June 19, 2015

Minicamp Musings (but not by Armando)

Armando Salguero, the usual resident at this most popular Herald blog address, is on vacation. Coming over from The Herald's FIU sports blog to do a little blogsitting with occasional posts during Armando's vaca will be me, David Neal, or the Dolphins/Heat/Hurricanes/Marlins Sports Buzz in your ear, Barry Jackson.

Both of us sat through this week's pair of high end flag football practices in Davie. There's only so much you can say about shirts-and-shorts low-contact football. Lorenzo Booker looked good under those conditions.

Caveat stated, some observations, a few of them relevant:

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill's ball placement, particularly on his red zone throws, grazed perfection. His quick slants to the slot imitated good fastballs: low, inside, tough for the opponent to reach and yet right on target for the catcher. His throws to the end zone sidelines described perfect parabolas for the task. The last time the Dolphins excelled in the red zone, nobody but football coaches paid attention or called it "the red zone." Tannehill being better there could be worth an extra win.

I saw Pete Stoyanovich take the kicking job from Fuad Reveiz in 1989 and you knew it was happening as it happened. Same thing when I saw Dan Carpenter take the kicking job from Jay Feely in 2008. By comparison, Andrew Franks kicked like he hoped to hang around long enough to inherit the job from injured Caleb Sturgis. Kicking from 36 and 46 yards, Franks hooked a few inside the upright, hooked a few outside the left upright. Sturgis can only shine the kicking shoes of Stoyanovich, Reveiz, Carpenter or Feely, but Franks' didn't give Sturgis even more reason to regret playing a little kickball.

Kool-Aid break


The Dolphins mixed and matched like your kid with Legos in the secondary and on the offensive line. On the o-line, Mike Pouncey at center and Ja'Wuan James at one tackle spot were the constants. Otherwise, seemingly everybody got a turn with the No. 1s. This is the epitome of "check back in August." That includes Brandon Albert. Albert did conditioning on the unused fields or sidelines. He moved as if he'd need every minute between now and the first serious snap of the late summer to be ready. (Quick digression: Pouncey said this year's birthday party would be a small thing at his home. Clearly, the man learns.)

In the secondary, among those getting a look at nickel corner was Brice McCain, part of the Dolphins' hat trick of McCains -- rookie corner Bobby McCain, fast and tough, which could make him as solidly good on kickoff returns as he was during his sophomore and senior years at Memphis; and linebacker Chris McCain, who could start at outside linebacker after minimal snaps last year. About his minimal snaps last year, Chris said he got what he earned and needed to spend more time studying the Dolphins' scheme. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said the same thing, but more politely.

To simulate haivng to operate in a noisy stadium, instead of cranking canned crowd noise, the Dolphins went for truly annoying and blasted music. Not bad music, not good music, not old music, not new music. All of the above. It seemed far more effective a test for non-verbal communication than the crowd noise, which is laughable even at its loudest. The pass completion to Kool Moe Dee's "I Go To Work" went to Greg Jennings, the only wide receiver born when the song was released.


December 01, 2010

Henne getting more comfortable in his own skin

There is a feeling from those around Chad Henne that he is feeling more comfortable these days.

That's interesting because so many critics called him robotic and unfeeling and just not comfortable in his own skin when he was on the field in recent times, most notably before his benching following the Nov. 7 loss to Baltimore.

But that seems to be shifting a bit these days. I cannot exactly quantify for you that Henne is feeling more comfortable with his status on the Dolphins because there is no statistic for that. But it's just a hunch, a gut feeling, that he seems more at ease.

The most tangible example of that is what Henne said today about throwing interceptions. Look, Dolphins coaches have beat him over the head with the dogma that he must not make the big mistake and throw interceptions.

These coaches preach not losing the game as much as winning it.

But the truth, as has been discussed on this blog before, is that great quarterbacks throw interceptions. It's a fact of greatness. If the QB is going to expose himself and gamble sometimes and stretch skills to the breaking point, sometimes the result will be an interception.

The measure of greatness could include making sure the touchdowns far outnumber the interceptions. But the interceptions will come. And the great ones, while not accepting the interceptions, understand they are a fact of life.

Henne showed on Wednesday he understands interceptions are to be avoided. But they are sometimes a fact of life.

"This isn't life or death," he said of the miscues. "There's worse things in life out there that you can do. Obviously it hurts you deep down inside, but you have to let those things go. You have to keep on trucking ...

Henne cracked a smile.

"That's like Will Ferrell there, huh? No, you just have to put it behind you and move on to the next play because you can't let something despise you and shy away from it. You have to keep confident and keep throwing the ball out there."

I like it. I don't want the Dolphins quarterback playing scared.

On the other hand, Henne isn't a wild child, either. He has a sometimes funny, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes edgy streak he rarely shows the media. But it is there.

On the other hand, he is still big on saying the right thing. So when he was asked today if Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson blew it by smiling and laughing on the sideline in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to San Francisco on Monday night, Henne straddled the fence.

He would never condone what Anderson did. But he didn't want to rip a fellow QB, either.

