September 06, 2010

Will Allen not happy to be on IR - understandably

Will Allen is on injured reserve. And he's not very happy about it.

Allen, out on injured reserve for the second consecutive season, has told multiple sources how unhappy and displeased he is with the fact the Dolphins decided to effectively shut him down for the 2010 season and not hold a roster spot open for him until he could return to full health.

That timetable for Allen returning to full health was initially reported as the first game of the season but the truth is Allen isn't ready now. Multiple sources are saying he would more likely be ready to contribute in the Miami secondary by the start of October or the Oct. 4 game against New England.

The Dolphins decided against holding a roster spot open for Allen, privately telling The Herald's Jeff Darlington there were too many uncertainties with that timetable. Publicly, the club has shown no desire to explain its thinking on placing Allen on injured reserve.

"I'm not going to get into the specific reasons why we did any of these things," Coach Tony Sparano said this week when asked the reason for Allen being shelved. "But it's something that had to be done right now."

Allen disagrees, according to those close to him. In the days following his Aug. 11 arthroscopic surgery, Allen felt like he had turned the corner on the injury that forced him to miss all of the 2009 season. Yes, he had passed his physical and was practicing at the start of training camp, but he didn't feel quite right.

He felt right following the latest surgery and all he wanted, I am told, was a couple of weeks to prove that on the field.

He will not get that chance.

So why is this even a topic?

Well, the Dolphins have had issues in the secondary, and particularly at cornerback, this preseason. Sean Smith struggled. Jason Allen, often dismissed as only a special teams player after being selected in the 2006 first round, showed more promise than in the past.

And although Jason Allen wasn't stellar, himself giving up scoring plays in the preseason, he displaced Smith as the starter for the regular-season opener at Buffalo on Sunday. Sparano confirmed that Monday.

"The decision hasn't been made all the way," Allen said Monday. "But I'm preparing like I'm the starter. That's how I always prepare and this week is no different."

There is nothing here that suggests benching Smith for Allen is the wrong decision. That is a coaching decision and Sparano and his staff know better than anyone, certainly better than me, which players they have confidence in starting.

But the question that lingers is why the rush to discard Will Allen? Sure, there is uncertainty about his return to health. But tell me what is guaranteed in today's NFL, anyway?

Why not hold the roster spot open for a week or two just in case the Allen prognosis turns from a question mark to an exclamation point? And if that question mark lingers, then the Dolphins could put Allen in IR and move on.

The Dolphins, silent on the matter, might argue that roster spots are precious and they cannot hold any spot open for Allen. Really?

So the waiver wire additions of Joe Reitz, Robert Rose, Jermey Parnell and Clifton Geathers were all that important? Do these unproven, untested guys come with no uncertainty?

Are they all more likely to contribute to the Dolphins this season than Will Allen would once he got fully healthy?

And, yes, I know it is uncertain Allen would reach 100 percent health regardless of what sources are saying. But one must admit it is uncertain the young untested guys taking up the roster spots will ever help the Dolphins in any way, either.

We'll see how it works out.

[Broadcast note: Tune in to Armando and the Amigo Tuesday morning 6-10 a.m., as our guests will include former Bills WR Steve Tasker, who is broadcasting Sunday's game, Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com, Dolphins Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell, former Mets GM Steve Phillips, and Jacksonville State head coach Jack Crowe, fresh off his team's upset of Ole' Miss. If you're not in South Florida, listen live here.]

Long, Crowder not practicing as Bills week begins

The Dolphins are working this Labor Day morning but not everyone is on the field as the team begins preparation for Sunday's season-opener at Buffalo.

The Miami Herald's David J. Neal reports that neither Jake Long (knee) nor Channing Crowder (unknown injury) are working. Both are on the field and stretching but neither is in gear and seemingly ready to participate in today's work. Long is wearing a brace on his left knee.

Lydon Murtha is working as the first-team left tackle today.

Now, climb off the ledge.

This is not by any means a final indication that both will miss the season-opener. Every indication has been that both will be able to play against the Bills -- including Long saying he'd be fine, and coach Tony Sparano saying he wasn't concerned about Crowder missing the game.

But ...

Well, we won't know for sure until game time. The Dolphins must release an injury report on Wednesday so we'll get a clearer indication if today's time off is a cause for greater concern than we might currently be inclined to have. 

The Dolphins today announced their seven-man practice squad. Six of the seven were with the team in training camp. The members today are:

DB Jonathon Amaya, DE Ryan Baker, G Ray Feinga, LB Chris McCoy, WR Julius Pruitt, LB Austin Spitler and TE Nathan Overbay, who spent training camp with the Denver Broncos.

August 22, 2010

The postgame analysis of Dolphins 27-26 victory

As I tell you in my column off of tonight's 27-26 preseason victory for the Miami Dolphins over the Jacksonville Jaguars, there is plenty of good to celebrate and some bad to be worried about.

But the bottom line is the Dolphins showed improvement from preseason game one to preseason game two. I saw it. You saw. Coach Tony Sparano saw it.

 "I feel like we got a little bit better this week during the course of practice and I think Chad [Henne] and Brandon [Marshall] played a little bit better," Sparano said. "Chad was efficient with the football ... And I thought Brandon made some plays. One of the things I really enjoyed was Brandon with the ball in his hands. He's exactly what I thought we might have when he gets the ball in his hands.

"We weren't very good a week ago so making improvement this week was critical. And we have a long ways to go and there's a lot of areas out there we can get better in. I'm fine right now where our team is but we got to make the same kind of jump this week in practice.

"We're nowhere near where we plan to be, but I do believe we made some progress tonight."

The biggest jump was made by Henne, which is important because he plays the most important position on the field. He completed 11 of 14 passes with two of those incompletions the results of drops -- one by Ricky Williams and one by Brandon Marshall.

"The first series was a slow start but overall we're seeing things clearly out there and trying to be more effective and efficient in our offense," Henne said. 

Henne had a 55 yard TD pass to Anthony Fasano and an 11 yard TD to Fasano. Both showed how Brandon Marshall helps even when he's not catching the football. On the first, Marshall blew up two defenders with the block that sprung Fasano for the score. On the second, Marshall's presence opened things up for Fasano.

"They split the safety and tried to double-cover Brandon out there so Anthony came open with a linebacker and I threw it because the linebacker wasn't looking," Henne said.

All in all, the outing was a confidence-building experience for Henne.

"Coming out here and performing well definitely builds it up and helps you going into the next preseason game and going into the season," he said. 

The Dolphins went into the game thinking Chad Pennington would play only if Henne got his work in the first half. If that happened early enough, Pennington would get his preseason opportunity. That's how it played out as Pennington completed 3 of 4 passes and led a touchdown drive.

"I thought Chad did fine," Sparano said. "First of all it was tough duty. He knew going into the game that depending on what the situation was like at the end of the half, he may or may not play. So it's tough being in that kind of situation and as I've been saying all along, he gets it. He wanted to underthrow Brandon just a little bit on the deep throw and Brandon did a good job of working back to the ball ... He even ran one there so that was pretty nice."

Although much about this night came in a good-new package, there were the sour moments, too.

Pass protection was good early. Later it was bad. The team gave up five sacks. One of those sacks was yielded by the starting offensive line, the rest by the reserves.

The special teams were troubling.

"We had another kick blocked tonight which, to be honest, was a flat-out concentration error," Sparano said. "And they have some good returners. I thought it was up, it was down, It was inconsistent. Nolan [Carroll] had a couple of decent returns. It was up and down, a little inconsistent."

To be fair, the kick coverage team has been a mish-mash of personnel as coaches try to find the right combos. Sparano promised that will be resolved in the coming week.

While Henne looked good against the Jacksonville defense, David Garrard performed surgery on the Dolphins secondary. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 79 yards with one touchdown. His passer rating was 145.3.

"We had things there in man coverage that we didn't take care of," Sparano said. "That concerns me because it's two weeks in a row where the ball is completed down the field on us a few times. We had a couple of chunk plays. They're a good group, but we have to be able to clean some of that up."

I asked Sparano his thoughts about getting or not getting Pat White in the game. He said, "It's circumstance right now. I can't get four guys in the game every week. So I didn't get him in the game this week and that's the way it went."

My guess is that was only the thought he felt he could share. He probably really thought that White is the team's No. 4 QBs and getting No. 4 QBs in games is not really a big priority. After the game, White said he was told he would not be playing.

As you have read here already, he's on his way out, which is surprising because he was a second-round pick, but not surprising when the second-round pick is the No. 4 QB. Right now, it seems only a matter of when, not if, the Dolphins will jettison White.

Maybe they can get something for him in trade.

What can I say? I'm an optimistic kind of guy.

