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2 posts from July 23, 2013

July 23, 2013

Decision looms on defensive line and other Dolphins tidbits; Canes, Marlins, Heat

 WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

 Mostly Dolphins chatter three days into camp:

### Aside from kicker and possibly right guard, there’s only one starting job in much doubt, and it’s a fascinating one, because it involves the team’s highest-paid member and two of their most promising young players (Dion Jordan, Olivier Vernon).

No Dolphins player will earn more in base salary in 2013 than Randy Starks, but he opened practice on the second team, not with the starters, on two of the first three days of camp after missing most of the offseason program protesting being slapped with the $8.45 million franchise tag. Starks said Tuesday if he ends up playing off the bench behind Jared Odrick, with whom he’s rotating and competing, he won’t complain.

Weeks ago, the Dolphins told NFL people they preferred to enter this season like last season, with Odrick at defensive end in the base defense and at tackle on passing downs. But they recently had a change of heart on the first part of that equation after determining Odrick is probably better at tackle and after watching Olivier Vernon thrive with a larger role. Starks said it now “seems like” Odrick will be a tackle primarily.

So far in camp, Vernon has logged all the first team snaps at defensive end opposite Cameron Wake, with Odrick and Starks alternating in the base defense alongside Paul Soliai. Odrick and Starks would play together at tackle on obvious passing downs, with Soliai on the bench.

The Dolphins have by no means ruled out moving Odrick back to end in the base package to start the season if neither Vernon nor Jordan seizes the starting job.

Some internally believe Vernon might be better suited coming off the bench in his second season, but he has earned a chance to win the job, and coach Joe Philbin loves him. Vernon has had a very good first three days, including one play Tuesday where he annihilated Mike Gillislee in the backfield. And Vernon has given Jonathan Martin all he can handle during practice.

“He’s getting off the snap count very well,” Philbin said. “I’m really pleased with what he’s doing."

The Dolphins now see Odrick as a better long-term fit at tackle and likely will re-sign either Soliai or Starks next spring to play alongside him.

How would Starks react if he doesn't start?

“Whatever role they want me to play, I’ll accept,” he said. “I haven’t been here [most of the offseason]. Odrick has done a good job. I wasn’t starting my first year here and was still making plays. I’m not worried about it.”

Starks' body of work the past two years suggests he should start, but Odrick has been very good in camp so far, and he's also worthy of starting. As Wake said: "We're loaded on the d-line. Trying to find a role for everyone is a good problem to have."

Last season, Odrick played 951 snaps, Starks 826, Soliai 627 and Vernon 445.

### Ryan Tannehill says he can “now be the leader I want to be.” But is he comfortable yelling at teammates if needed, which Dan Marino did?

“For sure,” he said. “You have to be able to get on guys if the situation calls for it. That’s part of leadership." He admits it's "not really my style to be a yeller. I’ve definitely yelled at some guys in my career, gotten in some guys’ faces.” He said people can expect him to "a fiery leader" during key moments.

Brian Hartline joked: “He won’t bark at me. I’ll punch him.” But Hartline said: “Before, he might not have wanted to step on toes.” Now he’s willing to if needed.

Offensive linemen have good-naturedly asked Tannehill to buy them jet-skis, but he said he declined. Instead, he bought them iPads after last season.

### Encouraging to see the Dolphins get three interception Tuesday. Consider this: ESPN’s KC Joyner tells us that the Dolphins held onto only 28.6 percent of potential interceptions last season, well below the league average of 40. That includes any balls that players were “close enough” to reasonably expect to haul in. Brent Grimes should be better than Sean Smith in that regard.

### By the way, Joyner also shared with us that Hartline last season actually averaged more yards per attempt on throws of 20 yards or more (12.2 on 66 passes) than Mike Wallace (9.1 on 55 attempts). Remember, those averages include lots of incompletions, so that's also a reflection of quarterback play. Hartline’s numbers in that regard were also were better than Roddy White’s, AJ Green’s and Brandon Marshall’s.

“Simply put, Miami now has two wideouts that can stretch the field with great success,” Joyner said.

