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58 posts from August 2016

August 31, 2016

Dolphins roster breakdown: Who's made it, who's likely out; who's on the bubble, the team's strengths, weaknesses

I hate the NFL's preseason finale. It typically does not feature star players or even starting caliber players. It is often sloppy. It is a game played with one eye on being careful and avoiding injuries and another looking toward another game -- the regular-season opener.

So please NFL, get rid of the fourth preseason game.

Having said all that, I recognize when the Dolphins play the Tennessee Titans in the fourth and final preseason game for both, the fate of a handful of players will be decided as the teams make decisions in advance of trimming their rosters from 75 players now to 53 by Saturday afternoon.

So to that handful of guys, this game means everything. With that in mind, let's get to the roster spots seemingly already decided and those about to be decided. This is version 2.0 as we did one of these prior to the cut to 75.



On the team: Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore.

Battling: Brandon Doughty and Zac Dysert.

The situation: Doughty had the early advantage but it seems Dysert has a slight advantage now. Frankly, I don't see either of these guys on the 53-man roster. I think the Dolphins cut both and bring one or both back for practice squad.

Count toward 53-man roster: 2.

Running back

On the team: Jay Ajayi, Arian Foster, Kenyan Drake.

Not making it: Daniel Thomas.

Battling: Damien Williams, Isaiah Pead.

The situation: Pead was in the mix until he suffered a hamstring injury last Thursday that has forced him to miss this week of practice and Thursday's preseason finale. He likely wouldn't be ready to play in the regular-season opener, either. Williams is healthy and has been solid enough on special teams, although his work running the football has amounted to a 2-yard-per carry average. I think the Dolphins keep Williams and put Pead on injured reserve. Carrying five running backs is crazy. Carrying three when all three have an injury history is equally crazy.

Count toward 53-man roster: 4.

Offensive line

On the team: LT Branden Albert, left guard Laremy Tunsil, center Mike Pouncey, right guard Jermon Bushrod, right tackle Ja'Wuan James (My line). Center Anthony Steen, guard Dallas Thomas, guard-tackle Billy Turner.

Not making it: No one is definitely out that I am comfortable putting here.

Battling: Jamil Douglas, Kraig Urbik, Sam Young, Ulrick John.

The situation: Urbik plays all three interior positions so that is a plus but as an eighth-year veteran his salary is the highest among all the backups at $975,000 this year. That has to be a consideration. Douglas hasn't shown much and is working third-team. Same with Young. The truth is the Dolphins front office has done a good job of finding redundancy at the offensive line. The last couple of years an injury to a starting tackle -- either Albert or James -- was catastrophic. That happens to Albert this year, either Tunsil or Bushrod (who has always been an NFL left tackle) can move there. If the James goes down, either Turner, John or Young can go there and two of those have experience. Turner, who was a starting guard last year, was a tackle in college and has been working at right tackle this summer and likely is the backup there. Me? It looks like a battle between John and Young for the final tackle spot.

Count toward 53-man roster: 9.

Tight end

On the team: Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims.

Not making it: Not eliminating anyone today.

Battling: MarQueis Gray, Dominique Jones and Thomas Duarte are all vying for the third spot. The third tight end must be a special teams monster -- otherwise Darren Rizzi gets in a tizzy. I don't know that any of these guys are special teams monsters. Honestly, it is possible the third tight end is on another team right now. Duarte needs to remake his body while serving his time on practice squad. I guess the team could carry him (hard to believe) but he is not a good special teams player.

Count toward 53-man roster: 3.

Wide receiver

On the team: Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Leonte Carroo.

Not making it: Not putting anyone here.

Battling: So Jakeem Grant started out like a house on fire but has cooled of late. He's caught one pass for five yards the past two preseason games. He has not wowed in practice, either. I suppose he makes it as a punt and kickoff return guy and on future potential as a wide receiver. That leaves one spot, maybe, open. If so, Griff Whalen is that guy because he's the next best receiver. Rashawn Scott, who played at the University of Miami, has potential but he has not caught a pass this preseason. He needs to play well Thursday night to be more of a practice squad possibility.

Count toward 53-man roster: 5 or 6.


Defensive line

On the team: Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, James Jones, Andre Branch, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips.

Not making it: Cleyon Laing, Cedric Reed, Jordan Williams.

Battling: So do the Dolphins keep eight defensive linemen or nine? If they go by the idea that you keep good players, regardless of position, they keep nine. Julius Warmsley has come on of late and played well enough, albeit against backup competition, to merit a spot. Chris Jones has played tougher competition and was exceptional earlier in camp. If I'm the Dolphins, I keep both. Terrence Fede is a tough question, particularly now that he is nursing an MCL knee injury. He's not playing Thursday. Injured reserve?

Count toward 53-man roster: 8 or 9.


On the team: Kiko Alonso, Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi, Spencer Paysinger, Neville Hewitt.

Not making it: Tyler Gray, James Burgess.

Battling: This is really quite easy. It's down to James-Michael Johnson or Mike Hull or somebody not currently on the roster for the final linebacker spot. Johnson has missed the last couple of weeks with an injury but supposedly would be ready to play in the regular-season opener if he makes the team. Hull has been more than solid and, indeed, leads the team in tackles during the preseason.

Count toward 53-man roster: 6.

Defensive backs

On the team: Xavien Howard, Byron Maxwell, Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain, Michael Thomas.

Not making it: Rashaan Melvin, Lafeyette Pitts.

Battling: This group is light on boundary corners. That's the reason the Dolphins should be looking for help on the waiver wire. And the reason the team needs Chris Culliver to get healthy -- something that won't happen until after the sixth game of the regular season at the earliest. And so, for now, it seem Chimdi Chekwa might just make it based on his ability to play outside. That may leave one spot open to be won by Walt Aikens, Shamiel Gary or A.J. Hendy. Aikens is probably the call based on his special teams contributions.

Count toward 53-man roster: 8 or 9.


On the team: Kicker Andrew Franks, punter Matt Darr, long snapper John Denney.

This group is set.

Count toward 53-man roster: 3.

August 30, 2016

Dolphins trying to get DeVante Parker to be a professional

The Miami Dolphins were only a couple of days into their 2016 training camp when receiver DeVante Parker felt a twinge in his hamstring. And then what was a minor nuisance turned into a hamstring strain a couple of minutes later. And as Parker missed practice time the team was figuring out what happened, and why it seemingly happened so often because this wasn't Parker's first injury issue. That's when this revelations came to light:

The Dolphins coaching staff learned that their prized first-round pick of a year ago hadn't really been getting a good breakfast every morning. Some days he'd skip breakfast altogether.

And he wasn't drinking enough water. Indeed, sometimes he wasn't drinking much of anything throughout the day to stay properly hydrated.

And the collective reaction from some in this organization that hired a team nutritionist in the last year and is placing a big emphasis on sports science for their players was, "Whaaaaat?"

DeVante Parker, grown man and physically gifted as he is, didn't know how to be a professional. The NFL is not Louisville, Parker's alma mater where he dominated by using mostly his raw athletic gifts.

The NFL requires more. The NFL requires everything.

And so the Dolphins explained to Parker if he is going to thrive in the NFL, he has to stay healthy. And to stay healthy, the team decided, Parker had to grow up off and on the field.

"A lot of the job of making him a good player has been getting him in a routine of learning to do things in life," receiver coach Shawn Jefferson told me. "He's got to get up every morning and get a good breakfast. Hydrate. You know what I'm saying? So we put a system in place now that I think is going to pay big dividends down the road."

This was almost a month ago. But on Monday, Parker felt a tweak in his leg again. And he stepped out of practice. Again.

And while the Dolphins are still hoping and indeed expecting big things from Parker this season, coach Adam Gase is making it clear the young man has to mature in several respects beyond just taking care of his body.

DeVante Parker has to take care of business on the practice field as well. 

"Parker's going to be day to day right now so we’re just going to keep working with him and strengthening him up," Gase said. "When you’re a second-year receiver, I feel like I’ve been through this a couple of times. I just go back to Demaryius (Thomas), when we were in Denver. It just felt like he was always hurt. It was just one of those things, it was just like one thing after the other.

"The thing is, these guys, the longer they start doing this, the more they realize how much they have to take care of their body, how important it is to practice fast every day ...''

There it is.

"...and make sure they really push themselves because now, all of a sudden, when you go to turn it on, especially on game day and your body’s not ready for it, this is when you can possibly have these kind of issues.

"So that’s been our point of emphasis with him is all the little tiny things that you have to do off the field, in the building, and then when you get out to practice you have to treat every day like a game. Sometimes it takes some guys a little longer to learn than others. Eventually it gets to the point where you get tired of being the guy standing on the sideline.

"I do think he’s a little frustrated as far as he’s been the odd man out all the time. Kenny (Stills) and Jarvis (Landry) have been out there working together now and he’s kind of had to watch. We’ll keep working and he’ll eventually figure it out to where he knows his routine; he knows how to stay healthy, he knows how to push through certain kind of pains where it’s not going to really deter him from where he’s going to miss some games.

"It’s a fine line there, especially at that position. You really have to be locked into your body."

It is a fine line between calling a player out and simply being honest. Gase is being portrayed in some places as having called Parker out. The fact is he doesn't have to do that in the media because this coach does it directly to a player's face. And he's had this career chat with Parker already.

