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Two Dolphins players have physical confrontation in meeting; Several Dolphins have urgency to prove their worth; Vegas embracing Fins; Canes, Marlins

Jarvis Landry and LaMike James apologized to their Dolphins teammates on Thursday after they had a physical confrontation during a special teams meeting on Wednesday, according to five sources. The confrontation involved pushing and shoving between the two players.

From what we hear, Landry --- a jovial, fun-loving guy --- was joking around at the start of the meeting. James appeared to be in a bad mood, and whatever Landry was joking about rubbed James the wrong way, prompting James to lash out physically. A source said Landry did not level any personal attacks at James.

Pushes and shoves were exchanged before teammates broke up the altercation. Neither player was injured; James suffered a shoulder injury this week and was limited in practice Thursday, but that injury happened while blocking in a blitz pickup in practice, according to a source. James is expected to play today. Landry also will play, of course.

After the incident in the meeting, Landry later apologized to James and told James he was always available to talk if James ever needed anything. Neither player has been suspended or disciplined by the team, nor does this appear to warrant that.

Both players apologized in front of the team a day later. Another player on the team said both players told the team that they were sorry they created a distraction.

Coincidentally, both players are competing for return jobs on the team (see the note below about that), but that was not believed to be a factor in their incident.

The view here: The incident appears to be an anomaly in a locker-room filled with players considered high-character, so it shouldn’t be cause for great concern.



There are people with any franchise whose standing with their teams can best be summarized by two words: It’s time. As in: It’s really time to show what you can do, because after a while here or elsewhere, we need you to be available and productive and justify our faith.

Coach Joe Philbin sits at the forefront of the It’s Time club, his 23-25 career record hardly what Stephen Ross envisioned when Ross hired him.

Chatter on a half dozen other Dolphins who also belong in that group, as a new season dawns Sunday:

### Dallas Thomas. The front office and coaching staff largely overlooked the seven sacks allowed last season (all of which came during his snaps at tackle), because when they probe deeper, they insist they see a player with starting talent. His last extended chance to prove it begins next Sunday, when the 2013 third-round pick lines up as the starting left guard.

How much better a player is he than a year ago?

“It’s tremendous, it’s crazy, it’s night and day,” he said. “I feel stronger because I wanted to put on more muscle and drop the fat and keep the weight the same. And I didn't go home this offseason. I worked out here. That played a role.”

But Branden Albert said Thursday that “Dallas has to learn not to be a one-hit wonder and always do it.” One former teammate said he wishes Thomas would play with more toughness.

At least there has been growth in preseason. He didn’t allow a sack or pressure in 61 snaps at guard and one sack in 38 snaps at tackle.

Philbin said even though there have been games last year they “wish he played better,” he still “deserves this opportunity.”

Among those drafted a short time after Miami selected Thomas 77th in 2013: Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (seven picks in two seasons) and Cowboys starting safety J.J. Wilson (three picks last season).

### Jamar Taylor. The contribution in his first two seasons has been modest for a second-rounder, though for reasons largely beyond his control: a sports hernia as a rookie, a shoulder problem last year and a quadriceps injury this preseason that played a role in Brice McCain beating him out.

But he has been solid when available this preseason, and Brent Grimes swears he’s going to be “a great player.” Simply becoming a quality No. 2 or No. 3 corner would do.

What do the Dolphins like about him? “He has exceptional ball skills and is a really good athlete,” defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo said.

“Nobody is like Grimes, but Jamar can move and turn and twist. The guy works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around. He’s here all the time. Trains unbelievably. Is a student of the game. If he can just stay healthy and play, the sky is the limit for him.”

Taylor has had a lot of passes thrown against him completed in his first two seasons (37 of 53) but Anarumo said: “That’s not just him. Sometimes it’s pressure. Some of those things getting charted may be a zone dropper and the ball goes in front of him; that’s where you want the ball to be caught and he has to come up and tackle.

“That stuff I don’t get all tied up into. He’s got to be able to win his one-on-one battles in man coverage and I think he’ll be fine.”

### Will Davis. Off an ACL tear, Davis has allowed too many sizable plays in his career (14 yard average per reception, on 20 catches) and struggled in preseason before a two-interception finale that clinched his roster spot.

But the Dolphins loved his play-making skills when they plucked him in the third round out of Utah State in 2013, and the quarterback rating in his coverage area was only 77.9 last season before his knee injury. The key has been convincing him to play less recklessly, to be more disciplined in taking chances and more sound in his technique.

“That was one thing I know coaches wanted, for me to be more disciplined,” he said. “They love my athleticism; they love my aggressiveness and the way I play the ball in the air. They tell me that all the time. When you have that gift, it’s hard not to use it.”

The likable Davis, a quintessential glass-half-full guy, said the ACL injury “was a blessing in disguise because some of my athleticism has been taken away so I have to be more technical. I don’t have that explosiveness right now that I used to have so I have to be real technical.

“Back in the day, I could take a false step and still come back and make a play. I can’t do that now. I’ve been playing great technique. When I do get it all back, I can make great plays.”

