September 16, 2015

After offseason of changes, Miami Dolphins defense again a focus

Last season ended with the Miami Dolphins, well, out of the playoffs but also looking at their defense with disappointment. And folks were looking at defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle kind of sideways.

That's not me saying that.

Coach Joe Philbin considered Coyle's work and weighed replacing the defensive coordinator. Obviously, the head coach decided against a change. But adjustments were needed.

So Coyle changed his approach in some respects -- trying to make sure the defense was better at doing fewer things. The personnel changed as players such as Phillip Wheeler were jettisoned while Ndamukong Suh was signed. And Coyle himself got in the weight room and lost some weight and added some muscle, a symbol of a new and better Miami D.


But after an offseason of adjusting the scheme, improving the DC's looks, and adding talent, here we are looking at Coyle kind of sideways again. After one game.

And let us have perspective here. The Dolphins defense allowed only 10 points on Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Most any team will take that every week.

But it isn't about the 10 points. That's great.

Iti s about what this game suggests longterm.

It is that after months and months of preparation for this game, the defense -- with the exception of Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes and maybe Koa Misi -- played on its heels at least half the game.

It was that the Redskins, which are not expected to be any sort of offensive juggernaut with a backup QB starting and a challenged offensive line in front of him, took the game to Miami.

It was that the Redskins surprised Coyle's unit with something so fundamental as cut blocking and it took a long time to adjust to that.

It was that Suh, a great player in Detroit, looked unimpressive with this unit.It was that folks were seemingly surprised the Redskins double-teamed Suh as if that has never happened before.

What's all this about?

Let's take them one at a time:

About the adjustments. The old adage applies here: High school teams adjust to opponents next week. College teams adjust to opponents next half. NFL teams adjust to opponents next series.

The Redskins cut Miami interior linemen time and again and there was no significant adjustment to that until the second half. Too slow.

“I think it takes a little bit, we have to be ready to adjust quicker as players and as coaches we kind of want to be able to see those things fast as we can so we can get that information, but really often times they’re the best guys to talk to, to try and figure out what’s going wrong because everything is happening so fast," Coyle said. "Whether it’s a tightening of an alignment, changing a shade from one to the other or changing a front, that type of thing, we’ll have some options and some answers as we move forward."

That's great. Coyle wants to talk to his players to better understand what is happening on the field. But it seems to me, once that conversation is over, after the first series, the adjustment should be made. After all, cut-blocking is a fundamental tactic. It is not revolutionary. Adjust.

As to the approach of the defense: It was uninspired save for Jones and Grimes and maybe Misi.

Suh seemed more nervous than inspired. And as a result his only tackle of the game came five or six yards downfield. Remember this guy is a proven star. And yet his first outing in Miami suggested he didn't have his mind right to play.

That's not me saying that. Coyle admitted that.

“I think he can play better and I think he knows that, but again, I go back to what I said earlier, I think he was amped up and wanting to really do well and it took him a little bit to get settled down," Coyle said. "I think they really did – they tried to scheme us some. They didn’t run at Ndamukong very much, they ran away from him and when they did run away, they had people down at his legs and chopping him, cut blocking him and things like that. They did some things schematically that they wouldn’t put him in a position where he could use his strength and things like that, but as the game wore on I think he did better. He did better in the second half and certainly we still expect big, big things from him as we move forward."

I would hope. The Dolphins cannot change the guy's contract so they better change his output and approach from the first game. It should not surprise anyone that teams will run away from Suh. It should not surprise anyone that teams will game plan for him. It has been happening for half a decade.

So why the issue?

Another issue the Dolphins have not fully resolved on defense over the past couple of years is the linebacker unit. First Dannell Ellerbe was paid big money to play the middle but stunk so then he got moved. Then Koa Misi was going to be the answer at middle linebacker until he wasn't and got moved. Then Kelvin Sheppard was going to be the answer until he wasn't and had to share the job.

So after a full training camp, we don't know if Sheppard is the guy going forward or undrafted rookie Zach Vigil is the answer. Both shared the job almost equally on Sunday. Neither was stellar.

What gives?

The season has begun. Pick a guy and roll.

But no.

The Dolphins are sharing the position for the purpose of, get this, building some depth.

“We felt that they both did a lot of good things in preseason and we let them know well in advance, prior to the game, early in the week that they both would be sharing time and that was the intention," Coyle said. "They both about split the number of reps when we were in base defense and they both did a good job. That’s positive, we think that we’re building some depth there, we’ve got a veteran player that played well and a young player that when he got in there, he hung tough and did a good job."

Building some depth.

When Jimmy Johnson saw Zach Thomas play one quarter in the preseason, he knew he would be his middle linebacker. He picked him. He let Jack Del Rio go. And he let Thomas grow into the job while, yes, suffering the struggles of growing pains as Thomas got better and better.


Maybe Zach Vigil isn't Zach Thomas. But if he's worthy of sharing the role...And he's young..And he's green...And the other guy is a journeyman...Go with the youngster and give him the work. Don't split the baby.

Finally, the biggest issue the Dolphins needed to address this offseason on defense was the run defense. The team was an unacceptable 24th against the run last year. Well, after one game this year it is 30th against the run. There were missed tackles. There were missed assignments. Coaches were surprised by the other team's approach. And Suh got practically erased.

That cannot be. It needs immediate attention.

“There are a lot of little things that we need to address here as we go forward after our first game," Coyle said. "I think part of it was the anxiousness of guys to go out there in the first game and really do well and sometimes you can overdo some things, but we’ve got to get off blocks and they did a good job on the backside of plays of low-blocking, the cut-blocking on the backside of plays and we didn’t play well in the first half.