So Gase isn't trying to embarrass Parker. He's doing what a good head coach does. He's trying to help Parker get better.

Parker, for his part, is going to have to learn to fight through pain. And when he feels no pain, he's going to have to practice harder as in at game speed at times.

Remember that last year, coaches didn't want to put Parker on the field because both head coach Joe Philbin and then interim Dan Campbell said they needed to "see it" from Parker in practice. And they didn't see it. Well, that's because Parker wasn't showing it in practice. He wasn't the same guy in practice he was in games (when he finally got the opportunity).

Unfortunately, whatever lesson the last coaching staff showed Parker about working hard during the week to make game day easier didn't seem to stick. Parker, it must be repeated because it seems he forgets, has to practice harder.

DeVante Parker is a kind, laid back, soft-spoken individual. He doesn't play that way. But he practices that way.

He has to stop practicing that way. He has to practice up to his potential if he ever wants to play to his potential. And what is that potential?

"A special talent," Jefferson said. "Trust me, he's a special talent. He's blessed athletically. Trust me. He can do it all."

The Dolphins are in the process of remaking DeVante Parker. They monitor what he eats to make sure he's energized. They monitor what he drinks to make sure he's hydrated. They are nursing his legs. They are trying to help him grow up.

Part of the growth is learning to be a professional. And part of being a professional is going to work every day the team is practicing as well as on game day.

DeVante Parker is fine; Laremy Tunsil playing Thursday; Dion Jordan on NFI; Culliver headed to PUP

Easy day at Miami Dolphins camp. More importantly, good day at camp.

There is good news on the injury front in that DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil -- all of whom left practice Monday -- are generally fine. All three were at the walk-thru practice (really jog-thru) with all three participating.

And before you think it, severely injured players do not participate in any sort of practices. So all is well with these three.

Coach Adam Gase said Parker is day to day. He will not play Thursday in the preseason finale.

And next week day-to-day means he practices at least limited.

Tunsil continues to look more and more like the team's starting left guard. Nobody has declared it. Tunsil won't admit it. But among players it is a poorly kept secret. Laremy Tunsil is the Miami Dolphins starting left guard.

But just because he's the starter doesn't mean he thinks he's arrived.

He spoke today about needing to continue to improve. He spoke today about playing Thursday night in the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans. (He's been told he is playing, he just doesn't know for how long).

“It’s up to the coaches," Tunsil said. "I just know I’m playing.”

Tunsil has not allowed a sack all preseason, although his run blocking needs to get better. So when a reporter asked if he'd experienced a breakthrough of sorts in making the switch from tackle to guard, Tunsil didn't exactly embrace the idea.

“I really don’t know what a breakthrough is," he said. "You can have a good game (or) a bad game. I really don’t listen to all the ‘breakthrough’ stuff. There’s room for improvement. I’m trying to get better every day and listen to the coaches."

The Dolphins have already reached the mandated 75 man roster limit. The way they did it is smart.

The team today placed DE Dion Jordan and linebacker Zach Vigil on the reserve-non-football injury list. So they no longer count on the roster going into the season.

This means Jordan and Vigil cannot play until after the sixth game of the season at the earliest. The Dolphins can or cannot choose to pay these players.

For Jordan, who is on a conditional reinstatement from the NFL after he sat out last year for testing positive in the substances of abuse program, this obviously means more time away from the field.

Consider how long it has been: The last time Jordan played was 2014. In his three-year career the former first round draft pick has started one game for the Dolphins. He was the first round pick of the 2013 draft.

Vigil, who came to the team as an undrafted rookie last year, has two career starts for the Dolphins.

Jordan thus becomes an insurance policy should the team feel uncomfortable with its defensive end talent midway through October. This roster move also allows him to rehabilitate fully from the knee injury and surgery that he apparently suffered while he was suspended.

Some folks have been wondering what the Dolphins are going to do with cornerback Chris Culliver, who is currently on the active-physically unable to perform list. As I've reported, the Dolphins expect to place Culliver on the reserve-PUP list when the cuts to 53 are made Saturday.

That means Culliver will not count toward that final roster number as he continues to rehabilitate from the knee injury and surgery he sustained in Washington last year but can come off the PUP during the season to help the Dolphins if they need it.


August 29, 2016

Dolphins dial back Tuesday practice after minor injury scare

The Dolphins had three players either leave the field or stop working during practice on Monday and, because Adam Gase's parents didn't raise no fool, the team's head coach noticed.

And so Tuesday's practice, which was supposed to be less physical than the one Monday, but nonetheless a competitive time on the field, won't exactly be that anymore.

Gase decided to change Tuesday's practice to a walk-thru. There should be no player leaving the field under uncertain injury conditions on Tuesday.

As to those players who left Monday -- guard Laremy Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills, and receiver DeVante Parker -- what news is known is good news.

Tunsil and Stills are fine.

There is no word on Parker.

[Update: The Dolphins won't have clarity about Parker's status until the morning but the team is hopeful he will be fine.]

Chris McCain headed to New Orleans via trade

It is a new day and that means that sometimes NFL players break news of their status before the local media does. That happened this afternoon when Dolphins defensive end Chris McCain reported his days with the team are over and he's headed to #whodat.

#whodat is New Orleans, where McCain was this afternoon dealt for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.



And suddenly the glut of defensive end talent the Dolphins seemed to have at defensive end starts to make more sense. The team has four defensive ends they are definitely keeping:

Cameron Wake, Mario Williams, Jason Jones and Andre Branch are on the team. The status of Terrence Fede is unclear based on his recent  sprained MCL knee injury that will not require surgery but will require time to heal.

McCain was battling Fede for a roster spot, assuming the team was willing to keep more than four ends. He is a superior pass rusher while Fede is the better run defender.

But McCain's apparent inability to hold the edge and the fact the team is comfortable with other possibilities on the defensive line sealed McCain's time in Miami. So look, the Dolphins front office just traded a player that wasn't going to make the team for a late-round pick. I think that is what good front offices generally try to do. I remind you the Dolphins signed McCain as an undrafted free agent two years ago.

The same social media activity that led McCain to be popular among many fans, and unpopular with others, also had detractors within the Dolphins organization. And for a player at the bottom of the roster, that played a role in his being moved also.

So the Dolphins defensive line, considered a strength on the team rounds out at tackle with Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, and Earl Mitchell seemly assured of spots barring a trade of some sort. Who else?

The Dolphins seem poised to commit more spots to the tackle position than perhaps even the end spot. Both Julius Warmsley and Chris Jones have had good camps and preseasons.

Warmsley actually leads the team with three sacks this preseason.

It is possible the Dolphins keep four ends and five tackles.

The Dolphins now have 77 players on the roster. They must trim two by 4 p.m. Tuesday to be at the league's mandated 75 man limit.

Stills leaves practice with injury; Parker too; Tunsil too; Tannehill and Moore sitting Thursday

Wide receiver Kenny Stills left practice this afternoon after going down in a heap in the back of the end zone.

Stills, who actually had two plays in which he went to the ground, kept playing after the first one on a long pass from Ryan Tannehill. The second pass, Stills ran across the field, caught a pass and hopped to a stop along the sideline with the ball in hand. He eventually went to the ground for about two minutes before he got up, clutching his back. He then walked out of the team's practice bubble (The Nick Saban Memorial Bubble).

Afterward, coach Adam Gase said he had no update on any injuries during practice because he came to his presser before speaking with trainers.

Receiver DeVante Parker also stopped practicing after he got tangled with cornerback Bobby McCain. He was seen having his left hamstring stretched out.

Parker missed a couple of practice earlier in training camp because of a hamstring injury.

Stills was not the only player who left practice after an apparent injury.

Starting left guard Laremy Tunsil also left the bubble after warmups. He took no team drills.

Mario Williams also did not practice at all today for unknown reasons. The Dolphins announce players who are not practicing because of an injury prior to each practice. They did not announce Williams.

Meanwhile, Matt Moore returned to practice today after missing the last week with a concussion.

Gase said Moore will not play Thursday's preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans and said his inclination is that starter Ryan Tannehill will also not play in that game.

Gase said backup quarterback Zac Dysert and Brandon Doughty will share the game Thursday -- each getting approximately one half.


Spencer Paysinger is the man if Jelani Jenkins is out for Seattle

It had to be a bittersweet moment when Spencer Paysinger learned he's quite possibly going to be taking Jelani Jenkins' spot in the regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 11 because Jenkins is recovering from knee surgery.

"Yeah, I mean, J.J. is one of my closets friends. He's my closest friend on the team," Paysinger said Monday. "So when he went down, we were all bummed. But he told me, 'If you get to go in, you're more than capable.'

"I'm not sure how the rotation is going to go -- some of us will be in nickel, some will be in base -- but the coaches are doing a great job of preparing us from the ones all the way down to the threes that you can go in and probably do a good job."

If Jenkins cannot regain his strength following minor knee surgery, it will indeed be Paysinger playing the weakside linebacker spot. Perhaps he plays on passing downs and Neville Hewitt plays early downs. Perhaps it is the other way around.

Maybe Paysinger gets all the snaps.

Whatever the assignment, Paysinger promises to be ready. He promises to be excited about the chance.

"Absolutely, absolutely. There's always excitement no matter whether you're running down on kickoff for special teams or getting in there on defense," he said. "You put the helmet on, you put the logo on. You're excited.