### Kelvin Sheppard. He’s different from the others on this list because he has only been here a bit over a year. But this could be Sheppard’s last chance to prove he’s a quality starting NFL middle linebacker, a job he held for 24 games over two years in Buffalo before being traded and seven games in Indianapolis before being released last August.

This Dolphins front office thinks more highly of Sheppard than some others in the league do, and Sheppard believes he can thrive as a starter here because “I’m 10 pounds lighter than in Indianapolis, more mobile. And I’m very comfortable with this defense; it’s similar to the system I played at LSU. This whole preseason, I haven’t had to block linemen” because Ndamukong Suh often obliterates them.    

### Koa Misi.  Unlike the others on this list, Misi has been an above-average starter, a valuable contributing piece when he’s at his best.

But as much as defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and Philbin love his effort and motor, Philbin also has said – speaking in general – that one big key for players is being available. And Misi’s durability has becoming increasingly worrisome; he missed 16 games over the past five seasons, including five in 2014. A calf injury sidelined him much of camp.

“It’s frustrating; I never want to be on the sideline,” he said. “I’ve tried to be [proactive with injury prevention] by taking care of my body, getting massages.”

Now he’s returning to strongside linebacker --- a position he has had most of his NFL success – after a year in the middle. This is a big year for him, considering he has a $4.3 million salary and $4.9 million cap hit if he’s on the team in 2016, with just a $1.1 million hit if he’s not.

### Coyle. Miami’s defense has seemingly diminished in every season of his tenure, from seventh in points allowed in 2013 to eighth in 2014 to 20th last season.

Players have griped about some of his decisions, including putting Philip Wheeler on an island in coverage on Andrew Quarless on Green Bay’s winning touchdown last October, to using slow linebackers at times in coverage on speedy running backs, to occasionally putting Cam Wake in coverage (though Wake has never complained).

Before deciding to keep Coyle, Philbin ordered him to simplify, to streamline some of his packages, and players say that has helped.

Those changes have made the defense “a lot easier,” Sheppard said. “We have a lot of young guys that are going to contribute this year and it allows those guys to use their raw natural talent and play fast instead of thinking.

“Coach Coyle has spent a lot of time this offseason trimming down the defense and it's not to where it's football 101 and every quarterback in the league knows what we're doing. It's not so much he cut out half the playbook. They've broken it down and simplified it as far as concepts.”

After Ross gave Suh the richest non-quarterback contract in history, Coyle will be expected to deliver a top-10 defense.

Coyle loves what he has to work with: “The excitement stems from the fact that you see so much potential in the group. We’ve exhibited a real ability to defend the run. We’ve been solid in the back end; we haven’t given up many big plays throughout preseason with our first and second group primarily.”


### Not only do Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason rate Miami the fourth-best team in the AFC, but consider this: So many people have been betting on the Dolphins winning the Super Bowl that the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos dropped the odds from 50-to-1 this past spring all the way to 15 to 1. Only eight teams have shorter odds.

“The public has really embraced the Dolphins,” said Jay Root, who runs the MGM Grand’s sports book. “It’s a little surprising the amount of money and tickets we’ve written on them. They’re always popular but people have doubled down.” The Dolphins have shorter odds than even the Ravens, who are 18-to-1.

The only teams with shorter odds: Seattle, Green Bay, New England, Indianapolis, Dallas, Denver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

### The Dolphins have had robust discussions about how much to use Jarvis Landry on returns and this week they practiced – and gave strong thought – to using LaMike James on kickoffs and Landry on punts.

Landry’s career averages: 28.1 yards on kickoffs (fourth in the NFL in 2014) and 8.2 on punts. James’ career averages: 28.4 on kickoffs, 10.9 on punts.

### It will be interesting to see if Philbin feels less “queasy” this season and takes more chances.

According to a study by Football Outsiders, Philbin ranked in the middle of the pack in aggressiveness in 2014. Excluding second-half catch-up situations, Philbin went for it three times in seven chances on 4th and 1 but never went it on 4th and 2 in nine chances.

### UM begins this season with more players on 53-man NFL rosters (38) than any other college program; LSU is second with 36.

### Updating where the UM rookies stand: Duke Johnson, is Cleveland’s No. 2 running back behind Isaiah CrowellEreck Flowers is the Giants’ starting left tackle…

Phillip Dorsett is the Colts’ No. 3 receiver and punt returner… Clive Walford is Oakland’s No. 3 tight end and Jon Feliciano is the backup right guard… Undrafted rookie Thurston Armbrister is a backup linebacker in Jacksonville, and undrafted Ladarius Gunter a backup cornerback in Green Bay.... The Steelers cut sixth-round pick Anthony Chickillo but signed him to their practice squad. And Shane McDermott is on the Carolina Panthers' practice squad.

### At this point, the Marlins lean toward tendering an offer to pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and could make about $4 million in arbitration if Miami keeps him. The decision will come down to his medicals before the early December tender deadline. He said he should be ready to pitch by February.

But it's less likely the Marlins tender $2 million reliever Aaron Crow, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery. Crow said he might not be ready until April and the Marlins feel good about their young relievers. So Crow, the Marlins' first acquisition last offseason, might end up never throwing a regular-season pitch for Miami.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz