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21 posts from July 2014

July 31, 2014

Bad center snaps are getting ridiculous

What is Joe Philbin's pain threshold? What is John Benton's pain threshold?

The question matters because as the Dolphins finished their sixth day of training camp practice Thursday, the head coach and offensive line coach no doubt saw the two more bad snaps from their starting center.

The past five practices it was Shelley Smith, who has never played center in an NFL game, firing ground balls or high pitches to quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Midway through Wednesday's practice the Dolphins let Nate Garner start handling the starting center job. And today he misfired on two bad snaps -- rolling one and then sending another over
Tannehill's head.

The Dolphins have not had a practice in which bad snaps have not been a problem. It's seemingly a theme.

Having covered this team since Don Shula was coach, I have never, ever seen so many bad snaps in training camp -- be it the start of camp or not.

The problem is so acute that today the team tried guard David Arkin a little bit at center. "Rolling the dice," Philbin said.

And I'm thinking, is this the NFL? Is this professional football team unable to get somebody -- anybody -- to go through even one practice without flubbing a snap?

In practice!

That's not Paul Soliai (preseason game 1), Vince Wilfork (regular season opener) or Kyle Williams (second game of the regular season) leaning on Miami's centers in anger out there. This is practice.


"I'm confident we can get it fixed," Philbin said. "Football, you can't win with the ball on the ground. But I'm confident we can get it fixed. I believe those guys stayed out after practice again. We do devote a portion of our walk-thru just to the quarterback-center exchange. It's the first thing we do on the field. But we have to get it corrected. I can stand here and talk about it but you have the same set of eyes as I do. We still see the ball on the ground too much."

So when is too much ... too much?

The Dolphins will be without starting center Mike Pouncey for the start of the season and perhaps as long as seven games. How much longer are they going to let failure to do the most fundamental function a center must perform to continue to be a problem before they actually address the issue?

Benton suggested recently that the first preseason game will go a good distance toward telling him how good (or bad?) this offensive line is. So the Dolphins might wait to see how their group of centers-in-the-making play in that Aug. 8 game before making a decision to go outside the organization.

That feels like they're waiting too long.

Samson Satele is out there. Unsigned. Available. Healthy by latest accounts.

Is he a great NFL center? Anyone familiar with his first stint with the Dolphins or his time as a starter with Oakland or Indianapolis knows he is not a great center. He's not a great blocker. He's not overly strong or quick. He's functional at best. 

But functional is an upgrade right now for that position in Miami.

Functional means the snap will get to the quarterback's hands when he expects it and suddenly you are not offering up a blooper reel moment to your practice tape.

The Dolphins brought Satele in for a workout last month. They did not sign him but are keeping him in mind. They want to see how the talent they have on the roster performs before making that call.


I've seen enough. Make the call. Handle the obvious problem. Get Satele up to speed on the offensive system sooner rather than later when it may be too late and could actually affect the regular season. If Smith or Garner or some other roll of the dice corrects the problem then simply get rid of Satele during the round of cuts.

The signing doesn't have to be a marriage.

But have a backup plan. Get a guy who can actually snap the ball.

Something so fundamental cannot be that difficult.

Wallace (hamstring) to miss scrimmage Saturday

Mike Wallace, nursing a sore hamstring, missed his second day of practice at Dolphins camp today and will likely be out past Saturday's scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium.

Wallace will not play in that scrimmage and his status will be revisited next week to determine his status for the preseason opener against Atlanta a week from tomorrow.

This is not a serious injury. But it obviously slows the growth of Wallace's and quarterback Ryan Tannehill's ability to team up on dynamic long passes. The duo was unable to find a chemistry to offer many of those last season and the subject -- a focus in this training camp -- still has not been resolved.

Backup center Sam Brenner, nursing an ankle injury, also missed practice for the second day today. He is doubtful for the scrimmage but is expected to be back to practice next week if he cannot compete in the scrimmage.

July 30, 2014

Sturgis competing against kickers not in camp

Darren Rizzi spent a few minutes talking about the grand level of competition on his special teams this year -- "more competition than I've probably had in any of my six years here," he said -- and, suddenly, it dawned on me that at perhaps the most important spots there really seems to be no competition at all.

Let's face it, punter Brandon Fields has no competitor in camp. Long snapper John Denney has no competitor in camp -- other than some backups that are working at long snapping.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis has no competitor in training camp.

And while the lack of competition for the first two is totally understandable because Fields and Denney are at or near the top of their games among NFL peers, there's Sturgis.

As a rookie in 2013 he was not at the top of his game. His 76.5 percent success rate on field goals was 29th best in the NFL. Sturgis missed eight of his 34 attempts, including four from 30-49 yards. From 50-plus yards, Sturgis was not very good at all, connecting on only 3-of-7.

By comparison, Dan Carpenter, who was cut in training camp, connected on 4-of-6 from 50-plus yards and was 16-of-17 from 30-49 yards.

So Sturgis seems like he could probably use some competition because, well, isn't that what Rizzi is preaching?

Well, it seems Sturgis does have competition, according to the Dolphins special team coordinator.

"I think the specialist is kind of a different deal," Rizzi said. "There's always competition there. It just may not be in the building. There's competition around the league. We're always evaluating the specialist's position.

