Saturday, March 1, 2014

I'm retired again

I know, I suck.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Season in Review: Running Backs

Over the next month, I'll be reviewing each position's performance for the Dolphins during the 2013 season, noting the good and the bad play and looking ahead at where the position stands for the 2014 season and beyond. Check out the archives for past entries in the series.

Relevant 2013 Ranks:
Points/game: 19.8 (26th)
RB rushing yards/game: 72.1 (29th)
RB rush yards/carry: 3.9 (24th)
RB rush touchdowns: 6 (t-27th)
RB receiving yards/game: 21.1 (32nd)
RB fumbles lost: 1 (t-2nd)

Many Dolphins fans have bemoaned the departure of Reggie Bush in free agency, and the reality is that neither of the Dolphins' two primary backs from 2013 can touch Bush in the talent department. That being said, I have little issue with letting Bush walk and even less of an issue with Lamar Miller.

Granted, the guy could be a little more physical. (Reggie Bush, often regarded as fail and injury-prone, proved just how physical a guy his size can be in Miami.) But Miller has plenty of talent to play in this league and would, in my opinion, be quite productive on a good team.

Starting all but one game for the Dolphins this past season, Miller rushed for 709 yards on a 4.0 average that I'd consider quite reasonable given how bad the line was. The blocking, as noted over and over again, was atrocious and the departure of Richie Incognito due to midseason controversy certainly hurt no one more than Miller.

Meanwhile, Daniel Thomas led the team with four rushing scores (doubling Miller's two) and while he didn't fumble once (a career first) he simply doesn't seem to have good instincts for the position. On the plus side, his yards per carry mark has improved by a tenth of a yard each of his three seasons (up to 3.7 in 2013) so he should be an elite back in maybe a decade or so...

Marcus Thigpen maintained the third back job, thanks in large part to his role as the team's return specialist. He's a decent receiver out of the backfield but has very little upside and I would have liked to have seen a little more of rookie fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee (6 carries in 3 games). Of course, not playing his rookies has been par for the course under Joe Philbin.

The Dolphins went into 2013 without a plan at fullback and ended up using Michael Egnew in that role for much of the season. Although that isn't what you want out a third-round tight end, Egnew displayed slightly above-average blocking skills.

2014 Outlook

The Dolphins' entire backfield is under contract for 2014 (Thomas is entering the final year of his contract), but that doesn't mean changes aren't coming. Thomas is no lock to even make the team after three disappointing seasons and bringing in competition or a complement for Miller is certainly within reason.

I would hope the Dolphins don't overspend on a free-agent back like Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno or Darren McFadden. Not that I particularly dislike all those players, but running back is an easy position to fill because a good line and a good quarterback make it easy to have a running game and that means it's best to have draft pick money at the position.

That being the case, I'd be fully on board with taking a back in the middle rounds of the draft to pair with Miller in 2014. Someone like Terrance West (Towson) or Devonta Freeman (Florida State)

In general, I'm not overly concerned with who the Dolphins trot out at running back in 2014, because I know that the bigger issues are the line and quarterback. Lamar Miller might not look like LeSean McCoy, but he's more than capable of being a productive starter with good talent around him.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Season in Review: Receivers & Tight Ends

Over the next month, I'll be reviewing each position's performance for the Dolphins during the 2013 season, noting the good and the bad play and looking ahead at where the position stands for the 2014 season and beyond. Check out the archives for past entries in the series.

Relevant 2013 Ranks:
Passer rating: 80.1 (21st)
WR receiving yards: 2,783 (15th)
WR receiving TDs: 14 (t-16th)
TE receiving yards: 846 (15th)
TE receiving TDs: 6 (t-18th)

Looking at the above ranks, that's certainly not what you want to see from your receiving corps coming out of an offseason in which you spent just over $100 million total on your top three options at the position.

Granted, the receiver numbers are not all the fault of those players. The team's pass protection issues were well-documented in 2013 and obviously hindered the entire offense, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill still have a lot of work to do as well and didn't help matters with his inability to complete the deep ball.