August 18, 2010

Funnyman Brandon Marshall regales media

Brandon Marshall can be a funny guy. Yeah, that's it. He has a sense of humor.

He did his third press conference since coming to the Dolphins. Before he began to address the local hacks, he asked a Miami Dolphins staffer for a football, got it, and punted it to begin the press conference.

"Any questions," he said laughing.

Like I said, funny guy. Anyway, below you can find the full transcript of his talk with the reporters:

(On explaining what just happened) -- "Well, you guys aren't really good journalists because you reported it wrong. It didn't make it over the fence; it stayed in the facility (referring to his punting a ball in practice the other day after a drop, laughing)."

(On what emotions the punt expressed) -- "I don't think it's a secret; I'm the type of guy where I want to compete and I want to compete at the highest level on a consistent basis. When you struggle at times, well when I struggle at times, I'm not going to be happy, and it's not going to be a secret, and I will never let it be a secret. When I'm frustrated in practice, I'm going to be frustrated. Now in the game it's a different story; I think in the game you don't want to give your opponent that edge so you try to control your emotions but in practice you want to compete and you want to get better. That's exactly what we're trying to do here."

(On his showing of emotion in the past) -- "Well I think that's exactly what it is. I'm not going to compare a situation in the past to my situation now. This is the first time in, in four years that I've went into a season or a training camp where I was completely happy. Now am I happy every day, no because we compete every day, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and that ultimate competitor in me, I'm not going to be happy. I think we're doing a great job as a team competing every day and trying to get each other better. A lot of great competition going on you know on the field, which I think is going to help our team in the long run."

(On whether his new contract puts any additional pressure on him) -- "Not at all, I mean the pressure to do what, catch a football? I've been doing that since I was six years old. The only thing I can do is what I can do; I'm going to be the same guy. Whatever made me great is what's going to be on the field throughout this season. I'm excited about this opportunity that we have as a team, our goals, and working to achieve that."

(On if he enjoys the spotlight) -- "I love it. I embrace it. I think this is an organization where there's going to be a lot of lights on us. I think we have a special team here. It's a special organization, and I think we have a chance to do some special things."

(On him seeing his charisma wearing off on his teammates) -- "Well like I said, it's good when you take the positive from it like Vontae (Davis). Every day we're going out there and competing. Every day he wants to prove to me and to our teammates that he can shut me down. There's, what's the word…I guess I'm supposed to be a good receiver. It gives him an edge on other receivers. It gives him a confidence when he does great against me. Every day he's out to prove one thing, that he can shut me down and our other receivers in our room. So it's exciting to see that our young corners are getting better and they're taking advantage of this opportunity."

(On his reaction to Vontae's punt after breaking up a pass in practice) -- "Yesterday? I didn't like it at all. I went back to the sideline and I told coach, I can't believe I let him get the opportunity to kick the ball because he made a great play. It's a play I think I should have had and he knocked the ball away, and he got up and punted the ball, and I didn't like that at all."

(On his relationship with Vontae) -- "Oh I care, oh I care. It makes me mad (when he punts the ball) just like if I make a good play and I say some words to him, it's not good for TV but he's going to come back out and he's going to compete that much harder."

(On the competition aspect of his relationship with Vontae) -- "Yeah I mean me and Vontae, we went out to lunch today and we just sat down and tried to pick each other's brains' about what we're seeing on the practice field, how we can make each other better, and it's exciting. Sean (Smith) the same. Sean's a corner who like I said before is physically gifted and the way he's been applying himself in this camp is amazing, and I think those two are going to have a great year."

(On how this camp is different for him considering he is happy and healthy) -- "Yeah, definitely healthy, definitely happy, the only thing is I'm hot. Add another H to that, the three H's: happy, healthy, hot."

(On how things are coming along with Chad Henne) -- "You know what; we got off to a slow start last week. We let the conditions get the best of us. I went out there and had two drops; you definitely don't want to start off that way. But hey, we got three more preseason games left, a bunch of practices before Buffalo, 24 days till Buffalo. We got time to get things better; we're not where we want to be, but we'll work to get there."

(On whether getting off to a slow start makes this weekend's game a big game) -- "Every practice, every game is a big game. Not just because how things went for our first team last week. Every time we step on the field, and every time, whether it's practice or game day, we want to take advantage of it. That's exactly what we do every day."

(On whether his being out during OTA's has slowed his progression with Chad Henne) -- "No, not at all. That was a time where I was able to get mental reps and pick his brain every play. That helped a lot, and like I said, we have a bunch of practices before Buffalo and that's all we need. We'll be fine."

(On his reaction to people saying he should change his number away from #19) -- "I think this is kind of played out, but it's just practice. I'm not going to go over there with A.I. (Allen Iverson) (laughing). Like I said, that's why I get frustrated because the way you play is how you practice. If you're dropping the ball in practice, you got a chance that you'll drop the ball in the game. It's something that we definitely, I definitely need to correct, so there it is."

(On him having all the attention) -- "I've always had a bullseye on my back and a spotlight on me. Not always for the positive, but it's been there before. It's nothing that's unique to me, and I embrace it."

(On the quarterback group as a whole) -- "Well I'm excited because we get a chance to grow together. We have a leader in Chad Pennington who has a lot of wisdom, who's played a lot of games. He helps not only the quarterbacks but he helps us receivers in the segment room. I'm going into my fifth year, I don't know it all. I may be one the oldest in my room, but I still have a lot of learning to do. How to approach the game in a professional way on and off the field, and that's what Chad Pennington brings to us, so we're excited to have him, and I hope he stays around for a long time."

(On how the offense compares to the offense he played in for Denver) -- "Well actually, it's similar. The formations, personnel calls, it's kind of from the same (coaching) tree. The transition for me is pretty easy and pretty similar."

(On his relationship with Mike Sims-Walker) -- "Well that was my college roommate, one of the best men in my wedding, more like a brother. So that's my buddy."

(On whether there are ever any wagers between the two) -- "Definitely. Every time we match, man we got wagers on everything. We're always betting but it ain't about cash though, (it's a) gentlemen's bet, gentlemen's bet."

(On whether he wants Darrelle Revis to settle his contract dispute with the New York Jets so he can go up against him) -- "Well of course because I mean in order to be the best, you got to go against the best and you would love to compete against someone of his caliber and make plays on him. It kind of gives you that confidence; kind of solidify yourself, so I would love to see him out there. I think it will get done; I don't think it's a matter of if, but when."

(On how he expresses his emotion even while he's in the spotlight) -- "Well I think down here, it's new to you guys because I'm a new guy, but a year from now you guys will be  able to say oh that's just Brandon. That's how he performs, that's how he practices, he plays with a lot of emotions, he approaches the game with a lot of passion. You don't want to do that in the game but it's practice. Like I said, I'm a guy that wants to compete, and compete at a high level. Hopefully things will work out for us where we get things rolling in the right direction."

(On how he channels his emotion to make sure it's positive) -- "Well I mean I honestly believe you're supposed to be, you should be harder on yourself than anyone else. I honestly believe that. If you don't push yourself, then how can someone else push you? So that's what I believe in, and that's how I approach the game."

June 01, 2010

Tony Sparano on Tuesday's OTA

Yes, I'm on vacation. But I have not gone anywhere yet. And I cannot stay away from the information. So I'm going to share with you everything coach Tony Sparano said after Tuesday's OTA session, courtesy the Dolphins media relations department.

Head Coach Tony Sparano:

(On how Channing Crowder is coming along) – “He’s coming along good. We were able to get him involved a little bit more today. You know, it’s a little positive getting him out there and getting him running around. So, we’ll just take it slow. We’re going to have five or six more of these so little by little here we’ll check again with him tomorrow to see how he does after today’s work and we’ll maybe start to get him involved a little bit more. So hopefully by the end of this we’ll have a big chunk of it anyways.”

(On the green dot (signal calling) and if they worked with that today – “We did a little bit. If fact today out there we had the offense on the defense’s and the defense on the offense’s, so it was out of whack today. But we’ve done a little bit in the last three or four games, yeah.”

(On if the green dot usage will be a training camp decision) –“Yeah, right now we have it in Channing (Crowder)—well, not Channing (Crowder) but I believe in Karlos (Dansby) and (Austin) Spitler’s helmet today out there. Just linebackers and safeties. Yeremiah (Bell) has one in there right now, so, we’ll see.”  

(On if the green dot usage makes it easier on the offense”) – “Yeah, very easy on the offense because they knew the call (laughing).”