"That's a fluid situation. Although we may not have anyone here, it's always a fluid situation. We may not have a body here in camp doing it, but ... I will say this, I have a lot of confidence in Caleb Sturgis. He's a quality player. But a specialist is a little different than everywhere else. It really is.

"You don't necessarily have to have a body in camp for those guys to feel pressure."

I think what Rizzi is saying is if Sturgis struggles, GM Dennis Hickey will be calling available kickers.

Sturgis had a drought midway through the '13 season in which he missed four of five field goals. Rizzi noted the rookie was good early in the year and good late in the year but the lull in the middle made for a "roller coaster ride" that is not satisfactory.

"You have to be more consistent and he knows that," Rizzi said. "You go out there for one play and you have to get it down, bottom line."

To make the point, Rizzi said he's not asking Sturgis to kick a series of field goals in practice this year. Indeed, the kicker is getting one chance to make his kicks and he either does or does not perform -- much the same way it happens in a game.

"It's make or miss," Rizzi said. "You don't get a second chance."

I think it is time to pay attention to Caleb Sturgis's attempts in camp from this point forward. Because he's got a ton of guys around the NFL who apparently are competing with him.


More competition than I've probably had in any of my six years here,"

Coyle: Defense has 'chance to do something special'

The Dolphins offense has a new coordinator, a new scheme, a new offensive line. It's a great day when there isn't a botched snap in practice -- and so far there has not been a practice day when there hasn't been at least one botched snap.

So with the division rival New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills the first two teams on regular-season schedule one might hope the Dolphins' defense can carry the day while the offense gets acclimated to 2014.

And that's fine because the defense apparently is ready for that assignment.

"We like the challenge," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Wednesday. "We like the challenge of having a veteran group of guys who feel they can be among the league's top defenses. And if we execute we feel we can do that."

While the Miami offense is experimenting and shuffling players -- On Wednesday Nate Garner moved to starting center for part of practice, Dallas Thomas worked some at tackle and Billy Turner took first-team snaps at right guard -- the defense seems relatively set.

The starting unit in most every practice so far:

LE: Cameron Wake

DT: Earl Mitchell

DT: Randy Starks

RE: Olivier Vernon

WLB: Dannell Ellerbe

MLB: Koa Misi

SLB: Phillip Wheeler

CB: Cortland Finnegan

CB: Brent Grimes

S: Louis Delmas

S: Reshad Jones

Even Jimmy Wilson, who is competing at safety, is seemingly set as the starting nickel back.

A competition may develop at safety (Wilson/Delmas) or DT (Jared Odrick/Mitchell) or perhaps at CB (Jamar Taylor/Cortland Finnegan), but the above seems to be the group right now.

This group is building their core scheme that "we believe in," Coyle said, and trying to use players' strengths within the scheme.

"The core of what we do is in place," Coyle said.

So this group is simply refining rather than their offensive teammates who are defining.

And it shows on the field. Today, for example the last two plays of the team team period in practice, Cameron Wake had a sack and that was followed by a Cortland Finnegan interception.

"My instincts tell me the defense had the upper hand," coach Joe Philbin said of the entire practice in which the two-minute offense and defense was stressed.

As it should be. This defense should dominate the offense, particularly at this stage in training camp. But for that dominance to carry into the regular-season against opposing teams, Coyle realizes some things have to improve.

"Being more consistent in the run game and turnover issues," Coyle said. "If we can do that, we'll put ourselves in position to be difficult to move the ball against.

"If we keep building it, we have a chance to do something special."

A warning: Talent more important than scheme

The Dolphins' offense is different this year because the offensive coordinator is new this year. But is that truly a big deal?

It must be noted the Dolphins have changed offensive coordinators more than they have change head coaches in the past decade. And still Miami fans are waiting for an offense that can rival New England's.

Bill Lazor is Joe Philbin's second offensive coordinator. Tony Sparano had two offensive coordinators in his time. Nick Saban had two offensive coordinators in his time. Dave Wannstedt had three offensive coordinators and perhaps more, depending on whom you believe. Jimmy Johnson had a couple.

Lazor brings with him the idea of moving guys around. Motion. Shifting.

And he's pretty confident about that approach.

“My attitude as I walk into a job is that I’m here to make a difference," he said Tuesday. "That’s not to point the spotlight on me. It’s more to put the responsibility on me. I’m here to do positive things. I’m here to provide leadership. I’m here to help with the expertise in any area I can continue to add it. Some people walk into a job and maybe think about, ‘What is that situation?’ I just choose to walk into a job and say, ‘This is what we are going to make the situation.’”

That's good. But as with everything else, there are pros and cons.

The folks who love the shifting and motion and so forth love to tell you it helps keep the defense from locking in on guys. It is harder to bracket a receiver who is moving presnap. It also creates indecision for the defense.

But the folks that approach offense in a stationary presnap fashion -- like the Dolphins did under Mike Sherman the past couple of years -- will tell you their way of doing things is also well-thought.

“When you’re stationary as a football team or ahead of your emphasis on stationary, you might be able to make more adjustments offensively, check a play in another direction, redirect things, signal things differently," Philbin said.

