September 20, 2016

Dolphins bring in former Florida Gator for Tuesday tryout (updated)

It was a relatively quiet day for the Dolphins on the player tryout front Tuesday.

The team worked out only one player -- defensive tackle Leon Orr, a former Florida Gator who spent much of the past year in the Oakland Raiders organization.

The fact the team is looking to add perhaps another defensive tackle is smart because one DT is already on injured reserve. Earl Mitchell was placed on IR last week and the team signed Chris Jones to replace him on the roster.

Jones had a good camp with Miami but It is possible the Dolphins will constantly be looking to upgrade from Jones and in Orr's case perhaps even consider him for the practice squad.

[Update: Orr has been added to the practice squad. Defensive tackle Jordan Williams was released from the practice squad.]

Orr, who is 6-5 and 320 pounds, signed with the Raiders after going undrafted in the 2015 draft. Orr spent time on the Raiders practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in mid December. He was waived by the Raiders last August when the team made its cuts.

Week Two PFF ratings: Tannehill NFL's second best QB

Any time the Miami Dolphins have lost a football game the past five seasons, a hefty number of fans have trained their ire on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The criticism on Tannehill has risen significantly over the years and especially after the Dolphins signed him to a big contract in 2015.

And so, predictably, the Dolphins 31-24 loss to New England Sunday has brought a wave of Tannehill criticism on social media.

That criticism isn't shared by me or ProFootballFocus.com and the metric site's grades this week.

Consider:

Per PFF, Tannehill had a very good afternoon in a stadium where he has experienced some of his worst games as a pro. His 85.9 overall grade was the second best in the NFL this week. He was able to pick apart the Patriots' defense when he wasn't blized (25-of-32 for 270 yards and two touchdowns) for an NFL QB rating of 96.6.

Facing an early 24-3 deficit, the Dolphins had no choice but to drop the rushing attack from their game plan. Tannehill led the team in carries with six while starting running back back Arian Foster only got three carries. Jay Ajayi (inactive in Week 1) was second on the team with 5 carries. Foster, who was expected to have a big role in the offense catching passes out of the backfield, wasn't targeted once in fivepass route snaps, while Ajayi ran 21 routes and was targeted four times.

WR DeVante Parker made his regular-season debut after battling a hamstring issue for most of the preseason. He led the team in targets (12) and was able to make eight catches for 106 yards on the afternoon. Parker is a red zone threat because of his size, but he's also a deep threat. Twenty-five percent of his targets were on deep balls 20-plus yards down the field.

WR Jarvis Landry ran 73.9% of his routes from the slot against New England, slightly up from the 69.9% he ran in 2015 and was able to bring in 8 of his 9 targets from the position. He ranked third in yards per route run from the slot in Week 2 at 3.74.

Although the Dolphins' offensive line has only allowed one sack through two weeks, they have allowed 20 pressures - ninth most in the NFL. Their six QB hits allowed is 3rd most in the league, and their pass blocking effeciency is 19th overall.

Ndamukong Suh was unblockable on Sunday afternoon, recording 10 tackles and 7 stops on the day against the run. He was tied for the No. 1 ranking against the run among defensive tackles, per PFF. The Rams Aaron Donald also ranked at No.1. Indeed, Suh is the NFL's top-rated run defender among DTs.

With that said, Suh is struggling to get after the QB on passing downs, as he has only recorded four total pressures on 72 pass rushing snaps through two games. He is ranked No. 29 among DTs, per PFF.

LB Kiko Alonso had another solid day against the run, recording 8 tackles and 4 stops on the afternoon. However, he was exposed in the passing game for the second straight week, as he allowed four on five targets for 60 yards and a touchdown in coverage against New England.

Defensive end Cameron Wake was only on the field for 16 snaps on Sunday, 15 of which were passing plays. Wake is PFF's 37th rated edge defender.

After being questionable all week with a concussion, DE Mario Williams had a strong game on Sunday, recording six QB hurries on his 33 pass rushing snaps. The six hurries tied for the most in the league this week, and his nine QB hurries through two games is the most in the NFL.

Despite that, Williams is the 56th rated edge defender in the NFL. Indeed, Miami's edge defenders are not exactly impressing. Andre Branch is the 74th rated edge rusher and Jarvis Jones is the 101st rated edge rusher in the NFL, per PFF.

PFF is including 104 edge defenders in its ratings this week.

Second-round rookie cornerback Xavien Howard had a solid showing on Sunday, allowing only three receptions on seven targets for 27 yards. His 12 tackles from the cornerback position ranks 4th in the NFL through two weeks, and he is also tied for first in the league with three assists, showing a willingness to play a physical style of defense the Dolphins are seeking.

September 19, 2016

Adam Gase blaming the offense is not whole story

Adam Gase blames the offense.

"It’s not the defense" the coach said today about the team's problem losing the time of possession battle two weeks in a row.   "Offensively, we cannot go three-and-out. We’ve done it so many times already that it’s ridiculous. The defense has no chance in the fourth quarter of having any opportunity to be somewhat fresh if we’re three-and-out the entire first half. And then we get back into the game and we’re like, ‘C’mon defense, stop them now.’ Well, on play 75, you’re a little fatigued.”

Except the Miami Dolphins defense was a turnstile against the New England Patriots, letting running back LaGarrette Blount rush for 123 yards on 29 carries and letting backup quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett look like they were Joe Montana and Steve Young on Sunday.

But it's the offense's fault the Dolphins lost against New England.

The Pats gained 465 yards, scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. But the 31-24 loss was on the offense.

Sorry, I disagree.

Look, the Dolphins offense was in a coma to start this game. It went three-and-out the first three drives. The first six drives were:

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

Punt.

Fumble.

Interception.

And that's just not good. It's no way to support the guys on defense.

