DOLPHINS, CANES BUZZ
In the NFL, nobody ever worries about backup offensive linemen becoming malcontents if they don’t play. But it’s a more common concern when your team has a handful of talented, headstrong receivers, a position where the word “diva” has been introduced into the NFL lexicon.
Everyone knows that was a problem for last year’s Dolphins, with four receivers (excluding Jarvis Landry) all brooding at various times. The Dolphins hope it will be a non-issue now, provided Rishard Matthews and Kenny Stills stay in line, as they have so far this season.
This remains a delicate issue, because offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and receivers coach Ken O’Keefe again have the tricky task of allocating snaps to five receivers who all believe they should be playing and because Lazor has said keeping the receivers happy isn’t a particular concern of his.
This is precisely where the Dolphins’ offseason objective to import the “right guys” and more Joe Philbin “guys” factors in.
Greg Jennings, who was in Green Bay when Philbin was offensive coordinator there, is the poster child for this. Philbin admitted he wishes Miami signed Jennings earlier in his tenure here “because he knows what makes me tick, understands what I’m all about, and I know him. You’ve got to have your kind of guys. In the locker-room, maybe he can communicate some things to another player about the rationale behind some of the things I do. And he's been with me when I've had a lot of success.”
Jennings’ value, even beyond his on-field contributions, is three-fold: He’s not going to complain about playing time, even though he knows he likely will play far less than the 86 percent of offensive snaps he logged in Minnesota last season. He played 68 percent against Washington, even with DeVante Parker getting just one snap.
Secondly, Jennings says he can convey this message that obviously was lost on too many of Miami’s receivers last season: “You have to become selfless,” Jennings said. “That’s one of our focal points we talked about. If you’re not selfless, you’re not willing to take a step back for the greater good of the team. If you can’t see the team before you see yourself, you’re really in the wrong profession.
“Guys are going to have individual success. It may not be every single week. We want to make sure you don’t have a lapse so you’re thinking about what hasn’t happened."
And most importantly, Philbin now has a player who can give him a sense of locker-room dynamics (Philbin could have used that during Bullygate) and tell the coach what he needs to do differently.
The best coaches have those players --- Bill Parcells’ had a long list of “Parcells guys” who told him what was going on in his locker-room --- and Philbin didn’t have enough of them for three years here. Philbin talked about that subject with his coaching friends this past offseason, “about how to build a roster the right way. It has been a positive move.”
Jennings says Philbin is leaning on him to gauge the pulse of the team, but Jennings made clear to teammates that they can trust him. It can be a difficult balancing act, but Jennings – smart and selfless and respected – is well-equipped.
“I shared with the team that I’m one of those guys that I have everyone’s best interest at heart,” Jennings said. “I want them to do well. I know the pulse of the locker-room. I’m not a snitch. I’m not a tattle tale.
“I want [Philbin] to understand the guys in this locker-room have a huge voice and if that voice is not heard, they will begin to shut down on a coach. To be a successful coach, there has to be a two-way street. He has always been a two-way coach.”
But Philbin is more of one now than he ever had been here, mostly reflected in his increased interaction with his players on a personal level.
Philbin told his team at the start of camp that he will fine players only one-10th of what's permitted for first-time offenses because some players thought he was too punitive in past years. The upshot, Philbin said, has been fewer first-time offenses.
“Player discipline has been really good,” he said. “I made the point, 'It's not about being punitive and collecting a bunch of money.’… Now if there's a repeat mistake, like if you blow a coverage twice in a row, that's a problem. If you make the same mistake twice in a row from a team discipline standpoint, that's not good.”
Philbin said Jennings isn’t his only locker-room messenger. He cited Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, Reshad Jones, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, Mike Pouncey and John Denney. “They’ve been with us for years, grown up in the program and I have a lot of faith in them.”
Pouncey, in fact, has become one of Philbin’s biggest public supporters, telling Jacksonville media this week that “he’s the right fit for this team, a players’ kind of guy. I hope his fate doesn’t depend on whether we win or lose.”
