giving us a chance that way. Those guys would probably tell you that's a compliment. First of all, I don't dish many out their way, but secondly, that fact in the offensive line, it's not always pretty. It's a different position than most, yet, they're pretty tenacious, and they're pretty resilient. I think that that's the thing to me that stands out the most about it, it's that even when the game gets a little bit ugly, they keep grinding pretty good."

The defensive line has been effective of late also. Sparano said he challenged his defensive ends to play well last week against Jacksonville. They did. And Randy Starks was excellent.

"I think he’s having a great season, I really do," Sparano said. "I’ve said it before, but Randy was physical again yesterday, he had four or five tackles, tackle for loss in there, made a big play in one of those situations. There's still things Randy can get better at, there really are.

"Fundamentally, go back to that again, there's some things in the game yesterday that Randy will watch the film, and he'll know he left out there on the field. He played pretty good in there yesterday, physical, did a great job I thought. We asked our defensive ends yesterday, Randy, [Phillip] Merling, [Kendall] Langford, to do a hard job in that run game yesterday. Their job was very, very difficult from what we asked them to do from a defensive standpoint yesterday, but I thought the three of them, they really did a pretty good job in that game."

Starks is interesting because he came from the Tennessee Titans as a free agent in 2008. He had never played in a 3-4 defense. He'd always been a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. Well, he kind of struggled in his first year. He really wasn't much of a factor. But he seemed to get it in training camp. The light bulb seemed to flicker on and now it is burning brightly.

"I think I've had a breakout season," Starks said. "This is probably the best football I've been playing throughout my career. It could be the coaching, the coaching staff. The coaches help me a lot, coach Kace, Kacy Rodgers, he's helped me. Maybe this defense fits me better, maybe I'm just a 3-4 type of player, not a 4-3.

"The first time I ever played 3-4 was last year. It was a hard adjustment for me, but now, I'm getting the hang of it."

Discuss ...

And remember to check out the column for those stats and what I've been told is the next coming change of youngsters replacing vets.

Also, follow me on twitter.  You'll be able to see a picture of my Christmas tree the wife and I just finished trimming.

December 03, 2009

Coordinators explain selves, decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 30, 2009

Dolphins coaching was a problem versus Bill

There are complaints aplenty about the Miami Dolphins today.

Some of them come from fans, as blogs, message boards and radio call-in shows will be loaded today with complaints about play-calling and coaching.

Some of the complaints come from Miami's locker room and coaching staff. That's the one I decided to focus on for my column in the Miami Herald Monday. Players and coaches alike looked at their fourth-quarter collapse against the Bills, a collapse which turned a 14-7 lead into a 31-14 loss, and everyone agreed the Dolphins have a problem finishing.

The Dolphins are perhaps the NFL's worst team at finishing games. They've blown games against Indianapolis, New Orleans, and the Bills in the final stanza this year. They also got outplayed by San Diego in the fourth quarter of that game.

Read the column and answer the following question: How does a team that cannot finish games, expect to successfully finish the season?

As to matters not in the column:

The coaching by the Dolphins staff was horrible on Sunday. I have great respect for the Miami coaching staff because I believe they often get the most production out of some limited talent. But this blowout upset loss was different.

This was embarrassing.

The facts are the Dolphins were facing an inferior team on Sunday. The Buffalo starting cornerbacks of Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee did not play on Sunday. The Buffalo offensive line was missing two starters and had another dude playing out of position. The Buffalo head coach is a rookie. And Ryan Fitzpatrick from Harvard? Really?

The Bills had nothing to play for but pride while the Dolphins' season was on the line.

Then one has to understand the Dolphins had 10 days to prepare for this game.

And the Bills still won?

"We've got 10 days to prepare and I didn't do a good enough job obviously preparing them," coach Tony Sparano said. "I've got to do a better job."

Sparano, the former play-caller for Bill Parcells in Dallas, has to do a better job of riding herd over offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Henning, who has forgotten more football than most people will ever know, is normally a fine offensive coordinator.

Sunday was not one of those occassions.

