August 19, 2016

Dolphins OL vs. Cowboys: My line

Earlier this week, I told you my choice for the Dolphins offensive line to start the regular season. I told you, Laremy Tunsil should be the starting left guard and Jermon Bushrod should be the starting right guard. That's my offensive line.

My line.

Tonight that is also the Dolphins starting offensive line.

Coach Adam Gase will start Tunsil, the team's first round draft pick, at left guard for the first time this season. Bushrod, who has been getting mostly second-team snaps since the start of training camp, has combined a good outing against the New York Giants last week and more improvement during the last week of practice to get the call at right guard.

Shout Hallelujah!

The change means that Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, the starting guard combination since the start of training camp and the starters last week in New York, will play in later in the game against the Cowboys.

It seemed only a matter of time before this move was made, particularly with Tunsil.

I don't see any turning back now that this is the case, barring Tunsil absolutely melting down somehow -- which is not likely to happen. One of the things coach Adam Gase is measuring with Tunsil is his confidence and the worst thing for a young player's confidence is promoting him and then demoting him.

At running back, Jay Ajayi started for the Dolphins but Arian Foster will play.

In other lineup news, defensive end Cameron Wake is being kept out of tonight's game. It is a coach's decision. The Dolphins had expected to play all their defensive veterans, but have apparently decided to play it safe with Wake, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon and the surgery to repair it which ended his 2015 season prematurely.

The other scratches were expected: Xavien Howard, Kenyan Drake, Chimdi Chekwa, and Earl Mitchell.

I've reported Howard and Chekwa will be back at practice next week, perhaps as early as Sunday.

August 18, 2016

Miami Dolphins activate Xavien Howard

Help is on the way!

Miami Dolphins rookie cornerback Xavien Howard, projected by many within the organization as a starter in 2016, has been activated off the active physically unable to perform list, according to a league source.

[Update: The team has now announced this move.]

That means Howard, who had been recovering from minor knee surgery, passed his physical Thursday.

He will not play Friday when the Dolphins take on the Dallas Cowboys in their second preseason game. But Howard will be cleared to practice Sunday when the team returns to their field in preparation for their third preseason game next week.

Howard, the team's second round draft pick, is much-needed. Coaches had him penciled in as the starter almost from the second he was drafted -- in part because the Dolphins need a cornerback to play opposite Byron Maxwell.

Yes, Tony Lippett has been the starter at that position since early in the offseason. And, yes, Lippett has shown steady improvement as he continues to transition from a college wide receiver in 2014 to an NFL man-press cornerback. But Lippett has had bouts of uneven play during training camp and there's a question whether he might need more honing before he gets significant regular-season action.

Howard becoming active does not guarantee he'll take the job from Lippett, however. At least not immediately. Howard is a rookie. He has missed all of training camp since it opened July 29. It will very likely take him some time to get in football shape.

And the Dolphins are unlikely to simply throw Howard into the mix full bore when he does resume practicing Sunday. It will likely be an easing-in process to such a degree it is uncertain whether he'll play in the third preseason game Aug. 25 in Orlando.

But the Dolphins have planned for Howard to be available for the regular-season opener the entire time he's been rehabilitating and he is definitely on schedule to meet that timetable. Graduating off the PUP list is significant in that process.

Question for Dolphins running backs: Can you stay healthy?

Training camp is over for the Miami Dolphins and that marks something of a milestone because it signals the team will soon be in regular-season mode. And as the club flies to Dallas-Fort Worth this afternoon and a date with the Cowboys Friday evening, I think it's important to see what is going on with the running back situation.

There is news here in that Arian Foster is going to play at least a little bit against the Cowboys.

And you've been hearing mostly good things about the running back, indeed most of the running backs, from Adam Gase. The coach has said he loves the way Jay Ajayi gets down hill. He has spoken glowingly about how smart Foster is and how quickly he's caught on and gotten a feel for the blocking.

"I feel like it’s something that I didn’t really know about him," Gase said. "Him coming in, in training camp, not being here in the spring, and how fast he picked it up, I guess I wasn’t anticipating that. But then you think, veteran player.

"I remember being around him in the Pro Bowl and just talking to him and being like, ‘Man, this guy is really sharp.’ When we got him in here, I felt like by the time he came off PUP, he knew what to do. He’s probably one of the guys that we have the fewest amount of mental issues (with). It’s really, for him, just fine tuning some of the details of what we are looking for. He’s done a great job. He’s great when we meet as an offense as far as the skill guys and go through routes and talk about things that happened in practice. You can see when you tell him something, it’s like locked in there and you don’t get that same mistake again."

So, good.

Then there's rookie Kenyon Drake and third-year player Damien Williams.

Williams has gotten kudos from the coaching staff lately and is an arrow-up guy right now.

But Drake is disappointing at this stage. He is going to miss his second preseason game Friday after missing the opener in New York because he has a hamstring injury. He has been rehabbing hard to get back and that might happen next week. But he has missed a good bit of time.

And that, fundamentally, is the issue with this running backs corps.

It's not about smarts. Or experience. Or explosion. Or ability to get downhill and be physical with this group. None of that will determine the success or failure of this group.

The thing that will determine whether this is a thumbs up or thumbs down group is how and whether they can stay healthy. That's it. Period.

That's the way it is because in bringing this group together, the Dolphins have crammed a huge injury history into one backfield. All the players who are likely to be on the team have extensive injury histories.

Foster, coming back after rupturing an Achilles' tendon last season, has such an extensive injury history that the owner of his former team in Houston, Bob McNair, last year said simply that Foster was prone to soft tissue issues. So there was no surprise when despite how good Foster has been when he's healthy, the Texans went another direction.

Ajayi, who missed the first half of 2015 recovering from cracked ribs while on injured reserve with designation to return, also dealt with elbow and hamstring issues last year.

Drake, the team's third-round draft pick, suffered a dislocated ankle (ouch!), broken arm, concussion, quad contusion, sprained ankle and cracked ribs during his time at the University of Alabama.

So the three guys most likely to be part of the team's backfield come with injury histories. And then, not coincidentally, all of those guys with injury histories have missed time this training camp because of, you guessed it, injuries.

Interestingly, Foster, who has the most extensive NFL use and injury history, has been healthiest in camp. He started training camp on the sideline because he was on the physically unable to perform list. Days later he passed his conditioning test -- "annihilated it," Gase said -- but the team has been careful to keep Foster healthy because of his history.

He didn't play in the preseason opener. He wasn't taking team drills for a while. He was limited for a while. Gase even considered not playing him against the Cowboys before changing his mind, in part because Foster said he needed it.

"I need some this year," Foster said. "It’s been a while since I’ve been hit. Not in training camp but it’s different. In games, it’s different. You want to get that feel of getting hit week in and week out again."

Ajayi, who came to the Dolphins with a history of a bone on bone situation on one of his knees, missed some days this camp with a bone bruise on the other knee.

And did I mention Drake hasn't practiced in a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury? He also had a hamstring injury in the offseason after he was drafted.

So the Dolphins have a M.A.S.H. unit in the backfield.

The talent in their running back stable is not in question. The question is whether or how often the horses will pull up lame.

By the way, I didn't include Williams among the walking wounded because he's been healthy the past couple of weeks. But, yeah, he started camp on the physically unable to perform list because he had a hamstring injury.

August 17, 2016

Dolphins get into a few scrapes in practice today ... awesome!

Miami Dolphins social media was alight this morning because this practice, on the last day of training camp, featured three fights among the players.

And I get it.

