Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Miami Dolphins acquire QB Tyler Thigpen from Chiefs

The Miami Dolphins didn't waste much time finding a new backup quarterback following Chad Pennington's season ending shoulder injury, acquiring third-year quarterback Tyler Thigpen from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Acquired for an as-of-yet undisclosed draft pick, Thigpen will serve as the primary backup to 2008 second-round pick Chad Henne, who moved into the starting lineup in Pennington's absence.

Background

A South Carolina native, Thigpen became the first quarterback in the history of the Coastal Carolina (Division I-FCS) football program in 2003.

He amassed a 34-11 record in four seasons for the Chanticleers, winning Big South Conference titles each of his final three seasons and being named the conference's player of the year as a senior in 2006.

In four collegiate seasons, Thigpen threw for 6,598 yards and 59 touchdowns with 28 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Thigpen was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft, but was waived during final cuts when he failed to beat out Brooks Bollinger for the team's third-string job.

The Kansas City Chiefs claimed Thigpen off waivers the following day, making him the team's third-string quarterback behind Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle. Thigpen attempted six passes as a rookie before tearing his MCL in practice in December, ending his season.

Thigpen started 11 of the 14 games in which he played for the Chiefs in 2008, completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 2,608 yards and 18 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

A topic of trade talks prior to the 2009 season, Thigpen was once again relegated to a bench role with the acquisition of Matt Cassel from the New England Patriots. The Jacksonville Jaguars reportedly offered Kansas City a 2010 fifth-round pick for Thigpen, though a potential deal fell through when the Chiefs refused to trade him for less than a fourth-round pick.

Thigpen served as the Chiefs third-string quarterback during the Chiefs' first three games of the 2009 season behind Cassel and second-stringer Brodie Croyle (though ahead of fourth-stringer Matt Gutierrez).

Thigpen arrives in Miami with two years remaining on his original four-year rookie contract signed with the Vikings in 2007, and has base salaries of $460,000 (2009) and $550,000 (2010). He would be an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 season under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, though he will be just a restricted free agent if there is no new CBA after this season.

Analysis

The fact Miami dealt with Kansas City is hardly a surprise, as it's not even the only trade between the two teams in the last two months. Bill Parcells and his son-in-law—former Patriots and current Chiefs GM Scott Pioli—worked out a deal sending Dolphins offensive linemen Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe to the Chiefs for a draft pick in August.

This was a move that had to be made in some fashion, as the Dolphins were in desperate need of an experienced backup following the loss of Chad Pennington. Thigpen certainly provides that, as rookie Pat White is clearly not capable of leading an NFL offense if Chad Henne were to go down.

Though Thigpen does cost the Dolphins more (likely a mid-round draft pick) than a veteran free agent would have, he also provides some more benefits as well. Unlike someone like Brian Griese, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Andrew Walter, or Vinny Testaverde (yes, those are some of the best quarterbacks available), Thigpen is just 25 years old and is signed for multiple seasons.

Thigpen is a solid NFL prospect that was sought after by quite a few teams via trade this offseason as a potential project. He has a good arm and football intelligence to go along with surprising speed and athleticism. It is actually those latter traits that could make him an appealing wildcat participant himself in some capacity down the line.

That being the case, Thigpen won't be threatening Henne's job any time soon. Henne is still the quarterback of the future in the eyes of the Dolphins' front office, and that future is now due to Pennington's injury and expiring contract in the offseason. Henne is going to get every chance to show what he can do this season, and won't be removed from the starting lineup unless an injury forces him out.

What Thigpen does provide, however, is a talented, inexpensive and experienced backup to Henne should an injury occur. He's also someone that, unlike an aging veteran, also has a chance to compete for a starting job in the next year or two if Henne fails to impress.

All in all, the price tag was a bit higher, but not so high that it wasn't worth it for the Dolphins to make the move. An experienced backup of some kind was undoubtedly needed, and the team simply chose to give up a little more to get a little more than they would on open market.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ESPN: Chad Pennington to rest of miss 2009 season

2009 Week 3 Recap: Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers

When the Miami Dolphins began the 2008 season 0-2, it was in Week 3 they broke out with a huge win against the New England Patriots and eventually turned their season around.

Things did not go that way this time around, as the Dolphins fell to 0-3 with an ugly 23-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

The Dolphins were hit hard beyond the game as well, with ESPN's Chris Mortensen reporting today that quarterback Chad Pennngton is likely to miss the rest of the season with a torn capsule in his throwing shoulder.

With Pennington quite possibly out of the picture, second-year quarterback Chad Henne will take the reins for the Dolphins and try and right the ship next week against the Buffalo Bills.

Until then, here is my video recap of the Dolphins' loss to the Chargers:

Offense



Defense & Special Teams

Week 3 Highlights: Dolphins vs. Chargers

There weren't many positives to take away from the Dolphins' 23-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but here are a couple videos of some good plays on Miami's behalf. I'll have my usual recap videos up sometime later today.

Joey Porter sack and forced fumble


Ricky Williams 14-yard TD run


Ronnie Brown spectacular catch

Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009 Week 3 Game Predictions

It seems like there are weeks where all the games on at the time are going my way, then I end up losing half of them. Oh well, on to this week.

Last week's record: 10-6
Season record: 21-11

Redskins over Lions — I'm never picking the Lions. Not going to happen for a very long time. Jason Campbell should have a field day against this horrendous secondary.

Packers over Rams — Green Bay lost a tough one to Cincinnati last week, but I still like the team overall and I expect them to beat a St. Louis team that really only features one quality player on offense in Steven Jackson.

Vikings over 49ers — San Francisco has jumped out to an early division lead, but Adrian Peterson should lead the Vikings to victory and hand the 49ers their first loss of 2009.

Patriots over Falcons — New England has gotten off to a slow start in 2009, and the mounting injuries aren't helping. Still, I think Tom Brady overcomes the adversity and beats a tough Falcons team this week.

