WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Note: Please see our last post for a recap of Tuesday night's episode of Hard Knocks, offering exceptional behind-the-scenes access on the Vontae Davis trade.
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All football today:
### Though former Colts executive Bill Polian insists the Dolphins “did really well” by getting a second-round pick and a conditional sixth-rounder for Vontae Davis, others do not agree – from current Dolphins (“I’m still bummed about it,” one player told us, among several Dolphins players puzzled and irritated by the trade); to an NFC executive (who said this reinforces Steve Ross has the wrong people running his front office) to a very good former Fins cornerback.
Then there’s Jimmy Johnson, who said Miami’s return on the trade isn’t as good as it seems.
“Normally, in trades, you devalue the trade one pick per year,” Johnson said. “Since you don’t have a chance to use the player [Davis] this year, you’re in essence getting a third-round pick back.”
Johnson said he didn’t intend to rip the Dolphins when he tweeted: “Let me think.. Dolphins trade Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall for nothing, release best receiver, trade away a good cornerback.”
Johnson said by phone: “Only they know what’s best for their team. An outsider can’t evaluate it. I was making an observation that for a building team, they have lost some talent. Marshall is talented and they gave up a lot to get him. Davis is talented; you gave up a one to get him.”
Jeff Ireland said “it’s unprecedented to get such a high pick at this time of the year.”
But Johnson countered: “At this time of year, talent is valuable because you’re about to play in two weeks!... Good corners are hard to find.”
Davis and Sean Smith hoped they would become a reincarnation of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
"I don’t agree with the trade,” Surtain said at the Dolphins’ kickoff luncheon at Jungle Island Tuesday. “In this league, with so many passing offenses, you need more than two good corners. Vontae was on the verge of the next step and that would have been a formidable trio with Vontae, Sean Smith and Richard Marshall. And who knows if the draft pick they got will pan out? They traded a second-rounder for me and got Matt Roth!”
### A sobering stat: The last time Marshall was a full-time starter (2010 in Carolina), he gave up more completions (73, in 97 throws in which he was targeted) than all but two cornerbacks in the league.... Nolan Carroll, who will play more than 60 percent of the time now, allowed 19 of 38 passes to be completed against him in his first two years (above average) for 14.1 yards per catch (below average, and equal to the average reception against Marshall last year in Arizona).
FINS ROSTER PROJECTIONS
NFL roster projections are hardly scientific, especially with this Dolphins team, considering three to six new players could be added this weekend. And there are always surprises. With that said, some points to chew on:
### Offense --- There are at least 17 spots seemingly well secured: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Reggie Bush, Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Michael Egnew, Jake Long, Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin, Mike Pouncey, Artis Hicks, Brian Hartline, John Jerry and Legedu Naanee (barring a flurry of veterans available that the Dolphins deem better than Naanee). And it would be surprising, at this point, if fullback Jorvorskie Lane and centerJosh Samuda don't stick.
That's 19. Add three receivers from the current group of Marlon Moore (who has received the most recent first-team reps of the bubble guys but can exasperate, such as an easy drop in Monday's practice), Roberto Wallace (has lost some momentum), Clyde Gates (making a late push), Jeff Fuller (intoxicating skills but prone to drops), Chris Hogan (couldn't even get receiver snaps until the fourth quarter against Atlanta), Rishard Matthews and B.J. Cunningham. So that's 22.
If Miami keeps 26 on offense and 24 on defense (which would make some sense), that leaves four spots: two to backup offensive linemen (injured and not-especially-cheap Nate Garner and Lydon Murtha - once front-runners - are now at serious risk); perhaps either a third quarterback or a fourth tight end; and another running back (Steve Slaton or Marcus Thigpen, who said he was used in Monday’s practice at receiver because the Dolphins want to make him multi-positional).
Pat Devlin has a chance Wednesday night in Dallas to validate that he's worthy of being a third quarterback here or elsewhere. It's difficult to see the Dolphins justify keeping David Garrard and his $2.75 million salary (barring a trade of Matt Moore), but this organization routinely goes against conventional wisdom. If Miami keeps two quarterbacks and four tight ends, it could look elsewhere to upgrade over blocking tight end Jeron Mastrud. Miami also could keep five receivers, four tight ends and three quarterbacks.
### Defense --- Firmly in place are Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Olivier Vernon, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi, Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons, Jimmy Wilson, Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll and Tony McDaniel.
Tyrone Culver could be added to that group, at $800,000, unless Miami finds someone better. Jason Trusnik (among Miami's best special teams players) seems in good shape to be one of three backup linebackers. That’s 17. And the other primary backup linebackers, Gary Guyton and Austin Spitler, have done good enough work to give them a good chance to stick, though Josh Kaddu and Cameron Collins remain in the mix and outside options will be considered.
