The Dolphins have a tight end problem, one that isn’t particularly surprising on defense, but one they never saw coming on offense.
It was clear for all to see last Sunday against Philadelphia, when Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek found vast open territory and rumbled for 60 yards on one busted coverage early in the game and 134 yards overall.
Meanwhile, on offense, the Dolphins yet again failed to maximize the downfield receiving skills that Jordan Cameron displayed during a Pro Bowl season for Cleveland two years ago and again when he averaged 18 yards per catch last season.
Miami’s tight end issues, especially defensively, cause some level of anxiety this week, with Dallas’ Jason Witten – a 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro – visiting on Sunday.
Considering their difficulties in recent years, it isn’t surprising that the Dolphins rank in the bottom five of the league in defensive metrics against tight ends.
What is surprising is how little impact Dolphins tight ends have made in the passing game.
The Dolphins expected the combination of Cameron and Dion Sims would be one of their greatest strengths.
And while Sims remains a very good blocker – and Cameron has improved in that area – their impact in the passing game has been modest. That’s partly the result of lack of opportunities (more so, in Sims’ case) but also the byproduct of poor chemistry between Ryan Tannehill and Cameron.
Cameron, who caught 80 passes for 917 yards for Cleveland two years ago, is on pace for 37 for 476 yards. He ranks 26th among tight ends in catches and caught one pass for five yards in each of the past two games.
And this is troubling: Cameron is catching a lower percentage of his targets (44.7 percent, 21 for 47) than any other tight end in the league with a minimum of 30 targets.
Only two players --- receivers Ted Ginn Jr. (Carolina) and Brandon LaFell (New England) --- have a lower completion percentage on targets than Cameron.
Sims, who had 24 catches for 284 yards last season (11.8), has only eight for 53 (6.6 average) and has been targeted sparingly in five games since returning from a concussion in the opener. Campbell implied Sims should have made a touchdown catch on Miami’s final play of the first half against Buffalo two weeks ago.
Campbell said a week ago that he wanted the tight ends more involved in the passing game. But they were thrown a combined four passes against Philadelphia, with two catches for 13 yards.
So why aren’t the tight ends more of a factor in the passing game?
“No idea,” Sims said. “They need us to help out the tackles [in pass protection]. They’re asking a lot from us for that. I’m accepting my role in this offense and being patient. Jordan has accepted his role. We all know what Jordan can do. He’s a great receiver. We’re giving teams different looks.”
Defensively, the Dolphins have allowed 581 receiving yards by opposing tight ends. Only five teams have allowed more. And tight end receptions against the Dolphins have averaged 13.5 yards per catch; only Jacksonville, at 13.6, is worse.
Celek had only seven receptions for 71 yards all season before steamrolling through Miami’s defense for 134 yards on four receptions.
And on Sunday, the Dolphins face Witten, who’s tied for the league lead in tight ends receptions with New England’s Rob Gronkowski (49) and is eighth in yards (445). Keep in mind that Witten has put up those numbers playing with backup quarterbacks the past seven weeks.
Tony Romo returns for Dallas on Sunday, and Romo and Witten have combined on more career completions (646) than any quarterback/tight end combination since 1991.
The Dolphins have assigned tight end coverage to both linebackers (Kelvin Sheppard, Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins) and safeties (Reshad Jones, Walt Aikens, Michael Thomas), with mixed results and too many communication breakdowns. Of that group, Jones is probably best-equipped for the job.
### A worthy event for charity: The Lamar Miller Celebrity Charity Bowling Classic will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday at Strike 10 Bowling Lanes in Gulfstream Park. Current and former Dolphins and UM players will attend, with proceeds benefitting the Children's Home Society of Florida, a non-profit organization that fosters and supports abused and neglected kids.
Though Texas coach Charlie Strong indicated he's irritated by rumors linking him to Miami, he did not say that he is not interested in the job when given the opportunity tonight. "It's all rumors. We're here to build a program," he said. "I have an unbelievable job here."
UM believes Strong is interested in the job, and UM has interest in him if he and Texas part ways after the Longhorns' regular-season finale on Dec. 5.
### The biggest recruiting day of the Jim Larranaga era resulted in UM surging into the top 10 for Class of 2016 rankings among all major recruiting services.
ESPN put Miami 10th, behind Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, UCLA, Connecticut, Mississippi State, FSU and Virginia.
Norland 6-9 power forward Dewan Huell - who picked UM over FSU, South Carolina, UF, Kansas, Louisville and others – is ranked the 21st best 2016 prospect by ESPN and 23rd by rivals.
Massachusetts-based 6-4 shooting guard Bruce Brown --- who picked UM over Indiana, UConn, Texas, Georgia and others --- is rated 30th by ESPN, 49th by Rivals.
Here’s how ESPN recruiting analysts assessed them:
ESPN’s Reggie Rankin, on Huell: “Huell is a true power forward possessing excellent size and skill along with terrific athleticism. He runs the floor extremely well where he does a great job of beating opposing front line players down the floor for easy baskets.
"He can post-up on either side of the lane and loves to score over his left shoulder. He faces up to about 18 feet and is very good knocking down the baseline short corner jumper or attacking with a short, straight line drive. Huell does a good job on the glass as well.
“The Hurricanes lose a pair of front court players in center Tonye Jekiri and power forward Ivan Cruz Uceda so the minutes will be available for Huell to team up with center Ebuka Izundu and fellow freshmen big Rodney Miller to form a rock solid future front court for Miami.”
ESPN’s Adam Finkelstein on Brown: “He’s a college-ready defender who can both contain high-level scorers and also harass the ball. While he was mostly just an athlete early in his career, Brown’s skill set has evolved at a consistent rate over the course of the last three years.
"His best offense still comes off the bounce, but he’s actually become a good post-up guard as well and developed himself into a solid secondary ball-handler and capable shooter who has to be respected both off the catch and dribble. He’s also uniquely qualified to make an immediate impact, even in the ACC. He’s a year older than most high school seniors and has extensive experience playing against the highest levels of competition with three years in both the New England prep ranks as well as the Nike EYBL…. There is substantial opportunity for Brown to play right away, potentially both on and off the ball.”
Finkelstein said Brown “has some similarities to current Celtics guard and former Texas product Avery Bradley at a similar stage. Like Bradley, Brown is a lockdown defender with a high motor.”
### UM’s 2016 class also includes the aforementioned Miller, a 6-11 Virginia-based center who’s rated 114th by rivals.com. He picked Miami over UF, Georgia Tech, Virginia and others.
UM, which has two more 2016 scholarships, has a fourth player who will be eligible next season: shooting guard Rashad Muhammad, the leading scorer last season on a San Jose State team that went winless against every Division 1 team it played.