"If you’re snapping a ball and guys are moving, you don’t really have that option. And so you have to kind of go with the play. Your intent is that you’re going to create a little bit of indecision, limit the play speed of the defense with all the shifting and motioning and so forth. The flipside is you’re not always 100 percent sure of the adjustments and you may get stuck into a look that maybe is less than ideal.”

So both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.

Where does that leave us?

It says here that both approaches have won. Both approaches have been highly successful.

The bottom line is talent.

If the offense is talented, either approach will work. If the offense lacks talent, neither approach will work very well.

The point?

Be cautious of believing all will be different or problems will be resolved based on a change in scheme or system. Sometimes there is incremental improvement. Sometimes not.

Exponential improvement, however, comes when greater talent is injected into the equation. That's when things change dramatically. Remember, it's not about the scheme.

It's mostly about the talent.


July 29, 2014

Benton honest in discussing tough task

The Dolphins offensive line is a handful of practices into what must be a painful, arduous and fast process of growing up.

New from tackle to tackle for the start of the regular season, this unit doesn't just have to find the right five players but then get those players to come together and work with one heartbeat.

"Call it gel, call it what you will," Benton said Tuesday. "We have to quickly evaluate who's going to be playing where ... exactly ... and how much. And get them together as much as possible because there really is something to the gel thing, communication and one guy knowing what the other guy's is going to do. That's going to be vital for us."

The problem with that?

The Dolphins don't really know who their starting five are just yet. Yes, left tackle Branden Albert is a given. But that's it, really.

Daryn Colledge may be the best left guard on the roster ... or he might not.

Shelley Smith might be best suited to start at center ... or perhaps he goes to left guard.

Dallas Thomas is starting at right guard now but he's in competition with Billy Turner.

And rookie Ja'Wuan James seems the most likely right tackle. But he has yet to take a snap in anger so let's not go crazy.

The point is the Dolphins coaching staff has to let this competition play out. But time is short.

"I think it's a little early but by the end of this week, definitely through the first preseason game, we got cut down some of the competition," Benton said. "Heading into the second one we've got to be down to one or two. And then after that it's got to be we've got to be ready to play opening week."

According to that timetable, the Dolphins have three more weeks to get competitions sorted out before the starting unit faces the Dallas Cowboys in the Aug. 23 preseason game.

One position where the Dolphins seem unsure is the center position. That's the curveball in that everyone in the organization expected to add four new offensive line starters for this camp. But five?

No. No one.

Then starting center Mike Pouncey injured his hip and had surgery that will cost him anywhere from 4-7 games.

So Smith, who was signed as a left guard, is at center. He's never played center in an NFL game.

Is Benton clear whether Smith will be able to play well?

"It's unclear in the sense that there's a lot unclear until we get to that first game," Benton said. "I think we'll know a lot after that first preseason game. I'm optimistic. To say confident is probably a little stretch."

Benton is unable to predict the future. But his level of expectation -- that which he's aiming for -- does not change.

"We're going to fully expect to be quality," he said of his line. "Striving to be the best in the league. That doesn't change whatever the situation is. I feel we've got the talent. it's how fast we come together, how hard we work."

The Dolphins open the season against a Bill Belichick defense. The second game of the season is against Buffalo, which matches that team's strength (the front seven) against the Dolphins line. That a tough assignment the first two games out of the gate. 

Has Benton ever seen a team gel that fast?

"Sure, sure," he said. "I've been around and I've come out thinking we're inexperienced and we've come out hot and faded away as the season goes on. There's just so many factors it's impossible to tell. Obviously, is that an issue? Yes, it is an issue. We've got to get together quickly. Will it be 100 percent refined? No, but we're going to have a heck of a game plan for what we do and they're going to understand it. That's how we've got to approach it week to week and, really, day to day at this point."

Ryan Tannehill throws 1 TD in practice

The Dolphins worked on red zone offense and defense today and quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw one touchdown during the 165 minute practice in team drills (11 versus 11).

The Miami quarterback's lone scoring pass in 11 on 11 work came on his last throw of the day when he found Brian Hartline in the end zone for a 4-yard score.

For the day, Tannehill completed eight of 14 passes.

The breakdown in team drills today:

Team period

First down quick slant completion to Mike Wallace. Tannehill 1-1.

Third down pass in the flat to Charles Clay. Tannehill 2-2.

Final down screen pass to Clay. Pump right, throw left. Gain of 6 for first down. Tannehill 3-3.

Inside 20

Completion to Lamar Miller streaming out of the backfield. Tannehill 4-4.

Incompletion on play action throw to Damian Williams who was doubled. Tannehill 4-5.

Incompletion on rollout. Ball thrown with no one in area. Tannehill 4-6.

Inside 10

Incompletion out of shotgun on attempt to running back Damien Williams. Tannehill 4-7.

Incompletion while trying to evade blitz. Tannehill 4-8.

Incompletion to right side -- no receiver in the area. Tannehill 4-9.

Incompletion on throw to WR Damian Williams at corner of the end zone. Tannehill 4-10.

Incompletion out the middle back of the end zone on pass intended for Damian Williams. Tannehill 4-11.

Team drill from the 30.

Completion to Damian Williams down left sideline for 20 yards. Tannehill 5-11.

Completion (called back due to penalty) to Rishard Matthews for six yards. Tannehill 5-11.

