October 15, 2014

Can the Miami Dolphins put stinging loss behind them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is easier said than done.

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

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

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

September 05, 2013

The NFL's starting QBs ranked No. 1-32

Ryan Tannehill is four days from starting his second NFL season. And while we still cannot be certain what he will become, we know he must be better than he's been if he's to earn the trust placed on him as the face of the Dolphins franchise.

Tannehill knows Dolphins fans want, indeed, expect him to be very good this year. The team has surrounded him with a fine receivers corps. The defense is playoff caliber. This is his year to be much better.

He knows this. He hears it when people say he'll be the next great quarterback in Dolphins history.

“It’s nice but, it doesn’t matter, I still have to go out and play," Tannehill said Wednesday. "I have to go out and do the things that I want to do, that we want to do as a team.  We have high expectations for ourselves as a team.  As an offense, we want to be able to put points up.  We brought in a lot of weapons this year, and now it’s time to finally go out and play."

The Dolphins need Tannehill to become outstanding if not elite. That might happen this year. But that's not how he starts the year.

No, as we get ready to kick off the 2013 NFL season, the Dolphins have an unproven quarterback (still) that is not considered upper echelon in the NFL. Indeed, Tannehill is still among the lower third of NFL quarterbacks compared to others around the league. 

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, he's really good. He has all the tools. Ryan's awesome, man. He's got a great arm. He's a captain. He's on the leadership council. He's the man!)

Thank you, gallery. But none of that means squat. Tannehill is one of 32 NFL starting quarterbacks. That makes him special. But if there were a quarterback draft to start the 2013 season, Tannehill would not be picked early.

He probably wouldn't be picked in the middle of the pack, either.

That tells you where Tannehill begins the year in a quarterback-centric league.

I'm not making this up. Consider the Salguero rankings of the NFL's best quarterbacks 1-32. I understand that most of the readers of this blog are Dolphins fans and thus are biased. But try to put your pom-poms aside for a sec and think about what you would do if you were an NFL general manager.

Tell me what spots you would rate the QBs. Tell me where you disagree with the rankings:

1. Aaron Rogers, Green Bay  .... Great arm, smart, mobile, fine athlete, won a Super Bowl.

2. Tom Brady, New England ... Great accurate arm, burning passion to win, won three Super Bowls.

3. Peyton Manning, Denver .... Accurate, manipulates secondaries, makes all the throws, won a SB.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans ... Height schmeight, fine deep thrower, leader, won a SB.

5. Eli Manning, NYG .... Excellent arm, has innate ability to play big at big moments, won two SBs.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore ... Perhaps strongest arm in NFL, blossoming, won Super Bowl in 2012-13.

7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh ... Behemoth, great improvisation, bazooka arm, won 2 SBs.

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta ... Smart, uses all his weapons, led team to conference title game.

9. Tony Romo, Dallas ... Great athlete, very good arm, still looking for playoff success cred.

10. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis ... The next superstar. Period.

11. Robert Griffin III, Washington .... Smart, courageous, great accuracy, runs like a deer.

12. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco .... See RG3 only bigger, stronger.

13. Matt Schaub, Houston .... Pocket passer, plays up to surrounding talent.

14. Russell Wilson, Seattle ... More intangibles than just about any of them. Good arm. Winner.

15. Cam Newton, Carolina ... Adonis in a football uniform, gifted arm, runs well, good, getting better.

16. Jay Cutler, Chicago ... Amazing arm, gunslinger who takes risks, high risk and high reward.

17. Michael Vick, Philadelphia ... When healthy still elite running and passing, under-rated passer.

18. Phillip Rivers, San Diego ... Considered elite 2-3 years ago, has fallen off but still scares people.

19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati ... More passer than thrower, average arm but gets results.

20. Carson Palmer, Arizona ... Once great, declining but still excellent in right system.

21. Matthew Stafford, Detroit ... Inconsistent but excellent when hot. 80 TDs and only 25 years old.

22. Sam Bradford, St. Louis ... Finally has talent around him at WR, OL. Accurate, strong arm.

23. Ryan Tannehill, Miami ... All the tools, good learner, hard worker, but still work in progress at 25.

24. Alex Smith, Kansas City ... Perhaps best game-manager in the NFL. That's good. And bad.

25. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay ... Roller-coaster career, roller-coaster accuracy, inconsistent.

26. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland ... Same as Tannehill only five years older and surrounded by less talent.

27. Christian Ponder, Minnesota ... Smart, knows how to win, but not physically gifted like others.

28. Jake Locker, Tennessee ... Inaccurate, inconsistent, on the hot seat.

Tie 29. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo ... Unknown.

Tie 29. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville ... Mostly unknown, seems to play scared at times.

Tie 29. Geno Smith, NYJ ... Not ready. Just not ready.

Tie 29. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland ... Brings a spark to the huddle. But great QBs do that and pass great, too.









September 04, 2013

Dolphins vs. Browns first injury report

The Dolphins and Browns released their injury report for Sunday's game at Cleveland.

For the Dolphins, CB Will Davis (toe), QB Pat Devlin (ankle), CB Jamar Taylor (groin) all missed practice today. As an aside, the likelihood of Taylor player Sunday is practically nil.

Tight end Dion Sims (groin) was limited in practice today.

And DE Dion Jordan (shoulder), LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder), and S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring) were full participation in practice.

For the Browns, G Shawn Lauvao (ankle) did not practice. He was the only one.

DE Desmond Bryant (back) and OLB Barkevious Mingo (lung) were limited in practice.

