April 21, 2011

Ireland's assignment is simple really -- make a difference

Jeff Ireland will conduct his 2011 pre-draft presser (as ordered by NFL rules) today and I will be certain to look beneath his footwear to check for a net. I'm pretty certain I will not find one, but for journalism's sake one has to confirm things.

I want to confirm Ireland is indeed operating in this draft without the Bill Parcells net under him.

This draft, you see, Ireland's on his own. It's his baby and his alone. To him goes the glory if things work out. To him goes the ignominy if things don't.

This draft will be different for the Dolphins in that there can be no rewrite of history when or if things go wrong. The Pat White draft pick, for example, was pretty much an orphan for quite some time until the last three months when I got Ireland and Parcells to took responsibility for the mistake on the record -- Ireland on my radio show, Parcells in a column I wrote last week.Jeff ireland one

No big deal, but I think that kind of set the record straight.

Parcells is still proud of the Jake Long pick and doesn't deem it a mistake but he understands, he also told me, if some folks think Matt Ryan would have been the better selection. The Big Tuna has also told me that in the spring of 2008 he sent Dan Henning, Tony Sparano and Ireland to Ann Arbor (to see Chad Henne), to Delaware (to see Joe Flacco) and to Boston (to see Ryan) and everyone came back saying Henne was every bit as good as the other two. 

So again, responsibility goes where responsibility goes -- on the entire organization.

Now the responsibility belongs to Ireland. As it should be. No more shadows behind curtains. No more masters jostling puppet strings. We're not in Oz anymore.

Jeff Ireland is the man and he will get from fans whatever his picks bring him -- credit or contempt.

But, I wonder, what is your confidence level he's ready? Are you anxious whether he can avoid mistakes that would not be made if Parcells were here? Are you excited he might make more bold moves now that Parcells is gone?

My view?

There can be no doubt Ireland has an approach that is his own. I hope he does, anyway, because he is an individual rather than a clone of his mentor. He's younger than Parcells which suggests he might be bolder but also comes with the caution that he might not be wiser. Jeff and bill

I do not predict he will depart from precepts Parcells taught him. He'll pick prototype guys or try to, anyway. He'll want big guys. He'll especially want fast guys in this draft. He'll try to stay away from troublemakers.

I hope he is desperate. I hope he comes to this draft ready to go for the end zone rather than settle for field goals. I've had enough of field goals. I saw too many field goals the past couple of seasons. I want picks that will prove themselves to be touchdowns!

Think about it: The Dolphins have been good at drafting the past three years. Assuming Jared Odrick does get healthy and back on the field and becomes productive, the last three years brought outstanding to solid picks, with Long being outstanding and Vontae Davis representing solid.

The second round has brought satisifaction (Sean Smith) and disappointment (White) and a still hung jury in the court of public opinion (Chad Henne). Later rounds have had both good and bad picks.

So the work is worthy of a C-plus, in my opinion. 

That's because there has been no awe inspiring pick. There has been no take-your-breath-away, give-that-personnel man-a-prize selection. Not one Dolphins pick the past three years has been a game-changer. Not one Dolphins pick the past three years has brought a player other teams must game-plan around or for. Long isn't that because, by definition, left tackles can only change the course of a game by screwing up. They do not change the course of games when they merely do their jobs.

Davis has not been a game-changer. Smith hasn't although had he caught his six potential interceptions a year ago that he dropped, he might have reached that plateau. Odrick hasn't gotten a chance. Henne hasn't been a game-changer in any consistent or confidence-building manner. Anyone else?


Ireland needs to find a game changer this draft. He needs to do something his mentor could not. Oh, Parcells helped bring solid talent to the Dolphins when they were lacking even that. But conference titles and Super Bowls are won with difference-makers, game-changers stacked atop solid talent.

Ireland, on his own this draft, has work to do.

