August 22, 2014

Brandon Gibson's return a feel good story

Brandon Gibson is the Dolphins starting slot receiver now. And he's again becoming one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill's favorite targets, as the touchdown throw and catch between quarterback and receiver in the first preseason game proved.

Does that sound mundane?

It should not.

Gibson, you see, seems to be about in the same place he was during training camp 2013 and indeed last October. And the fact he is no worse for wear after he blew out a patellar tendon in a game against New England 11 months ago speaks to a great recovery.

How great is that recovery?

Well, the Dolphins were unsure it would happen. They were so unsure they drafted Jarvis Landry in the second round in April to make sure they had enough healthy receivers to play this season. Landry, like Gibson, is a slot receiver so it is pretty obvious who he was drafted to replace.

But Gibson has been a case study in a steady, good recovery. How good? Well, Landry is among the most impressive rookies in camp. But he's still behind Gibson.

Gibson has been managed during the offseason and there are days he still is limited in practice. But he's starting at his position. And he'll start at that spot in the regular-season opener against New England.

That's a far cry from that October day in Foxboro last year.

"I tried not to let it get me down," Gibson said Thursday. "I know today, with how good doctors are, as good as rehab is, I looked at it from the standpoint of an opportunity for me to get better. I didn't want to take any time off and be lazy. I wanted to use the time to make everything right. I wanted to make sure I stayed on top of my game. I told myself that I wanted to make the most of this opportunity and I want to capitalize whatever way I could."

Gibson was capitalizing when the injury happened. He was among the league leaders in converting third downs at the time and he was trying to make a mark on his new team after signing as a free agent. So obviously the timing of the injury was horrible.

"The ups and downs of playing in St. Louis and then coming here in free agency and looking forward to making an impact with my new team, it was disappointing not being able to continue playing and getting better and helping my team," Gibson said.

But this is a new year and there are new opportunities. And Gibson is likely to get plenty of them because he's improving with each passing day. That chemistry he had with Tannehill last year?

It is still there.

"I think when he left the team or got hurt in New England, third down, he was one of the leaders in the league in terms of percentage of conversions and those types of things," coach Joe Philbin said. "I think he’s a quarterback-friendly guy. He’s got very good hands and he’s smart. He can read coverages, understands the leverage, when I turn out and turn in, when I should stay on the move, when I should sit down. So I think the quarterbacks, most of them, get comfortable with him pretty quick."

So can Gibson pick up where he left off? Well, he doesn't want to think in terms of being 100 percent or not. He said coaches are managing him well and he expects to contribute as much this year as he was last year.

And the Dolphins seem to expect the same.

"I think it was a significant injury, number one," Philbin said. "Number two, he was very diligent in the offseason working hard. It’s taken some time, there’s no question about that. I thought we did a good job managing some of his repetitions early in camp. He now kind of looks to be hopefully rounding into form, if you will. I thought he played well the other night. Hopefully, that will continue.

" We are still monitoring the reps. We don’t want to give him too many yet. I think he’s feeling better and I think he’s moving better. That usually translates into a better performance. Hopefully, that trend continues, you know. I see positive signs toward that."

So do I.

August 21, 2014

Clarity for that which has not been clear

Earlier this week, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said his team didn't have a first-team right guard and said he didn't have clarity at left guard either. He said he had no idea who would start at those two positions against the Dallas Cowboys Saturday in Miami's third preseason game.

Well, Shelley Smith and Dallas Thomas will both get work at right guard Saturday but it seems Smith will be the starter there.

At left guard, meanwhile, Daryn Colledge will likely be the starter as he's taken practically all the first-team snaps in practice this week. But do not be surprised if rookie Billy Turner gets some snaps with the starters.

By the way, Colledge played for Philbin for a long time at Green Bay. He's a known quantity to Philbin. The fact the Dolphins coach this week voluntarily mentioned left guard as also up in the air suggests Colledge isn't meeting standards, particularly in the run game.

The Dolphins expect tight end Charles Clay to play. Obviously, that means he starts.

Clay has taken all his reps in practice this week and seems none the worse for wear after missing the first two preseason game while nursing a setback to the right knee that underwent surgery in the offseason.

"I want to get out there," Clay said today before adding he was not sure what coaches planned for him.

Running back Knowshon Moreno is also set to make his Miami Dolphins debut. Although he practiced every day this week, it is unclear to me whether Daniel Thomas will play and if so, how much. It seems doubtful Mike Gillislee, who has missed the entire week of practice with a hamstring injury, will play.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis will not play against the Cowboys as he continues to recover from the groin he re-injured in warmups against Tampa Bay.

John Potter, who is competing with Sturgis for the kicking job, connected on both his attempts in practice today -- from 47 and 43 yards. Potter's only miss I've noted this week was on a 51-yarder that hit the left upright a couple of days ago.

August 20, 2014

Dolphins seem to be leaning toward 2 QBs

As we creep closer toward the regular season, the picture of the 2014 Dolphins is becoming more clear and that includes the quarterback position where Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore are on the team ...

And that just might be it for quarterbacks on the active roster.

The truth is that while media and others have been speculating about Brady Quinn's signing last week, it seems increasingly clear the Dolphins are leaning toward keeping only two quarterbacks on the active roster when final cuts are made in just over two weeks.

And those two are Tannehill and Moore.

That will leave Quinn cut and likely returning to television work, while rookie Seth Lobato would be vying with other developmental types for a spot on the Dolphins practice squad. Interestingly, one of the developmental quarterbacks Lobato would be trying to beat out for a job on the Miami practice squad is Pat Devlin.