It doesn't serve a purpose if someone gets injured. It doesn't make the team's discipline better because if you play the way you practice, you're going to lose your cool in a game the way you lost it in practice. And that's a no-no. But forgive me if I have testosterone and understand that football players have much more testosterone than me (and you) and sometimes things get heated.

I want a team with some fight in it.

I want players that have an edge to them and bring that edge to practice.

I understand that Bill Belichick has a no-tolerance policy for fights in dual practices with other teams. And I know he's a great coach. But the Dolphins were practicing amongst themselves Wednesday.

So when Jarvis Landry got to talking smack when he beat Bobby McCain, yeah, McCain didn't dig that. And it escalated.

"We're not going to take crap," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.

And I think that is good.

I think it would be much more troubling if the Dolphins didn't have any occasional scrapes. Then it would be time to worry.

The Dolphins agree ...

It's not a thing, folks.

Some people will turn practice fights into an issue. Me, too!

It's a good issue.

Laremy Tunsil on the cusp on starting role versus Cowboys (with video)

The plan with Laremy Tunsil has been to bring him along slooowly because coach Adam Gase wants to build within the rookie left guard a solid foundation the team can feel confident about this year and years in the future. It is, as Gase has repeated often, a process.

And that process will include giving Tunsil his first start of the preseason (of his NFL career, really) on Friday night against the Dallas Cowboys. I am told the team planned to do this days ago and this week has been steadily stepping up Tunsil's repetitions with the first-team offense in advance of the move.

Neither Tunsil nor Dallas Thomas have been told of anything in case the plan changes.

Tunsil would replace Thomas, who started at left guard all of 2015, was the starter in the preseason opener against the New York Giants, and is first on the depth chart.

One way Tunsil doesn't start is if coaches go back and study the tape of Wednesday's (today's) practice and see regression from the rookie. The staff is also gauging his acumen in meetings so failure to grasp something in meetings the next two days might also affect the decision. Then, I am told, the team might back off -- and still give Tunsil first-team snaps against the Cowboys, perhaps on the second or third series the starting line is in the game.

Coaches will meet Wednesday night to solidify their decisions.

"Nothing's really set right now," Gase said Wednesday.

But as of now, the hope is Tunsil continues his steady climb to eventually taking over the starting left guard spot by the regular-season opener Sept. 11 at Seattle.

So why is this taking so long for a player that was a first-round pick and the second or third most talented player on Miami's draft board last spring?

"This is a league where confidence does matter," Gase said. "And I’ve seen rookies before, you throw them in and (you’re) like, ‘Well, he’s got to play.’ And then two years later everybody’s calling for his head. So right now we’re going through the process that we need to go through.

"I like what he’s doing. I like the fact that he’s coming out there, giving everything he has, and he’s trying to make sure mentally that he’s on the same page, because there’s two other guys counting on him plus a back. We’ve got to make sure that whoever our five guys are, we’re doing the right thing – playing physical and they can count on each other."

Tunsil is playing it straight because, well, he doesn't know anything. As I wrote earlier, he has not been told anything.

 

August 16, 2016

Naming rights deal a jackpot for the Miami Dolphins [Updated]

It goes without saying that anytime a major international corporation wants to hang its name, its brand, its trademarks, its logos all over a sports venue that is going to host multiple high profile national events, the price for doing that is going to be high.

The Miami Dolphins on Tuesday got final approval from the NFL to give over naming rights to their stadium in Miami Gardens to Hard Rock International. And so the price for this stadium to become Hard Rock Stadium is high.

Think a quarter of a billion dollars.

That's what the deal is worth, give or take a couple of million dollars, over the life of the deal.

That's not a misprint: In the ballpark of $250 million.

Cha-ching.

This deal covers at least a dozen years but doesn't extend so long that the stadium, which owner Stephen Ross is renovating, will be obsolete before the deal expires. The exact length of the contract is still being guarded by the parties.

[Update: Sources are telling me this morning this is an 18-year deal. So 18 years at approximately $250 million over the life of the deal. That averages out to $13.8 million per year as the approximate price Hard Rock is paying to hang its brand on Ross's stadium.

What does that mean? It means this Dolphins deal is in the Top 3 in the NFL in worth per season. AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas is first at approximately $19 million per year. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., is second at approximately $16 million per year. Hard Rock Stadium is now third at $13.8 million per year. Levi's Stadium in San Francisco is fourth at approximately $11 million per year.

When the new stadium in Los Angeles comes on line in a few years, that naming rights deal will be the top deal overall. But not yet.]

And the amazing thing for the Dolphins is that because Hard Rock International is an entertainment and hospitality company it does not preclude the possibility the Dolphins can add secondary sponsors such as banks, beer, alcohol and soft drink companies and even automotive manufacturers or auto dealers.

-----

Yes, that is two consecutive business posts for this space and, I get it, you are football junkies.

Fine ...

Consider that the Dolphins much-heralded (by the team itself) defensive line is going to play against the Dallas Cowboys on Friday evening for the first time in 2016.

So Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones, and Ndamukong Suh are going to be unleashed. That means that Miami's line will debut against perhaps the best offensive line in football.

That's right, the Cowboys have for a couple of years now enjoy a reputation for having a fine offensive front. They played well in their preseason opener over the weekend.

It will be an awesome test even if it is for maybe three series.

Speaking of patting on the back, this is what does Ndamukong Suh think of his defensive line mates ... 

 

Hard Rock Stadium it is for Miami Dolphins facility [updated with key information]

Welcome to The Rock!

That little line from the movie The Rock now applies to the stadium the Dolphins have spent the past two offseasons renovating at a cost of approximately $500 million. Indeed, the reason the line will apply is because the Dolphins have locked in their naming rights for the facility.

Hard Rock Stadium....

This is huge news for the team because this deal will give the facility its name for a long, long, long time. I'm told the deal with Hard Rock International is so long, that kids entering kindergarten this fall will graduate high school and the name on the stadium when they get their diplomas will still be Hard Rock Stadium.

So this deal will go past a dozen years. That's very important because the facility has been the unofficial king of names in the past.

Hard Rock is the eighth name on the place since it opened in 1987.

Previously it was Dolphin Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Landshark Stadium, and most recently Sun Life Stadium.

I'm told there will not be a huge guitar fixed atop the new canopy of this stadium as it hangs outside Hard Rock Cafes around the world. But there will be typical Hard Rock trademarks, including the guitar, around the stadium and at the entrance to the main parking lots at Gate Four.

Hardrock guitar

Today's deal wasn't exactly a secret. I told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com that Hard Rock International could buy the naming rights back in May. 

Hard Rock International is owned by the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. But the stadium name will make no reference to the Seminole Hard Rock Casino that is approximately 15 miles north of the stadium per terms of the deal. The NFL, which wants to protect its brand, is often uncomfortable with its teams being tied to gambling of any form.

The NFL approved this deal this week.

The Dolphins are declining to confirm the deal at this hour. But there should be a press conference as early as Thursday.

Hard Rock Stadium will be the home of the Miami Dolphins, the Miami Hurricanes, the Orange Bowl Classic, and Super Bowl 54 in 2020, a game South Florida was awarded during the Spring.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has said he and the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee will continue to bid for Super Bowls and eventually wants to bring an NCAA national championship football game to his facility.

After its naming right deal with Sun Life expired months ago, the Dolphins kept the name on the stadium until recently. Just prior to this deal with Hard Rock, the Dolphins' stadium was one of only seven in the NFL with a naming rights deal.

