September 19, 2014

Jordan suspended (again) until Oct. 20

The Miami Dolphins announced Dion Jordan has been suspended again.

This from an NFL spokesperson: "Per the terms of the Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances that took effect on Wednesday, the four-game suspension previously imposed on Dion Jordan of the Miami Dolphins has been lifted.

"However, Jordan now has been suspended without pay for the next four games of the 2014 NFL season for violating the NFL's Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse. He will be eligible to return to the Dolphins' active roster on Monday, October 20 following the team’s October 19 game against the Chicago Bears."

So as a matter of fact, Jordan had two positive tests. The first was supposed to be wiped clean when the NFL, under its new drug policy implemented this week, issued amnesty in effect to players who tested positive for certain amphetemines prior to March 11. But Jordan was then popped for another test, which picked up a postive for a so-called street drug of some sort.

It must be said that Jordan's family has a history of battling drug abuse. And now he is fighting that fight as well.

Not good.

“I am currently undergoing treatment to address my situation," Jordan said in a statement. "I am working hard to become a better man and to make better choices in the future. I am especially looking forward to returning to the team.  I also want to thank my family, coach Philbin and the Miami Dolphins organization for their support."

The Dolphins are not happy at all, I'm told, about not having their defensive player. But they are encouraged he's trying to get help. Jordan has spent time in a treatment facility.

“We were informed that Dion’s suspension for performance enhancing drugs was lifted, however, we also learned that he has been suspended four games for violating the Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances," the coach said. " While we were disappointed to learn of this result, we support Dion for proactively taking steps to voluntarily seek treatment to better himself.

"We will continue to support and work with him as he takes advantage of all available resources during this time.”

Jordan has not been paid his salary for the two weeks he was already suspended and he will not be paid for the next four week, either.

Tannehill...PFF...KC's (troubled) pass D...signature stats

So I've had an exchange of ideas with my contacts at ProFootballFocus.com this week. They believe Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is grading out very well so far this season. I don't sit down and give metrics grades week after week, so the PFF guys have me there.

But I have eyes, and as I write in my column in today's Miami Herald and I simply don't agree that Tannehill has played well -- definitely not well enough under any criterion to be the No. 3 graded QB in the NFL now.

PFF's Sam Monson saw my column as a "takedown piece" on his website. He said I bashed his site.

Look, I have an opinion and I shared it. That is my job. I am a columnist. But bashing? That was not Salguero bashing, trust me. As I wrote and repeat here, my opinion that PFF is misguided on its Tannehill grades does not mean I dismiss PFF as a valuable tool for seeing what independent analysts think of what's happening on the field after they conduct a film review of games.

I encourage you to visit ProFootballFocus.com and get a subscription to their best content.

But I also warn you that it is not the Gospels.

And so I continue to trust what I have seen in covering this team versus what that grade is yelling at me to believe -- that Tannehill is a Top 5 QB and has been that for quite some time.

Having said all that, I believe the Dolphins meeting with Kansas City on Sunday is a wonderful opportunity for Tannehill and, indeed, the entire Miami pass offense to get well. That's because the Chiefs are troubled in their pass defense right now.

Quarterbacks are completing 72.9 percent of their passes against K.C. so far this season. They've yielded five touchdown passes without an interception. The passer rating of opposing quarterbacks against the Chiefs so far this year is 126.9.

Oh, and outstanding safety Eric Berry hasn't practiced all week because he has an ankle injury.

I'm telling you this is a grand opportunity to throw the football because, if nothing else, the Chiefs are not good in pass defense.

“I don’t know about that," Tannehill said. "I see some guys that are talented on their defense. They have good pass rushers up front. They want to get pressure on the quarterback, they bring some exotic blitzes on third down. If they’re able to get to the quarterback, then they can force them into making bad decisions and throwing the ball downfield where it shouldn’t be. We have to do a good job of protecting up front and letting our receivers on the outside win. I like our receiver matchups no matter who we are playing against. I expect that we have the talent on the outside that can get open and win. It’s just a matter of having time to give them the ball."

Fine, but what's he really going to say in public? "I'm going to riddle this defense like everyone else has?"

Anyway, to show that the relationship with my friends at ProFootballFocus.com continues, despite our obvious disagreement on Tannehill's play the past 12 months or so, let me share with you some signature statistics they shared with me relative to Sunday's game:

K.C. quarterback Alex Smith has attempted eight passes of 20+ yards downfield this season; three have been completed, three fell incomplete, and two have been intercepted. So he's not had much success throwing deep.

In his 41 passing down snaps, running back Knile Davis has been asked to block just twice.

Kansas City’s makeshift offensive line has allowed the most pressure in the league through two weeks, with 32 total pressures.

Defensive end Justin Houston is rushing the passer almost exclusively from the left side of the defense, but he’s only doing it in fewer than 60% of his snaps, which is the second lowest among qualifying 3-4 OLBs.

Safety Ron Parker played 18 snaps in coverage after Eric Berry left last week’s game, allowing two catches for 17 yards on two targets.

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September 18, 2014

Injury report here: Chiefs at Miami Dolphins

Today's injury report is out.

It doesn't look good for Koa Misi to make his return versus Kansas City after all, as he has not practiced all week.

Jamaal Charles was indeed limited for the Chiefs in practice today. Just as significantly, safety Eric Berry, that team's defensive quarterback per se, has not been able to practice due to an ankle injury this week.

 

Charles practicing at least on limited basis for KC

Jamaal Charles suffered what is believed and has been reported to be a high ankle sprain last week. He was supposed to be out for the Sunday game against the Dolphins.

Except Charles was on the practice field today ...

...Like, working.

 

Charles playing would not be the best for the Dolphins. He is an elite back and obviously superior to Knile Davis, who was expected to be the Chiefs' main ballcarrier, assuming Charles did not play. Charles rushed for 1,287 yards in 15 games last season and 1,509 in 2012.

Assuming Charles now has improved enough to actually play some on Sunday, that is not only a lift for the Chiefs from a talent perspective -- because even a lessened Charles may be pretty good -- but from an emotional perspective as well.

