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32 posts from September 2008

September 30, 2008

Fins must turn their house into a home [Update]

Have you looked at the Miami Dolphins' schedule lately? They play the Chargers this weekend and eventually follow with the Patriots, Broncos, Ravens and undefeated Bills within the span of the next eight weeks.

And this is the easy part of the schedule.

It's supposed to be easy because Miami plays six of its next eight games at home. Aside from the fact Dolphin Stadium will finally start looking like a full time football facility again -- with the Marlins infield finally sodded over starting this weekend -- the Dolphins have to find a way to turn that place into something of a home field again.

Miami is 1-9 at Dolphin Stadium during the last 10 games. The rest of the NFL wins approximately 70 percent of its home games. Sooo, it's kind of important for the Dolphins to turn things around at Dolphin Stadium if they hope to turn things around overall.

"Taking care of home field is something that needs to become more important to us," Coach Tony Sparano said. "We talked about winning on the road last week and how important going on the road and winning games are. That’s over. That’s in the past. Now we have a home game. If we’re going to be where we want to be, we need to play well at home.

"We need to take care of home court here a little bit. I think that’s something that we’ve talked an awful lot about this week. We know we have a hard challenge. We know we have a great football team coming in here. They’re playing really well right now. But we’re playing at home.”

And they need to start winning at home.

[Update: I am told several thousand tickets remain available for the game as of this writing. That is bad because, unlike past years when the Dolphins had a season ticket base of about 54,000 and could sell the rest on a walkup basis, this year the season ticket base is less than 50,000 -- the lowest in mark dating back to 1994. Logically, it takes greater effort to sell out when the Dolphins find themselves in a 4,000 ticket hole from where they usually are.]

September 28, 2008

Wildcat package may not be foreign to Chargers

All true Dolphins fans know the Miami Dolphins offense used something called the Wildcat package to confuse the New England  defense last week. Did you know the Dolphins were not the only team to use a Wildcat-type package last week?

The Oakland Raiders also used a similar offensive set against the Buffalo Bills with good success last week. The package, which the University of Arkansas ran last year as its base offense, is a natural for Miami because quarterback coach David Lee came from the Arkansas program.

It is also a natural for Oakland because Darren McFadden, Oakland's first round pick this year, was the trigger man for the offense at Arkansas.

So what does that have to do with next week's Dolphins game against San Diego?

Simple. The Raiders play the Chargers today. So the Chargers are certain to have prepared for the possibility of seeing the package today -- assuming McFadden, who is questionable for the game, is in the lineup.

And if the Raiders actually use their version of the Arkansas offense, then the Chargers will not only have seen it on tape, but also have gotten some work against it in an actual game.

That suggests it will be far less than a surprise versus San Diego than it was against New England last week. It also suggests the Dolphins will have to find new wrinkles out of the set and improve already-good execution for it to work against San Diego next week.

September 27, 2008

Salguero live on the radio Sunday morning

Spent Saturday watching college football and looking forward to spending a rare Sunday afternoon watching NFL football.

But I'm going to sandwich those hours in front of my TV on your radio or computer.

I will be on 790 The Ticket today from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. talking to you about today's college games and tomorrow's pro games. We can also talk about the end of the baseball season and, oh yeah, about the Miami Dolphins.

I have some interesting insight about the Dolphins matchup with the San Diego Chargers next week that I'll share with you first on the radio show. So if you are in South Florida you can tune in at 790-AM and if not you can listen streaming live on your computer at 790theticket.com.

You can also join in the conversation by calling 1-888-790-3776 from anywhere in the United States.

September 26, 2008

NFL Networks snubs Dolphins' fine upset victory

Did you guys catch the replay of the Dolphins stirring upset of the New England Patriots on the NFL Network this week?

You remember the game, right? It was one in which a team that had won only once in 20 games completely dominated a team that had won 21 consecutive regular season games. It was a game for which a Miami defender (Joey Porter) was voted NFL defensive player of the week, a Miami offensive player (Ronnie Brown) was voted NFL offensive player of the week and Miami's head coach (Tony Sparano) was today selected the NFL's coach of the week.

It was improbable and exciting and, and ...

... apparently not worthy of NFL replay coverage.

An NFL Network spokesman confirmed to me Thursday evening the channel was not replaying Miami's game this week. I asked why.

"We're replaying other games," he said.

And that is true. The NFL Network had a blast with the Giants and Cincinnati and others. But it couldn't find a time for Dolphins vs. Patriots.

This is frankly a major oversight by the network. What, it couldn't play Football Follies 11 times instead of 12 times this week? It couldn't nix that eighth showing of the 1969 Minnesota Vikings diary?

The NFL Network severly dropped the ball not replaying the historic upset. It disrespected the sizeable Dolphins fan base. It did us all a disservice.

September 25, 2008

Joey Porter named defensive player of the week

Linebacker Joey Porter has been named the GMC Sierra defensive player of the week in a voting conducted on NFL.com

Porter, who had three sacks against the Patriots, was selected among five finalists. It is coincidence that the defensive player of the week honors the first two weeks went to Pittsburgh Steelers defenders and Porter, the winner this week, is a former Steeler.