But at the end of the day, the Dolphins offense finished this game with 24 points. It had 23 first downs. It gained 459 yards. Those are not problematic numbers. Those are good numbers.

Gase's point is that when the offense failed to extend drives early in the game, it asked the defense to go back on the field time and time again. And eventually the unit played 80 snaps which is way too many.

But here's the thing: If the defense gets off the field, which is kind of what it gets paid to do, it doesn't play 80 snaps. If the defense doesn't let the Pats convert 50 percent of their third down plays, they're not on the field as many plays.

Another little issue with Gase's logic is that the defense could not have been tired the first series of the game ... when the Patriots marched 75 yards on eight plays. It was the first series of the game!

Was the unit tired the second series? It gave up another TD march on the second series. The second series!

Was the unit pooped when they took the field for their third series? Because, that's right, they gave up another TD on that one.

Three series. Three touchdowns allowed.

Is that the offense's fault?

Last week in Seattle, I understood the idea of blaming the late defensive collapse on the offense. In that game, the defense actually kept standing up to the Seahawks, possession after possession. And the offense didn't give them much rest because they couldn't generate anything against the Seattle defense.

But Sunday against New England? That was a trouncing of the Miami defense. Receivers were running free. Sweep plays were going to 20-plus yards. Tight end Martellus Bennett, who had five receptions for 114 yards,  might catch another few passes later this afternoon because the Dolphins still haven't figured out how to stop him.

That was not about the Miami offense, folks.

I understand Gase is the offensive play-caller so he is going to be particularly hard on that unit. He expects great things of that unit. And so he sees its failures as the reason the team is failing.

But there are pitfalls in that.

So Adam Gase is blaming quarterback Ryan Tannehill for this loss? Because Tannehill is the face of the offense he's blaming. Gase is also supposed to be the coach who's got Tannehill's back.

So which is it? Is it Tannehill's fault or do we have Tannehill's back?

How about the running game? Does Gase blame the running game. I'm told he does not because it's pretty hard to generate a running game when your team is down 21-0 early in the second quarter and 24-3 at halftime.

It's also hard when the starting running back -- Arian Foster -- plays all of 10 plays before leaving with a groin injury. (Gase, by the way, says Foster is day to day but privately it does not look great for Foster this week against Cleveland. We'll see on that).

So if it's not the defense and not the running game, it has to be the quarterback and the passing game and his receivers, right?

Yes ... logic is not a friend of that thinking because Tannehill threw for 389 yards and 2 touchdowns. And Jarvis Landry caught 10 passes for 137 yards. And DeVante Parker, playing with a hamstring injury, caught eight passes for 106 yards. And Jordan Cameron had five catches and a TD. And Kenny Stills had a TD.

it was obviously all their fault the defense is terrible right now.  

Foster headed for MRI Monday; RB situation up on air; DL wasn't team strength this game;

BOSTON -- Arian Foster will have an MRI on his injured groin this morning to give the Dolphins a clearer picture of the player's injury but the team is concerned their starting running back will miss the home opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Foster lasted only 10 plays before going out of Sunday's loss to New England

If Foster must miss time as believed the Dolphins will find themselves in a curious situation ... namely, who is their backup running back?

The obvious answer would be Jay Ajayi, who was the starting running back at the start of training camp before he lost the job to Foster. But it could be complicated than that.

Ajayi lost a fumble that might have cost the Dolphins dearly during their 31-24 loss to the New England Patriots.

"Jay, that was a crticial turnover there," Gase said. "I mean, we just can't have that. We have to do a better job of ball security, but, for the most part, protection was good."

Actually, Foster also had a fumble that was ruled irrelevant because he was down by contact. But the truth is all Miami backs have been coached how to carry the football and Ajayi, who had trouble holding on to the football in the preseason finale, definitely didn't use that coaching on his fumble.

"Just have to hold on to the ball, just a mistake," Ajayi said tersely.

And what about getting more carries this game, and perhaps in the future?

"It is the next man up mentality," Ajayi said. "Whoever is on the field is going to play. You just have to play to the best of your ability."

That's insight right there.

Me?

I like what Kenyan Drake brought to the offense when he got his chance. Ajayi rushed five times for 14 yards -- a 2.8 yards per run average. Drake carried only twice but gained 12 yards, including a nifty seven-yard TD run.

Foster, by the way, finished this game with nine yards on three carries. He has 47 yards on 16 carries the first two games, a 2.9 yard per carry average.

-----

The Dolphins believe they have a very good front seven with the defensive line representing perhaps the best unit on the entire team.

Except that Sunday the defensive line was not the strength of the team. It was, indeed, somewhat absent from the game early on and not a big factor thereafter.

Consider that Cameron Wake, playing part time on passing downs, did not have a tackle. Zero. I don't remember the last time that happened.

Mario Williams, who was good against Seattle a week ago, was credited with only one tackle against the Patriots.

That's a ton of salary and salary cap space for one tackle, folks.

 Adrian Branch had one assist. Not a solo. An assist. He also had trouble setting the edge -- including on that sweep in which New England running back LaGarrette Blount got outside and hurdled Byron Maxwell 26 yards downfield.

Ndamukong Suh had four solos and eight assists for 12 total tackles. He also had a tackle for loss. The problem with him? He's human. He cannot play 100 percent of the downs. So when he was out, the Patriots got that 9-yard TD run from Blount right up the gut against the Miami defense.

Jason Jones, by the way, was active enough. He had a sack among his three tackles.

-----

Ryan Tannehill was sacked zero times on Sunday. Zero.

"The guys were giving me time to get through my reads," Tannehill said.

That's better than the five sacks the Miami quarterback endured a week earlier against Seattle. The Dolphins protected better up front but the running game was not a factor in the game.

That's what happens when the team falls behind 31-3.