Devlin, waived injured last week, is eligible for the practice squad. The team reportedly reached an injury settlement with Devlin recently. But the door for Devlin in Miami is not completely closed, according to a source. So maybe, if he's healthy, he comes back on the practice squad.

By the way, the idea of carrying two quarterbacks makes sense because the Dolphins can use the extra roster spot for any number of reasons:

Possibility 1: The team can use the spot to keep center Mike Pouncey from going on the Physically Unable to Perform. Such a move would allow Pouncey to practice before the sixth week of the season, assuming his rehab from hip surgery allows him to do so. Otherwise, Pouncey on practice squad means he definitely misses more time, at least five games.

Possibility 2: The team can use the extra roster spot for an developmental offensive lineman who is more ready to contribute than Quinn or Lobato and Devlin. someone such as Sam Brenner comes to mind.

Possibility 3: The team might want to keep an extra linebacker and rather than cut someone such as Jonathan Freeny, he sticks.

Possibility 4: If Caleb Sturgis is not completely healthy or if the Dolphins are completely comfortable trusting him, but still don't want to cut ties, perhaps the team keeps two kickers.

Possibility 5: Perhaps because Knowshon Moreno is still getting into shape and neither Daneil Thomas nor Mike Gillislee have won the No. 3 RB job, perhaps the team holds on to both until it plays out somehow.

Possibility 6: There's a glut at tight end. Maybe the Dolphins keep five instead of four. The Dolphins had four last year during various parts of the season.

Speaking of tight ends, Charles Clay had what seemed like a great practice today. He caught at least five passes that went for first downs and at least two touchdowns down the seam.

The Dolphins have not yet made a final decision whether to play Clay in the preseason game on Saturday versus Dallas. It would be his first preseason game after missing while nursing a knee injury. But he looks ready to play. 

It looked goo so far

Tackling a focus and Jimmy Wilson's in crosshairs

Dolphins coaches have been preaching good tackling technique for several weeks now and it has gotten to the point where Jimmy Wilson has become something of the poster boy for ... how not to do it.

Wilson is about to become a Dolphins starting safety the first four games of the season because starter Reshad Jones is suspended for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

So Wilson will be part of the Dolphins last line of defense.

But Wilson has been, well, inconsistent in the manner he protects that last line this preseason. In the first preseason game he bought a fake and totally whiffed on a tackle opportunity by a backup Atlanta running back. The back scored on a 50-plus-yard run, although it was called back because of a penalty.

Last week in Tampa, Wilson attacked Tampa's Mike Evans after the receiver caught a pass. Wilson hit him ... and simply bounced off. Evans turned and ran and would have had a 43-yard score had Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes not hustled from the other side of the field and caused a fumble to go out of the end zone for a touchback.

Regardless of the fact the plays didn't count, they made Miami coaches cringe.

And so they singled out Wilson in film study this week.

"Obviously we showed the whole team the play," coach Joe Philbin said. "We talked about the tackling. We talked about the great hustle creating a turnover aspect of the play. We have these things that hang in on our meeting rooms on how we tackle, how we pursue to the ball, how we create a turnover, how we get off of a block, and conversely we have a bunch on offense. That’s not how we tackle. Throwing your shoulder into a guy and turning when you should be having your chin up, wrapping your arms and accelerating your feet. That’s not good enough. You can’t tackle that way.” 

The message has reached defensive players not named Wilson.

“If you’re on defense that’s probably, might be the top thing in your job description," defensive end Cameron Wake said. "Your resume needs to be full of tackling because whatever you’re doing in pass coverage or whether you’re rushing the passer, at some point you have to tackle. Obviously, it’s early, rusty a little bit. But at the end of the day, that’s what football is so however you’ve got to get it done, you’ve got to get it done and get the ball on the ground."

I believe Wilson has gotten the message as well. Although he is expected to be the starter in place of Jones, that is not guaranteed. Michael Thomas and rookie Walt Aikens are also vying for the role.

If Wilson corrects his little tackling issues, he'll be the guy.

But the Dallas game -- the important third preseason game which teams use as a dress rehearsal for the season -- will be big for him.

He better not miss tackles in that game.   

August 19, 2014

Dolphins practice done: Four quick hits

John Potter had a good day at practice today and with that, the kicker competition that seemed to be going on already became somewhat more obvious at the Dolphins practice facility.

Potter connected on field goals of 42, 44, and 47 yards. He missed a 51-yarder when it hit the left upright. Not bad for a kid who didn't know he was kicking in the game against Tampa Bay last Saturday until 30 minutes before the game when Caleb Sturgis re-injured a groin in warmups.

Potter connected on two field goals in the game, including a 51-yarder and Sturgis has not practiced since tweaking his leg.

"I don't want to talk about all that stuff," Sturgis said today as he left the field and was asked about his status.

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The Dolphins are going through a typical game week of preparation as they get ready for Saturday's dress rehearsal game against Dallas.

That said today was about third down and blitz pressures.

There was one play coach Joe Philbin said the team had to run four consecutive times before getting it right.

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RB Knowshon Moreno continues practicing but he's still not quite in the best shape after missing the first two weeks of training camp.

 "I think it's getting there," Philbin said.

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Receiver Mike Wallace continues hearing about his and Ryan Tannehill's inability to connect on deep passes. And he says he understands why fans, the media, everyone is making a big deal of the issue.

"It's part of the territory, you know?" Wallace said. "They deserve to ask that when we're not hitting on them. I don't have a problem with it. We just got to keep working on it, keep doing it every single day."

