October 12, 2014

Wheeler: Coverage and call should have been better

Miami Dolphins linebacker Phillip Wheeler was beaten by Green Bay tight end Adnrew Quarless for the deciding touchdown in today's Green Bay victory over the Dolphins.

And Wheeler is taking responsibility for that loss in a man-to-man situation.

But Wheeler is also taking issue with the call from the coaching staff, specifically defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, for putting him in that position.

“I feel like we shouldn’t have been in that situation, first of all. But we were in it and I should have been able to play it a little bit better," Wheeler said.

The linebacker blames himself for losing the one-on-one battle but also says he was put in a tough spot.

"Maybe we shouldn’t have been in that call because we were in it for a lot of the second half," Wheeler said. "He [Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers] knew what we were going to be in. We had been in it in key situations before in that situation – and it worked. He {Rodgers] didn’t throw the ball to the tight end those times."

But the last time the Dolphins were in that defense, it cost them. 

“When we lined up, [Rodgers] checked," Wheeler said. "And after he checked, me and Cortland [Finnegan] knew the ball was coming my way. Cortland was checking the guy next to me, we had double coverage on that guy and I had single coverage on my guy. It’s common sense, if you’re playing man-to-man most of that drive, and that’s a coverage we play often in the red zone.

“It’s make a play to see who wins and, like I’ve said, he’s a great quarterback. It could have been better coverage. And it could have been a better call.”  

Miami Dolphins lose to Green Bay, 27-24

This one rips the heart from the chest.

Even while it is beating.

This one seemed to belong to the Dolphins. They led 24-20 with two minutes to play when the Packers got the football for the last time.

It could have belonged to the Dolphins. And yet, the Green Bay Packers win today, 27-24.

Heartbreak.

Aaron Rodgers threw a four-yard pass to tight end Adnrew Quarless with three seconds to play to give the Packers the victory. Quarless beat Wheeler one-on-one.

This one is not a good look for Joe Philbin and his coaching staff.

There was an issue between Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle before halftime. There was questionable decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Green Bay 1 in the first quarter. Philbin went for the score, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called a spread option. Knowshon Moreno got stuffed.

And there were questionable timeouts used as the Packers were driving. The Packers had no time out. But the Dolphins used their timeouts on defense, ostensibly to gather themselves, but also giving the Packers the chance to gather themselves as well.

In the end, the Packers apparently had a better plan.

The Dolphins fall to 2-3.

Live blog: Green Bay at Miami Dolphins

It is hot. The temperature in South Florida as I write this is 86 degrees. It is also humid.

Welcome to Miami, Packers!

I believe this will be a factor in this game -- particularly late and if the Dolphins have had success running the football against the NFL's No. 32 run defense.

We shall see.

As to the game:

Mike Pouncey is starting at right guard while Samson Satele continues his starting role at center.

Jarvis Landry starts at the slot receiver because Brandon Gibson is not active. You already know Reshad Jones is starting at safety (assuming you read this). Jelani Jenkins starts at OLB over Jason Trusnik. And Damian Williams is likely to get punt return duties.

The inactives are Gibson, Daniel Thomas, Deandre Coleman, Shelly Smith, Jason Fox, Billy Turner, and Gator Hoskins.

Knowshon Moreno is active and scheduled to get 8-10 carries, although it will depend on the flow of the game.

Finally, there is a live blog available.

Go below and hang out with other Dolphins fans:

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Green Bay Packers: Oct. 12, 2014
 

Miami Dolphins stronger up the middle at the right time

Game day and the timing for the Dolphins defense cannot be better. On the day they play arugably the best quarterback in the NFL, the Dolphins are on the verge of getting better up the middle of their defense.

Defensive tackle Randy Starks, who missed last game with a back injury, is ready to play today. Middle linebacker Koa Misi, who has been out since the opener, is expected to play today. And Reshad Jones, who was suspended the first four games of the season, is making his debut today.

Stronger up the middle.

Now, Misi starting is the expectation but the team will still put him through work pregame to test the ankle and confirm he's ready to go. If all is good, he's playing. Otherwise it will be Jason Trusnik again. I'd bank on Misi going, however.

The player that intrigues and will be very important today is Jones. I sat down with him this week and he has very, very, very lofty expectations for the next 12 games individually.

The suspension was not a great time for him.

“I saw all the games," Jones said. "I didn’t go because I wasn’t allowed," Jones said. "It was tough, especially the games they didn’t win because I felt like I could have helped make a difference out there. But for the most part, there is a lot of football to be played. I feel there’s still good football to be played. Now, we have to go out and separate ourselves. It’s a critical time.”

Jones shared with me in the column how he got better during the suspension and a major difference he expects from the Miami defensive scheme that will help him make more plays.

Check it out.

If it works out, it could not come at a better time.

Because the Dolphins play Aaron Rodgers today.

October 11, 2014

Keys to the game: Packers at Miami Dolphins

I'm picking the Green Bay Packers against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

What can I say, it is the logical pick, as no one has really stopped Aaron Rodgers the past four games and definitely not the past couple of games (read below), although I remind you the Dolphins beat the Packers in 2010 -- the last time the teams played.

The Dolphins are getting Randy Starks, Koa Misi and Reshad Jones back in the starting lineup this week. So they are better up the middle of the defense now.