Titans over Jets — Not the logical pick, but in my experience, teams that aren't bottom-feeders or among the elite never win or lose too many in a row. I think the Titans get their first win of 2009, while handing the Jets their first loss.

Eagles over Chiefs — I'm not big fan of Kevin Kolb and he definitely hurts the Eagles' chances of winning compared to Donovan McNabb, but I still like Philadelphia as a team much better than Kansas City.

Giants over Buccaneers — The Giants' offense isn't missing a beat with a very young receiving corps, and I think they'll continue to roll this week against the Bucs.

Ravens over Browns — There just isn't much to like about Cleveland right now, and Baltimore should handle them easily.

Texans over Jaguars — If Houston's offense plays like it did last week, they can beat anyone. Jacksonville has struggled to get going this season, and I expect those struggles to continue at least one more week.

Saints over Bills — The Bills just don't impress me at all, and I don't think you can pick against New Orleans' explosive passing offense right now.

Bears over Seahawks — It's hard to pick a Seneca Wallace-led Seahawks team to a victory,and I'm not going to this week. The Bears should be able to put this one away fairly easily.

Steelers over Bengals — Cincinnati is certainly better than they were last year, but I still like Pittsburgh better and predict they'll rebound from that close loss against Chicago last week.

Broncos over Raiders — JaMarcus Russell just isn't progressing, and I can't justify picking a team led by him until I see quite a bit more.

Dolphins over Chargers — An upset pick, San Diego is just so banged up right now, and I think the Dolphins take advantage by continuing their strong running game led by Ronnie Brown. Maybe this time they'll actually be able to finish.

Colts over Cardinals — When you have two high-powered offense that have been underachieving, you always go with the one led by Peyton Manning.

Cowboys over Panthers — It's hard to envision the Panthers starting off 0-3, but there's just something about the Cowboys (Tony Romo's smile?) that I like. I think they'll get the first win in their new stadium this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 Week 2 Recap: Miami Dolphins vs. Indianapolis Colts

The Miami Dolphins controlled the clock to a degree like I've never seen yesterday against the Indianapolis Colts, running the ball all over the defense with Ronnie Brown out of the wildcat formation.

Unfortunately, poor tackling on defense and shoddy clock management during the final three minutes of the game did Miami in, as the Dolphins were unable to match a late touchdown by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

With the loss, the Dolphins drop to 0-2 on the season and will face a tough road opponent on the San Diego Chargers in Week 3.

Until then, here is my video recap of the Dolphins' heartbreaking loss to the Colts:


Offense



Defensive & Special Teams

Monday, September 21, 2009

In-game tweeting during Dolphins-Colts tonight!

I wasn't able to tweet during the Miami Dolphins' season opener against Atlanta last week, as I was at the game, busy taking hundreds of photographs and yelling at Anthony Fasano failing to hold onto the football.

Now that the Dolphins are back in Miami (where I am not), I'll be watching tonight's Monday Night Football game against the Colts on television and tweeting my observations and analysis in real-time.

Follow me at http://www.twitter.com/phinsspotlight, and feel free to reply with your own comments or questions!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

2009 Week 2 Game Predictions

I didn't end up having time posting my Week 1 picks because I went to the Dolphins-Falcons game, but you'll just have to trust that I went 11-5 with my picks. It's not that impressive and I should have done better, but oh well.

Last week's record: 11-5
Season record: 11-5

Falcons over Panthers — These divisional games are always close, but I have to go with Atlanta as the home team and the team with the better quarterback situation at the moment.

Vikings over Lions — It's going to take a couple wins by Detroit before I'll ever pick them, and even then it would have to be a really favorable situation for them, which is hard to imagine. Adrian Peterson and the Vikings should roll over the Lions as the losing streak continues.

Packers over Bengals — I think Cincinnati will improve on their dismal 2008 performance with the return of Carson Palmer, but Green Bay is just too good team all-around and they have to be the pick this week.

Titans over Texans — I'm not too high on Tennessee this season, but they should be able to beat Houston in this one. The Texans do seem to play their division opponents well though, so an upset wouldn't surprise me.

Chiefs over Raiders — Kansas City played much better than expected in Week 1 despite not having their starting quarterback in Matt Cassel. Meanwhile, JaMarcus Russell was pretty bad against San Diego on Monday night, so I'm going to ride the hot hand in KC.

Patriots over Jets — Sorry Kerry Rhodes, but I think you're going to be the only one embarrassed tomorrow. New England got off to a bit of a slow start against the Bills, but I expect them to get hot soon, I don't think rookie Mark Sanchez will be able to keep up with Tom Brady.

Saints over Eagles — This one would be very tough to pick if Donovan McNabb were playing. But, as it stands, Kevin Kolb will get the start, and I just don't see him being able to keep up with the league's hottest offense in a shootout. Even against a great Eagles secondary, Drew Brees is simply going to put up way too many points for Kolb to match.

Redskins over Rams — The Redskins are a solid all-around team and played the Giants very well in Week 1. They get a bit of a break with an out-of-division game against St. Louis and should capitalize.

Cardinals over Jaguars — The defending NFC champions were caught a little off-guard in Week 1, as they were upset by the San Francisco 49ers. I think they rebound here in a high-scoring performance against Jacksonville.

Bills over Buccaneers — This one is a bit of a tough one to call, as both had their good moments in some tough losses in Week 1. The Bills lost a heart-breaker late against New England, but I predict they don't let those emotions carry over and instead get their first win.

49ers over Seahawks — San Francisco surprised Arizona in Week 1, and I predict they win their second straight divisional game here. Seattle just doesn't impress me outside of a handful of players, and I don't see them doing much this year.

Steelers over Bears — I don't think Jay Cutler will have many games as bad as the one last week against Green Bay, but I also don't see him rebounding enough to put together a win against a tough Steelers defense. Chicago's secondary is also suspect with some changes at safety, while their defense overall just got much weaker with the loss of Brian Urlacher.