As for the receiver issues, Stills played only 40 percent of the snaps Sunday despite Parker’s inactivity. “I’ve got to be OK with [not starting],” said Stills, who played 54 percent for the Saints last season. “I don’t have any other choice."
Tannehill suggested the Dolphins can’t be pre-occupied with keeping receivers happy with their touches. That could become more of an issue Sunday with Parker coming off a good week of practice. He said Friday he’s back to where he was before foot surgery in June.
“The guys we have right now are unselfish and realize that we’re going to try and move the ball around as much as we can, but we’re here to win,” Tannehill said. “As long as we’re getting wins, it doesn’t really matter who has how many catches.”
Lazor said: “Some days, some guys are going to be disappointed [with touches]. Some days, I’m going to be disappointed, too. But that’s part of what we live with in this business and, if everyone keeps the team first, then the other parts will work themselves out.”
### How has Ndamukong Suh’s presence affected how teams play Miami? One example: Olivier Vernon, who said he was double-teamed more than half the time last year, said he wasn’t doubled at all in 30 snaps Sunday before an ankle injury. That should, theoretically, help the impending free agent get to the quarterback more after his sack total dropped from 11.5 to 6.5 last year. But Warren Sapp told Vernon it’s pointless to set sack goals.
Thoughts from UM's 36-33 overtime win against Nebraska:
### More relief than joy after this one, with UM somehow squandered a 33-10 lead in the final nine-plus minutes before surviving in overtime after a Corn Elder interception and a Michael Badgley 28-yard field goal to win it.
So how did this epic collapse happen in the fourth? Poor execution in the red zone (including a pick from Brad Kaaya), too many penalties (including one late one against Al Golden) and dreadful pass defense late (Nebraska's Tommie Armstrong threw for 183 yards in the fourth quarter alone).
Golden, on WQAM, also said "the attacking mindset is what got us in trouble. If I had one call to take back, it would be that call, 3rd and 6 on the goal line. I said to James [Coley], Trust Brad [Kaaya].' What I initially said was let's drive it in there and then we threw an interception. That's the one that got them going."
In retrospect, UM should have tried to run clock by running the ball more earlier in the fourth.
Dallas Crawford said there was another factor in play: "We got a little lazy."
Crawford said before overtime, he told teammates: "No reason to get flustered, no reason to panic."
### Golden, afterward: "Lot of things that need to be fixed. What doesn't need to be fixed is our unity and how far we've come as a team. [Sunday] is for corrections. Today is for celebrating, beating a traditional power regardless of how you do it. We were one play better than them."
### Especially disturbing is how we keep seeing the same problems repeat themselves.
Golden vowed UM would become a more disciplined, less-penalized team. Instead, Miami committed 13 penalties for 114 yards, two against the bench (for which Golden is ultimately accountable).
"At the end of the day, I'm responsible for the penalties," Golden said.
The targeting penalties against Deon Bush and Jamal Carter were questionable but ultimately costly. Both players will be required to sit out the first half of the Oct. 1 Cincinnati game unless the ACC overturns them.
"We're going to be down two safeties in the first half next week and it's a shame because that's two kids who have been making big plays and big tackles for us for three years without penalties," Golden said. "We don't teach it. They didn't want to do it."
### Even though Badgley was 5 for 5 on field goals, I can't blame Golden for not kicking a field goal sooner in overtime for this reason: Badgley missed four extra points last season and is far from reliable on short distances.
### Elder wasn't perfect (he was beaten for a touchdown) but he's exactly the type of dynamic playmaker UM needs more of, both as a returner and in coverage. He's usually around the ball and his pick on the first play of overtime was the play of the game.
"Man, he's just making plays; I'm really proud of him," Golden said.
### Kaaya set a career high with 379 passing yards, topping the 359 he threw against Nebraska last year. His final numbers: 25 for 42, with two touchdowns and the one interception.
Kaaya, on WQAM afterward: "We thought we could have won by more. This team keeps on fighting. In overtime, I didn't see a single guy frown or shrug his shoulders."