Meanwhile, G Gary Barnidge (shoulder), WR Davone Bess (knee), LB Jordan Cameron (groin), TE Garrett Gilkey (shoulder), DL John Hughes (knee), LB Eric Martin (Foot) and DB Chris Owens (foot) were full practice.

Pouncey getting help to stop Blitzland

Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton began his career with the Redskins and coached in Detroit, and Cincinnati. But the stop that molded him most was unquestionably the seven seasons he spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That's where he picked up the zone blitz. That's where he learned from Dick LeBeau, considered among the best defensive minds in the business. That's where he got his coaching philosophy of attacking 3-4 defense.

And that's the reason the Cleveland Browns the Dolphins will face on Sunday will try to come with the same snarling, angry, zone blitzing, pressure-on-the-quarterback approach as what the Steelers generally use.

Remember Blitzburgh?

Horton wants Bllitzland.

That means two things:

The Dolphins will encounter a major challenge up front to block for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

But they will also have significant opportunities for big plays if they can get Cleveland's attacking front blocked.

So Miami center Mike Pouncey has to perform well before the snap as well as once the ball is snapped.

"No question, but that's how it's supposed to be," Pouncey said Tuesday afternoon. "The center is supposed to be the guy that sets the stage for the quarterback. You need a smart center against them to know what's coming.

"This is head on. We're playing a great defense. They have a big defensive line. They have good pass rushers. They got a good coach over there that tends to mix up a lot of different blitzes so we can't wait to see what he brings."

Horton is new to the Browns. But Pouncey nonetheless called his brother Maurkice Pouncey for help in figuring out what might be coming. Maurkice, a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has familiarity with some of the Browns personnel. And he does see a lot of the Pittsburgh defense in practice.

So did the call to Maurkice benefit Mike?

"A lot," Mike Pouncey said. "He plays them two times a year so I called him up and asked him how those guys play, their tendencies. It's good having a brother who plays in the NFL, especially the same position."

Pouncey might want to refer back to last year's Dolphins game versus Arizona. Horton was the Arizona defensive coordinator the last two years. If you recall, in that game, the Dolphins lit up the Cardinals for 480 yards.

So you see the opportunity for big plays against Horton's defense.

But the Cardinals also had two interceptions, forced and recovered two fumbles, and sacked Ryan Tannehill four times.

The Cardinals brought the A-gap blitz a lot so I assume Pouncey is ready for that this week. He says he's definitely ready for the zone blitz.

"What I do is I study film and watch the linebackers and safeties and how they roll coverages," he said. "That's how I know from where the blitz is coming -- where it's coming from so I can help my guys on the offensive line be a step faster."

Follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero


September 03, 2013

Watkins responds to Roseman comments

Danny Watkins seems like a good guy. Whether he's a good player, we shall see eventually.

I know this, the Dolphins' time with Josh Samuda was played out. Samuda got a very good chance to win a starting job this preseason. It was probably a better chance than he deserved because one player (John Jerry) got hurt and another player (Lance Louis) was fighting to come back from knee surgery. Samuda couldn't take advantage of the opportunity.

And so in steps Watkins, a former first round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was cut from that team a couple of days ago after only two seasons with the club. It seems like a good move.

But there are questions.

If you read what Eagles GM Howard Roseman said about Watkins in the last post you know it's quite an indictment when an NFL GM says a player has shown little toughness.

I asked Watkins his thoughts about Roseman's comment.

"I got to Philadelphia and it was just a rough go from the get-go," Watkins said. "I felt like it just got broken down to bones and never got built back. It was more a mental thing. I was very disappointing to myself that it never panned out the way it could. Because I know I can play physical and tough football but it just never ... I think it was more a mental aspect than anything.

"These last three years have been such a whirlwind. it was great opportunity to play in the NFL. My college career was great, I love Baylor and what they did for me there. Looking back, six years ago if you had told me I'd be in the position I am today, I would have laughed at you. I'm very fortunate and very blessed to be where I am today."

Watkins picked the Dolphins over another NFL team, he said. He declined to specify what team. I asked him if he believes this is his last chance to find an NFL home.

"I'm very excited to be here and I know Miami has a, well the past history with the players here" Watkins said. "So this is huge for me. Like I said, it's the most exciting thing that's happened to me and I'm going to take full advantage of the opportunity and make the best of it."

The Dolphins asked Watkins to work at snapping the football some on Monday. Is he a viable backup center?

It doesn't sound like it right away.

"I was a tackle in college. and guard in the NFL," he said.

Watkins said he's comfortable playing either left or right guard. 

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin declined to say who the backup center is now that Samuda is gone. He cited competitive reasons for declining to answer.

Update from practice and who is Danny Watkins?

Here's a quick update on what's going on at practice today:

The rookie cornerbacks are still not practicing. Will Davis (ankle) and Jamar Taylor (hernia) missed the second straight day of preparation for the Cleveland Browns.

Davis, in a walking boot Monday, is out of the boot today. He was walking quite gingerly. Interestingly, yesterday Davis wore the boot on his left tankle. The team complained to at least one reporter about writing which ankle was wearing the boot. Today, Davis is wearing wrapping and a sleeve on his right ankle. Pretty sly, those Dolphins.

By the way, The Herald's Adam Beasley has reported Taylor will likely not play against the Browns. Just as well. He was bad in the preseason finale and clearly not ready to compete on an NFL regular-season level.

Long snapper John Denney and quarterback Pat Devlin were also absent from drills today. No reasons for those absenses yet, although Denney's, at least, is believed to be excused for personal reasons.