Broncos over Browns — Denver played better than expected in Week 1, even if they did win primarily due to a lucky pass deflection that receiver Brandon Stokley took all the way for a score. The Browns, however, just don't impress me at all.

Ravens over Chargers — San Diego wasn't all that impressive against a poor Raiders team in Week 1. I like Philip Rivers a lot, but the absences of LaDainian Tomlinson and nose tackle Jamal Williams (the latter placed on season-ending IR) will hurt against a sound Baltimore team.

Cowboys over Giants — NFC East matchups are just complete toss-ups, aren't they? I'm a big fan of this Dallas team and I'll take them in a close shootout, but who really knows...

Colts over Dolphins — I hope I get this one wrong and I would love if Miami rebounded from their dismal performance against Atlanta, but that's just not the sensible pick. Indianapolis is the better team right now, and I'm very worried about what Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney could do against Miami's weak spots.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009 Week 1 Recap: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons

The Miami Dolphins' opened their season against the Atlanta Falcons last weekend, and it wasn't pretty.

After turning the ball over just 13 all of the 2008 regular season, the Dolphins picked up where they left off in their Wild Card Round loss to the Baltimore Ravens, turning the ball over a handful of times and giving the ball away in the process.

The schedule won't get easier for Miami, as they'll face Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football Sept. 21.

Until then, here is my video recap of the Dolphins-Falcons game:

Offense



Defensive & Special Teams

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2009 Miami Dolphins Preview

I'm waking up in less than seven hours to go downtown and tailgate for the Miami Dolphins season opener in Atlanta, so I don't quite have much time to do an in-depth preview of this year's team. Of course, this will probably still have much more depth than any of you would prefer!

Here's my assessment, position by position, of the 2009 Miami Dolphins:

Quarterback

Chad Pennington is no Manning or Brady, and we know that. His lack of arm strength does show at times, and if you were down big late in a game, he wouldn't be your first choice to lead a comeback.

That being said, Pennington is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL and does as good a job as anyone protecting the football. He might not get you out of a big hole late into a game, but he's unlikely to cause one of those huge deficits in the first place.

Quarterbacks far less talented than Pennington have gone on to playoff success, and there's no reason he can't do the same if the team around him does its part. He's not the long-term answer and he's not an elite passer, but he's someone fans should be confident in each and every game, because he's always going to protect the ball and give the team a chance.

Backup Chad Henne had his ups and downs in the preseason, but I like what I've seen of his development overall. He's the future of the franchise (possibly as soon as 2010 with Pennington's expiring contract) and I'm confident in his ability to be the No. 2 guy in 2009 if he were forced into action.

Rookie third-stringer Pat White presents some intriguing new options on offense, but he doesn't look ready to run an NFL offense full-time. I don't expect much him in 2009, and we all better pray both Chads don't go down.

Grade: B-



Running Back

The Dolphins' deepest position on offense, Miami has nothing to worry about here as long as the offensive line does their part. I believe Ronnie Brown is poised for a breakout season after the Dolphins eased him back into things in 2008 while he recovered from a torn ACL the year before. Ronnie has a terrific blend of size, speed and strength and can be dominant if he gets help up front.

A lot of people think Ricky Williams has lost a step, but the guy's much faster than people think and he still has some thump in him as well. He's a quality backup that rivals any other team's No. 2 back and is easily capable of carrying the load if he has to.

Patrick Cobbs isn't feature-back material, but he's the kind of football player teams love to have because of his work ethic and versatility. He's a good special teams player, a good receiver out of the backfield and runs hard.

Fullback Lousaka Polite isn't a big name and was kind of a journeyman before landing in Miami last season. However, he did a good job blocking for the tailbacks in 2008 and also proved quite useful as a ball-carrier in short-yardage situations.

Grade: A



Wide Receiver

I'm a bigger fan of Ted Ginn's than most, and I'm happy with his progression to date. Wide receivers always take a few years to develop, and after a solid sophomore campaign in 2008, I think Ginn could be in for his first 1,000-yard season in 2009. He has all the speed and athleticism you could ask for, and his hands and route-running is getting better all the time.

Beyond Ginn, there are a few "solid" guys but nobody really special or with a very high ceiling. Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess are both good possession men, but will never be more than slot receivers and probably wouldn't have roles nearly this big on a team with a better receiving corps.

Rooke Brian Hartline looks promising, but I don't expect much from him as a rookie and he probably won't be more than the fourth receiver. Meanwhile, fellow first-year Patrick Turner has been unimpressive so far, and I'm already concerned he might be what Ernest Wilford was in Miami, rather than what Wilford was supposed to be.

Grade: C



Tight End

After a few seasons backing up Jason Witten in Dallas, Anthony Fasano got his chance to be the leading man in Miami and didn't disappoint. Fasano isn't an elite tight end on the level of an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez, but he's certainly the notch below them. He does everything well and is just a reliable and solid all-around tight end.

The Dolphin are lacking a veteran presence beyond Fasano after David Martin was placed on injured reserve, but I'm not too worried. Joey Haynos stepping into Martin's role in 2009 is one of the things I'm most excited about seeing this season, and I think he has the talent to thrive.

Grade: B-



Offensive Line

The line had their struggles in the preseason, and when it didn't get better as time went on, it started to become a bit of a concern for me. Jake Long and Jake Grove in particular seemed to have their problems, but both are very talented players that should get things straightened out.

A big key for the Dolphins on the offensive line is right guard Donald Thomas. He was a monster at times during the 2009 preseason, and the team really struggled to fill the right guard spot all of 2008 when Thomas was lost in the season opener. If he can perform nearly as well as most seem to think he can, he'll be a huge asset up front.

The Dolphins' line isn't quite "there yet," but it is solid and I do expect they'll get better as they play together more and the season progresses. I think there's enough young talent in the unit to eventually be one of the best lines in all of football.

