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10 posts from July 2015

July 31, 2015

Day Two of Miami Dolphins training camp report

The news first: Rookie running back Jay Ajayi left the field a little early this morning holding his right arm after an apparent shoulder injury.

It did not look serious but one cannot predict if that is indeed the case based on simply seeing his reaction and the urgency with which he walked. He was holding his elbow and trying to rotate the arm to loosen it up.

[Update: Ajayi tweeted he was merely suffering cramps and the arm is fine.]

LT Branden Albert did not practice despite not being on the physically unable to perform list. Albert actually seemed to be limping when he walked out of the practice bubble before the team went on the field.

During practice on the field, Albert emerged from the team facility with a brace on his surgically repaired right knee. He just did conditioning off to the side.

As for practice: The rotation at the linebacker position continued with Koa Misi spending most of the practice at strong side linebacker while Kelvin Sheppard was at middle linebacker. Chris McCain, who worked at starting strong side linebacker the first day of camp, worked mostly with the second team at strong side today.

And it is apparent the coaches have four players and want to get the best three on the field. Jelani Jenkins is a virtual lock at weakside linebacker.

Interestingly, this is happening as Misi was growing into the middle linebacker spot he played last year.

"If I was to say which one I'm more comfortable at right now, I'd say middle," Misi said after practice. "But it just takes a couple of reps to get comfortable outside again."

That does not suggest this is a controversy or issue. At least not as long as Misi gets ample time prior to the start of the regular season to work at the spot coaches eventually will have him playing.

"I told the coaches put me wherever you need to put me. I'll play whatever position," Misi said. "It is going to take a couple of reps to get used to playing SAM again. But I told them, wherever you need me to play I'll play.

"As long as you get those reps at the position you're going to be playing, you're good. But nothing is set in stone right now and we're going to keep playing everywhere until the coaches put us somewhere."

This is obviously a good opportunity for Sheppard, who was picked up off waivers from Indianapolis. He spent much of the year trying to catch up but he feels comfortable now.

"I'm just here, honestly whatever my role is at the end of all this, to impact this team," Sheppard said. "Last year I was kind of getting my feet wet, coming in late. I took advantage of the offseason program and I'm taking the opportunity my teammates and coaches have given me and hopefully I put it on the field."

Asked if he expect to start at MLB, Sheppard said, "I do expect that of myself."

The guard situation: Rookie Jamil Douglas and Dallas Thomas split the first-team snaps at left guard. The competition will get an infusion on Saturday when the Dolphins don pads for the first time this training camp.

When the hitting begins, coaches will be able to better determine the starting linemen from the reserves.

If you're wondering what about Evan Mathis, the truth is a source tells me the club and the player's representation have had no serious contract talks on the matter. It simply is not time for that at this stage, according to sources.

Mathis wants the best opportunity and contract (read money) he can get. The Dolphins want to give Douglas, Thomas and Billy Turner the chance to show their abilities in practice and perhaps the preseason before making any move.

And the fact Mathis wants good money and the Dolphins aren't desperate at this stage has kept the sides apart.

Yes, the Dolphins are very aware Mathis is available. Executive Vice President Mike Tannenbaum today joked the team was signing Mathis when he was seen talking to agent Drew Rosenhaus.

It is a joke. They're not negotiating anything at this stage.

It is a waiting game.

Onto some practice highlights:

Wide receiver Michael Preston continues to show an ability to get deep at 6-5 and 220 pounds. He caught a deep sideline pass from Ryan Tannehill today.

The Miami defensive backs were inconsistent today...tight end Jordan Cameron scorched Michael Thomas on a seam pass that covered over 50 yards. Thomas had another tough moment in coverage earlier...Alabama WR Christion Jones showed his breakaway speed when he caught a slant and turned a 15-yard pass into a long TD when he made it to the sideline and then beat the angle from the safety...WR Tyler McDonald had a drop on a slant, although the ball was thrown just slightly behind him.