I expect Mike Pouncey and Knowshon Moreno to play as well and that's a big boost to the offense.

And yet, Aaron Rodgers.

Here are the matchups:

When the Packers pass the football: If he’s not the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers is definitely in the conversation. Not only is Rodgers playing well but he’s getting better as he goes. Of his 12 TD passes, 11 have come in the past four games and seven in the past two games. His rating the past two games is 147. Jordy Nelson is Green Bay’s go-to receiver and he’s averaging a touchdown per game the past four games. Rookie Davante Adams is still learning and getting acclimated to the NFL, but he is open a lot on film even when the ball doesn’t go to him. Rodgers has promised to look for him more often so he may become a burgeoning threat. The Dolphins are making changes in their secondary. Reshad Jones, out the past four games while on NFL suspension, is back in the starting lineup. That allows Miami the luxury of moving Jimmy Wilson, who replaced Jones at safety, to return to nickel cornerback duty. The Dolphins need pressure from ends Oliver Vernon and Cameron Wake, who has not had a sack since the season-opener. ADVANTAGE: Green Bay.

When the Packers run the football: Eddie Lacy doesn’t merely run downhill but does so with the added ability of running away from tacklers as well – evidenced by the fact he’s caused 21 missed tackles so far this season, sixth-best among NFL running backs, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That’s a huge percentage considering Lacy has touched the ball 75 times. The Packers’ change of pace back from the 230-pound Lacy is 220-pound James Starks. Both have speed and get square to the line quickly. The Dolphins’ run defense is still a mystery. They’re 13th in the NFL against the run but outside of Kansas City, most teams haven’t really run often against Miami’s front. The key here is to bottle up Lacy and Starks early. The Dolphins must make the Packers a pass-only offense otherwise they cannot stop Green Bay while having to defend both run and pass. The return of defensive tackle Randy Starks and middle linebacker Koa Misi should help. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Can Ryan Tannehill begin to string good games together? He had his best outing against Oakland but the assignment now is to pick up where he left off and help the Dolphins basically match if not surpass the feats of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. This game will be the stiffest test Miami offensive tackles Ja’Wuan James and Branden Albert have had so far because the Packers have bookend prolific pass rushers in Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Former Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been known to mix things up on blitzes as well so recognition up front will be vital for the Dolphins. ADVANTAGE: Green Bay.

When the Dolphins run the football: If the Dolphins have a clear and undeniable advantage it is running the football against a Green Bay defense that is last in the NFL against the run. The Packers yield an average of 163 yards rushing per game. The Green Bay front is slow to get off blocks and linebackers sometimes take poor angles to the ball. The Dolphins have a surprisingly strong rushing game. Lamar Miller has embraced more carries and is averaging a whopping 5.7 yards per rush. That average is not increased by 60- or 70-yard runs. Miller’s longest run so far is 24 yards so his average is based on consistent, steady production. The Miami offensive line has won up front in the run game against every opponent except Buffalo. With the addition of Mike Pouncey into the lineup, the line gets better. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: The Dolphins are looking to upgrade on their punt returning because Jarvis Landry, a rookie, has made a handful of questionable decisions back there. That’s not the only issue on punts. The Dolphins are giving up an average of 14.8 yards per return. That’s tied for worst in the NFL. The team isn’t much better covering kickoffs, either, yielding 27.9 yards per return, which is fourth-worst in the NFL. Landry has, however, been excellent returning kicks so he should remain at that spot. By contrast, the Packers yield only 4.9 yards per punt return, which is sixth-best in the NFL, and are solid with their kick coverage as well. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby has been solid so far, connecting on both his FG tries from 50-or-more yards. ADVANTAGE: Green Bay.

Coaching: Joe Philbin makes no secret of the fact he learned to be an NFL coach under the Green Bay system and mostly under Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. Philbin is keenly familiar with the Packers’ approach and schemes but as approximately 50 percent of the roster has turned over from his time in Green Bay, knowledge of personnel may be over-rated. McCarthy is an outstanding offensive play-caller while Dom Capers, who believes in blitzing and confusing opponents, offers a tough scheme on defense. ADVANTAGE: Green Bay.

October 10, 2014

Moreno probable for Miami Dolphins vs. Green Bay

Knowshon Moreno, out of the lineup since dislocating his elbow against Buffalo the second game of the season, is expected to play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Moreno, limited in practice throughout this week, is listed as probable for Sunday's game. It is still unclear how much Moreno will play, but he should be available. Lamar Miller is still expected to start and get the bulk of the carries for the Dolphins.

This is no surprise ... as I tweeted on Monday:

 

Wide receiver Brandon Gibson, however, is unlikely to play. He is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury. Gibson missed practice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week. He practiced on a limited basis on Thursday.

The Dolphins earlier this week signed Damien Williams to guard against Gibson being out.

As the Dolphins get ready to reintegrate Mike Pouncey into the lineup, it should be noted that center Samson Satele (fibula) has been limited in practice every day this week. That may cause the team to use Pouncey at center rather than right guard with Satele starting at center.

If Satele can play, however, the Dolphins may use Pouncey at right guard. Satele is listed as probable.

CB Cortland Finnegan (neck) and guard Shelley Smith (knee) are listed as questionable.