"If you're in this league you want to be the best you can possibly be. I've carved out a role as a good special teamer in this league. Also, I'm in the league because I'm a pretty good backup linebacker. All my years as with the Giants, I've always been counted on. The fact this situation came like this past couple of days is nothing new to me."

So what do the Dolphins get when they switch out Jenkins and put in Paysinger?

“What he brings to the table is he knows all the positions," coach Adam Gase said. "Obviously, he’s a very good special teams player for us, but his ability to be able to plug into any spot – and us not really lose anything as far as a guy knowing what to do – is valuable.

"When you have a player like that, especially that has some experience, that makes you feel better as a coach, and I think he’s been doing well as far as the way he’s played in preseason games and the way he’s practiced. You see a guy that’s constantly trying to get better."

Spencer talks about being able to see and understand defense and read the action "from one side of the field to the other side of the field."

As a sixth-year veteran, he's not going to be overwhelmed by starting in a season opener. Or playing in Seattle.

"I've had the opportunity to play there a couple of times," Paysinger said. "I've had some friends who have played there throughout the years. So me being an older player and being able to bring guys along, I know it's going to be a really rowdy crowd. The 12th man is serious."

The Dolphins play their preseason finale Thursday at Hard Rock Stadium. Gase has said veterans are going to play and Paysinger apparently welcomes that approach.

"Yeah, I mean, for myself I always like game reps for the season if it's preseason," he said. "... For me, I can't go into a season cold, whether its defense or special teams."

If the Dolphins do indeed need Paysinger to step in, it will offer them a dividend after they signed him in April of 2015 as an unrestricted free agent -- an addition done exactly for this role as a special teams leader and capable backup.

"Actually, going into free agency with the Giants I kind of felt like it was time for me to leave there," Paysinger said. "They actually offered me a great contract. It was actually a better contract than Miami offered me. But it was something that came down to happiness. I could have taken more money in New York and stayed ... I prayed on it. I did my research. And I knew that Miami was one of the top teams and I knew there was a position down here I'd love to play.

" l was coming back a teammate's wedding and my agent called and said, 'Hey Miami called.' So I flew here that night, and as soon as I landed and got outside and felt the warm air, I said, 'If they offer, I'm signing.'"

Paysinger is the team's third leading tackler on defense this preseason with 10 tackles. That puts him behind only Mike Hull and Shamiel Gary in tackles. One of Paysinger's tackle was for loss and he also recovered a fumble.

"I've done a pretty good job this preseason," he said with a smile. 

August 28, 2016

Xavien Howard on track to play Thursday, start after that; Drake plays Thursday; Tough news for Pead; great day for Jordan Cameron

Xavien Howard as the Dolphins starting cornerback against the Seattle Seahawks in the Sept. 11 regular-season opener? Bet on that.

The Dolphins are initially expecting to do exactly that with the rookie who has yet to play in a preseason game. And as part of that greater plan, Howard will play in Thursday's preseason finale against Tennessee -- his first game as a Miami Dolphin.

"We're going to play them both," coach Adam Gase said of Howard and fellow rookie Kenyan Drake, who also will be making his preseason debut. "And the next couple of days of practice we're going to see where they are from a conditioning standpoint. I think they're in good shape but obviously it's not dynamic football shape right now. I think X a little ahead of Drake. We'll have probably a set number of plays they can go and try to stay in that range without going over.

"They need to play. If those guys, if they're active for the Seattle game, it would be nice for them to have experience in an NFL game."

If it sounds like the Dolphins would be asking a lot of Howard to make his professional debut at Seattle, consider that he plays cornerback. And the way the Dolphins ask their players to play the position, much of it is fairly easy to figure out.

"If we line him up in Game One tomorrow, he could play," Gase said. "Playing corner and what we do, it's what he's been doing his whole life. So, I mean, we're going to line him up and tell him to cover that guy. Whoever is across from him. We're not going to make it hard on him. It's no secret what we do on defense. We attack and play man-to-man coverage."

By the way, in speaking of Drake in generalities, it seems more certain now the rookie will be on the 53-man roster than being on the short-term injured reserve list -- which was a definite possibility when Drake was nursing a hamstring injury for a couple of weeks.


Speaking of hamstring injuries, Gase said running back Isaiah Pead will be out at least two weeks with the hamstring injury he suffered against Atlanta Thursday night. That means the team will have a tougher roster decision on Pead than if he had remained healthy and continued to produce at the rate he did early in the preseason.

"Unfortunately for him, it's another hamstring," Gase said. "We'll kind of see where things are with the roster. It's unfortunate for him because he was kind of rolling a little bit. We'll see how everything falls."

The timing of Pead's return raises the possibility he could be placed on injured reserve. That way, the Dolphins don't lose a solid player to the waiver wire.

"It's tough," Gase said. "You have to figure out what the right thing to do and does the film and what the guy's done in practice enough to say, 'Hey, you made it and we're going to have to carry you.' Obviously, you have a few options you can do to kind of hold a spot and bring him back. We haven't made any of those decisions."


The Dolphins continue to believe center Mike Pouncey is week-to-week. He isn't playing or practicing this week. If he cannot practice and play next week, Anthony Steen will be the starting center against Seattle.

That's asking a lot for a player who started his first game for the Dolphins last Thursday against Atlanta.

"He did a good job," Gase said of Steen. "I know he had the ball on the ground that one time. But for the most part he did a good job. There were times he had to do some things as far as redirecting protections along with him and Ryan communicating. Him and Ryan were outstanding."

Translation: The Dolphins are not sweating if Pouncey isn't ready for the season-opener.

"He finds a way to get it done and he's physical and tough," Gase added about Steen.


So we know that Jordan Cameron has been in something of a slump. He's dropped a couple of touchdown passes this preseason. He's had some trouble becoming a big part of the offense.

But Sunday was perhaps his best practice of the entire preseason.

He caught 25-yard pass down the middle of the field in a two-minute drill. And then he finished off the drive with a touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.

Teammates, obviously aware Cameron has been under pressure and has gotten some bad press, celebrated the score en masse. Practically every player on offense ran over to Cameron to congratulate the tight end.

"They've been doing things a little different in that when we get in the end zone, we're celebrating together," Gase said. "It's not a one-man show. I think those guys have been doing that during games and it's carried over to practice."

Yeah ... no.

Kenny Stills scored a TD on a streaking bomb which went some 60 yards Sunday. And he didn't get a team celebration for the score.

"It was fun. It was fun to get the two-minute drill going and to be successful and get some confidence back," Cameron said. "I don't know why they did [the celebration]. I was like, 'What is going on right now,' but it's always good to enjoy that with your teammates."

So was the celebration a big "screw you" to media critique of Cameron's recent play?

"I don't know," Cameron said, "that's what it felt like."

That makes sense.

"That's a guy all those guys really like and they really care about," Gase said. "For us, in that situation, that was a big play in that two-minute period. Him making that play, and he made a couple of good plays in that series, you can see Ryan ... Ryan's going to go to him and he knows he has a great matchup sometimes, especially when it's on a linebacker or safety. He'll keep getting opportunities."


Most NFL teams sit their veterans in the preseason finale. The Dolphins are not as likely to do that with all their veterans, Gase said.

“We’re in a different situation because we’re so young\," Gase said. "We probably have more guys that need to play, more than the luxury of, ‘Hey, we’ve got so many guys sitting out.’ I guess you look at it as almost, for Rizzi especially, I think, we can play some guys. Any kind of game experience is great. It is football at the end of the day, and things happen, but I’m not gonna sit here and stay up all night worrying if somebody’s gonna get hurt. We’re gonna play. Some guys will be out, and some guys will be playing.”

Linebacker James Michael-Johnson (thigh) is close to returning to practice, perhaps as early Monday, Gase said.

The coach said linebacker Jelani Jenkins' status for the season opener is uncertain. After he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery it will be up to how quickly he rehabs following the surgery.

"I can say there's a possibility that that first game he's good," Gase said. "It's how his body reacts to everything."

Ndamukong Suh (ankle) was not on the injury report today but he did not practice. Gase said it was a decision to have him stay inside the building and rehab ...




Ryan Tannehill as a runner -- why not?

Ryan Tannehill had two rushes for 22 yards in last week's dress rehearsal game against the Atlanta Falcons. The week before he gained 16 yards on two rushes against the Dallas Cowboys. And although there is nothing eye-popping about an NFL quarterback averaging 19 rushing yards per game there is this:

Ryan Tannehill, the former college wide receiver who is big and fast enough to do damage with his legs, has done very little damage with his legs in past seasons. Last season Tannehill gained 141 rushing yards in adding eight first downs to his team's offensive totals.

And that made Tannehill the NFL's 100th leading rusher.

And that made Tannehill fall in behind such Jim Brownesque rushers as Andy Dalton, who had 142 rushing yards.

And Blaine Gabbert, who had 185 rushing yards.

And Jay Cutler, who had 201 rushing yards.

Unfortunately, it didn't put Tannehill anywhere near double threat QBs such as Cam Newton (636 yards), Tyrod Taylor (568) or Russell Wilson (553).

And the question I ask myself is ... why not?