"I think you take the game seriously," Henne said. "It's not time to joke around, I guess, on the sideline. I mean, sure, if someone says something funny, you're going to laugh but I think staying focused and staying in command at all times shows the team you're there to play, this is a business, this is a game. You have fun and I'm sure whatever Derek did wasn't to say, 'Blow off the game or my mind's out of the game.' "

Well, that's polictically correct Henne. Maybe he's not totally comfortable being himself yet. But he seems to be headed in that direction.


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."

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?


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 19, 2010

Henne clarifies Tebow comment, talks WRs

It is a beautiful day in South Florida, a perfect golf day, and that's good because about a dozen Dolphins players are participating in the Athletes in Action charity tournament now.

Chad Henne is participating because he's a good community guy. He talked to reporters today -- The Herald's Jeff Darlington and David J. Neal were there because they love golf -- and they asked Henne about his controversial Tim Tebow comment Wednesday, in which the Dolphins quarterback said, "In my judgment he's not an NFL quarterback. So leave it at that."

Today Henne didn't want to leave it at that. Today Henne was surrounded by reporters that asked better questions. Today Henne backtracked a little bit.

"I didn't really say he wasn't wasn't able to be one," Henne said of Tebow. "We're all in this process, learning how to be an NFL quarterback. Obviously, he's taken the right steps to improve his game. His throwing motion actually looks a lot better with his release and everything. I think his Pro Day went really well and he was happy with it. I can't really say anything. My quarterback coach from college is coaching him in college. We're coming from the same people.

"He's obviously learned a from a lot of good people. And with Urban Meyere up there, he's learned from the best. Those [comments] were way out of proportion, he's not going to be an NFL quarterback. Wherever he goes, he's going to make that team better because he's such a competitor and a great person."

Henne was uncomfortable that the comments got national attention. He was more uncomfortable that his comment was perceived as coming from the Dolphins -- as an inside the Dolphins organization opinion.

"The thing about that is that dragging the Dolphins and our coaching staff into this when it's way out of proportion," Henne said. "I never talked to them about Tebow. They never mentioned anything. It was all what I was perceived to say. I have nothing against him. I really like him as a person. I met him last year up there at Florida working out their receivers and got an opportunity to play against him so he really is a wonderful person and I only wish him the best."

Henne claimed WQAM, where he made the original Tebow remark, cut him off before he could explain his comment. He said he would have liked the opportunity to add that Tebow is working on what he needs to and he liked what he saw.

On the football front, Henne has been consistent in saying he sees improvement from Miami's current WR corps. He believes in those guys. But ...

Henne admits he wouldn't mind the group being improved with a proven player.

"There's definitely guys out there, like you said," Henne said. "There's T.O. [Terrell Owens]. There's Brandon Marshall. There's guys in the draft. Where we're at, we have a bunch of young guys who are definitely learning and going to be explosive in the next coming year.

"But you need kind of a veteran guy that's really going to take hold of our young guys and teach them the right ways."

December 30, 2009

Dolphins have second-highest payroll in NFL

Dolphins salary documentation obtained by the Miami Herald on Tuesday shows the team may not be getting good return for the money it is spending on players in 2009.

According to those documents obtained from sources, the Dolphins spent $126,855,921 in total payroll in 2009, not including incentive bonuses. That is not only up from last year's $114,649,660, it is the second-highest total payroll in the NFL.

The New York Giants have the highest total payroll in the NFL in 2009 at $137,638,866. The Houston Texans, which defeated the Dolphins 27-20 on Sunday, settle in just behind the Dolphins with the third-highest total payroll at $122,573,860

The Giants are 8-7 and have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Dolphins are 7-8 and need a multitude of scenarios to play out over the weekend to make the playoffs. The Texans are 8-7 and similarly need help to get into the playoffs.

The figures obtained by The Herald show that paying premium money for talent is not necessarily a guarantee for success in 2009. Only four of the teams in the top ten for total payroll have already clinched a playoff spot.

How wisely the Dolphins are spending their money is a question that shows up tangibly all over the field.

The team's highest-paid player in 2009 is right tackle Vernon Carey who is making $15 million, with $12 million of that coming in the form of a signing bonus he received for signing a new contact in the offseason. Miami's return on that investment has not paid great dividends as Carey has slumped in the season's second half and has played poorly in recent weeks.

Center Jake Grove, who came to the Dolphins with a reputation for getting hurt, was rewarded with a free agent contract that is paying him $14.2 million this season. That makes him the second-highest-paid player on the team. Grove played well early in the year but has missed five consecutive starts with a high ankle sprain and tibia injury.

The Dolphins invested a lot of money in the deep secondary in 2009 -- $16.6 million to be precise. That means Miami has the most expensive set of safeties in the NFL.

Yeremiah Bell, making $8.6 million this season in the form a $6 million signing bonus, a $2.55 million base salary and $50,000 in other bonuses, is the league's second-highest-paid safety behind Kerry Rhodes of the New York Jets. Rhodes is collecting $9.95 million this season.