Newcomer Danny Watkins was at practice today, as expected. I believe the best use for him is as guard-center swing guy. Watkins is a former first-round pick waived by Philadelphia after only two years.

Why the bust in Philly?

The media in Philadelphia questioned his passion for football and Eagles GM Howard Roseman questioned his toughness, which is never good for an offensive lineman. Or a football player.

“When you watched Danny play, the toughness, the hockey-playing aspect of him, never translated to Philadelphia, and that’s one of the things that I told him today, was that when you watched him at Baylor and when you watched him at the Senior Bowl and when you met him, he had this innate toughness about him,” Roseman told CSNPhilly.
“You felt like you were getting an enforcer, and he never let himself go here on that, and I don’t know why that was. I told him that was what I was the most confused by. Because that was something that everyone at Baylor told you about and you saw on his play on the field, and I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here."

Roseman interestingly believes a change of scenary will help Watkins.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself, and he couldn’t just go out and play, and I think getting away from being Danny Watkins the first-round pick and just being Danny Watkins will really help him,” Roseman said.

Well, that takes care of Watkins' aggressiveness. But the media in Philly also questioned his dedication and passion. It is no secret Watkins' first love is firefighting. He came to the United States to become a fireman, not a football player.

From today's Philadelphia Daily News:

"That photo on the firefighting site Northeastbravest.com the Inquirer uncovered, of Danny dressed out in full Rescue 1 gear at a Northeast Philly fire last Dec. 16, carrying a motorized saw, is really all you need to know about Danny and passion. His passion was for firefighting, which is what he left idyllic Kelowna, British Columbia, to come to the United States to learn more about. He got sidetracked by football. When somebody tells you that you can win a college scholarship, and then make millions of dollars doing something professionally, you pay attention. But paying attention does not put you on the intensity same level as someone who has spent his life hungry to play the game, living it, breathing it.

The Eagles were off that day in December when Danny toted gear around for his fire department buddies. But less than two months earlier, he had left the starting lineup with an ankle problem, and then he’d lost his starting job to journeyman Jake Scott, signed off the street. You’re a recent No. 1 pick consigned to the bench. Wouldn’t you want to spend every extra minute watching tape, perfecting technique, working in the weight room to get bigger and faster?"


Dolphins sign Watkins, waive Samuda

The Dolphins have signed guard Danny Watkins, a former first-round pick of the Eagles. To room on the roster for Watkins the team waived guard Josh Samuda.

For Watkins this is a chance to redeem himself after a tough couple of years in Philadelphia. For Samuda, who had a poor preseason moving from center to  guard, his time with the Dolphins is in jeapardy as he is not practice squad eligible. 

The 6-3, 310 pound Watkins joins Miami after spending the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles (2011-12).  He was selected with the 23rd overall pick by the Eagles in the 2011 NFL Draft. In his career, Watkins has started 18 of the 23 games in which he appeared for the Eagles.  

Watkins was a two-year letter winner and started all 25 games played at Baylor after beginning  his collegiate career at Butte College. As a member of the Bears he earned first-team All-Big 12 Conference honors as a senior. Born November 6, 1984, Watkins played rugby and hockey at Mt. Boucherie Secondary School in West Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

Watkins is a reclamation project to be sure. He fell out of favor under new head coach Chip Kelly. But even before then, there were questions about his desire and love for the game.

The Dolphins have had success with reclamation projects at guard before with Richie Incognito. Of course, that was under a different head coach and staff.

We'll see.

Watkins signed a one-year contract.

Watkins played 126 snaps in the preseason at right guard and ProFootballFocus.com rated him the 39th best offensive guard in the league. He committed one penalty, gave up one sack, and had a minus-1.2 run blocking grade during those games.

Last year Watkins was ranked the NFL's 54th best offensive guard based on the seven games and 461 snaps he played. He had a minus-4.7 overall grade, allowing just one sack, nine quarterback hurries and committing two penalties.

Watkins was considered a bust in Philadelphia. Bottom line is he is better off in Miami where he comes in as a backup with a chance to prove himself. He has no draft pedigree he needs to live up to here.

If he's only good enough to be a backup, no one will complain. He was, after all, signed to a low-budget deal. If he's good enough to push John Jerry at right guard or eventually succeed Richie Incognito, who is in the final year of his contract, he'll be considered a huge success.

If he isn't very good at all, he'll be another bottom of the roster player that eventually is churned out on waivers.

It's a win-win-win.

September 02, 2013

Coyle guarantees significant role for Jordan

Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has good news:

Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan is in the game plan for Sunday's game at Cleveland. And he "guarantees" the first-round pick will have a significant role in that plan.

Jordan, as you must know, missed a significant portion of training camp and the preseason with a shoulder injury. He returned to practice last week. He worked in team drills today.

This is the rest of the what Coyle told the media today:

(On how concerned he is about depth at defensive back) – “You are always concerned going into the season with your depth at a number of positions, but I think we’ll be fine. We’ve got some guys, a number of guys, who have played in games and started games for us still at the corner spot. We have some flexibility with some other players at the safety spot that have skills we can use if we got into a real jam and had to use them outside at corner in some situations. I feel fine. I wish we had everybody up and running as it makes the decision easier to who would be active. You can’t keep them all active for gameday. As it is, in most cases, you aren’t going to have 11 guys up. At the same time, we hopefully very soon will have a full complement of (defensive backs) ready to roll.”