Laremy Tunsil seems to take a notable step; Coach in shoulder pads (with video); Xavien Howard getting closer; Arian Foster playing at Dallas

The passing of the baton at the starting left guard position was always going to be a slow, deliberate handoff rather than a sudden toss. Today, at Miami Dolphins training camp, we witnessed the truest most obvious signs that the handoff is happening.

Dallas Thomas, who was the starting left guard in the preseason opener at the New York Giants, saw fewer first-team snaps today than rookie first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. Indeed, Tunsil has been getting a period or so more reps at left guard with the starters than Thomas this week, coach Adam Gase said.

But today was different. Today was more jarring.

Today was mostly all Tunsil with the exception of maybe one team drill period that Thomas got work with the ones.

And this: To this reporter's naked eye, it was obvious Tunsil was doing really well. Like really, really well.

Take one period for example: On first down Tunsil, matched against veteran defensive lineman Jason Jones, got both his hands on Jones quickly and as Jones seemed to stumble, the offensive linemen used his leverage to take Jones to the ground.

Win for Tunsil.

Next down, Jones kept his feet. But Tunsil held his ground. Stalemate.

Win for Tunsil.

Next down, Ndamukong Suh moved over the rookie's head and the two went at it one-on-one. And another stalemate, which obviously is a win for the offensive lineman.

Win for Tunsil.

Now, I'm not saying his technique was perfect. I'm not saying Tunsil had a strong punch or his hand placement was perfect. I'm just saying the guy drafted No. 13 overall in the first round for the expressed purpose of blocking people did exactly that against quality competition in a team drill -- with tons of activity and stuff happening all around.

Later, I saw Tunsil pick up a stunt with no issue.

"We're just going through our process," Gase said. "I'm pretty sure if we had five periods the other day, he was in three of them. So every day it's like two or three periods he's been starting but it doesn't seem like anybody notices."

So what is the next step of the process?

I suppose the next step is to get Tunsil playing time against better competition. Against starting-caliber players. In a game.

I'm not saying Tunsil will start against the Dallas Cowboys. (He should, in my opinion, but whatever). I'm saying Tunsil is likely to see work with the starting unit in the Cowboys game even if the Dolphins remain true to their depth chart and start Dallas Thomas.

Maybe Thomas gets a series with the ones. Maybe Tunsil gets a series or two with the ones. 

Gase is intent on sticking to his process. He doesn't have the luxury of simply sticking players we all know are eventually going to be out there, out there. He has to weigh other things. He has to, in other words, do his job for another two weeks before we see the end result that will be the Dolphins offensive line against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season opener.

"I just look at a guy like Jermon Bushrod who has been a left tackle his whole career and moves to right guard, and it's not easy when you go from being a tackle, especially when you're flipping to another side, and be a guard," Gase said.

"It takes a minute. It takes a minute to understand the angles. It takes a minute to understand those guys are bigger and stronger than what you're used to. That's why you can't rush and just throw them in there. This is a league where confidence does matter. And I've seen rookies before where everybody's saying, 'rookie's got to play.' And two years later everybody's calling for his head. So right now we're going through process we can go through."

Gotcha, coach. Process. We're processing the process of processing the process.

Now put Laremy Tunsil in there as a starter. He's ready.

Thanks.

Branden Albert, who will be starting at left tackle as usual against the Cowboys Friday, got Tuesday off as a rest day.

-----

The Dolphins have three players from which they would love major contributions on inactive lists.

Dion Jordan is on the non-football injury (NFI) list as he rebahs his knee surgery. Cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Chris Culliver are on the physically unable to perform list as they come back from their knee surgeries.

Culliver is going to be a while as he continues to come back and will probably start the season on the physically unable to perform list, as I've reported.

Howard is further ahead than Jordan, Gase said today.

"I don't want to say an exact date yet," Gase said, "because when we're going through that process that we're going through you could always have minor setbacks that could push them back. So when the right time to take one of those guys off, then we'll do it. We want to make sure we get the checkmarks done with the sports science, the trainers and the strength staff and obviously the kid saying, 'I feel good. I'm good, I'm ready to go.' "

Howard has been running and cutting aggressively on the sidelines while the team practices. He looks good but obviously there are measures the Dolphins are considering that the eye test simply cannot gauge.

But if the Dolphins are going to have Howard ready for the season-opener against the Seattle Seahawks, as the team is hoping, that means he's got three weeks and four days to get healthy, get practicing, get in football shape and be ready to play.

Howard obviously is not playing Friday night against Dallas in the second preseason game. It's hard to see him playing next week against Atlanta in the third preseason game even if he's activated for the week of practice.

So might he possibly be able to get in the last one preseason game Tennessee Sept. 1?

It all depends on how quickly Howard catches on and whether he suffers setbacks.

Jordan is a bit tougher to figure. He seems destined for the regular season NFI. That will make him eligible to return at some point during the season.

The reasons he seems likely to remain on NFI is he has simply missed so much and is so far behind, he cannot possibly earn a roster spot as the fifth defensive end ahead of players who have been working, practicing, playing for three weeks -- Chris McCain, Terrence Fede, Cleyon Laing, Cedric Reed, or Julius Warmsley. Well, he can be granted the spot, but earn it? No.

And the Dolphins aren't going to simply waive Jordan.

So he's apparently headed for a regular season inactive list.

-----

Today was something of an interesting start to practice as receiver coach Shawn Jefferson donned shoulder pads and a helmet and a protective shield and went after some of his receivers in a contact drill.

No, seriously.

Consider Herald photographer extraordinaire Charles Trainor Jr's video of the event and the reaction afterward:

"The whole point of that is an emphasis of tracking the safety, figuring out the angle [the receivers] have to take," Gase said. "Shawn is trying to emphasize the tempo they need to go at to take a guy out."

Hazel, by the way, got into a little jawing with his coach after their collision.

"I noticed that when Jakeem Grant got out there, [Jefferson] was like, 'Alright we're done,'  " Gase said.

-----

Running back Arian Foster, who was held out of the team's preseason opener last week, is almost certain to play Friday night against the Cowboys.

"Right now I'm pretty sure he's going to go," Gase said. "I want to see him get in there with that first group. I want to see him get a feel for how we operate."

August 15, 2016

Take it from Captain Negative: Miami Dolphins offense is going to need time, patience to build

So here's some breaking news: The Dolphins offense is slow right now.

Ryan Tannehill is holding the ball longer in the pocket than he probably should. Plays aren't busting loose as quickly as they should. Receivers aren't getting open as quickly as they should. The offensive line isn't coming together as quickly as it should. The tight ends aren't beating mismatches as quickly as they should -- or at all sometimes. The red zone offense is not efficient. The blitz pickups are poor. Nothing is really, truly synched up like it should be, at super fast NFL speed.

You know what that means?

The Dolphins' offense is probably right on schedule.

Look, Adam Gase and his coaching staff are installing a new offense. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is learning this thing. Sure, they had a good dose of it in the offseason. And yes, there is a lot of classroom work being done.

But the truth of the matter is most of these players are simply thinking their way through practice and obviously through the game last week in New York. And that process by which a player is going through his mental notes to make sure he's got his assignment, is thinking about his options depending on what the defense offers, and is thinking about the new techniques the coaching staff is teaching, all takes time.

And taking time in the NFL is begging for problems.

The team that plays fast, even as it makes some mistakes, is usually playing better than the team that is even one blink of an eye slower. And make no mistake, the relative slowness of this offense right now is pretty obvious to even inexpert eyes.

Tannehill is taking an extra beat in the pocket. I told you as much in a post on Aug. 9. (Yeah, the reason you read this space is to get inside stuff first, not a step slow). And today, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen only confirmed what I told you last week when he was asked whether Tannehill is getting the ball out quickly enough.