Still, it's fair to be disappointed with the group considering the money Mike Wallace got in free agency this offseason. He was clearly overpaid due to the Dolphins' need at the position and is too one-dimensional to be a true No. 1 receiver, but his production (73 catches, 930 yards, 5 TDs) would have been much greater if Mike Sherman had utilized his strengths properly and if Tannehill had connected on half of his overthrown deep passes, you're certainly looking at Pro Bowl numbers for Wallace.

While he'll never be confused with a superstar, Brian Hartline continued his chemistry and reliability with Tannehill in 2013, posting nearly-identical numbers to the previous season and improving his touchdown total from 1 to 4. He's far from the fastest guy on the field and his inability to stay on his feet long after the catch is almost laughable, but he's a great safety blanket for the quarterback and he could easily put up great numbers with a better offense around him.

Moving on from Davone Bess as their slot receiver in 2013 (wisely if not shadily, considering his mental state), and seemed to have even upgraded the position despite slightly overpaying for Brandon Gibson. His torn patellar tendon is a bit concerning heading into 2014, but if he's able to return he should pick up where he left off.

Finally, it seems Dolphins fans are extremely optimistic about the future of 2012 seventh-rounder Rishard Matthews (sparked in large part by his 120-yards, 2-score catch against the Bucs), but the reality is he's a fairly low-ceiling slot option. In all honesty though, it would have been nice to have made him the slot receiver and saved the money spent on Gibson, because the production is about equal.

At tight end, Charles Clay filled in better than anyone could have expected after veteran Dustin Keller went down with a terrible knee injury in the preseason. Clay posted borderline Pro Bowl numbers (69 catches, 759 yards, 6 touchdowns) and came through with some absolutely huge grabs throughout the season.

2014 Outlook

The Dolphins head into the offseason with plenty of holes on offense, but I don't expect the receiver position to change much. The talent at receiver is far from the team's biggest issue on that side of the ball and the money committed to the position is another reason why any changes are unlikely.

The Dolphins may bring in a few receivers between the latter rounds of the draft and undrafted free agency, but they would at most be competing for the No. 4 and 5 spots at the position and special-teams gigs. Wallace and Hartline aren't No. 1 receivers, but together with a quality quarterback they are more than capable of helping a team to the playoffs.

At tight end, Clay will return for another season as the Dolphins' primary tight end, while Keller will have to look for a one-year, prove-it deal elsewhere. Clay is entering a contract year and will certainly be looking for a raise over the $645,000 he's making in the final year of his rookie deal.

I imagine the Dolphins might express interest in an extension with Clay, but I also suspect he might be too eager to test the market in 2015. In that case, the Dolphins should consider drafting a tight end somewhere in the first two days of the draft this April, considering Michael Egnew and Dion Sims are unlikely to be able to fill Clay's shoes if he walks after the season.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

John Benton named assistant OL coach

It might come as a shock to you that the Dolphins' offensive line did not perform at an ideal level in 2013. To that end, the team has added a quality name to the coaching staff in John Benton, who spent the past eight seasons as the Texans' offensive line coach but was let go upon the arrival of Bill O'Brien.

Benton coached one of the most successful
offensive lines in the NFL in Houston.
Prior to joining the Texans in 2006, Benton worked with the Ram' offensive line in 2004-05. He became his career as a graduate assistant at Colorado State (1987-90) followed by a stint as OL coach and recruiting coordinator at California University (Pa.). He served as Colorado State's offensive line coach from 1995-2000, while adding the title of co-offensive coordinator from 2000-03.

Despite the regime change in Houston, it's a little surprising that he was let go given the immense success of the Texans' offensive line in recent years. His tutelage has led to Pro Bowl selections of center Chris Myers, tackle Duane Brown, guard Wade Smith (a former Dolphins castoff), and, indirectly, running back Arian Foster.

Benton joins offensive line coach Jim Turner on Joe Philbin's staff, though it remains to be seen whether Turner will maintain his job in Miami in 2014 after such a dismal performance by his unit last season. Some have speculated that he could be made the scapegoat after the Wells report investigating the Martin-Incognito scandal comes out next month, but I personally would rather have severed ties at the same time Mike Sherman was let go and just be done with it rather than waiting for a chance to fire him with cause.