Wallace says he knows you, the fans, want him and Tannehill to connect. He wants it more than you do.

"I guarantee we want to hit on it more than they want us too," Wallace said. "We definitely want to get into a game and hit a couple."

The other bigtime TE who practiced full Monday

If you stay up to date on the news around the AFC East, you know that New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is recovering from surgery to repair an ACL injury last year, participated in 11 on 11 drills with the Patrioits for the first time since training camp opened.

That is great news for the Patriots as it suggests Gronkowski may be ready for the Sept. 7 opener against the Dolphins. That may not be great news for the Dolphins as it suggests Gronkowski may be ready for the Sept. 7 opener against the Patriots.

But in the shadows of the Gronkowski news on social media (you should be following me on twitter) is the fact the Dolphins also got an infusion of talent to their tight end corps Monday when Charles Clay returned to practice for the first time in weeks.

Clay, who had less invasive knee surgery in the offseason, had missed every practice and preseason game since the Aug. 4 scrimmage.

But on Monday he was back full -- working in all the drills, including 11 on 11.

"It’s a good feeling," Clay said of his return. "Any time you miss time, you kind of want to be out there working with your guys getting better. They’ve been doing a good job, working hard and they had a good win this past weekend. I’m just trying to come back and knock a little rust off and get things going.

“I was really antsy, just sitting at home the first week watching the game. You never want to be home watching, but, at the same time, any time you deal with something like that, you’ve got to work hard to get back. Like I said, I’m just happy to be back right now."

Clay's status for Saturday's dress rehearsal game versus Dallas at Sun Life is up in the air.

But he hasn't been worried the knee would be a detriment for the season.

"No, there wasn’t any point where I was worried. We have a good training staff, so just getting the chance to work with those guys. There was never any doubt in my mind. There wasn’t any point in time where I thought it was bad."

“You always want to get some kind of live reps. But at this time, like I said, the health is the most important thing. I’m not rushing anything. I’m just coming out here trying to get better.

“You always want to get some kind of live reps. But at this time, like I said, the health is the most important thing. I’m not rushing anything. I’m just coming out here trying to get better."

The Dolphins have a new offense. They've installed tons of information -- plays, formations, audibles -- since Clay was last on the field. He's not worried.

"They’re still installing things and stuff like that and having certain looks and making adjustments," Clay said. "Me not being able to practice the time I did, it’s only right that I get those mental reps and, if they happen in a game, I’ll be ready.

“I’m up to speed. I did a lot of studying during that time, watched a lot of film. I’m coming back and, like I said, I’m  just working on getting better every day.” 

August 18, 2014

The offensive line: Pick the good news, bad news

Good news or bad news first?

Let's do good news: Center Mike Pouncey repeated today he is hoping and working hard in order to avoid being placed on the regular-season physically unable to perform list and, for the first time, gave a timetable for what he hopes will be his return to action after his offseason hip surgery.

"You only play in London one time so hopefully I'll be back by then," Pouncey said Monday.

The Dolphins play in London against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 28. It is the fourth game of the season. That's the game Pouncey is hoping will be his first in 2014.

That is hopeful but not certain. The Dolphins are still seriously considering putting Pouncey on regular-season PUP which would mean he'll miss six weeks before he can even begin to practice. Pouncey would much prefer being on the active roster and getting on the practice field much before then. 

"I don't want to go on PUP because that means you have to miss six weeks and that puts me back further than when I'm expecting to be back so hopefully I won't be on PUP and can start out practicing as soon as possible and get ready to be in game shape," Pouncey said.

That's as good as it gets for the news coming out of the Dolphins offensive line today. The bad news. Joe Philbin announced today the Dolphins do not have a starting right guard. No, seriously.

Five days from the third preseason game against Dallas, the so-called dress rehearsal game of the preseason, and only three weeks from the opener, and the Dolphins are stumped at right guard.

"We don't have a first'-team right guard right now," Philbin said after practice Monday.

He ain't kidding, brother.

Dallas Thomas, fresh off a two-penalty, one sack allowed and no push-in-the-running game night at Tampa Bay, has lost the right guard spot in practice he had the past three weeks. Shelley Smith took the starting right guard snaps today in practice.

The problem?

Shelley Smith himself needs a lot of work to become a good right guard. He's not there now. Sorry.

"A lot of credit goes to Tampa, they have a very good defense," Smith said of Saturday night's problems up front.

The Dolphins really like Billy Turner. He'll likely be a starter before this season is over. But the rookie out of North Dakota State is not ready quite yet.

By the way, Philbin wasn't in any mood to anoint anyone today. He said the left guard position is up in the air as well. "Not a lot of clarity there," the coach said.

Daryn Colledge, a late offseason free agent signing, has taken about 90 percent of the first-team snaps at left guard. But while he is not a disaster, he's not ready to go to Hawaii as a Pro Bowl player, either.

The problem? The Dolphins don't have anyone any better right now.

I suggested several days ago the Dolphins should look into Alex Boone, the guard who is holding out in San Francisco. I don't believe that is likely to happen now based on issues relative to Boone's personal life and other matters.

Dolphins back at practice today

The Dolphins are back practicing today. This is what's happening at this hour:

Dallas Thomas,who struggled mightily at right guard for the Dolphins in the preseason game at Tampa Bay, is out as the starter. Shelley Smith is going to be taking first-team snaps at right guard for the first time this camp.