(On Dion Jordan and his role for the upcoming game) – “You are trying to get me to give away the game plan (laughs). Dion has missed some practice time, so we are starting to add to what we perceive he will be able to handle for the game. We haven’t made any final decisions yet. Today he got a good number of reps in practice today, so we are excited about that. At the end of the week, we’ll really feel better to judge exactly where he’s at, but he’s going to have a significant role in the gameplan this week, I can guarantee you that.”

(On if he feels he has three starting defensive tackles for two spots) –“Absolutely, there’s no doubt. And I hate to differentiate between any of them because to me they are all top level quality players in the upper echelon of defensive tackles in the league.”

(On if the defense can carry the team to postseason success such as the Ravens, 49ers and even the Jets from a few years ago)  – “When we play defense, we hope we are going to do our part to put us in position to win every week. I’m a firm believer, being a defensive coach, that if you play great on defense and you play great in the kicking game that you have a chance to win every ball game in this league. That’s been proven by the teams you mentioned. You also can go back to some of the Tampa Bay teams over the years that won the Super Bowl by playing great defense. Offensively they did what they had to do to win games. I believe in our offense. I know our offense is going to get it rolling. Hopefully it will be this Sunday. In our room, we talk about the fact that if we play like we are capable of playing, we are going to have a shot to win a lot of football games. That’s what we expect.”

(On if his defensive players relish the role of carrying the team)  – “I think our veteran players like the idea. They enjoy the challenge. They want to be among the best defenses in the league. Now it is a matter of us proving that we can be in that same conversation. The only way you do that is consistently playing defense that way from the first game to the seventeenth week of the season.”

(On going up against former Miami Dolphin wide receiver Davone Bess and if he presents an interesting challenge)  – “He sure does. I have nothing but great respect for Davone. I loved being around him when he was here. (He was) a great competitor, a guy that is a tireless worker, and those types of things. Having our guys know what he is capable of, and I think in some ways that has heighten their preparation because when you look at a guy on tape you haven’t seen a lot and hasn’t played a lot in the preseason, if you didn’t know him it would be hard to get a feel for him. Our guys would know we had a heck of a time trying to cover him out here for a long time last season. He proved to be such a clutch guy, and he’ll be a go-to guy for them. We anticipate that. He’s got our attention, and we are going to have to do a great job because he is a very, very nifty slot receiver.”

(On Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and what he has seen on film from him) – “He’s an outstanding young quarterback. I think sometimes he kind of gets lost in the discussion with all of these young quarterbacks that have come out of late, but this guy has a terrific arm. Coming out of college he set all kinds of records. He was a great thrower. He can make all of the throws. He’s got a big-time throwing arm. Last year, like a lot of young quarterbacks, he kind of went through a learning stage. He looks much more poised and comfortable in this offense coming back. We are going to have to play great against him because he can make all of the throws. He’ll throw the ball down the field vertically as good as some of the top ones in the league.”

(On if he has any real concerns about the defense) – “You have concerns that everybody just gels together here early in the season. We do have some new faces. The communication, just the pre-snap dynamics that go on during the course of a game, you have some new linebackers and some new guys in the secondary. Hopefully I think we’ve shown in preseason that this group is a good cohesive group, but we are going to have to do it when we are out there and it’s live, it counts. I’m confident if we play like we are capable of, we will be very good against the run. We will have a heck of a challenge this week because the running back we are facing this week is strong, explosive guy. Their offensive line, I’ve got to tell you, is extremely physical. (It’s) one of the more impressive offensive lines that we will face. They work great together as a group. This will be a challenge in the run game. Hopefully we can create some long-yardage situations and do the things we like to do on defense on third down.”

Everything OC Mike Sherman said today

The Dolphins offense needs to improve dramatically this year. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman understands this.

This is what he said today after the Dolphins had their first practice of the week in preparation for Sunday's game at Cleveland:

(On what he is thinking after the preseason games and training camp) – “I don’ think you can draw any conclusions until you actually do it. I think what happens on the field is the only conclusion you can draw. Certainly we are trying to get to that point. We’ve practiced accordingly, but the proof is in the pudding, as my grandma used to say, but we will have to see and see what happens."

(On if they kept much to themselves in the preseason) – “You can only keep so much. You still have to play the games. You do run your core offense, but they are a good football team and they are going to anticipate what they are going to anticipate. We are going to anticipate what we are going to anticipate. We’ll see what happens. The evaluation will be at the end of the year, ultimately."

(On if he feels comfortable with the starting offensive line and the way it is with John Jerry out there) –“I still think it is a work in progress. John (Jerry) is coming off of an injury. Getting him back into the fold is going to be huge. He’s been out for a little bit, but I’m excited about having him back. We certainly needed him back. I’m anxious for him to get more comfortable in there with the other guys and get more used to what we are doing."

(On if he would like to have a fifth wide receiver on the roster) – “I think everybody wants one more of everything (laughs). I’ll take one more of whatever I can get at any time. I like the four that we have. It will serve us well."

(On how much better John Jerry can get in terms of conditioning) – “John has always been able to run pretty good, even when we first got here and he was a little overweight. I never questioned his stamina. He ran around, you know. His movement suffered when he was a little bit heavy, but he can run all day long. That was never a problem, in my mind anyway. He’s in much better shape now. Actually, to my surprise, he lost weight while he was injured, which most guys don’t do that. I’m thinking about going on IR myself thinking it might help (laughs). He has done a good job of being on IR and lost some weight. I give him credit because that’s hard for a guy that hasn’t been able to run around and be out in this heat, to lose weight, and he’s done that. That tells you the type of commitment he has, and I applaud him for that."