Why would a guy who is athletic, fast, and smart not use those attributes to help his offense move the chains? And why wouldn't the Dolphins, which have been a points-challenged franchise for some time, use their quarterback's obvious attributes to increase their productivity?

I dunno.

And I don't really care about the past that much as it pertains to this topic. Former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor did what he did and that is past.

The question is whether what we've seen the past couple of preseason games with Tannehill actually running on designed zone read-option plays is a hint of what's to come?

Personally, I think the Dolphins remain lukewarm about Tannehill running the football. They're still trying to hone other things like, well, having him throw the football better.

But it just seems to me if you have a player who can provide this added dimension that threatens and in some instances frustrates the defense, why not take advantage?

Newton, for example, added 56 first downs to the Panthers' total last year just by running with the football. Alex Smith, another mobile quarterback, added 30 first downs to the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive output by running the football.

Why turn down between three or so extra first downs per game?

(And this is where I recognize the quarterback running the football comes with some risk. That risk is injuries. But the rules on sliding are so favorable to quarterbacks now -- in that players aren't even supposed to touch a sliding QB -- that the advantage outweighs the risk. After all, Newton, Wilson, Smith all ran without getting knocked out of starts last year.)

I believe there are two types of NFL quarterbacks -- the classic pocket passers and the more athletic movement quarterbacks.

Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers are pocket passers.

And the names you've read above are some of the movement quarterbacks.

What I do not necessarily understand is why the Dolphins have so far been trying to position Tannehill as one of the pocket passers when he is clearly more suited to be a movement quarterback?

The past couple of games have offered a small glimpse of what can happen if the Dolphins let Tannehill run two or three times a game. I hope that extends and expands in the regular season.

August 27, 2016

Miami Dolphins making cuts today

The Miami Dolphins have made their first multiple cuts of the preseason today.

Cut this afternoon were:

DB Akil Bount, OL Ruben Carter, WR A.J. Cruz, LS Ryan DiSalvo, CB Brandon Harris, WR Matt Hazel, TE Gabe Hughes, K Marshall Koehn, DB Al Louis-Jean, OT Vinston Painter, WR Branden Shippen.

With Koehn gone, it means Andrew Franks has won the kicking competition for the second season in a row. With DiSalvo cut it means long snapper John Denney has apparently won the long snapper competition for the 12 year in a row.

The Hazel cut is interesting. He was running with the second team in practices. Only seven receivers remain on the roster and the team is likely to keep five or six (if the sixth is a return specialist such as Jakeem Grant).

The seven currently on the roster are Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Leonte Carroo, Griff Whalen, Grant and Rashawn Scott.

Stills, Parker, Landry, and Carroo are assured of roster spots for all intents and purposes.

The team must be down to the 75-man limit by Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The Dolphins currently 78 players on the roster.

In other news, linebacker Jelani Jenkins has undergone what is being termed as a minor knee scope, as noted by The Herald's Barry Jackson. The team is hopeful Jenkins can be ready for the regular-season opener at Seattle on Sept. 11 but that is not certain.

Minor cleanups, as this is being characterized, requires two to four weeks to return to the field at 100 percent barring any setbacks. The timing depends how quickly a player can rebuild his strength.

August 26, 2016

Cameron Wake not yet 100 percent but getting there

ORLANDO -- Cameron Wake stepped into some look-at-me pink shoes late Friday night after the Miami Dolphins finished off the Atlanta Falcons in the third preseason game for both teams. And the attention the footwear demanded is noteworthy because for a while now all the attention around Wake's feet has been centered mostly on his surgically repaired Achilles tendon that he ruptured last October.

But maybe after he played in a game for the first time since that injury, the conversation can start turning away from the Achilles injury. Maybe instead of focusing on Wake's injury status we should start focusing on his health status.

That status, Wake admits is not yet 100 percent 10 months after the injury.

“Probably not," Wake said. "That’s the truth. There’s just so much that you can do off the field. I’ve been working out, doing rehab, a lot of things. But the reality is football is hard to replicate. You can’t in the middle of the offseason have two guys pushing on you. It just doesn’t work that way … It’s coming. Obviously, I had a good step tonight in the right direction."

Wake, playing for the first time since he ruptured that Achilles tendon, had no tackles. He had no sacks. He did have a quarterback hurry on his first pass rush.

And still that was excellent because, well, it was a milestone. It signaled progress.

"Just trying to go back to ways of old," Wake said. "It has been awhile since I’ve actually played in a lot of games, so I’m taking all the things we’ve done in practice, all the rehab reps, and all the other stuff I’ve been doing. Finally, I’m just playing football again, just having fun. You kind of forget all the other stuff by doing what you do best."

The Dolphins intend to do what is best for keeping Wake healthy this year. And, as has been reported on this blog several times, that probably means making Wake a pass rush specialist at least early in the season as he continues to heal.

That certaintly looked to be the plan Friday.

“That was kind of the plan," Gase said. "I know we didn’t give you guys everything this week as far as what we were going to do, but we wanted him to play on third down. We wanted him to get some rushes in and get back in the feel of the game.

"That was the plan going into this game. Every day, we’re going to do more and more and get him to the point where he feels like it’s 100 percent, where we’re back and we’re ready to go a certain amount of snaps that we’ll talk about throughout the season. The goal is to make sure he plays 16-plus games, and tonight was a good first step for us.”

It stands to reason that if Wake is not 100 percent now and the way to get him there is with time and more game action, he might not be fully back to his old self until sometime in the regular season.

“It’s possible, but again, the game is not the only time you get it," Wake said. "We have quite a few big hogs in there who I fight with every day. Those are real reps … Whether it’s Tennessee or Seattle or Ja’Wuan (James), (Mike) Pouncey or whoever it may be, that’s the situation that you put your body in and you have to get it to respond."

And if that means Wake is a part-time player -- a pass rush specialist -- for the near future, he's fine with that because he sees a long-term plan in place that he's comfortable following. 

"You have to start thinking long term," Wake said. "Of course, I want to be out there for every snap, but is that going to be best come December and January? You got to be honest and smart, and all of us working together, our plan is really good, and so far it’s working." 

August 25, 2016

Reaction from Preseason Game 3: Mostly good (with injury update)

ORLANDO -- The semi-important dress-rehearsal game for the Miami Dolphins this 2016 preseason is over and, not that you care, but the Dolphins won, 17-6.

Winning is better than losing.

Here's what I saw:

Ryan Tannehill was inconsistent. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 155 yards. And that suggests his accuracy was good. But he threw one interception and threw another pass late that would have been intercepted had the defender not dropped the ball in his chest.

Tannehill's QB rating was 67.5 but that is deceptive.

Jordan Cameron, who dropped a couple of more passes this week after dropping at TD last week, had a TD pass hit him in the facemask and hands and that was one of his tough moments. The ball was contested but Cameron outweighs safety Damian Parms by 55 pounds and is has a three-inch height advantage. He has to win those matchups.

Jordan finished with one catch for six yards on four targets.

“(For) the one (drop), I’ve got to just catch the ball," Jordan said. "I was looking to run on the third down one. The other one I haven’t watched yet. I don’t know if I dropped the ball. I don’t know if I even touched the ball. I’ve got to watch it and see what happened."

By the way, Tannehill only played the first half. And he threw 29 passes. The Dolphins had 44 offensive snaps in the first half. That's a lot. And they threw 29 times, also a lot.

This is the most impressive stat to me: In the first half when both teams stuck with their starters, the Miami offense converted five of nine third down plays. That is outstanding.

The Atlanta Falcons offense was limited in converting one of six third down conversions against the Miami starting defense. And the Falcons were 0 for 1 on fourth down. So the Miami defense won on the money down and got off the field.

Arian Foster was good. He only rushed five times for 10 yards but he won in the open field and had a nice 2-yard TD run.

The offensive line was general good in providing Tannehill plenty of time to throw. Tannehill was not sacked. The OL was not an issues in pass protection. Run blocking needs to get better. Laramy Tunsil, better in pass pro than run blocking in previous weeks, has to get better in run blocking.

Tunsil started at left guard. Jermon Bushrod started at right guard. This is the second week this combo starts for the Dolphins. It looks like this might be the opening week guard combo.

I must tell you that Dallas Thomas took some first-team snaps with at right guard. So that might be the variable that changes if a change is indeed made.

The cornerbacks were bad tonight.

Tony Lippett was beaten a couple of times, including on a deep pass. He was lifted in the first quarter in favor of Bobby McCain.

And McCain was called for a pass interference so he wasn't exactly amazing, either. Let's face it, McCain is playing out of position. He's an NFL slot corner.

Kenny Stills was solid with four catches on six targets. Jarvis Landry had four receptions on five targets. Not the problem.

The Dolphins gave Cameron Wake his preseason debut and he played exclusively on third-down and pass-rush situations. I get the feeling this is going to be the approach at least early in the season.

Mario Williams, invisible in limited action last week, did little of note this night while getting more snaps. Williams did have a pressure.

Ndamukong Suh suffered a left ankle injury and left the field in the first quarter. He did not return.

[Update: Coach Adam Gase said Suh is "ok." Suh was unavailable for comment.]

Running back Isaiah Pead (hamstring), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (ankle) defensive end Terrence Fede (knee), and defensive end Chris McCain (shoulder) also suffered injuries and did not return to the game.

