Reader note: If you read this post before 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night, please scroll down to "Chatter" for an interesting update on Tony Dungy and Jason Taylor criticizing Joe Philbin tonight.
The noise grows louder and louder now, and even some of the prominent Board of Trustee and faculty members are starting to question Al Golden’s judgment.
“He hasn’t hired the best people,” said one Trustee, with regard to defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. An AFC personnel man this week also raised serious concerns about UM’s defensive coaching. (More on that in a minute.)
Let’s be clear on a few things:
1) This defense is as much Golden’s system as D’Onofrio’s. So Golden would be dumping his system if he fired D’Onofrio.
2) Athletic director Blake James has never asked Golden to remove D’Onofrio and has given no indication that he would. James has entrusted Golden with the decision and Golden remains committed to him.
But one UM person said that does not mean that Golden and D'Onofrio will forever be attached at the hip here. Ultimately, a parting of the ways is a possibility if this doesn't get fixed. Golden naturally hopes it doesn't come to that, and if D'Onofrio moves on in a year or two or three or whenever, it would be surprising if it would be characterized as a firing.
3) The players on defense --- yes, the ones recruited by Golden’s staff --- are culpable here to a large extent. They’re the ones unable to shake blocks and stay with backs and receivers in coverage.
But it’s also fair to ask –-- as many have --- if this defensive staff is using the players correctly. We posed that question to an NFL evaluator and others inside and around the program, with two former players/media members also weighing in. Some concerns raised:
### One NFL personnel man who has evaluated UM prospects this year and in the past said the defensive players are underachieving and blames coaching to an extent.
“I don’t think kids respond to them as much you would like; I don’t think players develop as much as you would like,” the official said. “Their kids [on defense] play hesitant. Something is not right with communication, because they don’t seem to learn” to correct mistakes.
### Several, including the NFL evaluator, wonder why UM plays this much 3-4 defense, especially against teams that run the ball as well as Nebraska. (UM also plays some 4-3, of course.)
One said instead of playing with three-man fronts and Tyriq McCord, who seems lighter than his listed 248 pounds, as the rush-end/outside linebacker against Nebraska, it would have made more sense to primarily play a big front of Anthony Chickillo and 295-pound Ufomba Kamalu at end, with Olsen Pierre, Calvin Heurtelou and Courtel Jenkins sharing the two tackle spots.
“Tyriq has no business being asked to put his hand in the ground [at times],” said one person very close to the program. “He’s too light in the butt. He’s a weak-side linebacker. If they can’t see what the kids are, they will never be any good.”
Asked how McCord is doing against the run, D’Onofrio said: “Everybody has something they have to improve on, starting with me.”
So against physical teams with power running games, why not play Kamalu more at end instead of McCord to give UM a bigger 4-3 front? D’Onofrio said “that would require guys to learn additional techniques” and he believes he’s already asking them to do enough.
One evaluator who has watched UM a lot said: “If you don’t have linebackers to scrape and fill, you might as well play a 4-3 and start neutralizing the offensive line.”
Former NFL cornerback and WQAM analyst Duane Starks said: D’Onofrio “doesn’t have the guys to accomplish the defense he wants to accomplish. I blame coaches for some of the scheme.”
### The NFL personnel man said UM plays its safeties too deep, including against Nebraska. McNeese State crowded the box against Nebraska much more than Miami did.
And though McNeese allowed more passing yards than Miami did, it also relinquished fewer points and fewer yards overall. UM safeties were sometimes lined up 12 yards past the line of scrimmage.
“We got four people on the ball against six,” former UM running back Clinton Portis tweeted during Saturday’s game. “And our defensive backs are playing 10 yards off. I don’t know what we are taking away.”
Asked why his safeties play so deep, D’Onofrio said Tuesday: "Generally we probably pressured 60 percent of the time, which means if we do that we only have one safety deep if we're doing that. There's no crystal ball. Is it a run down, is it a pass down? What's the situation?
“But we had defenders down to stop the run. We had somebody assigned, somebody accounted for, the free player a lot of the time. And a lot of the times we just came up short. I'll take the responsibility for that and continue to try to coach the guys up so that we can execute better. But as far as run philosophy and them running the ball, we had numbers where we needed to have numbers. We just didn't have execution."
### One staffer who has worked with D’Onofrio at UM said his system is too complicated for some players.
One example: Because the defensive ends are sometimes asked to switch sides during a game, they must study the offensive linemen on both sides, not just one. “That’s too much to ask of college students,” one source said, adding it doesn’t even help that much.
### Another question raised is whether this system makes players think too much. In this defense, “you have to do more than just your assignment,” Starks said. As a result, “we’re getting slow reaction.”