(On if he is surprised there hasn’t been more separation between Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas) – “Not really because they are different type of backs. One offers one thing (and) the other offers something else. They are just different dynamics between the two of them. I think because they are so different they offer, as I said, a different dynamic when in the game. I think there will be a challenge defensively to be able to put both running backs on the field separately."

(On what the key will be to converting in the redzone) – “You know we’ve had some opportunities in the red zone, we just haven’t taken advantage of them. That’s one thing. A couple of games ago I thought it could have been a better job calling some runs down there. I didn’t call some good runs. We have to be able to run the ball better in the redzone because people really defend the pass pretty well. There’s just so many defenders up there in the short areas. They just make it impossible to throw some times. We have to be able run the football down there and be diligent about that. And if you can run the ball down there, it opens up some throws in the passing game. Maybe you can play past them, vacate a window and get some balls in there. I think all of your problems end if you can run the football a little better. It helps everything."

(On saying Ryan Tannehill would have the biggest leap of the second-year quarterbacks this season) – “It’s the quote of the year (laughs). You guys won’t let me forget that. Neither will Coach (Joe) Philbin."

(On if he still thinks Ryan Tannehill will have big improvement now that training camp has concluded) – “I think that Ryan Tannehill is a diligent, hard (working), intelligent, competitive man. I think every day he walks onto this field he is going to get better, I really do. I believe in Ryan Tannehill."

(On if he expects to see as many eight-man fronts this year with new running backs) – “We had a pretty good running back. Reggie (Bush) had respect of his own as well. We started out running the ball pretty well, and we didn’t finish running the ball very well. That wasn’t indicative necessarily of just Reggie. We just didn’t run the ball very well. That was a collective effort on our part. We have to prove it. We have to prove that we can run the ball in order to determine what they are going to defend, if they are going to defend the run or the pass. If we are throwing the ball better, we will get seven-man fronts. If the run is beating them, we will get eight-man fronts. It is hard for me to determine what they are going to do. (Cleveland defensive coordinator) Ray Horton is a great defensive coordinator, and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of eight-man front against him like we did last year. I’m sure we will see more of the same."

(On tight ends and if there are plays he can no longer call because Dustin Keller is not available) – “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Dustin had talent of his own we certainly enjoyed having, but as one guy leaves another guy steps up. I’m hopeful the other guys will step forward and take his spot. There is no guarantee that everybody was going to stay healthy, so you always prepare for that possibility happening. He certainly was a savvy player and did some things, but I’m not going to say he is going to put handcuffs on us because he is not here. I’m hopeful we will be able to do some things with (Dion) Sims and (Michael) Egnew."

(On Dion Sims) – “I think I’ve already said this once before, I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t think this guy has got a chance.’ He came back for the OTAs and the rest of minicamp, and this guy made unbelievable progress. I really think he’s made a lot of progress since he’s been here. He made two catches out here. He has long arms on really low and high catches that normal tight ends weren’t going to make. He’s improved his blocking. He’s improved his route running, and I can’t say enough about the progress. Does he still have a ways to go? Yes, he has a lot of progress to make, but he’s come so far. In college he was a 280 pound tight end. I didn’t think he moved very well. To the credit of our personnel staff, they projected if he lost the weight he would be able to be the tight end he is right now. He’s done a very good job, and I think he’ll be a fine tight end in this league."

September 18, 2010

Dolphins to run on the Vikings? Bet on it

To run the football ... or to not run the football. That is the question facing every team that plays the Minnesota Vikings. That is the question facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

The Vikings pride themselves, among other things, on being one of the NFL's best run-stopping defenses. They were No. 2 against the run in 2009 and folks in Minnesota were upset about because they were No. 1 against the run in 2008.

And in 2007.

And in 2006.

No. 1 against the run.

The Vikes boast the Burly Wall of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams inside and have an athletic set of linebackers. Perhaps that is the reason the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints basically decided not to try running the ball against the Vikings in the NFL season-opener -- at least not in the first half.

The Saints decided it was best to soften up the Vikings in the first half by throwing 21 times and running just three times. It wasn't until the second half when the Vikings were seemingly expecting the pass that New Orleans began to run. The Saints finished with 36 passes and 25 runs.

The Dolphins, however, aren't that type of team.

They are a run-first team. If you have any doubt about that consider that offensive coordinator Dan Henning said this week his dream would be to never pass the football.

"You want the honest-to-God's truth?" he said to me. "I'd like to line up and run the ball every down and get in the end zone on every drive. We'd go to the Super Bowl and we'd win. Without ever throwing!"

He added, "of course it doesn't happen that way," but that is what he'd love to do.

So what do the run-first Dolphins do when they run headlong into the best run-stopping team in the NFL the last four seasons?

I spoke to one offensive player this week who told me the answer is simple. The Dolphins will run.

"They're a physical defense. We're a physical offense," the player told me. "Let's see who is more physical. We're going to do what we do."

This should not come as a surprise. Last year the Dolphins faced a couple of Top 10 run-stopping teams -- the Jets and Steelers. And they tried to run the football. The results were mixed.

In the first meeting with New York, Miami rushed 36 times for 151 yards and a 4.2 yard per carry average. In the second meeting, the Jets obviously adjusted. Miami rushed 23 times for 52 yards and a 2.3 yard average. The Jets were the No. 8 rush defense in 2009.

The Dolphins rushed 25 times for 99 yards against the Steelers for a 4.0 average per rush. The Steelers were the No. 3 defense against the run in 2009.