For now, Benton will assist Turner in the monumental task of shaping and building what looks to be a very different offensive line. Only center Mike Pouncey is a lock to return in 2014 (barring any legal issues in the Aaron Hernandez case), while the team's free agents include Bryant McKinnie, Tyson Clabo, Richie Incognito and John Jerry.

The Dolphins are certainly looking at 3-4 new starters in 2014, quite likely a mixture of free agents (high-priced or stopgaps) and draft picks. Benton installed a highly-successful zone blocking scheme in Houston, which is something the Dolphins' have lacked the personnel for in the last two years despite it being Philbin's style as well.

If the Philbin, Turner, Benton and new GM Dennis Hickey can all get on the same page, the impact of this hire could eventually be a great one with a fresh start in 2014 and the potential to build a quality, cohesive line for years to come.

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 free agents with ties to Dennis Hickey

The Miami Dolphins enter the offseason with general manager other than Jeff Ireland for the first time since 2007, and as we all know coaches and personnel men often look at familiar talents when trying to build a roster

Just as I did with ex-Cowboys and Jets when Bill Parcells arrived in 2008, I'm going to take a look at some notable current or former Buccaneers players set to hit the open market to see if there is any talent that might attract new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey.

CB Michael Adams (TB)

LeGarrette Blount rushed for over 1,000 yards
as an undrafted rookie with the Bucs in 2010.
Not to be confused with the Broncos' safety, this Mike Adams spent six years with the Cardinals before signing with the Bucs last June. A knee injury landed him on injured reserve after Week 11, however, and the 29 year old with seven NFL starts under his belt isn't going to be a free agent commodity.

DE Michael Bennett (SEA)

Despite a nine-sack season with Tampa Bay in 2012, the Bucs let Bennett walk in free agency last offseason. He actually visited the Dolphins before inking a one-year deal with the Seahawks. Despite rotator cuff surgery in the offseason and a few early-season injuries, Bennett has been a stud for the NFC-champion Seahawks with 8.5 sacks in just 617 regular season snaps.

Despite his talent, Bennett obviously isn't fit for the Dolphins. Cameron Wake is still going strong, Olivier Vernon is coming off an 11.5-sack season and 2013 third-overall-pick Dion Jordan certainly looks to have an expanded role in 2014.

RB LeGarrette Blount (NE)

A quality talent with maturity issues, Blount rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie with the Bucs in 2010, only to struggle the next two seasons. He was dealt to New England in 2013 for a seventh-round draft pick, shuffling between large and small roles in Bill Belichick's confusing backfield. He's entering free agency with a huge 4-touchdown game in the divisional round fresh in people's minds, so he should have a number of suitors in free agency at age 27.

While the offensive line is certainly more of a problem than Lamar Miller is, Blount would certainly be of use to the Dolphins as an ungrade over Daniel Thomas. However, I suspect the Dolphins wouldn't be willing to give him much guaranteed money and running backs are best found in the draft, anyway.

LB Jonathan Casillas (TB)

A former undrafted free agent, Casillas spent four seasons with the Saints before joining the Bucs in 2013. He wound up leading the team with 10 special teams tackles and while the defensive upside isn't there, he's a worthwhile cheap addition for any team, including the Dolphins.

LS Andrew Economos (TB)

He's been the Bucs' long snapper since 2006, but if the Dolphins are going to replace John Denney and his $865,000 salary (very unlikely) it'll be with a younger, cheaper player than the 31-year-old Economos.

QB Josh Freeman (MIN)

A former first-round pick of the Bucs, Freeman had a tremendous 2010 season (25 touchdowns, six interceptions, 95.9 passer rating) but has since tailed off. A rift between Freeman and former Bucs coach Greg Schiano ultimately led to the quarterback's release, and he didn't fare much better in Minnesota in 2013 after being thrust quite quickly into the starting lineup.

The Dolphins could certainly be in the market for an experienced backup given Matt Moore's age and potential $4 million cap savings, but Freeman isn't a fit. He's got upside, but he'll be looking for an opportunity to start right away and playing behind a young quarterback like Ryan Tannehill isn't the ticket.