Finnegan did not practice on Monday or Wednesday but was able to work on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday. If Finnegan cannot play, the Dolphins will turn to second-year player Jamar Taylor to fill in.

Smith, out since the Buffalo game, was limited in practice throughout the week.

For the Packers, Jarrett Boykins (groin) is out while DE Datone Jones (ankle) and LB Sam Barrington (hamstring) are listed as questionable.

Charles Clay: 'It hasn't gone as I planned'

The tight end is a big deal in the NFL. He is a matchup nightmare. He is a touchdown machine, particularly in the red zone, as I constantly remind my twitter followers. The tight end is, for some teams, the cornerstone of the passing game.

Unfortunately, not so this year with the Miami Dolphins and their tight end Charles Clay.

Through Week 5, NFL tight ends have combined for 752 receptions, 8,194 receiving yards and 72 touchdown catches -- all of which are on pace to be the highest combined totals for the position of any season in NFL history.

In history!

There have been 10 individual multiple-touchdown performances by tight ends in 2014, the second most through Week 5 of any NFL season (12 in 2013), including two by AFC tight ends last weekend. Their teams have posted a 9-1 record in those contests. 

Denver’s Julius Thomas, who leads all NFL players with seven touchdowns this season, had two TD catches in the Broncos’ 41-20 win against Arizona on Sunday. San Diego’s Antonio Gates had two touchdowns in the Chargers’ 31-0 win against the Jets in Week 5.

In Miami, meanwhile, Clay has 14 catches for 111 yards (a modest 7.9 yards per catch average) without a touchdown. It has been quite a disappointment so far, following last year's breakout season in which Clay caught 69 passes for 759, averaging 11.0 yards per catch, and scoring six touchdowns.

“It hasn’t gone as I planned," Clay said this week. "Obviously, I set very high standards for myself. Like I said, the bye week kind of gave us a chance to look back at those things, kind of look back and figure out how I could correct them. It’s just a matter of doing it now. I’m ready to go."

There is a common thought out there that Clay has struggled because of a knee injury that forced him to miss much of training camp and lingers even now. There is other thinking that Clay has drawn more attention from defenses bent on stopping him.

Well, the knee has been an issue, but do not overplay it. The knee should have zero affect on Clay dropping passes as the hands are not connected to the knee. And that's been a problem for Clay who has at least four drops so far this season, including a couple that would have gone for long gains and potential touchdowns.

"It's all minor things: Route depth. Stems. Catching the football," Clay said. "It's no secret I haven't been doing that very well. It's just a matter of coming back and getting all that corrected."

(Quickie football terminology lesson: A stem as it applies to pass catching is the Initial portion of a pass route in which the receiver runs straight upfield before cutting; during the stem, the receiver tries to make the defender think he is running a streak route.)

And while the New England Patriots did pay closer attention to Clay than other teams, he has not seen undue attention from defenses since that game. Yet, the production simply hasn't been what anyone hoped.

"I wouldn't say they've paid me more attention," Clay agreed. "It's just I haven't been playing to the standards I set for myself. That's something I kind of have to take full responsibility for. I don't feel like teams are paying me any more attention than they have been in the past."

Clay has been frustrated, about himself mostly, and part of that has to do with the fact he's in a contract year. He is making $1.4 million this year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year.

The Dolphins and Clay's representation weren't able to agree on an extension before the season as ultimately both sides decided to let this year decide the direction of the coming talks. So far the direction of this season is not working in Clay's favor.

Even as other tight ends are enjoying a banner season.

 

 

October 09, 2014

Secondary shakeup: Jones starts again, other moves

Reshad Jones is a starting safety for the Miami Dolphins again and Jimmy Wilson is back to the slot corner position he played last year.

Jones worked with the first team defense at safety on Wednesday after initially taking reserve snaps earlier this week. He was getting re-acclimated to the Miami defense after missing four games while on an NFL imposed suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy.

But the break-in period for Jones was short, perhaps sped up by an injury to usual slot corner Cortland Finnegan. Finnegan missed practice for the second time this week with a neck injury, so the Dolphins shifted Wilson back to the nickel corner spot he manned much of last year.

Moving Wilson back to nickel, opened the safety job for Jones. For Wilson, who started the first four games at safety while Jones was out, the move out of the safety spot and back to the nickel corner seems seamless.

"I became real comfortable last year," Wilson said of the his comfort with the nickel corner job. "I played well. I feel like I was one of the best slot corners in this league last year. And it's not like I haven't been covering anyone one-on-one. I still do one-on-one every single day and all through camp.

"Reshad missed  the first four games but he was here all camp so I was still doing that work then. But I'm going to be comfortable when I get back there. Being there today, it put me in position to make the old plays. It's different coming downhill instead of going backwards but I feel as a professional, these are the types of opportunities I wait for -- to help my team."

Assuming Finnegan cannot play against Green Bay -- a fact that may start to become more clear if he misses practice Thursday and Friday -- Jones will start at safety and Wilson will enter the game in nickel situations, which is practically fulltime duty considering the Green Bay Packers often use three-receiver packages.

The Finnegan injury will also force the Dolphins to press Jamar Taylor and/or Will Davis into fulltime cornerback duty in the base defense. Jones would still be the safety in the base defense with Wilson on the bench.