{Update: Gase said the team will have to look at Pead's ankle Friday to further understand the seriousness. Fede's knee will be further examined Friday but Gase said "it's nothing major." The coach said Jenkins is ok. The coach did not mention McCain's injury.]

Anthony Steen, starting at center in place of the injured Mike Pouncey, was charged with a fumble when he had a poor snap in the first quarter. Tannehill fell on the loose football. 

Safety Reshad Jones, who made a lot of impactful plays for the Dolphins last season, made one this game. He intercepted a pass in the end zone, thus keeping Atlanta off the scoreboard, and ran out the ball 18 yards to the 17-yard line.

“It was a big play in the red zone and it was a big play for me and my team so it felt great," Jones said. "We had a lot of tough games and this was just a good show of how far we’ve come.

“The rate of winning goes up once you start getting turnovers. Coach is always stressing the fact that we need to turn the ball over, get sacks and that’s what we do as DBs – break up the ball up and get interceptions.”

Finally this ... Defensive tackle Julius Warmsley, relegated to third team, was active. He blew up one play and had a sack.

The plan to get Xavien Howard to play in the regular season opener

ORLANDO -- Cornerback Xavien Howard is among the players who traveled with the Miami Dolphins to this "home" game tonight against the Atlanta Falcons. He is not expected to play.

(Neither are other players who traveled with the team such as running back Kenyan Drake and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, and safety Walt Aikens. Maybe next week.)

But Howard is different from those other players and indeed different from any player on the roster for the combination of multiple reasons:

  1. He's a rookie.
  2. He missed all of training camp because he was injured.
  3. He's never played in an NFL game.
  4. The Dolphins want him to play -- a lot -- and perhaps even start at Seattle in the regular-season opener.

So this is where the team stands with Howard:

The players are scheduled back in South Florida tonight after the game and then are supposed to have a lift day on Friday. They will be off Saturday and be back to practice Sunday.

Assuming no hurricane or other weather issues affects the schedule, it looks like the Dolphins are going to continue to step up Howard's workload in practice. And that should happen throughout the week leading up to the final preseason game.

Assuming no setbacks and Howard handles the workload well, coaches will have a decision to make on his status for the final preseason game. But there is a desire to get him snaps in that game.

And then this:

The Dolphins believe if that plan pans out ... Howard can continue to improve and get stronger and better in the five or six practices between the final preseason game and Seattle opener. And then he can play tons, and perhaps even start against the Seahawks.

And what's more, this coaching staff is already eyeing a strategy whereby they can simplify the assignments for Howard so that he can do what he does best -- cover a wide receiver -- without concerns that might plague other rookies or inexperienced players.

"... For the most part, he’s playing one-on-one coverage a lot of the times," coach Adam Gase said. "At the end of the day, that’s his strength and I’m sure the more we’ve talked about it with (defensive coordinator) Vance (Joseph), we’re going to try to lean on his strength of just matching him up with somebody and letting him go."

And this is where coaching is a huge asset.

Some coaches would freak at the thought of putting a rookie with no training camp and perhaps limited snaps in the preseason on the field for the season opener. The reason makes sense in the abstract. You don't put an unprepared player on the field in a game that counts.

But ...

Reality happens, folks. And injuries happen. And games don't wait on anyone. And needs must be met as best as possible. And some coaches -- including those on this coaching staff -- have decided that preparing that player, in this case Howard, as much as possible to do what he does best and only what he does best, even if that does not include the million details of his given position, is better than having him inactive for the opener.

I'm not saying one approach is better than the other. Both can fail, depending on the situation.

But I like this coaching staff's thinking better. They're not willing to throw up their hands and give up on a situation as lost simply because every preparation I is not dotted and T is not crossed. They're adjusting what they do to fit the player. They're not eliminating the player based on the fact he is not yet ready to do everything they do.

I must tell you this requires a certain type of player to work. By a certain type of player, I mean a gifted guy. And Howard has already shown the Dolphins he is that.

I'm told that before his injury, in the offseason camps and workouts, coaches saw Howard playing up to a level that suggests he's an NFL starting cornerback. They didn't reward him with starter reps at the time because they wanted him to travel the long road to the job.

But then his knee injury that required surgery happened. And that detoured the long road map. The point, however, is that Howard showed enough back then to give coaches confidence he's good enough to be used in the coming opener and early in the season even without a full training camp and a handful of preseason games.

And so that's the plan that gets Xavien Howard to the regular-season opener.

August 24, 2016

What to look for from the Miami Dolphins offense and defense in third preseason game (both affect the season opener)

Before practically every preseason game you get from a lot of NFL journalists stories and posts about what to expect in said upcoming game. You get five things to watch. Things to look for.

I rarely give you that stuff because ... too easy.

But today is different because ... too important.

No, what follows is not five items. I'm going to tell you two things the Miami Dolphins absolutely, positively must do Thursday night when they play the Atlanta Falcons in their third preseason game that will definitely affect their chances of success in the regular season opener against Seattle. One of those is predictable. One is hasn't been mentioned anywhere else that I've seen.

From the Dolphins defense, the coaching staff must get good tackling. A friend of mine, who happens to have no life, studied the third preseason game of all 32 NFL teams a couple of years back. And he counted the missed tackles. And he tells me the percentage of missed tackles in those games was 32 percent.

So according to this non-scientific, one-time study, NFL players were missing nearly one out of every three tackles they attempted in the third preseason weekend of 2014. That is a lot.

And apparently in continues.

You've certainly seen it from the Miami Dolphins defense the past two preseason games.

"That’s the whole NFL," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of the misstacklitis that has become epidemic in the NFL preseason games. "You turn on tapes of a lot of other defenses too, this is what it is. It’s a race to see who becomes the best tackling teams in football as you go throughout the season, because the only live work you really get nowadays are in games.

"Unless we want to start doing live out here and taking a chance of somebody getting hurt in practice, I mean it’s really not something that’s going to happen. We have to make sure we’re great on technique. We have to get tight to them. We got to run our feet. Those are some things that we have to do a better job of. I know the coaches are really trying to do a good job of correcting things on tape. We have some drills that we felt like were helping us. We’re not taking our drill work to the games and we just need to do that. That’s going to be a big emphasis for us this game.”

So improved tackling is key for the Miami defenseThursday because this is the last opportunity many of the team's top defenders will get this preseason to improve their skills before playing Seattle Sept. 11. The reason it's the last chance is, barring an upset of the routine, most top Miami defenders will not play in the fourth and final preseason game.

So this is it. Get it right now, or go into the season hoping to eventually get it fixed.

On offense the goals are much more intriguing. Yes, the Dolphins want to improve their running game. That, by the way, gets better as the NFL season matures because practices rarely include live blocking drills.

"The only way you get good at it is you do it in those preseason games," Gase said. "That’s why trying to run the ball when we get out there – we got a little pass happy there towards the end (at Dallas), but that will happen every once in a while in a preseason game – but we need to rep in live games.

"This week, obviously, you try keeping it as balanced as you can so we can get it on tape, see where our deficiencies are and then correct them."

And major goal No. 2 for the offense is perhaps the most important goal of this entire game for the Dolphins. And that is be as vanilla and boring and basic as possible.

The Dolphins' offense must be, well, lame against the Falcons.

And they know it. Indeed, Gase has gone through his playsheet and made certain that nothing he really, really likes will be run against the Falcons.


Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and 2014. The success his Seattle defenses had those years catapulted him to his current position. And in Atlanta Quinn runs a mirror image of what the Seahawks still run. Furthermore, the coaching connections that were forged during Quinn's time in Seattle are still strong.

So the Dolphins don't want to put anything on tape that the Seahawks might see works against a scheme of defense they run. That would allow them to work on such a play over the next couple of weeks. Secondly, the Dolphins don't want to do anything on offense that might lead Quinn to suggest to his friends in Seattle any strategy for stopping the Dolphins.

This isn't skullduggery stuff. I simply know the Dolphins have had internal conversations about not showing a lot to the Falcons in a game that doesn't count in the standings, and in so doing, could alert a team they open the regular season against.

Where does that leave us?

It'll be interesting seeing how basic and mundane the Dolphins can get on offense. It will be interesting seeing if that basic and mundane stuff works. And it will be important to keep perspective about what is before our eyes.

You will not read from me Friday morning that the Miami offense didn't fly high (if it doesn't) because one of its goals was actually to be under the radar.

So adjust your inner punditry accordingly in this regard.

August 23, 2016

A look at looming Miami Dolphins roster decisions

Thursday evening's game the Dolphins will play against the Atlanta Falcons in Orlando will be the last one before the team trims its 90-man roster to 75. That initial roster cutdown date is next Tuesday.

So what that means is that this third preseason game will be the final one for over two dozen players who think they're Miami Dolphins but really are not. And because coach Adam Gase will do as most coaches around the league this week and play his veterans at least two quarters and probably into the third quarter, some of these guys on the roster's back end have already played their final games for this team because there may not be enough time to get them snaps Thursday night.

This is an annual truth.

And this is also true: It is time to start thinking about roster cuts.

I've done this for some time (feels like 74 years) and my experience has taught me that when cuts are easy, that team has little depth. When cuts are hard, that team's roster is in better shape.

The 2016 Dolphins? They're somewhere in the middle.

Some positions, such as cornerbacks, offer easy solutions to making cuts. Some, including offensive line and defensive line, are tough calls.