(On Chad Henne and what areas of improvement he wants to see) “I would say that probably the greatest thing that we needed to see improvement in from Chad is certainly the decision making process of taking care of the football. Sometimes the impulse throws, feeling like you have to do it all on one play, you know, or maybe have to do it all on one play, those types of things. Some of the up and down throws, the touch throws that are necessary in the middle of the field. He’s showed improvement in both those areas right now. His numbers are off the chart here right now. On Sunday he was 12 for 12 in practice. So, this guy’s numbers are outstanding as we speak going through these practices and OTA’s and he’s made good decisions and is taking care of the ball. Today, backed up, first play, our backs against the wall, he throws the ball away…it’s a good decision.”  

(On Vernon Carey and his veteran leadership) – “Vernon is a veteran player that’s played an awful lot of games; he’s started a lot of games in this league. So, I think that alone should create a little bit of leadership that way and I think what Vernon has done really well is he and Jake (Long) mesh pretty well together. I don’t think you find too many places where the two of them aren’t together. So, that’s worked out pretty well within that group as well. So, I like what Vernon has done, he’s a guy that always comes out here every day, he practices and you can count on him in the ball game. So, those types of leadership qualities are pretty good when you find a guy that’s dependable like that.”

(On how Vernon Carey helps with the young players) – “He’s good. He communicates well with the young guys. That group is pretty…well, there not selfish in that group at all. A lot of those guys don’t mind sharing information. You got (Joe) Berger, and (Jake) Grove who are competing with each other out here and everyday they’re in the weight room lifting together. So, these guys are pretty unselfish that way and they try to help each other out.”

(On Chris Clemons being an overall quiet guy on and off the field) – “Well, I’ve noticed that Chris has opened up a lot right now. Now again, off the field I’m not sure what Chris is like when he’s off the field that way, but while he’s in this building he’s been strictly professional that way and speaks—when you know, he’s very vocal when he needs to be vocal. So, I was just talking about it today to the team this morning—Chris had 256 scrimmage plays right now in practice. 256, that’s the most on the team by any player. Those are live scrimmage reps and he’s got minimal, minimal, mental mistakes. So a lot of that is due to the fact that this guy is a communicator and sees it pretty clear. He’s been doing a nice job that way. So, I guess when he gets out here it must be a good ‘ham and egger’ day.”

(On Chris Clemons learning the defense and if it has to do with learning his personality) – “Yeah, I think so. It just comes with learning the defense really. And I think it comes with a little bit more confidence too. When you see it in Chad Henne in the huddle and you know, a year ago, there was questions about Chad Henne in the huddle, and now here he is with a bunch of games under his belt and when the guy is completely different in the huddle, well, Chris (Clemons) had a good taste last year. He got out there and got to play in some ball games and he’s getting a big dose right now out here. So, I think with playing time, I think these guys open up a little bit more out there and he’s been crystal clear to me.”

(On if he’s challenging players with weight loss in junction with his personal weight loss) – “Not getting into any of those competitions like that. So, I’ve heard a few of them that were running around the league but, I haven’t gotten into many of them. But, I’ll challenge any of them but to bang in the tires and flipping them if they want.”

(On Donald Thomas and what he wants to see from him) – “Well, I’ll tell one thing, right now what I’ve seen in Donald is that he’s moving an awful lot better. Now this is one of the first and I’m going to say this in regard it saying it. But, it really is the first time that we’re dealing with Donald in one of these off seasons here where he’s completely healthy and he’s had the benefit of the entire off season program to date. So, this guy is moving an awful lot better. I think the mental part of this thing and the game slowing down for him you don’t realize it, but, because you think, well he started his first year here as a rookie, but only played one game. And then he sat the rest of season with an injury and now you get to the last year where he’s really trying to catch up in training camp coming off of the injury So, this guy really hasn’t played a lot of football. So, the game is just starting to, I think, slow down for him in there a little bit. And that’s the biggest thing we need to see, is the game slow down for him so he can play a little faster.”

(On which position he is trying to work with Donald Thomas at-left or right side) – “Well, I think we’re trying to just put these guys—I know Donald (Thomas) can play both sides. I really know Cory (Procter) can play both sides. And John (Jerry) being young I would want him to play one side right now. But I think that we’re just trying to get them in positions here to get enough reps out of them and see them play. As we get out in training camp then we’ll start to pair it down and really work, and getting a little closer to the game we’ll figure out who needs to play both sides and why.”

(On if the number of guards they have are misleading or due to versatility) – “Yeah, I think it probably can be a little bit misleading. Right now, there are a couple of guys out there that are just one whole players, so to speak, at this time. They can play two positions, maybe left and right, which is helpful. But not necessarily move inside and play center and move outside and play tackle. So, there’s a couple of things as we get on in this that still have to happen in that group. Somebody from the inside may have to go to the outside like Nate Garner was able to do for us last year. That’s value at the ball game when you have a guy that can play guard and go out and play tackle as well. Or vice versa, play tackle and can go in and play guard. I think those are valuable pieces to have when you’re at the game.”

(On if he sees Cory (Procter) getting into playing the guard position) – “No, I don’t think so not right now. Maybe somewhere down the road. Right now, we have three centers out here that are working pretty consistently and we need to get all of them evaluated the right way. At some point down the road, we see how this thing sorts out and I’m not going to worry about it. But, I know Cory (Procter) is going to do well. 

(On why Jared Odrick hasn’t seemed to take as many reps with the first team as other rookies such as Koa Misi) – “Not in the first group you mean? Yeah, he was out there today in the first group. I think what we do on defense right now, depending on the day; the subs stuff, the third down stuff, some of those guys are up in the first group, some of them are down in the second group. It’s just a matter; a lot of it is the package. Today, we were working the big packages; the short yardage, the goal lines, those things and Jared was in the first group.”

(On whether he is surprised by Brian Hartline’s big play ability and whether or not that gives him an advantage in the competition at Wide Receiver) – “I would say that anybody that puts up big play numbers there’s an edge. Okay, so I’m not saying that that’s Brian or anybody else, but if the numbers at the end of these training camps and into these preseason games show us that there’s another guy out there capable of posting those kind of numbers, that’s certainly going to open my eyes because that’s what we’re looking for. But the thing I think that Brian did well, to his credit, is his big plays weren’t only catching the ball you know at a certain distance. He was able to run with the ball after the catch. I think that those things, some of those eight yard plays that you know he turned into fifteen, eighteen, twenty yard plays have been really big plays for us too. That is not something that surprised me to be honest with you. I think that he’s really a competitive guy. He’s a guy that understands that half of his job is to catch the ball and then there’s this other half that comes after the catch and think he’s pretty hungry to do those things. So I’ve been with what Brian’s done. He’s in really good shape right now. He’s played well.”

(On whether the media sometimes makes too much of who is taking reps with the first team during OTA’s and Minicamp) – “Absolutely, but I do think at this time right now, everybody’s dealing with the same problem. You know, you have 80 guys. I mean the Karlos Dansby’s of the world; those people are in the first groups. Of course they’re in the first groups; those guys are here to play. But, there’s some guys who are in-and-out and up-and-down, and there’s reasons for all of it, honestly. I mean I’m going to go in there tonight at 3 o’clock and I’m going to meet with my staff and I have the breakdown of the reps every day by practice. So I know who’s taking what reps and we’re sitting in meeting the other day and I’m saying to Todd Bowles, “Hey look, I want (Ross) Weaver and (A.J.) Wallace to get more reps against this group of people right now.” You know, so it’s bringing the third group up to the second group and the second group down to the third group. You know, we switched Pat (White) and Tyler (Thigpen) last week a little bit, you know in those huddles to make sure that that’s happening.  So it’s about trying to get the work against the better people. Different groups competing against different people right now and not necessarily getting stuck on who’s in the first huddle now or any of those things. It really is just about the number of reps. Sometimes the first group, by the nature of the Quarterback on the other side, Chad Henne, can dictate how many reps people are taking because I really don’t want, in the first group, a lot of down the liner’s with Chad. I kind of want Chad, so if Chad’s taking six reps, well we’re going to get as many guys that we think are going to be up in the first couple groups with Chad to work with Chad and that deal, and now the rest of the reps kind of trickle down. Right now, reading an awful lot into it is just going to frustrate you guys.”

(On his prior experience and whether he has had players who have looked good throughout OTA’s, but once you put pads on them, don’t look as good) – “Yeah, well I’ve had experience with it. Yeah, I have. You got to be careful right now and what you’re seeing out here from our end. I’ve said this before, and I do believe that there are some things out here that you can see out here at different positions. I don’t think you’re going to be able to tell a whole lot about these linebackers other than the athletic part of things right now. These fullbacks, these tight ends, those type of things; throwing, catching, the athletic part of things. But all of a sudden when you get out here and you start protecting, and you start run blocking at full speed and you start doing things that way and isolating in the hole with fullbacks. Those are things you can only see when you put pads on. Now the lineman, I think you can kind of see a guy that’s going to take a bite out of you right now, maybe you can get an idea of that. But it’s still too early to tell. So some guys, they look really good in helmets and t-shirts out here and then may surprise you when you get down the road one way or another. Sometimes that can work to their advantage, and sometimes maybe not so much. So, I try to watch that a little bit. When we’re evaluating, it’s more about the mental part of things than the athleticism right now than anything else.”