I recognized this is a new year. The Dolphins have two new guards and Joe Berger is settling in at center. I recognize Ronnie Brown is healthy. I recognize Ricky Williams is a year older. Miami also has a star wide receiver option outside in Brandon Marshall that it didn't have a year ago. So yes, the dynamics have changed.

But has the philosophy changed in Miami? Are the Dolphins going to abandon running the ball just because Minnesota is perhaps the NFL's best run defense?

Um, I wouldn't count on that.

September 09, 2010

ESPN pundits chime in on the Dolphins

The experts are chiming in on the Dolphins before the season begins. Las Vegas thinks the Dolphins over-under victory total this year is a pedestrian 8.5.

Other pundits, thankfully, have a bit higher opinion.

ESPN's Trent Dilfer is generally on board with the idea the Dolphins will be relevent as the season progresses into the early-January chase for playoff berths.

"I think they’re going to be pretty good," he said Wednesday. "I think they’re very well coached. I think the quarterback will play well – maybe not great – but he’ll play well. I think he’ll be manageable. I think the one thing the Dolphins will do nice with – especially with a veteran coaching staff – is they’ll manage the offense and personnel very well. They won’t give [Chad Henne] too much to handle. They obviously added a dynamic weapon on the outside with Brandon Marshall.

"Defensively, talking to some people there last year, they like the foundation of their defense. I think they know how to stop some of the big boys in that division and in that conference. I think the Dolphins are going to be one of those teams that’ll be in the mix the entire way. It’s really going to come down to they lost a couple close games last year and they’ll have to find out a way to win those tight games. All those teams that are kind of in the middle of the league and are borderline playoff teams, it’s going to come down to learning how to win. First you have to learn how not to lose. I think they’ve made that jump, and now it’s learning how to win these close games. If the Dolphins can do that – and they’re going to need a bunch of them – I can see them competing for the second spot in that division."

Tom Jackson is the elder statesmen of the ESPN analysts, as he's been at the network the longest. He also believes the Dolphins' success or failure will be tied to how they come out of close games.

"Well any team that’s fortunate to have [Bill Parcells] understands that you’re going to be a pretty sound football team. Everything right now has pretty much gone as planned. Chad may have been thrown in a little sooner than expected with Pennington’s injury but the plan was for him to come in and be the starter. I think they have an outstanding running game. I’m still old school enough to believe in that, so Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams with the Wildcat. I think they’re the only team that – they run the Wildcat differently than everybody else. You only need to look at the numbers t understand how effective and efficient they are with it. I actually had coach Parcells draw this thing up week in and week out when he was with us, and I would tell him it wouldn’t work and he would tell me it would. And when it was finally unleashed, I saw that he might know a little more about 1930s single wing and double wing than I did.

"They do have a dynamic weapon. I think they have some secondary weapons as well, but might be in as tough a division as there is in football. They lost a couple outstanding pass rushers on the outside. They got to figure out how to get in and get after the quarterback. It is key for them. Chad Henne has to come along. He has to develop a little quicker than he’d like to. But I will say this, he will be helped along by coach [Tony] Sparano and a very sound game plan at running the football. Any team that has Parcells even as a consultant will do the small things well. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot that much. At the end of those games – down by 2, up by 3, and chance to win – I don’t have every answer, but I’ll be very interested to see how many of those games they can walk away with."

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

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 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 ...

May 10, 2010

The Cowboys draft board (the real McCoy) here

Jerry Jones whiteboard
The days and weeks leading to the NFL draft see a glut of draft boards or mock drafts from experts and non-experts alike, but we never really see an actual NFL draft board.

Until now.

The picture above is Dallas owner-president-general manager Jerry Jones standing in front of his team's draft board on Saturday, April 24 -- the third day of the draft. Many of the names on the board are clearly visible. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

The Cowboys have confirmed this is their actual board. Apparently the team's in-house television department mistakenly put a video clip of Jones in front of the board up on the Internet somewhere. A loyal reader of mine in Iowa passed the picture along to me. I then confirmed its authenticity.

The picture speaks for itself, but in case you are having trouble deciphering all the names, the list of those that are legible are found below.

Here's how it works: The Cowboys graded the players on their board and put their names on computer readout tags. As players are drafted, the Cowboys replace the tag with the player's name, the team and spot where he was actually taken. The original Dallas order remains intact.

So Sam Bradford was the top-rated player by the Cowboys and he was selected by the Rams No. 1. In that the two teams agree.

But, for example, the Cowboys had Gerald McCoy rated ahead of Ndamakong Suh. So McCoy remains at No. 2 on their board while Suh is No. 3. The team simply removed McCoy's tag when he came off the board and added the team selecting him and the actual spot he was picked.

So why is this interesting to you?

Well, it is interesting to me the Cowboys had Dolphins first round pick Jared Odrick rated No. 15 on their board. The Dolphins got him with the No. 28 overall selection. So according to the Cowboys' grade, the Dolphins got a bargain.

Same thing with Koa Misi, who the Cowboys rated No. 35 overall, but the Dolphins got with the No. 40 overall selection.

It works the other way also, by the way. The Dolphins drafted guard John Jerry in the third round with the 73rd overall selection. The Cowboys had a fourth-round grade on Jerry -- 110th overall. So according to the Cowboys' grades, the Dolphins reached on Jerry.

The teams more or less agreed on a fifth-round grade for safety Reshad Jones.

Obviously this is all opinion. Not every team is going to agree on the grades and worth of players. One assumes the Dolphins don't believe they reached for Jerry.