The Dolphins like third-round pick Billy Turner. They really like him. He'll be getting some right guard snaps as well. He's probably going to be the upgrade at the position before this season is over -- as soon as he matures a little bit more.

Running back Daniel Thomas, who missed two weeks with a hamstring injury, is back on the field today. Mike Gillislee, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, is still not back today.

Tight end Charles Clay, who missed the past couple of weeks with a knee injury, is back on the field today. Jason Fox, who missed time last week with a chest injury, is also back working.

Here are the injuries of note: Kicker Caleb Sturgis (groin), Center Sam Brenner (shoulder), Defensive lineman Terrence Fede (knee), DB Jalil Brown (thigh), defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (shoulder) and kick returner Marcus Thigpen (thigh) will be out multiple practices, per the team.

Sturgis is an interesting study. He has been bad this preseason, with much time missed due to injury. I am told the team wants him to get better to compete with new kicker John Potter.

But Sturgis, who was the only kicker in camp when it opened and seemed certain of a roster spot then, is no longer a certainty for anything. He has to get healthy and perform.

August 16, 2014

Dolphins beat Bucs, 20-14: Some good, some not

If there was a question before Saturday night that Matt Moore is going to be the Dolphins No. 2 quarterback this year, that is gone now.

Matt Moore is on the Dolphins -- his $5.5 million salary cap number and all.

And the way he earned the right to be on the team is, in part, by an outstanding perfomance against Tampa Bay in the preseason's second game. Moore completed 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards and one TD without an interception.

Moore finished with a quarterback rating of 111.3.

"It felt good to finally get back out and play and get into a rhythm out there," Moore said.

One of Moore's two TD drives came out of the two-minute drill to end the first half. It was outstanding work.

"Felt good to put a stamp on it out there for the touchdown," Moore said.

The truth about Miami's quarterback situation is the Dolphins are definitely keeping two -- Ryan Tannehill and Moore -- and Brady Quinn must fight and claw to earn a spot, which at this writing seems unlikely because the Dolphins could certainly use the extra roster spot for other players that are more valuable.

That is a major issue the Dolphins answered in this game.

Tannehill, by the way, posted his second consecutive solid performance of the preseason. Despite inconsistent blocking up front, Tannehill was 9 of 14 for 110 yards without a TD or interception. The starters had a FG while Tannehill was in the game.

Another big night?

Surprisingly, kicker John Potter had a nice night. He was 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 51-yarder that was impressive. This must be said:

Caleb Sturgis is not having a good preseason.

He was injured earlier this preseason and seemed to re-injure his groin in pregame warmups. He did not kick in the game despite dressing and warming up.

Sturgis was hurt last season and struggled in the middle of the season as a result. If he cannot stay healthy ... and the other guy is connecting on 51-yard kicks ... well, the competition is on.

This game showed the Dolphins still have work to do in multiple areas.

The first such area is right guard where Dallas Thomas had a terrible game. He was beaten by Gerald McCoy for what turned into a strip sack for Tampa Bay and led to a TD. He got no push on running plays. And he had a penalty as well.

The rest of the offensive line was better than Thomas but didn't really win up front.

Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey, serving as a guest during the CBS-4 broadcast, said his personnel department is constantly looking for players to upgrade the roster.

Allow me to suggest Hickey look at the possibility of trading for San Francisco guard Alex Boone. I'm not saying it must be done. Boone is holding out because he wants a new contract and he has a history that requires investigation. But he's an outstanding guard.

So look into it ... The Dolphins have a wealth of wide receivers. Maybe they can ship one to the 49ers, whose receiver corps could use upgrade.

Coach Joe Philbin said the idea of moving Shelley Smith, who was at center early in camp and left guard lately, to right guard is not out of the realm of possibility.

The tackling continues to be inconsistent despite the team spending an entire week focusing on the issue. Most troubling was the tackle attempt by starting safety Jimmy Wilson against receiver Mike Evans.

Rather than wrap Evans and bring him to the gound, Wilson merely rammed into him and as happens when a 5-10 guy runs into a 6-5 guy, Wilson merely bounced off. Evans turned and ran for an apparent TD that was called back when Brent Grimes, running down the play from the other side of the field, caught the receiver and caused a fumble out of the end zone for a Miami possession instead.

 You'll remember the Dolphins managed only two rushing yards against Tampa Bay in a loss last season. Tonight the Dolphins rushed for 46 yards on 26 attempts. The team rushed for minus-5 yards on nine attempts in the first half -- when starters and top reserves played for both teams.

Lamar Miller, Miami's starting running back, rushed for 3 yards on three carries.

"I thought we threw the ball well, I thought we had some guys open, I thought the quarterbacks threw the ball well," Philbin said. "But I think we all agree we had way too many negative-yardage plays in the running game. That really wasn't fixed the way I would hope."

Philbin said there was too much penetration and his team "didn't establish an edge."

"They established the edge, penetrated and got up in our backfield way too much, way too much," Philbin said.

The running game has a long way to go, folks.

"It looks to me we still have some work to do," Philbin repeated. "I thought we'd have more production in our run game. I thought we'd be better."

Dolphins at Bucs: Five things to watch

The Dolphins play their second preseason game at Tampa Bay tonight at 7:30. Follow me on twitter for in-game commentary, real-time updates and more.

I have five observations about the Dolphins that require significant attention between now and the time the regular season kicks offs because I believe they can affect the direction of the 2014 season.

The first is Dion Jordan. Jordan got off to a roaring start at training camp. But, as I write in my column, that has changed lately. He needs to show up, folks. He's the No. 3 overall pick. Guys aren't picked No. 3 to be special teams players and backups.