Grade: B



Defensive Line

I've consistently said that defensive end is possibly the Dolphins' deepest position, and I certainly still believe it. Kendall Langford was extremely impressive as a rookie, while Randy Starks and Phillip Merling both came along quite nicely as well. Tony McDaniel and Lionel Dotson both look like solid backup material and could be worthy of spots in the line rotation before season's end.

Nose tackle is a bit of a long-term concern because of Jason Ferguson's age, but that's not an issue in 2009 because the guy can still clog up the middle as well as most. He's a good anchor when he's in there, and Paul Soliai is a quality backup nose tackle to have despite his disappointments thus far.

Grade: A-



Linebacker

Outsiders seem to think Jason Taylor is washed up and over-the-hill because of an injury-plagued 2008 in Washington, but everything we've seen since his return to Miami has been positive. The guy's leadership cannot be overstated, but that's secondary to his play on the field, which is still excellent. Not only is Taylor still a quality pass-rusher, but he's also better against the run that people give him credit for.

Joey Porter should continue to thrive as a pass-rusher in Miami, especially now playing opposite Taylor. One thing he must get better at is his run defense, which was nothing short of horrendous in 2008. Matt Roth, whose strange preseason absence has been well-documented, was Miami's best run-stopping outside linebacker, so it's time for Porter to step up.

The Dolphins are pretty solid up the middle with Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele, though both miss a few too many tackles for my liking and I'd prefer to see them clamp down on that sort of thing. The defensive line is doing its job in occupying the blockers—now it's time for Crowder and Ayodele to do their part.

Depth across the linebacker positions is solid, and at times, quite intriguing. Charlie Anderson has already established himself as a good situational rusher, while CFL import Cameron Wake could be a real sleeper prospect for the Dolphins. Reggie Torbor, while overpaid, is a solid third inside linebacker, while Erik Walden and Quentin Moses are both decent, young backups outside.

Grade: B



Cornerback

Will Allen is a better corner than most around the league give him credit for and is a viable No. 1 option. He should continue to play at a high level for the Dolphins and is an excellent veteran under which the Dolphins' rookies can learn.

Speaking of those rookies, Sean Smith and Vontae Davis have big shoes to fill in trying to replace departed free agent Andre' Goodman. Smith has been outstanding in camp and Davis is a great prospect as well, but they're playing probably the most difficult position in the entire game to play as a rookie and are going to make their share of mistakes.

Beyond that, Nathan Jones is a solid dime back, but not much more, while first-round bust Jason Allen is really nothing more than a special-teamer, and probably never will be. The Dolphins inexperience and lack of depth could be problematic, especially if injuries were to occur.

Grade: C+



Safety

There are things to like about each of Miami's starting safeties. The problem is, it's the same thing. Both Gibril Wilson and Yeremiah Bell are terrific tacklers that play the run very well. They're both your ideal, "eight man, in-the-box" safety.

The problem is, both can be shaky in pass coverage, and its somewhat curious the team gave Gibril Wilson such a big contract and moved him to free safety given his style of play. I worry this unit could be exploited because of the players' common weaknesses. A strong pass-rush will help, but these guys are going to get beat at times and give up their share of big plays.

There is decent depth here, as Tyrone Culver proved to be a quality backup in 2008 and rookie Chris Clemons has some upside as well. Clemons won't be asked to do much more than special teams as a rookie.

Grade: C



Special Teams

The Dolphins don't have an elite kicker or an elite punter. Both Dan Carpenter and Brandon Fields are just solid. Hopefully, Carpenter continues to progress after a strong rookie season, though some struggles in camp have be a little worried. I'd also like to see a little more from Fields, who had a leg capable of booming them, but is a little inconsistent.

As for John Denney...well, he's a long snapper. How do you rate long snappers. He's been fine for Miami, outside of a few bad snaps against the New York Jets in the regular season finale in 2008. But I'm sure he'll be fine. He's not going to make or break the season.

Grade: B-



Conclusion and prediction

This sort of thing is a thin wire on which to balance for me. If I predict the Dolphins to do too well, I'm biased and a homer. If I predict them to do to poorly, I'm a traitor and an idiot in the eyes of Dolphins fans everywhere.

Of course, I can only give my honest opinion, and that is I think the Dolphins will probably hover around .500 this season and likely miss out on a wild card spot.

I know, I know. The Dolphins won the AFC East last season and are now in their second year of the Parcells-Ireland-Sparano era, so they should be even better. Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated than that.

Yes, the Dolphins improved from 2007 to 2008, in part, because of the arrival of Bill Parcells. But such a drastic improvement was not just the result of one man's presence. It was a lot of a luck, and that includes the season-ending injury to Tom Brady, great fortunate when it came to the Dolphins' own health, and a seriously easy schedule down the stretch.

Let's face it: the Dolphins beat a lot of bad team in 2008, and a lot of the time they barely beat them. Then, when they got the playoffs, they were completely handled by the Baltimore Ravens and a rookie quarterback.

The way I see it, with such a difficult schedule in 2009, the Dolphins could be much better than they were in 2008, and come away with a worse record. I think .500 is about right for a team that's on the rise, but is still missing some pieces and probably can't count on being as lucky again as they were last season.

Final prediction: 8-8 (Sorry guys. I hope I'm wrong!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2009 NFL Awards and Standings Predictions

The NFL season officially begins tonight, so I thought now would be an opportune time (and my last chance) to post my predictions for this year's NFL standings and awards.

If you want to see how dumb I am, check out my predictions for last year here. Hey, at least I got the rookies of the year right!

(Playoff seeds in parentheses...just like this sentence.)