"No," Christensen said. "I don’t think anything is as quick as we want. Nothing – not the protection, the run game, the pass game, the routes. Nothing is as quick as we want. But again, that’s what has to all speed up. It has to speed up if we’re going to get where we want to go. Especially (with) the up-tempo and some of those things, it all has to become second nature. Again, I hope in these next two weeks, we’ll start seeing some results of everything."

Yeah ... no.

Dolphins coaches are kidding themselves if they think that within the next two weeks -- timed as if by magic for the start of the regular season -- everything will suddenly begin to click with a quickness because they need it to so as to play at Seattle. Sorry. Not the way it works.

It is my experience that when teams are installing a new offense, it typically takes half a season to get into a groove. So I'm thinking late October when this offense will start hitting a stride -- if that's what it is going to do at all.

Why do I sound like, as one Dolphins coach called me this week, "Captain Negative?"

Because this ain't my first rodeo. I've seen things. And I've seen all this before. I've been through ten trillion new Dolphins head coaches and offensive coordinators. And it takes a while to get everyone locked in, particularly on offense.

It takes time to get 11 men together. On time.

It takes time for guys to know. And to know that they know -- as Bill Parcells would tell me.

It takes time for guys to play on instincts rather than via a thought process.

It will not happen in the next two weeks.

And here's the thing: It might take the Dolphins longer than most to get this thing to work.

Why?

Because they're asking a rookie who never played guard in college to go from tackle to guard. So the transition to the NFL is new. The offense is new. The techniques are new. And the position is new. That's a lot of new the Dolphins are heaping on Laremy Tunsil.

Arian Foster is new to this offense. And while he can get by on his vast experience in the Texans zone blocking, one-cut and go attack, the Dolphins do more than just that. And Foster missed all of the offseason. He's been in this offense all of one month.

The most veteran offensive lineman on this team is Jermon Bushrod. This is his tenth season in the NFL. And so he's seen it all, right?

Wrong, because he's seen it all from the left side of an offensive line. He's on the right side now. And as he told me for my column today that is almost foreign to him. Still. So veteran or not, Bushrod cannot simply lap the competition in winning a job because he's still figuring out left foot or right foot first, and thinking about it before he takes that step.

Kenny Stills? He's in his third offense in three years. He didn't adapt quickly enough and perform to his expectations last year. And then what happened? The Dolphins hired a new staff and now he's learning a new offense. Again.

DeVante Parker? He missed much of last year's training camp. He wasn't a factor in that offense until late in the season. So the Dolphins change systems and he misses part of this offseason because of a hamstring injury. He missed some time the past two weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury. He missed the preseason opener. He's a second-year player. The team is trying to make sure he does life skills things like gets a good breakfast every morning and hydrates. And so figuring out the ins and out of becoming a great NFL wide receiver is atop all those fundamental things he should already know. Yeah, it is going to take him a minute.

Tannehill? He won the starting job as a rookie and that showed great ability to learn quickly, right? Except you may forget Tannehill actually had been in that 2012 Dolphins offense for several years at Texas A&M. So he knew what he was doing better than most veterans back in '12. This offense, meanwhile, is his third in five years. So, yes, he's thinking.

Everybody is thinking, my friends!

“I put it into (the category of) the early camps when we were installing (in Indianapolis) when (Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Chuck) Pagano came in and all of a sudden that first year you’re putting in (former Colts Offensive Coordinator Bruce) Arians’ offense," Christensen said. "It’s similar to the times when you just started. It was a dream world when all of a sudden you had all of those veteran guys and you’re in your 10th year together. The first day of training camp, you’re picking up blitzes and throwing hots and running double moves and all of that stuff. But those guys had been together for 10 years, and that wouldn’t be fair to compare the two right now. We had been through it. We were through it those early years in Indy. We were through it again with Pagano and we were through it again when Coach Arians went on to Arizona, and we had to put in a new offense. It’s not easy.

"This league is fine tuned. All of a sudden, you do something new and it takes a while to fine-tune this thing up. It’s just kind of gross movements initially and then by opening day they’ve got to be more fine movements and fine tuning."

That is the hope, that is the plan.

I see a different reality.

As Captain Negative I see an extremely young Dolphins offense going to Seattle, which is a terrible place for visiting offenses, and against a loud crowd and veteran defense, on the road, guys who are still new to this team and this system are going to have everything come naturally?

That is quite an uphill slog of a request.

Captain Negative doesn't see how it can all come together so quickly.

Oh, there's another thing. The Seahawks, a veteran team, have established their culture. The New England Patriots, a veteran team and the opponent in Week 2, have established their culture. The Cincinnati Bengals, another veteran team and the opponent in Week 4, have established their culture.

All those teams will be at home.

Have the Dolphins established their culture? Do they even know themselves who they are?

No.

Will they be at home for those games so the crowd can be quiet when they have the ball, allowing players a good environment in which to think and figure things out?

No.

But it's all going to fly straight and fast as if this offense has been together for five years?

Captain Negative says no.

This is what I see: I see the 1981 Washington Redskins.

That team was a franchise with a great history and storied tradition. It was awesome. But they had fallen on hard times when they hired this hot shot offensive coordinator who was a Don Coryell disciple. His name is Joe Gibbs.

Gibbs installed an innovative offense that summer of 1981. And early in the fall that offense stunk. Terrible.

The Redskins started 0-5.

But you know what? The thing eventually started to click. Suddenly the counter-trey became a thing. Suddenly the Fun Bunch started enjoying their more frequent trips to the end zone. Suddenly John Riggins got rolling behind a massive offensive line. Gibbs, calling the plays, hit a groove.

And the Redskins were 8-3 over the final 11 games to salvage an 8-8 season.

The next few years that offense was dominant.

I'm not saying that is exactly what will happen to Adam Gase and this Dolphins offense. I'm just saying even an offense with the potential to be record-setting, as the Redskins of yesteryear were, starts slow and needs time to build.

That's where I see this Dolphins offense now.  

Dolphins practice Monday: Chekwa on way back; TEs not good enough; the roster breakdown at DL; OL decision week away

Another practice day done, another day closer to the Miami Dolphins' second preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys Friday evening. Here's what's happening:

Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, who has been out with a leg strain since Aug. 5, is a couple of days away from being ready to come back, per a source. He will not play in Friday's game at Dallas but expects to return to practice next week when the Dolphins resume drills following their second preseason game.

It's important for Chekwa to get back because he was doing well before the injury and there is definitely a roster opportunity for him on this team. But he can't make the team while he's rehabbing.

That's the news.

The Dolphins made offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph available to the media today.

I asked Christensen about the tight ends. I told him I don't see a lot of production out of that group in general and Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims in particular. I don't see a lot of great things happening. So I asked Christensen if I'm missing it?

"No. I don't think so," Christensen answered. "We had a couple of shots in the game. We dropped a ball that should have been a 20-yard-plus play. They're like everyone. They're learning. Probably of every position, the tight end position is the most learning because they have to know the protection, they have to know the run game and they have to know the pass game.

"I think they will be the last ones where the speed shows that I'm talking about shows up and becomes natural because we stick them at so many positions. They're out wide, they're in the slot, they're attached, they're part of the run unit. They're in the backfield as a protector.

"I don't think you've missed it, but we need some big plays out of that room. We know that. That's where your matchups are on third down. They've got to win and we have to have good stuff for them. Hopefully we'll get there. We're not there yet."