(I cannot believe the Dolphins were down 31-3. Terrible.)

-----

DeVante Parker made his 2016 debut and it was very good. He caught eight passes for 106 yards and coach Adam Gase suggested he'd like to see bigger days ahead.

"For a guy that was playing on one leg, I mean, I will love it when he's really healthy," Gase said. "We'll see what we can do. I just think those three guys ... we had a little speed bump there early, we just got to get them going earlier. You know, make those plays in the first two quarters."

That failure to start fast is going to be a thing for the Dolphins going forward until they do it.

Coaches have gone with the no-huddle against Seattle. And that didn't work.

On Sunday the Dolphins went away from the no-huddle, in part to protect the defense. And that didn't work.

When the Dolphins fell behind, however, the protection of the defense went out the window and the no-huddle came back. And then the offense hit a stride.

"Speed tempo and it really helped," center Anthony Steen said. "We got in a rhythm and moved the ball. I really don't know the reason [for the slow start]. It may be one of those things where we need to train harder or come out and practice faster. I don't know."

Nobody knows. 

-----

I like when players refuse to be denied. Michael Thomas showed that in the fourth quarter when he blitzed and had a free shot at Jacoby Brissett For a sack.

Thomas hit Brissett and bounced off.

Opportunity missed.

But a play or two later, Thomas came on another blitz and this time he took the bigger quarterback to the ground and caused a fumble.

Yeah, I like determination. The Dolphins need more of that.

-----

Check back here later this morning for a breakdown of the Dolphins playtime percentages and snaps.

Meanwhile, please read my column on how this game separated the Dolphins from being a serious playoff contender.

The playtime percentages are out. Some are shocking such as Cameron Wake played a total of 16 plays this game.

Image

September 18, 2016

Miami Dolphins rally falls short in 31-24 loss to the Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So the Dolphins made it interesting.

After trailing 24-3 at halftime in what was the most embarrassing half of this young season, Adam Gase's team rallied in the second half.

They got to within 31-24 with over six minutes to play. And that's how it ended.

The rally was ruined by the same defense that gave up three first half touchdowns to Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and then gave up a 65-yard TD march against a New England offense headed by rookie third-stringer Jacoby Brissett, who replaced the injured Garoppolo just before halftime.

And even as the offense scored touchdowns on runs by Kenyan Drake and passes to Jordan Cameron and Kenny Stills, the defense still could not handle the prosperity.

The Patriots went on a prolonged drive to all but nail down the game in the final five minutes. The Miami defense couldn't stop Brissett. It couldn't stop sweeps by LaGarrette Blount.

It simply could not step up in the game's most pressing moments.

It was basically something we've seen two games in a row now. Last week the Miami defense also failed to finish as Seattle marched for the winning score in the final minutes.

So finishing is an issue right now for this unit.

This is also an issue: The defensive backfield had trouble against less than stellar quarterbacks.

The fact of the matter is the Patriots drove 70 yards their final possession against the Miami defense, setting up kicker Stephen Gostkowski for 39-field goal that would have sealed the victory.

Gostkowski missed.

The offense, having no time outs, got within a 19-yard pass attempt by Ryan Tannehill into the end zone for a tying score. The pass was intercepted.

Dolphins lose.

 

 

New England Patriots beating the Miami Dolphins decisively at halftime; Foster injured

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This is a nightmare.

The Patriots have absolutely dominated the Miami Dolphins through one half of player here and lead, 24-3 at halftime.

The Patriots scored on their first three possessions of the game and made the Miami defense that looked solid a week ago, seem incapable of stopping quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and company.

Of course, eventually the Miami defense did slow the Pats but that came when Kiko Alonso hit Garoppolo, driving his right (throwing) shoulder into the turf. Garoppolo left the game and was replaced by backup Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, you probably know, is really New England's third quarterback as starter Tom Brady is suspended.

Garoppolo left the game after completing 18 of 27 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. His QB rating was 130.8. Brissett failed to complete either of his two throws. Garoppolo will not return, per the Patriots.

The Dolphins?

Awful.

Arian Foster left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury. He is out the remainder of the game. Foster had nine yards on three carries when he left the game. Foster has had a career filled with groin and other soft tissue injuries.

Ryan Tannehill is 10 of 18 with one interception. His QB rating right now is 52.1.

The defense cannot seem to cover the New England receivers. The pass rush initially was not a factor.

This defense actually gave up four consecutive TD drives in a row, going back to last week's final drive at Seattle.

Not.

Good.

 

Williams indeed playing; Pead, Williams inactive today

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Miami Dolphins are at full strength today.

Marion Williams, who practiced only one day last week while nursing a concussion, is active and playing as I reported a couple of days ago.

All the other players who were nursing injuries -- Arian Foster, DeVante Parker, Jelani Jenkins and others -- are active and playing.

The inactives today are Isaiah Pead, Dallas Thomas, Damien Williams, Justin Hunter, Donald Butler and Jordan Lucas are the inactives.

Having both Pead and Williams inactive is surprising. Having Williams, who the team loves on special teams, is interesting.

For the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski is inactive.

AJ Derby, Eric Rowe, Dont'a Hightower, Jonathan Cooper, LaAdrian Waddle, and Anthony Johnson are also inactive.

September 17, 2016

DeVante Parker: I'm better than last year

I explain to you in my column in today's Miami Herald (the actual newspaper) how the Dolphins' grand plans for receiver DeVante Parker and running back Jay Ajayi got off track recently and the derailment is threatening to become a train wreck if things don't improve soon.

But what the newspaper column didn't get to was whether I think this is salvageable.

And of course it is salvageable.

Honestly, I have way more hope that the Parker situation will get corrected than the Ajayi situation. I also think the Dolphins will be much more patient with Parker than Ajayi because, remember, the investment in Parker is substantial. The investment in Ajayi is not. It's hard to find a receiver with Parker's abilities. It's not nearly as difficult replacing a running back such as Ajayi.

