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32 posts from September 2008

September 11, 2008

Sparano protecting players an asset or liability?

I cringed yesterday when I heard coach Tony Sparano say that against the New York Jets the Dolphins receivers as a group, "played well. Not great. Well."

You decide based on what you saw if the group played well.

My point is if you ever expect Sparano to tell you exactly how awful a certain player is, you will be sorely disappointed. He will NEVER openly criticize any player because he doesn't think it is beneficial to the player or the team.

If you read the question and answer column I did over the weekend after a sit-down with Sparano, you would know that when it comes to criticizing players Sparano believes he doesn't need to do that in public.

The intriguing thing is he doesn't mind calling out groups of players -- such as the offensive line or defensive backs or receivers -- as long as he doesn't single anyone out. That makes his defense of the receivers even more curious.

So this is what I am wondering:

Do you agree with the coach that receivers as a whole played, "well?"

Do you now lose some trust in what the coach says about his players because you know he's never going to rip a player no matter what?

And do you wish Sparano was more like his mentor Bill Parcells who apparently had no issues with publicly expressing his dissatisfaction with players? By the way if you don't remember, Parcells once referred to Terry Glenn as a "she" and talked about Terrell Owens' injuries that forced him to the workout bike without ever actually calling Owens by name.


September 10, 2008

Changes coming to Miami Dolphins lineup

The Dolphins are back at work as they prepare for the Arizona Cardinals and there are changes afoot in the lineup.

Seems second-year man Ikechuku Ndukwe is the choice to replace injured Donald Thomas at the starting right guard position. Thomas, you will recall, is out of the season with some unidentified foot injury.

Also today, Ronnie Brown is getting work in practice ahead of Ricky Williams at the running back spot. While this does not guarantee a change at the starting RB spot, it is a departure from the past couple of weeks when Williams was getting most of the first-team work.

I am also told the team is trying to find a place for Ernest Wilford to be active for Sunday's game but a final decision on that has not yet been made. Seems if this happens, Derek Hagan may be inactive -- but again, that is not decided yet one way or the other.

September 08, 2008

Ricky's bad deal is actually much worse

If you read this blog regularly you know I've written that Ricky Williams did himself a grand disservice when he represented himself and signed a one-year contract extension 10 days or so ago.

Well, the news gets worse for Miami's running back.

It seems in agreeing and then signing this deal, which Williams did while acting as his own agent, the issue of that $8.1 million judgment the Dolphins won against Williams years ago was not touched. At all.

Ricky Williams still owes the Miami Dolphins the full $8.1 million according to a source.

So not only did Williams not get any guaranteed money in signing his extension, not only did he agree to some incentives that require him to run the ball a lot on a team on which he is sharing carries, but Williams did not convince the team to waive that long-ago perfected judgment.

Now, the Dolphins have not collected a cent from that judgment. They are not exactly hurting for the money. And they may never collect anything from it. But it is still there in its entirety hanging over Williams. If the team really wanted to play hardball, it could go after Williams for the full amount.

The only chip Williams ever had against making that $8.1 million go away was a new contract. He could have told the team that he would sign a new deal, even if it had no guaranteed money, as long as the team waived its rights to the judgment.

But Williams didn't make the case and so even though he's scheduled to make up to $5.6 million this year and next in base salary and some reachable incentives, he's still in the red.

Because he's still on the hook for that $8.1 million.

Dolphins need to try using Ernest Wilford

I do not watch practices anymore. The policy is that media can only watch 30 minutes of tuning up and then the rest of the real preparation is done pretty much behind an iron curtain.

So I don't know how bad Ernest Wilford looked in practice last week. I have no idea if he loafed or hopped on his head throughout his drills. I have no idea if he cursed out a coach or sent them flowers.

But I do know he has more catches during his NFL career than all of Miami's other receivers combined. I do know he needs to be active on Sunday. I do know he needs to be in the game-plan, at least for red zone use where his experience and 6-4 frame are assets.

"The Dolphins need to use Ernest Wilford," Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Wilford echoed last night.

I would say so.