That is disappointing because the Dolphins haven't looked great in practice in the red zone. And who catches touchdowns in the red zone?

Tight ends!!!

Yet, I don't often see that in practice. Not a criticism. Just what it is so far and Christensen agrees. The thing is it's not just about producing in the passing game for these tight ends. On Friday against the Giants, Jordan was supposed to chip New York DE Olivier Vernon before going out into the pattern on a pass play near the goal line. He blew it.

Instead of chipping from the outside, he took an inside route to Vernon and by doing so cut off tackle Branden Albert from his assignment. To the naked eye, it seemed as if Albert simply could not keep up with Vernon as the defensive end chased Ryan Tannehill in the end zone.

In truth, it was the tight end not doing a good job on his assignment and keeping the left tackle from doing a good job, too.

"We should have taken the outside edge and run him inside into the tackle," Christensen said. "Some of those details weren't sharp enough and that's why you go three-and-out. You're not on your mess, you go three-and-out in this league." 

 Christensen understands there is building crankiness (mine) about the offensive line situation. The team is continuing to mix and match lines at the guard spot where there is a competition and uncertainty. I offered my solution to that uncertainty in my column today. And the solution did see work in drills.

But are the Dolphins close to picking their starting offensive line?

"Probably not yet," Christensen said. "I think these next two weeks, everything should speed up. The installs will slow down, play should speed up. We should play better, we have to protect our quarterback better, we have to run it better, throw and catch it better. We have to do everything better.

"These next two weeks, if we don't see some big improvement then we'll get a little bit nervous. But we should see some big improvement these next two weeks."

Christensen said he doesn't have a sense in his mind who the starting guards will be and, indeed, he's "trying to make sure that I don't."

Obviously that is to make sure everyone gets a fair evaluation, which coach Adam Gase has guaranteed his players and is delivering.

" I think we do have to at the end of this game start thinking about it because the third game is when we're trying to play the starters a good chunk," Christensen said. "The fourth week is kind of a wash and who knows how coach Gase will play then so coming out of this game we have to start funneling the thing down and getting a starting lineup and giving them a chance to play together."

On defense Vance Joseph said this Friday's game will mark the debut of the defensive veterans the team sat last week at New York.

"Probably, we're not sure yet, Joseph said. "I think they'll play a series or two. It's time."

That means Mario Williams, Cameron Wake, Jason Jones, Ndamukong Suh, Reshad Jones and Byron Maxwell should get playing time against the Cowboys.

The defensive end and defensive tackle spot will be interesting when the Dolphins trim their roster to 53. Joseph said the numbers the team is looking at for the end spot is five players. The team is looking at four tackles, he said.

"Right now we've got three or four guys that we have penciled in," Joseph said of the ends. "That fifth spot is going to be up for grabs. It's going to be a tough decision even inside for the four inside players."

This is how that breaks down...

Defensive ends: Cameron Wake, Jason Jones, Mario Williams and probably Andre Branch are penciled in on the team. That's four. The fifth spot right now is between Chris McCain (who is better as a pass rusher), and Terrence Fede (who is better against the run). Dion Jordan (who is better at rehabbing) is not in the mix. 

Middle linebacker Kiko Alonso missed a tackle on a touchdown run against the Giants. Despite that, Joseph is clearly a Kiko guy.

"He's done fine," Joseph said. "Obviously the missed tackle, I didn't like. We had a bunch of missed tackles Friday. That's expected, it's preseason. That should get rectified pretty soon. He's done fine. He's a really bright inside backer that's played well for us."

The Dolphins view Tony Lippett as a three-year project. And yet, there he is still in the starting lineup, mostly because Xavien Howard and Chris Culliver are not yet healthy. Joseph sees improvement in the second-year former college wide receiver.

"I thought Lippett played well in the game," Joseph said. "He had one play where it was a plus-plus split. He gave up a slant route inside. It was a plus-five split. So I get it. He didn't see the split. That stuff we can fix and coach. But I'm excited about Lippett. We seen improvement from the first day. You watch him today, he had three or four PBUs. He's getting better every day."

August 14, 2016

Miami Dolphins not going to "fire everybody, bench everybody"

The Miami Dolphins just finished their first practice following their first preseason game and by the looks of things today, nothing's changed.

The Dolphins have not significantly altered anything that I can see relative to their depth chart. Yes, this is the first practice of the week. Yes, things can change five minutes after I hit that publish button on this post.

But to this second, all is the same.

That means my suggestion that the offensive line approach, in particular, needs to change is falling on deaf ears. The Dolphins went through another practice today mixing and matching and evaluating players.

Sometimes Dallas Thomas was first-team left guard.

Sometimes Laremy Tunsil was first-team left guard.

Sometimes Billy Turner was first-team right guard. Sometimes he played right tackle.

And so the game that Thomas had -- where he had one terrible play out of perhaps seven total plays -- had no ill effects on his status. And coach Adam Gase defended that approach.

"I know everybody is itching to fire everybody and bench everybody," Gase said. "And I understand some people are concerned about every single little thing. When certain people have history, guys who have been here in the past, I know you form opinions. But I said this right from the start: Everybody has a fresh start with this crew.

"Our job is to evaluate what we see. Anything that happened in the past, it doesn't matter to me. It doesn't matter. So everybody is going to get a true evaluation. We'll make our final decision the first game of the season. That's what we're going to do. This is a process that we go to go through."

Gase said his evaluation of rookie Laremy Tunsil is that the rookie is not close to arriving yet.

"He's got a lot to learn," Gase said. "... That inside is a different angle. He's learning. The good thing about him is he works hard."

And as to Thomas, the coach hasn't talked to the player or worried that the player is worried because, well, there's nothing to worry about. 

"I feel like it hasn't been necessary for me to sit down and try to explain anything," Gase said. "Because he hasn't put anything toward me like he's concerned. He's been working hard. I feel like he's focused on himself and not worrying about anybody else. That's what I've appreciated about him. He's not worried about what anybody else says. He's worried about what his position coach says, what his coordinator says and what his head coach says. That's all that matters to him. He's going out there and trying to do everything he can and he's working to get better."

Thomas truly is in head-down mode.

After practice today he started a little bit of a firestorm by telling reporters that some people on social media basically stink.

"It's pointless," Thomas said. "Social media gives people, what's a good way to say it, it gives them balls. It gives them balls that they wouldn't say it to your face."

Thomas is on social media. But he says he stays off.

"I outgrew it," he said. "Social media is overrated."

That first quote from Thomas is going to make the rounds. But, my opinion, it is the next opinion that boggles the mind:

Despite playing poorly at times last year (not all the time but a lot of the times) Thomas has kept his confidence because he sees a different evaluation on himself.

"Never wavered," Thomas said of his confidence. "Shoot, I started all the games last year and I did real well. I just want to keep building from that and carry it over to this year."

As to the game Friday night against the Giants, Thomas thinks it was good.

"I feel like I did good," Thomas said. "I had that one bad play but besides that I was fine."

Thomas has been replaced (my opinion) and he doesn't even know it yet. The Dolphins eventually will replace him with first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. There is practically no chance a healthy Tunsil will not pass him.

But give Thomas credit for fighting the good fight even if it is uphill. He's not yielding anything to Tunsil, the Dolphins first-round draft pick and No. 13 overall, in this competition for the starting left guard job.

"No, because he has to come out here and work. I have to come out here and work," Thomas said. "Its the way this game goes. You just can't say, 13, alright, I can't count myself out.

"No."

Miami Dolphins not going to "fire everybody, bench everybody"

The Miami Dolphins just finished their first practice back since their first preseason game and by the looks of things today, nothing's changed.

