SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
We surveyed more than a dozen NFL people – analysts, former coaches and personnel executives – for views on the Dolphins, and these were the overriding themes conveyed: Belief in Ryan Tannehill, concern they have made life too difficult for him and mixed views on whether they’re doing the right thing by dumping players with issues (Brandon Marshall, Vontae Davis).
Some of the feedback:
### Predictably, we found little optimism for 2012, though ESPN’s Mike Ditka believes the Dolphins shouldn’t be discounted because of the Jets’ and Bills’ offensive struggles. More representative was this:
“In all honesty, in that division, where are the wins going to come from?” CBS’ Dan Dierdorf said. “Buffalo has gotten a lot better. Where are the wins going to come from? Are the Dolphins a playoff team? I would be shocked.”
Jon Gruden doesn’t even expect Miami to get to seven wins, and he’s hardly alone.
“Five, six wins is where they lie,” said Ken Herock, the retired former Raiders, Falcons and Packers front office executive who now prepares college players for NFL interviews.
### The view from the group is that Tannehill cannot achieve much this year with what’s around him. “Tannehill is going to struggle,” Jimmy Johnson said. “He needs a supporting cast. Troy Aikman struggled until we got him a supporting cast.”
Aikman told us he "visited Tannehill a few weeks ago. He's got tremendous upside, is going to represent the organization very well. [But] without a great supporting cast yet, it's tough. I was 0-11 as a starter as a rookie, and in four games, I thought I played as well as I could play."
Said Herock: “He’s not ready. All you’re doing is priming yourself to lose. I don’t know how he can win. They don’t have a strength on offense. Their best receiver, Davone Bess, is a specialist, a middle of the road guy.”
Said CBS’ Shannon Sharpe: “The only names on that offense that jump out at you are Jake Long and Reggie Bush, and Long cannot score touchdowns. Remember, Cam Newton, as a rookie quarterback, had Steve Smith. Andy Dalton had A.J. Green. I don’t know how much success Tannehill will experience because he doesn’t have a big-time receiver or tight end. I would be surprised if they finished better than last.”
ESPN’s Herm Edwards said with the receiver corps what it is, Miami needs more from the tight ends. “Anthony Fasano is limited, but he still has to play better,” Edwards said, troubled by his preseason.
CBS’ Rich Gannon noted: “We heard Jeff Ireland say they have a bunch of No. 4, 5 and 6 receivers and don’t have ones, twos and threes. That wouldn’t make me feel good as a quarterback.
“Tannehill’s tough, can elude the rush, has a bright future. The comment I made to him is he’s got to play faster. He locks on the primary receiver and doesn’t go through progressions quickly enough. Defenses will be more complicated in the regular season. How quickly will he respond?”
And there was this observation from Fox’s Brian Billick: “You look at how David Carr got annihilated in his first year” playing for an undermanned Houston team. Billick hopes that doesn't happen here. “That’s why you’ve got to have a good team [around a rookie quarterback]," he said. "Did that ruin Carr? I don’t know.”
### ESPN analyst and former Colts general manager Bill Polian said starting Tannehill “will pay dividends for them eventually but not immediately” and “what’s critical for a rookie quarterback [to win] is you need an overpowering defense. Not just good, has to be great.” Problem is, as Edwards noted, “Miami’s defense is pretty good, not great.”
### Another point emphasized was that Miami can’t put too much on Tannehill. Keep in mind the Steelers never threw more than 25 passes in Ben Roethlisberger’s first 11 starts, all wins. Matt Ryan threw 13 passes in his first NFL win and Mark Sanchez threw fewer than 20 in each of his last five wins as a rookie.
Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said Miami will run more often than most West Coast offense teams. Sherman's Texas A&M team threw 30 more times than it ran last year but ran more than it threw the previous season.
### On a team with major talent deficiencies, was Miami short-sighted in trading Marshall and Davis? “You can’t add by subtracting,” Ditka said, adding he doesn't want to question the Dolphins. “But I don’t blame Philbin for that. You have to make hard calls. I have no idea what they’re trying to do."
Edwards said, “It’s hard because you’re getting rid of good players, but the time to do it is your first year.” Said Polian: “Philbin doing exactly the right thing. They hired him with a vision to build his team.”
