October 15, 2014

Can the Miami Dolphins put stinging loss behind them?

The loss to the Green Bay Packers was a gut punch. To me, that bitter defeat has the potential to be a season-defining moment that sends the Miami Dolphins on a tailspin from which they might not recover.

So this week I am looking for signs this team is rebounding. I am searching for clues to see whether Sunday's loss will linger like a hangover after an all-night bender or whether the team is walking a straight line to the next assignment rather than being haunted by the past.

The Dolphins provided some of those clues on Tuesday. Oh, some players were honest. They said they still felt the sting of the loss a full two days after it was sealed.

"Even during practice I was kind of upset we lost the game," receiver Mike Wallace said. "I was still thinking about it. But once [Wednesday] comes, we've got a new gameplan. We got to let it go. It's tough to lose those type of games but we got to move forward. We'll be fine."

That's honest and expected. Let's face it, that game stung. And for many people the pain of failure is stubborn and hard to overcome while the satisfaction of victory is fleeting.

“I think it’s tough," cornerback Cortland Finnegan admitted. "I think when you had a good team right where we had them, it’s tough, but it’s the 24-hour rule. I think the Chicago Bears don’t give a rip what happened against the Green Bay Packers. So we’ve got to go out there and give them our best."

A football team is the united heartbeat of 53 individuals and a coaching staff. (Yeah, that's some prose). Anyway, even as there is only one heartbeat there are varying opinions and reactions. Some players said they had already moved forward.

The question is whether those players and the coaches will dominate over any lingering lack of confidence, or pain, or emotional bankruptcy in willing the entire group to pivot to the next game against the Chicago Bears.

Joe Philbin said he saw a tangible sign that the defeat is not lingering.

"I thought it was our best Tuesday practice of the year," Philbin said after a session that lasted approximately 90 minutes. "I know we had a tough hard-fought game the other day, but I thought our guys came out and really prepared extremely well. We’ve got a long way to go before the game and a lot more of the game plan to put in, but I thought we got off to a good start."

A good practice suggests the players were not sleepwalking. It suggests they were being professional and moving on to the next assignment.

But it is only one sign. It is still early in the week. Philbin and his coaches must be wary of a team liking wounds or picking at scars for too long. And so Philbin talked to the players about it.

“We talked a little bit in the team meeting." Philbin said. "We said look, ‘We’ve got to be tougher than that mentally.’ Really, as we all know, obviously it takes tremendous physical skill to be an NFL football player, but, once you get there, a lot of it is mental. So all of us, myself included, we all have to get back to work. This is an important game and we have to play well."

It is easier said than done.

"One hunderd percent honest, it's how bad you messed up or how great you did," defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. "Sometimes you want to move past a game, so you move on. Sometimes it's easier than others and sometimes it's harder than others.

"In terms of lingering and thinking of what you did, [a loss] will last through a good part of Monday. You're sitting there and thinking about what you did, what's going to be said when you go back into the building, what you're going to be corrected on or what you might be praised for. When it's a loss everything is going to be illuminated as much as when you win but either way, you have a game next week and you have to perform. You think about them. And part of you becoming a pro is forgetting about them. Learning from it, extracting the nutrients from a win or loss, but moving on to the next."

We'll see how well the Dolphins can move on to the next this week.

September 10, 2014

Miami Dolphins missing key players in practice

The Miami Dolphins are practicing today but the defense is working a lot of backups because starters Randy Starks and Koa Misi missed practice to add to the absence of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe who is on injured reserve.

The Dolphins defense in practice today is without players that combined for 453 tackles, including 26 for loss in 2013. This according to math genius of The Herald's Adam Beasley.

Starks is wearing a boot on his left foot. He was working with trainers to rehab whatever injury he is suffering. Misi, who missed three quarters last week with an ankle sprain, was in a cast on his left ankle. A cast is not an boot. It suggests a more serious injury.

The Miami linebacker corps is decimated with two starters  -- Ellerbe and Misi -- either definitely out or trending that way. Even Phillip Wheeler who is practicing at least on a limited basis is still lessened because he is still wearing the cast on his right hand, wrist and thumb that he wore last week to attend to his fractured thumb.

Wheeler was unable to play with his injury last week.