The Dolphins have not significantly altered anything that I can see relative to their depth chart. Yes, this is the first practice of the week. Yes, things can change five minutes after I hit that publish button on this post.

But to this second, all is the same.

That means my suggestion that the offensive line approach needs to change is falling on deaf ears. The Dolphins went through another practice today mixing and matching and evaluating players.

Sometimes Dallas Thomas was first-team left guard.

Sometimes Laremy Tunsil was first-team left guard.

Sometimes Billy Turner was first-team right guard. Sometimes he played right tackle.

And so the game that Thomas had -- where he had one terrible play out of perhaps seven total plays -- had no ill effects on his status. And coach Adam Gase defended that approach.

"I know everybody is itching to fire everybody and bench everybody," Gase said. "And I understand some people are concerned about every single little thing. When certain people have history, guys who have been here in the past, I know you form opinions. But I said this right from the start: Everybody has a fresh start with this crew.

"Our job is to evaluate what we see. Anything that happened in the past, it doesn't matter to me. It doesn't matter. So everybody is going to get a true evaluation. We'll make our final decision the first game of the season. That's what we're going to do. This is a process that we go to go through."

Gase said his evaluation of rookie Laremy Tunsil is that the rookie is not close to arriving yet.

"He's got a lot to learn," Gase said. "... That inside is a different angle. He's learning. The good thing about him is he works hard."

And as to Thomas, the coach hasn't talked to the player or worried that the player is worried because, well, there's nothing to worry about. 

"I feel like it hasn't been necessary for me to sit down and try to explain anything," Gase said. "Because he hasn't put anything toward me like he's concerned. He's been working hard. I feel like he's focused on himself and not worrying about anybody else. That's what I've appreciated about him. He's not worried about what anybody else says. He's worried about what his position coach says, what his coordinator says and what his head coach says. That's all that matters to him. He's going out there and trying to do everything he can and he's working to get better."

Thomas truly is in head-down mode.

After practice today he started a little bit of a firestorm by telling reporters that some people on social media basically stink.

"It's pointless," Thomas said. "Social media gives people, what's a good way to say it, it gives them balls. It gives them balls that they wouldn't say it to your face."

Thomas is on social media. But he says he stays away.

"I outgrew it," he said. "Social media is overrated."

That first quote from Thomas is going to make the rounds. But, my opinion, it is the next quote that boggles the mind:

Despite playing poorly at times last year (not all the time but a lot of the times) Thomas has kept his confidence because he sees a different evaluation on himself than what most people see.

"Never wavered," Thomas said of his confidence. "Shoot, I started all the games last year and I did real well. I just want to keep building from that and carry it over to this year."

As to the game Friday night against the Giants, Thomas thinks it was good.

"I feel like I did good," Thomas said. "I had that one bad play but besides that I was fine."

Thomas has been replaced (my opinion) and he doesn't even know it yet. The Dolphins eventually will replace him with first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. There is practically no chance a healthy Tunsil will not pass him.

But give Thomas credit for fighting the good fight even if it is uphill. He's not yielding anything to Tunsil, the Dolphins first-round draft pick and No. 13 overall, in this competition for the starting left guard job.

"No, because he has to come out here and work. I have to come out here and work," Thomas said. "It's the way this game goes. You just can't say, '13, alright, I can't count myself out.'

"No."

Maxwell misses practice with groin

Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell was a late scratch to the team' A late scratched to the dolphins preseason opener s preseason opener because coach Adam Gase said he could not get loose.

Well, Maxwell apparently is still not loose.

The veteran cornerback is among the list of players not practicing Sunday morning because of a groin injury.

Other players missing Sunday are running back Kenyan Drake (hamstring), defensive end Julius Warmsley (concussion), cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (leg strain), Defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin (ankle), and Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (calf).

August 13, 2016

Miami Dolphins postgame report: Preseason game 1

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The postgame from the Dolphins 27-10 preseason victory over the New York Giants was almost as interesting as the game itself.

It starts with the most surprising pregame move which was keeping cornerback Byron Maxwell out of the game. The veteran cornerback was supposed to start the game but that plan changed just after warmups.

"Actually, I was walking in and I noticed he was full sweat running around out there and he said he was tight," coach Adam Gase said. "He was trying to get loosened up and couldn't get loosened up. He went back in and our trainers and the rest of the crew went back out there. Then we just decided it would be smart to make sure nothing happened to him. He's had a good camp and we want to make sure he's ready to go for the start of the season."

And so the Dolphins turned to Bobby McCain as their starter. McCain, it should be noted, is not an outside cornerback. He's a slot cornerback. And the Dolphins view this as two different positions. But with Miami being down several corners who are injured -- such as Xavien Howard, Chimdi Chekwa and Chris Culliver -- and Maxwell being out ...

It was Bobby McCain time. 

"He kind of got thrown out last minute," Gase said. "We knew we were going to put him out there at some point in the game but I think it was a little sooner than he thought. He got into a pretty good rhythm. He played tight coverage and he did what he's supposed to do. That's what we're looking for."

McCain got beat on a couple of passes. But he also had an interception. He finished the game with two passes defensed and that pick.

"I'm comfortable out there," McCain said of working on the boundary. "I work inside and outside. Last year I played a lot inside but at the end of the year I played a lot outside. My whole life I've been playing corner, so I'm comfortable wherever they put me."

McCain delivered a solid game.

It seemed as if second-team guard Laremy Tunsil did very well. The five-yard touchdown run in which Damien Williams ran to the left and the New York front had collapsed?

Laremy Tunsil was one of the blockers collapsing the Giants defense.

"Man, I forgot about that play," Tunsil admitted after the game. "But the oline looked good on that play."

For Tunsil the biggest issue Friday seemed to be getting calm.

"I had to get the jitters out but I did that eventually," Tunsil said. "I was nervous. You want to get that first hit out of the way to get those jitters out."

Tunsil got a ton of reps and Gase said it will be great work to evaluate because practice reps just aren't real. This was as close to real as the Dolphins will see from Tunsil so this should offer good evaluation tape.

My column today, by the way, covers the Dolphins offensive line and what immediately must happen for the Dolphins to get closer to regular season form. Hint: It has to do with the offensive line.

Gase was clearly displeased with the penalties by the first unit offense and defense.

On defense, the Dolphins had the Giants in a third-and-11 situation but Chris McCain jumped offsides turning it into a manageable third-and-6 situation.

"I thought we were in a good situation with defense," Gase said. "They had a penalty and thought we were off the field. When you hurt yourself on third down, something bad usually happens. It just never quite worked out for us in that drive. They scored a touchdown."

 On offense, the Dolphins were in a second-and-four situation their second series and then Ja'Wuan James jumped offsides, turning the situation into a third-and-10 and backed up to the seven yard line.

"It's not ideal for us," Gase said.

The Dolphins got excellent work from backups.

Jakeem Grant led the team in receptions; Walt Aikens had a forced fumble; Isaiah Pead rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries and Daniel Thomas rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries.

Gase said the reserves offered "great energy" and "played the kind of football we're looking for."

Grant had four catches for 68 yards, including a 24 yard reception. He also returned four punts for 60 yards and averaged 26.5 yard per kick return on two chances.

"I think I proved a little something but I have a long way to go," Grant said. "I haven't perfected it yet. This is my first time doing it back there and I'm still getting a feel for it and I got a lot of stuff to improve on.