But Herock countered, “When I heard they traded Vontae, I said, “What are those guys doing?’ Brandon, I could understand. He has a history. But is Vontae such a distraction that he ruined the team? He’s a good player; I don’t know why they would do that. The purpose is to win, not to say, ‘OK, this guy doesn’t conform so let’s get him out of here.’”
### ESPN Scouts. Inc’s Matt Williamson, a former Browns scout, said Miami was better off as a 3-4 team defensively -– not with a 4-3 base -– and that starting Richard Marshall is “a worry. He’s more of a third corner.”
Consider: In the last year he started full-time (2010 for Carolina), Marshall allowed a dismal 75.3 percent of the passes thrown against him to be completed (73 for 97) for a 10.4 average, with quarterbacks registering a 98.4 rating in his coverage area, and Pro Football Focus ranking Marshall’s play 99th of 100 cornerbacks who played at least 25 percent of his team's snaps. He improved to 51st as a part-time starter for Arizona last year (Davis was 43rd), but Sean Smith was 105th of 109.
### From the glass-half-full view: Polian expects under-the-radar receivers to emerge in the Philbin/Sherman offense: “Receivers that don’t have big names become big names in the West Coast offense. Nobody knew who Jordy Nelson was.” But what worries NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi, the former Raiders executive, is “they don’t have receivers that can get away from press coverage. And three-fifths of their offensive line is a work in progress.”
### Of the defensive backs plucked off waivers by the Dolphins Saturday, safety Troy Nolan, who started three games each of the past two years for Houston, is a far more developed player than cornerback R.J. Stanford. Pro Football Focus ranked Nolan's play 26th of 168 safeties who took an NFL snap last season, while Sanford (with Carolina in 2011) was 154th of 199 corners. QBs had a 70.1 rating in Nolan's coverage area, 103.3 in Sanford's.
### The Dolphins must hope Anthony Armstrong is closer to the player who caught 44 passes for 871 yards for Washington in 2010, not the one who caught seven passes (out of 25 thrown to him), for 103 yards, last season. Armstrong can stretch a defense but had three drops last season despite having so few passes thrown to him. PFF ranked him 173 of 200 receivers for 2011.
Miami's fourth waiver pickup -- linebacker Sammy Brown -- was cut by St. Louis this past week after being signed as a rookie free agent. He led major-college football with 30 tackles for loss at Houston last year but told the St. Louis Post Dispatch this offseason, "I didn't go hard every play. That's over with."
### One Dolphins player said he’s very concerned the Dolphins defense will be exhausted if the no-huddle offense produces a lot of three-of-outs. He said the defense cannot be expected to have a lot left in the tank if the offense keeps putting them on the field after a few minutes of real time.
### The Heat is conflicted whether to stick entirely with players in its program (Juwan Howard, Mickell Gladness, Terrel Harris) to fill out the roster or add Chris Anderson (“he’s a lot like Joel Anthony,” one team official said), Andray Blatche (conditioning concerns), Darko Milicic (Heat has shown no great conviction) or Josh Harrelson (was decent in his Heat workout). Agent David Falk said he’s “in active discussions” with Pat Riley about a possible return for Howard. Miami so far has been offering no guaranteed money to any fringe free agents, unlike past years.
### Manager Ozzie Guillen tells us he would like the Marlins to re-sign Carlos Lee “but it’s up to the front office.” The Marlins originally preferred to move Logan Morrison from left field to first base for 2013 but now will consider re-signing Lee, who would have interest in returning.
### UM running back Duke Johnson's magical debut Saturday created a storm on social media. Some of the Twitter reaction: LeBron James: "Duke Johnson is the truth out there for the U! True freshman. ### Speed kills.".... And this from former Canes: Warren Sapp: "Duke is on the loose!"... Clinton Portis: "Duke Johnson looks great!"... Lamar Miller: "Duke Johnson going to be something." ... Bernie Kosar: "I know I am a little biased, but true freshman Duke Johnson for Miami is awesome. A future pro, barring injuries."... Johnson, by the way, believes his style is most similar to Portis', among former UM backs.
### UM president Donna Shalala told key trustees that the NCAA has given the school no idea when it will send Miami its notice of allegations, after which Miami has three months to respond. But UM doesn’t expect punishment before National Signing Day and says it expects to have 15 to 17 scholarships… High-scoring former Carol City guard DeAndre Burnett decided to honor his commitment to a Virginia prep school and enroll at UM next spring, even though the Hurricanes said he could join the team this year.