The second is the deep ball combination of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace. Both players repeatedly tell you the right thing -- it is getting better. I tell you the unvarnished truth of what I've seen in every single practice I've attended so far -- and I did not miss any training camp practices.

Tampa Bay allowed 238 passing yards per game last season. That was 22nd in the NFL. That's not good. Opposing QBs had an 88.9 QB rating against that defense last year. That's not very good. That was 22nd in the NFL.

There should be opportunities for Tannehill and Wallace to connect tonight.

Remember the offensive line worries of three weeks ago? I'm feeling a lot better about this group than I was then. They're coming together.

Are they going to be the Great Wall of South Florida?

Probably not.

Are they going to be a replay to the 2013 nightmare, giving up 58 sacks?

I think we're safe believing not. But watching them against Tampa Bay's solid front should be interesting.

I'm not thrilled about how the running back competition unfolded during training camp. That's because it never really unfolded.

Finally, I want to see more work for the starting linebacker corps. The company line is that moving Koa Misi to the middle and Dannell Ellerbe outside would be a major upgrade. That might still happen.

But right now, today, there is still much work and much growing to do because the first preseason game and practices have uncovered some issues.

The good news? Training camp just ended.

There are still two meaningful preseason games remaining, including tonight. (The final preseason game is a joke and everyone knows it.) So there's still a chance the issues I'm presenting get resolved.

August 15, 2014

Things to expect versus the Buccaneers

The Dolphins are traveling to Tampa today and will play their second preseason game Saturday evening.

Ryan Tannehill will start at quarterback and play longer than he did versus Atlanta in the preseason-opener. Tannehill had 10 plays against the Falcons. Expect 15 or more plays for Tannehill, depending on how things go.

If he opens the game with another 10-play TD drive as they did against the Falcons, however, maybe coaches pull him again and continue to build on that confidence.

Unlike last week, Matt Moore is scheduled to play Saturday. He will get a lot of work and might go into the second half.

Running back Knowshon Moreno, who missed the first three weeks of camp and did not play in the scrimmage or preseason opener, is expected to miss Saturday's game as well. Coach Joe Philbin said he is "starting" to see glimpses of what Moreno has been in the running game but the player simply isn't there in the passing game yet. Next week.

Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline -- who both missed the preseason opener -- are ready to go for this one and will play with Tannehill and perhaps even when Moore is in the game.

Defensively, the Dolphins were atrocious tackling against Atlanta. The team worked on it a solid three days this past week. Can they improve their tackling?

You'll also see the team's plans for the nickel unit: Cornerback Cortland Finnegan will be moving inside to cover the slot receiver while Jamar Taylor and then Will Davis cover outside. Brent Grimes, obviously will be on the other side and expect Jimmy Wilson, who has previously been the nickel, to play at safety.

The reason Wilson is playing safety is Reshad Jones will be suspended four games in the regular season. This past week the Dolphins demoted Jones to second team safety. He'll play, but don't be surprised if it's with the reserves against Tampa Bay. (That's got to sting the proud player).

Keep your eyes on tight end Brett Brackett. He led the team in receptions and yards against Atlanta and, as I write in my column today, he makes as many plays as any other TE on the roster during practice. Brackett is a long shot, primarily because he has to improve this part of his game.

But he merits your attention.

August 14, 2014

Dolphins prepared for Tampa Bay

Remember when the preseason games was about your team and your agenda? Remember when the Dolphins didn't really game plan for opponents in the preseason, save perhaps the third preseason game that was the rehearsal for regular season?

Those days are gone.

Joe Philbin's Dolphins prep for their opponents. They put in plays for the Atlanta Falcons last week. And today they were putting in plays on offense and running scout team plays for the defense in anticipation of playing Tampa Bay on Saturday evening.

"We devoted a lot of time in the practice today to Tampa Bay and our preparation for the game," Philbin said. "The first three practices of the week were really focused on our own improvement, our own football team. But, we’ve got our game plan in and guys are excited about playing. They’re a good football team. They played well the other night. Their defense looked extremely good and we’re going to have to play well in Tampa."

I suppose it is a good thing the Dolphins are preparing for their opponent. They're bound to look, well, more prepared as a result.

But that means fans have to adjust the way they view their team's preseason performances -- especially if the other team isn't prepping for the Dolphins.

If the Dolphins prep, which they have, and look really good, we have to understand that's perhaps a result of that preparation. But if they prep and lay an egg ... well then, that's more worrisome than the team that looked off in part because it had no preparation.

It's a perspective thing.

Even in the days when Philbin says the team was worried about itself, that work should have an affect on Saturday night's second preseason game. The Dolphins, you see, have been quite concerned about their tackling. And so tackling has been a focus in practice this week.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on that this week," Philbin said. "That’s a big part of what we’re looking (to do). We want to see our team tackle better and we want to get off the field better on third down."

Last week the first team offense looked sharp and things could get better with Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline playing this week after taking last week off. Coach, however, want better work from the reserves and are eager to see Matt Moore perform for the first time this preseason.

"Offensively, it’s really consistency," Philbin said. "Again, our first group only had one drive and it was a good drive. But they didn’t play a ton of football. So we’re going to get them on the field a little bit more and we’re looking to see consistent production out of our offense. Obviously, we sputtered after that. We only scored, what three points the rest of the game. So we’ve got to be more productive and have more explosive plays on offense."