"We have to do a better job of those types of things, there weren’t long breakout runs, but there were way too many five-yard runs, six-yard runs and we didn’t tackle as well. We had a couple of times where we made a hit at three yards and he would squirm and twist and now it’s second-and-4 instead of second-and-7, as a result we weren’t able to get them behind schedule much, particularly in the first half.

"That’s why are third down defense was as poor in the first half as it was. In the second half, we got them in longer yardage situations and they didn’t convert a third down in the entire second half. We’ve got to play better across the board, our players know that, we’re going to work hard on it here later this week hopefully like they say ‘you can make a lot of improvements between week one and week two.'

"We’ve got our share to make and we will."

They better.

September 15, 2015

PFF and Salguero review of Dolphins victory over Washington

The partnership between this blog and continues this year. As in the past, the metrics website will break down the Miami Dolphins previous game and provide analytics to me here. I'll add whatever insight and knowledge I can to augment your reading experience.

(Go ahead, make a joke).

Anyway, this week's one-touchdown (on offense) performance by the Dolphins is under the PFF microscope:


  • Right tackle Ja’Wuan James (2.3 pass block grade) did not allow a pressure on 38 pass block snaps.
  • QB Ryan Tannehill had a 0.7 passing grade on the seven pass plays the defense blitzed. Not terrible. Not great.
  • WR Rishard Matthews was the only Dolphins pass-catcher to drop a pass.
  • It was a rough outings for guards Dallas Thomas (-3.2 in 57 snaps), Jamil Douglas (-4.7 in 57 snaps) and left tackle Brandon Albert (-2.4 in 55 snaps). Here's the thing: Douglas is a rookie making his first NFL start. So his grade must be viewed through that prism. Albert was playing his first game since returning from knee surgery last November and, indeed, didn't get any snaps in any preseason games. So he is allowed some rust. What's the excuse for Thomas? Oh yeah, there is none.
  •  Tight end Jordan Cameron (1.1 receiving grade) was targeted five times on the right side of the field and three of those were 20-plus-yards from the line of scrimmage. You know what that suggests? Well, Cameron was Miami's only deep threat this game, but he continues to be the same player who last season was the only tight end with four receptions of at least 40 yards. The two longest -- for 81 and 51 yards -- were for touchdowns against Carolina and Pittsburgh; the other two were for 47 and 42 against Pittsburgh. No, the Dolphins did not complete all their deep passes against Cameron, but he is definitely a deep threat.


  • Defensive end Cameron Wake had his only sacks nullified by a penalty in the secondary on Jamar Taylor but he wasn't great agaisnt the run, either. He had a -2.1 run defense grade in 31 run snaps.
  • The Dolphins linebacker corps is not great, especially at middle linebacker right now. But strongside linebacker Koa Misi (2.4 overall grade) had nine tackles, three QB hurries and six defensive stops with just one missed tackle.
  • It was a rough day in coverage for Jamar Taylor (-2.3 pass coverage in 27 snaps) and Walt Aikens (-1.1 pass coverage in 27 snaps). Reshad Jones explained to me days before the game he and Aikens are still working on their communication and understanding of each other's tendencies. That is over and above simply playing the position with physicality and technique to Aikens.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had a sack in his first NFL game but he struggled against the run -- turning in a -2.7 run grade on the seven run snaps he played.
  • Cornerback Brent Grimes (1.4 pass coverage grade) allowed two receptions on five passes thrown his way for 22 yards and had one interception.

  Special Teams

  • LaMichael James had a -1.2 Kickoff return grade. He also fumbled, although the Dolphins recovered. Any surprise he was cut?
  • Jarvis Landry had an 1.3 punt return grade thanks to the game-winning 69-yard return for a touchdown.

Signature Stats

  • Running back Lamar Millar had an elusive rating of 28.6 and made two tacklers miss him on 13 attempts.
  • The Miami offensive line had a Pass Block Efficiency of 81.8 which ranks 13th out of the 28 teams who had played prior to Monday night. Not good.

September 14, 2015

NFL says no punishment for Ndamukong Suh, but DL needs corrections

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ndamukong Suh is in the clear.

NFL spokesman Michael Signora this morning told The Herald's Adam Beasley the NFL's senior football operations staff has reviewed the Suh tackle in which he dislodged Alfred Morris's helmet from Alfred Morris's head and no action will be taken.

While there was contact between the players, the NFL said Suh's action was not deemed a kick.

So Suh will not be dealing with the cloud of a possible suspension hovering over him this week.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, do have problems to solve with their defensive front.

Suh had only one solo tackle on Sunday against the Redskins in his Miami debut. He and other Miami interior linemen said they were surprised by the Redskins attacking them with cut blocks -- which are legal.

Defensive end Cameron Wake had one sack that was nullified by a penalty and finished the game without even one tackle.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon suffered and ankle injury and left the game for much of the fourth quarter. He also did not have a tackle.

Defensive end Derrick Shelby, who replaced Vernon, was poked in the eye and it looked swollen and  black-and-blue after the game. He had one assist.

Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell was the most active Miami lineman. He had three solo tackles, including a tackle for loss and an assist.

Rookie Jordan Phillips had a sack, the first of his NFL career.

Ndamukong Suh faces NFL scrutiny for kick of Morris helmet

LANDOVER, Maryland -- The NFL this week will review the tackle and ensuing "business" Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh put on Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris during Sunday's game here.

Suh, who was previously drawn scrutiny for kicking a Green Bay offensive lineman and also stepping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tackled Morris and as he got up and walked away seemingly kicked the running back's helmet off his head.

The move was not flagged on the field even as Morris complained about it.

After the game, Suh said he didn't remember the play at all.

"I tackled him plenty in the game," Suh said, "so I don't recall."

Well, actually, Suh had only one unassisted tackle all day -- the one against Morris.

The play seemed to feed into the narrative that Suh is a dirty player. Of course, the Dolphins don't believe that to be the case. Owner Stephen Ross aggressively dismissed that description of Suh soon after signing him to a $114 million contract. And that opinion apparently bled into the team's negotiations with Suh.