### The lofty talk by Dolphins players – Dannell Ellerbe and others have spoken glowingly about the talent – has some NFL people scoffing.

“They’ve got the best at every position – I keep hearing their players say that,” one executive with a 2012 playoff team said. “The safeties, linebackers, receivers think they’re the best. But they’re not better than New England, and I haven’t yet seen Tannehill do something that wows me.”

That executive also worries about Jonathan Martin and said “Lamar Miller has to prove he can be a tough and physical runner.”

Philbin isn’t a fan of the bold talk, so it’s not surprising players have pulled back on that in recent days. “I’m not going to shoot my mouth off because it doesn’t get you anywhere,” Odrick said. Ellerbe, by the way, said Tuesday the Dolphins have a faster team than his Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens of last season.

### Running back Marcus Thigpen has been getting significant second-team snaps since the offseason program and into training camp –- and some first team work when Miller rests –- and says the Dolphins want to expand his role offensively. “I can bring a boost of energy, make something happen every time I get the chance,” he said. But Daniel Thomas remains the favorite to be Miller’s backup.

### Michael Egnew continues to take a step back for every step forward. On Tuesday, De’Andre Presley stripped Egnew, and Jelani Jenkins recovered the fumble. Egnew tells us general manager Jeff Ireland “is always in the back of my head when I’m trying to make plays” because he wants to validate Ireland’s faith in him. “I always want to impress him. I look up to him.”

### Dimitri Patterson said he isn’t worried that Miami would save $4.5 million against the cap if he’s cut. He’s likely safe IF he remains one of Miami’s top three corners, which he has been through three days of camp. Patterson would be at serious risk if he is surpassed by Will Davis (very good Tuesday) or Jamar Taylor (sidelined Tuesday from soreness from May's sports hernia surgery).

### Our favorite recruiting story of the offseason: Elite Palm Beach Central offensive tackle K.C. McDermott, a UM oral commitment, told Bleacher Report that when he told Ohio State coach Urban Meyer that he wasn’t interested in coming there, Meyer “literally looked like a kid the first time you tell him, ‘No, you can’t do something.’ It looked like he was a baby about to cry. It was so funny. It’s got to be one of the top five reactions of someone ever. My coach was tearing up and had to go in his office and laugh.”

### Homestead's Ermon Lane, the No. 2 receiver in the country and the highest-rated non-committed player that is being pursued by UM, told 247sports.com that he will pick a school next month. Rivals.com has UF as the front-runner, but UM and Alabama remain in play and potentially others.

### Third baseman Colin Moran, the Marlins’ first-round pick in last month's draft, is 4 for 15 (.267) with a homer and double in his first week at Single A Greensboro.... Outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick, promoted by the Marlins this week, were rated 12th and 39th among all prospects by ESPN at the all-star break. Yelich had hits (three single) in his first three big league at-bats against Colorado Tuesday. According to Elias, Yelich is the first player with at least three hits and at least two RBI in his first major-league game since Toronto's J.P. Arencibia in 2010.

###  Please see the last post for an update on the Heat's pursuit of Greg Oden

Though Miami has its $3.2 million exception, Miami's strong preference is to offer him only the minimum. Whether Pat Riley is willing to exceed the minimum, or offer a multi-year contract, presents an interesting decision in the coming days, with Oden eager to make a decision next week.

Heat meets with Oden; Notes, quotes, musings from Tuesday's Dolphins practice

The Heat continued to explore signing Greg Oden on Tuesday, with coach Erik Spoelstra meeting with the free agent center in Indianapolis. Chet Kammerer, the Heat's vice president/player personnel, also attended the session, which included on-court work.

Oden will pick a team probably next week, agent Bill Duffy said.

Sacramento and New Orleans also attended Tuesday's workout. Atlanta will watch Oden work out Thursday, and officials from the Mavericks and Spurs have met with him previously.

"Every team [that has shown interest] remains under strong consideration," Duffy said.

Duffy said Oden did "a lot of on-court work" during Tuesday's session and "looked very good."

This was the second time the Heat has met with Oden. Oden traveled to Miami to visit with Heat president Riley earlier this year.