NOTES: I will be updating the blog several times Thursday so check back throughout the day. I will also provide real-time updates from Ireland's presser on twitter. So please follow me to get those updates.

August 19, 2008

Four Dolphins rookies vying for starting jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

The exchange:

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

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

August 11, 2008

The words right from Sparano's mouth today

Head Coach Tony Sparano

Pre-Practice – Monday, August 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 06, 2008

Sparano shows displeasure with pass catchers

For the first time since Tony Sparano has been doing press conferences as Miami's coach, I heard a twinge of annoyance bordering on anger in his voice today.

Sparano just did his presser for today and he is clearly not happy with Miami's receivers and other pass-catchers. "We dropped 10 passes in practice yesterday," Sparano said, his voice rising slightly. "We dropped too many again today.

"We go into a game and don't catch the ball, I can get anyone to do that."


Sparano is obviously displeased with the receivers, but the running backs have been dropping an inordinate number of passes, also. Not good enough. Sparano said he didn't see this problem in offseason camps and OTAs so he thinks it is "a concentration" issue.

The problem is affecting other areas of the offense. Partially as a result of poor receiver play, Sparano said the two minute situation work Tuesday, "didn't go so well." The team will work on it again this afternoon as a result.


Sparano said kicker Jay Feely's injury is a sore groin. He is not sure whether Feely will be available for Saturday's preseason game against Tampa Bay or not.

Asked why it is that Feely has a competition on his hands despite hitting like 1,248 of 1,250 kicks last year Sparano said, "It's a competition. That's how it is."

The coach also said the battle between Feely and rookie Dan Carpenter is "very even."


Sparano is weighing whether to start rookie Donald Thomas or veteran Trey Darilek at right guard against Tampa Bay. "I'm not sure yet," he said.


Finally, Dan Marino is denying an intouchweekly.com report that states he will be on Dancing with the Stars. Marino called the Dolphins today and vehemently denied he's doing that. He will not be Dancing with the Stars.

August 05, 2008

The highlights from Sparano's TUES. presser

Many of you may remember (although you'd like to forget) that many Dolphins veteran players were held out most of last preseason. Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor played six total preseason snaps. Joey Porter hardly played. Keith Traylor made only a cameo appearance as well.

And when the regular-season began the team, at least significant parts of it, were not in football shape. The Dolphins wore down against Washington in the season-opener and soon a glut of injuries hit the team.

This year coach Tony Sparano is a lot less likely to give veterans preseason games off.

"I believe we were 1-15 and we're trying to change the culture," Sparano said. "In my mind, that being said, we do need to go out as a team, be in the game environment, get as many guys in uniform as we can get in uniform, be in that locker room together, come out of that tunnel together, be on the sideline together. Whatever it is we're going to go through in a game together, we need to see all the reactions and get these guys involved as much as we can.

I've been with Bill [Parcells] for a long enough time, I'm not much on saving guys and doing those things. We'll be smart. We'll be smart with some players. But our players know they need to play."


Matt Roth will work at OLB again today. Eventually, both he and Vonnie Holliday may see some preseason plays at OLB. It doesn't mean they are being converted to LBs. It means the team is trying to maximize its pass rush while also maximize roster spots.

"We want to see either one of these guys or both of these in the games," Sparano said. "It's important they get game reps. Just to take a look and help us with some roster flexibility down the road."


In case you do not remember, I wrote this offseason that Ricky Williams was perhaps the best player in practices and might be one of the team's best players.

Well, he hasn't been dominant in pads as he was in shorts. But he's still darn impressive to Sparano.

"When you're out here in helmets in T-shirts everybody kind of looks good," Sparano said. "When you see them in pads and what he's doing here, I've been impressed with him getting to the second level and his burst. I've been impressed with what I see when he hits the line. He's still able to move people when he's carrying the ball leaning forward. So it's good he can make yards that way. I'm kind of anxious to watch him in a game and see him knock some of that kind of rust off."