What is also interesting is that Porter had a game that lives up to his reputation and the contract he got last year from Miami. My prediction is he will have a season worthy of that contract. This doesn't look to be a one-game wonder to me. I think we should all believe in Porter because he is being put in a position to succeed this year.

That wasn't the case last year.

So the questions to you are:

1. Has Porter been worth it for the Dolphins so far?

2. Do you blame his struggles last season on him, or the way he was utilized or both?

3. Do you agree with him that Joey Porter this year will be like "night and day" from the Porter you saw a year ago?


Dolphins working more this bye [updated]

I got a lot of grief from readers last year when I complained the Dolphins took not one, not two, not three, but four days off during their bye week.

On the bye week the winless Dolphins of 2007 didn't practice on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Not coincidently, that time the team could have been using to prepare John Beck for some playing time was squandered.

Things are different this year.

Although there are unsubstantiated rumors coach Tony Sparano might give the players a surprise day off Friday to go along with Saturday and Sunday, the schedule nonetheless calls for them to work. So if they follow that schedule, the Dolphins will be off only Saturday and Sunday or half as many days as Cam Cameron gave them off last year on the bye week.

Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Anyway, the Dolphins are at work this morning and I can report running back Jalen Parmele is back at practice. He has been signed to the practice squad. Cornerback Will Billingsley, meanwhile, was not at practice and he has been cut from the practice squad to make room for Parmele.

Vonnie Holliday was also not at practice for what coach Tony Sparano called, "a family issue." Outside linebacker coach Jim Reid, who was taken to the hospital after Wednesday's practice experiencing dizziness and difficulty breathing, is scheduled to undergo surgery Sparano said. He declined to say surgery for what.

[Update: I have confirmed that Sparano is giving the players the day off Friday. The reason he gave for doing this is because he accomplished in the last two days what he expected to get done in three. So they will be off Friday through Sunday. And still they will have worked longer this bye week than last year's bye week.]

September 24, 2008

Brown gets honor while Dolphins tweak roster

The Dolphins are back at work this morning and some of the guys practicing are not on the roster while some of the guys on the roster are absent -- which obviously means roster moves have been made.

Running back Jalen Parmele was not at practice because he was waived, with his spot on the roster taken by tight end Joey Haynos, who was signed off the Green Bay practice squad. The Dolphins also waived practice squad tight end Drew Atchison and signed guard Matt McChesney to take his place.

Bottom line, Parmele, the first of Miami's three sixth-round draft picks, is not here. If he clears waivers Parmele is eligible to re-signed to the practice squad.

All of this is happening as Miami starting running back Ronnie Brown has been named AFC offensive player of the week by the NFL. Brown rushed for 113 yards on 17 carries and scored four touchdowns and threw for another score in a 38-13 dismantling of the Patriots.

"It's exciting," Brown said of the honor. "It's rewarding for myself getting this especially since I'm coming off that injury. I think it's a sign things are going in the right direction."

The Dolphins had a very good practice today, according to coach Tony Sparano. Players were working hard and "fast" and "efficient," he said. That is one reason the team got all its work done eight minutes before schedule.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker coach Jim Reid was feeling poorly after a running session and Davie paramedics were called to attend to him. Sparano said he was feeling dizzy. Linebacker Reggie Torbor is nursing a hamstring injury and did not practice today.

September 23, 2008

Brown about to get on a roll as he did in '07?

It is uncanny how this season is starting to mirror last season for Ronnie Brown.

Last year Brown entered the season with questions hovering about him. Was he overweight? Did he want it? Could he be the dominant player he's supposed to be based on being the No. 2 overall selection of the 2005 draft?

This year Brown entered the season with questions hovering about him. Was his knee healthy? Why couldn't he beat out Ricky Williams? Could he be the dominant player he's supposed to be based on being the No. 2 overall selection in the 2005 draft?

Brown started slow the first two games last year, averaging about 3 yards per carry in limited work. Brown started slow the first two games this year, averaging about 3 yards per carry in limited work.

Brown busted out in the third game of the 2007 season. Brown busted out in the third game of the 2008 season.

And Brown used that third game to go on a string of four consecutive games in which he passed the 100-yard rushing mark and was clearly Miami's most consistent offensive weapon. The hope is Brown can use Sunday's stomping of New England to roll out a string of good outings in which he can lead the Dolphins to some success.

Does Brown think that can happen?

"I hope so," he said. "Coming into the season I felt pretty good physically and each week I continue to feel better like I’ve been saying over the past few weeks.  It’s nothing different, just having a bit more success on the offensive side of the ball and that’s not based on my performance solely. We did a great job on offense and we did a lot of things coming into this week as far as practice-wise.”

If Brown can use Sunday's game as a launching pad for good things, the Dolphins offense promises to be more consistent than it was the first two games of the year. But it won't be easy. With San Diego, Baltimore, and Buffalo on the schedule three of the next four games, Brown will face traditionally good run defenses.

The Ravens have the No. 5 run defense this year. San Diego is No. 18 and Buffalo is No. 12. Houston, meanwhile, is No. 27.

We'll see where it goes. But if this year is indeed something of a mirror image of last year for the Dolphins running back, the next few weeks bode well.