(On whether he knew Nate Garner would have the kind of season he did last year at this point in the process) – “At this point no, I couldn’t say that, no. To his credit, he did an awful lot of work in the offseason and you know with Nate, Nate was one of these guys that we’re talking about here. When you put Nate out there in pads, he was just; he really was a tough guy. I mean he really was a tough guy. There’s some things Nate can do a lot better, but from a toughness standpoint and a mental, being able to handle the game mentally, you know this guy doesn’t make a lot of mental mistakes and he’s tough. He’ll stay in front of you. So, those were things that you could see in training Camp and it forces you say, get him in the game, put him in the game. And then as he’s doing this in the game, you figure you got a little something here.”

(On what guys have caught his eye while returning kicks thus far) – “Returners, yeah I mean those people all have done a nice job. You know, (Ryan) Grice-Mullen and Kory (Sheets), and a couple of these other guys have done a nice job. I like, obviously what (Davone) Bess has done back there as well. We got (Julius) Pruitt working back there. We’ve got four or five guys working back there that we’ve kind of narrowed this, this thing down to, at least for now as we go into this. I like what they’ve done right now. Today we had a couple deals where we didn’t use good judgment and we have to use good judgment back there.”

(On Cameron Wake whether the media is looking too much into his not taking too many reps with the first squad or if he is waiting for Cameron to take the next step) – “No, I mean I think you’re probably reading a little bit too much into that again too. I think when you look at the number of reps; Cameron has the most reps of any Will Linebacker right now. So anybody who’s playing the Will Linebacker spot, Cameron has the most reps. It goes back to the question that Ethan asked before because if you break down the reps, Omar, he might not start in that group right away. Charlie (Anderson) may be walking out there first, but he’s taking a couple of those reps. He’s getting a couple those first team reps at the end. Charlie may be in for four, he may go in for two and then play that next group of people for three, four, but he has the most reps. At the end of this whole thing, it really is about the amount of reps and how many at bats you can give these guys in different situations. If we’re working a series of six plays in the red area and the tight red, well I may want Cameron to make sure that he gets a play in the tight red and in the red, instead of just giving him two plays in the red area.”

(On if Paul Soliai’s maybe missed his window of opportunity last year to start) – “I wouldn’t say that he missed his window of opportunity. This is still a young player that had an awful lot to learn and he’s behind a veteran player in (Jason) Ferguson at the time and all that, and did go in there and play really pretty, pretty well for us at the time. You know, I mean obviously had ups and downs throughout some of that but played some pretty good football games during that stretch, you know did some things well. I would say that with Paul, the consistency thing has to happen for us in there right now, and he’s getting a ton of work out here as we speak, but making the move with Randy (Starks), I mean I really think Randy’s going to be a good player in there, a really good, solid player in there and you don’t have enough of them. I mean, we really don’t. So Paul’s going to play plenty of snaps in there right now as we look at it, and this guy’s a competitor. I mean he’s doing a good job with his body weight right now and he’s really worked pretty hard. But consistency, I think at that position is important. The people in back of you really want to know that, that you’re taking good care of them.”

(On where Patrick Turner stands with the mental side of the game at this current point in time since he cannot participate in practice) – “Pat, I think he’s really good in the mental part of this right now. In fact, today, I’m just watching tape up there and those guys are huddled up with the Quarterbacks, standing over there today, and they’re going over some of these plays. I think Pat Turner; he’s not going to have any problems mentally. I think he’s done a good job of keeping himself involved that way, mentally and Karl (Dorrell) and Steve Bush have done a nice job also.”

May 28, 2010

Smith guarantees he won't be shut out in 2010

As you may already know, my column in The Herald today shares the feelings the Dolphins have about all the moves and boasts the New York Jets have made this offseason. I talked with cornerback Sean Smith to gather information for the column and I wish to share here some of the material about Smith I didn't use in the column.

Smith, who started all 16 games at cornerback as a rookie, is locked in a competition with Will Allen and Vontae Davis -- three men wanting two starting jobs. My opinion is Davis is going to win one of those jobs and it will fall to Allen or Smith to decide the other.

So what does Smith think of how he did in his rookie season with hindsight giving him clearer vision of 2009?

"I think I did some real good things out there," he said. "I don't think there was a game where I was getting my butt whipped all game. I would say there wasn't any receiver that had my number for a whole game. I think my coverage was solid for the most part. Even though I didn't have any interceptions, I'd say my play was above average for a rookie."

The zero interception statistic is obviously one Smith isn't thrilled about. He says, indeed, guarantees that number will change in 2010.

"I guarantee that will change this year," he said. "Guaranteed. No way I will go another year without an interception. It's impossible."

Smith might have thought he was going to be an interception machine after collecting two in the 2009 preseason. But the real games are different and the higher stakes obviously affected Smith's coverage plans.

"The first year I moved to corner from wide receiver, I had four [interceptions]," Smith said. "So I was like, 'It's not really that hard, I don't see how guys struggle.' Next year I had five. Then I had two in the preseason and I thought, 'We'll keep rolling.' But then you get in the game when it really counts and you don't want to be that guy that messes up.

"At times I was being a little bit too hesitant. And we were in some close, close games and if I gamble one time and I get beat, I'm like, 'No way. I'm not bearing that on my shoulder.' You can't play like that."

So how far does Smith believe he's come one year into his career?

"I'm a lot more comfortable," he said. "I'm talking out there. I'm more vocal. I'm able to disguise things. I'm able to feel like a real vet, you know what I mean? I got the rookies asking me things. It's good to give advice instead of asking all the time."

Smith is also being smarter about his body and training regimen. Last year, he'd eat fast food and not concern himself with massages or icing down. Now he's eating more vegetables and fruits and staying away from fast food.

He hopes that will help him avoid the letdown he felt the final five or six games of last year when he felt somewhat worn down.

"I seen guys getting ice the first couple of weeks and I figured, 'I'm fresh I'm good,' " Smith said. "But after a while I had to take their advice. It was tough but I got through it.

"As the year went on I started to get the feel for body language of the receivers, learning how he lifts when he's going to break down. When you're watching things from the side you can tell when he's going to stop but when you're watching things from dead on its harder to tell when he's going to (drop) the hips."

It should be an interesting competition at cornerback.

[Check back throughout the day Saturday for updates from Day 2 of minicamp.]

May 26, 2010

Wake "wants more" in second year in Miami

Let's be honest, the stars of the 3-4 defense are usually the outside linebackers and more specifically, the weakside outside linebacker.

Yes, the defense needs great play at cornerback, nose tackle and safety but if the pass-rush is not getting to the quarterback, it is simply going to be a long day for any 3-4 defense. The weakside backer has to be the player collecting the sacks, ending drives, causing fumbles on strip-sacks, sometimes recovering those fumbles, maybe even running for touchdowns off those.

The guy has to be a game-changer.

Think Lawrence Taylor years ago, and more recently Elvis Dumervil, DeMarcus Ware, and for one year at least in 2008, Joey Porter.

As the Dolphins play a 3-4 defense, the men slotted to play outside linebacker must produce in 2010 for the defense to get off the field. And no spotlight is brighter than one currently on Cameron Wake.

Wake seemingly must have a big year in 2010 for the Miami defense to climb from its No. 22 overall rank of a year ago. He must have a monster year if the unit is to be feared.

Why Wake?

Well, he was the up-and-coming pass-rusher that seemed to give the Dolphins the confidence to cut Porter and not re-sign Jason Taylor. After collecting an outstanding 39 sacks in two CFL seasons in 2007 and 2008, Wake had 5 1/2 sacks for Miami in 2009 -- his first year in the NFL.

The NFL numbers came with limited snaps so everyone figures more snaps as a starter this year would translate to more more production. The problem -- admittedly temporary at the moment because it is still only May -- is that Wake isn't currently a first-teamer on the Miami defense.

To the surprise of some, Wake was second-team during the recent OTA session witnessed by the media and it has apparently been that way all offseason. Charlie Anderson and Quentin Moses were the first-team outside backers at that last OTA day. Both Anderson and Moses switched off working strong and weak sides.

Was Wake disappointed he's not running with the starters?

"The coach said right before we went on the field, 'It's a starting point. It's not the finish line,' " he said. "So guys are out there playing and I'm going out there to show what I can do."