Obviously, if the Dolphins must resort to backups, the candidates are Jason Trusnik handling the chores in the middle for Misi and Jelani Jenkins handling the Ellerbe position at weakside outside linebacker as he did last weekend against New England.

There's obviously is a chance the Dolphins can integrate newly acquired Kelvin Sheppard into the lineup or use Jonathan Freeny if Wheeler cannot go against the Bills.

So the LB corps would be something akin to Trusnik, Jenkins and Sheppard or Freeny if the starters are out -- which is a very real possibility.

The Starks injury is worrisome because he is a starting caliber player. And although the Dolphins have Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick, the run stopping defense becomes a concern if Starks cannot play, compounding the loss of practically the entire linebacker corps.

Interestingly, Starks practiced on Tuesday. So this injury happened since then.

We're not done. 

The Dolphins are limited in backups they have working in practice. Linebacker Jordan Tripp (chest) is still not practicing and hasn't worked since the preseason finale. Linebacker Chris McCain (hip, illness) was not at practice today for the second consecutive day.

We're not done, folks.

Offensive lineman Billy Turner is still in a boot and did not work during the portion of practice open to the media.

Center Mike Pouncey been running but still has not been cleared to practice. He will not play against the Bills.

Rookie Terrence Fede, who has not practiced in three weeks because of a knee injury, also is not practicing and will not play against Buffalo. His loss, not a major problem in the opener because most everyone was healthy, starts to become more pronounced with Starks in a boot and other defenders hurt.

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.

February 08, 2011

Dolphins own free agent priority? Paul Soliai

Much of the unrestricted free agent focus surrounding the Dolphins' own players has centered around the offensive backfield in general and running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in particular.

I would tell you that is probably not the place the Dolphins should be placing their priority.

I would tell you the priority should be on defense. Right in the middle of all the action. At nose tackle.

Paul Soliai.

Soliai, drafted in 2007, is expected to hit free agency once the players' union and the NFL get their act together and agree on a collective bargaining agreement. He will not re-sign with Miami before a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, according to a league source, because he wants to maximize his earning potential and the 30 percent rule makes it hard to do that until after his current contract expires and he becomes a free agent.

So the Dolphins have "zero," chance of re-signing Soliai before he hits free agency, the source close to the player said Tuesday.

What does that mean?

It means the biggest body on the Miami defensive line, the player who started 14 games at nose tackle for Miami last year, will hit free agency assuming the league does not establish a lull period during which current teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own players.

I am told if Soliai hits the open market, it will be a free-for-all. He wants to remain with the Dolphins. But he wants to get paid. And there will be interest because there always is for a 355 pound defensive lineman that has proven he can play.

In talks between the Dolphins and agent David Canter, I am told by my source, the Dolphins are being cautious. Canter could not be reached for comment, but I'll keep trying. He is, after all, a weekly contributor on my radio show Armando and the Amigo.

I can understand why no deal has been reached yet. Soliai played better than he has at any time in his career in 2010 so he wants to be rewarded. The Dolphins are almost certainly guarding themselves against Soliai being a one-year wonder because he's been a reserve his previous three seasons.

Thus we have a gap that needs to be bridged.

Soliai was very good last year, tying Kendall Langford for the lead in solo tackles among defensive linemen with 33. He also led all defensive linemen with eight tackles for losses with eight. Bottom line, when the Dolphins lost defensive end Jared Odrick after the regular-season opener and needed to move Randy Starks from nose tackle back to defensive end, Soliai's play made that possible.

I imagine the Dolphins could retry the Starks at nose tackle experiment, but the bottom line is Soliai was more productive than any starting nose tackle the Dolphins have had under their current administration. So they should do everything possible to keep from losing that kind of talent.

There is also an inherent risk for the Dolphins in being overly cautious with Soliai. Unless they get that lull period, they could risk losing him to another team. And the New York Jets could be in the market for a starting nose tackle.

Just saying.

September 15, 2010

Wednesday afternoon's happenings for Dolphins

Lots to get to. Let's work:

Last week an item in ProFootballTalk.com related a radio show interview NFL.com's Vic Carucci did with a Buffalo radio station, during which this very good journalist said Bill Parcells was very disappointed with Chad Henne.

That report was repeated on and by numerous outlets and although I immediatedly tweeted that the report was not accurate because Parcells is not disappointed in Henne, the perception remained out there that Miami's consultant is disappointed.