Completion to Dion Sims in seam for eight yards. Tannehill 6-12.

Inside 10 yard line

Completion to Brian Hartline for 6 yards. Tannehill 7-13.

TD completion to Brian Hartline for 4 yards. Tannehill 8-14.

To be fair, Mike Wallace sat out most of the second part of practice. He said afterward he had soreness in a muscle that he didn't identify and was told to take it easy. Nothing major.

But on a day in which most of the team snaps (against a full defense) come from the red zone, I think it would be fair to expect more scores. Second-team quarterback Matt Moore, by comparison, threw four TDs.

That's not to say Matt Moore should be pushing Ryan Tannehill for a starting job. And Moore is generally competing against the No. 2 defense.

Just saying today was not the most productive day for the red zone offense. Tannehill started well and finished well. He was not too productive during the middle portion of the practice.

By the way, backup center Sam Brenner left practice midway through with some unpecified injury. He was carted off. Nate Garner took over second-team center duties. 

July 27, 2014

A look at the Dolphins first '14 padded practice

Today was the Dolphins first day in pads in 2014. The Dolphins will have only 11 of these practices before the start of the regular season. The rest will be in shells, or just helmets or walkthru work. So this is a big deal.

This is how and when a football team is most likely to come together -- playing and practicing the closest thing to football that is not a scrimmage or preseason game.

And today was interesting.

It was actually a pretty solid day for the running game. Despite the worries of a totally brand new offensive line and the fact the Dolphins have a solid defensive line, the run game moved the football.

No, there wasn't full speed tackling but one could see if the offensive line was actually moving the defense off the ball or not. One could see whether and where cutback lanes developed.

In that regard, it was a nice day for Lamar Miller. He had one run that would have been a 60-yard touchdown run in a real game situation. It was a stretch play to the right that boasted a lane through which Miller simply thundered into and through.

Nice work.

The desire to get the ball deep to Mike Wallace is still mostly that ... a desire. Quarterback Matt Moore tried a couple of times in team drills. Both times he overthrew the open receiver.

Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill did connect on a 20-yard gain to Wallace on a route coming diagonally across the field.

Some other highlights today:

Cameron Wake continues his streak of practice days with a sack against rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The streak, expected when a Pro Bowl player faces a rookie for the first time, is at three practices. The Dolphins have practiced three days.

“I love it because I’m a competitor," James said of his matchup against Wake. "He’s a great player and he’s going to get me better, as long as I keep going as hard as I can against him, these constant reps we have, it’s going to get me ready for what I’m going to see in the season."

James said Wake is a good teammate. After practice the vet who schools the rookie on the field explains why the lesson was so hard.

“After practice he’ll be like, ‘Hey, I’ve got your hands up here, you need to do this here.’ Or I’ll ask him something," James said. "But he does a good job of schooling me, trying to teach me the right thing, but when it’s in between the lines we’re going at it." 

Dion Jordan had a fine interception. He leaped into the passing lane and snagged a Tannehill throw and returned it for what would have been a TD.

The Dolphins worked the blitz several times today. I saw four blitzes. I saw no sacks out of those but there were two incomplete passes, one short completion and one no throw by the QB.

Dannell Ellerbe, who took over at MLB after Koa Misi left practice with some medical issue, was very active today. He blitzed multiple times. He blew up one running play by Miller behind the line of scrimmage.

Daniel Thomas had a 13-yard run  in one team drill. But had a handful of other runs and none went more than four yards. He tripped once for a three-yard loss.

The read option was again a staple of practice. Both Tannehill and Moore had plays in which they kept the ball.

Mike Gillislee had a 12-yard gain against the second team defense while working with the starters. He had a handful of other team drill carries before he left the field.

The Dolphins are getting a lot of mileage from throws in the flat. And after two days of watching the team throw end-arounds in the mix, today there was a reverse.

One thing that I noticed as I watch Ryan Tannehill throw today: The focus this year is to have him better decisions in that he goes to the right place but also goes there quickly. I am not seeing the quickly party.

My concern is that it will be difficult for him to make a quick decision, particularly early, as he gets comfortable in a new offense. Think about it. Tannehill was in Mike Sherman's offensive for five years. He knew it better than anyone.

This offense is about six months old to him.

So how do you expect the QB to make quicker decisions when the offense is newer?

“It’s a good question," coach Joe Philbin said. "One of the things I think Bill (Lazor) and Kevin (Coyle) have done a great job of is, for example, we have certain pass concepts. So what happens is Bill scripts everything. They don’t script together, but we noticed on two or three of our different pass concepts after the spring, we had only seen them against let’s say quarter’s coverage. What the quarterback needs to see is he needs to see a pass concept versus man-to-man coverage, three-deep zones, quarters, cloud coverage.

"So there is a little bit and there is some trick to it. So Bill and Kevin have gotten together really before camp started and really done a good job of working together and Bill saying to Kevin, ‘Hey Kevin, this is the same play. I’m running play four in period 12. Can you give me one high man? Can you give me a fire zone so that we can expose the quarterback?’ Not that the concepts are totally brand new. There is a lot of carryover in the pass game. It’s a valid point. It’s helpful to speed up the decision-making process if they get reps against a multitude of coverages."