But make no mistake, Wake doesn't see himself in the same situational pass-rusher role he filled last year. It is important for him to win a starting job.

"I would say so," he said. "I'm always hungry for more. Everybody wants to do that. But I'm always hungry for more. That's what got me in the situation I am now. It's about not being satisfied. I wasn't satisfied with Canada. I wasn't satisfied where I was last year. I'm not satisfied where I am here. Every day I want more."

To want more, Wake has to show more on run-downs because last year coaches weren't comfortable enough with his run-defense to put him in there on those downs. That, in part, is what Wake has been working on during team OTA periods and should continue working on during the club's minicamp that begins Friday.

 "Like I said last year, I'm trying to be a good all-around football player," Wake said. "Obviously I'm working on my pass rush, but there are other things also. We have a new scheme, new coordinator, new coach, so I've been picking their brains."

Wake says he's also been working on his body.

"Bigger, faster, stronger," he said. "That's always the goal. And I've been here all offseason. I didn't go anywhere. I'm working on power and explosion, putting on good body weight and finding out where they want me to be."

One assumes coaches want him to be in a starting job by the time the regular-season rolls around. But for now, Wake has more work to do if he aims to become the playmaker on Miami's 3-4 defense.

May 21, 2010

A pre-minicamp look at Dolphins' offensive line

The Miami Dolphins offensive line is an interesting subject these days because what seemingly was an established unit now has a number of moving parts and issues that speak of possible improvement and, yes, the possibility of regression.

Here's the situation at each position (Coach Sparano, please correct me next time you see me if I get any of this wrong):

LEFT GUARD

The positive: There is a great chance to improve the spot because the Dolphins are separating from Justin Smiley, which means the next player up could be someone more dependable, that will be there every game of every season and not suffer the shoulder problems that plagued Smiley. The Dolphins have plenty of suitable candidates for the job as 2009 part-time starter Nate Garner (pictured) is expected to recover completely from the foot/toe injury that is keeping him out of OTA work. The Dolphins have also moved Donald Thomas to left guard because Richie Incognito is almost exclusively a right guard and a pretty good one at that when he keeps his emotions in check and stays free of dumb penalties. So Thomas adds competition to the spot as does promising rookie John Jerry, for whom the position seems eventually destined if he is the player the Dolphins hope and believe he was when they picked him in the third round of the recent draft. There are good options galore here.

Nategarner The negative: Smiley was a wiley, experienced veteran and a great help to young Jake Long. Long will miss him. The Dolphins may also miss Smiley's ability to pull, which was one of his strengths. Garner's injury is a setback for him. He cannot compete for the job now as he and the Dolphins would like. He is falling behind. Yes, he can catch up once he gets going in training camp, as scheduled. But right now he's missing time. Thomas is a novice on the left side. He didn't play the spot last year as the team was trying to get him fully acclimated at right guard. He seemingly slumped late last season, which is the reason Garner was able to move over from the left side when Smiley's injuries improved and take over the starting job from Thomas.

CENTER

The positive: Joe Berger (pictured) and Jake Grove are splitting first-team snaps here. This is probably because Berger played and graded out well while Grove nursed an injured ankle/leg last season. It speaks well of Berger that he started the final six games of the season, including the final two when Grove was well enough to start and otherwise regain his job. So regardless of who wins this competition, the Dolphins will have solid depth at the position.

Joeberger The negative: Um, the Dolphins paid a bunch of money to Jake Grove to be their starting center. When any team spends $29.5 million over five years on one player to be the starter and $2.5 million over three years for another player to be a swing C-G backup, the two guys should not be equals. And if the two guys are pretty much equals on the field, something is awry. Either Grove underperformed or Berger over-achieved or some of both. I think some of both is the right answer.

RIGHT GUARD

The positive: Incognito is an upgrade here and it's his job to lose. He is the first-team player there now. He will play there almost exclusively because that's what he is: A right guard. Coach Tony Sparano has lately been coy about the possibility of moving Incognito around, but if that somehow ends up happening, something went wrong. That's because Incognito is the strongest, ablest, most experienced right guard on the team right now. He is an upgrade over 2009, in case you missed it when I wrote it the first time. But he has to prove it. Also, the Dolphins have depth at the spot because Thomas or Garner offer starting possibilities, also.

The negative: There is a negative only if Incognito freaks out like he did with the St. Louis Rams and in college -- at both Nebraska and Oregon, where he got pretty much kicked off both squads. This would require the Dolphins to go back to last year's answer to start which would be either Thomas or Garner. And then the upgrade would suddenly disappear unless Thomas or Garner are markedly improved.

LEFT TACKLE

The postive: Jake Long (pictured) plays there. 'Nuff said. Man's a beast.Jake long

The negative: Jake Longis very, very good. But has he fully arrived? Probably not. Dolphins are still working some technical things with him to make him better. Scary thought, by the way. Here's another scary thought: If Long gets hurt, the depth is an issue because it is unproven. The Dolphins drafted Andrew Gardner last year and have worked hard in the past year to make him stronger and a better technician. I have no idea if that project has worked or not because I've not seen him in a live practice or game since the 2009 preseason. Lydon Murtha is also a possibility, but again, I have no clue if the guy can play or not.

RIGHT TACKLE

Vernoncarey The positive: Vernon Carey (pictured) is established and usually solid. He is also proven to be dependable as he's started 75 consecutive games. Gardner has played right tackle before and the game experience he picked up last year is invaluable for a young player.

The negative: Carey seemed to be a little heavy and slower of foot late last year. He was by no means a dominant right tackle so improvement is hoped for, if not required. The Dolphins don't seem to have a lot of competition for this job and that's not necessarily a good thing because the coaches love competition and Carey could probably stand some pushing.

Next chapter for Thomas: Fatherhood, coaching?

It is a logical next step for Zach Thomas and he has obviously considered it: Coaching.

But the perfect opportunities aren't necessarily there right now and he doesn't need the money and has a new four-month-old son, Christian Zachery Thomas, he'd like to spend some time with first.

So Thomas probably won't be jumping right into coaching immediately. But would Thomas eventually like to be reconnected with football, perhaps as a coach or scout or something?

“I do," he said. "Right now because of my time commitment I am doing a lot of other things, but I have to stay involved somehow. But I know if I was a coach somewhere, maybe I should start at a high school level or something because I think that I would be even more extreme. When it comes to watching tape, never thinking I got enough, getting everybody prepared. I think I might give too much information, you know, when you get out there with players and they have too much information they can’t even think.

"I love the game, I want to stay involved, but I want to be a better husband because I wouldn’t come home much and that’s just the truth, and [wife] Maritza knows that. I thought about radio, but sometimes I am an emotional guy and I don’t have [PR vice president] Harvey Greene right next to me to give me a cool down period right after a game, because you all came rushing to me after we lose and you all knew you were going to get a quote. So I feel like Harvey and them would box out and try to give me a cool down period, because that sometimes gets me in trouble, letting emotions get into it and then you look back and go, ‘Man I shouldn’t have said those type of things’.

"That is probably why I won’t do radio but I want to stay involved with something I am good at. You only have to be good at one thing and (football) is one thing I am good at, and now I am going to move on and see if there is anything else I am good at."

Thomas had an audition to work for the Dolphins new flagship radio station but the same team-employed genius who didn't want me on because I wasn't enough of a homer for his taste -- truth is apparently not a virtue for some folks -- also passed on Thomas because, well, some people simply don't get it.

The Dolphins do have a linebacker coach vacancy they could fill if they wished. But that's appartently not a possibility right now.

Would be sweet though, wouldn't it?

Just sayin'. 

[BLOG NOTE: Come back later today because I'll have an offensive line related post up.]

May 13, 2010

Which players will things 'click' for in 2010?

A dividend of having a young team, as the Dolphins inarguably have, is that players can take significant leaps from their rookie or second seasons, thus helping to raise the team to a much higher level almost overnight.

Sure, some players fail to take that big step or they don't meet the expectations and potential their gifts suggest. (Such players get traded to the San Francisco 49'ers for a fifth-round pick.)

But many up-and-comers make their biggest move in their second or third years.

I was discussing this in part with former wide receiver Nat Moore on our recent day-trip to Haiti when he recounted the story of Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Moore told of how as a rookie year, Clayton often benefitted from the fact defenses typically doubled Mark Duper on the outside or himself on the inside. Clayton was still learning and really didn't contribute much as a rookie -- six catches for 114 yards.

"But the next year when the light bulb went on for him, there was no stopping him," Moore said of Clayton. "He beat single coverage and then he figured out the game so well, he could beat double-coverage. With his talent, he just took off."