If Wilford hasn't been practicing well, he needs to get in gear. But how awful can it be that he was behind Davone Bess, Derek Hagan and Greg Camarillo last week?

Chad Pennington needs an experienced receiver he can rely on. It cannot hurt to see if Wilford is that guy.


September 07, 2008

Live blog from The New Beginning [update]

It is a New Beginning!

At least that is what the billboards next to South Florida Highways keep insisting. We shall see today.

I'm sure you are all excited the Dolphins' regular season opener against the New York Jets is finally here. I know I am. The Dolphins are also. I got a call from one very excited Dolphins player very early this morning. Yeah, he noticed I picked the other team to win in the paper today.

He was awake and itching to get going but couldn't find anything to do so he started calling people to get them going. Not the kind of wake up call I expected today but that's fine.

I sat down one-on-one and did a question and answer column with Dolphins coach Tony Sparano for today's Miami Herald. It is a must read before today's game.

You'll get the answer to what he's thinking today, what he's most confident in and what worries him the most about his team. He also discusses his approach for reaching players.

The live blog will begin in the comments section at the start of the game so join me there.

Yeah!!!!! Fired up!!!!

UPDATE: WR Ernest Wilford, who got $6 million guaranteed money this offseason, is inactive today. Yikes. So much for recent improvement that coach Tony Sparano reported. But if you read that Q&A you'll understand why the coach doesn't call out players.

Cornerback Michael Lehan and rookie Shawn Murphy are also inactive.

September 06, 2008

Dolphins trust Ricky Williams, but not that much

Ricky Williams revealed earlier this week he is taking a university math course once a week during this fall semester.

Maybe he should have done a little bit better figurin' before he agreed to his new contract extension. According to Yahoosports.com's Jason Cole, the extension Williams signed is quite unimpressive and shows the Dolphins belief in the enigmatic running back is limited.

Williams, listed as the agent of record on the deal, negotiated his own deal in part because his agent Leigh Steinberg is not currently certified by the NFL Players Association. But Williams must not have even gotten some friendly advice from Steinberg because I doubt any agent would have signed off on this deal.

The deal pays Williams $1.5 million in roster bonuses due in increments of $93,750 per game this year. That will be due Williams in addition to the $730,000 base salary he was originally scheduled to get. The deal also pays Williams $3.4 million in base salary next year.

The problem for Williams?

There is absolutely no guaranteed money in the deal. He'll get his $93,750 for each game only as long as he's on the 53 man roster. Williams agreed to give the Dolphins an extra season without getting a signing bonus or any other guarantees.

If he quits at any point this season, Williams loses the game bonus for the games he misses. Even if he gets hurt, through no fault of his own, he gets zilch for any game if he isn't on the 53-man roster.

Next year's money also in not guaranteed.

Had Williams been patient, and not signed the extension he wouldn't have gotten the extra $1.5 million this year. But assuming he played as everyone expects, he would have put himself in position for a giant payday this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

If Williams had the kind of season everyone expects this season, one NFLPA source says Williams could have commanded between $5-$6 million in guarantees from some team next season in addition to a good base salary. So not only did Williams not get any guaranteed money, but he might have underestimated his own worth.

"This will be used as another example of why players should never act as their own agents," the source told me this afternoon. "Ricky has made a mistake that has cost him a lot of money. Of course, he's done that in the past as everyone knows."

So the Dolphins are thrilled because they have zero exposure on the deal. They are telling Williams how much they believe in him and trust him -- but only as long as he produces regardless of circumstances.


September 05, 2008

Dolphins work out, could sign Chad Jackson

The Dolphins have just concluded a workout with recently waived receiver Chad Jackson, according to The Herald's Jeff Darlington.

Jackson is awaiting word from the team and his agent whether he will be signed.

Jackson, you might recall, was the former second-round pick of the Patriots in 2006 out of the University of Florida. He obviously fizzled in New England and was not picked up on waivers because no teams wanted to take on his four-year contract.

Jackson has obviously not lived up to his draft pedigree. He has played 14 games in two seasons and caught 13 passes for 152 yards -- despite the fact the Patriots are so pass-happy.