Jason Fox, working as the first-team left tackle in Albert's absence, had a very nice day. He took on Olivier Vernon one-on-one a number of times in team drills and won the matchup. He seems to be smoother than I remember.

The Dolphins are rotating kicking days. One day Brandon Fields punts and Caleb Sturgis kicks. The next day, Matt Darr punts and Andrew Franks kicks. Today it was Darr and Franks.

Franks missed three of his 10 kicks today as he competes with Sturgis.

Darr, who has pop in his leg, was booming a couple of punts. But he struggles with consistency. He also had a couple of punts that were long but had poor hang time and he had another punt that was neither long nor high. 

 

 

Suh a big reason for a great camp start

You know that I don't pull punches when things are bad with the Miami Dolphins. And so you know that when I tell you things are good, they're actually good. Well, as I write in my column today, the Dolphins got off to a tangibly good start this training camp.

And, it was more than just players saying the right things.

The offense, traditionally way behind the defense in training camps, actually looked solid. That's a great sign for that unit.

The most impressive guy to me off the field?

Ndamukong Suh.

Check the column for what he said. This offseason included questions about Suh's commitment. He missed weeks of OTAs and conditioning after initially reporting. And the Dolphins, somewhat concerned about it, dispatched Mike Tannenbaum to Portland, Oregon to check on their highest paid player.

Know what he found?

Suh working out at the Nike state of the art facilities. That does not mean he was merely running around the track there. The Nike people had Suh hooked up to monitors. They were feeding him oxygen as he was on the treadmill or bike. It was akin to the opening of the Six Million Dollar Man (yeah, google it).

Suh spent entire days there while he was absent from the conditioning program. Suddenly, the Dolphins weren't too concerned about him staying away for portions of the offseason.

Neither am I. The guy takes all his repetitions. Even with no pads on, he goes hard to block because he goes hard.

He is not going to be a problem. 

f there's any doubt in his mind that this is a playoff team: "No. No doubt. I'm superbly confident in this team and what we can do. We have a lot of work to do before we get there but I'm really excited about what we can do."

As for his perspective? I like that, too.

"We look great on paper," Suh said. "And it's always nice to look great on paper. But at the end of the day it's about what you do in those 16 games and into the playoffs hopefully."

And this: 

"I don't think my role is defined any particular way," he said. "I think I can help in any number facets throughout this defense. I really don't want to limit myself. I've always been a guy, although I've been in the league and know what I'm good at and what I can get better at, I want to continue to expand my game and find new ways to be a part of this defense."

Suh gives off no vibe of entitlement. After practice he didn't think he practiced all that great. 

"No, definitely not," he said. "I got a lot of work ahead of myself. I was actually disappointed in my play today so I have plenty of work to do."

[BLOG NOTE: Check back later for the practice update.]

July 30, 2015

Quickie reaction from first day of Miami Dolphins practice

The first day of training camp is in the books for the Miami Dolphins. Here's a quickie look at what I say and heard:

***The Dolphins were not in pads, per NFL rules that stipulate the team must not be in pads the first three days. Today was actually the second day for the Dolphins on the field (they walked through Wednesday) so Day 3 of acclimation will be Friday. Full pads on Saturday, if coaches deem so.

***It is was not a great day for the cornerbacks trying to win the starting job opposite Brent Grimes. Jamar Taylor was beaten deep twice by third-year free agent wide receiver Michael Preston, who isn't to be confused with Julio Jones or Dez Bryant.

Preston did have a fine day. He got open multiple times, although the passes weren't always on target as with the times he was behind Taylor. But he had three catches during the practice. Taylor did win the matchup once with a pass breakup on a deep sideline pass.