[Update: Brown is one of three players nominated for the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the week honors. Fans can vote for him at NFL.com. Get clicking.]

September 22, 2008

Wildcat uses unbalanced line to confuse Pats

The folks in New England are aflutter with confusion because they don't know about their quarterback situation now and they still don't know how it is the Dolphins ran for 216 yards Sunday -- most of those coming out of the gadget "Wildcat" formation.

And it is a gadget formation. Aside from getting Ronnie Brown lined up in shotgun to take the direct snap, or hand off or pass, Wildcat also does some unorthodox things up front.

Consider that on every Wildcat formation, left tackle Jake Long lined up on the right side and outside of Vernon Carey. In other words, the line going right to left was Long, Carey, Ikechuku Ndukwe, Samson Satele and Justin Smiley, who is then flanked by a tight end, typically Anthony Fasano.

That is called an unbalanced line and, believe it or not, the Dolphins used it at times last year. It just wasn't as successful as it was Sunday when Miami scored four of its five TDs out of the package.

"They ran some unbalanced formation that it didn't seem that we had any answers for," defensive end Richard Seymour said. "You have to give them a lot of credit. They made the plays that they needed to make. We were a step behind and a step late all day. It felt like we were just reacting to what they were doing and didn't really have any answers."

There were no answers to be found by the Patriots because both Long and Carey had excellent days blocking. On the 62-yard Ronnie Brown TD run, Long and Carey both wiped out a defender while Smiley pulled and also laid a great block on somebody.

Brown was not touched much of the day until he got into the secondary.

"It was something that we didn't use on a consistent basis," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "It's a different look, it really is."

No lie.

[Update: Tony Sparano said Monday the Dolphins have only "scratched the surface" with the package and that even when it was orginally discussed there were other people in mind to be used in the package. So expect to see more of Wildcat and expect to see different things in it.] 

September 21, 2008

Dolphins make it truly fun to see Sunday's win

FOXBORO -- It was truly gratifying to go into the Dolphins locker room late Sunday afternoon after the incredible 38-13 victory over the Patriots and talk to the players about success and great plays and, well, something other than losing.

It was great!

During my early years covering the Dolphins I dealt with winning teams almost every year. I covered teams that believed a punched ticket to the playoffs was a right rather than a privilege. I covered teams that mattered and had a swagger and an excitement about them.

The Dolphins played like that Sunday, like the good ol' days. It has been a long time as everyone knows. And it was awesome.

I guess this is where I address the improvement column. I wrote in Sunday's Herald the Dolphins had shown no improvement in the first couple of games this year from the start of last year. I still believe that. The Dolphins were no better after two games this year than after two games last year.

And I don't think any right-thinking fan could argue the opinion which I backed up with statistics. Fact is, no one argued the point with me before Sunday's game. I got plenty of hindsight emails from people busting my ... chops after Sunday's game.

But none came before people knew the outcome of this game.

I was nonetheless wrong when I failed to suggest that Miami's course toward improvement could change at any point this season. Because that is what happened in this game. The Dolphins, for one day, showed improvement. Despite how unpredictable and even improbable, the Dolphins made a giant leap in one week and in this one game.

The Dolphins went from losing one 34-10 to winning one 38-13. They went from losing to a perpetual doormat to destroying a perennial winner.

We'll see if that improvement continues.

Interestingly, and I think importantly, I didn't hear any boastful predictions out of the locker room. Players didn't predict this is the beginning of big things. Players didn't act like all their problems are solved. Players didn't even buy into the, "We knew we'd do this all along," mistake.

Ricky Williams, Vonnie Holliday and others instead spoke of building on this victory. They spoke of needing to clean up some issues that persist. They spoke of not taking two steps back now that they've taken one forward.

It was good to hear.

It was fun to watch.

It was great to cover.

Upset special: Dolphins blow out NE, 38-13!

FOXBORO -- The Dolphins out-coached, outplayed, out-thought, out-executed, you name it they did it to the Patriots today. But mostly they administered a beatdown on New England, 38-13 the stirring result.

New England coach Bill Belicheat agreed with me.

"I thought that Miami played a real good football game," he said. "They did everything a lot better than we did. They outplayed us. They out-coached us. They certainly dominated on offense and defense. I thought we were competitive in the kicking game but that was about it, not on the offensive or defensive sides of the ball."

Ronnie Brown went crazy on the Patriots defense. Using what the Dolphins refer to as the "Wildcat" formation in which Brown lines up in shotgun and either runs, hands off or passes, the running back scored four touchdowns, threw for another touchdown and gained a game-high113 yards on 17 carries.

Ricky Williams contributed 98 yards on 16 carries. Wow.

Brown had TD runs of 62 yards, 5 yards, 15 yards and 2 yards -- all of them out of the "Wildcat" formation. Miami's other points came on a 39-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter.

Although the Patriots scored their first TD of the day on a Matt Cassel pass, the Dolphins defense clearly outplayed New England offense also. New England's TD was made possible primarily because Ellis Hobbs returned a kickoff 81 yards.