The Dolphins obviously hope it works because, as I share in my column today, the team is hoping for more and better things out of Mike Wallace this year.  And Wallace can't have a better year unless Tannehill gets him the football.

Misi, Gillislee leave Miami Dolphins practice early

Middle linebacker Koa Misi and running back Mike Gillislee left today's first padded practice early with apparent medical issues.

The Dolphins do not disclose injuries unless the players are out for multiple days. Misi left the field after removing his cleats and having his foot/ankle area looked at. Gillislee left the field and seemed to be suffering from some sort of heat related issues.

Misi is expected to be the starting linebacker but after he went out the Dolphins moved Dannell Ellerbe, the starter last year, back to the middle linebacker job.

More information as it becomes available.

More injury management news:

Receiver Brandon Gibson participated in the first half of today's practice but once contact got more aggressive he was ordered to stop working. He stayed on the field after removing his pads and helmet and watched.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said last week the team expected to manage Gibson's return to practices and contact. Gibson, who practiced the first two unpadded practices this training camp, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon -- an injury that forced him to miss nine 2013 games.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan also seemed to be limited in today's practice. He was dressed out and participated in all individual drills. But he skipped many of the team drills.

Jamar Taylor took the team-drill snaps with the first-team defense.

Free agent guard Davonte Wallace missed all of practice with an unknown issue.

The Dolphins practiced in pads for the first time. They will do so 11 times this training camp, the next time coming Tuesday after getting Monday off.

Wallace eager, willing to do more: And may have to

The Dolphins hope to unleash Mike Wallace this year. A one trick pony, by his own admission, in the offense last season, I tell you in my column today some of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's plans for Wallace in 2014.

Wallace also explains for me how the pressure of performing up to his $60 million contract last season messed with his head and how he's addressing that this year:

“You just got to keep a level head," he said. "You’re going to have expectations on you but as a player I just got to keep my head. You can’t worry about anything but the focus and the grind every single day on the field. You can’t worry about the off-field stuff – about this person, that person. You just got to focus, man. I feel like I take that with me everyday and I learned that. That was a great learning experience for me my first year and I think you’ll see a big difference from Year One to Year Two here."

Wallace isn't expected to be just a nine-route runner this year. And he's excited about the possibilities that will bring. He said his goal is to be a first-team All-Pro this season.

And he's apparently ready to take that do-more theme to extremes.

Even special teams extremes.

 That's right, Wallace said he's willing to help on special teams in 2014.

“I don’t want to run down on kickoff team," Wallace said. "But if I can return a little bit, I’ll do that.”

 Wallace would like the Dolphins to pick and choose certain key moments or games and let him have a chance to make a big play on special teams.

"I feel I could bring a spark to the team if I get back there on special occasions," he said. "Not every play but every once in a while I feel I could make a spark. I could take one or two to the house.”

July 26, 2014

Photos from Day 2 of Dolphins camp

Some Dolphins training camp photos, courtesy Miami Herald photographer Al Diaz:


Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was better Saturday than his first day Friday. But there were still moments of uncertainty. He made one terrible decision, throwing a deep pass into double coverage. The ball could have been picked but was instead swatted down. He had another late decision to Mike Wallace that was intercepted. Tannehill did deliver a fine throw to complete a long pass to Damian Williams.


With Knowshon Moreno on the physically unable to perform list, Lamar Miller continues to take first-team snaps at running back. Here's an interesting question that will face the Dolphins once Moreno is healthy: Do you start Moreno, knowing that he's also your best blocker on third down passing situations? That would thus put Moreno in the game all three downs. Or do you let Miller carry the mail the early downs and make Moreno, the best blocking RB on the team, the third-down back?


The Dolphins are urging more communication and being better teammates this year. So far that has kept the rookies free of the zany (and often embarrassing) haircuts that veterans forced on rookies in the past. Some rookies have been forced to carry the pads off the field for vets. That seems harmless. But in the wake of last year's harassment scandal, so far the rookies so far haven't had to treat for expensive dinners or play the role of fools.

Quick practice report: Day 2

The second day of Dolphins training camp showed small improvement for the offense. But not much.

Instead of three bad quarterback-center snaps/exchanges there was only one.

There were also three interceptions -- Jason Trusnick, Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones with a fine one-handed pick -- to go along with a couple of fumbles, including one by Lamar Miller.

Oh yes, and Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake continue to get the better of tackles Branden Albert and rookie Ja'Wuan James. Vernon had a sack vs. Albert. Wake is giving James multiple good lessons in what he should expect during the 2014 season.

Of all the poor plays by the offense, the one that sticks out most is the Jones interception. On that play, Ryan Tannehill had an open Mike Wallace down the field but for some inexplicable reason, the quarterback holds the ball perhaps a second or a beat too long. And so by the time he releases the ball, a wide open receiver is now not so open, and by the time the ball arrives, the defense has fully recovered and, well, Jones gets the interception.

Tannehill did complete a nice deep pass to receiver Damian Williams along the right sideline. Will Davis got beat on that one.

Davis, however, seemed to have a good day. He broke up a couple of other passes.

By the way, you should be impressed with the fact Brandon Gibson is so far showing no signs of the patellar ligament tear that shortened his 2013 season. He's practicing well and is clearly picking up where he left off with Tannehill on the chemistry front.

