SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
They entered this season as the young players that the Dolphins were most excited to unleash on their respective sides of the ball: Dion Jordan on defense and second-year running back Lamar Miller on offense.
Eleven games in, both have flashed the skills that general manager Jeff Ireland found so intoxicating. But for each, there is so much more to prove.
With Miller, the question entering 2013 remains unanswered: Is he an above-average starting back?
“There’s no question he’s a starting NFL back,” Dolphins running backs coach Jeff Nixon said last week. “There’s so much potential he hasn’t tapped into. He has a great running back build. He has strength and vision and excellent hands and tremendous speed. As a pass protector, he has improved significantly.”
With Daniel Thomas sidelined indefinitely with an ankle injury, we’ll learn a lot more about Miller beginning Sunday against a Jets team that leads the league in run defense. Miller ranks just 30th in the league in carries (10.3 per game), so we haven't seen what he can do if he gets the ball 20 times a game.
Here’s the good news: Despite five dreadful games when he rushed for 2, 3, 8, 15 and 17 yards, Miller enters Sunday with a 4.2 per carry average –-- 22nd in the league and higher than Frank Gore, C.J. Spiller, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice. Only 16 backs with at least 100 carries have averaged at least 4.2. (Miller has 114.)
What’s more, he has displayed potential as a receiver recently (21 catches for 140 yards). And he has produced six strong games in which he averaged between 4.8 and 7.8 yards per carry.
But here’s the problem: He doesn’t do enough after contact. According to Pro Football Focus, he has broken or avoided 13 tackles --– more than only three NFL backs with at least as many carries (Doug Martin, Arian Foster and Rice).
By comparison, Reggie Bush has dodged/broken 36 in 180 attempts, Eddie Lacy 43, Adrian Peterson 47. Miller’s 2.0 yards after contact ranks 31st of 51 qualifying backs.
What’s more, he has just 27 yards on 21 carries in his past three games and hasn’t been able to overcome poor blocking. So when he’s hit at or behind the line, is it entirely the fault of the blockers or does Miller shoulder some blame?
Nixon answered that question this way: “We need to block better and he needs to run better. We expect Lamar to make plays with the ball in his hands. I would like to see him break more tackles at the second level. Make the safety and the linebacker miss. We keep harping on that with him.”
Miller admitted Friday: “I have to make guys miss” more and “showcase my speed.”
### As for Jordan, the numbers are modest for a third overall pick (two sacks, 13 tackles), but so is the playing time: His 233 snaps excluding special teams (which amounts to just 29 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps) are by far the fewest of any non-injured player picked in the top 20 of the 2013 Draft.
But there is so much that has left the Dolphins encouraged. He played 32 snaps last Sunday, his most this season, and graded out internally over 90 percent –-- his highest to date, according to defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers. Pro Football Focus ranks him 19th of 50 defensive ends in a 4-3.
He has 15 quarterback hurries in 144 pass-rush chances; nobody in the NFL has that many in as few opportunities. In fact, he’s getting one hurry every 9.6 snaps on passing plays, compared with one every 9.8 for Cameron Wake and one every 12.7 for Olivier Vernon. (Wake and Vernon have more sacks, though.)
Rodgers said Jordan has two pass rush moves he’s “comfortable with –- a speed move and an up and under move” and added that a third move would help –-- “a long arm move. Jason Taylor had that. Dion has to get more comfortable trusting his moves. He shows flashes. Now he needs more consistency.”
PFF has given him a positive grade as a run stopper --– he has been on the field for only 63 rushing attempts --- and Rodgers said the fact Jordan isn’t playing more on early downs isn’t because he’s substandard against the run, but because Miami’s other ends are better at it.
“He’s better than you think as a run stopper,” Rodgers said. “He’s 260 pounds now, and we would like to get him as heavy as possible without losing his speed. If we get him to 268, 270, you got something special.”
The Dolphins have used Jordan in coverage on 26 passing plays, and he has been targeted only once –-- an incompletion to New England’s Rob Gronkowski, which Jordan defended splendidly.