AFC East
1. New England Patriots (2)
2. Miami Dolphins
3. New York Jets
4. Buffalo Bills

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (1)
2. Baltimore Ravens (6)
3. Cincinnati Bengals
4. Cleveland Browns

AFC South
1. Indianapolis Colts (3)
2. Tennessee Titans (5)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Houston Texans

AFC West
1. San Diego Chargers (4)
2. Denver Broncos
3. Oakland Raiders
4. Kansas City Chiefs

Comments:
  • As much as I'd like to see my beloved Dolphins repeat, I just think the return of Tom Brady pushes the Patriots back into the elite class of the East and of the AFC as a whole. I like the Jets over the Bills, even with a rookie quarterback, because Buffalo's offensive line scares me and I like the Jets' team better overall.
  • Pittsburgh is just such a well-built team throughout, it's hard to pick against them to win the division again. I think Cincinnati rebounds a bit, but not enough to overtake Pittsburgh or Baltimore. I predict a mess of a season for Eric Mangini in Cleveland.
  • New head coach or no, the Colts still have the best quarterback in all of football, and maybe of all time. Peyton Manning will lead them to yet another title, as I think Tennessee falls off a little bit with the an aging Kerry Collins and a weaker defense.
  • The Chargers don't have much competition in the West, so I have to go with them again. Denver should never have traded away their franchise quarterback, and it will come back to haunt them. I like Oakland (slightly) over Kansas City because of the Raiders' potential playmakers on offense and the Chiefs' complete lack of an offensive line.
NFC East
1. Philadelphia Eagles (3)
2. New York Giants
3. Washington Redskins
4. Dallas Cowboys

NFC North
1. Green Bay Packers (1)
2. Minnesota Vikings (6)
3. Chicago Bears
4. Detroit Lions

NFC South
1. New Orleans Saints (4)
2. Carolina Panthers (5)
3. Atlanta Falcons
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
1. Arizona Cardinals (2)
2. St. Louis Rams
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. San Francisco 49ers

Comments:
  • The East is always impossible to predict, but I think Philly has the most well-rounded team. I could envision any of the four teams winning the division under certain scenarios, so it's really just a toss-up.
  • I don't think Brett Favre completely bombs the season in Minnesota, but I don't think he'll be enough to overtake the Packers, which is just the best-built team in the division. I could envision Jay Cutler boosting Chicago into a playoff spot, but it's hard to know just how big of an impact he'll have right away. Detroit is well...it's still Detroit.
  • Another very difficult division to call is the South. I think the Falcons struggle a bit with a tougher schedule in '09 and a very porous secondary. In my mind, it's a battle between the passing attack led by Drew Brees in New Orleans and the scary ground assault in Carolina.
  • There isn't much to like about the West outside of Arizona, and they should be able to win the division again. If Marc Bulger stays healthy, he and Steven Jackson could earn the Rams a second-place finish, though the same goes for Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle. I just don't like San Francisco's quarterback situation enough to have them getting out of the cellar.
Wild Card Round
Colts (3) over Ravens (6)
Chargers (4) over Titans (5)
Vikings (6) over Eagles (3)
Saints (4) over Panthers (5)

Divisional Round
Steelers (1) over Chargers (4)
Patriots (2) over Colts (3)
Packers (1) over Vikings (6)
Saints (4) over Cardinals (2)

Conference Championships
Steelers (1) over Patriots (2)
Packers (1) over Saints (4)

Super Bowl
Steelers over Packers

Super Bowl MVP
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers - This kind of thing is impossible to predict, since we don't have any idea who will be in the Super Bowl, let alone how the game will go. Still, Big Ben is the best guess if the Steelers do win.

NFL MVP
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings - Like most, I expect a monster year for Peterson. I don't think he'll be able to lift them to a deep playoff run, but he should put up staggering numbers.

Offensive Player of the Year
Drew Brees, QB, Saints - Brees has become one of the league's best passers in recent years, and I expect that to continue in '09. No matter how New Orleans finishes, Brees will be one of the league's top passers barring injury.

Defensive Player of the Year
Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens - Reed is simply a play-maker in every sense of the word. He's the best defensive player I've ever seen with my own eyes, and I expect nothing less than another dominant season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets - Quarterbacks don't usually excel as rookies, and I don't really expect Sanchez to do so. Still, I think he's in a good situation with a decent line and a strong running game, which is why I think he'll put up decent enough numbers to grab this award.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins - My gut says to go with the safe pick in Aaron Curry, but everything I've hear about Orakpo has been extremely positive and I think he has the chance to be really special. I expect a big impact from him as a rookie.

Coach of the Year
Sean Payton, Saints - I don't think they'll go deep in the playoffs (and in that division, I could be totally off and they could not make it at all), but I think the Saints finally put together a good enough season to get Payton a little recognition.

Dolphins sign TE Kory Sperry to practice squad

The Miami Dolphins have filled their open practice squad spot, signing undrafted rookie Kory Sperry.

Sperry replaces offensive tackle Nate Garner, who was promoted to the active roster yesterday after tight end Davon Drew was waived/injured.

Background

A two-sport star from Pueblo, Colo., Sperry played sparingly (say that five times fast!) as a true freshman at Colorado State in 2004 before starting in 2005 and earning honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference honors.

After a solid junior year in 2006 with 380 yards and five touchdowns, Sperry suffered a torn ACL just two games into his senior season in 2007. He petitioned the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver, granting him a fifth year of eligibility.

Sperry returned to full strength as a fifth-year senior in 2008, appearing in all 13 games for the Rams and earning second-team All-MWC honors after racking up 492 yards and six touchdowns on 38 catches.

Sperry (6-5, 238) posted a 4.77 forty-yard dash time and 20 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He went undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft in April, but signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent.

Sperry appeared in all four preseason games for the Chargers in 2009—starting the finale—and catching two passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. However, he was unable to secure a backup tight end spot over Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson, and was waived during final cuts.

As a practice squad player, Sperry will receive a one-year contract worth $88,400. He will wear No. 85 in Miami, which was briefly donned by rookie tight end Davon Drew before he was placed on injure reserve earlier this week.

Analysis

With the Dolphins opting to stash Davon Drew on injured reserve in 2009, a fourth tight end was needed for practice purposes. Sperry will provide that on the practice squad and is also a solid tight end prospect in his own right.