Obviously the Dolphins will be lessened if Finnegan cannot play. But the return of Jones seems to lighten the hit because he is an upgrade at safety at a time the team is possibly suffering a downgrade at cornerback.

The best-case scenario for the Dolphins is for Finnegan to be available and thereby give Miami the four starters it expected to have for the start of the season before the suspension and injuries kicked in. This scenario would also put Wilson, the top nickel corner, on the field in obvious passing situations.

The next day or so will determine how close to the best-case scenario the Dolphins can get.

"There are options with Cortland, Jimmy, Jamar Taylor is getting work in there right now," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "We’ll see how it all shakes out. But we’re going to need a lot of guys to step up in the secondary to play against this team because they’re going to give us a lot three- and in some cases four-wide looks."

October 08, 2014

Miami Dolphins: The happenings at Wednesday practice

The Miami Dolphins are on the practice field at this hour and this is what's happening:

Wide receiver Brandon Gibson is not practicing, missing work for the second time in as many practices this week. It is uncertain what Gibson is nursing but the thinking is he's still nursing the knee issue he had last year. 

The injury report is coming out later today and that will give details about Gibson's injury.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan is not practicing today. It is unclear what issue he's dealing with.

The Dolphins have been giving Jamar Taylor work in Finnegan's absense and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle earlier this week mentioned Taylor is getting more work this week.

From the depth chart lies department we have the example of strongside linebacker. The Dolphins depth chart has Jason Trusnik as the starter at that spot. Trusnik has been a starter since the opener, taking the place of middle linebacker Koa Misi.

But Misi is back so Trusnik is not going to start there. And Jelani Jenkins, who took over for Dannell Ellerbe when he was injured and went on injured reserve, is in fact the next man up at strongside linebacker ahead of Trusnik.

So Jenkins likely keeps that job although Trusnik is listed on the depth chart as the starter.

Finally, the Dolphins are set to announce the newest member of the Honor Roll today. I announced two days ago Manny Fernandez is joining the hallowed group.

What Reshad Jones must overcome to regain his job

The Dolphins are taking it slow with Reshad Jones -- at least so far this week.

During Monday's practice in preparation for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, Jones was back on the field and getting a full complement of repetitions. But those repetitions did not come with the first-team defense.

The first-team safeties remained Jimmy Wilson and Louis Delmas.

This despite the fact Jones was the starter before he was suspended for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs. This despite the fact Jones came back from the four week suspension in great shape.

“Very, very pleased with the condition that Reshad has come back in," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "He’s only had a few practices, so we’re still trying to get him up to speed in a lot of areas. But his conditioning has been very good and his play speed has been excellent.

"Sometimes guys give each other a hard time about having fresh legs when somebody comes back from either being injured or what have you, but he’s noticeably fast out on the field right now and covering a lot of ground and doing a good job."

So what's the issue? Why not put Jones right back where he belongs?

Well, the Miami defense has developed some since Jones went away. And Jones needs to catch up to the developments.

And while that can conceivably happen within a week or 10 days for some players, it can take coaches some time to believe the process is complete. They must be convinced Jones has the new material nailed down particularly with the fact the defense is about to face one of the NFL's most explosive offenses and Coyle says the Dolphins cannot afford to give up any cheap points.

"This is the type of team that you cannot give them any plays," Coyle said. "In other words, I guess that sounds simple, but you have to make them earn every yard. They’re going to earn some yards. But you’ve got to keep them putting the ball back in play. You saw the couple of bombs that went off in the (Minnesota) Vikings game early on, the post-play to (Jordy) Nelson. Against Chicago, they had a couple of guys running wide open down the field that he hit. You can’t do that. They’re too good.

"They’re going to move the ball, get some first downs. You’ve got to be able to make them earn every yard. You’ve got to be able to slow down, contain their run game and then get [Aaron Rodgers] into situations where you have a chance to try to mix it up against them and do some things against the passing game. The scary thing is that when they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’re an up-tempo team that gets a group out on the field. They’re not overly fast, but yet their tempo is very good and, when he gets in rhythm, he’s scary.”

It might just be that to prevent what he fears are breakdowns, Coyle and the Miami defensive staff defer to the status quo, keeping the lineup as it has been for four weeks.

On the other hand, Jones is unquestionably an upgrade over Wilson at safety. So eventually, he will get his job back.

My fear? That the coaching staff tries to split the baby.

In other words, I fear that enticed by Jones being in such good shape and being a physical presence, the coaching staff might try to play him part-time and play Wilson part-time. That sounds like an invitation to have miscommunication in the secondary.

Miscommunication in the secondary leads to blown coverages.

And isn't that what Coyle just said he's trying to avoid?

The next two days will be important for Jones if is about to take his job back. He's already gone a long way toward convincing the coaching staff he's physically able to play. If he can convince them he's up to speed on the scheme and game plan, he'll be back to his job.

Otherwise, it'll be Jimmy Wilson at safety again.

October 07, 2014

Miami Dolphins challenge: Here comes Aaron Rodgers

The Miami Dolphins are about to play "a measuring stick" game, as coach Joe Philbin called Sunday's meeting with Green Bay. And the reason this one presents such a considerable challenge is primarily because the Packers have perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL.

Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdown passes against one interception so far this season. He has a 114.8 quarterback rating. The rating is second best in the NFL. The 12 TDs is tied for second-best in the NFL.

So you can understand defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is showing his coming challenge a lot of due respect.

"There are some guys in this league that are truly special and this quarterback rates up there with the best of them," Coyle said. "He really amazing to watch. Some guys you love to watch on tape. You just put the tape on and observe and wish you didn't necessarily have to try to defend him because he's magical what he does with the ball and the speed and the way he gets the ball out with his accuracy, his ability to extend plays.

"It's really uncanny coupled with the fact he's got a rifle of an arm. So he's a big challenge. He's got good weapons around him. They're very well coached and we're going to have to be at our best this week to slow those guys down."

Head coach Joe Philbin, who worked for the Packers and watched Rodgers develop, was not quite so effusive about the quarterback. In being asked about Rodgers, Philbin made it about the entire Packers offense.

"It’s a good offensive football team," Philbin said. "Just like as I talk to our team, our offensive unit, there’s more than one player that makes that offense go. He’s obviously a very good player, but we have to execute our game plan.

"Really, we’re talking about us, first and foremost, is you only control so much. We don’t control the plays they’re going to call or the route they’re going to call, so we want our guys to understand our plan and how we plan to stop the Green Packer offense. [Rodgers] is a big part of their offense, but really it’s more about us and what we can do as a defensive football team to slow down a team that’s averaged, what, 40 points a game the last two weeks. Certainly, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Manny Fernandez to join the Miami Dolphins Honor Roll

The best defensive tackle in Miami Dolphins history?

Bob Baumhauwer would be in the conversation. So would Tim Bowens, maybe even Randy Starks. But the best Dolphins defensive tackle on the Super Bowl stage?

Manny Fernandez.

No question.

Fernandez, a dominant lineman on the Dolphins Super Bowl teams of the 1970s and a great performer in their three Super Bowl games that decade, will be recognized for his outstanding career when the organization announces on Wednesday he will be inducted into the Honor Roll at Sun Life Stadium.

Fernandez, 68, was kind of sort of already on the Honor Roll because the entire 1972 undefeated team is up there as a unit. But he will now join others such as Jake Scott, Bill Stanfill, Nick Buoniconti, Larry Little, and Don Shula who made up that historic team to make the Honor Roll as individuals.

Fernandez will be recognized during halftime of the Dolphins' game against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 21. The Dolphins Honor Roll was initiated on September 16, 1990, with the induction of team founder Joe Robbie. The elements that go into the Dolphins Honor Roll selection include achievement, longevity and character.

Fernandez played for the Dolphins from 1968-75. He recorded 35 sacks in that time. But it was his total domination in Super Bowls that got everyone's attention.

In Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, Fernandez recorded 17 tackles and had a sack. Everyone seems to know that.

But the Dolphins played in Super Bowl VI and VIII and by the time his three Super Bowl game stats were compiled they included 28 tackles and three sacks.

Fernandez will be the 26th individual to join the Honor Roll.

October 06, 2014

Pouncey practically ready to play versus Green Bay

Mike Pouncey wants to play on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, expects to play and today took a major step toward making that happen.

Pouncey said he took first-team snaps in practice today for the Miami Dolphins and told me he had "no limitations" on what he was doing. Not being limited is important because you must know Pouncey has been practicing for a couple of weeks now but only on a limited basis.

Being cleared to practice in full is a key step before being able to start a game.

"I think I can play and play real well," Pouncey said.

So, barring an unforseen setback in the next few practices on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, you should expect Mike Pouncey to return to the starting lineup on Sunday.

Now the question remains where he'll play moreso than if he'll play. Either way, Pouncey expects to make a difference.

"I think I'm going to make a big one obviously, I can't wait to get back out with the guys," Pouncey said. "Whatever position I'm playing I'll help the team."

So what position is Pouncey going to play?

"Whatever position helps the team win," he said. "We'll see. It's coach Philbin's decision."

Pouncey told The Herald's Barry Jackson he practiced at both guard and center on Monday. I'm told Pouncey has been working at both position for a week now. But with his season debut drawing closer, coaches will try to make a determination which way to lean with Pouncey by the time players return to practice on Wednesday.

Interestingly, Pouncey today said "guard is my natural position. I was forced to play center when I got drafted here." And you'll remember I wrote in my column a couple of weeks ago that Pouncey would be more than open to the move. The Pro Bowl center said he'd become a Pro Bowl guard if he were moved.

If Pouncey starts at center, he'll replace Samson Satele. If Pouncey starts at guard, it will likely be at right guard replacing Dallas Thomas while Satele continues to start at center.

That's the good news.

The bad news?

As you know, I reported earlier that Brandon Gibson was unable to practice today. The Herald's Adam Beasley is reporting the Dolphins have re-signed wide receiver Damian Williams today -- taking the roster spot voided by Derrick Shelby's suspension.

Well, one reason the Dolphins have signed Williams is to guard against the possibility Gibson cannot play on Sunday against Green Bay. The Dolphins did not have to release an injury report on Monday and don't have to until Wednesday. So Gibson's injury issue is currently unknown.