### James Coley told me he would add a few wrinkles to this revamped UM offense every game, and we saw a few today: more deep throws, more use of the tight ends (especially Chris Herndon and David Njoku, whose two catches were his first as a Cane) and targets for improved receiver Tyre Brady (2 catches, 45 yards). Herndon caught three for 32 yards, Njoku two for 32.
### Joe Yearby was terrific (15 carries, 116 yards), though he came up short late, forcing a Miami punt before Nebraska's tying touchdown in the final minute. "Got to keep feeding him," Kaaya said.... Golden: "He's very reliable against a good front seven." He's also averaging nearly 8 yards per carry this season.
### Rashawn Scott (9 catches, 151 yards) already has 273 receiving yards in three games --- a splendid start to his senior season after playing three games over the past two years.
"Rashawn made a brilliant catch on the sidelines," Golden said. "Made a hell of a block, too." And don't overlook Herb Waters, who is UM's best deep threat. He caught four for 82.
### Two Miami touchdowns, both by Mark Walton, were wiped out by holding penalties: one against Sunny Odugwu and the other against Standish Dobard. KC McDermott got some playing time at right tackle in place of Odogwu.
### Al Quadin Muhammad had perhaps his best game as a Hurricane and Tyriq McCord was in the defensive backfield a lot. But Miami's pass rush disappeared in the final nine minutes, even though UM rushed five at times.
### With Darrion Owens already out for the year, UM's already shaky linebacker depth took another hit with Jermaine Grace leaving with an apparent shoulder injury. Juwon Young and Marques Gayot delivered uneven performances in their absence.
### Why did UM sit on the ball with 23 seconds left in regulation, content to go into overtime? Golden cited the fact UM had no timeouts left.
### Final yards total: UM 511, Nebraska 462. Miami allowed 153 on the ground, including 4.8 per carry.... Artie Burns, Bush and Elder had Miami's INTs. Burns already has three this season.
### After nearing an agreement, UM said Central Florida decided not to sign off on a proposed football series, thus leaving UM looking to fill one 2016 opening.
UM --- which has booked FIU and FAU --- has no plans to play USF. UF said discussions remain alive on a neutral site game against UM, presumably in Orlando.
GOLDEN'S FULL POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE, FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN READING OR DISSECTING THIS
On the feeling on the sideline in the fourth quarter as the team’s lead slipped away…
“We kept fighting. Obviously [Tommy] Armstrong was making some plays, and they got some plays downfield and we were short a couple safeties and [Jermaine] Grace. Some guys stepped in. [It was a] great look on the sideline when it did go to overtime - nobody panicked, leaders led and everybody else just stayed together. I’m proud of the way we finished. Obviously we have some things we have to correct. But I just told the guys, ‘You’re 3-0, you just beat a good team.’ A team that’s won nine games for each of the last nine years, I think. It was a good win. We have a lot to learn from, and we’ll move on this week.”
On how to balance a sizable lead with an offensive mentality, whether attacking or protective …
“I think the attacking mindset is what got us in trouble. 3rd & 6 [interception by Brad Kaaya], if I could have one back I would have that one. I would have just said to James [Coley], ‘just bury it in there and let’s kick a field goal.’ Because I think we could have gone up by 23 or 24 at that point, and then we had that interception. That’s on me. The next time down, I wanted to kick it again, go up by more than three scores and they converted their two-point conversions.
“I thought Rashawn [Scott] played really hard, I thought he made a great catch there at the end and it didn’t go our way. We did have some aggressive plays that didn’t go our way, and they made some plays. At the end of the day, we won and I’m really pleased with our guys for fighting the way they fought.”
On the amount of penalties incurred by the team…
“How many did we end up with? 12. And then the personal fouls…[we had] guys ejected, we have to take care of that. We’ll get it cleaned up.”
On whether he thought the two ejections on targeting calls were justified…
“I didn’t see the replay on either one of them, but they really take their time on those upstairs. They usually get those right. That’s one instance that they usually get right. I’m disappointed for those two kids, because I’ve never seen either one of those guys get called for targeting. Uncharacteristic on their part, but I know we don’t teach it, and I haven’t seen those guys do it, so I’m disappointed that it happened.”