A very productive player at Colorado State, has good size and strength to go along with decent speed and good hands. He might be more of an H-back type, as he struggles with his blocking at times and isn't used to working out of three-point stance that will be required of him as an NFL tight end.

Don't expect to see Sperry much, if at all, for the Dolphins in 2009. Haynos and Nalbone should stay on the roster all season as the backups to Anthony Fasano, and there's really no telling if Sperry would be the team's first choice as an injury replacement since he simply might not be ready to play at the pro level.

Sperry is simply a solid prospect worth taking a look at the practice squad, but not someone who is likely to contribute any time soon. He could be gone in a day, a week, or he could last all season and be brought back next year to compete for a roster spot. There's just never any telling with these practice squad guys.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dolphins send TE Davon Drew to I.R., promote OT Nate Garner

Those hoping to see newly-claimed rookie tight end Davon Drew make an impact in 2009 will be disappointed, as the Dolphins have opted to waive Drew with the designation of injured.

If he clears waivers (and he should, since Miami was the only team that put in a claim for him originally), Drew will revert to the Dolphins' season-ending injured reserve list.

So what's going on here? Did Drew show up with an unknown injury, and was that injury significant enough to prevent him from playing all of the 2009 season? The likely answers are no and no.

The Dolphins simply had one too many tight ends on the active roster, and weren't going to go into the regular season that way. So, what they likely did was make up a minor injury for Drew (after all, football players always have an ache somewhere) and waived/injured him.

Now, they can stash him on injured reserve for 2009, clearing up a roster spot for a season he was unlikely to play much anyway, while allowing him compete for a job in 2010. Sneaky, yes, but effective so long as he clears waivers as expected.

Replacing Drew on the active roster is offensive tackle Nate Garner, who comes back from a very brief stint in the practice squad. The team reportedly wanted to keep Garner during final cuts, but waived him when they feared tight end John Nalbone wouldn't clear waivers. Now, with only three tight ends on the roster and an open spot, there's room for Garner as the ninth offensive lineman.

A seventh-round pick by the New York Jets in 2008, Garner was claimed off waivers during final cuts last year and spent all 16 games with the Dolphins (plus one postseason contest) on the inactive list.

Garner will continue to serve as the primary backup to starting right tackle Vernon Carey, though it's unknown if he'll dress on game days. I expect only Garner or backup left tackle Andrew Gardner will be on the 45-man roster, but I'm not sure which. Garner is slightly more experienced, but he was also more expendable when the team briefly needed to clear up a spot earlier this week, which could mean Gardner is held in higher regard.

Whether he plays or not, the good news for Garner is that he receives a significant raise with the promotion, as practice squad players make around $80,000 a year, while the minimum salary on the active roster is just over $300,000.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sizing Up the Dolphins’ AFC East Rivals

The Miami Dolphins surprised everyone by going 11-5 and winning the AFC East in 2008, just one year removed from a franchise-worst 1-15 campaign.

It's safe to say the Dolphins snuck up on people a bit, and any level-headed thinker knows that a significantly weak schedule down the stretch, coupled with the season-long absence of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, certainly helped Miami on its path.

The Dolphins won't have those advantage this year (after all, Bernard Pollard is a free agent), and the path to success will be significantly tougher than it was in 2008.

I'll be taking a thorough look at the 2009 Dolphins team and its prospects for the upcoming season in the days ahead, but for now I thought it would be a good time to examine the Dolphins' three division opponents.

I'm going to look at each team's strengths and weaknesses, seeing where Miami might have trouble with them and where they should have success.

Buffalo Bills

Miami recorded eight sacks in their preseason finale last week, and that is exactly where the Dolphins will need to get at the Bills in order to be successful. The Bills' offensive line is extremely inexperienced with an average age of 24.8 years among starters.

Replacing Jason Peters in protecting Trent Edwards' will be Demetrius Bell—a 2008 seventh-rounder who's more famous for being Karl Malone's illegitimate child than he is his football prowess. Bell is one of three starting Bills offensive linemen—joining rookie guards Andy Levitre and Eric Wood—that has never started an NFL regular season game.

Miami had great success pressuring the Bills' quarterbacks last year, which was a key part of their success against them. With a revived Jason Taylor in the mix and a shaky, inexperienced Buffalo offensive line, the Dolphins should continue to be successful in that department.

As scary as the tandem of Terrell Owens and Lee Evans is, their effectiveness will be offset by the above offensive line problems. What scares me about Buffalo is their special teams. It is an area where Miami has struggled in recent years, and where the Bills absolutely excel.

Brian Moorman has consistently been one of the best punters in the NFL. Couple that with a complete lack of explosion in Miami's return game (Davone Bess is penciled in as the punt returner once again) and you have a significant advantage in Buffalo's favor when it comes to the field position game.

The Dolphins' special teams coverage units are also suspect, and this is where Buffalo can really hurt people. Leodis McKelvin on kickoffs and Roscoe Parrish on punts are both home-run threats and will go a long way in helping Buffalo's offense secure consistently good field position. Unlike someone like Bess, both of those players also have the ability to take one back for a touchdown at any moment, which can drastically change a game in a matter of seconds.

Is Miami a better team than Buffalo? I don't think there is any doubt that the answer is 'yes.' Still, Buffalo does have their strengths, and when some of those strengths happen to coincide with Miami's weaknesses, the outcome of a game is never a sure thing.

New England Patriots

Dolphins fans everywhereand even head coach Tony Sparano a little bitcelebrated when the Patriots shipped perennial all-pro defensive end Richard Seymour out of the division to the Oakland Raiders over the weekend. While there is no doubt the Patriots' 2009 defense would be better off with Seymour than without him, I wasn't so quick to express my elation at the move.

Like him or not, Bill Belichick is the best at what he does. I think there is a strong argument for him being the best head coach in NFL history, and in my 22 years of living (a good bit of it spent following the league) I have never seen such a masterfully-run organization in any of the major sports.