"I was just wanted to go out there and make a play and show everyone that I am a receiver, too, as well as a punt returner and kickoff returner. Anything the coach wants to put me in, I'm going to take it and do to the best of my ability."

The Dolphins quarterbacks story was an interesting one. Matt Moore started slow, by throwing an interception.

"I was shocked," Gase said. "When he threw the interception, that surprised me. Because that's very surprising from what I had seen of him running exactly that play in practice. I think he just waited and felt he had what he wanted. I think he came right back and was like, "that ball shouldn't have gone there." But he came right back and it loosened him up."

Moore was better later. He finished the game with 10 completions on 14 attempts for 122 yards with one TD and one INT.

Tannehill was two of four for eight yards.

We didn't move the ball like I wanted to," Tannehill said. "We had a couple of completions short of the sticks. Then, in the second drive, we kind of got going in the run game and then a penalty put us back behind the sticks and that's not where you want to be. So ... frustrating.

"Frustrating that that was our limited sample size there. But there's some good things in those play that we did well. We have stuff we need to clean up and have to clean up as soon as possible."

Yes, protecting the QB needs to be cleaned up. Olivier Vernon dominated his former team in the two series he played against the starters.

So QB protection...

"Well, it's going to be a big part of every football team in the NFL," Tannehill said. "You've got to be able to protect the quarterback and get the ball out and get the ball to the playmakers' hands ... We want to get the run game going, we want to protect the ball, we want to run the ball -- it's all part of the formula for a great offense, and it's [protecting the QB] a big factor for it."

August 12, 2016

Dolphins at Giants delayed by lightning

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins preseason has been delayed.

The kickoff to Friday night's preseason opener has been delayed by lightning in the area. Fans were asked to leave the stands and the teams left the field approximately 10 minutes before the 7 p.m. kickoff. And we're still deayed.

There has been no time given for kickoff, but when the all clear is given, teams will get a 10 minute warmup period, then the coin toss, then the national anthem.

[Update: The MetLife Stadium committee is thinking 7:45ish the teams will be back on the field and kickoff coming around 8:15ish.]

[Update: Teams are back on the field and they are trying for a 7:55ish kickoff.]

As a late change, the Dolphins have decided cornerback Byron Maxwell will not play tonight.

Bobby McCain will start at cornerback in Maxwell's spot. 

Miami Dolphins scheduled to rest proven defensive veterans

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The much hyped pass rush the Miami Dolphins have said many times they are going to unleash during the 2016 NFL regular-season will not be making its debut in the team's preseason opener.

Head coach Adam Gase has told players including Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams they will not be playing in Friday night's game here against the New York Giants. All those players travelled with the team Thursday afternoon but the Dolphins don't believe any has anything to prove in such an early preseason game.

Wake, attempting a comeback from the torn Achilles and surgery to repair it last October, continues to be set to open the season as a starting end and the Dolphins are holding him out of this game to ensure the team's leading active sack leader doesn't stumble on that comeback trail.

The Dolphins are being cautious with several valuable players and players who have had minor injuries in training camp. That caution will extend to wide receiver DeVante Parker, who also has been told he will not be playing.

Parker said two days ago he believed the plan for him was to play but that was immediately after coming back from a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice for over a week. The Dolphins want to make sure Parker gets more practice work before testing his hamstring in a game.

Parker will play in next weeks preseason game at Dallas barring any setbacks during the week of practice.

The defensive absences mean veterans Chris McCain, Terrence Fede and perhaps even Andre Branch will get plenty of opportunities to help sort out the ample depth the Dolphins seem to have at defensive end. If Branch plays, a likelihood, he would start.

Veteran Jason Jones is not expected to play.

With Suh not playing and Earl Mitchell back in South Florida nursing a calf injury, the starting defensive tackles should be Chris Jones and Jordan Phillips and both could play extended downs.

On offense, rookie Leonte Carroo, who worked with the first unit in Parker's absence, will be on the field with the starters when the offense is in a three-wide set.

Most healthy offensive starters are scheduled to play against the Giants. That includes starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, starting left tackle Branden Albert and starting center Mike Pouncey. Starting receivers Jarvis Landry and Kenny Still are also scheduled to play barring a last minute change in warmups.

The first team offensive line is expected to be Albert at left tackle, Dallas Thomas at left guard, Pouncey at center, Billy Turner at right guard and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle.

First round draft pick Laremy Tunsil is expected to play a lot -- possibly at both left tackle and left guard -- replicating work he's been getting in practice.

Jay Ajayi is scheduled to start at running back. Arian Foster, also being managed as he regains his form after a ruptured Achilles in 2015, will not play, Gase said earlier in the week.

Gase has said the amount of time his offensive starters are in the game will depend on a "feel" he'll get during the game, but it is clear those starters will not be felt much beyond early in the second quarter assuming the unit gets a couple of good possessions.

Bad possessions and who knows what Gase might do.

August 11, 2016

Dolphins leave injured players behind on casual travel day

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins traveled to the greater New York area today but left behind all of their injured players who obviously will not play in their preseason opener against the New York Giants.

Earl Mitchell (calf), Farrington Hugeunin (ankle), Chimdi Chekwa (leg), MarQuis Gray (leg),  Vinston Painter (neck), Dion Jordan (knee), Kenyan Drake (hamstring), Chris Culliver (knee), and Xavien Howard (knee) did not make this trip. All have missed time recently while they either work to get healthy enough to practice for the first time this training camp or return to practice.

Mitchell, a starter, obviously will not be with the first unit against the Giants. He is expected to be replaced by second-year starter Jordan Phillips.

The Dolphins are making their first business trip under the guidance of new coach Adam Gase.

And that means they are traveling under Adam Gase's road rules.

Those rules have relaxed (somewhat) the dress code former coach Joe Philbin employed during a majority of his three-and-one-quarter seasons as coach. Whereas Philbin asked players to wear jackets and ties for much of his tenure, Gase has allowed the team to wear jackets (with no ties) if the wish.

Players also have been given the option of wearing a team supplied sweat suit and footwear if they wish.

So it was a casual comfortable approach today with some players such as defensive end Cameron Wake wearing a jacket on the plane and others wearing sweats.

Job One for Miami Dolphins in first preseason game: Play with urgency

What does Adam Gase want from the Miami Dolphins in their first preseason game of 2016?

"I just want energy," the head coach said Wednesday. "I want energy and I want guys flying around. If guys screw up, oh well. Just go 100 miles per hour. I know with what we’ve done out (on the practice field), that should take over. We’ve been practicing in some tough conditions. Today wasn’t easy. The guys battled. Nobody said anything. (They) just grinded it out. If we come out with that kind of mentality and enjoy what we’re doing, we should play fast.”

That's not a lot to ask, right? Gase wants his team to not worry about mistakes but rather show up and show some urgency and act like they're excited to be playing the New York Giants on Friday.

But actually, for the Miami Dolphins, asking that type of pace and excitement and enthusiasm has at times been too much. And we're not talking preseason. We're talking this team has had a case of the zombie blues in regular season games over the years.

Remember last year? What was one of the team's biggest problems?

Not starting fast.

Rarely punching first.

Seemingly going through the motions.

That kind of stuff happened in a regular-season opener in 2015. It also happened in regular-season finales the previous two years. And it happened multiple other times throughout the past few years.

Why?

I think I know the answer but I am just so tired of blaming things on a guy who isn't the head coach anymore that I am not going to get into it now. What I am going to get into is to say the new head coach is asking his team to do the same thing the old one did. The new guy wants to see players play as if their hair is on fire.

The previous guy wanted the same thing. It's just that the previous guy didn't find a way to make that happen.