(Not that I'm saying either player is about to be replaced).

I believe Parker plays Sunday at New England. The Dolphins listed him as questionable on their injury report and said he was limited in practice. Parker had a different take.

"I've been full speed, yeah," he said.

I would not be surprised if Ajayi is once again inactive, although I have zero inside information on this issue. If Ajayi isn't on the field, then that lame schtick he pulled with reporters Friday afternoon will make him look worse than he already does.

After practice Parker was peppered with the usual questions about his health, more specifically about his hamstring. And he reported if he had to play Friday evening he would have been ready to play.

"Probably so," Parker said. "Everything feels fine."

Not my question. My question is what DeVante Parker are the Dolphins going to get when he finally gets back on the field. Remember, he was pretty good at the end of last year. Can he do that again?

"It's a new season but I know I can do that again, probably even better," Parker said. "I know I'm better even though I haven't been able to play a lot. I know I'm better this year than last season. I know I can do a lot better than last season.

"People that follow this saw last season and know what I can do. I don't have to talk much."

So is Ajayi similarly ready to be a better version of himself than he was as a rookie? I don't know. If I had asked him Friday, I'm certain this is what he would have said:

"My priority right now is working hard on the practice field and helping this team win."

Then he would have repeated that again and again and again and again regardless of what other questions anyone might have asked because that's what he did Friday.

And how did he practice this week?

"My focus right now is working hard and helping the team win against New England."

So disappointing.

September 16, 2016

Local Sheriff's union wants law enforcement to suspend details protecting the Miami Dolphins

The Broward County Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, a union that represents local deputies in the county's largest law enforcement body, is calling for the suspension of details that escort and otherwise protect the Miami Dolphins as a response to four players kneeling during the national anthem in Seattle last Sunday.

Jeff Bell, president of deputies local 6020, says he has contacted the association's executive board in order to make everyone aware of the protest undertaken by four Dolphins -- Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas -- and urged the board and all law enforcement to cease detail work for the Dolphins.

The players had been protesting what they said is a lack of equal justice for some African Americans at the hands of some police.

The letter from union president reads as follows:

"To Everyone,

"Today, I contacted the executive board of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Local 6020 in reference to the actions of a few Miami Dolphin players. As a law enforcement union, we certainly encourage people to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of speech. However, in certain professions, an individual’s freedom of speech must take a back seat to the organization or government entity that they choose to represent. Even the NFL’s governing body and the ownership of individual teams set strict policies in order to make sure players represent the league in the most professional way.

"With this said, I can not fathom why the Miami Dolphin organization and the NFL would allow the blatant disrespect of the American Flag and what it stands for during the national anthem. It is a privilege to play in the NFL, not a given constitutional right. The Miami Dolphin players, staff and family members enjoy full police escorts from the Broward Sheriff’s Office on a regular basis. These escorts often involve putting the men and women of law enforcement agencies at risk as they block intersections during peak traffic times in order to expedite the travel time between facilities.

"We have buried coworkers who have unnecessarily lost their lives protecting the lives of individuals. Some law enforcement officers even lost their lives while protecting the lives of the very same individuals who were protesting against law enforcement. The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Local 6020 is seeking the immediate termination of all Miami Dolphin escorts until such time the Miami Dolphins and the National Football League set forth a policy that will not tolerate the disrespect of the American Flag and National Anthem during any sanctioned games or events.

"We no longer support an organization that values financial profit over a minimum conduct standard. What good is it to ask singers to sing the national anthem, honor guards to preform services or ask the United States Air Force to conduct fly overs during the National Anthem if the same organization will not even set a minimum code of conduct for its players?

"Until further notice, I respectfully ask all members of law enforcement not to work any detail associated with the Miami Dolphins unless ordered to do so. Again, I would also respectfully ask the Broward Sheriff’s Office to refuse any security details associated with the Miami Dolphins until such time the Miami Dolphin organization mandates a code of conduct for their players during all sanctioned events.

Jeff Bell

President

Local 6020"

The Dolphins players were supported in their actions by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who defended their right to protest. The club was not immediately available for comment.

Image
 

Mario Williams expected to play at New England

Defensive end Mario Williams, nursing a concussion earlier this week, is expected to play Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Williams has been cleared for onfield activities and to play following his latest exam within the NFL concussion protocol, according to an NFL source.

Williams was on the field during the portion of practice open to the media Friday afternoon. 

Assuming Williams suffers no setback in this practice or anytime before Sunday's game,and passes one final test Saturday, the Dolphins will have one of their most effective defensive lineman from Week One on the field against the New England Patriots.

Williams had a sack in 45 snaps before he suffered the concussion last week at Seattle. The Dolphins have made no secret of the fact when Williams left the game, the Miami defense lost something. It was after Williams left the game that the Seahawks were able to engineer their game-winning drive.

Receiver DeVante Parker, who has been limited with a hamstring injury this week, practiced again Friday at least on a limited basis. He is expected play Sunday.

reported earlier today center Mike Pouncey is not play Sunday ... or possibly for a while longer. 

 

Mike Pouncey not playing against New England

The Miami Dolphins will unveil their final injury report of the week Friday afternoon and the expectation is the team will announce center Mike Pouncey is out for Sunday's game at New England.

Even if the Dolphins don't designate Pouncey as out it doesn't matter. He's not playing Sunday.

Pouncey has been out since Aug. 19 when he suffered a hip injury the team has diagnosed as a fracture. That was not the initial diagnosis of the injury internally, however, and that led coach Adam Gase to say Pouncey's status for the season-opener at Seattle was merely uncertain.

That would have given Pouncey only three-and-one-half weeks to recover from the injury, which obviously was not possible.