Miami Dolphins back at work: What's happening...

The Dolphins are back at work -- well, most of them.

Wide receiver Brandon Gibson is not practicing today. Also, defensive end Derrick Shelby is not with the team as he's been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team following his arrest over the weekend at a South Florida club.

Shelby is on the "Indefinite Club Suspension" list, according to the Dolphins. The team today released a statement saying coach Joe Philbin had spoken with Shelby, is "disappointed"by Shelby's arrest, and then added, "When we have completed all of the necessary diligence, we will make a final determination on his discipline."

Agent David Canter, who represents Shelby, also released a statement saying he was "disappointed to hear that the organization has decided to suspend Shelby" and that his defense attorney Daniel Rosenberg had already entered a not guilty plea on the player's behalf.

Shelby was arrested for resisting arrest without violence and trespassing early Saturday.

Anyway, suffice to say Shelby's future on the team is uncertain.

Onto the field...

Randy Starks, who missed the Oakland victory prior to the bye weekend because of a back issue, is practicing today.

Reshad Jones, back from suspension, is expected to work some with the starters. But Jimmy Wilson, his replacement the first four games of the season, is also expected to get first-team snaps at safety this week.

Running back Knowshon Moreno, out the past three weeks with an elbow injury, is practicing today at least on a limited basis. He hopes to play on Sunday against Green Bay although no final determination has been made on that front.

Bye-bye to the bye as Miami Dolphins return to grind

The bye week has come and gone, with defensive end Derrick Shelby's arrest early Saturday as the only troubling incident coming out of the time off, and so the Miami Dolphins return to the season's grind with a 12:15 practice today. (Be sure to come back here around 1ish and follow me on twitter for updates from practice).

Anyway, the Dolphins find themselves after their bye in no better position than they did before the bye as a couple of AFC East rivals had good weekends while the New York Jets continued to show they have many questions and few answers as the division's worst team. More on that in a bit.

The Dolphins are 2-2 and while it can be said they seem pointed in the right direction, with that victory over Oakland a fortnight ago sending them happily toward their bye, questions about this team persist.

Firstly, it must be said that the Dolphins were a .500 team against the easier part of their schedule. The combined winning percentage of four teams in Miami's rearview mirror is .421. The combined winning percentage of the teams Miami is about to play the next dozen weeks is .474. No, neither mark seems daunting.

This does:

The Dolphins just faced E.J. Manuel (since benched), Alex Smith and Oakland rookie Derek Carr. They were 1-2 in those three games.

The Dolphins are about to face Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Phillip Rivers, Matt Stafford, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco.

The only thing that offers hope in facing that formidable row of QBs is the fact the Dolphins already played and beat Tom Brady in the season opener. Of course, Brady is coming around again in a Foxboro rematch, but if a team can beat Brady, the rest of the assignment is not without hope.

The Dolphins probably hoped Brady and the Patriots would continue to struggle this past weekend as they had the first four games, particularly in that Monday Night fiasco at Kansas City. But the Patriots emerged from a week in which everything and everyone in Boston was questioned with a stunningly easy victory over the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.

The only good news for Miami in the wake of that result as that the NFL no longer has an undefeated team in 2014. The 1972 Dolphins will continue to be the lone NFL team to win it all and while remaining undefeated.

But history aside, that New England victory suggested the Patriots are not the declining team they were portrayed after Kansas City. On Sunday night the Patriots protected Brady, ran the ball, and found their tight ends in a manner that nearly recalled the Gronk-Hernandez heydays. Oh, yes, the defense also got excellent play from Darrelle Revis, who was finally unleashed from zone assignments to play man-to-man vs. A.J. Green. Revis won the matchup so he's not too old, he's not washed up and now the Patriots seem to have a clue about how to use him. None of that is good news for the Dolphins.

In Detroit, the Bills pulled out a come-from-behind victory when Dan Carpenter connected on a 58-yard FG. The win came on the road. Against a solid team. And with new starter Kyle Orton playing well enough to merit more starts as the new quarterback. The Bills are a talented team...except for their quarterback spot. If Orton settles that position with merely solid play, the Bills become a major problem for the Dolphins because, frankly, they've been a problem with poor quarterbacks as it was.

The news is not so good for the Jets. Their QB situation remains in flux. Geno Smith was the starter on Sunday and played so poorly he was benched at halftime. And then backup Mike Vick played poorly. So coach Rex Ryan is going back to Smith next Sunday.

But in shuffling QBs, the Jets are also lacking a running game and a solid defense. So to recap, no quarterback, no offensive help for the quarterback, no defensive help for the quarterback. The Jets are not contenders. Their best hope is that they can play spoilers -- again.

As for the Dolphins, this is a big week for center Mike Pouncey. He has been practicing on a limited basis for two weeks. He needs to get to full practice status before coach Joe Philbin will even think of playing him. Pouncey had hoped to return by Week 4. He didn't. If he misses Sunday's Green Bay game, that will be his sixth week (including the bye) out while fully recovering from that June hip surgery. This week is big.

Safety Reshad Jones should be back in the lineup against the Packers -- one hopes. Look, I know Jimmy Wilson is a nice player and did a commendable job while Jones was suspended. But Jones is better. Plus, moving Jones back into the lineup allows the Dolphins to return Wilson to his nickel corner duties, which allows the team to lighten the load on Will Davis, who was acceptable but not great the past four games.

