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Concerns still linger for Dolphins as summer begins; Dolphins, Heat, Marlins chatter

SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Dolphins chatter, following Thursday's conclusion of the offseason program, and a month before training camp opens July 25:

### We’re trying to be optimistic. Really.

But it’s difficult to gloss over serious concerns about this roster and this team’s deficiencies --- from run defense (24th in the league in 2013) to chemistry between the quarterback and star receiver (Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace connected on 6 of 36 throws of 20-plus yards last season) to the offensive line (toasted for eight sacks in Thursday’s scrimmage, albeit without pads).

The defense has replaced perhaps its most stout run stopper (Paul Soliai) with Earl Mitchell, who ranked 57th of 69 tackles against the run last season, according to play-by-play analysis by ProFootballFocus.com. (Soliai was 16th.)

The only other major front seven personnel change: Koa Misi moving to middle linebacker, flip-flopping with Dannell Ellerbe.

“We’ve got to find a way to get Koa on the field more,” Cameron Wake said. “He runs around like his hair’s on fire. He’s strong at the point of attack and fearless.”

But is that enough to substantially improve a unit that allowed 1998 rushing yards (their most in six years), including 140 by a then-winless Tampa team? We’re skeptical.

As for the offensive line, left tackle Branden Albert assuredly will be an upgrade, but his two sacks allowed to Olivier Vernon Thursday were reminiscent of the swinging door we saw at the position last season.

Right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who also allowed a sack Thursday, hasn’t embarrassed himself in the offseason program but remains something of an unknown.

A former NFL general manager said he spoke to several current GMs and all believed the Dolphins reached for James at No. 19 and that he wasn’t worthy of being selected that high. We’ll see.

“We had James as a late-first rounder,” one NFC scout said. “He has first-round talent but you want more of a finisher, more production for a player with his size and skill level. He’s a quiet country kid. I’m not sure he wants to lead a unit.”

Shelley Smith? He’s an ascending player, but remember, he started just eight games in three seasons for the Rams.

And though Dallas Thomas’ improvement and weight loss are commendable, he couldn’t crack the lineup despite Miami’s dismal offensive line play in 2013. And he’s now being projected as a potential starter. 

The chemistry between Tannehill and Wallace also remains a question, with Wallace catching only one of four passes thrown to him by Tannehill on Thursday.

Last season, Wallace caught 53.3 percent of passes thrown to him --- 23rd-worst of 111 NFL receivers. Many were Tannehill’s fault, but Wallace’s 11 drops tied for fifth in the league.

Wallace said they have connected on “three or four” of six deep balls in offseason practices, but why have they attempted so few?

### Positives? Several. Among them: Jamar Taylor looks much improved. This group of defensive ends should be among the best in the AFC, from a pass rushing standpoint.

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s pre-snap motion and willingness to allow Wallace to vary where he lines up will confuse teams, or as Tannehill said, “We’re going to put people in positions they don’t want to be on defense, get the ball to our playmakers all over the field.”

And the Dolphins have probably eight or so NFL-caliber players at receiver, including second-round pick Jarvis Landry, who Tannehill says has the strongest hands he has ever seen.

“Landry is awesome,” quarterback Matt Moore said. “He came in with a veteran mindset. His catching skills are off the charts. He’s going to help us a lot.” One NFC scout predicted “Landry’s going to be a great No. 2 receiver” eventually. 

### Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, trying to rebound from two disappointing seasons, looked good this offseason before sitting out last week to rest his knees.

One NFC front office executive said Finnegan has a good chance to rejuvenate his career here partly because he wasn't properly used by former Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton, the ex-UM coordinator who was fired by the Rams after last season.

When I asked Finnegan about that last week, he said Walton’s defensive system was “atrocious. From the game plan to technique to fundamentals, they weren’t in line with a defensive coordinator who knew what he was doing. He was a great defensive backs coach, but when you're in over your head, it's kind of tough... Here coaches know to play guys to their strengths. I wish I had been here a long time ago. [Coordinator Kevin] Coyle is so good at dissecting offenses.”  

After two disappointing seasons, does Finnegan, at 30, still have the same skill set he showed as a Pro Bowler for Tennessee six years ago? “It’s still there,” he said. “But until I prove it, we’ll never know.”

### Lazor is being very demanding with his quarterbacks, but his tight ends are getting no slack, either.

"We have the second hardest job next to the quarterback," Dion Sims, who's holding down the No. 2 tight end job, said last week. "It's our job to know every position [H-back, etc]. It's tough on us."

Michael Egnew was scolded by Lazor after forgetting one play, but Egnew has been a generally reliable pass catching target in the 10-to-20 yard range throughout the offseason program.