Gase has since started saying Pouncey  is "week to week" when asked about the player's prognosis.

The more likely timetable for Pouncey's return would be the week of Oct. 1 which means he would normally miss Sunday and one more game -- the Sept. 25 home opener against Cleveland. The problem is the Dolphins play a Thursday night game four days later, on Sept 29, rather than on Sunday, Oct. 1.

The team might decide that's not enough time to get Pouncey up to speed on his football conditioning after one week or less of practice.

So it is possible the timing of the recovery plus Miami's schedule could cause Pouncey to miss two and possibly three more games and not make his 2016 debut until the Oct. 9 game against the Tennessee Titans. 

September 15, 2016

Brandon Doughty clears waivers; headed to Dolphins practice squad

Coach Adam Gase got all under cover and secretive Thursday when he was asked who the team's No. 3 quarterback would be Sunday at New England seeing as that Brandon Doughty was cut the day before.

“We have a plan. We had one last week," Gase said. "I don’t have to tell you guys that one. But, I mean we’ve been working on it since training camp. You guys just didn’t notice."

Fine, I guess I shouldn't tell you tight end Marqueis Gray was the Minnesota Golden Gophers starting quarterback in 2011. I shouldn't tell you Tony Lippett was a high school QB. And I shouldn't tell you Jarvis Landry messed around taking snaps from center during camp.

Anyway, the Dolphins have a plan for Sunday but during the week they will have three quarterbacks on the practice field again because Doughty slipped through waivers unclaimed. And the team has re-signed him to the practice squad, per an NFL source.

This is good because that means the Dolphins continue to have Doughty in the system and learning and improving (hopefully) with some idea that at the time being no other team is looking to pick the rookie up.

Coordinators Thursday: Ajayi fall from grace; the future for Donald Butler; Cam Wake dilemma

The clearest sign that running back Jay Ajayi has fallen from grace?

On Wednesday the Miami Dolphins practiced but starting running back Arian Foster did not participate while nursing a hamstring injury. So did the Dolphins give Ajayi the starter's reps in practice?

No.

Ajayi, who was the team's starting running back throughout the offseason and even through much of training camp, has fallen so far that he was not the guy getting the starter's reps.

"He was not," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. "Those guys will compete. Pead got some snaps yesterday. They all got some snaps yesterday. I don't know what will shake out at the end of this week. A lot will depend on health and performance."

So here we are with Ajayi fighting Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams for snaps in a practice that Arian Foster doesn't participate. That's, I guess, what happens when you do something that gets you left behind on a season-opening road trip.

Christensen said not having Ajayi against the Seahawks "wasn't much of a factor."

Ouch.

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Donald Butler, signed Tuesday, is "probably not" playing this week for the Dolphins, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

But the Dolphins have big plans for Butler once he gets the playbook down.

"Going forward we wanted somebody who could play linebacker," Joseph. "We didn't want to sign a backup linebacker for special teams. We wanted someone to play linebacker for us eventually. As he gets caught up in the playbook, he's going to help us. He's going to play actually "

Joseph said Butler will play the WILL linebacker spot (weakside). That's the position Jelani Jenkins plays. As Jenkins is nursing a knee issue after having surgery two weeks ago, his status for practices and even his snap count for games is something to monitor. 

Joseph said Butler could back up at both weakside or in the middle.

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The Dolphins face an interesting dilemma with defensive Cameron Wake.

On the one hand, they want to limit the veteran defensive end so as to make sure he stays healthy for the long season ahead. Wake, you'll recall, is coming back from an Achilles injury last year. 

But on the other hand, Wake continues to be a force as a player, particularly as a pass rusher. So the team must weigh playing a good player in big moments versus keeping him on a tight snap count. Wake played 29 plays or 35 percent of the snaps.

Was there a temptation to play him more?

"Absolutely, absolutely," Joseph said. "Last week it was a little different. Losing Mario [Williams],  Wake played more snaps than he should have played probably and at the end he was a little gassed ... If it's a critical point in the game, Cam's going to be out there. If the game's on the line, Cam's going to be out there."

The Dolphins don't necessarily want to play more. They actually want him to play less -- but only less snaps in base defense or on running downs.

---

I told you yesterday that center Anthony Steen has become a very pleasant surprise for the Miami Dolphins.

So how did he play against the Seahawks?

"The best compliment I could think about him is that I didn't notice him," Christensen said. "And then you watched the game and gosh, the kid played really, really well. But during the game the best compliment was that he was never a factor.

"There was a lot of [identifying the defense], a lot of pressure on him, as much as you can have with good players, hard place, new offense, all those things, not getting the starter snaps in the offseason and the kid played extremely well. He was really a bright spot for the day."

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DeVante Parker (hamstring) practiced for the second consecutive day on Thursday and is expected to play on Sunday against New England, barring a setback the next couple of days.

Center Mike Pouncey (hip) and defensive end Mario Williams (concussion) did not practice on Thursday.

September 14, 2016

Path to HOF: Jimmy Johnson, Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas

The 1990s and early 2000s didn't bring the Miami Dolphins any championships but they did bring great moments.

Those moments obviously include the 1996 and '97 draft when then-coach and general manager Jimmy Johnson selected Zach Thomas in the fifth round of the '96 draft and one year later selected Jason Taylor in the third round.

Tonight, all three of those men -- Johnson, Taylor and Thomas -- are among the 94 players and coaches who comprise the list of Modern-Era Nominees for the Hall of Fame Class of 2017.

Johnson, who coached the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles and later coached the Dolphins from 1996 to 1999, has been a semifinalist and considered for induction by the 46-member selector's committee each of the past two years. This year the selector's committee will number 48 members, including yours truly.

Thomas, the plucky linebacker from Pampa, Texas, was a hit (literally) from the second he hit the field. Johnson recognized his abilities right away and cut then veteran and current Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio so he could play Thomas.