Consider that on Miami's first possession the Dolphins moved from their own 45 yard line to the Buffalo 3. Chad Henne completed a 15-yard pass. Ricky Williams ran for 11, then 7, then six, then 5 yards. The Bills were on their heels.

And then on first-and-goal, Henning got cute by calling a halfback pass for a player that hasn't thrown a pass since 2000.

Interception.

Momentum lost.

"Yeah, you know, I got the ball and Joey Haynos was supposed to block the outside linebacker and then go, and I saw him, and I just didn't put enough arch on the ball and it was picked off by the backside linebacker," Williams said.

But why call the play at that point? I can understand if the Dolphins weren't running well? But they were rolling. Not smart. They used their best runner to throw, thereby not using their best runner's or best passer's greatest assets. Not smart. 

Sparano relegated the criticism of the play-call to "Monday Morning quarterbacking" and said the problem with the play was in its execution. It sounded like a coach who would prefer to blame a player than another coach for a play's failure.

There were other head-scratching offensive calls also.

In the second quarter the Dolphins took a 7-0 lead and then stopped the Bills on a three-and-out. Then the Dolphins complete a pass for 11 yards, Williams runs for 6 yards, Williams runs for 5 yards. And then Henning gets cute again.

He calls an end-around to Ginn on first down. It loses 4 yards. And you know what? The Dolphins make 11 yards on the next two plays but have to punt because they needed 14 yards for a first thanks to that reverse, So that reverse to Ginn costs the Dolphins a chance to keep driving.

The Bills then get the ball and tie the game at 7-7 on their next possession.

Finally, can I ask about continuing to force the issue with Pat White? He is neither one of the team's better runners nor it's best passer. And yet he continues to get plays at strange moments when Miami runs its spread option.

White ran once for 2 yards on Sunday. When did that first taste of action come?

In the fourth quarter. Right after Buffalo took a 17-14 lead. What changed at that point that didn't happen in the three previous quarters when Miami was winning? What was the freakin' point?

The defensive coaching staff doesn't get a pass here, either.

We all recognize the Dolphins are starting two rookie cornerbacks. We recognize they are talented. And we recognize they are capable. But why put them in one-on-one coverage a large majority of the game, every game?

Hello? Other teams watch tape, also ...

It is begging for a game-changing TD. And the Dolphins got exactly what they were begging for when Terrell Owens caught a 51-yard TD pass over Vontae Davis in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick said he recognized the coverage pre-snap and called an audible.

Dagger to the heart.

One more thing: We keep hearing how Cameron Wake cannot get into games more because he is a work-in-progress as a run-defender.

Well, how long does it take to coach up a player to defend the edge of the defense? We're 11 games into the season and Wake's still not ready to tackle somebody running wide?

And if Wake isn't, what makes coaches think Joey Porter is ready? Porter blew edge run assignments time after time on Sunday. Yes, he had a couple of sacks against reserve tackles. But that was Porter blowing the run defense against Fitzpatrick as the Ivy League QB set off on a 31-yard TD run.

So the young player can't be taught to defend the run 11 games into a season and the veteran can't be reminded to keep his assignment discipline? Yes, the players have a responsibility to get this done. But the coaches have an equal responsibility to make sure those players do their job or take a seat on the bench.

Follow me on twitter.

November 16, 2009

Are the Dolphins backups that good?

It is the proverbial two-edged sword that the Dolphins now wield with the handful of players that sat out Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay and those players that took their place.

Obviously the Dolphins won the game, so the replacements were good enough to help Miami to victory. But because the Dolphins won the game, one has to wonder about the players who sat.

Here's the thing that is frying my brain right now: Were Miami's replacements that good? Or were the players being replaced not as good as we thought and thus easily substituted for?

Let's take it position by position:

At outside linebacker, Joey Porter was benched for reasons the Dolphins don't want to divulge. But in keeping those reasons and Porter under wraps, something very interesting became quite public. Porter can seemingly be easily replaced.

Either that, or the Dolphins have amazing depth at OLB.