On the injury front, DE Derrick Shelby (knee) did not practice for the second consecutive day. DT Jared Odrick missed parts of practice early for an unknown reason but participated later.

How Miami improvements compare in the AFC East

So what are the Dolphins chances in the AFC East?

As I write in my Miami Herald column today, it depends on whether the Dolphins are improved at all and where that improvement might happen.

Look, let's be frank. (Frank is a cool guy). There are not a ton of tangible and obvious improvements on this team at this time. Yes, the season might tell a different story but right now we're more leaning on hope than certainty.

Miami's other AFC East rivals are leaning more on certainty.

In New England, the Patriots can say they’re better simply because starters Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer are back and healthy after missing much of last year and, oh yes, the team signed Darrelle Revis, too.

In New York, the Jets are boasting they’re better because lightning fast Chris Johnson is now the running back, they signed wide receiver Eric Decker and Michael Vick is on board to guard against the realistic possibility that Geno Smith isn’t a special quarterback.

And the Bills? The team that swept Miami last season -- still cannot believe that one -- suffered a terrible blow when it lost Kiko Alonso for the season because he was arguably their best player last season. But rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, perhaps the best player in the draft, is catching everything in sight in training camp, their starting QB, unproven and all but still an upgrade for them, is back from injury. And GM Doug Whaley has said his team is in win-now mode.

So where does that leave the Dolphins?

Hoping that the one position of obvious improvement can get company from other spots.

July 25, 2014

Jarvis Landry excites the Dolphins early

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross shook the hand of one player coming off the field on Friday: Rookie Jarvis Landry.

Later, Ross mentioned Landry unsolicited, suggesting the owner is excited about Miami's second round pick before the kid catches even one pass in a game. Maybe he knows something.

"I think Jarvis Landry is somebody I think everybody is really excited about, speaking to the coaches. I think he’s really going to be somebody that’s going to surprise a lot of people and really bring some excitement to this team,” Ross said.

Well, if the coaches are telling him to keep an eye on Landry, maybe we should also.

What does Landry think of his first day of practice?

Check the video:


Quickie observations from first Dolphins practice

The Dolphins first practice of 2014 is in the books.

Some quickie observations:

Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace have a long way to go on their deep ball connections. Still. The duo combined for one completion deep down the left sideline midway through practice during seven on seven drills. But there were two other instances when Tannehill underthrew on deep passes -- one to Wallace who was wide open behind Will Davis and once when Damien Williams was open deep.

The starting offensive line today was RT Ja'Wuan James, RG Dallas Thomas, C Shelley Smith, LG Daryn Colledge and LT Branden Albert. James gave up multiple sacks in both one-on-one drills and in team drills. But ... Remember the pads were not fully on, he was matched against Cam Wake, and the kid is a rookie.

Colledge had a fine moment in one-on-one drills against Earl Mitchell. Stoned him at the line of scrimmage.

It must be said that the quarterback-center exchanges need cleaning up. There were two fumbled exchanges between Tannehill and Smith. Second-team center Sam Brenner ground-balled one shotgun snap, and Tannehill bobbled another exchange.

Mike Pouncey, the starting center once he returns from his hip surgery, said he "ahead of schedule" on his rehabilitation. But, as you know, he will miss the start of the season and he may miss up to seven games, as I've reported.

Speaking to the media today, general manager Dennis Hickey said every player passed his conditioning test. Derrick Shelby was limited in practice after having arthroscopic knee surgery this offseason. A source said he'll be fine. Coach Joe Pilbin told me earlier this week the Dolphins had 99.1 percent attendance in their voluntary offseason programs and OTAs. So that obviously paid dividends.

Brandon Gibson, who missed much of last year after tearing a patellar tendon, practiced today. He didn't seem limited but, again, the club was not in pads. It may be that once the pads go on the Dolphins don't throw Gibson into contact drills immediately.

Interesting scene after practice: The one player owner Stephen Ross made a point of meeting and talking to was Jarvis Landry. And then Ross mentioned Landry as a big addition during his press conference. Perhaps the owner has been told by coaches to keep an eye on the rookie.

What did I see from Bill Lazor's offense today? Lots of screens, especially bubble screens to receivers, lot of passes in the flat to the TE (Michael Egnew caught two and dropped one) and lots of quick throws. I saw the read option, including using Tannehill on the keeper.

I did not hear Go and Go-Go at practice today.

Dion Jordan, who will be suspended four games in the regular season, got some first-team snaps in practice today. No, he's not the starter. That's Wake and Olivier Vernon. But Vernon got a break here and there and Jordan got the reps. Vernon, by the way, had at least one sack today.

Second-year CB Jamar Taylor, who was beaten on the deep completion from Ryan Tannehill to Mike Wallace, recovered nicely later in practice. He had a nice pass defensed and near interception on a Matt Moore pass.

The Dolphins are working Nate Garner as their backup LT. Obviously, if Albert goes down, the Dolphins may shift rookie Ja'Wuan James to LT and play Garner at RT. But ... if there is any point this season Garner has to play LT in a game, that is bad news. Garner is a fine swing player. He is a solid G and a serviceable RT. He is not, repeat, not a LT.