In his NFL regular-season debut, Thomas hit then New England wide receiver and current Dolphins wide receiver coach Shawn Jefferson so hard, he knocked him out. Thomas went on to be named to the '96 All Rookie team and in his 13 NFL seasons was named to seven Pro Bowls. He finished his career with 1,100 tackles.

Thomas made more tackles than any linebacker currently in the Hall of Fame.

Taylor, who would later marry Zach's sister thus making the two men brothers-in-laws, was considered a project pass rusher when he entered the league. The project didn't take long to take hold and by the time he was finished with his career 14 years later, Taylor had 139.5 sacks, 46 forced fumbles and eight interceptions.

Taylor's sack total is sixth all-time and his six fumble returns for touchdowns is the best mark of any NFL player. Taylor was named to the Pro Bowl six times, was an Associated Press All Pro three times and was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.

One time Dolphins Troy Vincent, a first round pick of the team, and Joey Porter, who signed with the team as a free agent in 2007, are also on the list of nominees. 

 

 

Forbes Magazine: Miami Dolphins 12th most valuable franchise; PLUS practice update

Miami Dolphins Stephen Ross is rich. And his NFL team is worth more than twice as much today as when he bought it in 2009.

Ross, who paid $1.1 billion for the Dolphins when he purchased the team and the stadium from H. Wayne Huizenga, has a $2.9 billions -- with a "B" -- property to his name because that is what Forbes Magazine is claiming the Dolphins are worth today.

In its annual issue outlining the worth of professional sports teams, Forbes says the Dolphins are No. 12 among the most valuable franchises.

The Dallas Cowboys continue to lead the pack as they have for years. They're worth $4.2 billion, per Forbes.

The New England Patriots are the valuable franchise in the AFC East and come in at No. 2 overall, worth $3.4 billion.

The New York Jets sit at No. 7 overall and are worth $2.75 billion, per Forbes.

The Buffalo Bills are at No. 32 overall and are worth $1.5 billion.

The magazine says the Dolphins had $359 million in operating revenue in 2015 and $58 million in operating income. The Dolphins rarely comment on the figures except when they're wildly off, so keep an eye out for that. A complaint from the team will signal the figures are off. No complaint will signal they're in the ballpark.

Speaking of in the ballpark, the Dolphins figures will undoubtedly rise for 2016 when the fact the team has just completed much of its outward reconstruction on the stadium is taken into account as well as the approximate $250 million naming rights deal the team struck with Hard Rock International.

As to Ross, his personal wealth is estimated at $7.4 billion, according to Forbes. That ties him with Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke as the second-richest owners in the NFL.

The richest owner?

Seattle's Paul Allen who is worth approximately $19 billion.

All that is off the field. On the field ...

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (unknown injury) and Mario Williams (concussion) are not practicing today. Wide receiver DeVante Parker (hamstring) is limited in practice. Running back Arian Foster was also absent during the portion of practice open to the media.

On Jenkins, the Dolphins went and got Donald Butler for a reason. He's not ready to start. He really isn't ready to play, having been on the team less than 24 hours. But he can help in a crunch.

Williams is in the concussion protocol but he is in the rehab stage so he's allowed to move around, although not allowed to practice. He will be checked before the end of the week to determine if he can move on to the next step and be cleared to practice and play.

Parker and the Dolphins are going to be coy about the receiver's status for Sunday. The Dolphins are wary about putting him on the field if he's not 100 percent for fear he might re-aggravate the hamstring and have  to miss more time. But they need him. They need a deep threat.

It hurt the team not having him on Sunday against Seattle.

I expect Parker to play against the Patriots. Just a hunch based on what I've heard. 

 

Doughty cut; Chris Jones added; Anthony Steen gives Dolphins options with Pouncey and Albert

The Miami Dolphins are remaking the roster this morning -- as they will throughout the season and events warrant.

The team has waived third-string quarterback Brandon Doughty and re-signed defensive tackle Chris Jones.

Jones, who was waived on the final cut Sept. 3, was a necessary addition because on Tuesday the team placed defensive tackle Earl Mitchell on injured reserve. The Jones addition brings the number of defensive tackles on the Miami roster back up to four -- Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, Julius Warmsley and Jones.

Jones, you should remember, was playing second-team tackle with Phillips and ahead of Warmsley unti the moment he was waived.

Waiving Doughty is not surprising and, if all goes as the Dolphins plan, not a major issue.

Doughty was the third quarterback on the active roster. If he clears waivers the Dolphins can, and probably will, sign him to their practice squad. So Doughty will be able to continue serving his primary function -- getting better as a rookie while also serving as a serviceable arm in practice.

On another topic ...

You'll recall this morning I told you how well center Anthony Steen played in his regular-season debut against Seattle. Click the link for the details, if you don't know them.

So immediately folks on my Twitter feed started talking about how the Dolphins should trade Mike Pouncey. Yeah, NFL is Not For Long.

And to that I say ... No.

First, Steen had one good game. One.

So perhaps it would be wise to consider a broader body of work before anyone anoints Steen the Dolphins new center for life.

Secondly, having more good players is better than having fewer good players.

So keeping Pouncey and Steen makes sense in that the team would have a fine backup when Pouncey returns to 100 percent health this year. Then after the season, the team can make a determination on what it wants to do relative to Steen.

If Steen continues his current career arch, there's no doubt he's a keeper. He's young. His salary is cheap.

He gives the Dolphins options.

Option One: The team decides after the season that Pouncey, with multiple hip surgeries, is more valuable in trade. Well, someone will surely give something for him and at the same time help take a significant portion of Pouncey's salary off the Miami salary cap.