So can he do it? Can someone come back from a high ankle sprain in less than a week?

Miami Dolphins OT problems seem solved so far

The Miami Dolphins still have an offensive line problem because the quarterback is getting sacked and the Pro Bowl center is still not playing (probably back by the Sept. 28 game vs. Oakland in London) and the running game has been hit and miss.

So football being a team sport and the offensive line being one unit, everyone says the Dolphins still have an offensive line problem.

But that is not entirely accurate.

The Dolphins do not have an offensive tackle problem right now.

Yes, the OTs are part of the unit and so they get lumped in with everyone else. But not here. Here I try to be a little more nuanced and, as the blog name says, in depth.

And left tackle Branden Albert and right tackle Ja'Wuan James are so far playing well. How well?

The Dolphins have played two games. Both men have gotten positive grades internally within the organization for both games.

And in understanding that you must have perspective on the depth (there goes the blog name again) of the problem these two guys are so far solving.

Remember 2013? Yeah, forgettable especially for the offensive line because of 58 sacks and blowup dolls and trays being thrown on the lunchroom floor and people going AWOL and the harassment scandal and the running game so inconsistent that third-and-one was a passing down.

Well, the truth is a lot of the line's on-field problems happened at the tackle positions. Indeed, a majority of the on-field issues happened at tackle.

The team did give up 58 sacks and the three tackles gave up 27 of those -- with Tyson Clabo yielding 13, Bryant McKinnie giving up seven and Jonathan Martin giving up seven in his shortened stint.

The Baltimore loss? Clabo. He gave up two sacks on consecutive plays late in the game that forced Miami to punt the ball away. The Ravens then drove for the winning field goal and afterward Clabo blamed himself for the loss.

The Buffalo loss at home? Clabo again. Mario Williams won consecutive one-on-one matchups against Clabo to record two sacks, including a strip sack that set up the Bills for their eventual game-winning field goal.

So It was on the tackles a lot last year.

And that's the reason the Dolphins poured so many resources into the position this year. General Manager Dennis Hickey paid Branden Albert $46 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed to sign as a free agent.

And so far, Albert has lived up to the contract. He has not allowed a sack this season. Not in the preseason. Not in the first two games of the regular season. That's why he's highly rated by metrics services and anyone with eyes.

"That’s cool," Albert said, "but, I’ve still got to do better to help this team. So I’m going to keep striving to do that. I’m not worried about what people think of me. I’m going to worry about what my teammates, coaches and fan base think of how I’m playing. So that’s all I worry about."

(Newsflash: Players, coaches and the fanbase are people, too).

Anyway, Hickey also invested his first round draft pick on Ja"Wuan James. And James got the requisite four-year deal worth $8.4 million with $4.45 as a signing bonus. Worth every penny so far.

James has started at right tackle from day one and has only given up one sack this season. But ... The sack came Sunday against Buffalo when Mario Williams got to Tannehill. But if you look at the play, the problem started when Shelley Smith lost the one-on-one match with his man who then wrapped himself around Tannehill. The Miami quarterback shed that attempted sack and stumbled straight into Williams who was still locked up with James. 

Williams gets the sack. James gives up the sack. But not really.

“I would say he spent a fair amount of time one-on-one against him," coach Joe Philbin said of James matching up against Williams. "I thought he played well. I think in both games he’s played pretty well. He’s got a lot of things to work on and improve, but again I think if you are going to play offensive tackle in the National Football League, at some point in time, you have to demonstrate the ability you can block a defensive end one-on-one. He certainly wasn’t perfect. He’s got a long way to go, but there are some good pictures on film if you study the tape of him blocking whoever lines up against him. It was encouraging."

Considering last year, absolutely.

Perhaps it is too early to declare the Dolphins' offensive tackle problems solved. But so far so good.  

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September 17, 2014

Reshad Jones joins Jordan, remains on suspended list

Reshad Jones isn't coming back early, either.

The Miami Dolphins safety will not have his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs lifted this week, despite earlier reports by some media, even as the NFL and NFL Players Association today are expected to announce a new policy, The Miami Herald has learned.

[Update: A source close to Jones confirms now that he's been told he's not returning early.]

Jones remains on the suspended list along with teammate Dion Jordan, about whom The Herald reported Tuesday would also not have his suspension lifted.

So why are the two Dolphins players still suspended while other players around the NFL, such as Denver receiver Wes Welker and Dallas safety Orlando Scandrick, are being informed they can report to work as early as Wednesday?

The players under the performance enhancing substance policy suspensions being allowed back before their suspensions run their course tested positive in the offseason for amphetemines, which under the old drug policy were treated the same as performance enhancers thus were subject to the same four-game suspension upon the first positive test.

Those players' offseason amphetemine positive tests now are dealt with differently under the new drug policy.

Now, players testing positive for amphetemines in the offseason will be remanded to the recreational drug policy which allows for extra testing and counseling upon a first positive test but not a suspension.

Inseason positives for amphetemines will be treated same as before -- meaning there will be suspensions upon a first positive test result.

The fact neither Jones nor Jordan fall under the group who tested positive for amphetemines and will remain suspended suggests they tested positive for something other than amphetemines.

Both Jordan and Jones can return to the Dolphins on Sept. 29 -- one day after the team plays its fourth game of the season. The Dolphins will play Kansas City this weekend and Oakland on Sept. 28 before the players are allowed to return.

September 16, 2014

Zach Thomas, Jimmy Johnson nominated for HOF

Three former Miami Dolphins players, including linebacker Zach Thomas, plus former coach Jimmy Johnson are among the 113 modern-era candidates nominated for Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015.

Thomas, who played with the Dolphins from from 1996-07 and was the team's leading tackler 10 seasons, was selected to seven Pro Bowls and was a first-team All Pro selection five times. Thomas finished his career with 1,100 tackles, 20.5 sacks and 17 interceptions.

Thomas is joined on the list of nominated players by former Dolphins cornerback Troy Vincent and fellow linebacker Junior Seau.