Think about it. Porter has not had a full sack since September. He's been missing practice time. He was invisible in last week's game at New England. So he gets deactivated and, voila, Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake not only pick up the slack, but play much better than Porter has recently.

Anderson had five tackles -- almost half as many as Porter has contributed the entire season -- and added a sack and two forced fumbles.

"I was able to get back there and I knew the guy was tough to take down, but he can't go anywhere without the ball," Anderson said. "A couple of guys were like, 'Hey go for the ball,' The second time I was able to do that."

And he did. So do you think Anderson is a super sub? Or do you think Porter has been playing so poorly that this is the type of production the weakside outside linebacker position should be delivering regardless of who is playing there?

Oh, by the way, with Porter out, Cameron Wake also got a few extra pass-rush opportunities than usual. He turned in a sack, bringing his total to four, and had two tackles -- again better than what Porter has been giving.

At the tight end spot, the Dolphins played without starter Anthony Fasano because he is troubled by a hip injury. To cover the void, the Dolphins moved Joey Haynos to the starting job and used rookie Kory Sperry in double-tight end alignments.

Well, in his first NFL outing, the rookie tight end caught three passes for 31 yards, including a touchdown. In other words, Sperry now has as many TD catches as Fasano has had this season. So did the Dolphins miss Fasano on Sunday?

That would be a no.

Is it because Sperry is really good, a diamond found in the practice squad rough? Or is it because Fasano just hasn't been producing up to par to the point a rookie could match the veteran's typical production with little problem?

Discuss.

By the way, Sperry was brought up from the practice squad because he has been consistently out-performing fellow rookie John Nalbone in practice. Nalbone was a Miami fifth-round selection. Sperry was not drafted out of Colorado State. So much for all the draft experts out there.

Anyway, the Dolphins were also without LG Justin Smiley on Sunday. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Nate Garner. I'm not going to try to fool you and say Garner played well or as well as Smiley might. I have no idea.

I do know the Dolphins didn't give up any sacks. I do know they rushed for 199 yards. So obviously the offensive line -- including Garner -- was doing something right.

The greater point is this: If the Dolphins can manage to get such good production from their backups, they are a team that either enjoys great depth, as I said before. Or they are a team with some starters that aren't much better than their backups.

One is very good. The other possibility is troubling.

Only the coaching staff knows the true answer. And I'm sure the answer is different in each individual case.

But if the Dolphins have reserves that can deliver pretty well on Sunday, perhaps using those players might be a good idea in the future. Maybe applying the thought to other positions might be worthwhile.

Perhaps Tyler Thigpen might get better results in the spread formation than Pat White. Perhaps giving Patrick Turner some snaps with the offense (he was limited to special teams duty far as I saw on Sunday) might actually surprise people with production.

The old adage is the starter starts because he's better than the backup. Perhaps with the Dolphins that isn't always true.

October 30, 2009

TEs not helping and associated problems

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning talks to the media once a week for 10 minutes and in at least two of the last four times he did that, he mentioned how the loss of tight end David Martin has hurt his offense.

It is an interesting comment because the Dolphins put Martin on injured reserve at the beginning of the regular season without really making too much of a big deal about it.

They put him out for the season and, as I reported in September, he had surgery Sept. 9. His agent told me at the time that Dr. James Andrews was of the belief Martin could be ready to play again in six to eight weeks. Guess what?

It's been seven weeks.

Best case scenario, Martin might have been ready to play last week. Worst case, he might ahve been ready next week.

That, I guess, is water under the bridge. The Dolphins made the decision they thought was best and are now living with it. But I bring up Martin more to plant this seed in your minds: Martin is unsigned for 2010.

It will be interesting whether the Dolphins, who often lament the Martin injury, make any attempt to re-sign Martin. His agent Terry Williams, told me that while neither he nor Martin were happy with being placed on injured reserve, that will not affect their decision in free agency.

"That will be a decision we will evaluate based on the financial considerations at that time," Williams said.

So we shall see if the Dolphins value Martin as much as they say they miss him. The Dolphins this season are trying to fill the Martin void with Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos. So far, the void ain't filled too good, if you get my drift.