That kickoff came after Ronnie Brown threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano to give the Dolphins a 28-6 lead. That is not a misprint. Brown, who ran for three previous scores, lined up in the shotgun and took the direct snap. He rolled left, which is his dominant hand, and pass to Fasano.

The Dolphins have clearly found a chink in the New England defense's armor as Brown tied the team record for rushing TDs in a game with three.

Brown scored from 5 yards out iwth :54 seconds to play in the half. Three of the scores have come on a play in which Brown takes a direct snap from center as Chad Pennington lines up at WR. Brown simply keeps the ball and finds a running lane that one can fit a truck through. He's done this twice. The third time he passed.

New England early on was able to match Miami score for score. The difference was Miami was scoring touchdowns. New England has two field goals.

So the score here is 21-6 so far after Stephen Gostkowski connected on his second field goal of the day.

Ronnie Brown is on a tear! He went over from 15 yards out for his second touchdown of the day as the Dolphins stretched their lead over New England to 14-3 in the second quarter.

The Miami TD answered a 37-yard field goal by Gostkowski that New England used to close the gap with the Dolphins to 7-3 early in the second quarter.

The Dolphins took a 7-0 lead when Brown took a direct snap from center and ran in from 2 yards in the first quarter.

The Dolphins have shown a lot of fight so far. They got their first interception of the season -- that by Randy Starks -- to stop a first quarter New England drive. Then the Dolphins drove 74 yards for the go-ahead TD.

It was the first time this season the Patriots have allowed a first-quarter touchdown and the first time this year Miami takes a lead in a game. Anthony Fasano caught passes of 23 and 24 yards on the drive to help the Dolphins.

It's a beautiful day for a live blog and we will have that in the comment section today.

Meanwhile the news today is that Brown got his first start of the season ahead of Ricky Williams at running back.

As reported in this blog often this week, Renaldo Hill is starting for Chris Crocker at free safety.

I ran into future Dolphins owner and current partner Stephen Ross before the game. He is here. It is interesting, to me at least, that Wayne Huizenga is not here and I didn't see him on the road last week, either. I don't know what that means, but I just figured you'd like to know.

For the Patriots, meanwhile, starting running back Laurence Maroney is out. Backup Lamont Jordan is questionable. The starter will be former Dolphins running back Sammy Morris.

September 19, 2008

Can Pennington and Ginn work together?

Chad Pennington and the Dolphins receiver corps meet twice a week -- typically on Wednesday and Friday -- to watch film and talk and clear the air about different subjects. It's a good way for the players to forge a bond away from the field.

The group is also working together, according to coach Tony Sparano, after each practice on the field in an effort to find chemistry that way as well.

But the question I have, in all honesty, is how Ted Ginn Jr. and Pennington can bridge the divide between their playing styles and God-given gifts to make things work between the team's No. 1 receiver and starting quarterback?

I ask because I simply don't think these two guys are well-suited for one another.

Ginn is a developing player but we all know his strengths are speed and stretching the field. He is a long-strider who seems most comfortable running 9 routes and deep posts and skinny posts. He needs to go down the field in a straight line, outrun people, and get the ball thrown over the top of the defense.

Pennington, meanwhile, is a quarterback more comfortable working with his receivers on timing. He wants to know the ins and outs of their route-running so he can anticipate them coming out of their breaks and have the ball delivered to them as they come clear.

The fact is a deep sideline pass of 17 yards typically requires a QB to throw it about 24 yards on a line. Pennington can do it, but the ball doesn't really hum out there. I sails sometimes. So he prefers working the short middle of the field.

Pennington is not a quarterback you'll see throwing the ball 30, 40 or 60 yards down the sideline to the receiver. Those throws also require a strong arm. Pennington relies on the receiver catching it between 5 and 15 yards downfield then delivering YAC (yards after catch) if there is to be a big play.

Ginn, still learning to run precise routes, isn't a great timing receiver. He also isn't built for attacking the middle of a defense a lot, although he'll gladly do it if asked. Again, he is about speed and running by folks.

So how can a QB that relies on short passes and timing and a receiver that is best suited for getting behind a defense before he gets the ball mesh?

So far they have not. Pennington has completed two passes to Ginn this season. They were both of the short variety and Ginn didn't turn them into long gains because they came in traffic.

It seems to me like an obvious problem for the Dolphins. The solution?

Either Ginn has to drastically adjust his game and accept running short, precise routes in the middle of the field. Or the Dolphins need a stronger-armed quarterback that can fire over the top of the defense. Doesn't seem like rocket science to me.

September 18, 2008

Pasqualoni gives answers on Jason Allen

Many of you have asked, demanded, begged for reasons why Jason Allen is not Miami's starting free safety today despite the fact Chris Crocker clearly had at least one miscommunication issue against Arizona and this week Renaldo Hill is likely to start at free safety.

... which, by the way, means Allen is effectively third-team at free safety.

I have resisted asking the questions you guys have wanted me to ask this coaching staff because they take their cue from head coach Tony Sparano and he, frankly, has admitted he's never going to publicly unmask a player with criticism or sometimes even critique. In other words, he'll talk about players but he won't tell you when they make mistakes and where they fall short of the mark.

Having said that, I could not resist the idea of trying to get a legitimate answer from defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.

I asked him: "What is Jason Allen not showing that he needs to show to take the next step?"

He answered: "Jason as everybody knows has great position flexibility. He's a safety, he can play a bigger corner position. So we're working him in a lot of places right now. He's doing well. He's practicing hard. He's practicing with focus. He's just got to keep going. Jason's got a chance to be a good player with his position flexibility."

So I press: "If he improves what?"

And he non-answers: "Well, he's, he's ... as a corner, you know he played corner in college, I think everybody knows that. I think everybody also knows playing corner in this league is a little bit different so you have to give him enough time to get comfortable with the coverages and the press and the bails and all the zones and the mans you play. I would say if you wanted to put your finger on one word it's just give him a little time and as time goes he'll improve and improve."

Do you understand my life's frustrations now?

Porter's controversial comments [updated]

God bless Joey Porter because he always has something interesting to say. Today, after he spent a few minutes speaking both truth and blasphemy about New England's quarterback, he threw in these words that likely will resonate in New England the next few days:

"We're going to come after the guy. I don't want to say something that will come back and bite me. It'll be good to go out and get our first victory," Porter said of Cassel and Miami's game against the Patriots. You can get a complete rundown of what Porter said here.

Now, as guarantees go, this one isn't exactly blatant. Porter did a much better job guaranteeing a win last year for the Dolphins and in previous years with Pittsburgh.

The guarantee in Pittsburgh was backed up with a victory.The last time he guaranteed a victory for Miami, the Dolphins lost. That happened when the Dolphins were 0-3 and Porter guaranteed victory over the Raiders.

This one, meanwhile, is more risky. In case Porter is the only one who has not noticed, the Patriots are 2-0. They went to the Super Bowl last year. The Dolphins, meanwhile, stink right now. And the game is in New England.

So predicting the Dolphins will go up to Foxboro, Mass. Sunday and come away with their first victory is indeed bold ... or maybe Joey knows something we don't. Let's hope.

Anyway, Porter made his comments today and also spent several minutes pointing out current Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is not Tom Brady -- implying not as good or dangerous as Brady.

That is true so Porter is on the money there. Matt Cassel isn't in the same galaxy with Tom Brady.

But why tweak a sleeping giant?

What are the chances Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi and Randy Moss and the rest of that prideful New England bunch are going to find out what Porter said? What are the odds his words will echo in their Saturday night meeting? What are the chances they will want to take out their Porter frustrations on the Dolphins?

Worse, what are the odds they can do it, too?

So where is your money on this one? You think Joey Porter will back up his talk or the Pats will find a way to make him wish he hadn't said anything about Cassel or winning?

I guess what I'm asking, in other words, is who do you trust more -- Porter predicting a victory or the Patriots defending their honor?

Want to know where I stand? I'm going out on a limb here. I say Porter has a good game. But I still think New England wins.

[Update: The Patriots are reacting to Porter's comments with a public shrug, according to Reiss's Pieces blog at the Boston Globe. Said safety Rodney Harrison: “The great thing about football, the great thing about sports, is that you get an opportunity to prove it. It doesn’t matter what I say, what he says, or anyone else in this league says. You have an opportunity to prove it, and just prove it on Sunday. Talk is talk. Just prove it. … It’s Joey being Joey. He’s a great player.”

On the other hand, you think Harrison is dumb enough to share his displeasure publicly? No way. He will do it with teammates, however. I guarantee you.]

September 17, 2008

Dolphins put Pats in sight, try to forget Cards

The Dolphins are back at practice and preparing for their meeting with the New England Patriots Sunday.

Here is what is happening:

On Monday coach Tony Sparano said no changes were in order at quarterback and along the offensive line, but added he had to think about things when discussing the secondary. That was code for something is about to happen in the secondary.

And it has.

Chris Crocker is apparently out as the starting free safety this week. Renaldo Hill, the starter there the past two seasons before he blew out a knee in 2007, has recaptured the starting job as of today. While that can still change as Crocker recovers from a stinger injury, it doesn't seem to be a change prompted by health.

It seems more prompted by Arizona throwing for 361 yards while the Miami secondary was often out of position and in blown wrong coverages. Hill is obviously a better communicator back there than Crocker and that was one of Miami's problems against Arizona.

It is clear the other area of concern for Miami the receiver spot. Sparano was paying extra attention to the group today and there were no kind words coming out of his mouth. Fact is there were a couple of expletives from the coach directed at the players.

Meanwhile Ted Ginn Jr., who got fewer snaps in the three-wide package last week, is scheduled to be back with the group this week. While this also can change as the week of practice progresses, the early plan is to use Ginn ahead of Derek Hagan in three-wide. The other two are Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo.

September 16, 2008

Baton of fault has been passed to Nick Saban

One repetitive thread on this blog and among frustrated Dolphins fans is that Miami's problems today were caused primarily by Dave Wannstedt and Rick Spielman yesterday.

Everyone complains the lack of talent on the team now is directly tied to the mismanagement those two perpetrated during their combined five seasons of heading the lunacy organization.

And that was true. Until this past Sunday.