Bell, Miami's fourth-highest-paid player in 2009, leads the Dolphins in tackles and has made a couple of tackles that prevented touchdowns.

But free safety Gibril Wilson, the NFL's third-highest-paid safety in 2009, has been a bust for Miami.

Wilson struggled to tackle well early in the season, has struggled in coverage the entire season, and has no interceptions to show for his work. At one point this season, Wilson's struggles led coaches to use rookie Chris Clemons in his place in certain situations.

And all this at a price of $8 million, the fifth-highest salary on the team.

Jake Long, who was the No. 1 overall selection of the 2008 draft and was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl on Tuesday, is Miami's third-highest-paid player behind Carey and Grove. Long is being paid $8,006,240 this season.

In focus, Miami has gotten mixed results from its top five paid players.

Long and Bell have been worth the money. Carey and Wilson have probably not played up to their lofty salaries. Grove has earned his money when he's been healthy, but as had been his history prior to coming to Miami, he missed over one-quarter of the season with an injury.

The fact three of Miami's five top-paid players are offensive linemen should not surprise anyone. The Dolphins field the most expensive offensive line in the NFL, costing $156 million in total contracts for the starting five and $39,597,240 in total salary this season for the starting five. (The latter figure can vary by a few thousand dollars depending on who starts at right guard.)

The sixth-highest-paid player on the Dolphins in 2009 is inside linebacker Channing Crowder. He is making $6,516,000 in 2009 based on $1.5 million in base salary, $3.75 million from the signing bonus of contract he signed this year, and $1.266 million in other bonuses. The Miami Herald was the first news outlet to report that Crowder definitely would not play against the Steelers in the season-finale.

The Dolphins do have instances where they are getting great return on their investment. This typically comes from players the team drafted, rather than signed as free agents or re-signed once their contract expired.

Starting quarterback Chad Henne is making $950,340 before incentives this season. That makes him the second-lowest paid full-time starting quarterback in the NFL behind Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys. Romo is making $625,980 in total salary this year. Romo signed a six-year, $67.4 million deal in October 2007. The 2009 salary is the lowest in Romo's contract and his salary rockets to $8.5 million next year.

The bargain the Dolphins are getting from Henne offsets the $5,750,000 they are paying injured quarterback Chad Pennington.

Other Miami players that have been relative bargains this year or played above their pay scale include outside linebacker Jason Taylor ($1,102,860 before incentive bonuses), defensive end Randy Starks ($2,625,000), wide receiver Davone Bess ($391,240), offensive lineman Nate Garner ($391,240), and fullback Lousaka Polite ($1,206,240).

Rookie starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis ($1,625,000) and Sean Smith ($1,255,000) have also been bargains for Miami. It is not correct, however, to say the Dolphins are getting a bargain for their cornerback money.

The rookies have offset the investment on cornerback Will Allen, who was a starter until he suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season. Allen is making $5,506,240 this season, including $1,506,240 in bonus money.

And reserve cornerback Jason Allen is making $1,360,000 this season in salary and bonus. Allen, a former first-round pick, is almost exclusively a special teams player despite his lofty price.

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December 24, 2009

Christmas wishes for the Miami Dolphins

'Tis Christmas eve. On this night, Cubans celebrate Noche Buena, which translated means Good Night. It is the night we believe Mary and Joseph settled in to the manger at the Inn and prepared for the birth of baby Jesus, who is the Christ.

It is a time for glad tidings and festive wishes. We also eat a lot and I plan to do much damage at my in-laws' house. Tomorrow we'll have Christmas dinner at my house. I hope yours is a joyous holiday.

Meanwhile, these are my Christmas wishes for the Miami Dolphins and Dolfans everywhere:

A week of open practices so I can judge for myself how much or how little Pat Turner is progressing.

More screen passes. Remember those?

Better touch passing for Chad Henne.

Better accuracy for Chad Henne.

Better protection for Chad Henne.

Better weapons around Chad Henne.

More of Jason Taylor on passing downs.

Less of Joey Porter on run downs.

Fewer sideline patterns for Ted Ginn. He finds the sideline often enough as is.

More recevier screens with Greg Camaillo running hard for six yards.

A shovel pass every once in a while.

A Pat White completed pass every once in a while.

A Gibril Wilson intercepted pass every once in a while.

A Nathan Jones corner blitz. Remember those?

More tackles for Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele at the line of scrimmage.

Fewer tackles for Yeremiah Bell five yards from the line of scrimmage.

Stability on the offensive line.

An offseason shakeup at WR.

An impact play or two for Kendall Langford.

Double-digit sacks for Randy Starks.

That Pro Bowl berth that follows double-digit sacks for Starks.

More playing time for Brian Hartline.

Fewer fumbles for Davone Bess, who leads the team with six.

A tight end that can eat up the seam route and catch the ball between a linebacker and safety.

A tight end that makes the other team's safeties seem overmatched.

A wide receiver that averages 16 yards per reception.

The same receiver having 82 receptions. (Do the math).