Fasano, coming off his two most productive pass-catching games of the season, still has only 11 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Haynos has two catches for 38 yards.

Haynos obviously hasn't been the down-field threat Martin was. Neither has Fasano. In fact, Fasano hasn't been the threat he himself was last season when he finished with 34 receptions for 454 yards and seven touchdowns.

Coach Tony Sparano explained Thursday that Fasano's diminished numbers aren't all a result of something he is doing wrong.

“I think it matters a little a bit with the quarterback, whether he is comfortable throwing the ball in the middle of the field, I think because that is where most tight ends work," Sparano said, starting to list the reasons Fasano has not been as big a factor so far. "At the same time, I think our run game has a little bit to do with the lack balls that are out there that way."

Sparano explained that the Dolphins have seen a lot of defenses creep their safeties up in order to help stop Miami's outstanding rushing attack. That has, in turn, made the middle of the field a very crowded place for Fasano and Haynos to work.

"What I mean by that is you are not getting the middle of the field open against us," Sparano said. "The middle of the field is closed."

And that explains some things. But it doesn't explain everything.

It doesn't explain how Fasano had two receptions in the regular-season opener and fumbled both. It doesn't explain how he had a 19-yard reception in his hands against the Saints off a Ronnie Brown throw from Wildcat, and dropped the ball.

It doesn't explain his other drops this season. Fact is, Fasano is second on the team in drops this season, behind Ted Ginn Jr.

And, finally, the fact the middle of the field is closed is normally a good thing. You see, teams with passing games that are even mediocre, rarely see safeties playing like they were hybrid linebackers because no one in the pass-happy NFL is stupid enough to gamble like that on defense.

The gamble is your safeties crowd the line of scrimmage, most teams will be able throw the ball over the top for TD after TD after embarrassingly long TD.

But defenses have gambled like that against the Dolphins, hoping to shut down the run, because they have little or no fear of those embarrassing passes. Defenses close the middle of the field because they think they can matchup man-to-man on the outside and usually not get burned.

Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they don't fear a playmaking tight end will run up the seam, past the safety, and into the end zone. Defenses close the middle of the field against Miami because they believe the quarterback is more comfortable and confident throwing to the outside or to the checkdown running back than zipping a seam pass past a safety's earhole.

So it's wrong to blame the success of the Miami running game for shutting down the middle of the field. It is more correct to blame an ineffective receiver and tight end corps for not winning one-on-one matchups and not forcing defenses to respect them and open up the area. 

October 25, 2009

Henne getting "ownership" of Dolphins offense

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning handed each of his three quarterbacks a two-sided play sheet late this week and asked them to individually study each section of plays and mark the play in each section the players like most. Each QB was also expected to mark the play he liked second-most and mark, in red ink, the plays he didn't like.

When each QB returns the sheets, they are rarely marked the same.

"They all see the game differently," Henning said. "They see the game in terms of them, not their predecessor or successor."

On Saturday night, as he prepared his own play-call sheet, Henning looked at the answers starter Chad Henne said he liked most. Those are the plays Henning will call against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

If Henne goes out of the game and either Tyler Thigpen or Pat White have to play, then Henning will refer to the answers they gave on their sheets. And he'll try to call those plays, as long as he's got confidence the QBs can run them.

But I digress.

The fact Henning pays attention to the answers Henne gives is important because the offensive coordinator must seamlessly transition from the plays he used to call for Chad Pennington to the ones he now calls for Henne. And the answers from Henne help.

"I think I know what he does the best and what he doesn't do the best and that's another thing you have to take into consideration when you're putting a game plan together for him as opposed to Chad Pennington," Henning said.

But there is perhaps a more important purpose the returned play sheets serve: They make Henne feel like he has say over the Miami offense. And for the second-year player, that seems to be important.

Henning recalls that when the Dolphins were looking at quarterbacks to draft in 2008, he, coach Tony Sparano, and GM Jeff Ireland locked themselves in a room with Henne and asked the youngster about what he was doing in his final game against Ohio State and the bowl game against the University of Florida.

