June 01, 2012

6 down, 3 to go

Sorry about the relative lateness of this posting. Both Barry Jackson and I have had problems with the TypePad mobile site so this post got delayed by my run from Doral Golf Resort & Country Club (no, I wasn't getting in 18, yes, it was work -- see my FIU blog soon over at http://miamiherald.typepad.com/fiusports) down to New Chinatown for a week's worth of Chinese food.

So you've probably already read elsewhere -- maybe even on my Twitter feed, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal -- that the Dolphins signed Univesity of Miami running back Lamar Miller to a four-year deal this afternoon. Miller, a fourth-round pick, is the sixth Dolphins draft pick to sign. Remaining: Ryan Tannehill, Olivier Vernon and Michael Egnew. 

If you haven't read it elsewhere, you just did here and thank you for reading.

Armando will be back from vacation sometime in June. Or July.

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 ...

February 24, 2010

Kindle: A look beyond stats and 40 times

So now you know that Mike Mayock believes the Dolphins will draft outside linebacker candidate Sergio Kindle because he is rated No. 7 among the draft analyst's best players, and Miami needs a defensive playmaker, and all those great football reasons.

And that is dandy for an analyst looking purely at a player's skill set and matching them to a team's needs. But drafting for an NFL team is more than purely projecting whether a player can play a position or adjust to a scheme or has the physical prowess to perform.

NFL drafting is also about knowing the person, his habits, his character. And Mayock doesn't measure any of that which the Dolphins must absolutely measure before taking a gamble on anyone such as Kindle.

You see, Kindle, by all accounts a fine athlete, has had some off-field issues during his 22 years on the planet. And the Dolphins must and will collect data on those issues and include them in their evaluation of Kindle.

This isn't new. Every team does this. But for some reason, unless the issues are obvious, guys such as Mayock and Mel Kiper rarely account for them. They loved Rey Maualuga last year, but didn't say anything about the drinking problem that most teams were aware of. Not surprisingly, Maualuga, supremely talented, had a drunk driving incident in January and then reportedly checked himself into a alcohol rebabilitation center.

Now you understand why he didn't go higher in the 2009 draft?

Kindle's current state of mind and character is for NFL teams to judge now. But I can tell you he's had trouble before that Mayock didnt mention in speaking about him Tuesday on a national conference call.

In July of 2007, when Kindle was a sophomore, he was arrested for DWI. He was suspended for the first three games of the season and had to perform community service.

In June of 2009, just prior to Kindle's final season at Texas, he was involved in a car accident in which he drove his car into an apartment building at 2:50 in the morning on a Wednesday. Kindle then got the help of some friends, pulled the car out of the wrecked apartment, and put it on the street.

Then Kindle fled the scene. Having suffered a concussion, his story is he was very tired and simply went home to sleep. Kindle claims there was no alcohol involved in this accident and that he was simply texting a coach when it happened.

(Um, show of hands in the comments section for anyone who totally buys this story.)

Kindle's car, by the way, was registered to his father: Johnny Walker.

I kid you not.

Anyway, even if you are a believer, you must wonder how Kindle would handle playing in a town like mine because we got a couple of places to party down here. Fact is, even people close to Kindle wonder if he should be playing in a town like Miami.

Kindle's high school coach Bobby Estes told the New York Times in January that he and his wife "cringe" at the idea of Kindle ending up in a city like Miami and are hopeful, instead, he ends up "in a cold-weather city so he would stay inside more."

“Is he Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow citing Scripture? No,” Estes said. “But I do know that he knows right from wrong. I hope he’s making mature choices."

Kindle told the newspaper stories about his reputation as a drinker and a partier don't worry him. He told the newspaper he's "not the Sergio of '06-'07," and is now "walking a straight line."

Well, it's up to NFL teams to find out if that "straight line" is one drawn by a cop during a field sobriety test.

February 17, 2010

Kiper: Dolphins will debate McClain and Bryant

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has the Dolphins picking Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain with their No. 12 overall pick of the first round in the upcoming draft.

But Kiper believes the Dolphins will have a healthy and perhaps heated discussion whether to go with McClain or Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant if the wide receiver is on the board when Miami selects.