DT Gary Gibson (DT)

A journeyman and former undrafted free agent, Gibson has spent time with the Ravens, Panthers, Rams and Buccaneers. He started all 16 games for the Rams in 2010, but has made just three starts since including one in 2013. The Dolphins are thin at defensive tackle with free agents Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, but Gibson would represent nothing more than a camp body and potential backup at the position.

LB Adam Hayward (TB)

The 29-year-old Hayward has been a backup and special-teamer with the Bucs since being drafted in the sixth round in 2007. There isn't defensive upside here, but he did finish second on the team behind Casillas with 8 special teams tackles.

RB/FB Peyton Hillis (NYG)

His 11-touchdown season with the Browns in 2010 a distant memory, Hillis has bounce around the league since with little success. That includes a stop at Bucs training camp in 2013, where he ended up making the team but was released in September without playing in a game. He later rushed for two touchdowns on a 3.4-yard average in seven games with the Giants.

Like I said on Blount, the Dolphins could certainly use more talent at running back, but at this point I'd take Daniel Thomas over Hillis. There's simply no upside here and the Dolphins should aim much higher.

C Ted Larsen (TB)

A Miami native and sixth-round pick out of NC State in 2010, Larsen has started 31 of 60 games played in four seasons, but opened just four contests in 2013 and has generally graded out poorly. He has the ability to play some guard as well, but would be nothing more than a depth signing in Miami and is probably no better than 2013 undrafted rookie Sam Brenner.

RB Brian Leonard (TB)

A hybrid sort of back, Leonard's Rutgers connections brought him to Tampa in 2013 under Greg Schiano. His performance in 2013 was par for the course with him, averaging 3.9 a carry and catching 29 passes out of the backfield. He's nothing more than a second or third back, but he does have value as a third-round back and a quality pass protector.

K Rian Lindell (TB)

The 37-year-old Lindell converted just 79.3 percent of field goals in 2013, and while that is better than the Dolphins' Caleb Sturgis (76.5), there's no way he's replacing Miami's 2013 fifth-round pick. The team will look elsewhere if they decide to bring in competition.

FB Erik Lorig (TB)

A seventh-rounder in 2010, Lorig has served a the Bucs' starting fullback for each of the past three seasons. He graded out poorly as a run blocker in 2013, but considering he'd come cheap and the Dolphins didn't use a true fullback for most last season (tight end Michael Egnew was forced into the role), it's not impossible he could be brought in to compete.

OG Jamon Meredith (TB)

Selected by the Packers in the fifth round in 2009, Meredith has bounced around with six teams in five pro seasons. He's started 20 games for the Bucs over the past two seasons (playing both guard spots), but he's routinely graded out poorly and the line-needy Dolphins can do much better.

WR Kevin Ogletree (DET)

The Cowboys had high hopes for the undrafted Ogletree, but he never really developed and spent time with both the Bucs and Lions in 2013. Dolphins' slot receiver Brandon Gibson is iffy coming back from a knee injury, but I don't suspect Ogletree could even supplant Rishard Matthews an thus I don't see any interest here.

QB Dan Orlovsky (TB)

A fifth-round pick in 2005, Orlovsky has played nine seasons for the Lions, Texans, Colts and Bucs. He's 12 games in his career and had 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions as a pro, but he only threw seven passes for the Bucs in 2012 and did not attempt a pass. He's certainly an OK backup and would be much cheaper than Matt Moore, but the Dolphins might be better off with a more long-term option.

CB Aqib Talib (NE)

A former first-round pick of the Bucs in 2008, Talib's talent has never been in question. He picked off 15 passes in his first three seasons (including a career-high six in just 11 games in 2010) but he's also had his share of off-the-field issues with multiple arrests. He proved to be steal for the Patriots, who got four interceptions and a Pro Bowl selection out of him on a one-year deal.

The 27-year-old Talib could command a hefty contract his offseason and comes with a fair share of risk. However, it's possible he could be on the Dolphins' radar if they fail to re-sign Brent Grimes (and assuming Hickey wants anything to do with him).

DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (TB)

A first-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2008, Talib was
selected to his first career Pro Bowl with the Patriots in 2013.
A third-round pick by the Eagles in 2010, Te'o-Nesheim has just 6 sacks in four pro seasons and totaled just 1 in 2013 despite 12 starts and over 600 defensive snaps. I have no problem with him being brought in as a camp body, but don't expect anything out of the guy PFF graded the worst 4-3 end in football this past season.

WR Tiquan Underwood (TB)

A homeless man's Mike Wallace, the former seventh-round pick out of Rutgers had a career-high four touchdowns in 2013 but has never been able to put it all together. He'd be suitable camp competition but I question whether he'd even crack the Dolphins' top four (assuming a healthy Brandon Gibson).

LB Dekoda Watson (TB)

A seventh-round pick in 2010, Watson has primarily worked on special teams for the Bucs but did play 263 defensive snaps in 2013, totaling career highs in tackles (42) and sacks (2.0) and grading out positively according to PFF. He'd make for nice backup competition in Miami and honestly couldn't be any worse than Philip Wheeler, not that it's difficult to do that.

Season in Review: Offensive Line

Throughout January, I'll be reviewing each position's performance for the Dolphins during the 2013 season, noting the good and the bad play and looking ahead at where the position stands for the 2014 season and beyond. Check out the archives for past entries in the series.

For all the media attention given to Incognito (left) and
Martin (right), the Dolphins' offensive line problems
were already well-documented before their departures.
Relevant 2013 Ranks:
Points/Game: 19.8 (26th)
Yards/Game: 312.9 (27th)
Pass Yards/Game: 222.9 (20th)
Sacks Allowed: 58 (1st)
Rush Yards/Carry: 4.1 (17th)

Current Depth Chart:
LT: Jonathan Martin (NFI)
LG: Sam Brenner, Nate Garner
C: Mike Pouncey
RG: David Arkin, Michael Ola
RT: Dallas Thomas, Jason Weaver

Free Agents:
OT Tyson Clabo (UFA)
OG Richie Incognito (UFA)
OG John Jerry (UFA)
OT Bryant McKinnie (UFA)
OG Danny Watkins (RFA)
OT Will Yeatman (RFA)

You know how negative my linebackers review article was? Think of the Dolphins' offensive line as the "linebackers of the offense." For all you can say to defend Jeff Ireland (and there is plenty to say, especially after the team's recent joke of a GM search), one thing you can criticize him for is his horrendous plan (or lack thereof) for the Dolphins' offensive line in 2013.

I'm not going to get into the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal here, in large part because 1) it was massively overblown by the media; 2) the Dolphins survived the scandal on the field; and 3) the offensive line was terrible before those two exited the lineup, anyway.

Center Mike Pouncey was the lone bright spot on an offensive line that could do no right elsehwere, grading out as Pro Football Focus' No. 13 center (No. 1 in pass protection) despite missing two games with a gallbladder issue.

Incognito, actually, was solid as always before he was suspended by the team, and the six sacks he allowed is somewhat misleading thanks to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's complete inability to sense pressure that's right in front of his face.

Beyond that, it was nothing but ugly. John Jerry continued to be a poor fit for the team's blocking scheme is is curiously horrible as a run blocker for someone that should be such a mauler.  We might only be four seasons into his career, but something tells me Jimmy Graham would've been a better pick in the third round of the 2010 Draft because Jerry doesn't have a single good season under his belt.

When Incognito was suspended, the Dolphins turned to undrafted rookie Sam Brenner at left guard. While some fans seem high on the guy, the reality is that he was blatantly over-matched and he predictably grade out negatively in all facets.

And then, we have the tackles. Where to even begin. Jonathan Martin was over-matched in all facets on the left side, grading out poorly in pass protection and as a run blocker. While I certainly understand letting Jake Long walk in free agency due to durability concerns, there's little doubt in my mind Martin was to be a failed second-round pick even if he hadn't cowardly abandoned the team midseason.

Replacing Martin at left tackle was Bryant McKinnie after a midseason trade with the Ravens. While the Dolphins likely gave up nothing of much value (I suspect a conditional seventh or something similar based on McKinnie's starts in Miami), he certainly wasn't an improvement. Laughably, Baltimore McKinnie ranks 67th in PFF's offensive tackle rankings, while Miami McKinnie ranks 65th. Therefore, McKinnie actually makes up two of the worst 12 tackles in the NFL last season. Having watched him play, that sounds about right.