Let's walk through the exercise:


Postion: Quarterbacks.

Players: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty, Zac Dysert

Who is in: Tannehill, Moore, Doughty.

Who is out: Dysert.

The situation: The optimal way to be able to handle this is put Doughty on the practice squad. But he played well in one preseason game (before playing awful last week), and Gase has talked him up in press conferences. So it might be hard to sneak him through to practice squad by cutting him and then re-signing him to PS. Complicating matters is that Moore suffered a concussion last week and will not play Thursday. His status is uncertain going forward, although it is expected he'll be available for the regular-season opener. This injury increases the chances Doughty is ultimately on the 53-man roster.

Postion: Running backs.

Players: Jay Ajayi, Arian Foster, Isaiah Pead, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, Daniel Thomas.

Who is in: Ajayi, Foster.

Who is out: Thomas.

The situation: Pead and Williams are battling for what seems to be the last spot -- unless they are not. One way the Dolphins could keep Ajayi, Foster, Pead and Williams is by relegating rookie Kenyan Drake to the injured reserve list with a designation to return. Let's face it, Drake, who missed three weeks and all the preseason games, has not earned a roster spot. He returned to practice today but is not playing Thursday night. But the team isn't walking away from him based on his third-round draft status. If the Dolphins decide that after not having proven anything in training camp, Drake makes the team ahead of either Pead or Williams, that's something of a gamble given Drake's long, long injury history. Pead, whose 45-yard run against Dallas is the second-longest of any NFL player this preseason, has been getting first-team work since last week, including in the game. I expect coach Adam Gase will try to make that happen again Thursday night. If he plays well, that may seal a spot for him. One more thing: Special teams is a big thing for the third and fourth back. Williams is very good on special teams.

Postion: Offensive line.

Players: Mike Pouncey, Kraig Urbik, Dallas Thomas, Ruben Carter, Anthony Steen, Laremy Tunsil, Ulrick John, Ja'Wuan James, Vinston Painter, Jamil Douglas, Jermon Bushrod, Branden Albert, Billy Turner, Sam Young.

Who is in: Pouncey, Tunsil, James, Albert, Thomas, Turner, Bushrod.

Who is out: Painter, Carter, Douglas.

The situation: Urbik, John, and Young are interesting because all have experience but are stuck behind younger, better players. Maybe cheaper, too. The roster has room for one of these three. Bushrod makes it because he's competing for the starting RG spot but also can move to LT in a pinch if Tunsil doesn't go there should Albert go down. Thomas makes it because he can play both LG and RG. Turner makes it because he can play RG and RT (in an emergency). Albert makes it because, well, Albert. Steen, now the starter while Pouncey heals, makes it if he doesn't collapse against first-team competition Thursday night. Douglas was a fourth-round pick in 2015. He's running a disappointing third team now.

Postion: Wide receiver.

Players: Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Leonte Carroo, Griff Whalen, Matt Hazel, A.J. Cruz, Brandon Shippen, Rashawn Scott, Jakeem Grant.

Who is in: Landry, Stills, Parker, Carroo.

Who is out: Shippen, Cruz.

The situation: Scott is probably out, too, but I'm not certain. The thing is Whalen is more than on his way to making the team based on his abilities on special teams and some good practice days. But he's a slot. And the Dolphins have a lot of those guys if you add Grant to Landry, and Whalen. Matt Hazel? He probably makes it. But the team has to keep six receivers. Grant makes it based on his potential and return abilities.

Postion: Tight ends.

Players: Jordan Cameron, Dion Sims, Thomas Duarte, MarQueis Gray, Dominique Jones, Gabe Hughes.

Who is in: Cameron, Sims.

Who is out: Hughes, Gray

The situation: If I dropped to Earth from Uranus (I'm juvenile) and you asked me which tight ends had earned a spot on this roster, I would tell you none of them. None. Most, including Cameron, have been invisible. Both Sims and Cameron have had notable drops in preseason games. Duarte, who wants to block, cannot because he's simply not strong enough and his technique is late-round-rookie-terrible. The others are JAGS -- as Bill Parcells said, just a guy. Very disappointing, this group.


Postion: Defensive line.

Players: Andre Branch, Chris Jones, Chris McCain, Deandre Coleman, Cedric Reed, Jordan Williams, Cleyon Laing, Julius Warmsley, Terrence Fede, Earl Mitchell, Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, Jordan Phillips, Jason Jones.

Who is in: Wake, Suh, Williams, Jones, Branch, Mitchell, Phillips.

Who is out: If the Dolphins are keeping four ends and four tackles, the man who joins the seven guys above is DT Chris Jones. He's been solid in his time as a starter while Mitchell has been out with a calf injury. If the team is keeping nine defensive linemen because the group is deep, that adds the possibility that McCain or Fede makes the team. Both are not making the team at this stage. McCain is a better pass rusher but not great against the run. Fede is a better run defender but not great with his pass rush.

Postion: Linebackers.

Players: Koa Misi, Kiko Alonso, Jelani Jenkins, Spencer Paysinger, Neville Hewitt, Akil Blount, Mike Hull, Tyler Gray, James Burgess, James-Michael Johnson.

Who is in: Misi, Alonso, Jenkins, Hewitt.

Who is out: Burgess, Gray, Hull, Blount

The situation: Paysinger is probably in as well because of his special teams prowess and experience. James-Michael Johnson is the backup middle linebacker so he's probably in as well. If I'm the Dolphins, I'm searching for LB help when the final cuts are made because ... this group has also not been overly impressive. I've yet to see a big play from the starters in the preseason. I saw one from Kiko Alonso in practice a week or so ago, when he had an interception. Help!

Postion: Defensive backs.

Players: Rashaan Melvin, Al Louis-Jean, Reshad Jones, Jordan Lucas, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Shamiel Gary, Bobby McCain, Brandon Harris, Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens, Tony Lippett, A.J. Hendy, Chimdi Chekwa, Lafeyette Pitts, Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard.

Who is in: Howard, Maxwell, Jones, Abdul-Quddus, McCain, Lippett.

Who is out: Melvin, Louis-Jean, Harris, Pitts,

The situation: The only reason seventh-round pick Lucas is not on the list as being out is because he was drafted. But the truth is he hasn't been very good. My guess is he gets cut and re-signed to practice squad. The Dolphins are cornerback challenged in that they have only three true corners that are certain to be on the team. Yes, Chekwa is a cornerback but he hasn't been practicing for a couple of weeks and that is no way to make the team. He returned to practice today and has much catching up to do and much to prove in a short amount of time. It seems Thomas makes the team as a nickel corner (different that outside corner, in my view) behind McCain and his ability to play special teams. That leaves Aikens. My guess is he sticks somehow for the time being based on his special teams ability. But he's a backup safety and Thomas can play that role as well. And Aikens spot could become a luxury later on because of one of these guys ...

Postion: The walking wounded.

Players: DE Dion Jordan, CB Chris Culliver, LB Zach Vigil

Who is in: Culliver eventually.

Who is out: Technically, none of them.

The situation: This group is interesting. I told you the Dolphins are boundary CB challenged. Culliver is expected to answer that challenge sometime around October-November. He's coming back from a significant ACL injury and surgery. He's not going to be ready for the start of the season. So my guess is he's on the reserve-PUP (physically unable to perform) list to begin the season. I a while back a while back so when others come around to reporting it, you'll now it is not news. This way Culliver doesn't count against the roster but the team can bring him back after six weeks. Jordan similarly hasn't practiced this camp and his situation is in some respects tougher because he didn't play all last year. No way he's on the opening day roster, barring something catastrophic happening to multiple defensive ends between now and then. And so he likely starts the season on reserve-NFI (non-football injury) and can similarly be brought back during the season. Vigil is a good special teams player. But he's not a star. He hasn't earned a roster spot now but it wouldn't be terrible to have him on a reserve NFI list to begin the season.

That's it. And you are correct to see I didn't add the kicker and punter and long snapper. Here's a hint: Punter Matt Darr, kicker Andrew Franks, LS John Denney.

The situation: We're done here.



August 22, 2016

Strangeness of Mike Pouncey injury; Anthony Steen talks

Mike Pouncey promises to be back.

He was not available to reporters in the locker room today and obviously was not on the practice field because he is now nursing a left hip injury (again) that has forced the team to shut him down the remainder of the preseason. And, yes, coach Adam Gase said Pouncey's status for the season opener in Seattle on Sept. 11 is uncertain.

Nonetheless Pouncey is unfazed.

"Weathering the storm!" he posted on his Instagram account. "Tough times don't last tough people do. I'll be back!"

And so there's that. But here's the thing ...

This injury is weird. It is weird not in that Pouncey had surgery on the same left hip in 2014. What is weird is the circumstances of how Pouncey hurt himself Friday night in the preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Pouncey got hurt with 13:10 left in the second quarter and the Dolphins trailing 14-0. Watching the play on tape, Pouncey was engaged blocking defensive tackle Cedric Thornton on a first-down running play by Jay Ajayi. And as Ajayi ran off Pouncey's left hip, all the action came to that side. And defensive end Ryan Russell, rallying to the football, rolled up on Pouncey's left side.