Option Two: The team after this season will make a decision on Branden Albert. Perhaps he stays. Perhaps the Dolphins decide it is time to move on and replace him with Laremy Tunsil, who was drafted to eventually succeed Albert at left tackle anyway. That leaves the left guard position open. Well, Steen becomes a viable candidate for that spot in this scenario. And Pouncey remains at center in this scenario.

Option Three: The Dolphins are thrilled with their current personnel and keep Albert, keep Pouncey and keep Steen. Then they let the best combination of players win out next training camp. Great problem to have.

Any of the three scenarios seem as likely as any of the others, in my opinion. We don't know because they are so far off in the future.

But this much is certain: Anthony Steen represents excellent work by the Dolphins front office (who found him) and the coaching staff (who is developing him). If he continues to play at his current level or better, he will deserve playing time.

That gives the Dolphins options.  

Anthony Steen so far a treasure picked out of the trash heap

There has been serious concern about Mike Pouncey coming back from the hip injury that cost him half the preseason and the regular-season opener at Seattle. Indeed, it is possible Pouncey, who reportedly is nursing a small fracture to his surgically repaired hip, might miss a week or two more.

That's the bad news.

The good news is no one is panicking because replacement Anthony Steen has been, well, outstanding.

Steen, signed to the Miami practice squad last November when he was basically out of football after being cut by Arizona in September, is a first-year player who made his regular-season debut on Sunday against Seattle. And that debut, coming on the heels of a solid preseason, was very, very good.

How good did Steen play?

Well, if you trust the ProFootballFocus.com metrics, you can say Steen had a better opening day that all but six NFL centers. That's because PFF gave Steen the seventh best grade among 32 centers graded.

Steen's 79.8 grade was better than ...

New York's Nick Mangold.

Carolina's Ryan Kalil.

Dallas's Travis Frederick.

Buffalo's Eric Wood.

Baltimore's Jeremy Zuttah.

And Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey. Among others.

And I just listed some excellent NFL centers.

Steen was better run-blocking than pass-blocking. You can see that on the 2-yard touchdown Ryan Tannehill scored Sunday on a quarterback draw. While left guard Laremy Tunsil and left tackle Branden Albert double-team one man and drive him back, Steen bulldozed Seattle defensive tackle Jarran Reed one-on-one and drove him into the end zone as well.

Ironically Reed was a teammate of Steen's at Alabama a couple of years ago.

Tannehill ran behind Steen into the end zone.

Steen, who moved from guard to center this preseason, received the highest grade of any Dolphins offensive starter on Sunday, per PFF. 

And so what does this mean?

Well, the Dolphins are showing that under Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Adam Gase, they want to often use caution about how quickly they put players recovering from injuries back on the field. As in the case with DeVante Parker, for example, the Dolphins would rather hold the player back and make sure he's healthy than expose him to aggravating an injury.

With Pouncey, a leader in the locker room, the temptation might be to push him to get back. But because Steen is so far playing at a high level, the Dolphins can afford to wait until Pouncey is fully recovered before putting him back on the field.

(By the way ... kudos to the Dolphins personnel department for finding Steen and the Miami coaching staff for developing him into a center. This is a feel-good story all around.)

September 13, 2016

Miami Dolphins sign LB Donald Butler, work out four others; Earl Mitchell to IR

The Miami Dolphins wanted a thumper who can play meaningful snaps for them on defense from the linebacker spot. They also wanted to add a seventh linebacker. They've added both today.

The team has signed free agent linebacker Donald Butler.

Butler, one of the top linebackers who came out of the 2010 draft and was picked No. 79 overall by San Diego, signed with Miami after working out for the team Tuesday. He was among multiple linebackers who tried out.

Butler was available after he was released by the Chargers in March 2016 after he played six seasons for that team. He was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals in July and released on the final cut to 53 on Sept. 3.

Butler, 6-1 and 242 pounds, has 238 career tackles, including seven career sacks. He has five forced fumbles and six career recovered fumbles.

Butler is still in his prime at age 27 but obviously his play fell off after December 2014 when he suffered a dislocated elbow. He had been a locker room leader and even team captain for the Chargers and had signed a multi-year contract extension when the team released him.

The Dolphins made room for Butler on the roster by placing defensive tackle Earl Mitchell on injured reserve. Mitchell, nursing a calf injury all preseason, aggravated the injury in the regular-season opener against Seattle. 

The players the Dolphins worked out on Tuesday in addition to Butler were nose tackle Barry Cofield, Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Nate Irving, defensive tackle Cory Johnson and defensive end C.J. Wilson.

Weekly ProFootballFocus.com tape review and grades: Dolphins at Seahawks

There can be no denying the fact the Dolphins had some issues in pass protection against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Seahawks had four sacks, and in the 2016 kickoff edition of the ProFootballFocus.com weekly grades on this site, the tape review shows the offensive line allowed three of those sacks, two QB hits, seven hurries and 12 total pressures on only 33 passing snaps.

Not good.

Furthermore the offensive line had a pass-blocking efficiency (a weighted formula that measures hits/hurries/sacks relative to the number of passing snaps) of 70.5 and that was 26th out of 28 teams that played in Week One games through Sunday.

The Dolphins, however, are not worried.

Coach Adam Gase, something of an expert on playing Seattle as Sunday was his fourth game in four years against that team, was not displeased with the pass protection. Yes, there is stuff to clean up, including a blown assignment by rookie first round pick Laremy Tunsil.

But, well, the opponent was Seattle.

 "I think that’s the least I’ve ever had my quarterback hit against those guys," Gase said. "I know they only have eight starters back from the time I played them in the Super Bowl, but, they’ve only gotten better. I think we did a pretty good job.

"There were a couple of busts we had protection-wise that I’m sure all of us would like to clean up. But I thought Ryan (Tannehill) did a good job of getting the ball out. There were a couple of times where he knew we were trying to push the ball down the field a little bit. We were trying to get them off us a little bit. They took away some of our underneath stuff and we were trying to go down the field."