So that's 19. Add a No. 4 and No. 5 cornerback and that brings the number to 21; one or two jobs will go to cornerbacks currently not on the roster, based on whether Quinten Lawrence is kept. Wednesday night is huge for Lawrence.
Under the 24-player-on-defense scenario, that leaves three spots more for the defensive line – another tackle (Kheeston Randall; skilled, under-the-radar Isaako Aaitui; and perennial survivor Ryan Baker) and two ends (Jamaal Westerman and Derrick Shelby are front-runners).
ROOKIE QB TALK
### Though it seems unlikely, the Dolphins are hoping Tannehill does what Andy Dalton did for Cincinnati last season: take a sub-.500 team and help transform it into a playoff squad. (The Bengals went from 4-12 to 9-7 but had a better receiver corps and defense than Miami’s.)
So just how unusual is it for rookie quarterbacks to post winning records? Consider: Since 1960, 68 rookie quarterbacks started at least half their team’s games. Of those, only 15 had winning records as starters (22 percent) – including one of 22 between 1960 and 1979 (Phil Simms) and one of 18 between 1989 and 2002 (Kerry Collins).
Two Dolphins are among those 15: Dan Marino (7-2) and David Woodley (6-5).
The good news: Nine of the past 21 of those rookie quarterbacks who started at least half the time (42.8 percent) posted winning records. The best of those 11: Ben Roethlisberger (13-0 as a rookie) and Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco (each 11-5).
Problem is, “you named a bunch of guys that joined pretty good teams,” CBS’ Dan Dierdorf said. “Roethlisberger, Flacco joined really good teams. Matt Ryan joined an up-and-coming team. And look at how teams protected them. Tannehill won’t be in that position. He will have to have growing pains.”
### Though most everyone expects the Dolphins to have a losing record, remember Vince Young, Trent Edwards, Ryan, Flacco and Dalton all had winning records, as rookies, on teams that finished below .500 the previous season, though most or all had better material around them than Miami. The Titans were 4-12 before going 8-5 with Young. The Falcons were 4-12 before Ryan led them to 11-5, albeit with clearly better talent than Miami’s.
### Couple other rookie QB factoids, while we're on the topic: Keep in mind that of the 15 quarterbacks who posted winning records as rookies, several either have been merely adequate as pros (Mark Sanchez, Chris Chandler, Kyle Orton) or turned into journeymen: Kyle Boller, Woodley Young and Edwards.
### Several recent first- and second-round quarterbacks joined bad or mediocre teams and continued to lose as rookies, which is what many pundits expect with Tannehill because of a weak supporting cast: Christian Ponder (2-8 as a rookie), Blaine Gabbert (4-10), Jimmy Clausen (1-9), Sam Bradford (7-9) and Matt Stafford (2-8). Carolina improved from 2-14 to 6-10 in Cam Newton’s first season.
### Overall, rookie quarterbacks are 83-106 since 2006. But they’re often a good bet for gamblers: In those 189 games, they’re 102-82-5 against the spread, according to beyondthebets.com.
### The odds of a rookie quarterback not only leading his team to the playoffs, but winning a postseason game? Very low. Only Sanchez, Flacco, Roethlisberger and Shaun King have done it since 1970, according to nfl.com.
Mike James and Rashawn Scott pointed to receiver Kendal Thompkins as the biggest surprise of fall camp. UM people say he has a knack for getting open, but we’ve heard the Thompkins hype every year and we’re still waiting. Our vote for most surprising: Linebacker Thurston Armbrister, who keeps making plays in practice and is in a tight battle with Eddie Johnson to start. Armbrister is long and active and looking much better than a typical two-star recruit. We'll see if it translates to games.... Brandon McGee has distanced himself from UM's other cornerbacks, Al Golden says, adding that Thomas Finnie also has emerged in the past week. Golden wants prized freshman Tracy Howard to be more careful with his hands so he doesn't leave himself open to penalties....
Expect UM to run more 8-to-10 yard hitch routes now because Stephen Morris will get the ball to the receivers must faster than Jacory Harris did, and UM believes the receivers will excel in yards-after-catch…. Though Luther Robinson keeps winning one-on-one drills in practice and Olsen Pierre has improved, defensive tackle is UM’s biggest worry, and with good reason… UM says it hopes impressive freshman linebacker Raphael Kirby (knee) can return by October.
Two veterans UM wants more from: tight end Clive Walford (needs to play with same motor every play) and safety Vaughn Telemaque (must make more plays).