And then started the weirdness:

It was immediately obvious that Pouncey was injured on his left side. He grabbed his left knee as he grimaced in pain on the ground. Again, he grabbed his knee. Not his hip. Later, after he got up and was surrounded by medical personnel, Pouncey motioned toward his left hip. Pounceyhip

Then Pouncey came out of the game and the injury is reported in the official game book with Pouncey listed as questionable to return. Except three plays later, in the second quarter of a second preseason game, Pouncey found his way back into the game.


Maybe it had something to do with the fact two of the three plays run while he was out resulted in roughing penalties against the Cowboys and Pouncey felt a need to return and be there in the fight, so to speak, with his teammates. Maybe he just felt better. Maybe he just did a bonehead thing.

But the craziness continued because injured Mike Pouncey played 14 more plays in this game through two Dolphins touchdown drives that carried the game up to 2:52 left in the first half.


Look, it is the player's ultimate responsibility to communicate to trainers something is wrong. But it is also the responsibility of the head trainer and team doctors to recognize, upon examination, that something ... is ... wrong. The injury is not readily apparent through examination? In the preseason, the default position should be caution.

Stay on the sideline with us, big fella.

(In September through December? Get out there, big fella).

The point is someone has to communicate this information to the position coach. And the coordinator. And the head coach.

Somewhere, somehow, someone wasn't exactly communicating the message that Mike Pouncey, who has had chronic hip problems in the past and came out of this game with what seemed like a hip injury, could be hurt and probably should not be back in the game.

And ultimately, Pouncey should have been communicating that message.

Now, it is unclear if Pouncey felt good enough to return to the game and then aggravated what was already an injury. Or perhaps the injury that seems important now didn't seem all that important at the time so Pouncey played on.

Either way, this is a strange episode.

Whatever the issue, Pouncey is now out. Anthony Steen is now the starting center. Steen spoke the media in the locker room for the first time today. This is what he said:

(On how things have changed for him in the past week) – “Nothing has really changed. We’re missing Mike (Pouncey) right now but as (Head) Coach (Adam Gase) said, its next guy up so I’m the next guy up. I’m just trying to do my job.'

(On if he was comfortable at center with the first unit) – “Yes. It’s the same plays, just the next level – ones from twos. You’re going against different guys but it’s the same exact plays."

(On how much work he had with the first team prior to C Mike Pouncey’s injury) – “Probably just a couple reps. Mike would sometimes get two or three plays off and I’d go in then; but other than that, just a couple (reps)."

(On how long he has been snapping) – “Since I got here (to Miami). I’ve always played guard but when I came here, they told me that I looked more like a natural center. So then they started working me at center slowly, progressed me into it. Now I’m pretty much a full-time center, but I’ll still get a couple of plays at guard."

(On how difficult the process of switching to center has been for him) – “It’s been difficult at times. Mainly, at guard, you’re the guy sitting there looking at the center, waiting for the calls. Now you‘re the guy who has to get up there and make the calls yourself so there’s a little more pressure."

(On the challenge of making calls at the line) – “Really, the (challenge is the) fact of knowing that if you mess up your call you mess up everything for everybody else. It’s just that pressure on you as a center and you have to get used to it."

(On if he feels that he has been thrown into the deep end) – “No. Right now you’re just going against a different bunch of guys moving up to the ones. It’s a part of football, that’s all it is."

(On the best piece of advice a coach has given him since C Mike Pouncey’s injury has elevated him to the first unit) – “Just to be calm. Yesterday, they told me that you have all the time in the world to make calls and not to be nervous about it."

(On how his attitude has changed now that he’s with the first unit) – “It’s just more studying – a more mental aspect to it – staying here longer, watching more film, trying to get prepared for the game."

(On what C Mike Pouncey has told him about playing with the ones) – “He’s told me it’s just part of the game. It’s nothing to be nervous about. That’s all he’s really told me."

(On his initial reaction when the Dolphins told him last year that they saw him more as a center than a guard) – “I kind of thought they were joking at first. They asked me if I could play center and I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ When they started giving me reps, I thought it was just more (of them trying) to see what else I could do. I didn’t actually think I would be playing center but it’s a good thing."

(On if he is accustomed to the up-tempo style of offense) – “Yes. We did a little bit of that in college (at Alabama). It’s just a matter of trying to do it a little bit faster in the pros."

(On what it was like to rush into last week’s game to play with the first team when C Mike Pouncey was injured) – “I didn’t think anything about it. I saw Mike go down at first, so I immediately grabbed my helmet and I was already almost out onto the field and I turned around and looked at coach and said, ‘Do you want me to go?’ And he said, ‘Yes, go."

(On how long it took him to get comfortable at center) – “Pretty much all of OTAs. They slowly, the first week or two, they had me playing both guards. After the second week they tried to throw me in at center for one period, then two periods and so on. But now, I feel fine."

(On what type of player the Dolphins are getting with him at the center position) – “A hardworking player. I play with a lot of heart. I just don’t quit on a play. For me, winning a play and winning the game is more important than anything."

(On how his experience at Alabama helped prepare him for this increased role) – “As you know, we played in a lot of big games so the nervous aspect of just playing in a big game is not there anymore. It’s just another game. For a lineman, you just have to know that you have to be prepared for each and every play to win because that’s your job."

(On the possibility of starting in the season opener at Seattle and what he has to prepare for with that unique road environment) – “I think more of the mental aspect than anything. Trying to play four quarters and still be there mentally will be the toughest part. I think staying around after practice and getting here earlier will be better."

(On who played center most of his time at Alabama) – “Ryan Kelly was. He was my center for I think two years or two-and-a-half years and then Barrett Jones was for, I think a year."

(On if he’s asked either Ryan Kelly or Barrett Jones for tips) – “No, I haven’t. I actually watched Ryan play the other night (with the Indianapolis Colts) and I thought he played pretty well."

(On if the N.Y. Giants preseason game was the first time he played center in an actual game) – “I think I’ve played center just a couple of reps in Arizona. But as far as starting at center, yes."

(On what he took away from playing for Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban) – “He’s always said that this is a business for him. It’s the next guy up. You either do your job or else someone else will do it. That’s what I’ve always taken from him."

(On if he was surprised that he was second on the depth chart at center) – “No, that’s just how the coaches have been putting me in – with the twos. They felt comfortable with how I had been performing and they told me that I was going to be moved up. I didn’t know when I got here that Mike (Pouncey) was going to be out for a week or whatever it is. When they told me, I just knew, ‘Alright, I need to start studying some more and start looking at the ones and the next game and get prepared.’ "

(On the personality and leadership differences between Head Coach Adam Gase and Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban) – “I think Gase is more of a player’s coach. He’ll get to know you. He likes to mess around (and) joke around. Coach Saban is more of a hardnosed, straight business type of guy. If you mess up, you’re going to hear about it."

(On if he was ever in Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban’s doghouse) – “I don’t think doghouse. He might have yelled at me a couple of times but I’ve never done anything to be in his doghouse."

(On if he’s had any contact with Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban recently) – “I haven’t. I’ve had some contact with Coach (Joe) Pendry – my first two years at Alabama, he was my offensive line coach there. I’ve talked to him a couple of times."

(On what kind of emotions he is experiencing with this opportunity for him) – “I know, for me, I’ve got to be on top of things, so I’m trying to stay focused as much as I can."

Issues threatening Miami Dolphins' process of being good

The Miami Dolphins keep telling me this team-building they are doing now is a process and it will come together and it will lead to a good team. They tell me the offense will be good. They tell me the defense will tackle.

So now you know what I keep hearing from the team.

But, as I write in my column today, life happens. And the process, which the Dolphins see as this unstoppable downhill rolling avalanche, looks more like a herd of pebbles that are losing steam as one pebble breaks off here and another detours over there.

And what is causing the pebbles to lose their momentum?


The Mike Pouncey injury not only affects his position, but suddenly it becomes more important with the ongoing mixing and matching of guards along the line. With Pouncey gone for the line the rest of the preseason, we now can say with certainty the Dolphins offensive line will not find that chemistry everyone says is so vital for OL success before the regular-season begins.

Meanwhile the Dolphins still want Laremy Tunsil to be the starting left guard. (Me, too). But they're not ready to anoint him yet because he's simply not there yet.

And so the line that was supposed to come together by now so it can build that chemistry is not even built.

“It’s always nice to be able to say, ‘Here’s our starting five and let’s roll,' " coach Adam Gase said Sunday. "You just don’t want to put a timetable on it. You’d love for it to be this week and say, ‘This is what it’s going to be.’ But I think the way we are looking right now, it’s going to come up to that first game of the season. You never know, it could change during the season. I’ve been through a few instances of, we were eight games in I think in 2014 and we made a wholesale change – new center, new right guard and new right tackle. You’re going to do what’s best for the team that week."

Make no mistake, any team making wholesale changes on the offensive line during the season does so because something is amiss with the group. It's because something is not up to par. Because something is wrong. And so the coach raising the possibility this happens to this Miami offensive line this year means, at minimum, that something is not exactly right.


I told you how the plans to get Xavien Howard in that starting CB job opposite Byron Maxwell is not exactly taking a direct route to its intended destination. Well, what does that mean?

It means you might have Tony Lippett starting that first game at Seattle.

And with respect to Lippett, he is simply not ready for that. Lippett is a three-year project player who was drafted late after playing as a college wide receiver his final year at Michigan State. He is learning to be a cornerback. He is on course. But that does not make him a starting caliber cornerback right now. Or by September 11, which happens to be opening day.