I can say that Sunday you saw the baton of responsibility for Miami's mighty talent deficiency passed from Wannstache-Spielman to none other than Nick Saban. We saw the decisions Saban made in 2005 and 2006 hurt the Dolphins on the field against the Arizona Cardinals.


First consider the 2005 draft:

The Dolphins picked Ronnie Brown, Matt Roth, Channing Crowder, Travis Daniels, Anthony Alabi and Kevin Vickerson in that order. Brown has been a good, but not great player and certainly not one that has yet to reward the Dolphins for the No. 2 overall selection.

Wouldn't it have been better to select receiver Braylon Edwards, as the Dolphins were rumored to be considering?

Remember that Miami desperately needed RBs in that draft and picked one with its first selection. Except that Marion Barber and Frank Gore were available in that draft, were selected much later than Brown, and have so far been better players than Brown.

Matt Roth in the second round? Another borderline starter now. Cornerback Nick Collins went to Green Bay in that round. Roscoe Parrish went to Buffalo in that round. Star safety Kerry Rhodes was on the board in that round and for several more rounds afterward.

Channing Crowder in the third round? Well, Crowder has been solid as a starter. But there are questions whether he will be with the team after this season, which is his last under contract. The team has declined to discuss an extension and I'm told Crowder will hit free agency after the season. The Dolphins don't seem worried about replacing him.

That says something about what they really think of the player. Never mind what comes out of Tony Sparano's mouth. Mind what is done with playing time and with contract negotiations to really judge what the team believes about its players.

Also, the final test of any draft comes when the players in that draft hit free agency. If by their end of the fourth season those drafted players aren't worth re-signing when they become unrestricted free agents, then it is hard to argue they were worthy of being drafted to begin with.

Anyway, despite getting a good starter in Crowder, the Dolphins might have gotten a difference-maker in DE Justin Tuck, or a OL starter in Nick Kaczur, or a DB in Ellis Hobbs or another starting corner in Eric Green, who went to Arizona.

The fourth round was the one that really hurt. Daniels came in that round and was a starter right away because he knew Saban's system. But Daniels was traded for two silver dollars during training camp. And Barber was drafted in that round after Daniels and he's a Pro Bowl player. Rhodes was taken in that round after the Dolphins picked. So were Brandon Jacobs of the Giants and Brady Poppinga of Green Bay -- two more starters.

The Dolphins didn't have a sixth-round pick that year. That was shipped to San Diego for David Boston. How'd that work out?

In the seventh round the Dolphins picked Kevin Vickerson. Can't rip this pick too much because seventh-rounders rarely turn into difference-makers. But the Dolphins this weekend will face a former seventh rounder picked after Vickerson in 2005. His name is Matt Cassel.

In the 2006 draft, the Dolphins drafted a guy who I am very close to designating as a bust: Jason Allen.

Think about it. Allen was handed the starting free safety job this year in training camp. He couldn't keep it and fell behind Chris Crocker on the depth chart. Crocker is not exactly a great player as we saw Sunday. Meanwhile, rather than using the time away from the starting unit to improve and push Crocker, Allen has regressed.

When Crocker was taken out of Sunday's game, the Dolphins replaced him at free safety with Renaldo Hill. So not only is Allen not on first team, he's not second team, either. Geez. And the concerning thing is that this is the third coaching staff that has declined to embrace Allen. Remember Saban didn't start him and last year he was well down in the depth chart until everyone got hurt. It wasn't until the choice was playing Allen or Tuff Harris that Dom Capers relented and finally put Allen in the starting lineup.

The painful thing is that the 2006 first round was a gushing oil well of talent and the Dolphins didn't get even one drop in their tank. After Allen went to Miami, LB Chad Greenway went to Minnesota and has started the past 18 games. San Diego took Antonio Cromartie who is a stud. KC drafted Tamba Hali, a fine player. Pittsburgh drafted deep threat Santonio Holmes who also starts. Last year, Holmes averaged a whopping 18.1 yards per reception and almost had a 1,000 yard season.

Continuing, the Jets drafted starting center Nick Mangold. The Giants picked fine DE Mathias Kiwanuka. And Indy selected very productive Joseph Addai.

The second round of that 2006 draft, believe it or not, was a greater disaster for Miami than the first round. The Dolphins gave that pick to the Minnesota Vikings because they traded for Daunte Culpepper rather than sign Drew Brees as an unrestricted free agent. Brees has thrown 58 TDs for his new team. Culpepper spent one injury-riddled year in Miami and is out of the NFL now.

In the third round the Dolphins picked Derek Hagan. In the fourth round the Dolphins picked Joe Toledo while Denver picked Brandon Marshall out of Central Florida, which is like a two-hour drive from the Dolphins training facility. Marshall caught 18 passes against San Diego Sunday. That is typically more than half a season's work for Hagan.

Anyway, the Dolphins had no pick in the fifth round that year because they used it in the supplemental draft on Manny Wright. How'd that work out?

The sixth round pick went to San Diego in the Cleo Lemon trade. And the seventh-round selection was used on Fred Evans, who is playing for Minnesota.

The bottom line is the 2006 draft brought Miami zero starting players. The 2005 draft was better, but it didn't bring Miami any stars and certainly no superstars.

