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Dolphins face tough choices at deep positions; Barkley on Heat, Wade; UM rising

Coaches say a team can never have too much talent, that having to make tough choices because of enviable depth is a good problem to have.

The Dolphins can say that about two positions this season --- receiver and defensive line --- and that has forced some difficult decisions about playing time.

At least a couple of Dolphins aren’t happy about their snap counts. But to their credit, none have complained publicly about it.

Here’s how the Dolphins have dealt with playing time decisions at their two deepest spots:

### Receiver: Challenges have been created by the desire to incorporate rookie Jarvis Landry, who has impressed everyone.

Landry has caught 79.2 percent of the passes thrown to him (42 of 53). That’s the second-highest percentage in the league among players with at least 40 receptions, behind only New Orleans rookie Brandin Cooks, who caught 81.5 percent before being placed on injured reserve this week.

Landry is playing on 59 percent of Miami’s offensive snaps, behind Brian Hartline (83.5) and Mike Wallace (76.1) but well ahead of Brandon Gibson (41) and Rishard Matthews (22.8).

But as far as targets go, Wallace has by far the most (75), ranking 24th in the league, and Landry is second with 53, ranking 53rd.

Hartline’s targets are way down, to 47, ranking 62nd. (He had 127 last season.) Gibson has been targeted 20 times and Matthews just 12.

Sensitive to the fact the other receivers need to play, Wallace said: “If I need a breather, I try not to have one play out and run back in because I know the depth of guys we have and we can trust anyone we have. I try to take maybe two plays off at the least. It’s tough on guys.”

Gibson, who sits next to Landry in the Dolphins locker-room, has seen his involvement diminish mostly because of Landry’s emergence.

But Gibson hasn’t complained: “You come to work every day and take advantage of your opportunities. That’s all you can do.”

Said Matthews: “It definitely takes sacrifice” among the receivers. “It’s knowing your role and being positive.”

### Defensive line: Among ends, Olivier Vernon has played 79.8 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps, Cameron Wake 74.9 percent and Derrick Shelby (who missed one game because of suspension) 38.8 percent.

Dion Jordan has averaged 24.8 snaps in his four games since returning from suspension, compared with 28.7 snaps per game this season for Shelby, 49.9 for Wake and 52.3 for Vernon.

Getting Jordan enough playing time remains a challenge, but the Dolphins don’t feel pressure to get him on the field more, despite his lofty draft status (third overall in 2013). And Jordan said he’s fine with whatever playing time he is given.

Among tackles, Randy Starks’ snaps have plummeted from 46.4 per game last season to 34.4 this season. 

“The good thing is you’ll be rested for the playoffs,” Starks said Thursday. “But it’s bad because it’s harder to get in rhythm and your production goes down.”

Because he’s not playing much on third down, “I’ve turned into a run-stopper, I guess.”

Jared Odrick has played the most among the tackles (79.4 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps), compared with 48.6 percent for Mitchell and 46.5 percent for Starks.

Joe Philbin explained Odrick has received the most snaps among the tackles “because he has good enough size to handle the run snaps on first and second down [and] he’s got enough athleticism and pass-rush ability to contribute on third down. He’s a real three-down player.”

After the Detroit game, Pro Football Focus noted Mitchell “would be an every down player on most other rosters” but “is forced to split time in Miami” because of the team’s “embarrassment of riches along the defensive line.”

Mitchell, who hasn’t missed a tackle all season, says that’s fine with him. “I’m playing the right amount of snaps,” he said, adding that he might not feel as fresh if he played much more than 30 per game.

Because of their depth along the line, the Dolphins have given only 67 defensive snaps to Terrence Fede, 60 to Anthony Johnson and 43 to Chris McCain --- three rookies they believe have strong upside. That’s in spite of the fact Starks and Shelby have each missed a game and despite Jordan missing six games because of suspension.

So how exactly do the Dolphins coaches determine snap counts? Philbin said Thursday that coaches have a “targeted number” for each player but they are adjusted during the game “if some guy’s hot and the other guy is not so hot.”

And there are other factors that cannot be planned for.

“We’ve had games where we’ve played 51 snaps on defense, so it’s not an exact science by any stretch,” Philbin said. “But we try to give it some thought, use common sense, see if we can get guys in the game who earned the right to play.” 

### Charles Clay, who now has a hamstring injury as well as persistent issues with his knee, is a toss-up to play Sunday. Cortland Finnegan didn’t practice, suggesting he’s likely not going to play Sunday.

HOOPS NOTES

The Heat is down big to the Clippers at the time of this posting, which is the second pounding the Heat took on TNT tonight.

Here was Charles Barkley, before tipoff: “I didn’t think they were gonna be good. Some of the fools on TV are saying when [Dwyane] Wade gets healthy. He’s not gonna get healthy. Old people don’t get healthy. They die. This notion that older people will get healthy is stupid.”

Then Barkley couldn’t seem to make up his mind what to think about the Heat. First he called them “a mediocre team.” Then he said “they are a good, solid team.” OK then.  

Then at halftime, with the Heat down, 58-40, Barkley offered this: "The Heat is not very good.... [The Clippers] are playing against an inferior team. This does not impress the Chuckster."

Said TNT’s Kenny Smith: “I thought they would be better. They have a lot of talent.”

### The Heat's 24-point deficit after a quarter tonight (39-15) is the largest in franchise history, according to TNT... Wade is missing a fourth straight game with a hamstring injury.

### Another strong effort by UM hoops today, with Miami improving to 3-0 with a 66-46 thumping of Drexel in the first round of a tournament in Charleston, S.C.

Angel Rodriguez, the hero of Monday’s win at UF, scored 10 straight points in a 28-11 second-half run and closed with 15. Manu Lecomte scored a career-high 15 and Tonye Jekiri had a career-high 13 boards.

UM advances to play Akron at 2:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU and WQAM).

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

 

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