"I think Chad is a good football player and I am sure he will play for somebody," New England coach Bill Belichick said when Jackson was cut. "It wouldn’t surprise me if he played real well. It just didn’t work out here, this year, at this point in time. I don’t know any other way to put it."

Jackson is a specimen. He is 6-1 and 215 pounds and can run like a tropical storm force wind.

The Dolphins, with obvious receiver issues, might want to take him on now that the original contract is no longer an issue. Even if he is signed, Jackson would not play for Miami against the Jets Sunday.

Breaking down the Jets-Dolphins [with pick]

I got a phone caller on my Fins Unfiltered show Thursday night who was legitimately angry at me for having picked the Dolphins to go 10-6 last year and having been wrong.

He didn't seem to understand, as many of you don't understand, that was a prediction, not a statement of fact. Making a predictions requires zero skills, only an opinion. And as many of you would argue, that suits me great as I have no skills but plenty of blowhard opinions.

So to celebrate that angry dude's call, to celebrate my lack of skills and blowhard predictions, I'm going to break down Sunday's season-opener and make ... you guessed it, a prediction.

Things to look for between Dolphins and Jets:

Quarterbacks: Much has been made of Brett Favre's arrival in New York, which caused Chad Pennington's departure and godsend acquisition for the Dolphins. The reasons the Jets got Favre is a little curious because they weren't all about football. Sure, Favre has a more live arm than Pennington. Sure he has better career statistics. But this was as much a PR move to sell seat licenses for the new stadium as anything else. To this day Favre doesn't have full grasp of the New York playbook, which will lead coaches to trim the game plan to some essential parts that they've been able to work on and practice the past two weeks. While this will get the Jets through the game, it may not be enough to win the game, considering the Miami defense should adjust to whatever the Jets are doing within the span of a couple of series. The Jets won't have an Act. II on offense because, again, the game plan will be limited for Favre's sake. This applies somewhat to the Dolphins also, but I have been told by a couple of players I've talked to on the phone this week that coaches have a handful of "gotcha" plays for the Jets. The coaches apparently feel the Jets will have to scramble to adjust to those plays and, apparently, once they do, Miami will continue mixing its bread and butter plays with the next "gotcha" play. I've never heard of such an approach before, but obviously Pennington is on board with the plays. Moreover, I think he's more of a thinking man's QB than Favre and so he has a better grasp of the Miami offense than perhaps Favre has of the Jets offense. My concern with Pennington is adjusting to his receivers. He places a high value on knowing and anticipating those guys -- moreso than most QBs because he has to make up for some arm-strength issues. But how did Pennington get to know his receivers when Derek Hagan hasn't been all that impressive lately, Greg Camarillo has come from nowhere to merit playing time, and Ted Ginn Jr.'s conditioning will be tested as he also returns punts and kickoffs? Look for a lot of passes to the TEs and RBs, people. Regardless of this, in the heat, in the stillness of Dolphin Stadium, Pennington's smarts gets a slight advantage over Favre's slingshot arm. This completely goes the other way if it a thunderstorm rolls in and the winds start to swirl. Then Pennington could have problems as he sometimes did in the Meadowlands. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS.

Miami Offensive line vs. Jets defensive line: Much has been made of the Miami OL's improvement this preseason. And there is no arguing that the group is better. But I have concerns that this group is not yet cohesive. I have concerns that rookie Donald Thomas, while a fine story, still is a work in progress. I have concerns that Justin Smiley at times this preseason got blown up on a couple of plays and I wonder if that will continue? In total, I have concerns that we're expecting Little, Langer, Evans, Kuechenberg and Crusan and won't get anywhere near that early in the season. I also think the Jets' defensive line has made great strides in picking up Kris Jenkins to occupy two blockers. My point is I think we all know the Dolphins NEED to run the ball effectively to win. I have serious doubts this line has had enough time and is battle tried enough to make that happen. ADVANTAGE: JETS.