"Dez Bryant, I think he'll be in the discussion, but you look at him and he could go higher," Kiper said today on a nationwide conference call. "I have him going at No. 10 to Denver still ... [The Dolphins] certainly need wide receiver help and you got to get it at some point and I think they will try get in this draft.

"But at that point, I think McClain would be the best option if Bryant's gone. And even if Bryant's there it's going to be a heck of a discussion, I would think, even if Bryant is still on the board."

Yeah, I could see that discussion going something like this:

Jeff Ireland: Bill, we've got a wide receiver and a linebacker on the board and ...

Bill Parcells: I'm Bill freakin' Parcells and I love linebackers.

Ireland: Linebacker it is.

Seriously, the Parcells penchant for drafting linebackers is well-known. And picking McClain, whom Kiper says has "a Ray Lewis-type enthusiasm and Bill Parcells will see that in McClain," seems logical.

"You look at Parcells when he was with the Giants and at other places, he loves linebackers that have that type of ability, especially guys with his kind of size too, with LT and Carl Banks and those type of guys," Kiper said. "This is an inside linebacker that looks like an outside linebacker."

And that is where Kiper and I disagree. I believe the Dolphins have a greater need at OLB than ILB. But Kiper doesn't see any OLB as worthy of the No. 12 selection.

I believe Michigan's Brandon Graham is more than worthy of that pick, talk of his short arms be damned. I love Graham! I have put in adoption papers for Graham because I want that guy in my family if he's not going to be on the Dolphins!

And here's the kicker, despite saying Graham rates around No. 20-32, Kiper also seems to love Graham.

"I've liked him all along, that's the one guy I've been consistent with all the way through," Kiper said. "He's got that great work ethic, he comes hard every play. He took advantage of some offensive tackles that were very suspect, obviously, and in the NFL that's not the case."

Kiper believes Graham will somehow wind up chasing Dolphins quarterbacks someday, either for a Miami division foe, or a team the Dolphins must eventually beat to become great.

"I actually have him going to New England in the latest projection I did from the standpoint of being a 3-4 outside backer," Kiper said. "As a 4-3 defensive end situational guy if Indianapolis looks at him in that rotation with [Dwight] Freeney and Robert Mathis it makes sense. I think his character and every game bringing it, the way he did production-wise is the reason why he's a pick to go now between 20 and 32."

I think that's precisely the reason the Dolphins should take him at No. 12. The kid brings it every play. Every single play. And he brings it with speed and explosion and good instinct and discipline.

Why isn't he rated higher?

Anyway, if the Dolphins decide to address their 3-4 OLB need later in the draft, Kiper has a handful of guys rated after the first round. They are:

Jerry Hughes of TCU, Ricky Sapp from Clemson, Antonio Coleman at Auburn, Cameron Sheffield at Troy, Eric Norwood at South Carolina. Kiper had Wisconsin's O'Brian Schofield rated as a first-rounder until he blew out his knee at the Senior Bowl in January.

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December 30, 2009

Dolphins have second-highest payroll in NFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 17, 2009

Emptying the notebook for big doings Thursday

Clearing out Wednesday's notebook:

A couple of weeks ago the Cleveland Plain Dealer "reported" Bill Parcells was on the Browns' radar and that a source believed he might be swayed into being interested in the job as Browns football czar.

Um, that report doesn't resonate so well right now as Cleveland has offered the job to Mike Holmgren.

The truth of the matter is Parcells has been spending the past few weeks meeting with Miami's scouts and studying tape as if there was a soon coming exam. The tape he studies is of Miami practices, Miami games, Miami opponents, and college players he will be interested in draft next April.

And if he is drafting next April, it will be for the Dolphins. I cannot report this as fact. But call it a prediction that I'm fairly confident about.

The truth is Parcells has it pretty good in Miami. Worries that new owner Stephen Ross would become a pain for him have not materialized. Ross, very active on the business side, has not asked Parcells for the keys to the franchise that Wayne Huizenga tossed the future Hall of Famer in December 2007.

Parcells would also be hard pressed to quickly reproduce elsewhere the results he has brought in Miami because he basically hit the ground running here. He had "his guys" that are familiar with his system and he hired them here.