Seau, a first-year eligible candidate, played with the Dolphins from 2003-05 and is most recognized for his outstanding career with the San Diego Chargers before coming to Miami. Vincent was selected by the Dolphins in the first round of the 1992 draft. He played only four of his 15 NFL seasons with the Dolphins before he went to Philadelphia as a free agent.

Vincent nonetheless collected 14 of his 47 career interceptions with Miami.

Johnson is best known for his days with the Dallas Cowboys from 1989-93. His Dallas teams won two Super Bowls under Johnson and the team he helped put together went back and won the Super Bowl in 1995 under Barry Switzer.

In Miami from 1996 through January of 2000, Johnson didn't experience that height of success. He was 36-28 (.563 winning percentage) with the Dolphins in the regular season and 2-3 in the playoffs. He did, however, take the Dolphins to the playoffs in three of his four seasons.

Johnson was also the architect of the Miami teams that gained postseason berths into the early 2000s. As the coach and general manager in Miami, Johnson was responsible for drafting Thomas in the fifth round, and Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison in the second round.

Johnson's best pick, however, was defensive end Jason Taylor who was picked in the third round of the 1997 draft.

Johnson's career coaching record is 80-64 (.556 winning percentage).

The complete list of modern-era candidates for the Class of 2015 consists of 113 nominees. From that list, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee -- of which I am a member -- will choose 25 candidates who will advance as semifinalist nominees that will be announced in late November. That semifinalist list will be further reduced by a mail ballot to 15 modern-era finalists and announced in early January.

The Class of 2015 will be selected from the list of the 15 modern-era finalists plus the one senior finalist (former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff) selected last month by the Hall of Fame’s Senior Selection Committee, and two yet-to-be-determined Contributor finalists who will be selected by the Hall of Fame’s Contributor Selection Committee.

The senior finalist and contributor finalists will be voted yes or no for election at the Annual Selection Meeting. Like the modern-era finalists, the senior and contributor nominees must receive an 80 percent positive vote to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The actual voting for the Class of 2015 will be conducted at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee’s annual meeting, which will be held in Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 the day before Super Bowl 49.

The complete list of modern-era nominees for the Class of 2015:

Quarterbacks: (4) – Randall Cunningham, Rich Gannon, Phil Simms, Kurt Warner.

Wide Receivers: (9) – *Tim Brown (also KR), Isaac Bruce, Gary Clark, Henry Ellard (also PR), *Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Sterling Sharpe, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith.

Tight End: (1) – Mark Bavaro

Running Backs: (14) – Ottis Anderson, Shaun Alexander, Tiki Barber, *Jerome Bettis, Roger Craig, Stephen Davis, Terrell Davis, Eddie George, Priest Holmes, Edgerrin James, Daryl Johnston, Jamal Lewis, Herschel Walker (also KR), Ricky Watters.

Offensive Linemen: (23) – Willie Anderson (T), Tony Boselli (T), Jeff Bostic (C), Lomas Brown (T), Jim Covert (T), Bill Fralic (G/T), Jay Hilgenberg (C), Chris Hinton (G/T), Kent Hull (C), Joe Jacoby (T), Jon Jansen (T), Mike Kenn (T), Jim Lachey (T), Kevin Mawae (C/G), Mark May (G/T/C),Tom Nalen (C), Nate Newton (G), Orlando Pace (T), Chris Samuels (T), Mark Schlereth (G), *Will Shields (G), Tra Thomas (T), Steve Wisniewski (G).

Defensive Linemen: (12) – Al “Bubba” Baker (DE), Jerome Brown (DT), Carl Hairston (DE/DT), *Charles Haley (also LB), Jevon Kearse (DE), Dexter Manley (DE), Charles Mann (DE), Steve McMichael (DT/NT), Fred Smerlas (NT), Greg Townsend (DE), Ted Washington (DT/NT), Bryant Young (DE).

Linebackers: (13) – Zach Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Tedy Bruschi, *Kevin Greene (also DE), Ken Harvey, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest (also DE), Karl Mecklenburg, Matt Millen, Sam Mills, Junior Seau, Chris Spielman, Darryl Talley.

Defensive Backs: (16) – Eric Allen (CB), Steve Atwater (S), Joey Browner (S), LeRoy Butler (S), Thomas Everett (S), Rodney Harrison (S), Ty Law (CB), Albert Lewis (CB), *John Lynch (S), Terry McDaniel (CB), Tim McDonald (S), Frank Minnifield (CB), Shawn Springs (CB), Troy Vincent (CB/S), Everson Walls (CB), Darren Woodson (S).

Kickers/Punters: (5) – *Morten Andersen (K), Gary Anderson (K), Jason Elam (K), Sean Landeta (P), Nick Lowery (K).

Special Teams/Position Players: (2) – Brian Mitchell (RB/PR/KR), Steve Tasker (also WR).

Coaches: (14) – Jimmy Johnson, Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, *Tony Dungy, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Lou Saban, Marty Schottenheimer, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil.

* Denotes 2013 finalist. First-year eligible candidates in italics.

New drug policy may not bring great news for Dolphins

The NFL is working with the NFL Players' Association on a new drug policy that will cut the suspension of some players who violated the old policy on performance enhancing drugs. The Dolphins have two such players -- safety Reshad Jones and defensive end Dion Jordan -- suspended under that policy.

But multiple sources told The Miami Herald that Jordan will not have his suspension revoked once the new policy is announced as agreed to. The announcement on a new policy is expected soon.

Those same sources were not in agreement whether Jones would be returned to the Dolphins active roster.

It is possible both players will have to finish their full four-week suspensions, two weeks of which they have already served.

It is unclear why Jordan is not eligible to return when approximately a dozen players are going to be allowed to return before their full suspensions are served.

Under the old policy, players violating the performance enhancing drugs policy were suspended upon their first violation. Under the new policy, they join players who test positive for recreational drugs under the same umbrella. And those players are remanded to counseling and more tests on their first violation.