I've seen troubling things in each of the first two preseason games about Lippett's game. Unless he scrubs those, they will be a stain on the defense in the regular season when weaknesses are amplified. This issue seemed manageable when Howard was the answer. But Howard is a ways off from being the answer -- by the way, as I said numerous times when his injury first popped up.

Then there is the running back position.

Jay Ajayi hasn't gotten great work in the preseason because something has seemingly always gone wrong when he's been in the games. (Not with him, but other guys). And so this preseason Ajayi is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. No biggie, but this is a second-year player who needs to be successful and build on that.

Arian Foster doesn't need to have success to gain confidence. But he needs to play to be ready for the season. And yet the Dolphins are walking that delicate line of giving him enough work to get ready but not so much work as to get him hurt. This because Foster has been injury-prone throughout his career.

Not. Optimal.

Another injury-prone back -- rookie Kenyan Drake -- is going to miss this week of practice and the game Thursday against Atlanta. He has been shut down going on three weeks now because of a hamstring injury. And because it is the second time he has this injury since he joined the Dolphins -- my God, he hasn't even played in a game yet -- the team is being cautious with him so that when he comes back, his chances of running into another setback are slimmer.

I say put him on IR with the designation to come back and move on. That way you can keep someone such as Isaiah Pead, who has performed this training camp and has impressed coaches. Pead, by the way, is an example of something that's gone right for the Dolphins this preseason.

A bust with the St. Louis Rams, out of the league in 2014, Pead is Miami's leading rusher this preseason and even got first-team snaps in the Dallas game. That is a sign, by the way.

Another good sign is he has matured from the guy who didn't always act like a professional early in his career.

"That comes with accountability. Being on time. Doing what you got to do. Not giving any reason for mistakes. Stay on your stuff. You study and everything like that. Stay accountable to the team," Pead said. "It's something you're supposed to do. I had my knucklehead years in the past at one point. You grow up. You learn from it. And go on with life."

Pead has truly embraced this opportunity.

"I'm a Miami Dolphin now," he said. "I have a great opportunity. I appreciate it and love it for coach Gase bringing me in and I'm going to make the best of it and hopefully make him proud and make the team proud."

Pead is definitely a good news story. More not awesome news:

I heard a lot about how far ahead of schedule Cameron Wake is as he continues to come back from the Achilles' tear that ended his 2015 season prematurely. And it is true. Less than a year removed for the injury, Wake is practicing and showing no ill effects.

But he hasn't played. And he might not play this entire preseason now. The decision on his status for Thursday night has not been made. And if he doesn't play Thursday, he's almost definitely not playing in the throw-away final preseason game the following week.

"He hasn’t had a setback," Gase said. "At first, I thought he was going to go [against Dallas last Friday] and then we kept talking about it and seeing where he was at and we felt like it was in our best interest to not have him go that game. We’ll reevaluate this week. It really has to be 100 percent on this to where everybody feels really good. I don’t think he has anything to prove. I think we all know what caliber of player he is. I think the most important thing for us to make sure is, ‘How do we get him to play in 16-plus games?’ That’s got to be our number one goal.”

May I be the bad guy, here?

Wake does have something to prove and everyone knows it. He has been an outstanding player pretty much since the moment he stepped on the field for the Miami Dolphins. But he is 34 years old now. And he's coming back from a catastrophic injury.

So is that "caliber of player he is" still at the same caliber?

Because I know what caliber of player he was. I don't know what caliber of player he is.

The answer can be a resounding yes, he's the same guy, and we're good. But even the Dolphins hedged their bet this offseason by cutting Wake's salary in case he wasn't the same guy.

So he has to show us he's the same player. Show us. Prove it.

That's not a challenge. That's not an insult. That's professional football.

August 21, 2016

Mike Pouncey out rest of preseason, status beyond uncertain

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey is nursing a hip injury that will keep him out of the lineup the rest of the preseason and could even affect his status for the season-opener at Seattle Sept. 11.

"I don't want to put a time table on it, but, I mean, there's a possibility," head coach Adam Gase said of the possibility Pouncey could miss the Seattle opener. "He could if things change for us or if we get some kind of diagnosis where they tell us it's going to be a longer period of time than what we originally thought. It could happen."

Pouncey had surgery on his right hip in the offseason. That caused him to miss the early part of the weight and conditioning program but not much else. This injury, suffered Friday evening in the preseason game at Dallas, is to the left hip.

Pouncey obviously missed practice Sunday. Anthony Steen, a first-year offensive lineman out of Alabama, worked with the starters the entire practice. He is the Dolphins starting center this week.

"It's going to be next-man up," Gase said. "We don't know right now. That's why we're still working with the doctors as far as where are we at, how long is this going to be. We're taking our time to make sure we have the right evaluation and making the right decisions."

Steen has never played in a regular season NFL game.

Checkout his bio: Download Steen

In other injury news, rookie running back Kenyan Drake, who has missed the past two weeks with a hamstring injury, did not practice against Sunday and it not going to do so this week. He will miss Thursday's game against Atlanta in Orlando.

Offensive line starting jobs still unsettled (sort of)

The Miami Dolphins are a couple of hours, as of this writing, of taking the practice field and beginning work for their preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. And by the third preseason game most teams want to know what their starting lineups look like because the fourth preseason game is a throw-away.

Except that wanting to know what the lineup looks like and actually knowing are two different things.

The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, for example, have no idea who their starting quarterback is going to be. And the Dolphins also have unsettled lineup issues -- most obviously along the offensive line.

This morning when the team put out its depth chart for the Thursday Atlanta game, Dallas Thomas was listed as the starting left guard and Billy Turner was listed as the starting right guard.

And that's not how things are likely to be in the regular season opener. And that's not how things were Friday evening when Miami played at the Cowboys and my line of Laremy Tunsil at left guard and Jermon Bushrod at right guard were the starters.

And here's the news: Do not be surprised if you are inundated by a slew of tweets when practice begins at 1:15 p.m. today that Thomas and Turner are still getting their share of first-team snaps. Yes, the sharing is likely to continue.


Well, the Dolphins have not totally, completely settled on an offensive line yet.

Bushrod gave up a sack in Friday night's game. Tunsil was good in pass protection but needs improvement in run blocking.

So neither has locked down a starting jobs.

But this: I have been certain since draft day that 1. Tunsil would play guard and not tackle this year. 2 Tunsil would be the starting LG when the regular-season begins Sept. 11 against Seattle.

I'm certain because my sources continue to say this is the plan.

And so forget what your eyes and the tweets say today if/when Thomas gets a share of first-team practice snaps. No, Tunsil hasn't locked himself in yet. That's his doing because his play needs to improve. 

But in exactly 21 days when the regular season begins? That will be a different story.  


Not practicing today: Mike Pouncey (hip), Chimdi Chekwa (thigh), Walt Aikens (knee), Earl Mitchell (calf), Kenyan Drake (hamstring).


Cornerback Xavien Howard, who is going to practice for the first time Sunday, told reporters in the locker room before the workout he will not be playing in Thursday's preseason game against Atlanta.

And ...

That makes sense.

One does not throw a player into a game on three days of practice when he's coming off a knee injury and surgery. And the fact Howard is a rookie and has never had one training camp practice in his career makes that case even more obvious.

Dolphins back to work Sunday: Cameron needs rebuild

Adam Gase is a builder. (He better be because he was hired to build this fallen franchise).

The Miami Dolphins head coach comes to his first year with the organization with a reputation for building and rebuilding. He helped build up Peyton Manning from a player who had no feeling in fingers on his throwing hand to a quarterback playing at the top of his Pro Football Hall of Fame career and throwing 55 touchdown passes.

He helped rebuild Jay Cutler from a player who didn't seem to have fun playing to a different guy within the Bears organization last year. He is so far rebuilding quarterback Ryan Tannehill, empowering him in the new Dolphins offense and making him feel invested in the results. He has spent a lot of time rebuilding Kenny Stills from a player that seemed at times disconnected from the rest of the team and his work last season, his first in Miami, to a player who arrives to work early and leaves late and talks incessantly about team and leadership.

(Both Tannehill and Stills had outstanding preseason games against the Dallas Cowboys Friday night).

Now Gase has to do something about building up tight end Jordan Cameron.

Cameron, in his sixth NFL season, has the potential to be a fine NFL tight end. I've seen it. I saw what he did to the Dolphins in that 2013 regular season opener. He caught nine passes for 108 yards that day. And that wasn't his best game that season.

But Cameron has the look of a player needing to be built up now.

He has the look of a player either lacking in confidence or worrying too much about the results.

Cameron needs to be reminded to trust the process of playing his position. Trust his abilities. Trust his training. Trust that if he handles that business, the results will come.

That's not how he's playing now.

Cameron struggled in the offseason. He struggled early in camp. And Friday against Dallas he had an almost certain TD catch from Tannehill on a short slant in the red zone. But he juggled and dropped it.

And he didn't seem to recover strong after that -- another sign he needs a confidence boost.

So this week of practice, which starts Sunday afternoon for the Dolphins, could be pivotal for Cameron.

Gase's offense is tight ends friendly. Cameron can be a good tight end.

Somewhere between those two sentences much work needs to be done so that both are true in 2016.