Those men have contracts with the Dolphins. It would be difficult for Parcells to then take those guys to say, Cleveland, and have his golfing and dining partner (Dan Henning) as an offensive coordinator, his apprentice (Jeff Ireland) as a general manager, his former assistant (Paul Pasqualoni) as the defensive coordinator, and his former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach (Tony Sparano) as the head coach.

Simply, it would be hard for Parcells to reproduce the quick turn-around he did here because he would have to start from scratch with a lot of people and he didn't have to do that here.

Another issue is that Parcells' job isn't truly done here. Have you noticed? The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl. Haven't won a conference title. Haven't won a playoff game. They are better than they where they were when Parcells arrived. But they are by no means elite. And Parcells was hired and is being paid to make them elite.

So if he leaves, he leaves the job unfinished and I don't believe he wants to do that. Not this time. Finally, where else is Parcells going to go that would offer him the lifestyle that South Florida offers? He can play golf in December. Hialeah is re-opening. Spring Training is around the corner.

You don't get that anywhere else.

Nope, Parcells isn't leaving the Dolphins for another NFL job. If he ever leaves, it might be for television. But another team? Hard to imagine.


The motto that other Dolphins teams have used -- without much success, I must add -- made its 2009 appearance around the Dolphins facility on Wednesday.

Why not us!

It was plastered throughout the locker room. Just like that. The phrase is actually a question, but it was punctuated by an exclamation point. And what purpose does the phrase serve?

"How can I put this," cornerback Sean Smith told me, "no offense, you guys the media, the evil media, everybody's talking about the playoffs and whatnot, but nobody's mentioned the Dolphins from what we've seen. Even though that doesn't really matter to us, I think it's a message to ourselves that even though a lot of people aren't talking about us, why can't it be us?"

Although the Dolphins admittedly have little room for error if they want to get in the playoffs -- needing to win out and also needing other teams to lose -- they like their chances. They like their chances even if they've perceived that the media (mostly national) pretty much ignores them.

"We're doing positive things so why can't we finish it off by getting the playoffs?" Smith asked rhetorically. "It's a reminder to us not to worry about what everybody else is talking about. Let's play our game and worry about what we do in these walls."

It's classic bunker mentality. But hey, if it works, whatever gets you through the night.


I had a handful of followers on my twitter asking me Wednesday if receiver Patrick Turner would be getting playing time before this season is over. This is what coach Tony Sparano said about Turner on Wednesday:

"Patrick's done a nice job, he really has," Sparano said. "He's a work in progress right now. Obviously, you wish you could take every player to the game and we can't do that. We've carried four receivers on a lot of occasions. He's been active a couple of times and played sparingly on special teams. But the guy works very hard in practice. I see great improvement out of him and he's a guy sooner or later here that is going to get an opportunity and I'm sure make the most of it."

Translation: Unless something significant changes in the final three weeks of the season, such as an injury to one of the other wide receivers or unless Miami's playoff hopes are dashed by a loss or two, Turner isn't going to be playing at all on Sundays.

He's just the fifth horse in a five-horse race and that doesn't qualify him to be active on game day.

The fact Miami has had two receivers -- Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo -- go over 100 yards in receiving the past two games also means the coaching staff isn't going to sit anyone just to play Turner.

So Turner's time may just have to wait until 2010.


The last word on the Ted Ginn Jr. versus Chris Johnson match race that never was: Ginn didnt want to step up and take Johnson on, either by words or deeds. And one would expect most of Ginn's teammates to step to the receiver's corner.

But not all of them.

Asked if Ginn or Johnson is faster, linebacker Channing Crowder picked Johnson.

“I’ll put him and a cheetah up," Crowder said. "The cheetah might have a step on him, but he is ridiculously fast, explosive and just a great back.

Asked if he believes Johnson could give Usain Bolt a run for his money, Crowder has no doubts.

“He probably can," Crowder said. "He might run with Bolt in the damn 100. Y’all don’t know how fast that boy is. I know y’all look at numbers. He is fast – fast, fast; flat out period fast. There’s game speed and this explosion and good cut, good feet, no. He’s fast. He’s fast, period. Capital letters. Write it down in your report. I know I’m going to give y’all what you need to write down. He’s fast. Y’all know how to spell it, with a capital damn ‘T’ at the end."