Took off like a rocket, actually. Clayton caught 73 passes for 1,389 yards and a whopping 18 touchdowns in 1984. Duper, who didn't catch a pass as a rookie in 1982, climbed to 51 in 1983 and 71 for 1,36 yards in 1984. Apparently things clicked for him as well.

Well, we should expect the 2010 Miami Dolphins to sound like a field of crickets because I expect there to be a lot of clicking going on for that young roster.

The Dolphins have players that everyone in the organization hopes are on the cusp of being big-time contributors if not outright stars.

Chief on that list is quarterback Chad Henne.

In his third season and second as the starter, Henne must have a breakthrough season for the Dolphins to make a legitimate run at the playoffs. This is the year he has to solve the accuracy and timing issues he had at times in 2009 as a first-year starter. Those were understandable then. There's a next step to take now.

I think Henne will take that step. He's too gifted, too confident, and too hard-working not to take the step. I'm not expecting him to lead the league in passing. That's not what Miami's system is initially going to ask of him.

But 24-25 touchdowns? Why not?

And as long as he keeps the mistakes to maybe 10-12 interceptions, things will be very, very good in Miami.

Of course, Henne will need help. And there's a good chance he'll get it. Here is a list of other players I believe can have a breakout year in 2010. You'll notice some folks are missing. I'm being conservative here. I'm sure you will add the missing names in the comments section.

This is my list:

Brian Hartline: I predict he will win the starting job opposite Brandon Marshall. He is bigger than Davone Bess, faster than Greg Camarillo and he can play all three WR positions. He's a smart guy. He's mature. He gets it. He has shown reliable hands. No, he is not a burner. But he did run track in high school and I believe he's fast enough to hurt defenses when their focus is on Marshall.

Vontae Davis: It took him a while to find his NFL niche. He was raw and a little wide-eyed at first. But he is tough, he is as athletic as they come, he's fearless and there's no quit in him -- as evidence by that TD-saving tackle from behind on a kickoff last year. Davis suffered something of a setback with a wrist injury earlier this offseason. But there has been no mention of that lately and if he continues to rise at the rate he did after the midpoint of 2009, he'll be the second-best cornerback in the AFC East by the end of 2010.

I wanted to include Cameron Wake. I even had his paragraph written up. But I just need to see more. The fact is he was very explosive as a pass-rusher, but still had only one sack the final four games of the season when he was getting his most playing time. Wake might bust out with 14 sacks in 2010 and that would surprise no one. But he also might have six sacks in 2010 and, well, that would surprise no one. It will all depend on whether things clicked for him.

May 11, 2010

The revote on Defensive Rookie of the Year

The Defensive Rookie of the Year award handed out annually by the Associated Press has been in the news lately because its recipient Brian Cushing was just suspended after failing a test for performance enhancing drugs, and then losing his appeal.

The test, reportedly taken last September, suggests Cushing played 2009 while benefitting from a cycle of PEDs that are banned by the NFL.

So the AP yesterday decided to have a revote. The 50 people who vote annually on the AP All-Pro team and post-season awards got an e-mail ballot that is due Wednesday. I am one of those voters. I had no trouble re-submitting my ballot.

I orginally picked Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd as my DROY choice and was only one of six people to do so. Cushing got 39 votes. I simply stuck with my original vote.

The AP also took a revote on the outside linebacker position. In that one, I had to make a change. I had originally voted for Cushing and Elvis Dumervil. In my new ballot I changed out Cushing for DeMarcus Ware, who was an All-Pro selection even without my original vote.

So here is the question: Do you, as fans, believe a positive drug test can rightfully cost a player a post-season award because his performance was enhanced by a drug?

I obviously do think the award deserved a revote. And I'll live with the results of the majority. But I have a bad taste about giving any award to someone who gains it by cheating.

The reason I'm blogging this is that someone following me on twitter wanted me to vote for Vontae Davis or Sean Smith for DROY. Now, I have no problem voting for local guys. In fact, I feel I know them best as I've watched all their games.

That's the reason I voted for Tony Sparano as coach of the year in 2008 (he didn't win) and voted for Jake Long for All-Pro last year (he got it).

But Vontae Davis or Sean Smith for DROY?

I believe both played well at times. I believe both made strides. I believe both will continue to improve and become better players. But both also had moments in which they struggled.

Davis was beaten deep a handful of times. Smith's coverage was not always as tight as one would want and he didn't have any interceptions. In defending Gibril Wilson at the Indianapolis Combine, general manager Jeff Ireland laid some of the blame for the lapses in the secondary on the rookies.

Byrd, meanwhile, had nine interceptions. No, he wasn't Ronnie Lott in run-support. But which one of you wouldn't have taken nine interceptions from your free safety last year?

So I cast my vote. I'm sticking with it.

Discuss ...

Rebuilding can frustrate when it's done over & over

There is building a franchise. Don Shula did that and it resulted in a couple of Super Bowl titles.

There is rebuilding a franchise. Jimmy Johnson did that and the nucleus of players he brought in were flawed on offense, very good on defense, and ultimately good enough overall to contend for playoffs spots from 1997 through 2003.

What we have now, however, is something much different. What we are seeing with the Miami Dolphins now is in some respects rebuilding position that we though had already been rebuilt. Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland are in the midst of doing that and so far the results are mixed.

Miami's dynamic and enigmatic personnel duo corrected a lot of wrongs their first season, turning a 1-15 disaster into a division winner and playoff team. But last year was a step-back season as the Dolphins dropped to third place in the AFC East with a 7-9 record. (Some of you may not accept it was a step-back year, but the facts are impossible to ignore.)

Now, after two years of building the team as they would want it, the Dolphins find themselves in the curious position of rebuilding the same team. 

After two years on the job, Parcells and Ireland got about the business this offseason of rebuilding practically the entire defense. The defensive coordinator is new. At least three of the four opening-day starters at LB will be new. The starting nose tackle will be different in the 2010 regular-season opener than he was in 2008 and 2009. The starting free safety will be new for the third time in three regular-season openers. Miami's right defensive end will be new -- again -- as the Dolphins will start Jared Odrick or Phillip Merling or Tony McDaniel as the fourth person to fill that starting job in three years.

All these are facts. And all the facts speak of the Dolphins having to cover ground in rebuilding that they already supposedly addressed in their initial rebuilding of this team the past two years.

Let's face it, the club has failed to properly address the free safety spot -- first giving the job to Jason Allen, then Chris Crocker, then Renaldo Hill, then Gibril Wilson, and now another player to be named at a later time.

Let's face it, the Dolphins invested two years, a modest draft pick, and millions of dollars in ILB Akin Ayodele only to find out he wasn't very good at stopping the run or in coverage.

Let's face it, the nose tackle position was an issue before last season began. Everyone knew Jason Ferguson was a stopgap measure and I remember Ireland being asked why he didn't address the position in the 2009 draft. He basically answered there are only so many big bodies to go around and one of them didn't fall to the Dolphins.

So Miami went into 2009 with Ferguson and he broke down. The Dolphins finally addressed the issue this offseason by moving Randy Starks to nose tackle.

The greater point here is Miami has reached a stage where the fixes need to finally take. The club cannot keep addressing the defensive line time and again. The club cannot keep addressing the free safety spot year after year.

And this rebuilding upon a rebuilt position also affects the offense. For all the money and resources the Dolphins have invested on the offensive line, the unit is still not completely resolved. In 2008, the right guard spot was an issue. In 2009, the right guard and left guard spots were issues.

Can we get the guards addressed once and for all, please?

The Dolphins believe they have done that at right guard where Richie Incognito is expected to compete for a starting job with Donald Thomas and perhaps Nate Garner.

The left guard spot is much less certain. Garner and rookie John Jerry seem the most likely challengers for the job. Justin Smiley, who Miami signed to a 5-year, $25 million contract in 2008, lasted only two years. He is now on the trade block because of shoulder injuries that one might have seen on the horizon when he was with San Francisco and was forced to miss the latter part of 2007 with a shoulder issue.

So three years into rebuilding their offensive line ... the Dolphins are still rebuilding the offensive line.

My greater point is this: Everyone accepts the Dolphins needed a thorough rebuilding. Everyone accepts it was going to take time to do. But it is hard to accept that the Dolphins are already in Year 3 and still rebuilding what they already supposedly rebuilt. They are having to double-back, so to speak, to address issues they supposedly already addressed.

That slows things down.

And it cannot continue because, as with all teams, new issues pop up every year. Next offseason the Dolphins could be looking for help at running back or tight end, and perhaps wide receive. Next year the Dolphins could be looking for more backup quarterback help. Anyone looking off into distance can see that.

The last thing the team needs is to have those concerns, while also needing to address OLB (again) or FS (again) or CB (again) or OL (again).