My worry?

Kevin Coyle loves Wilson. Philbin is often conservative about putting guys back in the lineup quickly. And I worry the coaches may be lulled into thinking that because Wilson at safety and Davis playing outside in the nickel was not bad the first four weeks, it might be alright another week while Jones gets readjusted to playing again.

No.

Wrong.

Wilson and Davis were fine against the QBs Miami just faced.

Did I mention the Dolphins are about to face Aaron Rodgers? 

September 28, 2014

Miami Dolphins rout the Raiders, 38-14

LONDON -- The Dolphins needed this. Ryan Tannehill needed this. Joe Philbin needed this. You needed this.

The Dolphins dismantled the Raiders here on Sunday evening (London is five hours ahead of the East Coast), with the 38-14 score not a proper reflection of how much of a blowout this was..  And that manner in which it happened will give Miami's embattled quarterback and the coach who bumbled the quarterback issue last week a reprieve.

Tannehill completed  23 of 31 passes for 278 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Tannehill had a season-best 109.3 quarterback rating. Of course, many of you don't accept QB rating as a quarterback status, but I do.

The outing by Tannehill was a tremendous response to a week in which his head coach refused to name him the starter for the game. It also ended a three-game stretch during which he struggled.

Ironically, a game that I speculated Tannehill might not finish for performance reasons, Tannehill was so good he did not need to finish the game. Matt Moore closed things out for the Dolphins.

The defense also had a major response on Sunday. Last week, The Herald reported several players complained about coordinator Kevin Coyle's game planning. Coyle apparently got angry at such public airing of laundry and told the players as much.

There will be none of that this week with Brent Grimes, Walt Aikens and Jimmy Wilson coming up with interceptions and Cortland Finnegan returning a fumble for a touchdown.

The Dolphins had entered the game without an interception.

As for coach Joe Philbin ... he's off the hotseat for the time being.

There is no doubt that if his team had lost to a winless team for a second consecutive week, the natives would have been very restless this week during the bye. Philbin's (mis)handling of the Tannehill question last week obviously wouldn't have helped matters.

But that has faded now.

A win cures many issues and ills, folks.

Always has. Always will.

The only issue coming out of this game?

Branden Albert left with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Samson Satele left with a leg injury. Jimmy Wilson left with a hip injury.

Live blog: Dolphins at Oakland (in London)

LONDON -- It is sold out today at Wembley and there are a lot of black Raiders jerseys in the crowd.

And having said that, the Dolphins should be glad this game is at a "neutral" site because this team seems too fragile now to play in the Black Hole. So there's that.

The good news for the Dolphins is Jelani Jenkins and Charles Clay who were listed as questionable are active today and starting.

The inactives are RB Knowshon Moreno, RB Mike Pouncey, LB Koa Misi, LB Chris McCain, )G Shelley Smith, OG Billy Turner and DT Randy Starks.

There is a live blog today. Join the community:

 

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders: Sept. 28, 2014
 

Winning can cure anything including coach-QB rift

LONDON -- So what is at stake today?

For the Dolphins it is obvious this game against the winless Raiders is important because they simply need a win after two disappointing losses in a row. The team needs good news and winning is the only good news that changes things.

But more fundamentally, the Dolphins need a win today so that, to an important degree, the crack we saw last week in the relationship between quarterback Ryan Tannehill and coach Joe Philbin can heal a bit. It is, by the way, not healed, as I report in my column today.

Both men are intent on putting on a good face going forward but I'm told there are hurt feelings and disappointment on both sides. Read the column for a more expansive explanation of the issue.

The point?

The quarterback and the coach are tied at the hip. They have to be united to be successful.

And Philbin and Tannehill have generally been that the past 35 games Tannehill has started. But there's a crack there now. It is not a catastrophic one but it's there. No amount of public relations smoothing or private mea culpas is going to change that.

The only thing that makes it less important?

Winning.

The Dolphins badly need a win today. Ryan Tannehill badly needs to play well in a win today. Joe Philbin needs a win today.

A loss?

Tannehill delivers a stinker?

This could get ugly, folks, if that happens.

September 27, 2014

Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Raiders (from London)

LONDON -- I'm picking the Dolphins to beat the Raiders on Sunday. As it should be. The Dolphins can run the football and the Raiders cannot stop the run. The Dolphins' defensive front can dominate and the Raiders have a rookie quarterback.

This should be a Miami victory.

But I have some concerns.

The Raiders have some veteran pass-rushers. The Miami secondary has not been as aggressive as I would expect, which may be one reason for zero interceptions so far. The Dolphins are without multiple starters again, including Mike Pouncey and Randy Starks, and Koa Misi, and Shelley Smith. And, yes, I picked the Dolphins. And I'm 0-3 so far this year.