***Will Davis, meanwhile, was left in the dust by Tommy Streeter who got five yards behind the cornerback down the right sideline. Davis trailed so far back he stopped running. Fortunately for the defense, a perfect pass to Streeter from quarterback Matt Moore was dropped by the free agent wide receiver. Davis did have excellent coverage on Greg Jennings earlier when he broke up a pass from Matt Moore.

Look, the Dolphins have questions about who will win the starting job opposite Grimes. It is likely to be Taylor. He and everyone else has to do better.

***Speaking of deep ball passes, quarterback Ryan Tannehill picked up where he left off last season on such passes. In other words, he wasn't completing many. He missed one to Matt Hazel and another to Preston.

I noticed that after practice, Tannehill stayed on the field and worked on deep passes with several receivers.

Tannehill did throw well into some tight windows. He completed a pass to Jennings between five, count 'em, five defenders.

Matt Moore seemed to have the better practice today although that is moot relative to the starting job. Josh Freeman was intercepted by Bobby McCain.

***Caleb Sturgis missed much of the offseason, including minicamp, because he injured his leg playing kickball. He must prove he can stay healthy this camp and was doing exactly that early on.

Sturgis connected on kicks of 33 (twice), 40, 44 and 45 to start his practice. He then missed a 44-yarder left. Then he missed two more from 44 yards before connecting one last time from 45.

Must. Do. Better.

***Free agent rookie WR Kai De La Cruz had the catch of the day, a one-handed snatching of the football out of the air while in stride. That will get someone's attention.

***The linebacker rotation I told you about in the previous post was apparent at times during practice. Koa Misi got a vast majority of the first-team snaps at MLB, but there were repetitions in which Misi moved outside and Kelvin Sheppard worked in the middle.

Having said that, Chris McCain had a nice practice. He batted a pass at the line of scrimmage on one play.

Remember: It would be McCain and Jelani Jenkins outside and Misi in the middle or Misi and Jenkins outside with Sheppard in the middle.

***Left tackle Branden Albert did mostly light work and didn't participate in any team drills. He continues to lower expectations, saying he doesn't know if he'll be ready for the regular-season opener, but clearly the Dolphins are pointing him in that direction.

With Albert not taking team drill snaps, the starting left tackle spot was manned by Jason Fox.

***The punt return job is not really open as Jarvis Landry is probably the guy. But Brent Grimes, and LaMichael James worked at the spot as well.

 

 

Miami Dolphins 2015 season has arrived!

It is finally here: The start of Miami Dolphins training camp.

It begins with an 8 a.m. practice followed by interview sessions with players, coaches and owner Stephen Ross.

A couple of significant things to watch:

LT Branden Albert is cleared to practice. But that doesn't mean he will be taking team reps just yet. He will be slowly eased back into the workouts, participating in some individual drills, following his rehabilitation from knee surgery. The idea is to knock some rust off and get comfortable before asking him to do more.

At linebacker, look for Koa Misi to take repetitions at both outside and middle linebacker throughout camp. The linebacker position will be an area of mixing and matching. Indeed, about the only linebacker who has locked down a spot is Jelani Jenkins.

Misi outside or in the middle, Kelvin Sheppard in the middle when Misi is outside and Chris McCain outside when Misi is in the middle are rotations you're likely to see during camp.

This has to be the year the Dolphins finally get back to the playoffs. As I write in my column today there are no excuses for not making the postseason. Otherwise, well, think French Revolution.

I will be tweeting practice live so follow me on twitter for real time updates. When it is all over, I will be updating this space with a practice recap and all the noteworthy things said by players, coaches and the owner.

It begins!!!!

July 29, 2015

Looks like Turner, Thomas, Douglas Miami Dolphins top guards at the opening of training camp on Thursday

The most widely asked question about the start of Miami Dolphins training camp is when they will try to address the guard position that no fan has a serious comfort level about, even as Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas are penciled in as the starters.

There are questions as to why the Dolphins haven't signed free agent Evan Mathis.

There are questions as to why the Dolphins are waiting to make what seems on the surface as an obvious move.