Last, we have Tyson Clabo. It was actually a tail of two seasons for Clabo, who came over a one-year deal after a steady career in Atlanta. Despite a proven track record, Clabo was absolutely lost in the first half of the season, getting benched at the right tackle spot seven weeks into the season after allowing eight sacks and 18 hurries in the team's first six games. He was re-inserted into the starting lineup in Week 9 following Martin's departure, and actually performed well down the stretch with 3 sacks in the last nine games.

2014 Outlook

The Dolphins' line certainly can't get much worse than it was in 2013, but the situation remains far from ideal. Only center Mike Pouncey is under contract and projected to start next season. And even then, ties to the Aaron Hernandez trial are certainly a cause for some concern.

McKinnie, Clabo, Jerry and Incognito are all unrestricted free agents, with Incognito almost certainly gone after the scandal and the others hardly worth bringing back anyway. In all honesty, Clabo might be the best bet to return on a one-year deal as a stop-gap at right tackle, assuming he can continue his quality of play from late in 2013.

That means at best, the Dolphins are looking for three new starters on the offensive line, and four if you move on from Clabo. It seems unlikely that Brenner, Dallas ThomasNate Garner, Will Yeatman (RFA), Danny Watkins (RFA) or anyone else currently on the team has the talent or upside to start, which means the Dolphins will have to focus heavily on the draft and free agency.

If the Dolphins go the free agent route for a new left tackle (expensive, but safer in the short-term), Branden Albert (Chiefs), Eugene Monroe (Ravens), Jared Veldheer (Raiders) and Anthony Collins (Bengals) are all potential options. Rodger Saffold (Rams) has a lot of appeal at age 25, but is also a durability concern. The Dolphins could also fill a guard spot in free agency, with Jon Asamoah (Chiefs) and Zane Beadles (Broncos) leading the pack.

Of course, building through the draft is much more ideal from cost and longevity perspectives, and the Dolphins may look at a tackle or guard with the 19th overall pick in April. While the top tackles are likely to be gone by the time Miami picks, someone like Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Zack Martin (Notre Dame) or Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) could fall to that spot.

We'll have a much clearer picture of what direction Joe Philbin and Dennis Hickey are heading once free agency begins in March, but with so many holes to fill, it's almost certainly going to be a mix of free agency and the draft. I would prefer to focus primarily on the draft, but I also realize that starting 3-4 rookies isn't a realistic scenario either.

Needless, to say, the Dolphins brass has its hands full when it comes to protecting Tannehill and bringing this offense into the upper half of the league.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dennis Hickey is the new Dolphins' GM

It's not because he's the most qualified or the most coveted, but more likely because he was the only fresh face remaining in the pool. Buccaneers director of player personnel Dennis Hickey is indeed the next general manager of the Miami Dolphins.

Dennis Hickey, 43, spent the last 18 seasons in the Bucs' organization.
He replaces the departed Jeff Ireland, who was fired on Jan. 7 after six seasons on the job. Now, there may actually be Dolphins fans that regret that move.

Hickey's only pro experience comes from spending the last 18 years in Tampa Bay, including the last three in his current title under GM Mark Dominik. who was fired this offseason.

He previously spent six years as the Bucs' director of college scouting after initially working as a pro personnel assistant and then a college scout. He was in the college scouting department in 2002 when the Buccaneers won their first and only Super Bowl title over the Oakland Raiders.

Prior to working for the Buccaneers, Hickey served as an assistant coach and in-state recruiter at Blinn (Tex.) Junior College after playing defensive back at Tulsa, graduating in 1994.

If you're wondering what "settling" looks like, this is it. Despite a great cap situation, a roster certainly not lacking in talent and a team that was one win away from the playoffs last year, the Dolphins failed to attract any of their top choices for the job thanks to a confusing power structure and an embarrassing owner that has no idea what he's doing in Stephen Ross.