Thursday is a big day at Dolphins camp. The coordinators talk. The locker room is open We'll see if Reggie Torber (hamstring) practices after missing Wednesday. I'll have an update on Vince Young's status. And I'm sure a couple of surprises are bound to crop up. So ya'll come back often, ya'hear? (Getting my Tennessee talk all polished).

December 15, 2009

The great transition that is, was, & must come

I wrote a column in today's Miami Herald that focused on how the Dolphins have continued winning despite undergoing a difficult transition at quarterback, cornerback and nose tackle. Those transitions are the toughest there are in the NFL --  obviously at quarterback but particularly at nose tackle if the team runs a 3-4 scheme.

Check out the column and you'll see some fascinating statistics that prove Chad Henne, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Paul Soliai have been exceedingly effective in replacing valuable veterans.

The column also gives you a hint where future transitions will be needed.

The column does not address where the Dolphins have already made changes previous to this season. The offensive line and defensive line is where those changes came first. That's where Bill Parcells built his foundation.

And the offensive line has delivered, as well it should since it came at a price of $156 million.

"Here's what has been the most impressive - and when you watch an offensive line play, it's never pretty, it really isn't," coach Tony Sparano said. "Their tenacity, I think is a good word, they really are, they're a pretty tenacious, resilient group. They're doing some ugly things hard, and as long as you're doing them hard, you've got a chance. They're giving us a chance that way. Those guys would probably tell you that's a compliment. First of all, I don't dish many out their way, but secondly, that fact in the offensive line, it's not always pretty. It's a different position than most, yet, they're pretty tenacious, and they're pretty resilient. I think that that's the thing to me that stands out the most about it, it's that even when the game gets a little bit ugly, they keep grinding pretty good."

The defensive line has been effective of late also. Sparano said he challenged his defensive ends to play well last week against Jacksonville. They did. And Randy Starks was excellent.

"I think he’s having a great season, I really do," Sparano said. "I’ve said it before, but Randy was physical again yesterday, he had four or five tackles, tackle for loss in there, made a big play in one of those situations. There's still things Randy can get better at, there really are.

"Fundamentally, go back to that again, there's some things in the game yesterday that Randy will watch the film, and he'll know he left out there on the field. He played pretty good in there yesterday, physical, did a great job I thought. We asked our defensive ends yesterday, Randy, [Phillip] Merling, [Kendall] Langford, to do a hard job in that run game yesterday. Their job was very, very difficult from what we asked them to do from a defensive standpoint yesterday, but I thought the three of them, they really did a pretty good job in that game."

Starks is interesting because he came from the Tennessee Titans as a free agent in 2008. He had never played in a 3-4 defense. He'd always been a defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. Well, he kind of struggled in his first year. He really wasn't much of a factor. But he seemed to get it in training camp. The light bulb seemed to flicker on and now it is burning brightly.

"I think I've had a breakout season," Starks said. "This is probably the best football I've been playing throughout my career. It could be the coaching, the coaching staff. The coaches help me a lot, coach Kace, Kacy Rodgers, he's helped me. Maybe this defense fits me better, maybe I'm just a 3-4 type of player, not a 4-3.

"The first time I ever played 3-4 was last year. It was a hard adjustment for me, but now, I'm getting the hang of it."

Discuss ...

And remember to check out the column for those stats and what I've been told is the next coming change of youngsters replacing vets.

Also, follow me on twitter.  You'll be able to see a picture of my Christmas tree the wife and I just finished trimming.

November 30, 2009

Dolphins coaching was a problem versus Bill

There are complaints aplenty about the Miami Dolphins today.

Some of them come from fans, as blogs, message boards and radio call-in shows will be loaded today with complaints about play-calling and coaching.

Some of the complaints come from Miami's locker room and coaching staff. That's the one I decided to focus on for my column in the Miami Herald Monday. Players and coaches alike looked at their fourth-quarter collapse against the Bills, a collapse which turned a 14-7 lead into a 31-14 loss, and everyone agreed the Dolphins have a problem finishing.

The Dolphins are perhaps the NFL's worst team at finishing games. They've blown games against Indianapolis, New Orleans, and the Bills in the final stanza this year. They also got outplayed by San Diego in the fourth quarter of that game.

Read the column and answer the following question: How does a team that cannot finish games, expect to successfully finish the season?