The death of the Orange Carpet.

The rebirth of the Flipper tank.

Cheerleader calendars that aren't rated R.

National anthems sung loud and proud at every game.

Military flyovers at every game.

Victory for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a tie. Not a respectful retreat. Victory!

Peace in everyone's heart.

More Miami players that talk the talk ...

... and then walk the walk.

Visiting Jets fans that know when to shut up.

Jets teams that aren't pompous ... even after getting swept.

A rematch with the Patriots ... in this year's playoffs.

A chance to avenge this season's 31-14 loss to Buffalo ... by playing the Bills in next season's AFC title game.

A speedy recovery for Ronnie Brown.

And Jason Ferguson.

And Patrick Cobbs.

And Chad Pennington.

And Will Allen.

All the privacy Ricky Williams so covets ... after he retires.

More attention and appreciation for Tony Sparano, because it's not all about Bill Parcells.

More time for Parcells in that darkened film room, because he loves it there.

More time for Parcells in that white bright afterglow of a Super Bowl victory, because he loves it there even more.

And finally, one request for myself: A sign from Heaven that my mom and dad are pleased with me and are waiting to see me up there some day.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

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.

November 25, 2009

Miami Dolphins players must produce quickly

Surprised by the waiving of Matt Roth?

If we can cast aside for a second the conspiracy theories about this move, of which there are many -- theories that are unproven and therefore unfair (for now) to relate -- Roth was waived based on performance. He had four weeks to prove he could contribute to the Dolphins this year and beyond and he failed.

He had four tackles in four games and so the Dolphins did what they always do: They acted quickly and decisively to get rid of a player they no longer needed.

(I happen to love that about this regime.)

Unlike other teams that nurture draft picks, coddle free agents, or hold on to veterans perhaps one year too long, sometimes adding to a mistake by refusing to eliminate that mistake, these Dolphins recognize their mistakes and get rid of them.

It sounds harsh because players are men not meat and these men have families to feed. But the NFL is a business and the Dolphins treat the business with little emotion. These guys are Vulcan-like in their rational, logical approach to casting out roster weakness.

That's why no player or coach can feel safe on the Dolphins unless he is producing.

Remember only a few weeks ago, coach Tony Sparano was saying of Roth, "it was good to get him out there," and a couple of weeks later he's gone. Remember I told you how Shawn Murphy got a figurative pat on the back from Sparano about how well he was coming along and two days later he was waived?

Here yesterday, unproductive today, gone tomorrow.

We've seen it time and again.

Samson Satele started all 16 games last year but was a weak link that glowed in neon in losses to Baltimore and other games. He was traded.

John Beck was talked up and credited for his professionalism all last year and in training camp. He was waived.

Eric Green was signed as Miami's free agent answer to its cornerback problems. He was cut in training camp.

Ernest Wilford was a huge free agent bust last year and so the team swallowed a $4.5 million salary cap hit to get rid of him.

The club claimed tight end Davon Drew off waivers and to hear Sparano talk, the guy was on Miami's radar for some time and had great potential. And five minutes later, Drew was cut.

And the approach applies to assistants as well. Remember offensive line coach Mike Maser? He spent 2008 cursing at his players and was basically fired one week after the season ended.

And all this leads us to this question: Who is next?

Earlier this year, when the Dolphins were struggling, I was told no one was safe. In other words, no player that Miami would want to cut after the season could relax simply because his contract situation. The Dolphins saw no salary cap situation they couldn't overcome.

Of course, this doesn't include guys like Jake Long or Vontae Davis or some others because the Dolphins wouldn't consider cutting or trading them anyway. But vets who aren't performing this year risk being outta here by next year regardless of their contracts.

And there are, of course, candidates. These players must step up in the coming weeks to avoid finding themselves possibly looking work elsewhere next season:

1. Jason Allen. The experiment has failed, he is a first-round bust. He isn't a starting-caliber cornerback or safety. That fact aside, he isn't exactly contributing a ton in his current role on special teams, either. He has only seven special teams tackles this year.

2. Ted Ginn Jr. Miami coaches will defend him until the cows come home the rest of this season. But in the offseason the team will make finding a legitimate No. 1 receiver one of its priorities. And if someone comes, someone's got to go. Ginn may still stick as a special teams weapon, but barring some sort of epiphany by him as a receiver, his days at that position in a Miami uniform could be numbered.

3. Joey Porter. The Carolina game gave him a huge reprieve because he's under the microscope bigtime. Porter had eight tackles against the Panthers. That's as many tackles as he had since the third week of the season. But coaches recognize Porter did that against a guard that was playing out of position in place of an injured left tackle. They aren't fooled by the stats. Porter, 33 years old in March, has to prove in the season's final six weeks and in the coming offseason camps and conditioning program, that he deserves a spot on this team. It is not guaranteed.

4. Lionel Dotson. Sparano raved this preseason about how Dotson "changed his body" and got stronger and bigger and better. And he's still managed to be active only twice this season after being active only twice last season.