What the Heat, Pelicans and Kings observed Tuesday was Oden's normal workout routine, including shooting drills and off-court work that is part of his regular rehabilitation.

He did not do a traditional on-court workout against another player because he has not been cleared for contact and is not expected to be until August.

ESPN has listed the Heat and Spurs as co-favorites, but an NBA friend of Oden disputed that, saying other teams remain seriously in the mix.

Another one of Oden's agents, Mike Conley Sr., said last week that the Heat has as good a chance as any team but stopped short of calling Miami the front-runner.

The 7-foot Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, hasn't played since December 2009 because of knee problems. His agents have said he is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Riley said recently he believes Oden can help the Heat "if he's healthy. I mean, he had five major surgeries. But I think if he's healthy, he's still young [25].

"Sometimes, I've made this point before and you can go back to a half a dozen athletes that started their careers -- Kurt Thomas with the broken feet, [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas -- there have been a number of players that started their career missing two or three years with injuries and then all of a sudden they never had another problem again. He's young enough to maybe be able to get by this, and only time will tell. But if he's healthy, obviously I think he would be able to help teams, yes."

Oden has appeared in just 82 NBA games and averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.1 minutes per game.

The Heat could offer Oden either a contract at the league minimum ($1 million, in his case) or its $3.2 million mid-level exception. Miami appears willing to offer the minimum if he's healthy, but it's highly questionable if it would offer exception money to a player who hasn't played in nearly four years.

Meanwhile, free agent center Marcus Camby has interest in the Heat, Bulls and Rockets. The Heat has inquired but is not believed to have made a formal offer as of Monday.

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Defensive end Dion Jordan, the Dolphins’ first-round draft pick, returned from a two-day stint on the non-football injury list on Tuesday and said he expects to start participating in team drills in the next few days.

Returning from February shoulder surgery, Jordan was dressed in pads but participated only in individual drills. He indicated he expects to join team drills either Wednesday or Friday. (The team has Thursday off.)

“That’s the next step – starting to do more live drills,” he said. “I’m trying to put [the injury] behind me. I’m taking the right steps so I can be ready to go. I’m ready to go.”

Coach Joe Philbin said Jordan’s return “is going to be a gradual process. We’ll see how he responds, how he feels [Wednesday] and take it from there.

“We’re never going to rush a guy if we don’t feel he’s ready. We’ll take our time. All football players tell you they are great and ready to go.”

Philbin said Jordan isn’t falling behind because “we’re teaching him the system, getting him acclimated to the scheme, stance, fundamentals. He sat in the classroom, he’s watched all the practice film.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a point he needs to go out there and make a couple of mistakes and learn from them and move forward as a player.”

Philbin dismissed a question about whether Jordan should feel pressure to perform as the third overall pick. He is expected to compete with Olivier Vernon at defensive end.

“This program is not about one player, one position,” Philbin said. “You’re one of 90 guys competing for a job. You’ve got to earn your keep. Everybody is equal out there.”

For his part, Jordan said: “I put pressure on myself to perform. It’s not just because I’m in the NFL now or I was drafted high. It’s something I’ve always done.”

Jordan said he is “leaning a lot” from defensive end Cameron Wake and has studied film of him.

Teammates are eager to see Jordan on the field for the first time.

“I’m as curious as anybody else,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. “I know we’re going to get a lot out of him.”

Said defensive lineman Jared Odrick: “He looks good in pads. He passes the eye test. He’s a grounded kid.”

Jordan was subjected to rookie hazing this week. Paul Soliai used a chemical provided by his wife on the heads of Jordan and fellow rookie linemen Emeka Onyenekwu and Tristan Okpalaugo on Monday night, leaving Jordan with an orange strip on his head.

Rookie defensive linemen Chris Burnette and A.J. Francis escaped Soliai’s prank because they are bald.

“I went first so I could get it out of the way,” Jordan said. “I’m paying my dues. I’m just doing what I’m told. I don’t know how my mother feels [about it].”

Soliai said Jordan must keep his hair that way for two weeks. “They took it as men,” Soliai said.