Although NFL contracts often contain provisions voiding guaranteed monies paid or owed in the event of a suspension -- an approach the Dolphins championed for years before it became popular dating back to the Ricky Williams days -- such a provision is completely missing from Suh's contract, according to

Suh started this season dealing with a situation similar to the one he faced at the end of last season. You'll recall the NFL suspended Suh for the playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys because Suh stepped on Rodgers. Suh appealed and won that with his suspension adjusted to a $70,000 fine.

There's irony there because if Suh is starting this season dealing with the same issue as he did at the end of last season, so did the Dolphins.

My column today discusses how the Dolphins, a new team that has embraced a new approach and new direction and new results, looked a lot -- too much, actually -- like the Dolphins we've been seeing for far too long.

The Dolphins are much more talented than the Redskins. And that was certainly more true when DeSean Jackson left the game in the first quarter. And yet, it was the Redskins taking the fight to Miami for much of the game.

It was the Redskins seemingly wanting this game more than Miami early on.

Yes, the Dolphins won. But in doing, they pulled out a win against an inferior opponent rather than stomping a team that isn't very good.

And I know the "A win-is-a-win crowd" will complain I'm being hard on the team. I got that pushback last season when I said the same thing after an unimpressive win at Jacksonville. And what happened?

A team that was inconsistent against Jacksonville was inconsistent much of the season -- sometimes playing well, sometimes sleepwalking through games.

I saw the same kind of performance on Sunday.


The irony here?

September 13, 2015

Dolphins special teams shine while offense and defense struggle

LANDOVER, Maryland -- All preseason the Miami Dolphins used LaMike James as their punt returner.

All that time the plan was to have James fill that role, along with the kickoff returner job because receiver Jarvis Landry, who filled both roles last year, needed a break. The team wanted Landry fresh for his work on offense.

And that remained the plan, even earlier last week when the team began preparation for Sunday's game against the Redskins.

But a funny thing happened on Wednesday.

I'm told by a team source that special teams coach Darren Rizzi pitched using Landry as the punt returner. It was something of working on instinct or a hunch, I'm told. And coach Joe Philbin approved the unexpected switch recognizing that James was dealing with a slight shoulder injury.

And today Landry returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown and the winning score in a 17-10 victory over Washington.

In a game the Dolphins offense and defense didn't seem completely ready for the start of the season at times, the special team answered the bell.

And it wasn't just Landry.

Rookies Matt Darr and Andrew Franks did excellent work as well on Sunday.

Darr punted four times for a 43.5 net average, including one inside the 20.

Franks connected on a 22 yard field goal -- his only field goal attempt of the day -- and clobbered his kickoffs. He had three touchbacks including two he booted out the back of the end zone.

Great day for special teams. 


Take a breath: Dolphins survive to beat the Redskins

LANDOVER, Maryland -- It wasn't pretty. Indeed, the Miami Dolphins didn't really look ready to play at times.

But it is a win.

The Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins, 17-14 at sold out FedEx Field Sunday. Jarvis Landry returned a punt 69 yards and a touchdown to give the Dolphins the winning points.

The Dolphins had trailed for three quarters and although they seemingly are the more talented team, seemed to play much like the team we watched at times last season. Last season's team finished 8-8.

And so the Dolphins have a long way to go.

They kept pace with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East standings. But in winning this, they seemingly just survived.


Redskins dominating Dolphins, but not on the scoreboard

LANDOVER, Maryland -- The Redskins have been dominating the Dolphins in the first half of today's game.

The Redskins have rushed for 93 yards. The Dolphins have rushed for two yards. Two.

The Redskins had the football 23:39 to Miami's 6:21 in the first half.

The Dolphins seemingly benched middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard for rookie Zach Vigil. Ndamukong Suh has been a non-factor.

And yet this game is only 10-7 in favor of the Redskins.

Look, I'm not saying any of this is great news. The Dolphins looked initially unprepared for the Washington run game and ineffective on offense. They trailed 10-0.

But to be down only three points in a game they've been dominated is a bright spot.

Brent Grimes has an interception. Reshad Jones is playing well and has multiple tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

The Redskins have lost DeSean Jackson, safety Duke Ihenacho and cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the first half. The Dolphins lost tight end Dion Sims with a concussion.

And the Dolphins get the ball first in the second half.

Dolphins at Redskins: The fight, interesting inactives, game plan note

LANDOVER, MARYLAND -- Well, there's lots of pregame news to share:

We start with Barry Jackson's scoop that LaMike James and Jarvis Landry got into a fight during a special teams meeting recently. Not good, folks. What happened to #strongertogether?

Apparently, what started the confrontation is that Landry flicked James' ear. FOXSports1 was first to report that. What are we kids here?

Next we have the inactives that are truly interesting:

Cornerback Will Davis is inactive. So are running back Jonas Gray, cornerback Tony Lippett, offensive tackle Jason Fox, linebacker Chris McCain, wide receiver Matt Hazel, and defensive tackle A.J. Francis.

So the backup left tackle today is right tackle Ja'Wuan James or possibly left guard Dallas Thomas. More likely Thomas with Jamil Douglas moving to left guard and Billy Turner going in at right guard.

McCain is interesting in that he's inactive because Zach Vigil and Neville Hewitt are active. So two undrafted rookie linebackers are active -- obviously for special teams reasons -- than the second-year veteran who started training camp working with the starting defense.

Some game plan ideas?

Watch out for tight end Jordan Cameron. He has been noticeably absent from the offense in the preseason.

I am told that is by design. I am told the Dolphins declined to run certain plays for Cameron so as to not tip off today's opponent. When the Dolphins get in the red zone today, that stuff is in the game plan.