5. Anthony Fasano. I struggled with this one because I know Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland really like this kid. He's good in the locker room. He's a solid citizen. He plays all-out. But his production has fallen off the table this year. He has only 14 receptions for 113 yards. Dallas Clark had more yards against the Dolphins in one game. Fasano has been injured, has two fumbles, and three drops. He's not having the season anyone would want in a contract year. I don't think he'll be off the team, but I think the Dolphins will definitely try to add talent at TE in the offseason and, as I said before, if someone comes in, someone has to leave.

6. Gibril Wilson. I struggled with this one also. If the evaluation on Wilson had stopped in October, Wilson would probably be gone next season. He missed tackles that cost touchdowns and, arguably, games. But something happened starting Nov. 1. Wilson has not had the same dubious tackling troubles and his coverage has been solid. So it's really quite simple for him: If he plays as he did before Nov. 1, he's gone. If he continues to play as he has been of late, he stays.

7. Patrick Turner. He'll be around for training camp next year because the Dolphins did invest a third-round pick on him. But he should look to example of Murphy, a fourth-round pick in 2008, before he gets too secure in his roster status. He must improve by leaps and bounds by next season because the honeymoon for Dolphins players in Miami can be very short.

If you are not already doing so, please follow me on twitter. You'll get news updates sometimes before they even post on the blog and you'll get new blog alerts when I post them. 

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 20, 2009

The full story on why Brees isn't a Dolphin

As the Dolphins prepare to play the New Orleans Saints this week, you will likely hear repeatedly how the Dolphins might have had quarterback Drew Brees not once, but twice.

As I am older than the wheel and have covered the Dolphins since 24 B.C., I thought I would give you the benefit of my experience and share with you the circumstances of how and why the Dolphins passed on a player that in turn has passed for 27,658 yards since 2001.

The story starts in the spring of 2001 when Brees was coming out of Purdue University. The Dolphins were coming off a fine season in 2000 when they won the AFC East with an 11-5 record. New quarterback Jay Fiedler had played well, but not great, in throwing 14 TDs and 14 INTs.

The Dolphins needed a quarterback because Damon Huard had left in free agency so then VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman was looking for someone to fill the void. And yes, the Dolphins were studying Brees.

"At least three people on our staff have seen every snap in his career," Spielman told Sports Illustrated. "We will have a substantial field on Brees before we interview him at the combine in Indianapolis."

But something happened between the time Spielman was studying Brees and the April draft rolled around because with Brees on the board, the Dolphins used their 26th overall selection on cornerback Jamar Fletcher from Wisconsin.

Brees went to the Chargers with the 32nd overall selection -- the first selection of the second round that year. And it did not go unnoticed that the Dolphins passed on Brees. Spielman was asked that day why pass on an accomplished QB at that point?

"It really wasn't a consideration," he replied.

The Dolphins did eventually pick a QB. They selected Oklahoma's Josh Heupel in the sixth round. But the fact Brees got away stung, even then. So I remember asking Spielman about Brees again at an informal press gathering at the then Royal Oaks Country Club.

"We thought Drew would be an upgrade over Jay," Spielman said. "But we don't think he is that much better. We feel good about Jay. Plus we think we really upgraded our secondary with Jamar. He can play press. He can help on special teams. He's going to play sooner. He's going to help us more."

To be fair, Brees did not become an instant success in San Diego. In fact he struggled for three seasons. But by 2004, something started making sense for him and he was suddenly a very, very good NFL quarterback around the same time the Dolphins were giving up a second-round draft pick for A.J. Feeley and trying to replace Fiedler.

Fletcher, meanwhile, started a total of six games in three seasons for Miami and was traded to San Diego in 2004. Heupel? He never made it out of training camp back in 2001.

Interestingly, Spielman kept a photo of himself and Fletcher on his office wall at Dolphins camp. At first he said it was because Fletcher was his first-ever pick with the Dolphins and wanted to remember that. Years later, the story changed. Spielman claimed the pick was hoisted upon him by Wannstedt and he wanted to remember how not to make a selection.

That's how that sad, first shot at Brees came to a close.

In 2005, Nick Saban took over as coach. And after authoring a solid rebound season with a 9-7 record, Saban decided that to take the next step, his team needed to replace starter Gus Frerotte with an accomplished NFL quarterback.

Brees was available because he had injured his shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season. The injury required arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Later it was learned Brees had also a partially torn his rotator cuff.

Slated for free agency, Brees negotiated a new deal with the Chargers expecting to remain with his original team. But San Diego offered a cautious, five-year, $50 million deal that was heavily loaded with incentives. The contract made clear that San Diego had serious concerns about Brees and his shoulder. When the Chargers declined to improve their offer, Brees did two things:

He got a statement from renown surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, saying his shoulder was 100 percent and not any more likely to be reinjured than it ever was. The statement was released to the media.

And then Brees went hunting for a new team in free agency.

Two teams seemed most eager to get Brees: Miami and New Orleans.

Saban, ever the competitor, wanted to get out front of the Saints so he and his wife flew to Alabama to meet Brees and his wife for dinner. Saban fell in love with Brees. The coach was certain Brees was his guy.