So while trading Seymour might hurt them in the short term, I've simply observed Belichick for too long to make a movie that will sabotage his team. He knows what he's going and he is just too good at what he does.

The Dolphins may being reigning AFC East champs, but I think fans are fooling themselves if they consider Miami the favorite to win the division crown again this year. After just missing out on the playoffs with their backup quarterback, the Patriots are back on top and ready to dominate for a reason that can be summed up in five words: Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

We all saw what that duo did in 2007, with Moss scoring a ridiculous 23 touchdowns and Brady posting one of the single greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. Brady is back healthy now and should have no problems with picking up right where he left off.

(By the way, keep in mind that the guy who just acquired Seymour from the Patriots also gave them Moss in exchange for a fourth-round pick. The jury's still out on Raiders cornerback John Bowie—the player Oakland selected with that pick who has one tackle in two career games played—but I'm thinking the Patriots got the better end of the deal. Keep this trade in mind every time Al Davis does a deal with Belichick.)

The Patriot' offense simply should have no problems returning to their previous level of production, and Miami might not be in position to match them. Chad Pennington, while a smart quarterback who limits mistakes and doesn't ever give the game away, just isn't the kind of guy who can keep up with Tom Brady in a shootout.

Furthermore, the Dolphins' secondary is somewhat suspect to say the least. As good as Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are as prospects, they're still rookies and are going to have their ups and downs in 2009.

Beyond that, the Dolphins have two starting safeties –Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson—that both fit that "hard-hitting, run-stopping, in-the-box"mold and have their struggles in coverage. Teams like New England are going to test Miami deep, and they are going to succeed at times.

The Dolphins have shown they can beat good New England teams in the past. Even when Miami isn't having its best season, they always seem to elevate their level of play to match the Patriots' and give them a competitive game. Still, there's no denying that the Patriots are a force to be reckoned with, and Miami might not be entirely equipped to handle them.

New York Jets

The most glaring change with the Jets this season is at quarterback, where fifth overall pick Mark Sanchez has already been named the starter. Playing a rookie quarterback is always an adventure, and while you have your occasional Dan Marino or Matt Ryan, typically players in such a position don't fare well out of the gate.

Sanchez's youth and inexperience is key for the Dolphins, who will have to use their strong pass rush to disrupt and rattle the young quarterback. While he does have a better offensive line than the Bills' mess described above, Sanchez is going to make rookie mistakes and might even give a game or two away because of them.

Stopping Sanchez won't necessarily stop the Jets, however. The Jets will focus heavily on the run and have a stable of backs at their disposable. Thomas Jones isn't flashy, but he's workhorse who always gains solid yardage. Shonn Green is an up-and-coming talent capable of contributing as well, and we've already seen the kind of explosive player Leon Washington is.

In addition to Washington's contributions on offense, he's also one of the league's best kickoff returners. As already discussed, special teams coverage is a weak spot for Miami, and if Washington can break off some long returns and consistently give the Jets good field position, it will go a long way in taking the pressure of Sanchez and helping score points.

The Jets also already had a strong defense before the arrival of head coach Rex Ryan, who is undoubtedly one of the best minds in the business when it comes to that side of the ball. They have an anchor of a nose tackle in Kris Jenkins, a young stud linebacker in David Harris, a play-maker on the outside in Bart Scott, and an improved secondary with the addition of Lito Sheppard and the progression of budding star Darrelle Revis.

I don't expect the Jets to win a whole lot of games in 2009 under a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback. Still, there is talent littered throughout the roster and wins against them won't come easily.

Some Jersey Number Changes

With the Dolphins roster trimmed down to 53, a handful of jersey numbers have opened up, prompting a few remaining players to change theirs.

Here are the changes:
  • CB Vontae Davis will wear No. 21 (Davis wore 24 in th preseason, as 21 was taken by cornerback Eric Green, who was released in August; Davis wore No. 1 at Illinois)
  • CB Sean Smith will wear No. 24 (Davis wore 31 in the preseason, as 24 was taken by Davis; Smith wore No. 4 at Utah)
  • LB Quentin Moses will wear No. 93 (Moses had previously worn 74 with the Dolphins; though not an eligible number for a linebacker, Moses originally joined the Dolphins as a defensive end, where 74 is allowed; rookie nose tackle Louis Ellis wore 93 in camp before being waived in August)
Hopefully none of you bought custom Davis or Smith jerseys, and if you did then you have my sympathy. I have to admit, I was very close to ordering a Smith jersey, so I'm glad I found out when I did!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dolphins' Initial Practice Squad Features Some New Faces

The Miami Dolphins have constructed their first practice squad of the 2009 season, and as expected it primarily consists of players let go by the team during final cuts.

Re-joining the practice squad after clearing waivers are: defensive end Ryan Baker, cornerback Will Billingsley, linebacker J. D. Folsom, offensive tackle Nate Garner, guard Mark Lewis and wide receiver James Robinson. All but Billingsley and Garner are true rookies, and Folsom is the Dolphins' lone 2009 draft pick that did not make the Dolphins' initial 53-man roster.

Joining those six will be two newcomers: rookie wide receiver Julius Pruitt and second-year linebacker Danny Lansanah. Pruitt is undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist, while Lansanah was undrafted out of UConn in 2008 and spent his rookie season with the Green Bay Packers.

Before a little analysis on each one, a quick refresher on the workings of the practice squad:
  • Teams may form eight-man practice squads after final cuts are completed. Practice squads last through the regular season and post-season.
  • All practice squad players have one-year contracts, usually worth around $80,000 for the season, and become free agents once the season is over.
  • Practice squad players practice with the team and do everything active roster players do, except play on game days. They usually do not travel with the team on the road, unless the team foresees a need to activate one for the next game.
  • Practice squad players can be signed by other NFL teams, so long as the signing team adds the player to their active roster and keeps him there at least three weeks.
Now, on to the players:

Ryan Baker

Baker was undrafted out of Purdue in 2009 and waived by the Dolphins during final cuts. He'll serve as the team's sixth defensive end behind the five on the active roster. An injury could get him promoted, but depending on the severity as well as Baker's progression, a free agent veteran could be first.