Hickey is clearly the Dolphins' last resort, who seemed set on hiring anyone but in-house candidate Brian Gaine and named Hickey GM only after he and Gaine remained. Numerous other candidates spurned the team for other opportunities (Jason Licht becoming the Bucs' GM) or to remain in lesser roles elsewhere (Ray Farmer in Cleveland, Lake Dawson in Tennessee and Nick Caserio in New England).

Dawson and Caserio both dropped out during as finalists after second interviews this weekend, while a Saturday report even had Caserio having been offered the job only to turn it down almost instantly. Caserio would have been a huge win for the Dolphins after such a bleak process, but of course it was too good to be true.

None of us can really comment on Hickey's capabilities as a general manager. He could be a dud or a star. Tampa Bay, despite its recent struggles, certainly did well drafting and bringing in talent, and Hickey may have played a large role in that.

The issues are not so much with Hickey himself, but rather the process that clearly had him as a last resort. Ross made the job so unattractive thanks to his meddling nature, his insistence on keeping Joe Philbin on as head coach and the power given to capologist Dawn Aponte. Any self-respecting GM candidate would see the scenario and run, leaving only someone inexperienced and hoping to make a name for himself in the mix.

Given Ross' indecisive nature and his complete unwillingness to ever totally "clean house," it's hard to be optimistic for the future. We have no idea who is really making the decisions right now and if everyone is on the same page, and that's rarely (read: never) a recipe for success.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Four finalists emerge for Dolphins' GM gig

Clockwise from top right:
Nick Caserio (Patriots), Brian Gaine (Dolphins),
Dennis Hickey (Buccaneers), Lake Dawson (Titans)
A long 18 days after parting way with general manager Jeff Ireland following a mediocre six-year stint, the Miami Dolphins appear poised to name his replacement.

The team conducted second interviews with four candidates this weekend—Nick Caserio, Lake Dawson, Brian Gaine and Dennis Hickey—and reportedly hope to name a new GM on Monday.

All four candidates are 43 and younger, with Caserio coming in the youngest at just 38 years of age. None have prior GM experience and only one (Dawson) played in the NFL.

Gaine, 40, is the lone internal candidate among the group, having served as assistant GM under Ireland for the last two seasons. He joined the Dolphins in 2008, coming over from Dallas with Ireland and Bill Parcells. The New York Jets interviewed him for their GM vacancy in 2013.

Dawson, 42, played wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs (1994-97), having been drafted by Carl Peterson, who is an adviser to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and has reportedly been an integral part of the GM search. He worked in the Seahawks' personnel department from 2001-06 before joining the Titans, where he was elevated to his current role as vice president of player personnel in 2012.

Hickey, 43, has spent the past 18 seasons in the Buccaneers' organization, most recently as director of player personnel under GM Mark Dominik. He previously worked for the team as a personnel assistant, college scout and director of college scouting.

Caserio represents the newest candidate to be brought in the mix, having conducted his first interview on Saturday and then a follow-up interview today. He is currently the Patriots' director of player personnel, having served under various titles with the team in 2001. He was Bill Belichick's wide receivers coach in 2007 when Tom Brady threw for 50 touchdowns and Randy Moss caught 23 of them.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Nick Caserio the latest Dolphins GM candidate

While it seemed like the Dolphins' field of candidates for the general manager spot had narrowed (either by the team's doing or from candidates withdrawing or taking gigs elsewhere), a new candidate emerged Friday.

Reports indicate New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio will interview for the Dolphins' GM opening they was recently believed to be between in-house assistant GM Brian Gaine and Titans exec Lake Dawson.

A Bill Belichick disciple, Caserio played college football at John Carroll before joining the Patriots in 2001m working under various assistant and scouting titles. He worked in the personnel department from 2004-06 and served as wide receivers coach during Tom Brady's 50-touchdown season in 2007 before moving into his current position.

It's unclear how much interest there is on either side, but Caserio would be a huge get for Stephen Ross after a GM search marred by uninterested candidates, others backing up, questions of power structure and even a report that Ross repeatedly called one candidate by the wrong name in an interview.

Caserio, 38, has an impressive track record with one of the best organizations in sports and has learned under quite possibly the best head coach in NFL history. Hiring him Miami would certainly bring a level of respect that has been lacking during the Ross era.