The two agreed that Brees, who had already scheduled a visit in New Orleans first, would come to South Florida afterward.

Remember that in the spring of 2006, New Orleans was still recovering from the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. There was talk of relocating the team. Parts of the city were still suffering from the storm's aftermath.

The Saints were desperate to make a statement that would be perceived as a vote of confidence in the city and would drive ticket sales. They made that statement by offering Brees a five-year contract that included $8 million guaranteed the first year and a $10 million option the second year.

Brees was blown away, but sources insisted he really preferred to play for the Dolphins instead.

So he left New Orleans without signing a contract and flew to South Florida. He had dinner with Saban at a place called Grille 66 in Fort Lauderdale which to this day remains where the Dolphins take their free agents and coach candidates and alike.

Everything seemed cool but the next day weirded Brees out. He was reportedly subjected to a six-hour physical that centered, of course, around his surgically repaired shoulder. To this day, I am not certain whether or not the Dolphins made Brees an offer. A good source close to Brees insisted Miami did, although it was a lowball offer.

Regardless, Brees saw his future in New Orleans. His agent Tom Condon went back to the Saints and beat them up some more and extracted a six-year, $60 million deal that included $10 million in guarantees the first year and another $12 million the second year in the form of an option. Brees signed the deal on March 14, 2006.

The Dolphins simultaneously went a different direction, sending a second-round pick to Minnesota for Daunte Culpepper. Now, the interesting thing here is that Culpepper was also a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback but one with an injury problem of his own.

Culpepper had shredded his right knee in October of 2005, tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL during a game versus Carolina. Culpepper, still recovering from the torn knee ligaments, had met with new Vikings coach Brad Childress and had suffered something of new break -- in his relationship with the new coach due to a contract squabble.

So Culpepper was available in trade.

The trade was made with Miami and the day Culpepper arrived, the Dolphins redid his contract and paid him something in the vicinity of $10 million on the spot.

So what happened?

Months later, when Brees was lighting up NFL secondaries and Culpepper was benched, I requested a private interview with Saban to ask, basically, what was going through his cotton-pickin' mind when he picked Culpepper over Brees.

This was the answer he gave me:

''Let me just say this,'' he said in addressing the subject directly for the first time, ``It was a medical decision. I don't think medicine, personnel or any of that is an exact science. I think we have good, professional people in that area. I think they made the best judgment they could make at the time relative to the circumstances. No one could predict the future. It is what it is right now.''

Saban explained that he preferred Brees primarily because getting him didn't include giving up a draft pick. But he said the medical staff's recommendation was not only that Culpepper would have a better chance of recovering in time for the 2006 season than Brees but also that Culpepper would have a smaller chance of sustaining a reinjury.

''Hindsight is always 20/20,'' Saban told me. ``Let's wait until we're 10 miles down the road on this instead of right now before we decide which guy was the right guy.

``We thought both were good players, and we still think Daunte will be a good player for us. That's all we're concerned about. We're not looking at what anyone else on another team is doing, because our concern is our players.

''We can't worry about what went right or what went wrong [in the offseason],'' Saban said. ``We're going to try to make what we have here work and that's what we're going to do.''

The irony is that although Saban's public stance was to blame the doctors but say he still believed the situation was salvagable, he privately was blaming the team medical staff and repeating, "We should have gotten that guy, we should have gotten that guy," referring to Brees.

Saban was not, in fact, convinced Culpepper would ever be a Pro Bowl player again. 

That was in October of 2006. By January 2007, Saban quit. By July 2007, Culpepper was cut.

The rest is history.

And now you know why Drew Brees is not a Miami Dolphin.

August 29, 2008

Dolphins trade Josh McCown to Carolina

The Dolphins have traded quarterback Josh McCown for a late-round draft pick.

Two sources say the trade was consummated this afternoon after the Panthers took stock of their injury-riddled quarterback situation.

The trade seems to mean the Dolphins will go into the regular-season with three quarterbacks -- starter Chad Pennington, backup Chad Henne and third-stringer John Beck.

One source, however, tells me to refrain from including John Beck as a certainty in that group. Seems teams are also asking about Beck as a trade possibility and as Bill Parcells once told me, "Everyone on this team can be traded for the right price except Jake Long."

The Dolphins have not yet announced the trade but neither are they denying that it is happening.

On Thursday evening, McCown saw his lack of preseason playing time as a bad sign.

"Probably not playing the last three weeks is not a good a sign," McCown admitted. "I haven't been in this situation ever, but I know the writing is on the wall usually when you don't play. But for right now, I'm here and I'm excited about being here. I believe in my abilities. I know that I can play. So I'll embrace my opportunities whether it is here or somewhere else. I'll be ready to roll."

Now he'll roll for the Panthers.

August 28, 2008

Josh McCown's preseason ends with 10 plays

NEW ORLEANS -- I walked out of the Dolphins locker room and across the Superdome Stadium field with quarterback Josh McCown this evening.