Speaking to the media today, owner Stephen Ross said plans for the upgrade to Sun Life Stadium are being drawn up and construction on the facility will begin after the season. He said by the 2015 season there will be new seating (a new bowl) at the facility. The new scoreboards and the roof will go in for the 2016 season. Ross said Sun Life "will be tantamount to a new stadium" when construction is complete.

Ross was asked if coach Joe Philbin has to make the playoffs this year to keep his job. He demured. "I'm expecting Joe Philbin to be here for a long time," he said, "but every year you want to see improvement."

Dolphins want Tannehill to take steps in three areas

The most significant questions facing the Dolphins in 2014?

Is Joe Phiblin capable of leading a turnaround? Is the offensive line going to be a wall or a stumbling block? And will quarterback Ryan Tannehill be good enough?

As Joe Philbin makes clear in my column, which appears in today's Miami Herald, the Dolphins are looking for steps of progress in three major areas from Tannehill.

They want better decision-making.

They want better accuracy.

They want more playmaking.

“There are really three things that I think about quarterback play," Philbin told me in an exclusive pre-training camp interview. "One is decision-making. I think decision-making ties into play speed. The better decision-maker you are, the quicker you make them and that ties in to the opportunities to make a tight throw or take the guy that’s open sooner to get him the ball in space and let him run a little bit. I think there’s room for development there."

Accuracy is number two. Getting the ball to Mike Wallace in stride rather than overthrowing it. Leading Brian Hartline on a slant rather than forcing him to make an acrobatic catch, which causes him to immediately fall down rather than run for 20 yards.

And the last thing is playmaking ability.

"Can you imagine what our offense would have been without our two-minute offense? We had a pretty good two-minute offense last year," Philbin said. "And [Tannehill} demonstrated in those situations he has a good feel for the game, good clock management. He can communicate effectively without taking a ton of time. He’s got playmaking ability.

"But even there, we’re looking for more. He’s got a great pair of legs on him and we’ve seen some of that. And so when you get a 15-yard run from the quarterback and all of a sudden you’re in pretty good field position even when you don’t have great execution, that’s great. He’s capable of some of that stuff.”

Three things to improve on, Ryan Tannehill.

It begins in training camp today.

Philbin: Settling OL may happen later rather than sooner

It about the offensive line, folks. It's always about the offensive line with the Miami Dolphins. The pendulum of fate has swung in the wrong direction for the Dolphins after all those years enjoying the play of  Larry Little and Jim Langer and Richmond Webb and Dwight Stephenson. As 2014 begins, the offensive line once again is Miami's major issue.

In my column in today's newspaper and website, coach Joe Philbin makes no secret of the fact the offensive line is an a major issue for the Dolphins. Simply, this team is facing not just a big issue but a historically significant issue with regards to the offensive line.

And so with training camp starting today, all eyes will be on the offensive line. And the Dolphins know it. And the scrutiny might just be there a while because we might not get answers for a long time, according to Philbin.

“The preseason is going to be important for the Oline," Philbin told me in an exclusive interview prior to the start of training camp. "Let’s face it, we don’t have five locked and loaded guys right now. I’m not panicking over it, but it’s important we find them. We’ve got to get reps and field evaluations and give them opportunities."

And how long will that take?

"It’s great to settle on a line a little sooner rather than later, but I think it might take a while to figure all that out,” Philbin said.


Obviously the loss of Mike Pouncey for perhaps the first half of the season is problematic. The Dolphins placed Pouncey on the physically unable to perform list on Thursday, along with running back Knowshon Moreno. Pouncey's stay on the list will be long. Moreno's probably won't be, according to what Philbin told me this week.

So much work will have to be done on this OL unit. Much work, folks. 

“We have to figure out the offensive line," Philbin said. "In the OTAs, I loved the offseason program, but we’ve got to get some pads on. We’ve got to get some blitzes coming live or semi-live. We have to put those guys in some pressure situations and turn the crowd noise up and motion across the formation, make an adjustment call and see if those guys can function in real time.

"The walk-thru is great and film study is great and real important. But you have to step back and let them do a little bit and see what we got."

July 24, 2014

Last year's draftees may step up this year

Now that you know the face of the Dolphins 2013 draft class, Dion Jordan, put himself and the team in a tough spot for training camp based on his coming four-game suspension, it should be said that the rest of the '13 class is entering camp on a hopeful note.

That's right, the class that disappointed last year is suddenly promising after several of the players have had good offseasons.

“Overall, I thought the draft class from ’13 was better [this offseason]," coach Joe Philbin said. "We’re looking for those guys to step up and contribute.”

Third round pick Dallas Thomas will be competing for a starting guard job and, indeed, is a favorite to win that job based on his offseason.

Second round pick Jamar Taylor, who missed most of last season with various issues, began to perform with some consistency in OTAs. He might be positioning himself to compete with veteran Cortland Finnegan for a starting job and if he loses that competition figures in the chase for playing time in the sub packages.

“Clearly, he’s practiced consistently this offseason,” Philbin said. “He was out there and made some plays and looked like the guy we saw on tape before we drafted him.”

Cornerback Will Davis is healthy again and that makes the Dolphins hopeful he can pick up where he left off last training camp before he suffered something of setback. “Last year he showed good things in camp but then in the Tampa game he hurt his foot or something and never really got back,” Philbin said. “He contributed in New England game and here and there, but he never regained his form.”