Anyway, take a look at the Cowboys player rankings below. The round, overall selection and team that actually selected each player is in parenthesis. Some names were illegible. I could not find A.J. Edds and other Dolphins picks on the board. Perhaps you can. 

Round 1
1. Sam Bradford (1st round, No. 1 overall, St. Louis)
2. Gerald McCoy (1st, No. 3, Tampa Bay)
3. Ndamakong Suh (1st, No. 2, Detroit)
4. Russell Okung (1st, No. 6, Seattle)
5. Trent Williams (1st, No. 4, Wash.)
6. Eric Berry (1st, No. 5, KC)
7. Rolando McClain (1st, No. 8, Oak.)
8. Joe Haden (1st, No. 7, Cleve.)
9. CJ Spiller (1st, No. 9, Buff.)
10. Mike Iupati (1st, No. 17, S.F.)
11. Dez Bryant (1st, No. 24, Dallas)
12. Earl Thomas (1st, No. 14, Seattle)
13. Bryan Bulaga (1st, No. 23, GB)
14. Sean Lee (2nd round, No. 55, Dallas)
15. Jared Odrick (1st, No. 28, Miami)
16. Jason Pierre-Paul (1st, No. 15, NYG)
17. Derrick Morgan (1st, No. 16, Tenn.)
18. Kyle Wilson (1st, No. 29, NYJ)
19. Maurkice Pouncey (1st, No. 18, Pitt.)
20. Navorro Bowman (3rd, No. 91, S.F.)
21. Jahvid Best (1st, No. 30, Det.)
22. Tyson Alualu (1st, No. 10, Jax.)
23. Jermaine Greham (1st, No. 21, Cincy)

Round 2
1. Devin McCourty (1st, No. 27, N.E.)
2. Demaryius Thomas (1st, No. 22, Den.)
3. Koa Misi (2nd, No. 40, Miami)
4. Jerry Hughes (1st, No. 31, Indy)
5. Brandon Graham (1st, No. 13, Phila.)
6. Nate Allen (2nd, No. 37, Phila.)
7. Morgan Burnett (3rd, No. 71, G.B)
8. Taylor Mays (2nd, No. 49, S.F.)
9. (covered name)
10. Dan Williams (1st, No. 26, Ariz.)
11. Kareem Jackson (1st, No. 20, Hou.)
12. Ryan Matthews (1st, No. 12, S.D.)
13. Brian Price (2nd, No. 35, TB)
14. Rob Gronkowski (2nd, No. 42, NE)
15. Brandon Ghee (3rd, No. 96, Cincy)
16. Jimmy Clausen (2nd, No. 48, Car.)

Round 3
1. Sergio Kindle (2nd, No. 43, Balt.)
2. Anthony Davis (1st, No. 11, S.F.)
3. Corey Wooton (4th, No. 109, Chic.)
4. Patrick Robinson (1st, No. 32, N.O.)
5. Dexter McCluster (2nd, No. 36, K.C.)
6. Joe McKnight (4th, No. 112, NYJ)
7. (covered name)
8. - Chad Jones (3rd, No. 76, NYG)
9. - illegible
10. Colt McCoy (3rd, No. 85, Cleve.)
11. Taylor Price (3rd, No. 90, N.E.)
12. Lamarr Houston (2nd, No. 44, Oak.)
13. D’Anthony Smith (3rd, No. 74, Jax.)
14. Damian Williams (3rd, No. 77, Tenn.)
15. Eric Decker (3rd, No. 87, Den.)
16. Thaddeus Gibson (4th, No. 116, Pitt.)
17. Corey Peters (3rd, No. 83, Atl.)
18. Rodger Saffold (2nd, No. 33, StL.)
19. Toby Gerhardt (2nd, No. 51, Minn.)
20. Golden Tate (2nd, No. 60, Sea.)
21. Brandon LeFell (3rd, No. 78, Car.)
22. Amari Spievey (3rd, No. 66, Det.)
23. Mike Neal (2nd, No. 56, G.B.)

Round 4
1. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (4th, 126th, Dall.)
2. Javier Arenas (2nd, 50th, K.C.)
3. Vladimir Ducasse (2nd, 61, NYJ)
4. Ed Dickson (3rd, 70, Balt.)
5. Tag illegible
6. Clay Harbor (4th, 125, Phila.)
7. Perry Riley (4th, 103, Wash.)
8. (plate removed)
9. Torell Troup (2nd, 41, Buff.)
10. Carlton Mitchell (6th, 177, Cleve.)
11. Mike Johnson (3rd, 98, Atl.)
12. John Jerry (3rd, 73, Miami)
13. Linval Joseph (2nd, 46, NYG)
14. Major Wright (3rd, 75, Chic.)
15. Dominique Franks (5th, 135, Atl.)
16. Larry Asante (5th, 160, Cleve.)
17. Tony Moeaki (3rd, 93, K.C.)
18. Mitch Petrus (5th, 144th,  NYG)
19. Ben Tate (2nd, 58, Hou.)
20. Kam Chancellor (5th, 133, Sea.)
21. Andre Roberts (3rd, 88, Ariz.)
22. Myron Lewis (3rd, 67, TB)
23. Tag illegible

Round 5

1. Shawn Lauvao (3rd, 92, Cleve.)
2. Jacoby Ford (4th, 108, Oak.)
3. Danny Batten (6th, 192, Buff.)
4. Sam Young (6th, 179, Dall.)
5. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (3rd, 86, Phil.)
6. Kevin Thomas (3rd, 94, Indy)
7. Tag illegible
8. Dennis Pitta (4th, 114, Balt.)
9. Darrell Stuckey (4th, 110, San Diego)
10. Alterraun Verner (4th, 104, Tenn.)
11. Alric Arnett (undrafted)
12. Tag illegible
13. Garrett Graham (4th, 118, Hou.)
14. Reshad Jones (5th, 163, Miami)
15. Tag illegible
16. Tag illegible
17. Tag illegible
18. Tag illegible

