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.

August 28, 2009

Game review: Miami Dolphins 10, Bucs 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair. But ...

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

December 18, 2008

December to remember for Chad Pennington?

In case you are in the minority and do not subscribe to The Miami Herald, you may have missed the blowout sports front page story on Chad Pennington and his battle against the elements in December's wintry weather venues. So please click here and catch up.

The point of the article is that Pennington was found lacking by the New York Jets after three consecutive years in which he either struggled in December or simply didn't make it to December because of injuries.

In December 2007 Pennington completed 51 of 72 passes (72.9 completion percentage) for 448 yards (224 yards per game). He threw one TD and two INTs. His QB rating was 82.3.

In December 2006 Pennington completed 112 of 168 passes (66.7 completion percentage) for 1,178 yards (236 yards per game). He threw six TDs and five INTs. His QB rating was 86.4.

Pennington played no December games in 2005 because he was injured.

Based on his ability or inability to finish the season and do so with a flurry, the Jets decided to go a different direction this year. And Pennington, now with your Miami Dolphins, has responded with a very good December so far.

In December of 2008 Pennington has completed 35 of 48 passes (72.9 percentage) for 337 yards (168.5 yards per game). He has thrown three TDs and zero INTs. His QB rating is 112.9.

Great stuff in 2008 if Pennington can keep it up. But can he keep it up?

The fact is Pennington's two December games this year have come under hospitable conditions. Miami played its first December game indoors in Toronto and played last week at Dolphin Stadium under partly sunny cloudy skies.

The next two games? The final two games? The games that will decide Miami's playoff fate?

At Kansas City and at Giants Stadium. Brrrrrr.

But forget the cold, it is the rain, snow, and particularly the wind, that plays havoc with passes in these venues during the winter. If you clicked on my story, you read the Sunday forcast for KC includes 22 MPH winds. That was yesterday's forcast.

It's worse today. Click on this weather report for the sobering update.

So the questions that face Chad Pennington now is can he play up to the standards the next two weeks that he set the past two weeks to put a signature finish on a fine season? Or does he revert to what the Jets saw the past couple of seasons, which is a quarterback who threw as many interceptions as touchdowns in December?

Which do you think it will be?

[Side item 1: Channing Crowder, who missed practice Wednesday with knee stiffness, is back at practice today. He was limited.]

[Side item 2: Hey I got through this entire blog without mentioning arm-strength. Cool.]

August 21, 2008

Get your complete roster breakdown here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

May 30, 2008

Dolphins sign rookie guard Shawn Murphy

The Dolphins will announce the signing of offensive guard Shawn Murphy in the coming hour or so. No financial terms are yet available.

Murphy, the team's foruth-round draft pick, is expected to compete for a starting job this year along with veteran Steve McKinney and darkhorse second-year player Ikechuku Ndukwe.

Props to anyone who can tell me where Ndukwe went to school. Murphy, the son of former Atlanta slugger Dale Murphy, attended Utah State.

The Dolphins have now signed six of their nine draft picks, with second-rounders Phillip Merling and Chad Henne and third-rounder Kendall Langford still not on board.

May 29, 2008

A crystal ball look at YOUR Dolphins offense

The torn Achilles tendon that receiver Tab Perry suffered during Miami's most recent minicamp underlined several issues that I want to share with you:

  1. The Dolphins woeful lack of talent at wide receiver just got thinner. When Perry was signed to a one-year contract, former Cincinnati teammate T.J. Whoseyourmamma was disappointed. "That guy is talented," Whoseyourmamma said of Perry. "That's a loss for us." So I initially could see Perry, experienced and quick, giving the Dolphins receiver corps some of the lightning it definitely lacks beyond Ted Ginn. But now Perry is waived/injured and one must assume the team will seek other help at the position.
  2. Speaking of other help at the position: Terry Glenn is not too thrilled with his situation in Dallas because according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram the team has kept him from participating in OTA work unless he signs a $500,000 injury waiver agreement. If Glenn gets hurt and must sit out the season, the team would then owe him much less than his scheduled $1.74 million salary. But Glenn hasn't agreed to sign the waiver. So even though he is apparently healthy, he isn't working and he isn't happy. Can you say trade to the Dolphins? Maybe Glenn and a third-round pick for the Dancer whose name I will not utter? Glenn does, after all, have a long history of playing for Bill Parcells, and the Cowboys almost certainly would love to add the Dancer to a front 7 that is already pretty darn good. [By the way, take the poll below on this issue.]
  3. Don't be fooled by the lack of contact. Throughout the NFL guys are pulling up lame and otherwise being sidelined by offseason camps and OTAs.
  4. Finally, you should take a close look at what the Miami offense promises to be: A gang of bullies. This won't be a quick-strike, down-the-field unit. They will be a bruising running team first and foremost. They will try to go through rather than over defenses. Given the added girth of Justin Smiley and Jake Long up front, the return (everyone hopes) of 232-pound Ronnie Brown and 225-pound Ricky Williams at RB, the addition of 265-pound TE Anthony Fasano and with 270-pound Reagan Mauia at FB, this team will RUN the ball. This will particularly be the strategy against modern defenses that have become smaller and quicker to keep up with passing offenses. So in a time the rest of the NFL wants to throw 65 percent of the time, the Dolphins will field a throwback offense that runs 60-65 percent of the time. The idea is that an offense like this will shorten the game, keep Miami's unproven quarterback from getting exposed, and also cover up for a receiver corps that is short on proven downfield ability. Smashball comes to Miami!
  5. If everything I've written is true, and it is, there is a downside. That is the Dolphins had better hope not to get behind in games. Otherwise the smashball thing becomes a liability more than a dividend.

Take the poll and then add your comments.

May 21, 2008

Update from Wednesday OTA practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players predictably played down Taylor's absence today.

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

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

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

Things to look for out of today's OTA reveal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2008

Ferguson may make Samson Satele better

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

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

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

Both have been Pro Bowl performers, by the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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