Therre is still a lot of building being done around the construction site that is the Dolphins roster. Here's hoping the work currently being done won't soon require that it be redone. Again.

May 06, 2010

Owens sets off Dolfan frenzy with tweet

At 8:36 a.m. today, Terrell Owens tweeted the following:

"Miami bound..."

And about 10 seconds later I got a bunch of twitter followers asking if this meant Owens is going to sign with the Dolphins. From what I can see, many of Owens' own followers recognized the same possibility and asked him if he's coming to sign.

Ah, the Internet.

Anyway, I cannot confirm for you the specific reason Owens is coming to Miami. He has a place here, I know that. He often trains down here.

But I can confirm for you that T.O. is not coming to join the Dolphins, according to a club source. I think the Dolphins generally like their receiver corps now that Brandon Marshall is part of the group. And I do not see them currently adding anyone who is 36 years old and will be 37 during the season, regardless of whether he has gas in the tank or not.

Simply, I think the Dolphins don't need someone to take catches away from Marshall and Owens might either do that or be unhappy that he's not seeing enough passes his way.

Having said that, I do think Owens still can be a solid contributor for some team in the right situation.

But do I think he's "miami bound," to make the Dolphins that team and that situation?

Nope.

[Update: Owens was asked by one of his followers if he meant he's headed for Miami or the team and he replied, "city." So that should be that.]

May 04, 2010

NFL's top 10 RBs and nary a Dolphins mention

Quickly, which two players have carried the Dolphins offense the past two years?

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams should have been your answer, although some contrarians among you will surely find another name to post in the comments section.

The point is these two players have been more than solid in that Brown was a Pro Bowl player in 2008 and Williams had a renaissance of sorts in 2009, ranking 10th in the NFL with 1,121 rushing yards while also scoring 11 TDs, and setting the widest span between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. Williams established the record at six years between 1,000-yard seasons, breaking a mark (5) previously shared by Mike Garrett, Gary Brown, Ernest Byner, Ottis Anderson and Mike Anderson.

So Ricky and Ronnie are pretty good right?

Apparently The Fifth Down blog at the New York Times doesn't think so.

In rating the NFL's top 10 list of RBs, author Andy Benoit mentions Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Steven Jackson, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.

And in what feels like an honorable mention category, the blog mentions Ryan Grant, Felix Jones, Shonn Greene, Michael Turner and Ryan Grant.

Now, I get that Brown was injured much of the 2009 season, but he did gain 648 yards and score 8 TDs, which surpassed anything Greene did.

But the facts are Williams had more yards, a higher rushing average, a longer long run, and scored more TDs than Mendenhall. He outgained Gore, DeAngelo Williams, Jones and Greene, and had a better average than Grant, Benson, Peterson and Jones-Drew.

Maybe on a whole I would personally prefer to have some of those guys on the list ahead of Williams or Brown. But not all of them.

Williams, for his 2009 performance, belongs on the list considering the blog states the list is strictly based on 2009 performance and not on what players one should pick for a team in the future. Of course, the blog also promises there will be disagreements.

They got that right.

The reasons the Starks move is a gamble

We all know the Dolphins made the decision to move Randy Starks from defensive end to nose tackle the first night of the draft.

It is a fascinating approach to solving the team's questions at nose tackle.

But it is a gamble and one that just as easily might not have been necessary.

You will recall the Dolphins traded down from their No. 12 overall spot in the first round to No. 28. The move was brilliant on several levels. It put the Dolphins in position to upgrade the nose tackle spot one way or another and also gave them a chance to add another starter by adding a second-round pick.

The interesting part was that the Dolphins had options. When they traveled from No. 12 to No. 28, the Dolphins had both nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Jared Odrick on their radar. If Williams had not been picked by Arizona at No. 26, the Dolphins might well have taken him at No. 28.

In that regard, reports of Miami's interest in Williams were accurate. And in that scenario, Williams would fill the bill at NT and Starks would have simply stayed at defensive end.

But the Dolphins found themselves with no Williams available, so they picked Odrick instead -- knowing that they would soon be asking Starks to make the move to nose tackle. When Jeff Ireland wouldn't say where Odrick would play (inside or outside) the night of the first round, it was because he still had not told Starks that the move was officially being made.

The next day, after Starks had agreed to the change, Ireland announced Odrick would be a defensive end.

And in moving Starks the Dolphins are gambling.

Starks, you see, is coming off a season when he grew into the 3-4 DE position to the point where my friends at ProFootballFocus believe him to be the second-best 3-4 DE in the NFL in 2009. The PFF guys have Starks as the second-best run-defender among 3-4 DEs and the sixth-best pass rusher.

(Quick aside, Kendall Langford is ranked the seventh-best pass rusher and sixth-best run defender. Phillip Merling is rated 15th best overall, with a slightly better showing as a pass-rusher than run-stuffer. Also interesting in the ranking based on film study is that Vonnie Holliday, who the Dolphins cut last offseason, rated higher than either Langford or Merling.)

But I digress. The greater point is Starks offered the Dolphins a pretty good DE option already. Starks was a known quantity at DE.

So what's the gamble?

Obviously the Dolphins must hope Odrick, an unproven quantity, comes in and plays as well or better than Starks at DE while also hoping Starks moves to NT and upgrades that spot. And the team must hope the the combination of both moves upgrades the overall defensive front more than having, say, Starks at end and Paul Soliai or Jason Ferguson or someone else at nose tackle.

It is a calculated move that could eventually adequately fill all the defensive line needs Miami had prior to the draft. But as with everything else that is unproven, it is, well, a gamble the Dolphins have taken.

May 03, 2010

A focus on the still lingering free safety question

There are some positions on the Dolphins that beg attention. The areas I'm talking about are unsettled, need adjusting or simply need more talent. One of the most interesting of those has been, and remains, the free safety position.

Free safety is a position that begs our attention because there are so many things going on. First, you should recognize there are "acorns," as general manager Jeff Ireland calls them, still out there that could be picked up and added to the roster.

Free agent safety Darren Sharper is not one of those guys. Sharper has two contract offers that he's considering -- one from New Orleans, one from Jacksonville. The Dolphins were not in the mix as of this morning and you should not expect them to get in the mix. Sharper, as I write this, has not been on Miami's radar all offseason so it would take a significant shift in direction for that to change at this late stage.

Sharper is an excellent player, a playmaker at safety. But Sharper is probably older (35 in November) than the type of player the Dolphins want to add to the roster now.

[UPDATE 4:41 p.m.: Sharper has agreed to a one-year deal with the Saints, according to a source close to him. Several news organization and websites, including profootballtalk.com, are reporting the same thing, citing a league source.]

There is the possibility the Dolphins might be planning to do something with O.J. Atogwe after June 1. The issue can get complicated but, in a nutshell, Atogwe is a restricted free agent who is not signing his tender. After June 1, the St. Louis Rams must extend his tender to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

But to extend the tender they must pay him 110 percent of his 2009 salary which was $6,342,021. Most observers don't see a way the Rams will extend a new tender of $6,976,223 after June 1. Atogwe simply didn't play up to that level last year after a very good year in 2008. So Atogwe may be hitting the market.

And the Dolphins might/should consider the 28-year-old as an option.

For now, the other options the Dolphins can consider are on the roster. And I would tell you the next month is important to those guys because how they perform in coming OTA sessions could impact whether the Dolphins chase an Atogwe or some other acorn in June and beyond.

That means Chris Clemons, Tyrone Culver, and Reshad Jones are on notice. They either answer the bell in May -- as much as they are allowed in Jones's case -- or the Dolphins will go looking for someone better in June and through training camp.

My feeling? Miami's 2010 starting free safety is not currently on the roster. Everything the Dolphins have done this offseason -- cut Gibril Wilson, chased Antrel Rolle and Ryan Clark, drafted Jones while seriously considering Earl Thomas -- suggests the Dolphins want to upgrade beyond Clemons and Culver.

No knock on either, those are just the facts.

Jones, by the way, is interesting in that he was all the rage during rookie camp. He visited the team priot to the draft and was thought to be a third-to-fourth round talent by many before going to the Dolphins in the fifth round. Although there have been past questions about his instincts, he has prototypical size.

"I felt him in the last couple of days," coach Tony Sparano said of Jones on the final day of the rookie camp. "He’s been around the football a bunch and made a couple of plays [Saturday] in the bubble. I think that he’s got the hardest job out there obviously because he’s got to get things lined up. I think from his standpoint it’s trying to figure things out defensively.

"We really didn’t throw as much at him defensively in this camp as we did maybe thrown at the offensive guys but we did throw a pretty good dose at him. It won’t be like when we get down the road here and he’ll be getting it fast, but, we threw a pretty good dose at him. He digested it pretty well; I thought he moved around great."