As to matters not in the column:

The coaching by the Dolphins staff was horrible on Sunday. I have great respect for the Miami coaching staff because I believe they often get the most production out of some limited talent. But this blowout upset loss was different.

This was embarrassing.

The facts are the Dolphins were facing an inferior team on Sunday. The Buffalo starting cornerbacks of Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee did not play on Sunday. The Buffalo offensive line was missing two starters and had another dude playing out of position. The Buffalo head coach is a rookie. And Ryan Fitzpatrick from Harvard? Really?

The Bills had nothing to play for but pride while the Dolphins' season was on the line.

Then one has to understand the Dolphins had 10 days to prepare for this game.

And the Bills still won?

"We've got 10 days to prepare and I didn't do a good enough job obviously preparing them," coach Tony Sparano said. "I've got to do a better job."

Sparano, the former play-caller for Bill Parcells in Dallas, has to do a better job of riding herd over offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Henning, who has forgotten more football than most people will ever know, is normally a fine offensive coordinator.

Sunday was not one of those occassions.

Consider that on Miami's first possession the Dolphins moved from their own 45 yard line to the Buffalo 3. Chad Henne completed a 15-yard pass. Ricky Williams ran for 11, then 7, then six, then 5 yards. The Bills were on their heels.

And then on first-and-goal, Henning got cute by calling a halfback pass for a player that hasn't thrown a pass since 2000.


Momentum lost.

"Yeah, you know, I got the ball and Joey Haynos was supposed to block the outside linebacker and then go, and I saw him, and I just didn't put enough arch on the ball and it was picked off by the backside linebacker," Williams said.

But why call the play at that point? I can understand if the Dolphins weren't running well? But they were rolling. Not smart. They used their best runner to throw, thereby not using their best runner's or best passer's greatest assets. Not smart. 

Sparano relegated the criticism of the play-call to "Monday Morning quarterbacking" and said the problem with the play was in its execution. It sounded like a coach who would prefer to blame a player than another coach for a play's failure.

There were other head-scratching offensive calls also.

In the second quarter the Dolphins took a 7-0 lead and then stopped the Bills on a three-and-out. Then the Dolphins complete a pass for 11 yards, Williams runs for 6 yards, Williams runs for 5 yards. And then Henning gets cute again.

He calls an end-around to Ginn on first down. It loses 4 yards. And you know what? The Dolphins make 11 yards on the next two plays but have to punt because they needed 14 yards for a first thanks to that reverse, So that reverse to Ginn costs the Dolphins a chance to keep driving.

The Bills then get the ball and tie the game at 7-7 on their next possession.

Finally, can I ask about continuing to force the issue with Pat White? He is neither one of the team's better runners nor it's best passer. And yet he continues to get plays at strange moments when Miami runs its spread option.

White ran once for 2 yards on Sunday. When did that first taste of action come?

In the fourth quarter. Right after Buffalo took a 17-14 lead. What changed at that point that didn't happen in the three previous quarters when Miami was winning? What was the freakin' point?

The defensive coaching staff doesn't get a pass here, either.

We all recognize the Dolphins are starting two rookie cornerbacks. We recognize they are talented. And we recognize they are capable. But why put them in one-on-one coverage a large majority of the game, every game?

Hello? Other teams watch tape, also ...

It is begging for a game-changing TD. And the Dolphins got exactly what they were begging for when Terrell Owens caught a 51-yard TD pass over Vontae Davis in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick said he recognized the coverage pre-snap and called an audible.

Dagger to the heart.

One more thing: We keep hearing how Cameron Wake cannot get into games more because he is a work-in-progress as a run-defender.

Well, how long does it take to coach up a player to defend the edge of the defense? We're 11 games into the season and Wake's still not ready to tackle somebody running wide?

And if Wake isn't, what makes coaches think Joey Porter is ready? Porter blew edge run assignments time after time on Sunday. Yes, he had a couple of sacks against reserve tackles. But that was Porter blowing the run defense against Fitzpatrick as the Ivy League QB set off on a 31-yard TD run.

So the young player can't be taught to defend the run 11 games into a season and the veteran can't be reminded to keep his assignment discipline? Yes, the players have a responsibility to get this done. But the coaches have an equal responsibility to make sure those players do their job or take a seat on the bench.

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November 25, 2009

Miami Dolphins players must produce quickly

Surprised by the waiving of Matt Roth?