(Salguero insight: The Dolphins realized postgame that the absence of WR DeVante Parker hurt them greatly. Without Parker to threaten Seattle deep, and the pass rush playing well against the Miami front, the Seahawks didn't fear the Dolphins going deep. The Dolphins did get deep that one time on an Earl Thomas bust that left Kenny Stills wide open. But Stills dropped the potential touchdown pass. Lesson? The Dolphins badly need Parker in the lineup.)

The highest graded Dolphins offensive player on Sunday was ... Ryan Tannehill. That's interesting considering he was under pressure on 48.5 percent of his dropbacks — the highest rate for all QBs in Week One through Sunday. 

Despite grading out well overall, Tannehill did not perform well when under pressure, completing only 33 percent of his passes when under pressure.

Ndamukong Suh, who got off to a slow start last year had no such issues this year. He graded out as the fifth best defensive tackle of the week at 82.4 He was equally as effective against the run, ranking seventh in run stop percentage (thee stops on 25 snaps) and rushing the passer, where he ranked fourth in pressure percentage (a metric that measures sack/hit/hurry relative to how many passing snaps they had). Suh had one sack and three hurries on 42 pass rush snaps.

Middle linebacker Kiko Alonso had a solid game. With a grade of 72.2, Alonso was the 23rd out of a possible 65 qualifying linebackers, grading out particularly well in run defense, where his 83.4 grade was fourth best. However, PFT noticed Alonso did struggle in coverage, allowing five receptions on five targets for 53 yards. Of those 53 yards, 41 came after the catch.

TE Jordan Cameron continues to struggle finding a role in the Miami offense. His 42.7 overall grade was 41st out of 46 qualifying tight ends. He was targeted three times and had two catches for six yards and a drop. He dominated the snaps at the position with 48 out of a possible 53, but Dion Sims (14 snaps) might see an uptick in his in the coming weeks if Cameron doesn't start producing more.

Arian Foster dominated the snaps at running back, playing 45 out of a possible 53 snaps after being named the starter. Foster turned in a 55.0 overall grade, which is the 29th out of 46 qualifying running backs, and was 12th overall in receiving at 77.5.

Foster's rushing numbers are not impressive. He gained 38 yards on 13 carries. But he did force three missed tackles.

Safety Reshad Jones followed up a great 2015 campaign with an impressive Week One showing. His PFF.com grade of 83.9 represents the fifth best at the position. He was equally effective in the running game (83.7) as in coverage (83.2), which is a good sign for Miami, because he has typically excelled in the run game and struggled some in coverage over his career.

Even with his outstanding grade, Jones was not Miami's highest-rated safety. That was Isa Abdul-Quddus, who PFF grades at 84.7 overall, giving him the fifth highest grade of all safeties. Abdul-Quddus had a pass coverage of 85.5, which is the highest coverage grade of the 74 safeties PFF graded this week. week. 

The safety combo of Jones and Abdul-Quddus represents the only pair from the same team rated in the Top 10. Adbdul-Quddus is No. 5 and Jones is at No. 9 this week.

September 12, 2016

The difference between being competitors and winners

SEATTLE -- The Miami Dolphins of the past few years would have lost a game like this one against the Seahawks on Sunday by a wide margin.

The 'Hawks have been and continue to be a pretty good team. They were at home, which indeed is among the loudest venues I've ever been to -- dome or otherwise. And Seattle's team speed and discipline and playmaking ability on both offense and defense is simply outstanding.

And against that good Seattle team, the Dolphins were competitive. They competed. They were not only in the game but in a position to win the game. But the problem is the Dolphins lost. And Sunday's 12-10 loss counts every bit as much against the loss column as blowout 31-10 loss.

There is, you see, no payday for competing.

The only payoff a team gets in the NFL is for winning.

And the difference between one and the other is significant.

So are the Dolphins just going to be a competitive team this year or can you hope they will become winners?

Let's look at the signs coming out of the first game:

A competitive team stays close but cannot get over the hump because ...

Kenny Stills drops a touchdown pass.

Jordan Cameron has a key drop and his two catches gain a total of six yards.

Kicker Andrew Franks gets a field goal blocked.

The pass protection gives up four sacks. Not good.

The Dolphins pass rush is frustrating in that its most accomplished rusher -- Cameron Wake -- truly is a part-time player right now. According to the NFL's snap count, Wake played 29 snaps. That's only 35 percent of Sunday's defensive snaps. Tough to be consistently effective with those numbers but the Dolphins are in a tough spot because they want to keep Wake healthy for the duration of the season.

The offense cannot convert on fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 17 yard line and finishes the game 0-for-1 on fourth-down conversions.

The defense finishes the game having yielded two of three fourth-down conversions and both of those come on Seattle's game-winning drive in the final minutes of the game.

The defense gives up points to end the first half and with 31 seconds left in the game.

No running game to speak of. I mean, 64 yards on 20 rushes? Lamar Miller gained more than that for the Houston Texans by halftime on Sunday.

All those things must be addressed or corrected or changed somehow to turn the Dolphins' fortunes around.

And there is another worry that coach Adam Gase articulated in his presser after the game. The Dolphins of yesteryear seemed to lack the fortitude to bounce back game over game. One loss would extend to two and then avalanche from there.

Last year, for example, the Dolphins suffered two two-game losing streaks and two three-game losing streaks. In other words, the team got down and failed to quickly get up off the mat.

Gase told his team after the game this cannot repeat.

“We can’t let one loss become two," Gase said. "We have 24 hours to feel sorry for yourself. Do whatever you want to do but we have to go on to the next opponent. We have to go on the road again. We have to get back to work."

by the way...Below are the official NFL snap count numbers for players on both teams:

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