### We're still concerned about the linebackers in pass coverage. Philip Wheeler has been poor in that area the past two years (2012 in Oakland, 2013 here) but made some decent plays in coverage during OTAs and mini-camp practices open to the media.

Ellerbe, in pass coverage, was beaten several times by running backs and tight ends in the off-season program during the open media sessions. Perhaps Jelani Jenkins, who has impressed the coaches, will fill this void. 

### With their stadium deal approved, the Dolphins won’t ever again need to worry about Norman Braman, with whom they met previously to try to persuade him to stop speaking out against Stephen Ross’ 2013 bid for public funding. And no, Braman doesn’t approve of this agreement, either; Ross will finance renovations but will be paid by the county for luring big events.

“Why are we spending so much time coming up with ideas to help a guy worth $6 billion?” Braman asked. “I’d like as much ingenious thought given to improving the quality of life in our community, coming up with ways to keep libraries open. It’s still welfare for billionaires.”

CHATTER

### Former NBA All-Star Gary Payton said he will work with Norris Cole this summer because “I like him a lot. I like his game. He needs to develop a floater in the middle.”

Cole said last week: “I believe I’m starter-caliber.” But certainly not yet.

### Besides its one salary cap exception (either $2.7 million or $3.1 million or $5.5 million depending on multiple variables), Pat Riley noted the Heat has another vehicle to improve: a $2.2 million trade exception from the Joel Anthony deal.

That cannot be combined with the less helpful $900,000 trade exception that Miami possesses from the Toney Douglas deal.

### Among the 307 players who have shot at least 1000 three-pointers, Dwyane Wade has the second-worst career percentage (28.9), ahead of only Charles Barkley. Indiana coach Tom Crean, Wade’s friend and coach at Marquette, said it’s important for Wade to improve his three-point game as he gets older.

“The mechanism of how you shoot the ball has to change,” Riley said. “Will he be a high percentage James Jones, Mike Miller type of three-point shooter? He will make one when it counts. He is not going to be spotted up standing in the corner. He’s going to be slashing to the basket, posting guys up, getting out on the break. That’s been his game for 11 years.”

### Magic Johnson, tweeting on Riley's passionate sermon/speech/news conference Thursday: "He had me so fired up and motivated, I wish I could play for him again!"

### So Rafael Furcal (earning $3 million) is hurt again --- no surprise there.

But the good news is that  defensively erratic Derek Dietrich had been hitting well at Triple A New Orleans --- .368 over his last 10 games, and six homers in his first 13 games there since being demoted. He had one error over that period, and defense remains a concern.

Furcal, who now has a calf and hamstring injury, was hitting .171 in 11 games.

### Jarrod Saltalamacchia returned from a concussion Thursday with pressure to validate the Marlins' three-year, $21 million investment.

He has handled the pitching staff well but he returned to the lineup ranked second-worst among starting catchers in errors (eight) and percentage of base-stealers thrown out (16.7 --- 7 of 42). And his .245 (.177 since May 1, before his return a couple days ago) ranks in the bottom third.

"I should be at or better than what I hit in Boston last year [.273]," he said last week.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Comments

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Ross Blowz

Why are we spending so much time coming up with ideas to help a guy worth $6 billion?” Braman asked.

Mel

If Ross spends his own money and spends all the time
and effort to bring big events to Miami, which bring in big tax and biz revenue, why shouldn't he get a taste ?

Jerry Cooney

Oh no the sky is falling, Miami is the only team with questions, aaaaaaaaaaaah the season is over !

offseason blues

The classic glass half-full perspective to undercut the overblown optimism that usually comes out of pre-season workouts. Guessing reality is, as usual, somewhere in the middle. Guarantee that every local paper is going to run a similar article right around this time. Here's what'll be in New England: Can Brady bounce back from his "subpar" year? Can the O-Line protect him after allowing 40 sacks? What about their glaring need for a #1 receiver? Or a workhorse back now that LeGarrette Blount is gone? Can the run defense that gave up an average of 134 yards a game right itself? Sounds familiar, right?

Can't wait for September when the proof is in the pudding.

mayberd

I feel that the Dolphins offense could improve from the bottom 10 to around 10-15 in the league with the positive off season moves.The Dolphins did little to improve their poor run stopping defense and that may keep the Dolphins in the 7-9 win range despite the improved offense.Gary Payton was one of my favorite NBA players.The smarts,intensity and durability of Payton will be a great example for Norris Cole to follow.Thank you Gary Payton and the Dolphins alumni who have helped in the Dolphins mini camp.The Heat and Dolphins do a great job of letting former players with the class and experience of Payton and Jason Taylor to help create stars of the future for the Dolphins and Heat.