Sooo, I wanted to give that thing something of a funeral today. Sooo, I asked coach Tony Sparano if in any of his conversations with Parcells he has gotten any inkling that the Dolphins consultant is disappointed in Henne.

"No," Sparano said. "I read the little blurp there, but no, nothing."

Trust me, guys, Bill Parcells is not disappointed in Chad Henne. Now, if Henne doesn't live up to expectations, it might come to that. But at this point? Not disappointed.


Defensive end Jared Odrick was in the locker room today (photo by David J. Neal).

He confirmed his right fibula injury is indeed a hairline fracture and said he's "week to week."


And while he had no definitive timetable for returning, Odrick didn't act like someone that is going to miss a significant amount of time. [I reported yesterday it would two weeks.] Odrick said the cast and wrap he's wearing over it is a precaution.

Odrick did share that he's broken the same right leg previously. And he has a metal plate in that leg. Interesting.

"Anytime you lose a player, particularly a young player, and one whose coming off a good game, it's tough, but the next guy's got to step up," Sparano said. "These are things our team is educated on. We call them body blows. It's a punch in the stomach but the next guy's got to step up."


There is talk the Dolphins might solve the Odrick absence by moving Randy Starks from nose tackle back to defensive end. Starks played defensive end the past two seasons and had a stellar season there last year, collecting seven sacks.

Well, that stuff is just speculation.

I asked Starks if he would welcome such a move. "I'll play wherever the coaches ask me to play," he said. "I'll do whatever they need for the team to win."

But ...

No one has asked Starks to do such a thing. I asked Starks if he's taken any snaps at defensive end since camp started.

"No," he said.

I asked Starks if he took any snaps at end today.

"No," he said.

I don't see how you can ask a player to play defensive end if he hasn't worked at the position since the 2009 season. Just sayin'.

The Dolphins will more likely go with Tony McDaniel to fill in for Odrick.


This week will be something of a reunion for CB Benny Sapp and the Minnesota Vikings. He's playing against the team he was traded from to the Dolphins in preseason.

But Sapp had other things on his mind today when he went out to practice than that coming return to the Metrodome. He was thinking about that possible pick-6 interception he dropped Sunday at Buffalo.

"I thought about it until the moment I got on the field today," Sapp said. "Then I prayed for God to help me focus on this game that's coming up and leave that behind."

Sapp sought Devine intervention to help him forget but he also did the natural thing to help him succeed if he's in a similar situation in the future:

He and the rest of Miami's DBs apparently took time after practice catching passes on the jugs machine. The Dolphins dropped two pick-6 opportunities Sunday, with Jason Allen being the other DB to miss the opportunity.

"Trying to make sure it doesn't happen again," Sapp said.


ILB Channing Crowder (groin) and SOLB Ikaika Alama-Francis (illness) did not practice Wednesday. 

September 14, 2010

One final look at Bills victory and Jets news

First the news that indirectly affects the Miami Dolphins: Rex Ryan announced moments ago that NT Kris Jenkins is out for the season (again) after re-injuring the same knee that forced him to miss much of last season. Jenkins suffered the injury Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have signed defensive end Lionel Dotson off the Denver practice squad, according to the Herald's Barry Jackson. Kenny Zuckerman confirmed the signing to Jackson.

[Update: The Dotson signing makes sense because defensive end Jared Odrick is very likely out this week against Minnesota, according to test results the team got back today. Odrick's injury is not serious enough that he's done for the year. He is week to week. He will remain on the roster, obviously.]

I just went through the Miami Dolphins victory over Buffalo one last time. Here are my observations:

The pass rush: It was obviously very good and definitely not vanilla as it had been in preseason. You know already that the first sack of the year, which came when Karlos Dansby came on a blitz after he lined up outside of Cameron Wake, was a thing of beauty. Dansby came unblocked. But what you probably didn't notice is that it was a zone blitz. Even as the Dolphins brought four men and one was unblocked, nose tackle Randy Starks backed out into zone coverage in the middle of the field. Beautiful.

On the next series, the Dolphins answered the call on a third-and-two situation by sending six men after QB Trent Edwards. Six guys, including safety Yeremiah Bell. Koa Misi was unblocked this time and hurried Edwards although the QB completed the pass. On the next pass down, the Dolphins brought three-men and by this time Edwards' head was spinning. He wasn't really pressured by the thee-man rush, but hurried his throw anyway underneath.