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

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

(I happen to love that about this regime.)

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

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

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

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

Here yesterday, unproductive today, gone tomorrow.

We've seen it time and again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 16, 2009

Are the Dolphins backups that good?

It is the proverbial two-edged sword that the Dolphins now wield with the handful of players that sat out Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay and those players that took their place.

Obviously the Dolphins won the game, so the replacements were good enough to help Miami to victory. But because the Dolphins won the game, one has to wonder about the players who sat.

Here's the thing that is frying my brain right now: Were Miami's replacements that good? Or were the players being replaced not as good as we thought and thus easily substituted for?

Let's take it position by position:

At outside linebacker, Joey Porter was benched for reasons the Dolphins don't want to divulge. But in keeping those reasons and Porter under wraps, something very interesting became quite public. Porter can seemingly be easily replaced.

Either that, or the Dolphins have amazing depth at OLB.

Think about it. Porter has not had a full sack since September. He's been missing practice time. He was invisible in last week's game at New England. So he gets deactivated and, voila, Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake not only pick up the slack, but play much better than Porter has recently.

Anderson had five tackles -- almost half as many as Porter has contributed the entire season -- and added a sack and two forced fumbles.

"I was able to get back there and I knew the guy was tough to take down, but he can't go anywhere without the ball," Anderson said. "A couple of guys were like, 'Hey go for the ball,' The second time I was able to do that."

And he did. So do you think Anderson is a super sub? Or do you think Porter has been playing so poorly that this is the type of production the weakside outside linebacker position should be delivering regardless of who is playing there?

Oh, by the way, with Porter out, Cameron Wake also got a few extra pass-rush opportunities than usual. He turned in a sack, bringing his total to four, and had two tackles -- again better than what Porter has been giving.

At the tight end spot, the Dolphins played without starter Anthony Fasano because he is troubled by a hip injury. To cover the void, the Dolphins moved Joey Haynos to the starting job and used rookie Kory Sperry in double-tight end alignments.

Well, in his first NFL outing, the rookie tight end caught three passes for 31 yards, including a touchdown. In other words, Sperry now has as many TD catches as Fasano has had this season. So did the Dolphins miss Fasano on Sunday?

That would be a no.

Is it because Sperry is really good, a diamond found in the practice squad rough? Or is it because Fasano just hasn't been producing up to par to the point a rookie could match the veteran's typical production with little problem?


By the way, Sperry was brought up from the practice squad because he has been consistently out-performing fellow rookie John Nalbone in practice. Nalbone was a Miami fifth-round selection. Sperry was not drafted out of Colorado State. So much for all the draft experts out there.

Anyway, the Dolphins were also without LG Justin Smiley on Sunday. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Nate Garner. I'm not going to try to fool you and say Garner played well or as well as Smiley might. I have no idea.

I do know the Dolphins didn't give up any sacks. I do know they rushed for 199 yards. So obviously the offensive line -- including Garner -- was doing something right.

The greater point is this: If the Dolphins can manage to get such good production from their backups, they are a team that either enjoys great depth, as I said before. Or they are a team with some starters that aren't much better than their backups.

One is very good. The other possibility is troubling.

Only the coaching staff knows the true answer. And I'm sure the answer is different in each individual case.

But if the Dolphins have reserves that can deliver pretty well on Sunday, perhaps using those players might be a good idea in the future. Maybe applying the thought to other positions might be worthwhile.

Perhaps Tyler Thigpen might get better results in the spread formation than Pat White. Perhaps giving Patrick Turner some snaps with the offense (he was limited to special teams duty far as I saw on Sunday) might actually surprise people with production.

The old adage is the starter starts because he's better than the backup. Perhaps with the Dolphins that isn't always true.

November 12, 2009

Vontae Davis has the attitude to be excellent

An NFL employee whose opinion I respect was talking to me about Vontae Davis recently when he put the Dolphins' rookie in perspective by saying the kid is bright, but he's not a deep thinker.

And that is absolutely true.

The Miami cornerback figures things out. But he's not Aristotle, sitting around trying to figure out the existential meaning of junk.

That is the perfect approach for an NFL cornerback.