So the next time you want to blame Wannstache and Spielman for Miami's current woes, resist the temptation. The baton of fault has been passed.

Nick Saban is running with it now.

September 15, 2008

Two minute offense the answer?

Looking back on Sunday's dismantling at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals one thing becomes clear:

The only time the Miami offense moved the ball effectively was in the two-minute or hurry-up offense. I have to look back, but memory tells me Miami moved the ball vs. the Jets that way as well.

"That's our best offense right now," Ricky Williams told me.


"I think it's because we practice it so much and guys don't have to do a lot of thinking and they're more comfortable," Williams said. "Also, you're limiting what the defense can show you with different personnel so we figure them out better."

So the question: Are things desperate enough that you think Miami should use this offense more often?

Like not just in typical two-minute situations.

September 14, 2008

Live blog from Dolphins versus Cards today

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Got here extremely early for today's game between the Dolphins and Cardinals and ran into a former league source now working for the Cardinals. Asked him the real chances of his team trading receiver Anquan Boldin this year.

"Zero," he said. "Absolutely zero. I don't know what will happen after the season but I just don't see Anquan going anywhere this year."

So much for the rumors of Boldin coming to the Dolphins. While I wish that could happen for Miami's sake it just isn't in the, pardon the pun, cards. I know Boldin is from Florida. I know his agent Drew Rosenhaus would like to make it happen and continues to press Arizona to trade Boldin.

But the Cards hold all the, pardon the pun again, cards.

They have rebuffed at least one team's inquiry about Boldin and they have refused to give Rosenhaus permission to shop his client.

Understand that doesn't mean Boldin might not be moved in the offseason or some time before his current contract expires in 2010. But he is just as likely to get a new deal in Arizona before then as get traded.

So much for that rumor.

I can report to you that Ernest Wilford will be active today. The Dolphins are making Brandon London inactive to make room for Wilford on the active roster. Ricky Williams is still scheduled to start. Greg Camarillo will start at wide receiver.

Anyway, I hope you guys are ready for today's live blog. It'll start at kickoff. Join me then.

September 12, 2008

Sparano: Game vs. Arizona a 'must-win'

I have sometimes been accused of holding the Dolphins to a high standard that too often they have not been able to uphold.

Tony Sparano apparently believes there is nothing wrong with that. That is why he is putting pressure -- a lot of it -- on his team this weekend. How much pressure, you ask?

He believes this game against Arizona, only the second game in a 16-game season, is a must-win outing.

"I feel like when you lose your first game of the season that your second game is a must-win no matter what," Sparano said Friday afternoon. "I think every week in this league is a must-win in my mind, but when you’re trying to change a culture, there are no kind of wins.  They are all must-wins when you’re trying to change a culture. That being said, we know that last week we lost a ballgame that maybe we didn’t play as well as we could have in. I think that makes this game a whole lot more important, yes."

Um, rookie coach mistake.

I understand what Coach S is trying to say. He wants a sense of urgency out of his team, particularly because it didn't perform as well as it could have last week. But must-win?

A must-win game is one that means the difference between a playoff berth and going home for the offseason. A must-win game is one that avoids a winless season or gives you an undefeated season. A must-win game comes late in the season.

But the second game of the year? Nope.

Every game is important, but the Dolphins could lose this game and still have a good season. And what happens if they lose and the coach portrayed it as a must-win? What is he going to say afterward? The season is over because we didn't win the must-win game?

This is an important game because the coaching staff doesn't want the players to lose confidence. It's important because the Dolphins don't want fans to lose hope and believe this year is a scary extension of last season.

But must-win?

Opponent Friday: The Arizona Cardinals

Cards Coach Ken Whisenhunt

(On what he saw from the Dolphins last week on film) – “I saw a physically disciplined football team. They played hard. I thought they did a good job with their responsibilities and they didn’t stop until the whistle blew. That was very impressive.”

(On Chad Pennington and how you game plan for him)  – “I was with the Jets when we drafted Chad so I know him a little bit, plus I’ve played against him during his course in the league. I know what type of quarterback he is; I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a very smart quarterback, he understands the game, anticipates things very well, had a good feel for moving in the pocket and he manages the game extremely well. I know it will be a challenge for us because I he gets into a rhythm, he can really hurt you. We’re going to have to prepare this week to face a guy that I though in the second half played pretty well.” 

(On what was his biggest challenge in his first year with Arizona) – “I guess, maybe getting everybody on the same page of how we are going to do things. I think Coach Sparano was asked a question similar to that and he answered that it was a process, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a process. It’s not something that you can just do overnight, it takes time. That’s what it seems like was the biggest challenge for us and me, our first year, was trying to get our team, everybody; and that’s not just football. We’re talking about how you practice, how you study or prepare for a team, even as something as simple as how you travel. There are always questions about everything in your first year and until you’ve gone through that process there’s always going to be little distractions. We’re better this year because a lot of those questions have been answered and we’re able to focus in on preparing, and preparing the way we want to.”