The answer is the Dolphins seem invested in Turner and Thomas and even rookie Jamil Douglas to the point they will start camp with those players vying for the two starting guard jobs. The players have gone through the offseason program. The personnel department and coaching staff have a level of comfort about those players.

There's investment there.

And now they young players are going to get a chance early in camp to show what they can actually do.

I liken this to how the Dolphins approached a similar situation in 2014. Remember last year the Dolphins went to camp with an obvious need at center. They felt comfortable enough with the players on the roster that they opened camp even as free agent Samson Satele remained available.

It wasn't until the centers in camp proved they weren't up to even completing a shotgun snap that Miami made the move for Satele. It took about a week of evidence gathering for the Dolphins to make a move.

Well, maybe Turner, Thomas, and Douglas get at least that long in this year's training camp practices, in the heat, in pads, in anger, to prove they merit the team's confidence.

Or prove they do not.

And, meanwhile, Mathis is not signed. Indeed, he has not even visited the Dolphins, according to a club source. So while there are social media types going around claiming Mathis has an offer from Miami on the table, that feels more like a rumor.

Typically when the Dolphins are serious with a player, they bring him to camp for a visit. Last year, even as Satele waited for the verdict on Miami's camp centers, he had already visited with the team.

Mathis has not.

So I would expect barring a major change today when players report for physicals, that the three guards who have been on the roster and have been part of the plan will get first crack at the open jobs.

If they fail, then Mathis becomes an option.

By the way, this says nothing about the kind of money Mathis wants. Even if the Dolphins wanted him, they're not going to pay him anywhere near the kind of contract he had with the Philadelphia Eagles, who were scheduled to pay him $5.5 million in 2015.

And Mathis wanted a raise from that deal to between $7-$8 million per year which would have put him in the upper crust of guard salaries. Obviously, no team has deemed Mathis worthy of such an offer or he would be signed already.

At some point, Mathis might come down on price. At some point, a team that is desperate might come up. But it would take some magical agent work by Drew Rosenhaus to get the kind of money for Mathis the player was expecting or even scheduled to make.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, would more likely want a player like Mathis for two years at perhaps $2-$3 million the first year -- a far cry from what Mathis would want. Oh, yes, and the second year of that contract? The player likely would never see it.

Mathis turns 34 in November.  

July 28, 2015

Tom Brady destroyed evidence, loses appeal

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady remains suspended for the first four games of the 2015 regular season because today the NFL upheld its ruling on the suspension pertaining to the so-called deflategate scandal.

Brady had appealed the suspension through the NFLPA.

Commissioner Roger Goodell released the findings minutes ago, along with a signed 20-page document that not only tells  us Brady's suspension is upheld but offers indicting details that suggest Brady actively covered up attempts to get at the truth of whether he was directly or indirectly involved in tampering with footballs prior to the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The following from Goodell:

"The most significant new information that emerged in connection with the appeal was evidence that on or about March 6, 2015 -- the very day that he was interviewed by Mr. [Ted] Wells and his investigative team -- Mr. Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone that he had been using since early November 2014, a period that included the AFC Championship Game and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation. During the four months that it was in use, almost 10,000 text messages were sent or received by Mr. Brady using that cellphone. At the time that he arranged for its destruction Mr. Brady knew that Mr. Wells and his team had requested information from that cellphone in connection with their investigation. Despite repeated requests for that information, beginning in mid-February 2015 and continuing during his March, 6, 2015 interview by the investigators, information indicating that Mr. Brady might have destroyed his cellphone was not disclosed until months later, on June 18, 2015, and not confirmed until the day of the hearing itself."

Wow.

So Brady, knowing investigator Ted Wells wanted his cellphone, ordered that very cellphone destroyed. He testified at the appeals hearing that it is his habit to destroy cellphones after a certain period of time.

The texts in the destroyed cellphone, the NFL has been told, are not recoverable.