The NFLPA negotiated that most players suspended under the old performance enhancing drugs policy have their suspensions voided and be addressed under the new policy.

Pouncey returns to practice, not likely vs. KC

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey returned to practice at least on a limited basis Tuesday, taking the next logical step toward returning to the lineup in a couple of weeks.

Pouncey was in drills during the portion of practice open to the media. It was his first time on the practice field and in drills since he underwent hip surgery in June.

This does not mean Pouncey will play Sunday against Kansas City, as I reported on this blog Monday night. Samson Satele is still expected to start against the Chiefs. But this step is encouraging and could mean Pouncey is back to playing against Oakland when the Dolphins travel to London for that Sept. 28 game.

[Update: Pouncey said he participated in the entire practice. He said he did everything. Asked if he's playing Sunday he said, "I feel like I could play but it's not my decision." It is Joe Philbin's decision. Pouncey is not playing against Kansas City.]

There are some other interesting tidbits coming out of Dolphins camp.

Lamar Miller, who left the game at Buffalo with a left ankle injury, is practicing today. LB Jordan Tripp, out the past three weeks, is back at drills today.

However, Charles Clay, Koa Misi and Terrence Fede were either working with a trainer or on the bike during some individual drills. Misi is expected to return to practice later in the week and should be available for Kansas City.

The blame for passing woes from two different angles

This post is about the Miami Dolphins passing game, which is having problems right now, but it is mostly about accountability and the vastly different approach of two individuals to the same problem.

The Dolphins are struggling in the passing game. It was a struggle against the New England Patriots in a victory. It was a struggle against the Buffalo Bills in a defeat. I could share the litany of statistics to back up those facts but trust me on that so we can get to the greater point quicker.

In accepting that the problem exists, kindly compare how the team's head coach and offensive coordinator -- both responsible for the passing game's performance -- approach the issue.

Both coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor were asked about the passing game's woes at their press conferences Monday. It was the first question of both press conferences.

This is how Philbin answered the question:

“We watched the film. Obviously, I was at the game," Philbin said. "I watched the film of the game on the plane ride home. I sat down with the whole staff and watched the game this morning again, so it’s my third time looking at (the game). In the passing game, there are a lot of factors that go into a good passing game as you know. As we watched the film, the film says that we’re not detailed enough in any one area. In other words, there were pictures on the tape where the depth wasn’t quite the right depth. The angle at the top of the route coming out and separating at the top wasn’t quite right. There were times where the location of the ball wasn’t quite what it needs to be. There were times when the protection forced the quarterback off of some open receivers and into other options. So the answer is our passing game is not at the level it needs to be. Those are the facts, but it’s a unit issue. It’s not one player that is really causing all of the problems with the passing game. When I saw it three times, I thought I saw it the first time. I watched it myself last night. I watched it and talked about it with the whole staff. That’s what I see."

So Philbin's approach is to blame all the players. It's not one player. It's the quarterback not locating the ball right sometimes. It's the receivers not taking proper angles sometimes. It's the offensive linemen and backs and tight ends failing at their protection sometimes.

Then Lazor was asked about the Miami Dolphins passing game.

“There’s no doubt that the blame rests 100 percent on me," Lazor said. "It’s my job when the unit fails in an area, whether it be completing enough passes, whatever the area is, and I felt like, when you look at us right now, if my stats are correct, unless someone has a really terrible game tonight, we’ll probably be in the second week last in the league in yards-per-attempt, which I think is a pretty good indicator in the passing game of how you are doing offensively. That rests on the coordinator and just getting everybody to do it the right way and just getting everybody on the same page. You can count the number of throws you think are errant, you can count the number of drops, you can count the protection issues when there is pressure on the quarterback. They are all true, but in the end, when it’s all of that together, that’s on the coordinator."

So Lazor's approach is to blame himself. He addresses the problem by pointing an accusing finger at no players, no other coaches, no one but himself.

And this is a fascinating study in human psychology. One person who has the ultimate responsibility over the entire team doesn't mention that it is his or his coaching staff's responsibility at all while putting it all on the players.

One person who has the ultimate responsibility over the unit recognizes there is a problem with the entire unit and says so but doesn't mention anyone else but himself.

Interesting, no?

Now, I'm sure if pressed, Philbin would agree the offensive coaching staff, Lazor and ultimately he have a role to play in the struggles of the passing game. I'm sure if he was asked, "Do you take responsibility?" he'd do it.

But the thing is that's not something that comes natural to him. He has to be pushed to do it. It's not the place where he goes off the top of his head. He believes it is the players that have to perform and so, in his mind, it is on them first.

This, even as he's dismissing the idea that he's supposed to be the team's alpha dog, its leader, and leaders are the most responsible for everything good and bad.

I know a lot has been written about how Philbin has changed this year. And he has made a commendable conscious effort to be more approachable and communicative. But on the accoutability front?

I'm seeing the same guy whose answer in the Wells Report to the harassment scandal was, in effect, "I didn't know about. I didn't see anything. It was those guys doing bad things." 

We saw this kind of approach from the coach at the end of 2013 when the Dolphins collapsed the final two games. Philbin blamed the players. It wasn't about him failing to get the team ready for the two most important games of the year. It wasn't about his offensive coordinator doing a poor job because, indeed, when ownership wanted Mike Sherman fired, Philbin resisted strongly.

It was about the players simply not performing, in his mind.

Lazor? His natural reaction is apparently to look inward. He may recognize the players are not performing, but he's going to lay under the bus first before he throws any of them under it. 

Don't blame others, blame me.

That reaction is one of a leader, a guy who leads from the front no less. This is the kind of approach that wins hearts and minds in the locker room, rather than the approach that points to the hearts and minds in the locker room and blames them first.

The concern here?

A football team takes on the personality of its head coach and to a lesser degree its coordinators. When Dave Wannstedt would tell his offensive players, "It's no sin to punt," that unit took on the personality of not making a mistake was the most important critical factor to playing the game rather than the message from its coordinator Chan Gailey or Norv Turner who preached, "Let's go make a play and be aggressive."