The Dolphins are even seeing hopeful signs from running back Mike Gillislee, a fifth-round pick, who contributed on special teams but may be fighting for actual carries this year.

 “He didn’t get a ton of runs last year,” Philbin said, "but we like the way he's been moving around."

Irteresting, isn't it? The 2014 Dolphins may be getting an infusion of talent ... from their once absent 2013 draft class.

Follow me on twitter for live updates from camp and a real time conversation and exchange of ideas.

Jordan suspension presents training camp issue

Dion Jordan came to the Dolphins with high promise and expecations as the third overall draft pick in 2013. Then stuff began to happen.

He wasn't able to practice very much last training camp as he rehabilitated from shoulder surgery. When he did begin to practice and play, he soon suffered a setback to the surgically repaired shoulder. And so his rookie season was basically lost amid the team's need to play people who were stronger, more prepared, more experienced.

Well, this year Jordan is ready for training camp. No issues. He's healthy. All good ...

... Except that he's already been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances.

So one year he's handicapped in the preseason and this year he's handicapped in the regular season. Not good.

"Let’s face it, four weeks off from football is not going to be a benefit," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin tells me. "So we have to have him do some work.”

Philbin means Jordan will have to get work -- a lot of it -- in training camp. And that will have to carry him over for four weeks once the regular-season begins.

The problem is the coaching staff is going to have to figure out how to work Jordan as much as possible without hurting players who will, you know, actually be on the field for the start of the regular season.

“This is a brand new world because we haven’t had a player suspended in our previous two training camps," Philbin said. "As a young player, my feeling is he needs to get work – especially in the bigger picture that he’s not going to be getting work later on. He needs work now.

"But we can’t jeapordize the preparation of other guys. At the same time, we’re going to have to get him work. He’s going to get it without a doubt. And he needs it. And he needs padded work. You think back to last year’s training camp, he had very minimal repetitions in things he needed. You think back to last year, we had eight or nine of those days when we had those one-on-one periods where there was some form of a half line where there are two guys going old fashioned high school stuff.

"We have to be ready to go Sept. 8th but at the same time we can’t stunt his growth."

And while the Miami coaching staff tries to walk the fine line, this much is certain:

Dion Jordan has effectively killed his chances of being a starter when he returns to action after four games. No matter how much work he gets, no matter how well he plays in training camp practices and the preseason, the Dolphins cannot promote him ahead of, well, anybody because they know Jordan won't be around when the regular-season begins.

Jordan may get a lot of playing time in the preseason finale while other veterans and starters are held out in preparation for the regular season. But that is hardly expected to matter five weeks later when he returns. 

And no matter how well Jordan performs in the preseason, he won't be a starter when he returns to the team because obviously he'll have been a month without participating in any actual football regimen.

Not the best way to start a career for a No. 3 overal pick who is expected to make an instant impact. 

Dolphins linebacker experiment is over ... success!

The grand linebacker experiment the Dolphins took to the offseason lab is over and, as the team gets ready to open training camp practices Friday at their Davie training facility, it is possible to say the experiment worked.


Dolphins coach Joe Philbin tells me Koa Misi is the middle linebacker and will be in that spot when practice starts Friday -- much as he was during the offseason. Dannell Ellerbe is moving outside after spending last year in the middle. And Phillip Wheeler will man the other OLB job.

So as far as the Dolphins are concerned that's how they're going to camp and only a disaster will make them change course.

"I would say unless something really, let's just say Koa can't get us lined up or can't make a left call or right call, then we'll look at it more. It looks like it's going to be OK," Philbin said. "If the roof caves in we can always go back and those guys can be the same. The defense hasn't changed that much. But I think we're looking forward for it to work.

"I think the position change has been good. I like the position change."

Unlike most snarks and cynics (me sometimes) Philbin doesn't view the move in terms of Ellerbe failing as the MLB.  He looks at it from a positive standpoint and that is that Misi earned more trust from the coaches and more downs on the field.

"I think Misi was good. When you talk grades and we grade every game, he was one of the guys that graded out highest on our defense," Philbin said. "So from my chair and, I'm throwing out 500 snaps but maybe it was 480 or 520 for him, but here's a guy that graded out highest of anybody on our defense so why wouldn't we try to get him on the field a little bit more?

"When watched the film he flies around. He tries to play football the right way. I think he's a good example of how you want to play defense. I just think so far that has gone well."

Wheeler, who at times struggled in coverage, is showing hopeful signs of getting better, Philbin said.

I think Phillip Wheeler looks more comfortable right now," the coach said. "He played in the OTAs with better body control than he did last year. He had good production last year, it's just at times we felt he was a little out of control and it hurt him at times. He was better."

The idea of the Dolphins shuffling their linebackers obviously came about after the team struggled (at times) to stop the run. The team yielded an average of 124.9 rushing yards per game, which ranked them 24th in the NFL.

Yes, some of those problems were up front. But too often when Ellerbe or Wheeler got to the football, it was five, six or seven yards down the field. That's one reason teams averaged 4.1 yards per carry against Miami -- ranking the Dolphins 18th in the NFL in rush average allowed.

So maybe this works. Maybe it doesn't.

But for now this is the way the Dolphins are going to address the issue.