That hundred-yard walk was McCown's longest stint on a pro stadium playing field since the first preseason game when he got a total of 10 plays in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay.

McCown, for the record, is a great guy. He is a man of faith, a man of principle, a guy with a solid sense of humor as well as a very live, strong passing arm.

So I kidded with him a little bit. Nice preseason, I told him.

"Thanks I appreciate it," he said without missing a beat.

For the record, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano contends the team may keep four quarterbacks and that could be true. But that would make the Dolphins the exception among NFL teams. And with McCown being the only quarterback on Miami's roster who didn't play Thursday night and the quarterback who got the fewest snaps this preseason, it simply doesn't look good for him staying on the roster through the first week of the regular season.

"Probably not playing the last three weeks is not a good a sign," McCown admitted. "I haven't been in this situation ever, but I know the writing is on the wall usually when you don't play. But for right now, I'm here and I'm excited about being here. I believe in my abilities. I know that I can play. So I'll embrace my opportunities whether it is here or somewhere else. I'll be ready to roll."

I asked McCown if he has asked Sparano or the coaching staff about their plans and about his status. He has not.

"You try to do as much as you can do and everything else sorts itself out," he said. "Even if I were to ask, I don't know what kind of information they would give us. So I have no clue."

McCown feels a sense of helplessness about his status. It is a fair feeling for a player who finishes the preseason with 5 completions on 8 attempts for 35 yards without a TD or INT. His passer rating this preseason was 72.4.

Sparano would contend that McCown got a good shot to win the job in that he had nearly 500 throws during OTA days and early in training camp. But I would tell you that opportunity comes when players are still learning the offense during OTA days and as the offense is being installed early in camp.

It is hard for any QB to look sharp at that point.

"I mean, there's not a lot I can do about it," McCown said. "They make their decisions so I have to do my part. Obviously I would love to have more of an opportunity to play and compete. But it just didn't work out that way."

August 27, 2008

Baltimore Ravens eyeing John Beck [updated]

The Baltimore Ravens have issues at quarterback as reported in this article by my friend Aaron Wilson. Troy Smith has a tonsil problem, Kyle Boller has a shoulder issue, and Joe Flacco is a rookie.

So the Ravens are casting longing glances at other quarterbacks around the NFL -- including Miami's John Beck. The Ravens have had at least one conversation with the Dolphins about Beck. They also like San Diego's Casey Bramlet, who was on the Dolphins practice squad at times last year.

All this as a guard against Boller's shoulder injury sidelining him for an extended period.

Nothing concrete was apparently accomplished Wednesday but it is unlikely Baltimore would go into the regular-season with only two quarterbacks. That raises the possibility former Dolphins coach Cam Cameron, who likes Beck and helped draft Beck last season, would put his protege high on the list of possible answers for a team with quarterback questions.

The Ravens would obviously like Beck if he is cut by the Dolphins, but that may or may not happen. So Baltimore is apparently considering offering something in trade for Beck because he has obvious value to that team. Bramlet, meanwhile, was cut Tuesday so if he clears waivers he could be added to the team.

Both Beck and Bramlet know Cameron's system and could be plugged in fairly quickly if an emergency develops with the starter. Obviously Beck would be considered a better option because, having seen Bramlet throw in camp, he's not exactly a star.

This is a situation that bears monitoring.

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 13, 2008

Last update of the day for Wednesday

The idea that Jay Feely needed to be cut by the Dolphins, in a small part, because he was too vocal in the media and with his teammates is not foreign to some players still on the team -- even one player who calls himself Feely's friend.

"Jay's my boy," linebacker Joey Porter said Wednesday. "I like Jay Feely a lot. But at the same time, certain players get to do certain things and certain players don't. Nothing against Jay, but kickers don't get to be as vocal as I would be. I don't care who you are. [Mike] Vanderjagt tried and he got kicked out of Indy and he was the best kicker in the game. Kickers don't get to talk a whole lot."

Porter said the Dolphins picked, "the cheapest player," in the kicking competition.


Josh McCown and John Beck had the best day of Miami's four quarterbacks in Wednesday's practice because, well, they took only a handful of snaps in team drills while Chad Pennington and Chad Henne took the 36 between them and stunk struggled.

Pennington was 6 of 21 with zero touchdowns and two interceptions during the entirety of the team drills, which were split up into three parts. Pennington and the starting receivers were not always on the same page but he was also victimized by some horrible happenstance.

On one sure TD pass he hit TE Sean Ryan in the hands and the guy not only drops the pass, he drops it into the hands of Joey Thomas for an INT. Pennington's second INT was legit as Will Billingsley simply plucked a weak pass in the corner of the end zone out of the air. Derek Hagan, by the way, didn't exactly defend well, which is what he's called to do when he doesn't have a chance to catch it himself.

Pennington did have the nicest completion of the day -- a 40-yard-plus connection with Greg Camarillo. Camarillo also had a leaping grab of a Henne pass across the middle later in the practice so he had a good day.

Henne was not so good either. He completed 7 of 15 passes without a TD nor an INT. Henne also took a sack.