Henne, according to Henning, wasn't too enthusiastic about discussing the Ohio State game. He was quite effusive, however, in discussing the Florida game. Perhaps it was partially because Henne played poorly against the Buckeyes and lit up the Gators.

But Henning has another idea. He later learned that Henne actually helped author the game plan against Florida.

"That made me feel like, 'When he takes ownership, he's going to make it work,' Henning said. "And that's what we try to do here. We try and make sure they take ownership. When they take ownership, they play pretty [well]."

And that's exactly how Henning expects Henne to play today against the Saints. The 4 p.m. game is going to require that Henne keep the New Orleans defense honest as it tries to take away Miami's rushing attack. And if the Dolphins fall behind, then Henne will have to do some winging of the ball.

"I expect he will play [well]," Henning repeated. "That doesn't mean he might not on occassion do well. But I think he has the goods ... I think he has the temperment for this business."

[ANNOUNCEMENTS: I will be on the air from 1-3 p.m. at 790-AM in South Florida Sunday to discuss the New Orleans and Dolphins matchup. You can listen live at 790theticket.com and you can call the show at 786-360-0790. You can also text me at 74965. Afterward, I will head over to the stadium and we will be conducting our live game blog, as always, to discuss the action and get the latest information from the stadium.]

Finally, if you want to find out why Tony Sparano is coaching the Dolphins and not for the Saints today you should click on the link and find out. 

October 22, 2009

Third-and-short belongs to the Miami Dolphins

This entire season you've heard coach Tony Sparano took about the need to get "chunk yardage," because the Dolphins want, indeed, need more big plays.

But you've not heard him complain too much about short yardage.

Why?

Because the Dolphins so far this year are the NFL's best short-yardage team and because Ronnie Brown is one of the NFL's most accomplished short-yardage backs.

According to stats compiled by the NFL, the Dolphins have the league's highest third-down conversion percentage when there are 2 or fewer yards to go for a first down. The Dolphins have faced 20 such situations this year and converted 17 times. (Getting out the trusty Salguero protractor and figuring out the sine and cosine here and, voila, that's an 85 percent conversion rate.)

The next best team in similar situations is Indianapolis, which has converted 80 percent of those third-and-short situations.

TEAM

ATTEMPTS

CONVERSIONS

PERCENTAGE

Miami Dolphins

20

17

85.0

Indianapolis Colts

15

12

80.0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

10

8

80.0

Minnesota Vikings

19

15

78.9

Green Bay Packers

8

6

75.0

It stands to reason that the Dolphins would be good at picking up the tough yards on the money down if they have tough people up front. And they do. Miami's $156 million offensive line is returning good dividends on the team's investment in this category.

But Brown also has a lot to do with the success.

Going back to the 2000 season, Brown is the third-best third-and-two or fewer RB in the NFL. And he's in pretty impressive company, as the chart confirms.

PLAYER/TEAM

ATTEMPTS

CONVERSIONS

PERCENTAGE

Joseph Addai, Colts

53

42

79.2

Adrian Peterson, Vikings

53

41

77.8

Ronnie Brown, Dolphins

53

40

75.5

Larry Johnson, Chiefs

75

56

74.7

Brad Hoover, Panthers

35

25

71.4

So what does this all mean?

Basically these facts are important for an offense hoping to stay on the field and control the ball and the clock. You don't win the third-and-short situations, you don't win too many games unless you have a dynamic and explosive offense.

And these statistics are of particular importance this week because, with the Saints game Sunday, one way Miami can win the game is to shorten the game by keeping the football. If the Dolphins have the ball, the Saints don't.

If the Dolphins extend drives by successfully converting third-and-short, they keep the ball.

Great how that works, isn't it?

[THURSDAY PRACTICE UPDATE: As you might have noticed over there <--- on the twitter feed, I've tweeted that Matt Roth, fresh off his first day of practice Wednesday, is sitting out practice today. He was at practice but his left ankle was taped and he was limping. Guess there is now zero doubt about whether he plays Sunday or not.]