(On how big a challenge it is to change an entire culture in a franchise) – “When we win some games here and we’ve done that, I’ll let you know. I certainly know a lot of the coaches on that staff, I’m familiar with Coach (Bill) Parcells, I know how they’re doing things and the thing that I’m impressed with and I know that they’ll have success with, is the fact that they will be consistent and they will stay true to that course. To me, it’s just a matter of time. I already see a much different football team on tape from last year to this year. I anticipate that it will be a tough match for us this week.”

(On how you prepare for a team that has 27 new players, a new 3-4 front, new offense and new coaching staff) – “To me, it’s a little bit like preseason from the standpoint that you’re going to have to make adjustments during the course of the game. I know we’ll see some things that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t prepared for because we’re looking at so many different variables, so many different players, and I’m sure they’ll adjust some of their schemes. It really comes down to being able to adjust to some of those things. I think, hopefully because we’re a year into our program, we can do a better job of adjusting. I think that’s what we did this past weekend against San Francisco. We didn’t have a great first half, but we made some adjustments and came out and played much better in the second half. I think that’s going to be a little bit of the story of this game because I know the way that unit plays, both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, and even their special teams, there are going to be some wrinkles, there are going to be some things that you haven’t seen or haven’t prepared for. That’ll be a fun game for us.”

(On what he remembers most about this time with Joey Porter in Pittsburgh) – “What a competitor he was. What a fiery competitor and how much he was a big part of the leadership and even the personality of our football team. Knowing that he was the kind of guy that you wanted to go into battle with because you knew he was going to have your back.”

(On if he will have to keep an eye on Joey Porter during the game) – “We’ll make sure we keep the footballs away so he can’t come knock one off the tee.”

(On his impressions of Tony Sparano from their time coaching together in Cleveland) – “We were all trying to keep our head above water that first year in Cleveland. I was very impressed with Tony and the job he did. I know the transition coming from college to the NFL is a big jump for a coach and I thought he did a very good job with that. I’m certainly not surprised whatsoever that he’s had the success as an assistant coach and I know he’ll do a very good job as a head coach.”

(On if he’s ever seen a receiving tandem like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin) – “We’re very pleased that we have Larry and Anquan. They’re both outstanding  football players and I think they make our team, not just because they are talented football players, but they bring a lot of other things to the table, I think from a leadership standpoint from how they play and I really admire the way they work with some of our younger receivers. I’m very, very fortunate to have two players of that caliber at receiver and I think our line is doing a great job protecting Kurt (Warner) and that makes us, I hope, a hard team to stop because of that.”

(On if it’s tougher to prepare for inexperienced receivers like the ones on the Dolphins) – “I’ve seen those guys make some plays in preseason and even last week. Anytime you’re going against an NFL caliber receiver, which I think they are, you better prepare because they can hit you for a big play if you let your guard down for a minute. Experienced or not experienced, I think that they have a good, young receiver corps there. I know because of Chad’s experience that he can find those guys and get the ball to them. We have to do a very good job of being disciplined in our technique and our coverage responsibilities this week so that we don’t get lax, would be the best way to say it.”

(On what concerns him the most about Ricky Williams) – “Getting him down, getting him tackled. I think he’s a very strong runner that has good vision, that’s not afraid to hit the hole. I see him make a lot of second level runs carrying guys with him. I think he looks quick, he looks explosive in the hole. He’s a guy that if you give him enough carries where he’s getting past the line of scrimmage he’s going to wear you down. Our biggest concern this week after having faced a back last week like Frank Gore, that was similar from the standpoint of being able to get those extra yards after contact, we’ve got to do a good job of tackling him.”

(An if it’s more difficult to prepare for a team with two running backs or a team with one featured back) – “I don’t think it really makes a difference in today’s league. You face so many teams that have two backs that you have to prepare for both of them. I think we’ve become used to that and a lot of teams that we face have a couple of backs. I think both of the Dolphins’ backs are similar from the standpoint of size and how they run and they’re good players. Regardless of which player is in there, we still have to do a good job of tackling and getting those guys down because in the open field or when they break through the line, they’re tough.”

(On how Anquan Boldin has been handling himself with his contract dispute) – “he’s been working very hard. I don’t think there was ever any question about how he would interact with his teammates or how he would perform on the field. I don’t think that’s in his makeup to do anything different than that. He loves the game, he plays hard and I believe him when he said he cannot take it to the field. I haven’t seen that whatsoever. He has been very good as far as how he’s worked and even taking time with Early Doucet, our young receiver, and working on things with him and some of our receivers. I think Anquan, more than anything, wants to win football games. He’s excited because we won our first game and it looks like we’re making a little bit of progress.”

(On how he’s using Tim Hightower along with Edgerrin James) – “I think that we have certain plays that we want to get Tim in there, but we’re going to give him opportunities as well. That’s something that he had to earn. I thought he did a good job in the first game, especially on two big fourth down runs for us getting that first down. I think that he’s gotten a little bit more in the plus column as far as being able to use him in the game. We will, in certain situations, just to rest Edge, especially if we’re having success running the football so we can ease some of that burden on Edgerrin. He’s a young player and being a rookie in the league, a lot of times you don’t want to give him too much. He’s done a very good job of handling his role and I hope that we’ll be able to get enough carries that we can expand his role.”