Other stuff: Philbin met with running back Knowshon Moreno Wednesday to discuss what he expects of the running back the remainder of preseason and get a feel for where Moreno feels he is physically after missing the first three weeks of training camp. Philbin says Moreno is looking like his old self in the run game but still isn't quite there in the pass game, which is interesting, considering the pass game is what Moreno is known for, particularly his blocking.

TE Michael Egnew missed the preseason opener while nursing a concussion. He has been practicing and is expected to play against Tampa Bay.  

Dolphins nuggets at this hour

The Dolphins' final training camp practice is in the books. This is what's happening:

Center Mike Pouncey, who continues to rehab following hip surgery, repeated today he is ahead of schedule and is hopeful he can avoid being placed on the regular-season physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

While Pouncey will still miss playing time at the beginning of the season, he's hoping he can be ready anytime from Week 2 or 3 to Week 5. If that continues to be the trend, then the Dolphins would have to give serious consideration to putting Pouncey on the active roster even while he is not practicing  -- thus having him count toward the 53-man limit.

If Pouncey suffers a setback in the coming month, the Dolphins could also decide to put Pouncey on regular-season PUP, meaning he would be out at least 6 weeks.

So the decision the Dolphins must make even if Pouncey might be ready to play in Week 4-5 is deciding whether the possibility, and that's what it would be, a possibilty, of having Pouncey a week or two earlier is more valuable than carrying an extra wide receiver, or linebacker or defensive back the first month of the season.

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The Dolphins expect their starting wide receivers to be ready for Saturday's preseason game at Tampa Bay.

Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, both of whom missed the preseason opener, have practiced all week and are ready to play.

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The Dolphins have been holding what seems like a legitimate kicking competition ever since incumbent Caleb Sturgis tweaked a groin the first week of practice.

The competition might be over, folks.

Sturgis today connected on all four of his field goal attempts.

Danny Hrapmann, who was signed when Sturgis was injured, missed two of his three kicks today. He missed from 47 yards and missed from 42 yards.

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The Dolphins running back competition is really happening at the No. 3 spot because, let's be honest, Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno are going to be on this team, barring a major upset.

So Daniel Thomas, Mike Gillislee and several other lesser likes such as Cameron Marshall and Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa are making a run for the No. 3 spot.

The problem is that neither Thomas nor Gillislee have been making much of a run. Thomas has been nursing and today continued nursing a hamstring injury that has forced him to miss the past two weeks.

Gillislee, who got off to a solid start in training camp, didn't exactly take great advantage of the time Thomas was out and now is himself out with a hamstring injury.

Pffft, goes the competition so far.

It is almost impossible that either Thomas or Gillislee will play againt Tampa Bay.

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Backup left tackle Jason Fox continues to miss time with a chest injury.

What does that mean?

It means Nate Garner, the erstwhile, right tackle, center, left tackle, is back at left tackle again. He was the backup at left tackle today and that is likely where he'll play Saturday evening.

Tony Hills has also been getting work at backup left tackle.

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August 12, 2014

Cortland Finnegan is the nickel corner now

Training camp and the preseason is a time for experimenting and that's what the Dolphins are doing all over the field. And nowhere is there more experimenting than in the defensive backfield where the looming suspension of Reshad Jones has moved Jimmy Wilson to a starting safety job and left open the first-string nickel cornerback job.

The Dolphins have worked Cortland Finnegan, Will Davis and Jamar Taylor at the nickel. For right now and I assume until it is tested in a preseason game, the nickel job belongs to Finnegan with Taylor playing outside at cornerback with the first string.

"A lot of guys are capable," Finnegan said, sizing up the situation on Tuesday. "Will Davis does a great job, Jamar Taylor, Jimmy [Wilson] is the guy, myself. When the time is called, we'll all be ready. We've been all working it. We'll see how it works out in the game."

Finnegan said he was the Rams' nickel corner last season (For layman purposes, the nickel corner is the guy covering the slot receiver.)

That means if he's the starter in the base defense, Finnegan will be moving from outside in base to the nickel in the sub packages.

"I don't have a preference," Finnegan said. "Everyone's getting reps. We'll see when the coach decides. Everyone's capable. It's just a work in progress."

One supposes Davis and Taylor are competing for the outside corner job in the sub packages. Taylor holds the job for the moment but Davis, who is often around the football, will get an opportunity to win the job before the preseason is over.

On Tuesday the Dolphins finished the practice with their nickel defense backed up inside their 20-yard line against the first-team offense. Ryan Tannehill threw a practice-ending touchdown to pass to Rishard Matthews against the nickel defense.

Matthews beat Taylor for the score.

Like I said, the competition is still open.

Moore's uncertainty gives Philbin a chance to communicate

Amid much speculation about the Brady Quinn signing Monday, I told you this signing is mostly about Pat Devlin and shouldn't be considered a major challenge to Matt Moore's status as the Dolphins' backup quarterback.

All this assuming Moore does his work and isn't a disaster in the coming practices and preseason games.

But ...

When Moore came off the field after practice Tuesday he didn't sound exactly sure about his status. Not at all. Indeed, he sounded downright uncertain that he'll be on the team when the Sept. 7 opener kicks off.

"All I can control is what I can do and keep getting better and that's just how it is," said Moore who was then asked if his cap number ($5.5 million) might affect the team's decision to keep him or not. "They're going to do what they think they need to do. And all I can do is keep going and it really has no effect. If it does, I think I'm in trouble. Mentally, I just need to stay focused and continue to get better."

But here's the dilemma ...

The Dolphins haven't told Moore what his status is. They haven't told him he's their backup to Ryan Tannehill. They haven't told him Brady Quinn was brought in and could take his job.