You'll see who catches TD passes in the red zone.

One more thing: Keep the deep pass to Kenny Still, running a stop and go down the sideline in mind. Just saying.


Players need to be great for Miami Dolphins to be great

 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Dolphins spent much of this offseason paying players they believe have a great future.

My column today says those players and others who have been good but not great for Miami need to step up this year. The players can't but just solid anymore. They cannot be just good anymore.

They must make the leap to being Pro Bowl caliber.

They must be elite.

They must be as close to great as they're likely to get.

And that's the only way I see the Dolphins making the jump from a mediocre team the past two three four five six seven seasons to a playoff team with a chance to do damage in the postseason.

Safety Reshad Jones is one such player. He's good. No doubt. But as long as there's room for improvement, he's not quite where he needs to be.

“I want him to continue to improve," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "He’s been a very, very productive player for us. I think his tackling has been good so far in the preseason and I want him to continue that. That’s an important part of his job description, when the ball gets in his space, getting guys down on the ground. Then I’d love to continue to see increased production with his hands on the ball when the ball is in the air. He’s done a good job of it in the past, but I think there’s certainly room for development there too."

Jones told me he played 60 percent of the time in the box last season. He played forty percent as a free safety. His three interceptions came during that time he was free to roam.

"I think that's the plus in my game," Jones told me. "I'm versatile. In the box, if you watch me, I play there. But I can play back a lot, too. I don't think of myself as a strong safety or free safety. I think I can go out and play strong or free or even corner if need be."

Strong words. But Philbin is just about right there with him.

"I think he’s a complete safety," Philbin said. "He can play low, he can play down in the box, he’s got good range, he’s a good tackler, he can cover ground. I think he has a chance to be a good all-around player.”

No, good isn't good enough. Pro Bowl. Great.

Him and others.

Lamar Miller is in my column. He needs to make his leap to being a complete back.

And I must say, the preseason suggested that might be happening. According to, Miller caught all seven of the passes throw to him in the preseason for 69 yards -- a yards per route run of 3.29 which ranked fifth of 61 running backs who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps.

I didn't mention Jelani Jenkins in the column but it would be wonderful if he makes a leap. Jenkins, by the way, had a 4.1 overall grade this preseason, according to, and that was fourth-best of all the 4-3 outside linebackers this preseason.

 Read the column. And check back late morning for a pregame update.

September 12, 2015

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The 2015 Miami Dolphins season is one day away and it is time to think about the matchups with the Washington Redskins.

Every week, one day prior to the game, I will break down the game, looking at how the Dolphins match up with their opponent. This week, the Washington Redskins are not a bad matchup for Miami particularly along the line of scrimmage when Miami's defense is on the field.

The matchup of Brent Grimes vs. DeSean Jackson also promises to be epic.


When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins were fifth in the conference in pass attempts last season and the return was good in that they were third in completions. And yet with that relative success the team almost totally revamped its pass catching personnel. Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay are out, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, and Jordan Cameron are in. The question remains is this an upgrade? The team obviously believes it is because the group is said to be less worried about statistics and more about winning. That has yet to be tested, but it will be because the plan is to spread the football around from game to game, depending on the matchups. As quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had an excellent preseason completing over 80 percent of his passes, still needs to acclimate with Parker and Jennings and others, it's a good bet he'll fall back to his go-to receiver Landry often. Cameron has not been much of a factor either in the preseason or practices but the Dolphins hope he becomes a tough red zone threat. The Redskins secondary has been inconsistent at best in recent years but last year the team was sixth in the NFC in fewest completions allowed per game (21.6). The addition of starting cornerback Chris Culliver is supposed to make the group stronger. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: First down is important this game because the Dolphins want to set a tone and preferably do it on the ground with Lamar Miller setting up second-and-five or less. The problem is the Redskins last season were second in the NFL in least yards allowed on first down. They also added Terrance Knighton, affectionately known as Pot Roast, to clog the middle and improve the run defense. This will be a good test of Miami's new interior line, with Mike Pouncey moving back to center and Dallas Thomas at left guard and rookie Jamil Douglas at right guard. The Dolphins are by no means a running team. Offensive coordinator ran only about 39 percent of the time in 2014. But Miller averaged 5.1 yards every time he carried the football and scored eight touchdowns. Miller hasn't said it publicly but he wants more touches this year -- a contract year for him. That's about him. But the fact he turned in a 178-yard performance when he got a season-high 19 carries in last season's finale, suggests a few extra carries per game gives more opportunities for a breakout run. And that is about the team. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Redskins pass the football: The Redskins have formidable talent on the outside with Miamian Pierre Garcon offering speed and size at 6-foot and 216 pounds. DeSean Jackson is the deep threat who has a whopping 21 career TDs of 50 yards or more, one of only 10 NFL players to record 20 or more since the 1970 merger. Matching up with Jackson will be interesting. Expect the Dolphins to have cornerback Brent Grimes shadow him wherever he goes in a matchup of mighty mites. Redskins tight ends aren't the problem matchups they once were as starter Jordan Reed is hot and cold. The issue containing this passing game is the offensive line. It is bad. Brandon Scherff was drafted to play tackle but he struggled so much he's now a guard. Right tackle Morgan Moses is not stout and has inconsistent technique. Other than left tackle Trent Williams, this group is weak. And that plays into Miami's strength along the defensive line with Ndamukong Suh lining up inside of Cameron Wake. The fact the Redskins OL is so troubled makes the idea of Kirk Cousins starting at quarterback a secondary issue because, well, the bigger question is will he be able to finish the game? ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Redskins run the football: Florida Atlantic product Alfred Morris has been a revelation for Washington since being drafted in the sixth round in 2012. His 3,962 yards in three seasons puts him ahead of players such as Edgerrin James and Walter Payton in yardage their first three seasons. He's second behind only Marshawn Lynch in rushing since 2012. But, again, that offensive line this year is an issue. And the Dolphins, who had their run defense drop off the table last season are intent on improving it this year. The Dolphins run defense began to struggle in 2012, coinciding with the arrival of the current coaching staff, but last year it dropped to 24th in the league while allowing 4.3 yards per rush. So why do you think the Dolphins paid $114 million for Ndamukong Suh? He comes from Detroit, where the Lions were the best run-stopping team in the league last year. And, yes, he was a big reason for that success. The Dolphins also have made significant adjustments to their linebacker corps by moving Koa Misi back outside to the strongside linebacker spot while Kelvin Sheppard has taken over at middle linebacker in place of Misi. Will the adjustments and additions work? ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Special teams coach Darren Rizzi may not get too much sleep before this game because it will mark the rookie debut of punter Matt Darr and kicker Andrew Franks. Both came to the Dolphins as undrafted players. Both displaced veterans. Darr's work helped him beat out longtime Dolphins punter Brandon Fields. And while the focus will be on his punting, it is his duties as the holder that require close scrutiny because Fields rarely if every flubbed a hold. Franks comes with a booming leg but one that still requires refining. He better get it refined fast. The Dolphins have also made changes in their return game in that LaMike James will now handle both the kickoff and punt return duties, replacing Jarvis Landry. James had one fumbled punt in the preseason. Redskins kicker Kai Forbath had three game-winning FGs last season. He doesn't choke. And Tress Way last season led the NFL with a 47.52 average. ADVANTAGE: Washington.