We will keep our eyes on Jones. Actually, we'll keep our eyes on all the free safety candidates -- because that's a position that if far from being settled.

April 28, 2010

Former RB Rob Konrad defends Jeff Ireland

The following is an e-mail former Dolphins running back Rob Konrad sent The Miami Herald and other media outlets concerning Jeff Ireland following the incident in which the general manager admittedly asked Dez Bryant whether his mother is a prostitute and then apologized publicly to Bryant for the question:

"Use any adjective you’d like to describe Jeff Ireland, but those in the media claiming he’s “without class” are simply misinformed. Jeff’s a regular guy, whose attention to detail and no-nonsense approach has defined his success in the industry. More than any member of the Dolphins front office in recent history, Jeff and his family have been regularly engaged with the Miami Dolphins Foundation and community outreach programs.

"Jeff is one of the true good guys in the industry. To see his name being tarnished in the media as the result of (a) single question during a team interview seems to me entirely unjust. It’s important to keep in mind the context of these interviews -- the prospect of guaranteeing a 22-year-old stranger millions of dollars to enter one of the most competitive, intolerant and insensitive professional work environments around.

"I’m not attempting to defend the question asked, but rather the person and the process. Having been through those interviews, in the locker room, and on the field, I can tell you that the work environment in the NFL is unique, one that would be unacceptable in virtually any other industry. The questions asked by teams in pre-draft interviews usually have the dual purpose of getting to know the player and testing their mindset.

"By way of example, one of the common questions asked by teams is as follows: "If you had the choice of being reborn as a cat or a dog, which would you choose and why?" There is no correct answer, there may be preferable responses depending on your position, but the question is meant to generate a response from the player which can be analyzed in any number of ways.

"When I was coming out of Syracuse University, I remember being asked 'if I thought I could succeed as a white running back in the NFL?' and 'why I thought a kid who attended a suburban Massachusetts private high school was tough enough to play in the NFL?'  If one (sic) we’re interviewing a prospective executive for private industry, this line of questioning likely wouldn’t be acceptable.

"The 'all-ball' and 'no-nonsense' approach incorporated by the current regime at the Dolphins has been consistent since they arrived. I believe this philosophy has resonated throughout the organization and is one of the main factors for the team's return to playing winning fundamental football. Jeff may be demanding and thorough, and maybe a question was asked in poor judgment, but he’s one of the good guys in the NFL, he’s been a great asset to the Dolphins and a good friend to South Florida."

--Robert Konrad 

 

Adalius Thomas a possibility Dolphins will consider

Adalius Thomas is on the free agent market and the talk league-wide now is that he wants to get paid.

If that is true, scratch the Dolphins from the list of teams that might be interested in him.

But if Thomas indeed wants to play the New England Patriots twice this season as is rumored, and if he is willing to play for a reasonable salary, he might make sense for the Dolphins.

I'm not saying the Dolphins must absolutely chase Thomas. But will they investigate the possibility? Will they make calls on him? Study his tape? Discuss the idea?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Thomas could be an "acorn" the Dolphins often discuss. The discussion would include the question whether he would be a "progress-stopper."

Simply, Thomas could be an insurance policy at strong side outside linebacker in case second-round pick Koa Misi isn't ready to start right away. But what if Misi is solid enough, as hoped, to play right away? Would Thomas become a problem?

Obviously the Dolphins have to weigh what Thomas might do in the locker room. He made no bones about complaining and showing his displeasure last season when Bill Belichick benched him. I'm certain he would not be happy coming to the Dolphins and then finding himself on the bench again.

But he can still be productive. At 32 years old he is not beyond an age the would cause the Dolphins to dismiss the possibility out of hand.

In fact, nothing about Thomas would cause the Dolphins to dismiss the idea out of hand. So stay tuned.

April 27, 2010

Brown, Williams in final Miami year together?

Since the topic of Dolphins running backs has been all the rage of late -- with one being constantly whispered about as trade bait and the other as a documentary star and possible retiree after 2010 -- I wanted to appraoch the topic from a different direction today.

From the team's perspective.

You see, seemingly lost in all the draft coverage over the weekend, Jeff Ireland's words while addressing the running back situation seem to have gotten short shrift. And they beg more attention.

Ireland was asked Saturday evening if he might have liked to add a running back in the draft and he said that 2010 is the last year for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

"Again, when you put a board together, sometimes the chips fall differently in certain drafts," Ireland said. "Obviously we’re aware of the situation on our team. You have Ricky [Williams] and Ronnie [Brown] kind of in their last year. We’re aware of all those things. We have them for another year, so anything can happen that way. The draft falls certain ways and you can’t help the way it falls. We’re not ignoring those positions by any means, but I felt like we stuck to our board pretty good and stayed the course."

I'm not going to leap to the assumption that Brown and Williams are indeed done with the Dolphins after 2010. The truth is no one knows what will happen after 2010. The NFL may not even play in 2011 for all we know.

But weighing Ireland's words with the facts currently before us, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Miami will be searching for running backs after this year because one or both of its top backs will be gone.

As far as Brown is concerned, he has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender. He would like a long-term deal but that doesn't seem imminent because, well, the Dolphins don't really have to offer one right now.

Brown, 28, has yet to prove he's 100 percent back from last year's fractured foot and has never proven that he is exceedingly durable. The Dolphins own his rights this year via the restricted tender they placed on him and can extend after June 1st if Brown doesn't sign by then. Trust me, Brown is not going to sit out this year if he doesn't get a new contract so he will eventually sign that tender if the Dolphins don't give him a new deal -- and as we just discussed their motivation for doing so is not high.

Bottom line is the Dolphins can keep Brown this year and decide to replace him with younger legs in 2011, if they wish. Bottom line is they have been willing to let him go at different intervals since 2008. Bottom line is his long-term future in Miami is by no means certain.

Williams is another matter, but one no less fraught with uncertainty. The Dolphins have shown a past desire to pass him Post-it note contract extensions, which is the reason he's signed through 2010. He has said in the past that he would retire following the 2010 season.

He said Monday he is "not sure" if he will retire in 2010 and that the hiring agent Drew Rosenhaus should not be interpreted as an intention to play into 2011. Whatever, the point is neither Williams nor the Dolphins know without doubt what is going to happen.

But we do know this: Williams will be 33 next month and so whether he's able to stretch his career beyond 2010 is not a certainty by any means.

So the Dolphins might be wise to take the approach that this could be the final year for both Brown and Williams. And if it doesn't work out that way, well, then something good happened that stretched the Miami career for one or both of the running backs.

Still, better to make the error on the side of caution.

April 26, 2010

Jeff Ireland: The interview, the Wilson flap

I got the opportunity to speak with Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland one-on-one Saturday night after his work was mostly done with the draft and the adding of priority free agents.

That conversation gave me a better understanding of exactly how it is the Dolphins attack the draft when Ireland and Bill Parcells are sitting in the war room together. I wrote about that as part of my column that appears in Monday's Miami Herald.

Another part of the column, by the way, tells you how Ireland seemed to be getting more comfortable even as this draft was proceeding. He actually made jokes when he was in front of the media. The guy was cool.

But we're not 100 percent there yet.

This interview gave me the opportunity to ask about a topic that's been bothering me for a while now:

I wanted to know why it was Ireland seemingly misled at the Indianapolis Combine on the subject of Gibril Wilson. As you know, everyone assumed Wilson was a goner after a season in which he played poorly and cost Miami chances to win at least two games -- Indianapolis and New Orleans.

But Ireland went to the Combine and in speaking with the media -- to his credit, against the wishes of Parcells -- defended Wilson so vehemently that it seemed like Wilson was coming back.

"We have our evaluation of Gibril Wilson," Ireland said at the time. "We know what kind of player he's capable of being. I think he's going to be a very good player for the future. He was disappointed in his play last year. He will tell you that. I think he can play better. We'll just have to see. I think he will."

Of course, everyone assumed Ireland meant Wilson would play better for the Dolphins. Bad assumption. The Dolphins cut Wilson when the new league year opened in March.

"I didn't say anything that was wrong," Ireland told me during our interview. "I didn't say anything that was false. If you read the transcript, I said he's going to be a good player in the future. I knew what I was saying. You know, he's a player on my team. And I'm going to defend a player on my team. I'm not going to say anything else bad out there. I do believe he's going to be a good player in the future. I like the kid. It was probably not the right position for him. That's obvious now. But I did believe what I was telling you. I was telling the truth.

"I just wasn't giving you every thought in my head."

Fair enough. It wasn't Ireland's fault that folks like me made an assumption. As Ireland told me in another part of the interview, every draft mistake his makes is a lesson he learns.

Count this a lesson learned for yours truly.