On the play of the Miami safeties…
“They played hard. There’s no question about it. Our reps ended up getting high in the second half on defense – we needed to convert better on offense and obviously [in the] red zone. We had two penalties that stopped us, then a penalty that took seven off the board and then the interception. Any combination of those, and we’re not having that discussion at the end…or if I had protected the 3rd and 6 that we ended up throwing an interception.”
On the offensive performance on third down…
“We just have to improve. At the end of the day, we have to improve. We weren’t good enough here today. When we needed to run it, we weren’t good enough. We have to keep throwing and catching, and practicing. That’s one part of our game we have to continue to focus on here in the next week.”
On Corn Elder’s interception in overtime…
“He’s a super athlete. That play that he made, he opened his hips completely and caught the ball. He has great hand-eye coordination. He’s just a great kid. All those kids fought. Give Nebraska credit for the way they played, but give our kids a lot of credit for fighting, scratching, clawing, staying together, having poise and finishing it in overtime.”
On the decision to knee the ball with less than a minute remaining in regulation…
“I had no timeouts. I thought about it, but I’d rather go down there at home and go into the end zone and go play football. We ended up being right. But you have to make those decisions. I think there were 33 seconds [left]. I thought about it, and said, ‘No, James. Just sit on it. We’ll be fine.’ We trust our guys, we have leaders, and they said, ‘We’re good.’ I just didn’t have any timeouts. Now we‘re throwing the ball vertically and risking a sack-fumble. It wasn’t worth it.
On sophomore kicker Michael Badgley, who had five field goals…
“He works hard. He’s got bad hair, but he works his ass off. He’s tough. I can see him being focused at the end, he’s just going to strike it. The ball has been jumping for him lately, he’s been really working hard. I thought the protection was good on the unit tonight, thought the operation was good. You need to have that for him to be confident. Tomorrow is a day we talk about not getting touchdowns in the red zone. Tonight we celebrate what we did in the end zone, and that’s obviously what Badgley did.”
On the play of senior wide receiver Rashawn Scott…
“Him, [David] Njoku, [Chris] Herndon, Herb [Waters]…we made some plays, and obviously Mark Walton had a run that was called back, Walton had a flare pass that was called back. I thought we had the catch there. We left a couple plays out there and any one of those would have been the difference in the game in regulation. David did a nice job today. That was really good for those guys, to get in there and do that.”
On what he told the team heading into overtime…
“I said, ‘Nothing-nothing, and we’re at home.’ That’s what I said. ‘Nothing-nothing, and we’re at home. Don’t worry about it.’ Everybody was relaxed, I looked over and the whole offense was on the field, out though the numbers. I think they wanted the ball. We elected to go on defense, and obviously it turned out in our favor. It gets hairy down there, whether to try and punch it in or just center it. But it just felt like centering was the best probability there, and obviously Badgley nailed it.”
On if coaches noticed the Nebraska safeties playing deep during film study leading into the game…
“We did. When we had the lead, they started going man [coverage] and we had some chances to beat them in man and make the play that would have ended it. Unfortunately Mark’s [Walton] tD got called back, and Mark’s run too. We had them in man, and we had them sifting back and we creased it - when you crease man-to-man, you’re going to take it to the house. Both of those pkays were unfortunate because I don’t think they wouldn’t have enough time to come back, if that was the case. Early in the game, we were hitting them underneath and we need to convert in the red zone. Simple as that.”
On what the difference was for the Nebraska offense in the fourth quarter…
“That guy…give so much credit to [Tommy] Armstrong. He just played all over the place. He got out of the pocket, was 10-15 yards deep sometimes, ran around and just made plays. On a couple of third down-and-longs, we didn’t get off the field. Any one of those could be the margin in the game. We had them 3rd and 13, I believe, and he scrambled to the near sideline…the stamina, endurance he had, the mental toughness. I’m giving him credit. Yes, there are things we have to fix, but give that kid a lot of credit. He’s a warrior.”