Coaching: Joe Philbin has made significant attempts this offseason and training camp to relate to his players and get them to buy into a brotherhood approach to this season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has simplified the defense and stressed doing fewer things better. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, meanwhile, continues on path to a head coaching job at some point and this season has players in their second year within his system, suggesting greater success. Jay Gruden? He's unproven as a head coach and not a fan of the franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III. The man is on the hot seat already. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

September 11, 2015

Dolphins make multiple roster moves (none might be permanent)

The Dolphins have been busy little bees this afternoon, working the back end of their roster.

The team has promoted running back Jonas Gray and offensive lineman Sam Brenner from their practice squad to their active roster. To make room for both players on the roster, the team waived both guard Jacques McClendon and quarterback Logan Thomas.

Thomas, signed off waivers earlier this week, didn't last long enough to find a place to rent. He was living in a hotel. He was also something of a luxury as the Dolphins already had a quarterback on the practice squad and two others -- Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill -- on the active roster.

The Dolphins may still add Thomas back onto the practice squad if he goes unclaimed on waivers.

The move to promote Gray is interesting in that he was obviously a late addition to the practice squad and obviously showed enough in practice this week to convince the team he is worthy of a spot. It is possible the Dolphins were guarding against another team poaching Gray from their practice squad.

Gray is now able to play in Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins but that would mean either Lamar Miller or Damien Williams would lose snaps in the game. That remains to be seen as neither Miller nor Williams has been known to have done anything that would suggest such action.

Brenner was the backup center for much of training camp but was cut on the final cut to 53 players. McClendon, who also played guard during training camp and the preseason, had taken over backup center duties when that happened.

Obviously, Brenner returns to that spot on the roster now after what seems like a better week of practice than McClendon.

By the way, none of these moves are permanent. The Dolphins could easily re-sign McClendon next week and put Brenner back on waivers and eventually the practice squad. And, of course, Gray's status is game-to-game as well.

We are talking about the back end of the roster.

On the injury front, the Dolphins are relatively healthy as they depart for Washington Saturday. Left tackle Jason Fox, who is still fighting the fallout from a concussion, is listed as doubtful.

Branden Albert (knee), Jamar Taylor (thigh), LaMike James (shoulder) and DeVante Parker (foot) all were full practice Friday and are listed as probable.



New England Patriots aren't going to simply go away (sorry)

The start of the NFL season is not always indicative of what will happen at the end of the NFL season. Anyone who remembers last year's dismantling of the New England Patriots by the Miami Dolphins in the regulars-season opener recognizes that is true.

But the start of this NFL season is definitely offering some signs the Dolphins and their fans must appreciate because their seem to be some hard truths.

One: The Patriots, diminished in the secondary and weak on the offensive line, have no intention of simply fading away this season. They're not going to suddenly get old. They've not faded into the recesses of history. They're not resting on their Super Bowl 49 laurels. Thursday night's 28-21 beating of the Pittsburgh Steelers showed us that.

Two: Tom Brady is 38 years old. Dan Marino was a shadow of himself by the time he was 38, throwing 12 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in 1999. It would be his final season. Brady doesn't look like he's ready to hang them up. He threw four touchdown passes against the Steelers. He threw no interceptions. He completed 25 of 32 passes and at one point completed 19 straight throws. His QB rating was 143.8. And while this does not mean he's going to be on this pace all season, it certainly doesn't suggest he's that diminished, if at all at his age.

Three. Rob Gronkowski is a beast and every opponent on the New England schedule, including the Dolphins, better figure out how to slow him down. Think back to last season again. Gronkowski didn't play the entire preseason and was on a play-count in that first game against the Dolphins because he still wasn't 100 percent. It took him a while to get going. And in that time the Patriots were 2-2. But once he got healthy, the New England offense took off -- also in part due to the offensive line's improvement but the Gronk effect cannot be overstated. The Patriots finished the season on a 10-2 run. Well, Gronkowski caught three touchdown passes Thursday night. He picked up where he left off. The Steelers, with a new defensive coordinator and young secondary, at times lost track of Gronkowski in coverage. Not a good idea. The man is a red zone scoring machine. I assume the Dolphins will match up with him with multiple defenders when the time comes. Reshad Jones will have to step up. Koa Misi will have to step up. Maybe Chris McCain will get a chance. Obviously Dion Jordan, once upon a time athletically capable of sticking with Gronkowski, is obviously not an option because of his drug suspension. This is going to be a matchup nightmare. By the way, I mentioned Misi possibly covering Gronkowski. Misi was drafted by the Dolphins No. 40 overall in the 2010 draft. The Patriots then picked Gronk No. 42.