My concern is that this Dolphins team, particularly the offense, will take the path laid out publicly by its head coach which is blame someone else but not myself. Instead of taking the path laid out publicly by its offensive coordinator which is to look in the mirror first and fix that. 

September 15, 2014

If Pouncey practices, he might be able to play Oakland

Help is coming for the Dolphins offensive line in the person of Mike Pouncey. And the Dolphins are eager for the upgrade. But it is not likely going to happen this week when the Dolphins play Kansas City at Sun Life Stadium.

Pouncey, running and continuing to make progress in his rehabilitation following hip surgery, has still not practiced. And even if he practices every day this week starting Tuesday when Dolphins players return to work, he's not likely to get to the go-ahead to start on Sunday.

But this is important: If Pouncey can practice this week and then rejoin drills next week, he may indeed make his targetted return for the Sept. 28 game versus Oakland in London, England.

Pouncey would then have had two weeks of practice to prepare to play at least some. That's probably what he needs at minimum.

If Pouncey doesn't begin practicing this week, the likelihood he plays against Oakland is much, much lower -- assuming starter Samson Satele stays healthy -- and then the Dolphins would probably be looking at the Green Bay game in Week Six of the season as Pouncey's return.

The Dolphins, you should recall, have a bye in Week Five after Oakland.

So keep alert for news that Pouncey is finally practicing. If it comes this week, he might be playing at Oakland after all.

On another front, middle linebacker Koa Misi is expected to return to practice this week. He is expected to play against the Chiefs, barring a setback, as I reported last week.

Jordan Tripp, out with a chest injury for three weeks, is also expected to begin practicing again this week.

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The PFF and Salguero rewind of the Bills loss

There seems to be a controversy surrounding Ryan Tannehill.

I say he's played, how to be tactful, not good enough this season and indeed if you want to go back further, he didn't exactly finish strong last season with two duds at the end of 2013. So four consecutive games of disappointing play.

ProFootballFocus.com, meanwhile, seems to think Tannehill is ballin'. He is the No. 2 rated quarterback on their site behind Matt Ryan.

I don't buy it. Hey, the PFF guys are good people. But friends can disagree. I have reached out to them to get clarification on why they're wrong and I'm right.

Anyway, here's the rewind of Sunday's Miami Dolphins loss to Buffalo.

Offensive Summary

Not including Lamar Miller’s 4 snaps to start the game, here is the RB snap breakdown after Knowshon Moreno left the game: Miller 50, Damien Williams 17, Orleans Darkwa 9.

Brandon Gibson “started” again, but Jarvis Landry played more snaps, 44-41. The Dolphins seems to be doing this a lot. They started Miller at running back in the opener and gave the ball more to Knowshon Moreno. On Sunday they started Michael Thomas at safety (a curious situation that suggests something amiss) but Louis Delmas played more snaps.

Dallas Thomas replaced Shelley Smith at right for all 41 snaps following Smith’s knee injury. (Smith is expected to miss 2-4 weeks). To that point, Smith (-1.7) had allowed a sack and two hurries.

Ja’Wuan James (+3.2) acquitted himself well vs. Mario Williams, committing just one penalty and allowing a sack. 

Passing

Tannehill was sacked four times, but when he got the ball out under pressure, he was on target, going 7-of-8 for 44 yards when pressured. The rest of the time? He went 24 of 41 (58 percent completion).

None of Buffalo’s four sacks came on a blitz. All came with the four-man pass rush.

Rushing/Receiving

Beware of the small sample, but Damien Williams caused two missed tackles and 13 of his 19 yards gained came after contact.

Charles Clay, Brian Hartline, and Jarvis Landry all saw a target against at least five different Buffalo defenders.

Mike Wallace with another productive day, but he and Tannehill missed on another deep connection and he produced just six yards after the catch (YAC). That is now four potential TDs Tannehill and Wallace -- poor Tannehill throws is to blame on three of the four -- that this duo leaves on the field.

Defense

CB Will Davis only logged 14 snaps as the third corner with the Bills going heavy with plenty of two tight end and/or two-back looks. Davis might be winding down because when Reshad Jones returns to the team, Jimmy Wilson will move back to the third corner from safety. Jones is expected to return to the safety job.

Earl Mitchell (+4.3) once again provided elite run-stuffing play, as all four of his tackles went down as defensive stops. Mitchell is not steller and often goes unnoticed but he has been the most consistent performer of all Dolphins defensive line starters this season.

With Dannell Ellerbe and Koa Misi out, Jason Trusnik (59 snaps) and Jelani Jenkins (57 snaps) clearly ran as the nickel linebacker pair, with Philip Wheeler returning from injury to provide just 23 snaps. Trusnik's snaps are expected to diminish considerably next game against Kansas City as Misi is expected to return for the Chiefs. 

Coverage

Despite his modest 14 snaps, Davis was picked on by Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel, who completed four of his five targets (all four to Sammy Watkins) when targeting the second-year cornerback.

Watkins proved to be the one threat in the passing game for Buffalo, commanding 11 of Manuel’s 24 targets, and catching passes against four Miami DBs. Watkins finished with eight catches for 117 yards and a TD.

Follow me on twitter @ArmandoSalguero

[BLOG NOTE: Starting this week, to comment on this blog you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account. We encourage lively discussion on the blog, but also believe that respect and civility must be part of good debate. This change brings commenting on MiamiHerald.com blogs in line with our policy on the rest of our website. We made that change in Feb. 2013. Your blog posts will carry the name on your Facebook account; you will have the choice of whether your post also appears on your own Facebook page.]

 

Dolphins dealing with issues including QB and RB

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- I have seen zero improvement from Ryan Tannehill so far this year. And that's why I wrote in my column today that the Dolphins may have a problem that goes far beyond losing to Buffalo or playing inconsistently.

I don't think it is time to bench him yet.