David

This would be the same Norman Braman who--as owner of the Eagles--threatened to move the franchise to Phoenix unless Philadelphia caved in to his demands for a publically-financed new stadium.

Does he actually think nobody in South Florida is aware of this??

Norman Braman is the very definition of a hypocrite.

TRP

Since when is a car dealer a pillar of generosity and fairness?

Bad & Phony Phans

Really the Phins are a team with some weaknesses, holes and questions? I'm stunned...(sarcasm). I'm really not that worried about the Phins and it's quite easy to feel optimistic if you are a fan. Last year was a disaster in so many ways but in spite of the problems this team played well with some of the best and won. Which shows us they are capable. We only need slight improvement to be in the playoffs. Is that not the goal?

odinseye

Thank You Bad & Phony Phans! Well said.

Almost every team in the league has concerns at this point of the off season. They should have question marks as most teams bring in new players and draft picks. All in an effort to better themselves.

The Dolphins were close last season. I believe they've improved in many areas. I believe they will continue to improve, based on the average age of their roster **ALONE**.

I love the fact that we have Grimes and Finnegan on the back end, with Taylor and Davis pushing. Then I'm ecstatic about Fede, Shelby, Jordan and Vernon are all getting the benefit of working with Cam Wake and JT!

If Misi is any kind of improvement over Ellerbe, our Defense will be FINE!

Just ignore the Troll Bait/Fair Weather Fan. It's mainly one seriously disturbed Tard. His beloved Heat lost and he has no idea what a real fan is. Because of that, he'll be extra idiotic, if that's possible.

Jay

This team/franchise is a dysfunctional mess.

Jay

We only need slight improvement to be in the playoffs. Is that not the goal?

Posted by: Bad & Phony Phans | 06/22/2014 at 05:03 PM

Nope. The goal is to win the championship.

Jay

Ross has to stop being such a cheapskate if he wants to have any chance at winning.

Realist

I think most fans rightly believe the Dolphins are a poorly run organization with a bad head coach and average quarterback.

You need a top quarterback to compete in the NFL, I think it makes sense that most Dolphins fans' wouldn't be that excited about the direction of this team at the moment.

Bad & Phony Team

The Dolphins have more holes than swiss cheese. Who is going to pay $ to watch these scrubs?

Idiot Police

Fake Dolphin fans, like the ones above this post should move out of momma's basement, get a job and get out of the closet and embrace their jet fandome

CPhinsWin

“Why are we spending so much time coming up with ideas to help a guy worth $6 billion?” Braman asked. “I’d like as much ingenious thought given to improving the quality of life in our community, coming up with ways to keep libraries open. It’s still welfare for billionaires.”

Does anyone find it funny that Braman's arrogant ass says "OUR"? What does this Billionaire know about "OUR" quality of life? Sorry there guy but when your cars are worth more then our homes you have no idea what WE face in OUR community.

2 watt

still need
a qb

2 watt

usa choked
as bad as tchokes
last 2 games of 2013
19-0
20-7
.
lol

Mark in Toronto

2 watt, USA didn't choke. They grabbed a valuable point against a team much better than them. It's Ghana and Portugal (my team) who have dropped the ball in the group. Neither control their own destiny going into the last group game, and personally that's a disappointment.

Vacation?? LOL

How long is Armando's unpaid furlough supposed to be? This one seems longer than some in the past.

2 watt

mark
Bradley f'd ^
and howard just stood there
looked like a choke
2 me and many others
but yeah,now they
go ^ against
a pixxed off buzz saw
in fifas version of the
pats in Germany
.
lol
as a phan
I knew that was gonna
happen mark.

Mark in Toronto

@ 1:49, I don't know if we will ever see Mando again.

2 watt, you don't have to worry, the US and the Germans will dance around and not threaten each other for 90 mins and they will both go on. Bradley didn't play well again though - it's because he's on Toronto's payroll now. My city is cursed for sports. Another reason why you should all be cheering for them to buy the Bills. It will be the end of that franchise's hope. howard had no shot. No keeper in the world stops that greatness that was that goal. Unfortunately for my Portugal it's been way too far and few in between for them in this tournament. It's Portugal's keeper that looked like a knob on that first USA goal. He never picked up that shot and was way too deep in his net for the ball being in the area it was. But he is a backup for both club and country. That's what happens.

It's Portugal and Ghana that will be killing each other for no reason.

USA v Belgium will be tough for the Americans though. belgium is very deep and talented. Young rising players that play on the biggest clubs in the world. I'm glad the USA got involved in this tournament though. Wish they would host another one so I can drive down and watch a game or two.

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