DEFENSE AHEAD

The defense was clearly ahead of the offense Tuesday in the first practice in pads. Ryan Tannehill threw interceptions to Chris Clemons and Ellerbe, and Jimmy Wilson picked off a Matt Moore pass.

Tannehill had a pass knocked down by Ellerbe, and his accuracy ranged from very good at times to very shaky at others.

The defense flummoxed the offense with various blitzes, resulting in sacks by Philip Wheeler and Reshad Jones, among others, and also forced Tannehill to throw sooner than he would like at times.

On the first play of 11-on-11 drills outside the practice bubble, Tannehill fell to the ground after tripping over one of his lineman’s feet.

Many of Tannehill’s completions early in camp have been on dump offs or relatively short patterns. He has established good chemistry with Dustin Keller, in particular.

His best throws Tuesday were a 30-yarder to Mike Wallace against busted coverage (Brent Grimes was closest to it) and a beautiful throw to Clay that was lofted perfectly over a defender.

But after the completion to Clay, Clemons jumped a route, picked off Tannehill and returned it for a touchdown.

Tannehill did not throw a touchdown. Moore didn’t throw one either on Tuesday but has been sharper than Tannehill the first three days of camp.

### Cornerback Jamar Taylor did not participate in practice because of lingering soreness from sports hernia surgery in May. He is not expected to be out for an extended period.

### Kicker Dan Carpenter got all four field goal attempts during Tuesday’s practice and made three of them. He kicked a 52-yarder but came up well short on one from 54 yards. Carpenter is now 12 for 14 in training camp during practice sessions that have been open to the public and media.

His competition, Caleb Sturgis, has made two of three, all coming on Monday.

 

PRACTICE HIGHLIGHTS

### Safety Chris Clemons jumped in front of Dustin Keller to pick off a Ryan Tannehill pass and returned it for a touchdown.

### Linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe were extremely active. Ellerbe had an interception against Tannehill, broke up a pass to Daniel Thomas and knocked down a Tannehill pass.

Wheeler had a would-be sack on a blitz and was decent in pass coverage. Linebackers Koa Misi and Josh Kaddu also had some good moments.

### Rookie cornerback Will Davis made two impressive pass deflections, both against receiver Armon Binns.

### Safety Jimmy Wilson cut in front of Binns and picked off a Matt Moore pass, setting up a long return.

### Mike Wallace, Binns and Brian Tyms dropped passes, and Brian Hartline dropped a punt.

 

NOTABLE

### Vaughn Martin, who has working at defensive end but also can play tackle, continues to look good early in camp. He had a would-be sack against Moore and also tipped a pass by Moore.

### Lance Louis, still working his way back from last November’s knee injury, hasn’t taken any first team snaps. John Jerry remains the starter at right guard and Texas A&M rookie Brian Thomas has been getting a lot of work on the second team.

### Wilson and Kelcie McCray have been working as the second-team safeties, behind Reshad Jones and  Clemons, who were both very good Tuesday.

### Besides Martin, Derrick Shelby has been the other second-team defensive end, behind starters Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.

### Brent Grimes defended himself after a picture surfaced on the Internet that featured a sexual act being depicted on the front of a cake that Grimes received for his 30th birthday this past weekend.

“The people that are offended about a cake that was brought to a party by a friend as a joke need to chill,” Grimes said on Twitter. “I guess we were supposed to tell our friend to, ‘take your cake and get the hell out of our house.’ LOL. My bad.”

 

QUOTABLE

“Paul loves painting the side of peoples’ heads. Good to see the dread on peoples’ faces.”---

Jared Odrick, on Paul Soliai bleaching the heads of Dion Jordan and two other rookies.

 

PRACTICE SCHEDULE

Wednesday – 8 a.m.

Thursday – Off

Friday – 8 a.m.

Saturday – 8 a.m. (Season Ticket holders only)

Sunday – 8 a.m. (Fin Club members only)

Note: All the practices the rest of the week will be held at the team’s facility in Davie. Monday’s 7 p.m. practice will be at Sun Life Stadium. All are free.