And that was evident in Davis on Wednesday, the first day he needed to start thinking ahead to this weekend's assignment against the Tampa Bay Bucs, and the last day he should have been thinking about Randy Moss and the New England Patriots.

Don't misunderstand, Davis looked at his game against the Patriots.

He had his ups -- with a jaw-dropping interception in the first quarter and a great second-quarter tackle of Wes Welker for a one-yard loss on a receiver screen. He had his downs -- giving up a 71-yard TD on a crossing route and being flagged for pass interference.

And he did it all while he was healthy and after he was injured. Davis injured his quad early in the game but took a shot to deaden the pain and get back in the game and continue competing against Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"I look at it like it's the little stuff that needs correction," Davis said. "That's what makes the good players great, when you go back and criticize yourself real hard."

But this is what also can help make a cornerback great: That he doesn't freak about what went wrong. That he doesn't lose confidence or go into a funk after a tough game. That he believes he can man-up with any and all comers, whether it be true or not, play after play after play.

And, yes, Davis has that. 

"I know people are going to catch ball [on me] but my mentality is, 'Can you do it again?' Davis said while I privately jumped with glee at hearing the words. "I don't think they can do it again. And when they do do it, it was because of something I did wrong. That's the mentality you have at this cornerback position."

But it doesn't end there. The mentality, as Davis puts it, also has to include a fierce competitive spirit. Not everyone has it, and you can look at the Dolphins roster to a former first-round pick that has failed to become a fine cornerback because, in part, he isn't driven by that competitive fire.

So you tell me if Davis has the fire after reading this exchange:

Salguero: Are you looking forward to the next time you face Moss?

Davis: "Yes, yes, yes, oh yes."

[BLOG NOTE: Be certain to check back here later today. I'll be updating with the latest from the coordinators, the locker room and coach Tony Sparano. Enjoy the video.]

November 02, 2009

Victory Monday update from Tony Sparano

The players were off today but the coaches were working and this is what coach Tony Sparano's view of his team is 24 hours after the 30-25 victory over the Jets.

First, after getting the game ball for his two kickoff return touchdowns against New York, it seems unlikely Ted Ginn Jr. will be getting added special team duties as Miami's punt returner anytime soon.

"Right now I'm thinking we'll leave it the way I have it and coach the heck out of it," Sparano said before adding that punt returner Davone Bess, who had a fumble on Sunday, "can't make bad decisions" on his returns.

I think this is a mistake. Ginn played only 22 snaps Sunday and, while he remains limited in what he can do as a receiver, he does have special and elite skills as a return man. So why not use those skills more?

It might be easy to forget that in college, Ginn returned both punts and kickoffs and was actually more explosive on punts. He returned 64 punts for a 14.1 yard average at The Ohio State University and six of those were for TDs. He only returned two kickoffs for TDs.

Ginn actually returned 9 percent of his punts for touchdowns while returning 5 percent of his kickoffs for touchdowns. But hey, Miami's coaching staff is insistent that isn't going to happen right now.

Of course, they were insistent on not letting Ginn return kickoffs until Patrick Cobbs blew out his knee.

Sparano didn't say whether Ginn gets his starting WR job job anytime soon, but did say there were two pass plays against New York on which Ginn got behind the defender and quarterback Chad Henne was unable to get him the ball.

On other subjects:

Sparano said he attempted the two-point conversion when the team was up 11 in the fourth quarter because, "I was trying to take a scenario out of play in that the only scenario that could beat us was two touchdowns."

In other words, Sparano wanted a 13-point lead so that the Jets could not tie with a touchdown, a two-point conversion and a field goal or win with one touchdown and two field goals. Obviously Miami failed on it's bid for the conversion.

This season in the NFL two-point conversions are successful approximately 30 percent of the time.

On the subject of Miami's two rookie cornerbacks, both of whom will be under much scrutiny this week with Tom Brady and Co. on the schedule, Sparano was generally pleased with Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

"Both picked different points to play well," the coach said. "Both had bumps and that's what's going to happen."

Although they combined for a total of 162 plays, Sparano said the cornerbacks had no mental errors. There were, however, technical errors that numbered in the single digits between the two that need to be cleaned up.

By way of a player update, Sparano said rookie receiver Patrick Turner's "had a couple of good, solid weeks of practice right now and he's getting better and better. I would say sooner or later we'll see him."

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.