September 19, 2009

Thoughts (I have a few) on White activation

I know for a fact the Dolphins liked Pat White early in the draft process. Bill Parcells personally fell in love with the kid's play at West Virginia and in the Senior Bowl and was sharing that fact with his buddies at Spring Training games up in Jupiter, FL. early on.

The stuff about the Dolphins being moved to pick White because they feared New England would snatch him is bogus.

And now that Miami has Pat White, it has to figure out what to do with Pat White.

That normally isn't a big issue. If you've got a player that is going to contribute, you suit him up, activative him and throw him out there, hoping he'll succeed. But White, who's position, plays and even game status are veiled in secrecy, is not your ordinary player.

First of all, the Dolphins don't want folks to know when and how they're going to use White. That's a problem because the Dolphins also have made it clear White is strictly a quarterback and the NFL has rules concerning the three quarterbacks on the roster.

Because White is a quarterback, the Dolphins last week decided to designate him the No. 2 while true backup QB Chad Henne was designated the No. 3, or the emergency QB. As ESPN's Len Pasquarelli points out in his Friday Tip Sheet, that immediately tipped off the Falcons that White was indeed going to be used against them.

"When we saw that White was No. 2," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said, "We knew they had some Wildcat stuff planned."

So the Dolphins, try as they might to keep White's status a secret, are dogged by the fact you must designate your QBs 90 minutes before the game so the Wild cat is out of the bag.

To combat this Pasquarelli suggests the Dolphins designate White as a receiver or running back instead, so as to not tip off the opposition before the game. Sounds logical on the face of it. But there are problems with that approach.

First, White cannot be designated a wide receiver because he doesn't wear a WR number. He'd have to change his number to officially change positions. Secondly, the Dolphins did little to no work with White at wide receiver during training camp.

And though White might be able to line up at receiver as he did against Atlanta, that's not what the team has planned for him. The Dolphins want him taking snaps from center and either running or passing out of the spread offense. They have receivers to play receiver a lot better than White can.

Finally, the idea of designating White as a receiver or a defensive tackle for that matter, doesn't change the fact he takes up an active roster spot. And if Henne is taking up an active roster spot, that means someone who was active last week has to be deactivated.

The simple math is if you have White, Chad Pennington and Chad Henne active, someone has to be take a seat in the stands as an inactive player.

That poses a problem in its own right because the Dolphins are freaks about how many plays they will milk from each player they take to the game. If the Dolphins lose one of those players, somebody has to pick up the slack.

So there is no easy solution for making White active. It might be that Chad Pennington, Pat White and Chad Henne might all be active for some game to not tip Miami's hand on the use of White 90 minutes before the game. But that is a fleeting strategic victory as most teams will assume if White is active, he'll get snaps regardless.

That leads me to these two scenarios:

Is White worth having active at all. I would tell you that if White is active versus Indianapolis -- which is NOT a certainty -- he must produce because two consecutive unproductive weeks might cause coaches to conclude he's not yet ready to contribute.

And what makes White any less accountable than any other player, particularly a rookie? You're not ready? You sit.

Also, White has to be productive and do so in a package of plays that numbers at least half a dozen to a dozen. After all, what good is having White active for three plays and plays that fail at that?

So the pressure is on White to show up soon.

One more thought:

This conversation would be so different had White actually completed that lone pass attempt last week to Ted Ginn. That pass connects and it changes everything.

Defenses, you see, expect White to run. So, if they react like the Falcons reacted, they will load the box when he was at QB. That was obvious on his run for zero yards.

But if White completes that fateful pass, defenses have to respect his arm. And now they're not putting eight defenders in the box. And now White can run, which forces them to respect the run. And now they have to respect both run and pass. And that causes problems for the defense!

Had that pass been two feet shorter, it would have changed everyone's outlook on Pat White.

Of course, had I picked the right six numbers last weekend and actually played those numbers, I wouldn't be writing any of this right now. That, like the completion, did not happen.

So White must make something good happen this week. Assuming he gets another opportunity.