So one of Adam Gase's first important game day tests as the Dolphins coach is to see if he can successfully get his team to play like they have a three-alarm blaze in their helmet from the opening kickoff. The test is going to be whether whatever he tells these players gets to them and they react. The test is whether the preparation of the week translates to production and electricity and a sense of urgency right at kickoff.

Dolphins fans are tired of watching Miami players start games as if they slept through their wakeup call. You're tired of seeing your team wait for the other team to take the initiative.

So do the 2016 Dolphins change that personality flaw of the past?

Now, it must be said here that even if the Dolphins solve this past issue, it does not mean the results will be different. It doesn't mean the record will be better. It is no better in the standings if a team plays with desire and urgency and loses 28-24 than if it doesn't play with urgency and loses 28-14.

But if your team is acting like it's interested in being at the game from the very start, if players are obviously giving all of themselves from the kickoff, the satisfaction you'll have about that team will be higher at game's end.

No matter the outcome.

August 10, 2016

Arian Foster not playing vs. Giants; Dink and Dunk Dolphins? PLUS a ton of other Dolphins notes

The Miami Dolphins final practice before their 2016 preseason opener against the New York Giants is in the books and this is what's happening at this hour:

Coach Adam Gase has talked with running back Arian Foster and informed him he's not playing against the Giants Friday night. The coach will speak with multiple signature veterans in the next few hours about their status for Friday and decide whether or not to play them.

Chances are good some accomplished veterans, mostly on defense, won't be playing. I don't see why Cameron Wake, coming off a ruptured Achilles injury and surgery last October, should play in a meaningless game so early in the preseason.

Thus proving what?

Gase said he's not spoken to Wake about the topic so he wouldn't say whether Wake will play or not. As for Foster ...

"I have a certain way about treating running backs that have played for a while," Gase said. "I don't like them taking unnecessary hits ... I just want to be smart.

"I think I'm just going to go by feel," the coach added about how he'll make playing time decisions for this game. "I have a better idea as far as how the defense will go. On the offense it's [about having] chemistry of just playing and practicing. Being on the same page. Ryan [Tannehill] and myself being on the same page, being able to communicate. We probably need to try to play a little more in the preseason ... You never know what's going to happen. You always have a number in mind and then things can change."

Gase said that, at least for this game, the defensive starters probably won't be playing a long time but "younger guys, maybe even younger starters" might get more work than established veterans. The offense is likely going to play longer -- whatever amount the coach decides but there's no one other than Foster who will definitely sit out.

That might be because the offense needs more work than the defense at this point. Gase said he feels "light years better" about the offense now than he did after the debacle of a scrimmage Saturday.

"We needed to go through that," he said. "We needed to go through it when just about everything possible could have gone wrong. Somebody screwed up on every play. And we're second-and-20 and then third-and-17. So that probably needed to happen. And then guys kind of stepped back and realized, 'hey, If I'm just doing my job, then things will work out.'"

Here's a little media inside look at the press box. While the Dolphins are practicing today, I'm up in the press box arguing with several of my media brethren at other outlets about the Miami offense. They were arguing that the Miami offense is a dink and dunk offense.

I was arguing that the NFL is a dink and dunk league and there's nothing wrong with the Miami offensive philosophy.

There was also discussion about Ryan Tannehill where I found myself having to defend the Dolphins QB despite the fact I recognize he has not been a star his first four years. He has room to improve, folks. I've said that. I continue to say that. But I don't dismiss him as a substandard QB as some in the media do. I believe he can still grow into something better, unlike some in the media.

I share this because the issue of dinking and dunking on offense came up in the press conference today.  And Gase seemed to get up on his haunches a little bit when he was asked if he's content throwing short even in practice.

"I'm fine with it," Gase said, his brows furrowing. "I'm the one scripting plays and calling plays, so I'm obviously fine with it. There's a time and place for it. But there's also a time and place not to get sacked 60 times in a year, too."

Ziiing!

"The whole league is 10 yards and under," Gase added later. "That's how it is. Nobody's going down the field like that. There's one team that does it, really. Maybe two -- Pittsburgh and Arizona. They hold on to the ball instead of check it down the field. But more teams than not, it's 10 yards and under. That's where all the passing game is. But if you want to stand back there and have your quarterback have his brains beat out, then go at it."

The Dolphins signed Chris Culliver to a one-year deal last night and this morning the team placed him on the active physically unable to perform list, as I shared with you as part of the backstory of his signing.

 "I like the fact we went out and added depth to that position," Gase said. "Armando's happy so that's all that matters."

I'll be happier when I see rookie Xavien Howard in his first practice and we get a clearer direction about, you know, whether he's any good or not. But regardless, the Dolphins have indeed added a handful of corners this year who are long and will cause some quarterbacks some problems.

Culliver, who is 6-foot, told the media he wants to get on the field working within "the next couple of weeks" but seemed vague about whether that is actual practice or not.

"Everything going well right now, taking my time, learning the defense," Culliver said. "I'm just taking my time and I'm progressing."

Culliver said "you'll see me out there soon" and wants to compete for a starting job.

Culliver fits the Dolphins defense in that he wants to do play what the Dolphins want to play: Press. Cover One.

"He wants to get up, he wants to press, he wants to play that man-to-man coverage," Gase said. "That's what we are. We're an attacking style defense and our corners have a lot of pressure on them to cover and he's a guy who can do that." 

The backstory on the signing of Chris Culliver

Cornerback Chris Culliver was cleared to resume physical activities last week by his physician Dr. Robert Andrews and what ensued soon afterward was a mini free agency period for the former Washington Redskins cornerback.

And the Dolphins, San Francisco, Chicago and Arizona showed significant interest in signing Culliver. And last night, 10 days after their initial visit with the player, Miami signed Culliver to a one-year contract.

The incentive laden contract can be worth as much as $5 million but more realistically he will earn $2.5 million.

And the reason is Culliver is likely to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, which means he won't be on the regular roster until late October or perhaps early November. He begins the preseason on the active PUP so he is not practicing but rather rehabbing. The Dolphins are going to be cautious with a player coming back from a torn ACL and MCL suffered last November.

The moving of Culliver onto the roster today means the team cut linebacker Danny Lansanah and offensive lineman Jacques McClendon. Barring him running around like he's 21 years old and never seen the inside of an operating room, Culliver will be placed on that regular season PUP list after the third preseason game.

And the Dolphins are fine with that because they see this in the old Bill Parcells mode of adding talent. They see free agency as a refueling stop for top talent. They see the draft as a refueling stop for top talent. And they know the next refueling stop is typically next Spring.

Except Culliver, when healthy, is so good, the Dolphins believe they got a free refueling stop now that will begin to pay dividends as early as October.

(By the way, unlike most fans, pundits and cynics, the Dolphins believe they'll be in the playoff picture in October so Culliver coming on board then will be a significant addition).

Anyway, the addition of the 6-foot Culliver continues the ongoing remaking of the Dolphins cornerback corps. That corps is no longer a legion of smurfs. Brent Grimes is gone. Brice McCain is gone. The team doesn't want smallish cornerbacks.

The corps includes 6-3 Tony Lippett, 6-1 Byron Maxwell, 6-foot Chimdi Chekwa, 6-foot Jordan Lucas, 6-1 Xavien Howard. And now 6-foot Chris Culliver.

(The Dolphins view the slot position as a different spot that probably requires smaller, quicker corners).

The point is the Dolphins think they've reinforced with a quality player that other teams wanted. And they believe that player will begin to pay dividends during a playoff push in October or November.