Round 6
1. Jared Veldheer (3rd, 69th, Oak.)
2. Tag illegible
3. Tag illegible
4. Tag illegible
5. Tag illegible
6. Tag illegible
7. Tag illegible
8. Tag illegible
9. Tag illegible

Round 7
1. Walter Thurmond (4th, 111, Sea.)
2. Marcus Easley (4th, 107, Buff.)
3. Mike Kafka (4th, 122, Phila.)
4. Tag illegible
5. Tag illegible
6. Tag illegible
7. Tag illegible

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 13, 2010

The Sparano-Taylor meeting off on wrong foot

Tony Sparano called Jason Taylor in recent days and with all the charm and charisma that convinces so many Dolphins to play hard 100 percent of the time, the coach told Taylor the two of them needed to meet this week.

Man to man. Coach to player.

Nobody needed to know about it, Sparano told Taylor.

And so Taylor didn't tell anyone about the meeting.

Taylor didn't tell his agent Gary Wichard. He didn't share it with any of his close confidants, either. So on Monday afternoon when ESPN senior insider Chris Mortensen reported on NFL Live that the meeting was coming this week, everyone connected with Taylor denied they knew about it because, well, they didn't.

But obviously someone inside the Dolphins organization told Mortensen. So the same organization that swore Taylor to secrecy leaked news of the meeting to the Worldwide Leader -- a figurative national bullhorn.

What is the deal with these Miami Dolphins? On the one hand, they're asking players to keep in-house matters in-house. On the other hand they're planting stories in the national media.

And what is the point? On the one hand, they seem to be reaching out to Taylor. But, in fact, by leaking the story, they have actually done damage to whatever they might be trying to accomplish. Taylor was disappointed with the team late Monday night when he learned news of the planned meeting leaked from the team after he was told to tell no one.

The Dolphins have been in lockdown mode on the Taylor issue for weeks. General Manager Jeff Ireland calls Wichard regularly every time facts about the Taylor-Dolphins negotiations -- or lack of negotiations -- get out in the media.

But Ireland is working for the very organization that slips ESPN interesting little notes -- like Ronnie Brown being on the trade block or Joey Porter not playing the rest of the season after his 2009 suspension. Granted, sometimes the information is flawed, but apparently the tuna can that is the Miami Dolphins isn't very well sealed.

The greater point is the Dolphins work in unorthodox ways. They have asked players to betray their agents -- as with the Ricky Williams contract extension that excluded agent Leigh Steinberg. And they betray their players -- as in leaking news of Taylor's private meeting with Sparano.


The now well-chronicled meeting, by the way, is still scheduled for the next day or so. Taylor is scheduled to go out of town with his wife late in the week. (No, he isn't going to New York to sign a contract.) At least that wasn't the plan late Monday before Taylor found out the meeting was all over the Internet.

So where does this meeting go? What purpose does it serve?

It should probably start with Sparano apologizing to Taylor. The coach put his reputation on the line in asking Taylor to keep things private, but his team instead turned around and opened its information pipeline to ESPN. That cannot help the Dolphins' agenda unless the agenda is to simply make a public relations move -- one the Dolphins want publicized on national TV.

Maybe the meeting is meant to tell Taylor to go quietly into the night -- or in this case to simply take an offer from the New York Jets.

But if the point of the meeting is to be sincere and try to convince Taylor to be patient with the Dolphins, to wait until after the draft and hedge his bet Miami might want him back, this definitely is a strange way to go about that.

Strange and wrong.

March 12, 2010

Twelve Dolphins players get at least $100K in performance pay bonus for 2009

Donald Thomas, a sixth-round selection in 2008 who started 12 games at right guard last season, led all Dolphins players in the NFL's 2009 performance-based pay program.

Thomas  made $316,577 in addition to his base salary of $338,397, according to a league document obtained by The Miami Herald.

Cornerback Sean Smith, who started all 16 games, pocketed an extra $212,282 to place second on the team in performance pay while tight ends Joey Haynos and Anthony Fasano followed in third and fourth place, respectively, among the highest collecting players in the performance-based system.

Haynos collected $207,264 in addition to his regular salary of $390,980 while Fasano got $189,412 atop his salary of $535,850. Wide receiver Davone Bess, an undrafted free agent in 2008, rounded out Miami's top five earners in performance pay, adding $185,902 to his base salary of $394.480.

The league's performance-based pay system sets up a fund on each team to reward players based on how their playing time compares with their contractual financial compensation. The system won't exist in the 2010 season because the NFL collective bargaining agreement has moved into an uncapped year.

But in the final capped season of the current CBA, 12 Miami players added at least $100,000 to their base salaries.

Performance-based pay is meant to reward lower-paid players who outperform their contracts. The system does, however, also reward higher paid players based on play time.

And the system does not judge the quality of the play, but rather the quantity.

Maybe that's the reason safety Gibril Wilson, a high-priced free agent aquisition and a bust, collected an extra $31,764 in performance-based pay. Wilson was cut last week after one season with the team.

Tackle Andre Gardner, a sixth round pick in 2009, brought up the rear of the performance-based pay sheet, having collected $681.

In total, 61 Dolphins players collected $3,422,875 in performance-based pay.