Jets offensive line vs. Dolphins defensive line: I have written on several occasions that Bill Parcells believes his DL to be Miami's strength. Gotta agree as it provides a wonderful mix of youthful potential and enthusiasm (read Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling) along with veteran leadership and experience (read Vonnie Holliday and Jason Ferguson). But the Jets counter with pretty much the same formula. I am a HUGE fan of the Alan Faneca addition. Journalists in New York tell me he has become the anchor of that line, the leader of that line, the solidifying force on that line. And Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are good players also. So basically it is strength against strength. It promises to be a great battle of wills and muscle and technique. ADVANTAGE: EVEN.

Running backs: Let me make this simple. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are better ball possession guys than Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. But Washington brings a dimension neither Williams nor Brown have and that is quickness on the edge. I don't see Ricky and Ronnie breaking off too many 50 yard runs this year. Jones probably won't either, but Washington is very capable. Nonetheless, slower and steady wins here. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS.

Wide receivers: Um, Laveranues Coles has killed the Dolphins in recent years, scoring an NFL receiver high 10 TDs on Miami. Jericho Cotchery is the most under-the-radar 1,000-yard receiver in a long time, especially considering the fact he plays in New York. The Miami receivers? Outside of Ted Ginn Jr., they are a huge question mark. And that is being kind to Ginn. This remains, in my opinion, Miami's area of greatest concern. ADVANTAGE: JETS.

Secondaries: I have a theory about Miami's secondary: It wasn't tested for most of 2007. Teams found running on the defense so easy, they just shut it down and ran the ball and killed the clock and tried to stay away from mistakes in the passing game. With the same secondary returning -- with the exception of Chris Crocker -- the Dolphins have stability back there. But I will completely believe in these guys when I see it. They are experienced and confident, but it's been a while since they've been tested and Coles has been a Dolphins killer. The Jets secondary, meanwhile, is under-rated. Darrelle Revis is a star in the making. Kerry Rhodes is the best safety in the AFC East. Eric Smith, to me, is the question mark out there at the other safety spot. The difference is the Jets have legit WRs to attack the Miami secondary. The Dolphins? We'll have to see. ADVANTAGE: JETS.

Linebackers: The Dolphins seem deep that the ILB spot but the OLBs worry me. Is Joey Porter healthy? For this game, post pain-killer? Sure. Beyond that? We'll see. Can Matt Roth keep from getting used in coverage? We'll see. Is Charlie Anderson a legit pass-rush threat in obvious passing situations? We'll see. Question marks, question marks, question marks. The Jets got Calvin Pace when the Dolphins backed away from paying him $22 million in guaranteed money. Regardless of the price, the Dolphins nonetheless thought highly of Pace so you should also. Bryan Thomas is not spectacular on the other side, but he is proven and steady. Inside the Jets are nowhere near as deep as Miami -- with former Miami DE David Bowens actually listed as a backup there. But Eric Barton is steady and David Harris has the potential to be a very good player. ADVANTAGE: EVEN.

Kickers/Returners: Mike Nugent proven. Dan Carpenter unproven. Leon Washington and Justin Miller consistent. Ted Ginn Jr. still inconsistent. ADVANTAGE: JETS.

Coaching: Make no mistake the Dolphins have put together a good staff this year. Know what? Outside of the head coach, they had an good coaching staff last year. And they went 1-15. I will be interested to see how this Miami staff tries to highlight Miami's strengths and masks the weaknesses, particularly on offense. How are they going to run the ball when New York's primary job on defense will be stopping the run? I have great respect and admiration for how Eric Mangini brought to New York the New England idea you can revamp from game to game, showing things you haven't shown all season and discarding things you've shown before to confuse the opponent. Make no mistake, the Jets coaching staff is excellent and now moreso since the addition of Mike Westhoff on special teams. I have no reason to question whether Tony Sparano will be fine Sunday. Parcells believes in him. That's good enough for me, and I suspect, you. But experience at the very top of the coaching staff? That edge is on the other sideline. ADVANTAGE: JETS.