They haven't said anything, Moore said.

"They told me, 'Hey we're bringing him in.' That's it. I said, 'cool,' " Moore said. 

 And that is somewhat understandable because, despite the fact Moore is most likely the backup for 2014, there is a caveat: What if Moore completely collapses during the preseason? What if Quinn suddenly finds a gear in his game he's never seemingly had before?

(Quinn didn't show that geat in practice Tuesday but it was his first day on the field with this team).

Anyway, Moore is in the dark.

Thus the relative insecurity.

Moore, who sat most of the last two weeks with a shoulder injury, said he's ready to compete now and expects to play on Saturday against Tampa Bay. Until then he understands his body of work in the offseason program and practices have to speak on his behalf. 

"I haven't played in a game yet so that's probably up in the air but I feel confident in what I've done, the body of work I put in during the spring," Moore said. "We got practices and preseason games coming up and I will have opportunities I imagine. You got to take full advantage of them."

Me? Why not spell things out for Moore?

Coach Joe Philbin has made a big deal about being more communicative with his players. Why doesn't the coach use his next bed check with Moore to simply lay out the facts?

If the Dolphins are eager to get rid of Moore for cap purposes -- not the case, folks, trust me on this -- the coach should spell it out to his veteran. Moore has earned that respect.

If Moore is on the bubble and has to not only play better than Quinn, which he should do, but play very well in the preseason to stay in Miami, then Philbin should tell him so. Why not? What harm would honest communication do?

Finally, if Moore just needs to keep his head down, grind, compete and not screw up, to keep his spot -- which I believe is the case -- then Philbin should tell Moore that, too.

Look, Matt Moore is a leader in the quarterback room. He is respected by veterans in the locker room. If Philbin wants to put action behind his promise of being more communicative with players then this is a good opportunity. 

Dolphins RB competition needs improvement

The Dolphins have a competition for the No. 3 running back job. The only problem is no one of consequence is actually competing for the job right now.

Daniel Thomas has a hamstring injury and has been out of practice eight days. He is not practicing today. That opened the door for Mike Gillislee to get more opportunities to win the job, or at minimum take a lead in the race for the job. But Gillislee has not been able to make the most of his chance.

Gillislee was unimpressive in the preseason opener against Atlanta, gaining 30 yards on eight carries (3.8 yards average) and then then he injured his hamstring in practice on Sunday -- neither is good news because he failed to impress to a great degree with his opportunity and now is sidelined and unable to show out in practice.

Well, the Dolphins have other running back options in camp: Orleans Darkwa, Damien Williams and Cameron Marshall was resigned for the third time on Monday. But it seems obvious to anyone with eyes none of these guys will be the answer.

So why not sign a running back? The Dolphins added quarterback Brady Quinn when Pat Devlin was unable to compete at quarterback. They have two running backs currently unable to compete and they add a retread Marshall who we already know is not going to factor?

Why not give Andre Brown, cut by the Texans after gaining 876 yards and averaging 4.1 yard per rush the past two years for the New York Giants, a try?

I'm not saying Andre Brown is Jim Brown.

I'm saying he is an upgrade over Cameron Marshall and Darkwa and others and could actually compete for a spot with Thomas and Gillislee -- both of whom aren't actually competing now anyway.

Thomas is making progress. He is running on the sideline and should be back practicing within the week. But is the idea to simply hand him or Gillislee the job?

Or is the idea to turn over stones and try to upgrade from players who, frankly, are backups and need to be pushed to make the team better?

August 11, 2014

The Pat Devlin lovefest ends

In the end, all the jokes about how much Joe Philbin loved Pat Devlin and how players viewed Devlin as the coach's adopted son matter little because the Dolphins are moving on from their fourth-year quarterback.

The team which signed Brady Quinn Monday evening made room for the new backup quarterback by releasing their third-stringer of the past three seasons.

Devlin's release was first reported by FoxSports1's Mike Garafolo.

And it wasn't so much Devlin's inability to mount a challenge for the No. 2 quarterback job that doomed him with the Dolphins but rather his inability to get on the field. Devlin had not practiced since the Aug. 2 scrimmage in which he injured a hamstring.

Marginal player. Not practicing for 10 days.

Bad things, man.

"I think he's definitely developed," Philbin said of Devlin. "I like his play speed. That's one of the great strengths that I think he has. He plays the game fast, he's decisive when he's back there. But again, let's call it what it is, and he has to come out there on a more consistent basis to get a good, thorough evaluation."

There had been rumors that the Monday quarterback tryouts the Dolphins staged could affect Moore's status as the No. 2. The thinking was Moore is costing $5.5 million against the cap this year and cutting or trading him would save $4 million.

Not likely to happen.

The tryouts were to replace Devlin.

Brady Quinn is an experienced veteran but he's not likely to displace Moore -- barring a total collapse by Moore the remainder of the preseason.

Matt Moore is the Dolphins' No. 2 quarterback unless something significant changes. Signing Brady Quinn and cutting Pat Devlin was not that something.

 

Dolphins begin prep for Reshad Jones suspension

We know that starting safety Reshad Jones, who has started 44 of the past 47 games for the Dolphins, is going to be no where in the team's vicinity the first four games of 2014 because he must serve an NFL mandated four-game suspension for violating the league policy on performance enhancing drugs.

And so eventually the Dolphins have to prepare for not having their starter in the lineup.

Well, the preparation started today as Jones was bounced to second-team safety throughout practice while Jimmy Wilson took all his repetitions with the first team in Jones's former spot.