When it was done, Dansby, Misi and Cameron Wake had sacks. Wake, by the way, showed exceptional quickness on his rushes. He had a hurry that caused an incompletion aside from his sack and was often around the QB. Starks, who had seven sacks a season ago, didn't pick up any Sunday but did have a batted pass.

Clock management: Normally this topic involves coaching. Not this time. This time it involves quarterback Chad Henne. One of the trademarks of a good offense is shutting the door on a comeback. The Dolphins had a chance to do that when they got the ball with 5:03 to play Sunday and did a good, not great job on closing that door. It would have been a much better job had Henne handled the play clock better. With the game and play clocks winding, Henne snapped the football with 11 seconds remaining on the play clock on first down. He snapped it with 10 seconds remaining on the play clock on second down. He snapped it with nine seconds remaining on the play clock the next down. He snapped it with 11 seconds remaining on the play clock on second-and-two.

What is the point? Henne is obviously trying to manage everything right now but he has to manage the play clock as well. If he snaps the ball with, say, two seconds remaining each of those times I just mentioned, that takes an extra 35 seconds off the game clock.

That means when the Bills get the ball back, they would have had 1:13 to work with instead of 1:48. That is a big difference, folks. Henne must learn and coaches must remind him that the clock can be his friend. As Sam Wyche would say, "Milk it, milk it, milk it!"

Double tight? Not so much: The Dolphins have made a virtual living off the double tight end formation in the last two seasons. It has been a staple with Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos or Anthony Fasano and David Martin. This year the Dolphins have keep Fasano and John Nalbone. They used the double tight end formation only four times the entire game. The Dolphins decided, at least in this game, that putting three-wides out there is more likely to open things up across the defense. Thank you, God! I hope it is a tendency that lasts.

The offensive line: The Dolphins yielded three sacks on Sunday. One of those was given up by an offensive lineman. Ricky Williams gave up a sack on a blitz in the first half and in the fourth quarter, Ronnie Brown and Fasano blocked the same edge rusher while Bryan Scott ran past Fasano on a delayed blitz. The other sack was given up by Vernon Carey. Don't get too down on Carey or left tackle Jake Long, however. They were very good. They were primarily in man-to-man situations on passing downs and they moved the pile extremely well in run blocking situations. The Dolphins also tried the unbalanced line on a handful of occasions -- placing Long on the right side outside of Carey. It had only mixed results.

John Jerry was fine most of the time. He had a couple of ugly moments where his technique put him in awkward situations. His footwork was off a little bit a couple times -- so much so that Henne tripped over him twice. But in the straight-ahead blocking department, he was good. The Dolphins used Incognito to pull on several occasions. It didn't really work. Incognito isn't smooth pulling out and running across the formation to lead the blocking going against the flow. He is, however, quite powerful in the straight ahead stuff. The Miami line is what it is in that they get a good push off the ball straight ahead. But fleet of foot? Not so much. I will say that if Miami runners start bouncing runs outside more, there is yardage to be made there. Ronnie Brown showed this a couple of times, including his 17-yard run in the fourth quarter. Williams didn't have his best game and seemed to be content keeping his running between the tackles.

A receiver rewind: Brandon Marshall had that one notable drop on the long pass. He took responsibility for it on the field, basically telling Henne it was his fault. But Marshall was very good both with what he contributed that appears on the stat sheet and the stuff that doesn't. He had one viscious block that leveled a Buffalo defender. And his mere presence helped Fasano be so readily available down the seam. Rookie Marlon Moore dropped the only pass thrown his way. Brian Hartline had a tough day also, dropping two passes and having a first-down catch erased by a penalty. Davone Bess was excellent, particularly in the second half. He practically took over at one point. I must tell you, Hartline needs to produce soon in games or Bess might take that second receiver job away from him.

The no-huddle defense: The Miami D yielded 39 yards during Buffalo's first nine drives of the game. Then the desperate Bills went to the no-huddle and went 80 yards in 10 plays for their only TD of the day. I think the Minnesota Vikings will see that. I believe Brett Favre is pretty good in the no-huddle offense. The Dolphins need to tighten this stuff up.