Considering Vernon is 15th in the league with 7.5 sacks and Wake is 20th with 6.5 (he missed time with an injury), doesn’t it make sense to try Jordan at outside linebacker –-- the position his defensive coordinator at Oregon said he’s best suited for in the NFL? The Dolphins have shown no inclination to do that --– instead, they gave a multiyear extension to linebacker Koa Misi.
And though coordinator Kevin Coyle spoke in August of Jordan possibly playing linebacker at times, Jordan said he hasn’t done it at all in practice or games. The Dolphins apparently don't want to make him learn two positions as a rookie.
“That’s not my call, and it doesn’t matter to me,” Jordan said. He knows his Oregon coordinator believes he's better at linebacker than end, but Jordan said “playing defensive end is the fastest way to get to the quarterback.”
Regardless, the Dolphins simply must find a way to get him on the field more next season, and some more snaps at linebacker would help.
Rodgers believes “trusting his [surgically-repaired] shoulder has been an issue” for Jordan and believes the comparisons to Taylor are absolutely warranted.
“I told JT at dinner recently that 'Dion reminds me of you,'” Rodgers said. “They are very similar – long, lanky guys with explosiveness. He continues to get better.”
Jordan and Taylor spoke early in the season, and Jordan said JT also has told him he sees similarities between the two of them. But “I have to develop better as a pass rusher to be the type of player he was,” Jordan said. “I have to add more to my arsenal.”
Jordan deserves credit for not being a prima-donna Top 5 pick: He hasn’t complained at all about playing time. “Nobody wants to sit back and watch,” he said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I get. I’m getting better. I’m not disappointed.”
### We’re told that during his interviews with Dolphins rookies, investigator Ted Wells asked them if he thought any rookie hazing had gone too far. One player said he never felt he was being humiliated. But surprisingly, Wells didn’t ask them about being forced to cover a $30,000 bill at Prime 112, which angered some of the players' friends….
Wells also asked players of minority ethnic groups if they were harassed… A Dolphins player said Wells also asked this: Did teammates threaten that they would have sex with one of your family members?
### Please see the last post for details on the Dolphins' decision to place Martin on the non-football illness list today plus more on Martin's future.
### Four-star UM freshman defensive end/linebacker Al-Quadin Muhammad boasted before the season he has pass-rush “moves you haven’t seen in the NFL.” Turns out, his only two sacks this season were against Savannah State, and he struggled generating much of a pass rush over the final month. He admitted last week he hasn’t met his expectations and said he must get stronger and increase his weight from 240 to 255.
Muhammad was rated among the top five defensive ends in the 2013 class. UM needs its blue-chip defensive prospects to become elite college players like some of UM's offensive recruits have (Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley, Ereck Flowers). That's not happening enough, for whatever reason.
### Speaking of freshmen, it was encouraging to see how well Gus Edwards ran Friday. "He's a 230-pound back; he should run behind his pads more," Al Golden said. "He's got deceptive speed. He really made the right cuts yesterday, didn't freelance at all and when he got to the second level he made some guys miss." UM wants him to use a stiff-arm more.
### Miami Central High's Joseph Yearby, a UM oral commitment and rated the nation's No. 6 running back prospect by rivals.com, fractured his ankle in a playoff game tonight. He has spoken of enrolling at UM in January.
### Whereas Heat forward Shane Battier, 35, said “this is probably my last year,” Ray Allen, 38, is on the fence: “This potentially could be my last year. It’s been a great ride. I’m not leaning either way.”
But he said he feels great after losing weight this summer. Both Allen and Battier are in the final year of contracts... Incidentally, the Heat has one more season, after this one, of Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem on its books, at $3.8 million and $4.6 million, respectively.
### The Marlins like some of the Cubs’ prospects and look for the teams to talk in the coming weeks, with Miami potentially offering pitching. The Cubs have multiple third base prospects at Double and Triple A, including former first-round picks Javier Baez (who has been playing shortstop) and Mike Olt and emerging Christian Villanueva. Baez would require the most in a trade; he hit .282, with 37 homers and 111 RBI in Single and Double AA....
MLB Network's Peter Gammons said the Marlins have discussed Dodgers free agent second baseman Mark Ellis, who hit .270 with six homers and 48 RBI last season.... Late tonight, the Twins reportedly agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with former Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes, who had received an inquiry from the Marlins.