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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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?

Discuss...

May 21, 2008

Things to look for out of today's OTA reveal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 13, 2008

How's Randy Mueller looking to you now?

Last season, amid the storm of discontent over the Dolphins 1-15 season, fans raged against Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller.

Cameron, the head coach, was clearly over his head. He was the worst head coach I have ever covered and I covered Dave Wannstedt. It is possible Cameron might have learned to be better with more experience and his play-calling was fine. But he came into the job certain he was smarter than everyone else and struggled to figure out he really wasn't.

Mueller, the general manager, was clearly not over his head. I remember him telling me toward the end of 2006 that he believed the Dolphins to be one of the top four or five franchises in the NFL and that, with just a little time and patience, things could become very, very, very good in Miami.

Mueller was afforded neither the time nor patience and was swept out by new Dolphins czar Bill Parcells even before Cameron was.

But while Cameron left a legacy of often curious and sometimes comical mistakes, Mueller leaves behind a pretty good body of work.

Think about this: Two of the three quarterbacks on the Dolphins roster today are here because of Mueller moves. He drafted John Beck. Everyone knows that. But few people recognize the fact he traded Chris Chambers to San Diego and that second-round pick is the one Parcells used to draft Chad Henne this year.

So if either Beck or Henne turn out to be Miami franchise quarterbacks, some of the credit for that has to go to Mueller.

Mueller was ripped for trading Wes Welker for a second and a seventh-round selection. I believe that trade will eventually be seen as a trade that helped both teams and perhaps the Dolphins more than the Pats.

Welker is a great addition to any team. He's a fierce competitor, a great example of work ethic, a solid leader, and when he's got Tom Brady throwing the ball, he's a supremely productive receiver. But Tom Brady doesn't play for Miami so forget what Welker did for the Patriots last year. He didn't and wouldn't have done it for Miami.

I talked to Welker at the last Super Bowl and asked him if he could have tied for the NFL lead in catches (112) for Miami as he did in New England. "No," he said. Why, I asked? "Tom Brady," he answered.

No doubt Welker blossomed in New England. But he also became a better player by being around better players.

So what did Miami get in return for Welker? Samson Satele. He started every game at center as a rookie last year. He is slotted as the starting center again this year and perhaps the next 10 years. Remember that players typically make their greatest leap in performance between their rookie and second years. I believe Satele will be outstanding in 2008.

Mueller once told me he has "Pro Bowl written all over him if he works hard." And Satele will be good regardless of what quarterback the Dolphins have, regardless of whether Miami is a running or throwing team. The point is Miami traded a player that depends on other players to be good, for one that doesn't. That is a good trade.

Remember I wrote around Super Bowl time that a long-time NFL man who often speaks with Parcells told me Parcells was complaining about the lack of talent in Miami? Parcells told that NFL man that he had only three or four players on the roster he could build with for the future.

"I talked to him a week or two ago and he was telling me he has only three or four players down there," the NFL told me a couple of days before the Super Bowl. "He believes he's got a punter [Brandon Fields], he's got a center [Samson Satele], he's got Ted Ginn, and maybe he's got a running back if Ronnie Brown gets back to being the guy he was early last year. But even Brown he's not really counting on."

So at the time, Parcells mentioned four players. Three of them -- Satele, Ginn and Fields -- were drafted by Mueller in the same draft, the one draft he got to run for the Dolphins.

I know the proverbial jury is out on Ted Ginn Jr. And I still wish the Dolphins had picked quarterback Brady Quinn.

But I believe Ginn will be a very good player in the NFL. I think he catches the ball cleanly, I think his speed is a great asset. I think he WANTS to get better. Those are foundational points for a good receiver. Yes, he has to learn to run crisp routes. Yes, he has to learn to find the open areas in a defense as well as learn his own offense better.

But those latter things will come with experience if he applies himself. He has great tools. And again, a player typically makes his greatest leap in production in his second NFL season.

So even without mentioning fullback Reagan Mauia, the Dolphins have a handful of core players that Mueller is responsible for bringing to the team. Yes, Mueller might have missed on a couple of guys such as Paul Soliai. Yes, he might have overpaid for Joey Porter.

But ultimately his one season with the Dolphins will seem a lot more productive than the three or four years that preceded him. And in hindsight, that should be viewed quite favorably.