Anyway, here are the keys to the game:

When the Raiders pass the football: Matt Schaub was supposed to be the guy. But a funny thing happened to Schaub on his way to becoming the Raiders starting quarterback. He was terrible in the preseason and rookie Derek Carr beat him out. Schaub is out for this game. Carr has been unspectacular but considering he’s a rookie on a bad team, that’s not terrible. He is aiming to complete 60 percent or more of his passes in his fourth straight game. The Raiders haven’t had an explosive pass offense with speedster James Jones averaging only 12.6 yards per catch. He averaged 13.8 yards per catch with Green Bay last year. The Raiders throw a lot to their running backs. So watch Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, assuming he plays. The Dolphins have avoided most pass defense issues the first three games. But last week Alex Smith lit them up with three touchdown passes. Meanwhile the Miami defense is without an interception this year. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Raiders run the football: The Raiders have been atrocious running the football, which makes for an interesting matchup because the Dolphins have been terrible stopping the run. The Raiders are 31st in the NFL running the ball but there’s optimism in their camp that can improve with the return of Jones-Drew after he missed the past two games. Darren McFadden, once a first-round draft pick, once a speedy home run threat, has had multiple injuries catch up with him. He’s averaging 3.3 yards per rush. The Dolphins dropped from 13th in the NFL against the run last week to 20th this week after Knile Davis basically ran over them. The team is hoping for better linebacker play this week because it has been sub par on multiple levels for a couple of weeks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill starts as he has the previous 35 games since 2012 but there’s no guarantee he’ll finish because his poor play the past three weeks has put him in the crosshairs of coaches who want better QB play. The coaches also need better work from a wide receiver corps that is the highest paid group in the NFL. That group, along with Miami running backs and tight ends, leads the NFL in dropped passes. The Raiders are the NFL’s fourth-stingiest pass defense so far, allowing an average of 183.3 yards per game. Part of the reason is Oakland has invested heavily in veteran defensive linemen and pass rushers such as Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley. They also added Khalil Mack in the draft and he is playing as advertised. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Lamar Miller had the best day of his career last week when he rushed for 108 yards on 15 carries. The 108 yards was good. The number of carries is the issue. The Dolphins seemed to abandon the run even in a game they trailed by only six points in the fourth quarter. They beat the Patriots in the opener by rushing more than they passed but have lost the past two weeks throwing more than they run. And they’ve done this despite the fact the offensive line is better suited to running the ball. The Raiders have been solid defending the pass but they are 31st in the NFL against the run. They often over-pursue and their tackling has been at times suspect. So will the Dolphins get a clue and run? ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: If the game comes down to a battle of field goal kickers, the Raiders win. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the all-time greats at his position and last week connected on all three attempts, from 49, 47 and 37. Caleb Sturgis made two of three last week. The Dolphins need to correct their punt returner in that Jarvis Landry has to stop catching punts inside his own 5 yard line. Kickoff returns have been good for both Landry and the Dolphins so far. The Dolphins found themselves in a field position game last week and won that part of battle even as they lost the game. They should have the advantage again there with Brandon Fields. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching: Dennis Allen has to figure out a way to get his team to play better when traveling east of the Central Time zone. The Raiders are 0-10 in that regard and tried to address the issue by leaving directly for the United Kingdom after playing at New England. Allen is on the hotseat. If he wins, his record will improve to 9-27. Last week was not great for Miami coaches. Bill Lazor called a poor game against Kansas City, anonymous players complained about Kevin Coyle’s game plan, and national pundits ripped Joe Philbin for his public handling of Ryan Tannehill. And having said that…8-27 glows in neon. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

September 26, 2014

Key injuries slowing Dolphins for Raiders game

LONDON -- Miami Dolphins players are not getting healthy as quickly as they had hoped.

The team today put out its final injury report for the week and declared defensive tackle Randy Starks, who has a back issue, running back Knowshon Moreno (elbow) and linebacker Chris McCain (non-football) as out for the game.

Losing Starks hurts the run defense. He had not practiced all week. McCain missing this game is curious beause it's not for football reasons. This deserves scrutiny. McCain had a great opener but has been silent ever since, missing practice due to illness reasons one week, then hardly playing as a result, getting more repetitions in practice last week and playing a limited role, and now this. Interestingly, McCain did not miss any practices this week until Friday, according to the Dolphins' injury report.

Neither Starks nor McCain traveled with the Dolphins to London.

[Update: McCain posted an Instagram message regarding the passing of his grandfather. Apparently that is the personal reason he is not in London with the team.]

Everyone, meanwhile, expected Moreno to be out.

The disappointment comes in that linebacker Koa Misi and center Mike Pouncey are listed as doubtful. Misi, who has missed two games with an ankle injury, is likely going to miss his third game on Sunday. There had been initial hopes he could play last week against Kansas City. Then there were hopes he could play against Oakland . He even practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday.

But instead of increasing his workload, Misi was forced to miss practice on Thursday and Friday, seriously suggesting the ankle did not respond well to Wednesday's activity and he simply is not ready to return.

Pouncey, meanwhile, targetted this Oakland game as his time to return from hip surgery, which he had in June. He'll miss the target. Samson Satele will start at center even if Pouncey is active at all, which now does not seem likely.

Pouncey's more likely return  to the lineup now seems to be after the bye week Oct. 12. against Green Bay.

Pouncey practiced on a limited basis this week as last week. He has yet to participate in a full practice.

For the Raiders, meanwhile, running back Maurice Jones-Drew practiced with no limitations on Friday is is listed as probable. He had missed the last two games with a hand injury.