"We lose an experience player but we feel we have capable backups. Every team in the NFL is going to deal with situations that arise, whether it be injuries whether it be off the field issues. And the teams that deal with them the best are the teams that end up competing at the end of the season for the playoffs and for championships. We don't treat this any different than knowing we're going to be without a player for a couple of games. You have to adjust, move forward, and that's what we plan to do. That's why I'm glad we still have three more preseason games to continue to assess the entire group both at the safety position and the nickel."

Coyle is very confident about Wilson as his safety. The defensive coordinator believes Wilson has plenty of experience and will play hard and rally to the football. (I have my reservations and believe this is a step backward for the defense but that's for another day).

"He's one of the best communicators on the team," Coyle said. "When he's been in big situations, he's come up big for us."

The problem is the Dolphins aren't just replacing one "starter" back there. They're replacing a player in Wilson who has been the starting nickel for two seasons and done the job well.

So the Dolphins must identify a replacement for Wilson as the nickely from among the goup of Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor or Will Davis, or Michael Thomas. Taylor and Davis both worked at nickel today. Finnegan was absent for the second consecutive day after posting on Instagram that there had been a death in his family.

"We have options," Coyle said.

The question is whether those options will be good enough to defend the New England Patriots passing game which has in the past has been very good at picking out weak links in the Miami defense and attacking them.

"It's a work in progress," Coyle saidl, "but when we line up against New England I'm going to be confident we have a group out there that's going to give us the best chance to win."

Grossman, Skelton, Quinn work out for Dolphins [Updated]

It was an interesting scene watching the entire Dolphins brass -- including general manager Dennis Hickey, head coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and others -- emerge from the practice bubble moments ago after conducting workouts for three quarterbacks.

The Dolphins worked out Rex Grossman, John Skelton and Brady Quinn. Sources say the team is now planning to give each player a physical before deciding which player (if any) to add to the roster.

[Update: Grossman is not likely to sign with the Dolphins, according to a source. He has another visit set up already with another team. Skelton and Quinn are still in the running.]]

[Update 2: Skelton is not likely to sign with the Dolphins, Brady Quinn remains a possibility and the team is considering "other options," according to a source.]

This much is certain: The team is not happy with the situation behind Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore and perhaps it's too early to include Moore in that group, too.

Today, neither Pat Devlin nor Seth Lobato took any seven-on-seven or team drill snaps. This after the Dolphins cut Brock Jensen yesterday.

And so the Dolphins clearly want to see if they can improve their No. 3 QB competition.

But here's the rub: As all three players worked out today have experience starting in the NFL it is possible the team might be trying out players to increase the competition for the No. 2 QB spot. So perhaps Moore is about to get a run.

That hasn't been the case so far this year and, really, not been the case since Joe Philbin became coach in 2012. While Moore has not been able to win the starting job, Pat Devlin has offered little by way of competition to push Moore for the No. 2 job.

Perhaps the Dolphins want that competition in the form of one of the three QBs worked out today.

Rex Grossman, other QBs to audition for Dolphins

The Dolphins are auditioning several quarterbacks on Monday and former Florida Gators quarterback Rex Grossman will be one of those, agent Drew Rosenhaus said on WSVN-7 in South Florida Sunday evening.

The idea that the Dolphins need quarterback help goes beyond the fact the team released Brock Jensen, the fifth quarterback on the roster, on Sunday.

It goes to the idea that behind Ryan Tannehill everyone else is either nursing some physical ailment or dealing with a significant lack of ability.

Matt Moore has missed much of practice for most of the past five days -- including Friday's preseason game at Atlanta -- because he's had a sore throwing shoulder. Moore did throw more in practice on Sunday but is still not 100 percent.

Third-stringer Pat Devlin hasn't competed since the team scrimmage Aug. 2. He has a hamstring injury. And there is this:

Although Devlin is a favorite of coach Joe Philbin, the shine on him is starting to fade because, frankly, he shows no signs of challenging Moore for backup status entering his fourth season, and the idea of keeping only two quarterbacks on the roster has to be considered because the Dolphins have more talent at other positions that might be worthy of a roster spot ahead of Devlin.

Seth Lobato? He got three quarters of work against Atlanta in the preseason game and although he wasn't terrible, the fumbled shotgun snap in the Atlanta red zone late in the game was disappointing to coaches. The Dolphins also did not score a TD while Lobato was in the game.

His days on the roster seem numbered.

So the Dolphins are looking to add a live arm in camp that perhaps might increase the competition in the quarterback room. Grossman, who turns 34 later this month, might be that player.

He has played nine years and thrown 63 TDs and 60 interceptions in 54 games (with 47 starts). He was the starting quarterback when the Chicago Bears went to the Super Bowl in 2006.

By the way, am I advocating signing Grossman?

No. I'm advocating looking around for possible answers. Turn over rocks. Look for possibilities.

And here it is: I wish the Dolphins would work out Tim Tebow. He's been working out and working with a quarterback coach. He does have NFL experience. He did help take the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 and was 7-4 as a starter and even won a playoff game against Pittsburgh.

Is Tebow a great prospect?

No, but he's more accomplished than either Pat Devlin or Seth Lobato.

So why not?

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The team signed running back Cameron Marshall to take Jensen's roster spot.

Daniel Thomas, nursing a hamstring, continues to miss practice. The Dolphins announced that Jason Fox (chest), Mike Gillislee (hamstring) and Micajah Reynolds (knee) would miss extended practice time.

Tight end Michael Egnew (concussion) returned to practice today.