Brady obviously can seeks injunctive relief through the federal courts. It is unclear whether he'll do that or not. Remember, the Patriots as an organization decided to not appeal sanctions against the organization even as their star quarterback went forward with his appeal.

But the fact Brady actively ordered the destruction of evidence calls his claim of innocence into question. Innocent people don't destroy evidence.

If the suspension survives a court challenge, it is obviously important news around the AFC East. It obviously can affect the Miami Dolphins chances of winning the division.

No biggie: Josh Freeman returns to the Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins signed quarterback Josh Freeman today after having cut him July 24. And the fact Freeman is a former NFL starter and a QB and a well-known name kindles the idea that something important is afoot with this move.

No.

Freeman, like it or not, is about the 87th man on the Dolphins roster. And since the team had three open roster spots leading up to the training camp limit of 90, the personnel department brought him back.

But only for now.

The truth is Freeman's career has taken a hit to the point he is a camp arm. Neither he nor McCleod Bethel-Thompson are assured of a roster spot as the third quarterback. Actually, the Dolphins are more likely to go with two quarterbacks -- Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore -- on the 53-man roster than use an extra spot for a third quarterback. That is what they did in 2014.

It would take unforeseen circumstances such as Freeman playing like Aaron Rodgers in the preseason or an injury to either Tannehill or Moore to give Freeman an open road to a roster spot. Otherwise, this is just a bottom of the roster move.

The Dolphins have 88 players signed. They have two open roster spots. They are working out multiple players today. Look for someone else to sign by the end of the day.

No, not Evan Mathis.

More on him later.

 

July 26, 2015

Miami Dolphins' Philbin: I'm not worried about me

You should know by know that Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has delivered a message to fans and given us a preview of what his message to players will be when they report for training camp on Wednesday.

(If you didn't know it, obviously you did not read my column yet. So get to reading it, please).

And it occurs to me that the reason the coach is setting the bar quite high for his team to start 2015 is perhaps because he wants to be the coach in 2016. After all, if the Dolphins succeed this coming season, Philbin remains the head coach.

If not ... then Philbin's job security will be a constant hot topic.

So I asked Philbin about that when we met on Saturday and he said that is not the case at all. He insisted his job security is not on his mind. He said he's not thinking of winning for his own sake.

"It's more for everybody else's sake," he said. "For Steve Ross who's supported me throughout my tenure here, who's had patience, committed the resources that we need to build a successful football team, so for him. For the fans, for the people on the staff, for the people who work their tails off who care not only about winning but care about the organization itself.

"For everybody, I'd like us to reap the rewards of our labor. It's time for all of us. But I haven't really thought about playoff or bust for me."

I mentioned in the column what Philbin worries about when he thinks about his team.

"I want to see the quarterback and receiver corps, their timing and rhythm, the anticipation. That's something," he said. "Our sub defensive package in the secondary is something we have to get a feel for. I want to see some of those corners emerge and see the competition there. That's something that's going to be important. And probably the linebacker position shaking. Finally, the competition at guard. We're going to start gather information pretty soon. We're going to know a lot more a week from now."

So what makes Philbin confident about his team?

"I like the way they work," he said. "I like the chemistry so far. And it's early. We're going to learn more about our guys in the next five or six weeks in training camp and preseason but I like the way they work and their passion for the game."

July 25, 2015

Miami Dolphins changing their practice schedule

For years the Miami Dolphins have been looking for the right practice schedule to optimize peal performance on Sundays -- or Mondays or Thursdays as the schedule dictates.

The point is while most teams have taken Tuesdays off, the Dolphins have at times had Monday off. Or Fridays. Or whatever day coach Joe Philbin thought gave his team the best chance to win.

Well, after investing in and expanding their sport science department, the facts and figures apparently indicate having Tuesday off is best. So the Dolphins will be off on Tuesdays this year, turning a practice day from years past into some down time for players.  