WEATHER: Remember when the Dolphins used to have a legit home field advantage in September because of how hot South Florida still is this time of year? Well it remains hot although the past four seasons the Dolphins are 3-5 at home in September. The forecast for Sunday calls for the temps to be in the low 90s. The problem is there is a 30 percent chance of showers which would cool things off a bit if they hit Dolphin Stadium. If there is no rain, you should begin counting the number of Jets players throwing up and looking winded around the middle of the third quarter. It should be a definite Dolphin advantage given the fact Miami has practiced -- sometimes twice a day -- in the brick oven that is Davie, FL. the past few months. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS.

Intangibles: The worry here is that if ,and when, things go poorly on Sunday, will the Dolphins begin to doubt themselves? This team is interesting in that it has a lot of players who have NOT won a lot of games in the NFL lately. The rookies haven't ever won in the NFL and they'll be more concerned with surviving. The vets like Holliday and Will Allen and Vernon Carey and Channing Crowder and Justin Smiley have lately played for losing teams. When it is late and one drive may clinch victory for one team or the other, can the Dolphins remember how to win? You might argue the Jets might not remember, either. Except that doesn't apply to guys like Faneca and Favre and Jenkins and Jones who have all played in Super Bowls. The Dolphins in that difficult hour would have to draw from Ferguson and some of the Dallas guys who won a lot last year. Not too sure that is a good matchup for Miami. ADVANTAGE: JETS.


September 03, 2008

Chris Crocker to start ahead of Jason Allen

Giving up some notes as the Dolphins prepare for the New York Jets:

Chris Crocker has apparently completed his passing of Jason Allen for the team's starting free safety job, coach Tony Sparano confirmed today. The coach was quick to point out Allen will nonetheless get lots of playing time.

No lie. Allen is going to be playing a lot on special teams and is in Miami's dime (six defensive backs) package. But starting? No.

Meanwhile, receiver Greg "I saved the Dolphins from infamy last season" Camarillo got some first-team snaps during the portion of practice that is open to the media. At the very least Camarillo has won the No. 3 receiver spot. In the extreme, he might have beaten out Derek Hagan for the starting job, although that is not a certainty.

I believe the starting job could be more of a feel thing for the coaches, with the player that has the best week of practice getting the nod.

Hagan, who passed Ernest Wilford for the starting job early in camp, was brutally honest with reporters about his status. He said the coaches told him Camarillo had had a better preseason than him. Ouch.

So here are the questions:

Do you have, as Nick Saban might say, faith, trust and confidence in a receivers corps that is potentially making a lineup change after the preseason is complete? How uncomfortable are you knowing one of the starters got passed by a player who started training camp just fighting for a roster spot?

Are you more inclined to see this as a positive reflecting on Camarillo or a negative reflecting on Hagan?

And on the Allen front, after being handed the starting job because of injuries late last year and being handed the starting job early in camp because he was the incumbent, does it worry you that he couldn't hold the job?

This is now Allen's third season. By any account, it is supposed to be his breakout year. Are you disappointed he's breaking out as a special teams and situational player rather than a full-time starter after being picked No. 16 overall in 2006?


Yeremiah Bell next to get an extension?

The Dolphins extended running back Ricky Williams' contract before this season began and now sources tell me the team is doing business on other contract fronts as well.

The Dolphins recently have exchanged contract extension proposals with strong safety Yeremiah Bell, with the idea of locking up that starter beyond 2008. Bell is currently playing out a one-year deal he signed after last season.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus is traveling and could not be reached for comment and his brother Jason Rosenhaus declined to comment. But a source close to Bell says there have been on-going discussions between the player's camp and the Dolphins.

No deal is imminent. But both sides are eager for the regular-season to begin and offer a gauge of what Bell can deliver. Bell missed all of last season when he ruptured an Achilles tendon in the season-opener.

So the Dolphins want to see Bell play up to the potential he showed during the 2006 season and in the 2007 and 2008 training camps. That would convince them to lock up Bell. Bell, confident he has come back from that injury, obviously wants to show the Dolphins he can play at a high level and stay healthy.

Both sides are expected to continue exchanging proposals because it makes sense to lock up Bell before the season ends and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. For the Dolphins, a new contract would lock up a starter and perhaps the most explosive player in their secondary in a year they have plenty of cap space to do that.