An item in profootballtalk.com today confirms an item on this blog from Saturday that Chad Pennington's deal could be worth $11.5 million but only if the guy takes Miami to the Super Bowl and he wins the MVP. The real value of the deal is more like $8 million. He got $500,000 to sign last week.


It was surprising to see but only hours after coach Tony Sparano said he's seeing improvement from Ernest Wilford in practices, I see him fall another notch in the ever-changing depth chart.

While we all know Wilford dropped from starter to third receiver last week behind Ted Ginn and Derek Hagan, today while the team worked in three-receiver sets, he wasn't one of the three receivers. Rookie Davone Bess, Ginn and Hagan were the three WRs working with the starters. Wilford was working with the second group. Interesting.


The Dolphins want to find a place for RB Patrick Cobbs on this team so don't be surprised to see him on kick returns Saturday versus Jacksonville.


Quickie Jake Long update: Good news. Nothing to report. He doesn't give up sacks, he doesn't jump offsides. Does he have work to do? Yes, on his technique. But he's never overmatched.

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."

July 16, 2008

Josh McCown hurts finger on throwing hand

I am told it is not a recent injury, it happened almost two weeks ago. I am told the wound is healing nicely. I am told Josh McCown should be ready for the start of training camp practices July 26th.

But it is true. The guy almost got the index finger of his right (throwing) hand hacked off in a fire wood chopping accident in Texas.

McCown needed six stitches to the index finger on his right hand a couple of weeks ago when he was injured while chopping wood with his brother Luke.

According to an Associated Press report McCown told Tyler, Tex. television station KETK that he was holding the firewood and his brother, a backup quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made the mistake of cutting his finger instead of the firewood.

McCown told the station of the incident/accident during a recent interview. Again: He is fine. He shouldn't miss any training time. But that speaks only about his hand.

My greatest concern now is how is McCown's head because it cannot possibly be working very well when it allows him to put his hand in the path of a chainsaw knowing that the only way he makes a living is using that hand to throw a football.

Update: The Dolphins are aware of the accident and are not worried about it because they believe it is not serious.

July 14, 2008

Finding a QB is more important than victories

Back from vacation and I'm actually spending some time thinking about the Dolphins again.

It dawned on me this morning that Miami should have one (1) all-encompassing, all-important, undeniable priority this season. And that priority, believe it or not, is not winning games.

I would argue that finding a quarterback is Miami's most important task in 2008. I don't care if the team is 1-15 or 9-7. Regardless of the record, if the Dolphins come out of the season knowing they have identified the QB that will lead them the next 5-10 years, it will have been a successful season.

On the other hand, if the team improvement is considerable in other areas, resulting in a 9-7 record, but the quarterback situation is still unresolved at the end of the season, my take would be that the Dolphins didn't progress in the most important area.

I understand, of course, that normally the success of the team is tied to the success of the QB. But the Dolphins have pretty much been the exception in that regard. The team was 9-7 in 2005 but we all knew Gus Frerotte was not the answer. Miami also went to the playoffs in 2000 and 2001 but I don't think anyone fancied Jay Fiedler as a guy the team could ride to Super Bowl glory.

I would feel pretty good about this team if sometime during the season either John Beck or Chad Henne or even Josh McCown takes hold of the starting job and shows himself to be the long-term answer. Even if the record is not great, it gives hope that another draft filled with early picks can improve the remainder of the team.

On the other hand, having a good record at the end of 2008 but no quarterback would leave the Dolphins uncertain at the most important position on the field and in a situation where they might have to invest more resources -- either through a trade, or free agency or the draft -- to upgrade the position.

Do you disagree or agree with me?

May 27, 2008

Can John Beck overcome his rookie struggles?

John Beck has the chance to become the Dolphins starting quarterback as he will compete with Josh McCown for the job. Rookie Chad Henne, in my opinion, won't be a big factor in the race for the starting job early on because he has so much catching up to do.

For Beck, this quarterback competition is an opportunity to erase a bad rookie season. I wrote a column about that in Wednesday's Miami Herald -- it is required reading.

The point of the column, in which Beck discusses his 2007 season, is to draw attention to the fact Beck must do what other capable rookie quarterbacks who suffered terrible seasons apparently couldn't: He must overcome that terrible rookie year.

Other quarterbacks I name in the column were pretty much defined by bad rookie seasons and never really recovered. There is a sense among some NFL people that starting a rookie quarterback is a recipe for ruining a player.

And while there are a couple of rookies who started right away and grew to be outstanding quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger come to mind -- it is apparent a majority of quarterback who started as rookies continued to struggle later.

So my questions to you:

Do you think Beck can put last year behind him? Do you think he can learn from his difficult experience without being ruined by it?

Or do you think that what we saw last year is the beginning of a bad nightmare for Beck, and us? Do you think he will fall in line with Joey Harrington and Akili Smith and David Carr, who had troubles as rookie starters and eventually became either gun shy or unsure or simply unable to improve beyond their rookie struggles?