"We're going to do a couple of things a little different during the season," Philbin said. "Our game week will be different. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. We're not looking to cut corners or do less but we are going to have the players spend a little less time on their feet.

"Last year we started collecting a lot of information but didn't have the context to make decisions," Philbin said. "But now we can kind of predict how much player load and volume intensity, based on the practice schedules I give them, how that impacts the guys."

Less time on their feet means less time practicing.

"We're switching the day off from Monday back to Tuesday," Philbin said. "We're not going to really practice Monday. We used to practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday walkthrough, a little Saturday as well. So we're going to practice one day less."

The idea behind all this is to keep players fresh so that the team does not wilt late in the season, something that has happened the past couple of years. Miami lost three of its final four games in 2014 and the final two in 2013 -- each time turning a playoff contender into an also-ran. 

"I feel good about the schedule we've put in place and how we're going to do that," Philbin said. "We're going to see if that makes a difference."

Interesting perhaps only to me:

I covered this team before sports science was a thing. Don Shula would give his players Tuesdays off. They come in on Mondays to run and get the kinks of the game out or to report for medical treatment. Then they'd begin the practice week on Tuesday. Same with Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban. Tony Sparano changed things up at times. Philbin did as well. Now sports science concludes the old school way is probably optimal.

 

Parker, Albert availability for season opener not a worry for Philbin

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin isn't worried about the injury status of two of his offense's biggest potential contributors for 2015 despite their significant injury issues. 

Left tackle Branden Albert, recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, is on schedule with his return to the field and that means he might pass his physical when players report on Wednesday. The expectation is he will not be on the physically unable to perform list for the start of camp.

"The hope is -- and once we get guys through physicals when they come in in a couple days we'll know more -- but the hope is to move him out of the rehab portion and into the football portion," Philbin said Saturday. "And we have to do it in a way that makes sense. It's not going to be first day, every team rep, here we go, let's do an Oklahoma drill and let him and the guys whack people around. That's step one. Getting him out of the rehab mode and into the football practice mode and in the gradual progression of getting back."

Albert has set the first game of the regular season as his timetable for returning to the field. Philbin is perhaps a bit more optimistic because the coach is thinking Albert could play in the preseason.

"The perfect scenario is get him some work in some preseason game and get him ready to play first," Philbin said.

Rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker, recovering from foot surgery, is not going to be ready for practice at the start of training camp. He is a candidate for the physically unable to perform list.

"Whenever the medical staff tells us he's ready to go we'll get him out there," Philbin said. "... Hopefully, we'll get him back sooner as opposed to later."

Despite the fact Parker won't be 100 percent in time for Thursday's first training camp practice, the coach has little doubt he'll be ready for the regular season.

"It's hard to predict if Week One he'll be ready for 30 snaps or 60 snaps," Philbin said. "It's hard to put a number on it yet. We're not there yet. He's back in town. Right now he's been working, doing what he can do. And you got to let that stuff heal."

In the meantime, the Dolphins can use Parker's rehab time to get a better sense of the rest of their wide receiver talent and perhaps even experiment with tight ends.

"We're going to look at different combinations. I think we still have a talented room there with [Kenny] Stills, [Jarvis] Landry, [Greg] Jennings. And [Rishard] Matthews. We've got [Matt] Hazel," Philbin said. " Dion Sims it appears is continuing to develop so maybe we'll look at more two-tight end combinations with fewer receivers on the field. But obviously the focus is get [Parker] medically ready to roll and schematically, to the degree we can, we'll keep him engaged in the meantime."

[BLOG NOTE: Yes, I am back from vacation. Thanks for all the kind emails and twitter messages asking about my return. Check back often for updates ...]

[BLOG NOTE 2: Matthews was not included earlier among the group of receiver mentioned by the coach because it is not clear on tape whether the coach mentioned him. But enhancing the audio suggests Philbin did mention him between Jennings and Hazel.]