But another stinker next week like he delivered against New England and Buffalo and I can guarantee the conversation about benching Tannehill will be joined within the Dolphins coaching staff. It's not about having patience here. Joe Philbin has plenty of that, especially for his quarterback.

But the clock is ticking on everybody on the football side of this organization and people in that kind of situation who merely stay the course often stay the course right out the door.

By the way, Joe Philbin defended Tannehill after the game when I asked him if thinks he can win a division with a quarterback playing like Tannehill is playing. The coach blamed everyone for playing poorly thus covering for Tannehill.

And, yes, the special teams were bad, the defesive front got no pressure and the offensive line ineffective. But Tannehill's game stood out as bad because it's his second in a row and, pssst, he's the quarterback.

I trust deeds more than words. And Philbin's deeds spoke volumes to me at the end of the first half Sunday.

With 2:21 to play and all three of their timeouts, the Dolphins got the ball at their own 17 and ran the ball. And ran again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

They actually moved the ball to their own 29 with 19 seconds to play and did not call time nor did they try to pass. They had the ball at their 35 with 13 seconds to play and did not call time and did not try to pass.

That tells me Philbin didn't trust his offense and he obviously didnt trust Tannehill to avoid an interception or a strip-sack of some kind. The Dolphins played it safe down 9-0. They didn't throw downfield trying to get in field goal territory.

Safe is good. But safe doesn't score before halftime and give you a chance to take the lead with your first possession of the second  half. Safe does not change momentum before halftime.

So Matt Moore is not at bat yet. He's not even in the on deck circle.

But if Tannehill continues to struggle like he has to start 2014 it will not be long before Moore is picking out a bat.

Tannehill, by the way, is not Miami's only issue right now.

The team needs to find a running back because Knowshon Moreno is out at least a month and probably longer and, let's face it, Lamar Miller isn't the answer there. I mean, Miller is a nice change-of-pace guy. He titilates with his size (222 pounds) and speed (4.49).

But his hands are inconsistent and he simply doesn't run over people or make them miss. And now that he's nursing a bit of an ankle injury, how's he going to carry the load?

GM Dennis Hickey most assuradly will be searching for help. Maybe it turns out to be Daniel Thomas. Maybe someone else is out there. None will replace Miller but the hope is someone can take carries for Miller.

The Dolphins have something of a quandry right now because they are soon going to need two roster spots for the return of Reshad Jones and Dion Jordan.  If they add a running back, they're going to need another roster spot.

There is speculation the team might place Moreno on the Injured Reserve (designated for return) list. But that is not an easy decision because that means Moreno would not be allowed to practice for six weeks and cannot be activated for eight weeks. During this time, the player doesn't count against the 53-man roster limit, but he does count against the cap.

So the team would get the roster spot but lose Moreno until mid November. That's harsh. I suppose it all depends on whether indeed Moreno has a fracture (likely) and what kind of fracture (clean break or not) it is to determine how long he'll be out. 

[BLOG NOTE: Starting Tuesday, to comment on this blog you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account.
We encourage lively discussion on the blog, but also believe that respect and civility must be part of good debate. this change brings commenting on MiamiHerald.com blogs in line with our policy on the rest of our website. We made that change in February 2013. Your blog comments will carry the name on your Facebook account; you will have the choice of whether your post also appears on your own Facebook page.]

September 14, 2014

Knowshon Moreno out 4-8 weeks

Knowshon Moreno suffered a dislocated left shoulder and possible fracture that will keep him out of the lineup at least four weeks but up to eight weeks if there is a serious fracture, a source told The Herald Sunday.

Moreno, the Dolphins running back, injured himself on his first carry of the game.

He gain four yards and did not play the rest of the game.

It was a blow to the Miami running game because last week Moreno rushed for 134 yards on 24 carries. The Dolphins will have to rely on Lamar Miller now. He had 11 carries for 46 yards against the Bills and has gained 105 yards on 22 carries for the season.

The Dolphins used Damien Williams on Sunday, giving him five carries.

It is likely general manager Dennis Hickey will go hunting for a running back tonight or Monday morning.

Miami Dolphins lose by 19 points to the Bills -- again

ORCHARD PARK -- The Dolphins beat the Patriots and came here last December and laid an egg, losing to the Bills.

Well, 10 months later, the 2014 Dolphins beat the Patriots to open this season and came here and laid an egg, losing to the Bills 29-10.

Two 19-point losses at Buffalo.

Special teams melted down, allowing a 102-yard kickoff return, a blocked punt, and giving up a muff punt return by Jarvis Landry. Brandon Fields also shanked two punts.

Disheartening.

It suggests last week was something of a mirage. And that is possible.

But there are reasons to think things will get better. Koa Misi will return next week and replace Jason Trusnik who proved today he's not it at middle linebacker.

It is possible that Reshad Jones and Dion Jordan will also be back next weekend. Mike Pouncey might even be ready to do some light practicing, although it is not likely he'll play against Kansas City.

 So the Dolphins get better.

Of course, the loss of Knowhson Moreno on his only carry Sunday seems to trump all those positives right now. Frankly, not many positives at all now. 

Knowshon Moreno out after elbow injury

Knowshon Moreno was the Dolphins most effective offensive weapon and they are going into the second quarter here in Buffalo without him.

Moreno injured his left elbow on his first run of the day -- a a four yard gain.

He is out for the rest of the game.

It looks as if he dislocated the elbow but that is not conclusive.

The rest of the running game will now have to be carried by Lamar Miller, Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa.

Live blog: Miami Dolphins at Bills

It is a beautiful day for football.

Temps are in the 60s and the sun is peaking through cloudy skies. The Dolphins are wearing their aqua tops and the Bills are in all white.

For the Dolphins the inactives are Mike Pouncey, Koa Misi, Jordan Tripp, Bruce Gaston, Jason Fox, Billy Turner and Terrence Fede.

For the Bills Cyrus Kouandjio, Lee Smith, Cyril Richardson, Keith Rivers, Jonathan Meeks, Bryce Brown and Ross Cockrell are inactive.