Four: The New England defense doesn't scare anyone. Ben Roethlisberger shredded them for 351 passing yards. DeAngelo Williams rushed 21 times for 127 yards (6.0 YPC). Cornerback Malcolm Butler, the Super Bowl hero who intercepted that inadvisable Seattle pass at the goal line, is the replacement for Darrelle Revis. Except he's not Darrelle Revis. He fought hard and seemed determined to cover Antonio Brown this night. But he failed more often than he succeeded. Brown had nine catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. And, I get it, Antonio Brown was the best receiver in the NFL last season. He's elite. It speaks highly of Butler that coach Bill Belichick has confidence enough to ask him to shadow Brown. But if Darius Heyward-Bey doesn't go all boneheaded in failing to get his feet inbounds on an apparent TD pass where he was all alone, and if Josh Scobee doesn't miss two makeable field goals, the genius of Belichick might have backfired miserably. The defense is not elite at this point. Clearly, the Patriots' history is the team does improve throughout the season. The defense does become tougher as the season wears on. And that is likely to happen this season. But their starting point this year is not exactly among the NFL's best.

Five: The Dolphins must get off to quick start in 2015. The Patriots are already 1-0 and Miami must keep pace now because the late-season schedule is murder. The Dolphins face Kirk Cousins, Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marcus Mariota and Brian Hoyer the first five games of this season. None are career 80-rating quarterbacks. But after that run the first six games, the Dolphins face Brady twice, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers and Andrew Luck. All of those are Pro Bowl caliber QBs. Miami better start fast. And no one should count on the Patriots simply going away.

September 10, 2015

DeVante Parker opening eyes in practices

The Miami Dolphins came into this week of practice believing rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker would be available for the regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins.

That seemed good enough news because Parker had only worked into full practices last week and played only nine snaps against Tampa Bay in his lone preseason action.

And then this week's practices happened.

Although practices are generally closed to the media, players said Parker looked good on Monday. And better on Wednesday. And then better again on Thursday.

And now the question is no longer about having Parker available, but expecting him to be a legitimate weapon in Sunday's game. That's because players are saying privately that Parker has improved dramatically over the past week to the point he's often making plays in practice.

That sentiment was echoed, albeit in a much more tepid manner, by head coach Joe Philbin on Thursday.

"He's done a good job," Philbin said. "He's gotten better and better. His volume of practice time and the amount of things he's seen from a coverage standpoint against specific routes is growing every single day. I think there's improvement. We'll see how the end of the week goes, we've got a couple of more practices before we make a final decision on play-time at the end of the week."

If Parker continues to impress, the volume of plays may not jump dramatically this week but the Dolphins may expect bigger things out of those plays because, well, that's what practice work suggests. The number of plays may climb dramatically, however, next week at Jacksonville and beyond -- assuming he continues his current arc.

And so how good has Parker been?

One player said Parker still isn't in the same league with Greg Jennings on route running or showing the kind of chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill that Jarvis Landry has. But that he's a good combination of the two and is getting back some of the explosion he had at rookie minicamp.

This is all good, of course. The rookie is on the right course.

Dolphins offensive line depth may be improving

Offensive tackle Jason Fox had missed nearly three weeks of practice and preseason games -- except for one brief practice session two weeks ago -- because he suffered a concussion against Carolina Aug. 22.

Well, Fox was back at practice this morning -- at least on a limited basis.

So he is obviously been cleared for on-field activity. And if that continues, that makes the Dolphins situation for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins much better.

Fox is the backup left tackle. So if Branden Albert, who will be playing his first game since last November, needs to rest for conditioning purposes or has any unforeseen problem, having Fox is a major plus because it avoids a total shift of the offensive line.

With Fox available the Dolphins would simply insert him at left tackle.

Were he not available, the Dolphins would have to shift starting left guard Dallas Thomas to left tackle and then bring in Jacques McClendon at left guard. One issue would force the Dolphins to make changes to two positions.

Yeah, having Fox is simply better.

September 09, 2015

Miami Dolphins: Branden Albert says what we know, Parker a go, Suh talks, Gray added

The first day of hard, serious preparation and practice for the Washington Redskins has begun and, amazingly, the Miami Dolphins plan of the entire training camp has come together.

That plan has been to have Branden Albert start at left tackle and receiver DeVante Parker be available to play and contribute in the opener. And that's exactly how it is going to play out -- barring a significant and unexpected injury in practice the next three days.

Albert today admitted he's starting for the first time even though it has been known for some time by readers of this blog, anyway.

"We all know the answer," Albert said today. "I don't think I have to say too much more. I've been starting with the first-team all week. I'm going to continue. So there goes your answer."

Parker is not expected to start. But the Dolphins are preparing him to take an unknown number of snaps in particular situations in which they can maximizes his particular skills. It is my opinion that Parker will be particularly interesting to watch in red zone situations and on third-and-long situations.

One player who is not practicing today and whose status for Sunday is uncertain is reserve tackle Jason Fox. He has not practiced in three weeks with the exception of one day due to a concussion he suffered in the second preseason game.

I told you Monday that Ndamukong Suh is going to get a lot of snaps every game, much the same way he did in Detroit.

I asked him about that today and he talked about how being in the game more helps.

"The more you're on the field the more you understand what they're trying to do against you," he said.

But Suh is a smart man. He recognizes there will be times he needs to ask out.