The Dolphins reportedly hope to have a new GM hired by Monday, which gives Caserio a late start considering Gaine and Dawson have already had multiple interviews.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Season in Review: Defensive Line

Throughout January, I'll be reviewing each position's performance for the Dolphins during the 2013 season, noting the good and the bad play and looking ahead at where the position stands for the 2014 season and beyond. Check out the archives for past entries in the series.

Second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon experienced
a breakout season in 2013 with 11.5 sacks.
Relevant 2013 Ranks:
Points/Game: 20.9 (8th)
Yards/game allowed: 359.4 (21st)
Rush yards/carry allowed: 4.1 (18th)
Rush yards/game allowed: 124.9 (24th)
Rush touchdowns allowed: 14 (t-18th)
Quarterback sacks: 42 (t-11th)

Current Depth Chart:
LDE: Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan
LDT: Jared Odrick, A.J. Francis
RDT: Isaako Aaitui
RDE: Cameron Wake, Derrick Shelby

Free Agents:
DT Paul Soliai (UFA)
DT Randy Starks (UFA)

As expected with a group of quality, proven veterans, the Dolphins' defensive line performed its job fairly well in 2013 despite often being let down by the linebackers playing behind them and the referees who have never called a holding penalty induced by Cameron Wake in the history of the world. (Note: may not be entirely accurate.)

While Wake amassed "just" 8.5 sacks in 2013, matching his career lowest total as a full-time starter, Wake was once again one of the most consistent and possibly underrated pass rushers in the game. You also can attribute a lot of Olivier Vernon's success (11.5 sacks) to the attention Wake draws on the other side.

From a pass-rushing perspective, my only disappointment is the lack of consistent playing time for No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan, who certainly has the physical tools to be an impact player and should have been given a bigger stage to show what he can do. I have a lot of issues with the coaching staff's performance in 2013 and the under-utilization of Jordan is one of them.

Moving inside, the Dolphins went three-deep with high-quality starters in Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick. While only a two-down player, Soliai proves to be a quality nose tackle with surprising range. Starks continues to be one of the most well-rounded players at his position from run defense to pressure, while Odrick had what I'd easily consider a breakout season.

The one negative at the interior defensive line position was a swing-and-a-miss by Jeff Ireland, who inked tackle Vaughn Martin to a two-year, $4 million contract only to see him released on Nov. 8 with an injury settlement.

2014 Outlook

The defensive line is certainly something to watch this offseason for a number of reasons. The Dolphins seem quite set in the pass rush department with Wake, Vernon and Jordan, although Wake turns 32 later this month, Vernon has to prove he's not a one-year wonder and Jordan has to prove himself entirely.

The good news is that Jordan is a tremendous physical talent and Cameron Wake is signed to a pretty team-friendly deal and is easily the hardest worker on the team that is always in peak physical condition, so his drop-off with age shouldn't happen rapidly.

Defensive tackle is where a lot of changes could happen as both Starks and Soliai are free agents. Odrick will return as a quality starter at one spot, but right now the only other tackles the team has are journeyman Isaako Aaitui and 2013 undrafted free agent A. J. Francis.

I suspect the 30-year-old Starks will get a pretty solid payday elsewhere, while it's no lock that Soliai returns either if his agent David Canter is to be believed. That being said, I expect Soliai to be back as there's never been a huge market for him and he only plays about half a team's defensive snaps. The Dolphins would be wise to do another two-year deal with Soliai and explore an extension with Odrick, who is entering the final season of his rookie deal.

Should the Dolphins fail to retain Starks and Soliai, the 2014 starter alongside Odrick is almost certainly not currently on the roster. Linval Joseph (Giants), Jason Hatcher (Cowboys), Pat Sims (Raiders), Tyson Jackson (Chiefs) and former Dolphins lineman Tony McDaniel (Seahawks) are some of the better names available in free agency. Louis Nix (Notre Dame), RaShede Hageman (Minnesota), Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) and Timmy Jernigan (Florida State) are first-round draft options, although the team certainly has bigger needs to fill at No. 19.