Jason Trusnik starts at middle linebacker and Jelani Jenkins starts at the weakside outside linebacker. Philliph Wheeler will be the strongside outside linebacker.

There will be a live blog today. Join me there.

If the live blog does load click here a couple of times.

Live Blog Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: Sept. 14, 2014
 

Games easier than practice? So far

My column today expands on how the Dolphins have begun this season with a different attitude and approach that many people are noticing both in the league, in the locker room and in ownership.

It has significance if it continues.

So please check out the column.

I talk about where that attitude comes from and from whom. But one thing not mentioned is the manner in which the Dolphins have been working in practice and the expectations coaches, particularly assistants, have for these players.

You'll remember last week, after the Dolphins beat the Patriots 33-20, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was asked how he viewed the performance by quarterback Ryan Tannehill. His answer? "...We better get better fast..."

How does that compare with past offensive coordinator Mike Sherman who talked about how "great" Mike Wallace played a game last year in which he caught three passes for 59 yards without a TD? Wallace greeted that comment with a look that suggested Sherman had a horn growing out of his forehead.

This year?

“We work so hard every single day at practice," Wallace told me this week. "We actually have guys tongues hanging out at practice. And for us to work so hard at practice makes the game kind of easy. I’m not saying our opponents are easy. But the tempo and how hard our coaches work us, it makes the game tempo easier and slower because we’ve seen it all. We’ve been in every situation in practice. We go through so many situations at practice everyday that no matter what happens in the game we believe we can overcome it.

"Even at halftime (against New England) when we were losing that game, I tell you there was not one guy who looked down or looked like he was worried. We had confidence in our abilities. We knew the reason they had points was our fault. I’ve been on a lot of teams but the confidence we had was great to see. It was like we’ve been here before. We’re not worried about it. We had each other’s back.

"Our team is on another level right now as far as comaraderie and guys being together."

That does not mean the Dolphins win today. Or any week.

But it means this team is better knit than past teams and apparently more prepared to withstand stress and adversity -- such as trailing New England at halftime, or traveling to Buffalo.

Today's crowd will be geeked. They started tailgating Saturday in the parking lots. Jim Kelly will be here. Recently inducted Hall of Famer Andre Reed will be here. The town is celebrating a sale of the team that will keep the team in Buffalo.

And the Bills are 1-0.

And they swept the Dolphins last year.

So let's see.

All the active players on the Dolphins roster traveled with the team, even the injured ones. Dion Jordan and Reshad Jones are not on the active roster. They did not travel and are not playing as a deal on a new drug policy between the NFL and players' union has still not been completely agreed to.

Come back later for the live blog.

September 13, 2014

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo

It is going to be electric in Buffalo on Sunday. The team is welcoming Jim Kelly to the game and I would not be surprised if he doesn't address the crowd or perhaps even the team before the game. The team is also introducing Terry Pegula, the Buffalo Sabres owner who has reached agreement to buy the Bills. Pegula has promised to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

So there are intangibles working for Buffalo on Sunday.

I'm picking the Dolphins 24-21. Basically, I don't believe in Buffalo QB E.J. Manuel.

Here are the keys to the game:

When the Bills pass the football: The Bills are not a proven passing team. Despite the fact they invested heavily to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins this year and invested heavily to draft quarterback E.J. Manuel last year, this team is a question mark throwing the football. Last week the Bills threw for a modest (modest is a nice word for paltry) 169 yards. That’s not scaring anyone. Until Watkins proves he is the same beast in the NFL he was at Clemson and until Manuel proves he’s an accurate, polished NFL passer, the Bills will likely see teams stack the tackle box to stop a very good running game while daring them to throw. The Dolphins are definitely going to throw multiple fronts at the Bills, including a four-man line, a three-man line and even a five-man line. They will zone blitz and count on ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon to win their matchup against Buffalo’s offensive tackles. Vernon should be no stranger to Buffalo tackle Seantrel Henderson. They both played and practiced against one another at the University of Miami. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Bills run the football: The Bills make their living running the football. It’s been that way in the past and they have picked up were they’ve previously left off, having averaged 5.8 yards per carry while gashing the Chicago Bears for 193 yards last week. C.J. Spiller, the smallish, fast back, is the primary ballcarrier. He does a lot of work inside but has the speed to go 70 yards on a given play. Fred Jackson is the bigger, slower but also more instinctive ballcarrier. The Dolphins should be wary of quarterback E.J. Manuel running the ball, particularly in the red zone. Although Manuel isn’t a scrambler and actually was injured last year against Cleveland while running, he can pick his spots. He did so last week, keeping on a spread option play and scoring on a six-yard run. The Dolphins know to win this game they must stop Buffalo’s run game. So even with all three of their starting linebackers out of the game, the Dolphins will commit to this up front even if it exposes them some to play-action. If the Dolphins stop the run, the Bills cannot win. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill has picked up where he left off last season but in some instances that’s not a good thing. Last week Tannehill failed to connect on three potential TD passes to Mike Wallace when he delivered poor throws to a wide-open receiver. (OK, one that Wallace caught out of bounds in the end zone might have been a TD with a better effort). The point is Tannehill left a lot of points on the field instead of on the scoreboard. The Dolphins also want to welcome Charles Clay into the season. He not only was bracketed in coverage by the Patriots in coverage last week, making him hard to find, but also had a drop that might have resulted in a touchdown. He can be a dynamic player. The Dolphins want him to start being that now. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: Knowshon Moreno is the NFL’s leading rusher after one week. And although common thinking suggests that will not be the case after this game because the Bills are supposedly very good up front and good against the run, consider this: The Dolphins have seen holes in the Buffalo front in that it sometimes suffers from its linebackers over-pursuing. When linebackers over-pursue, that opens up cutback lanes. And the Dolphins’ zone blocking scheme is perfectly suited for providing cutback lanes. So what happens when a run game built to create cut back lanes meets a defense that sometimes over-pursues and allows cut back lanes? Big holes. The Bills can obviously dash Miami’s hopes of running by winning at the line of scrimmage and keeping discipline among its linebackers. Pretty simple, really. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Dan Carpenter is better than Caleb Sturgis. Let’s agree on that. But the Dolphins’ second-year kicker nonetheless connected on all four of his kicks last week, giving him a very good start to the season. The Miami special teams are capable of big plays as proven when they set the tone immediately and gave the offense a short field with a blocked punt against New England. Jarvis Landry was very good on kick returns and that’s why his 28-yard per return average ranks fourth in the NFL. Landry was solid (not great) on punt returns. Colton Schmidt has taken over the punting duties for the Bills from Brian Moorman, who was the punter the past dozen years and did it so well he was on the team’s 50th anniversary team. Moorman was cut in August an all but announced his retirement. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Joe Philbin has put a different looking team on the field, if the season-opener against New England can be believed. That, in part, is due to him doing a better job and having better assistants that are upgrades over last year. Last year, coach Mike Sherman was thrilled when Mike Wallace caught three passes for 59 yards in a game. This week, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor criticized his offense that put up 33 points and implored them to be better. Doug Marrone is coaching for his job. New ownership in Buffalo is on the way so this year is the year for Bills coaches. Meaning? They are obviously motivated to succeed. The fact they’ve had success against the Dolphins in the past gives them a slight edge. Philbin has not won in Buffalo as the Dolphins coach. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