For Bell, signing an extension before the end of the season makes sense because it would put money in his pocket immediately rather than waiting for free agency. It would also provide Bell security knowing where he's going to be playing next year and beyond.

The Dolphins have two other notable players in the final year of their contracts. Starting inside linebacker Channing Crowder and starting right tackle Vernon Carey are both unrestricted free agents after this season.

A different source tells me the Dolphins have not reached out to those players and have not had preliminary discussions about extensions.

Despite this, I look for all three of these players to be locked up with new deals before the end of this season, assuming they remain healthy. I can't see the Dolphins not acting proactively on this matter.

But frankly, the deals for Carey and Crowder will be more difficult to get done. Both those deals will have to be multi-year, large signing bonus deals because that is what both those players will command on the open market.

If any of the three players mentioned in this post make it to free agency, I would think Crowder is the most likely to do that. I am told Crowder would not mind testing free agency.

September 02, 2008

Dolphins beat Jets in the draft's first round

Last April the Dolphins used the first pick of the draft to select Jake Long. The New York Jets used their first round pick, the sixth pick overall, to select outside linebacker Vernon Gholston.

Advantage Dolphins!

While Long has come pretty much as advertised so far and will start at offensive left tackle for Miami in the regular-season opener, Gholston has not quite started so fast. In fact, he's been awful.

I had Michael Lombardi, a 20-year NFL personnel man with Oakland, Cleveland and other teams, on my radio show over the weekend. First of all, he doesn't think the Jets are going to be very good at all. He picked them fourth in the AFC East, behind New England, Buffalo and Miami.

And he hates Gholston.

This is what Lombardi wrote in the National Football Post after the Jets preseason finale against Philadelphia.

"I watched Gholston last night and he is not playing well right now. What is most alarming is his inability to come off the blocks without explosison or to play the game with any physicality. Coming out of college, he did not, in my opinion, have one-step quickness. he has to run his feet to generate power -- much like a boxer who needs to "wind up" to throw a punch. Gholston is a poor rusher, playing right into the lineman. As a dropper, he has no chance. If he is in coverage, he is a HUGE liability. The question the Jets should be asking themselves is, 'How are we going to dress him on Sunday?' He is not a special teams  player and won't be on the field as a rusher with the defense. Difficult to imagine drafting  aplayer with the sixth overall, he is not a quarterback, and he does not offer any help on Sunday."

Long, meanwhile, has met every expectation of the Dolphins coaching staff. He still needs to improve his technique but coaches are riding him hard to get that done. Head coach Tony Sparano, in particular, has been spending time with Long to get him better as quickly as possible.

He is not a Pro Bowl player now. But with some experience and some improved technique and some time, he has the makings. The Dolphins believe they hit paydirt with the guy.

The Jets with Gholston? Not so much.

5 p.m. update: The Dolphins are about to announce the cutting of cornerback Joey Thomas and the signing of safety Tyrone Culver. The team also will cut Jayson Foster off the practice squad and add nose tackle Anthony Toribio. Culver was waived by the Packers when the team cut to 53 players.

September 01, 2008

Westhoff returns to Jets after seeing Dolphins

You have to root for Mike Westhoff, the former Dolphins special teams coach who has put cancer to flight for nearly 20 years now.

On Monday the New York Jets announced that Westhoff, who left his job at the end of last season for physical reasons, was being rehired to run the club's special teams again. Good for Westhoff because he has recovered medically. And it is good for the Jets.

But I wonder how good that is for the Dolphins?

Westhoff, you see, was a guest of the Dolphins on several occasions during training camp. He was allowed to come to camp and view practice from basically the same vantage point as what Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland view practices.

So he got an up-close and personal view of Miami's practice, personnel and preparations.

I'm not saying that will be an advantage for Westhoff and the Jets on Sunday. But it has to make the Dolphins just a little uncomfortable knowing that a coach on the opposing team got such an close look at them during their preseason of preparation -- even if it was only for a couple of days.