Said the NFL evaluator: “Too much read and react. Kids are scared to make mistakes, and they play tight, looking over their shoulders.”
### UM defensive linemen sometimes are asked to move around before plays, which at times has led to confusion and open lanes. D’Onofrio said he does it so the opponent doesn’t know where the fourth rusher is coming.
But “if you are trying to run these lazy stunts, it’s not going to get it done when you don’t have that great defensive line,” Starks said. “We’re missing guys that can beat his guy one on one.”
### Cornerbacks giving up too much space. UM insists it is playing a lot of man defense, more than D’Onofrio’s first season.
Many (not all) of these defensive backs are more comfortable playing press man than zone, but suggestions from defensive players aren’t welcomed, one player said.
One problem is that UM’s most highly-recruited cornerback, Tracy Howard, doesn’t have enough speed to recover if he plays too tightly on a receiver and is beaten initially, one UM person said.
Starks wonders: “What is the purpose [of this defense]? Beats me. With every defense I played, there was a purpose. There is a lot of BS going on and it has to be fixed. That scheme has to change.”
### With Ryan Tannehill taking all the first team snaps at quarterback on Tuesday, Joe Philbin’s refusal to name him the starter against Oakland elicited chuckles and puzzled looks from players, who aren't sure why the coach is doing that.
Meanwhile, some respected voices are criticizing Philbin's handling of this. Here's what three of them had to say tonight on NBCSN's Pro Football Talk:
NBC analyst Tony Dungy: “I don’t think it’s good for Ryan Tannehill or the Miami Dolphins. One of the first lessons I ever learned as an assistant coach working for Chuck Noll, and then Bill Walsh and Dennis Green, is that you don’t start a quarterback controversy…you’re telling everyone, ‘I’m not sure I believe in Ryan Tannehill.’”
PFT analyst Jason Taylor: “It’s kind of a head-scratcher to me. If you’re going to make the change, then make the change. It’s Week 3 – I don’t think that change is warranted yet…you’re playing with a rookie right tackle, a backup center…if you’re going to try and put some doubt in the Raiders’ mind? Who cares what the Raiders think. Know who your quarterback is, and if it’s Ryan Tannehill, show him that support so he can continue to grow. Don’t put that doubt in the back of his mind.”
PFT analyst Ross Tucker: “This is garbage to me…there are only a couple possibilities here, and none of them are good. This is Joe Philbin outthinking himself. He’s trying to get creative…if you need to do this to try and beat the Raiders, are you really going anywhere this year?...if he’s doing this to motivate Ryan Tannehill, he’s not the guy anyway.”
By the way, Taylor watched this past Sunday's game in Stephen Ross' suite, and Ross also respects Dungy. And remember, Ross last November named Dungy and Taylor to a locker-room conduct committee that never ended up meeting. So their opinions probably will carry weight with Ross.
### By the way, Tannehill's deep ball numbers have actually gotten worse from last season: He's 1 for 9 on balls thrown 20 yards or more (for 22 yards). Only Eli Manning and Tom Brady have a worse percentage. And now, he's also having issues on shorter routes too, of course.
### Philbin, angered about Brian Hartline’s “golf club” excessive celebration penalty, told players Tuesday that something like that simply cannot happen. Several players blasted the call.
### The Dolphins and former Oregon star running back LaMichael James, who requested his release from the 49ers earlier this month, tabled discussions for now because Lamar Miller had a big game and they believe Knowshon Moreno’s return isn’t too far off.
Moreno is targeting the Oct. 12 Green Bay game, after the bye. The Dolphins and James had mutual interest last week, but neither side considers it the best fit at the moment, though Miami still likes him.
### The Dolphins released former UM receiver Tommy Streeter from the practice squad to make room for Marcus Thigpen, who said he was happy to return but admitted it felt "weird" to be on the practice squad.
### Though Mike Pouncey has targeted Sunday's game for a return, Samson Satale took first-team center snaps Tuesday. Philbin said he's not sure if Pouncey would start his first game back, whether it's Sunday or after the bye.
### Marlins pitcher Nathan Eovaldi seems mystified and somewhat mortified by his regression this season, which has solidified his position as the pitcher with the worst all-time winning percentage with a minimum of 75 starts (.306).
"It's frustrating because I know how good my stuff is," he said. "I don't know why I've struggled. We have been trying to figure it out."
Though the Marlins expected far more from him after Jose Fernandez's surgery, they don't sound ready to give up on him, either.
Please follow me on Twitter (@flasportsbuzz), where I link to posts immediately.