September 12, 2014

Miami Dolphins rally to side of cancer-stricken fan

Miami Dolphins fan Michael Smith has all but lost his fight with stage 4 colon cancer. After nearly three years of chemotherapy and antibiotics and hospital stay after hospital stay after hospital stay, the Smiths signed the documents to place the 42-year-old former aircraft mechanic in hospice last week.

"It's a new step for us, but a very hard step for us as well," said Amy Chandler-Smith, Michael's wife. "There's a realization one comes to when you sign papers to go to hospice. It's a huge, huge thing. Because you're admitting defeat. Photo 3

"He's a fighter and he's always been a fighter. He's always fought for his family. He's always taken care of his family, and now it's admitting you have to give up. There's nothing else you can do.

"There's no more treatment for him. He can't get any more chemo. He's gotten too much antibiotics and his kidneys and liver are having issues. If he gets any more they'll start making him more sick."

It's bad.

Michael is gaunt. His face is drawn and colorless. And the picture of him in that bed at Hospice by the Sea at Memorial Hospital South in Hollywood speaks to his prognosis.

"It's terminal," Amy said. "He's kind of the light's are on but no one is home right now. He'll have moments when he'll be up and be fine and talking and be okay and there's other times when he's lost and in la-la land and he kind of looks through you and not at you.

"The cancer has taken a toll."

The cancer is obviously winning. But despite this the Dolphins learned of their fan's dire situation and have rallied to his bedside.

They cannot save him. There are some things not even an NFL team can do. But they can acknowledge him. They can encourage him.

And they're doing just that.

It started oddly enough. On Sunday, when the Dolphins opened the regular season, the Smiths gathered by Michael's bed. Amy dressed her husband in his Dolphins gear.

"Oh my God, he is just the biggest fan." she said, "And this was just my husband putting on his Dolphins gear. I got him ready for the game. I was, 'Mike, it's the Dolphins, it's the season,' So we got ready."

The shirt Michael wore reads, "We are a Dolphins family."

"That's because we are a Dolphins family," Amy said. "We're true, true, true Dolphins fans. Good or bad. Rain or shine. We've always supported the Dolphins."

Sunday was a good day. The Dolphins won. And much more importantly but not to be dismissed as assumed, Michael survived the day.

That night, laying in bed, Amy recounted the day and what the football team meant to her husband. Right then she decided it really would be great to have her husband perhaps meet a Dolphin before he passes.

So she got on the phone and called friends, who called friends, who got on social media and reached out to the team.

"The next day there were Dolphins calling me," Amy said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get a Dolphin here, let alone the next day, let alone a parade of past and present Dolphins here. We've had so many it's amazing."

Photo 2<---- Mark Duper was the first to visit.

Troy Drayton visited.

Zach Thomas called because he was going out of town. He promised to get back in touch today when he returns.

Derrick Rodgers called. Rogers then had Tim Bowens call. Lousaka Polite is visiting today. He asked if he could bring anything like "snacks, books, anything."

Roy Foster visited.

Three current players visited Wednesday at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Rookies Ja'Wuan James, Arthur Lynch and Billy Turner visited after their work day at the training facility had ended.

"It's an amazing outpouring," Amy said. "I'm so blown away. They have been truly beyond amazing."

Those visits and precious moments have been priceless for Michael and the family. But there are still other issues.

Michael had to stop working shortly after being diagnosed in November 2011. He tried to go back but couldn't do the job. The family lived on disability income and with no insurance had to rely on Medicaid from the state.

Then the medical bills began to pour in. The radiation bills alone were roughly $60,000, Amy said. And it does not stop there. There's ambulance bills, hospital stays, medicine.

"Astronomical," Amy said. "We get bills every day. I get a bill or two in the mail every day. To be honest with you, I haven't opened many of them. I can't afford to pay them. Getting them every day in the mail, they just sit in a pile. I'm scared to open them because I can't afford to pay them."

The family -- including the five children ranging in ages from 20 to seven years old -- had to downsize.

"We've had to downgrade everything," Amy said. "We've had to move into my mother-in-law's." 

The Dolphins have not helped the Smiths financially. Nor has anyone asked them to do so.

"Asking for money is odd to me," Amy said. Photo 1

But a company named HealthDonor has come along side the Smiths to try to help raise money. The company operates a crowd-funding platform to help people raise money for individuals with unexpected medical expenses in their time of greatest need.

One hundred percent of the donated money goes the beneficiary. If you wish to help the Smiths go to this link and kindly do so. You'd be helping someone in the Dolphins family. I checked the site out.

At the time of this writing $360 had been pledged to help the Smiths.

[Update at 10 p.m.: I'm told that Michael Smith died Friday afternoon surrounded by his family. May he rest in peace.]