"No question, I'm definitely aware of myself and will pull myself out if I'm not playing at a very high level," he said. "I definitely don't have too much pride to do that. At the end of the day, you want to be smart, I want to play this game for a long time and you want to be able to stay healthy."

By the way, the Dolphins officially added running back Jonas Gray and cut running back Rajion Neal from the practice squad today.

Gray expressed his appreciation for his time with  the New England Patriots but he is clearly disappointed how that ended.

"I was shocked but at the same time I can't blame them," Gray said. "They have to do what they think is best for the team. But I was surprised. I thought I did everything I can to earn a roster spot -- not only earn a roster spot but earn a starting spot. It didn't work out my way but I'm excited to be here and excited to be employed."


Dolphins cornerbacks will be looking up at some opponents

If you saw the Miami Dolphins depth chart when it came out Tuesday (and if you didn't click the darn link) then you should be interested to know that the Dolphins have something altogether interesting going on with starting cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Brice McCain.

They're short.

They're the shortest pair of starting cornerbacks in the AFC East.

They're tied with San Diego's Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett as the shortest pair of starting cornerbacks in the AFC.

And that's interesting because looking at the Dolphins schedule, the little guys are about to be tested by some big wide receivers.

The Buffalo Bills have 6-1 Sammy Watkins.

The New York Jets have 6-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-3 Eric Decker.

The New England Patriots don't seem to be a matchup nightmare because Julian Edelman is 5-10 while 6-3 Brandon LaFell is on regular season PUP so he won't be available until late in the year. But, um, the Patriots have a way of getting matchups with 6-6 tight end Rob Gronkowski on the outside. You know this is true if you remember Cortland Finnegan trying to match up with him last season.

The Colts have 6-3 Andre Johnson.

The Cowboys have 6-2 Dez Bryant and 6-2 Terrence Williams.

The Chargers have 6-5 Malcom Floyd and 6-2 Keenan Allen.

The point is the Dolphins will tell you they are confident in their starting cornerback duo. Grimes has been a Pro Bowl player.

But even Grimes struggled last season with Calvin Johnson in Detroit to the point the Dolphins brought 6-6 Dion Jordan into the game on the final drive to help cover Johnson. And Grimes struggled with 6-3 Jordy Nelson in the Green Bay game while Decker went off against Miami in the season-finale. Indeed, Decker, who caught 12 passes for 239 yards with a TD in the two games against Miami, caught more passes for more yards against the Dolphins than any other team he faced.

The point is the Dolphins will have to overcome a physical handicap against many teams they face this year. The only way this doesn't become so glaring is if 5-11 Jamar Taylor somehow wrests the starting cornerback job away from McCain, thus adding some size to the Miami defense when facing two WR sets.

September 08, 2015

First depth chart of regular season: Couple of nuggets to chew on

The Miami Dolphins released their first depth chart of the regular season this afternoon and it offers some interesting nuggets.

Receiver Kenny Stills has apparently regained a starting receiver role from Rishard Matthews. Matthews, you'll recall, had been the team's starter the past month -- a spot he gained when Stills missed multiple weeks with an injury and one Matthews maintained even after Stills returned to practice three weeks ago.

And yet, Stills, more of a deep threat than Matthews, is back with the starters.

Interestingly, Stills and quarterback Ryan Tannehill spent extra time after practice on Monday working on deep throws on stop-and-go routes. Tannehill worked with other receivers as well on the deep throws.

Another interesting revelation is that LaMike James is listed as both the kickoff returner and punt returner. Coach Joe Philbin had declined to say on Monday if that would be the case. Last season, Jarvis Landry handled both duties.

The Dolphins are also saying via this depth chart that Brice McCain has won the cornerback job over Jamar Taylor. That is interesting. So McCain, signed to handle slot cornerback duties, gets the job over the presumed starter who is bigger and been with the team and in the defense longer.

Taylor obviously would still play a lot of snaps as he's a third cornerback -- assuming the depth chart is to be believed -- but the fact he didn't win the job outright is not great news for him.

The Dolphins have told rookie Jamil Douglas that he is the starting right guard. For now. And sure enough, the depth chart shows that.

It also shows the Dolphins have Koa Misi at strongside linebacker with Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker and Jelani Jenkins at weakside linebacker. Chris McCain, who was working as a starting strongside linebacker when training camp began, will probably get more of a role in pass-rush situations, perhaps as a secondary rusher when Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon are not in the game.

The Dolphins also have other odd fronts that included Vernon, Wake, and McCain as rushers. In the base defense, however, McCain is listed as a backup.

Finally, the Dolphins list Branden Albert as their starting left tackle. That's not a wish. That's an expectation. He's the starter on Sunday unless something goes horribly wrong in practice the next three days.


Bill Lazor on offensive line: 'There are concerns ...'

Everyone expects big things from the Miami Dolphins offense in 2015.

Bill Lazor, in his second year as the offensive coordinator, has a unit that should be coming into its own because the system is familiar and most of these folks are familiar to one another. The quarterback is improving. The slot receiver is expected to make a sizeable jump in his second season.

Good things.

But not perfect things. Not yet.

I asked Lazor if the problem everyone has seen and talked about the entire offseason -- the offensive line -- remains a concern to him after training camp and the preseason. And less than a week before the regular-season begins, Lazor admitted there are concerns.

“Well, I think there are concerns when you have unknowns," Lazor said. "I am hoping that we answered most of those. The best teams I have been on typically have had the same five guys play the majority if not all of the games, maybe not every snap. That’s just a fact in football. When you can have five solid guys that play together and learn to work together and communicate, that’s when I’ve been on teams that are at their best."

What Lazor leaves unsaid here is the Dolphins have not had cohesion on the offensive line. The team used multiple line combinations in training camp and the preseason. Left tackle Branden Albert didn't play at all in the preseason and will play for the first time since suffering a knee injury in November of 2014 on Sunday. So that is a bit of an unknown. Rookie Jamil Douglas beat out Billy Turner at right guard (for now) but that happened only last week. Dallas Thomas is the starting left guard but played at left tackle rather than left guard in the so-called rehearsal game two weeks ago, which is the last time he played.

So this group has not played together and worked together very much at all. That makes things, well, unpredictable.

"We can’t predict what is going to happen in the future," Lazor said. "I know we’ll have a great plan for Sunday and coach (Joe Philbin), I’m sure will announce it later and off we go. If things happen and you have to rotate, then I have pretty good confidence that we’ve done a good job of getting a bunch of guys ready to go."

The Dolphins haven't announced their starting offensive line. Let me do it for them:

LT Branden Albert, LG Dallas Thomas, C Mike Pouncey, RG Jamil Douglas, RT Ja'Wuan James.

Douglas is very intriguing because he's a rookie and was competing for a starting job on the left side practically the moment camp began. But as Thomas settled in at left guard while Billy Turner struggled on the right side with inconsistencies in both pass protection and run-blocking, the team moved the rookie over.

And the rookie beat out the second-year vet Turner.

"I think that Jamil probably outplays his age at times," Lazor said. "He looks surprisingly well, the very first snap of a young guy being out there and has improved every single game without a doubt and that’s an impressive thing. It’s a fun thing to say as a coach that a guy improves every day. I feel pretty confident that we are going to have a good group out there."

The only way that will happen is if the group settles in and remains the same group -- game after game. And by sheer fact the Dolphins are not committing to Douglas over Turner for the long-term, but rather for right now, suggests there is a plan ...

But the team reserves the right to change directions from the plan.


(I really wanted to end this post right there. Period. Over. You decide. But I simply feel the need to state the Dolphins went through weeks and weeks of camp seeing Turner not play up to standards. And they kept waiting for that to happen. And in doing, they turned away from the idea of signing veteran Evan Mathis to play left guard and have Dallas Thomas, Jamil Douglas and Turner compete for the spot on the right side. The Denver Broncos signed Mathis two weeks ago. Two teams. Two different approaches. I'm not saying Denver was right. I'm not saying Miami was right. I'm simply stating what happened for the record. We'll see how it plays out.)



September 07, 2015

Ndamukong Suh will continue to play a lot of snaps for the Dolphins

When one pays $114 million for a player who is used to playing between 80-85 percent of the snaps in a game, it makes sense that one will make the widest and wisest use of that player. And that's what the Miami Dolphins intend to do with Ndamukong Suh.

As the Dolphins today began preparations for the Washington Redskins game on Sunday, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was asked what the plan is for using Suh.

“Well, He’s a guy that is rare in the sense of he can play those kind of plays," Coyle said. "Most guys don’t have the conditioning, the athleticism, the mental toughness to play that many snaps at that demanding of a position. Throughout the league, very seldom do you see guys at that high number, you may see a few.

"But as long as he’s playing at a high level, we will pick and choose when we want to give him some breaks and certainly we will have that planned as we go into games. You want the 'Big Chief’ in there when the game is on the line and as you want our starters in there when we have to make plays. He plays more than most defensive linemen and I anticipate his numbers will still be fairly high."

That is interesting considering the Dolphins kept five defensive tackles on the roster. Most 4-3 teams keep four defensive tackles.

But as Suh is used to the high snap count, and anytime he's out the team is playing a lesser player, it seems wise to keep him in the game as long as he is capable. 

The Dolphins, it seems, may bring four tackles to the game and rotate mostly with Earl Mitchell -- the other starter. Jordan Phillips, C.J. Mosley, and A.J. Francis are the reserves battling for 1. Being active on game day and 2. Playing in reserve.

Claiming Logan Thomas makes sense on multiple fronts

Quarterback Logan Thomas expected to be someplace after he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals Saturday. Just not this place.

The Miami Dolphins were never on his radar.

"Not until yesterday," Thomas said before practice on Monday. "I was surprised. I wasn't really expecting a call from this area. I didn't know what to expect going into it. Just very blessed and thankful and very happy to be here."

Thomas was claimed off waivers by the Dolphins. He is on the 53-man roster. And the assumption is the Dolphins will give Thomas some time to figure out an offense he doesn't know coming from Bruce Arians' pro-style attack in Phoenix.

That's the priority -- learning the offense. A role for Thomas can be discussed later.

"We haven't really talked about it much," Thomas said. "Obviously, I've got a lot of work to do, learning a completely new system. This system's pretty much foreign to me. Different verbiage, different wording. Right now, I'm just trying to learn and figure things out."

Fine. So Thomas isn't going to be playing anytime soon. He's not even going to be active. But it is not too early to understand what the Dolphins might have been doing with this addition.

Thomas is 24 years old and is under contract through 2017 under his rookie contract. He will count only $510,000 on the cap this year, $600,000 next year and $690,000 in 2017.

So if Thomas figures out the offense and meets the expectations and potential the personnel department saw in him both coming out of Virginia Tech and this preseason in Arizona, what you have is the Dolphins new backup quarterback.

Remember, Matt Moore is 31 years old. He is costing $2.6 million this season but is on a one-year deal.

So if Thomas works out, he could step into Moore's role next year while costing perhaps $2 million less against the cap than Moore.

And what if it doesn't work out? What if Thomas cannot pick up the offense or Arians, who Is something of a quarterback guru, was right to give up on Thomas and the Dolphins see that?

Well, the Dolphins will have invested the $510,000 this year but can divest themselves of Thomas at any point. And assuming Moore wasn't called up to save this season and did so, they could probably afford to re-sign Moore next offseason.

The Thomas experiment makes sense. It offers potential upside financially and in perhaps identifying the future backup quarterback. And if it fails, the risk was a fairly minimal $510,000 cap cost this year.