Will Billingsley

Billingsley was undrafted and unsigned in 2007 before joining the Dolphins in 2008. He spent most of last season on the team's practice squad. He's on the practice squad because he knows the system and can serve as a sixth corner in practice, though I don't expect much from him as far as development goes.

J. D. Folsom

The Dolphins' seventh-round pick in 2009, Folsom could have made the team had the Dolphins opted to keep four inside linebackers and five outside linebackers instead of three inside and six outside. He's a candidate to be brought up sometime during the season for special teams purposes, though Danny Lansanah will provide competition there.

Nate Garner

Garner has essentially the team made before the Dolphins feared they couldn't sneak tight end John Nalbone to the practice squad, which resulted in Garner's release and four tight ends kept on the active roster. With only eight offensive linemen on the active roster, Garner's a strong candidate to be brought back up before long.

Danny Lansanah

Lansanah (6-1, 248) earned first-team All-Big East honors as a senior at UConn in 2007, but went undrafted in the 2008 NFL Draft. He signed with the Green Bay Packers and began the season on their practice squad before being promoted to the active roster five weeks into the season. He appeared in five games for the Packers as a rookie, recording two tackles on special teams.

Lansanah appeared in all four games for the Packers in the 2009 preseason and finished second on the team with 18 tackles. Despite his performance, Lansanah was caught up in a numbers game in Green Bay and was waived during final cuts.

Despite an offer to return to the Packers' practice squad, Lansanah opted to join Miami's instead. According to former Dolphins and current Packers beat writer Greg A. Bedard, Miami came after Lansanah last season and prompted the Packers to promote Lansanah to the active roster.

Lansanah will wear No. 58 in Miami, which was worn by linebacker William Kershaw from last season to this year's final cuts. Lansanah currently is the fifth inside linebacker for the Dolphins and second on the practice squad, though with his experience he could beat Folsom for a promotion as a special teamer this season.

Mark Lewis

Lewis was undrafted out of Oregon in 2009 and signed with the Dolphins as a free agent. He drew occasional praise from the beat writers in camp but never really stood out in the team's preseason games.

The Dolphins have only eight offensive linemen on the active roster, but I suspect Lewis isn't ready to contribute and I imagine the team would look elsewhere for an injury replacement.

Julius Pruitt

Undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist (the Ouachita Baptist?!) in 2009, Pruitt failed to sign with a team during the offseason and preseason and was never under contract with a pro team before joining the Dolphins' practice squad yesterday. He reportedly drew the interest of some teams prior to the draft and worked out for the Dolphins before they signed James Robinson in August.

Pruitt spent his first two years at Ouachita Baptist as a backup receiver, totaling 43 receptions, 567 yards and five touchdowns through his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Pruitt stepped into the starting role in 2007, earning second-team All-Gulf South honors with 51 catches for 723 yards and seven scores. He capped off his collegiate career with first-team all-conference honors in 2008 after catching 77 passes for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns.

A two-time All-Gulf South selection, Pruitt left Ouachita Baptist having caught 171 passes for 2,406 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Pruitt has a good blend of size (6-2, 210) and speed (4.4 forty time), but he comes from a very small school where the level of competition is nothing like what he'll experience at the pro level. He's very raw and is a project for the Dolphins, so don't expect contributions any time soon.

Pruitt will wear No. 11 for the Dolphins, which had been worn over the past year by wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, who was released Aug. 29.

James Robinson

A well-traveled receiver who has played in af2, the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League, Robinson was let go by the CFL's Toronto Argonauts in August, but was able to earn a contract with the Dolphins after a sub-4.3 forty time in workouts.

Robinson caught one pass for eight yards in the preseason, but never really had a chance to make the team and was waived during final cuts. He joins Julius Pruitt as one of two receivers on the practice squad, making them the sixth and seventh receivers in the organization after the five active players.

Like Pruitt, Robinson is raw as well, but he has much more pro experience at various levels and thus has to be considered far more likely to be promoted to the active roster. Still, it's unknown at this point how ready Robinson is to contribute, so he may not be first in line should the team need to add a receiver due to injury.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dolphins place David Matin on I.R., claim Davon Drew

Final cuts may have come and gone, but that doesn't mean the Miami Dolphins were finished shaping their roster for the 2009 season.

In a somewhat surprising move, the Dolphins have placed veteran tight end David Martin on season-ending injured reserve, while claiming rookie tight end Davon Drew off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens.

David Martin

A sixth-round pick out of Tennessee in 2001, Martin spent six seasons with the Green Bay Packers, primarily as a backup to starter Bubba Franks. Martin caught 87 passes for 766 yards and nine touchdowns through the 2006 season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Martin signed a three-year contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2007 after the team released starting tight end Randy McMichael. However, Martin was a disappointment in his first year with the team, catching just 34 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns as the Dolphins went a league-worst 1-15 on the season.

Despite being relegated to the No. 2 spot behind Anthony Fasano in 2008, Martin had a career year and set highs in receptions (34), yards (450) and touchdowns (3).

Martin battled a sports hernia and knee injury during the 2009 offseason, but participated in all four of the team's preseason games, catching two passes for 12 yards.

There had been conflicting reports about what exactly the Dolphins did with Martin, as some said he was released with an injury settlement and some say he was waived/injured. We now know he has been placed on injured reserve, though an injury settlement is still possible if he becomes healthy and the team is willing to let him go elsewhere. They did the same thing with cornerback Michael Lehan in 2008.

Regardless of whether or not he spends the entire season on I.R., Martin's days with the Dolphins are likely numbered as he is in the final year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Davon Drew

A North Carolina native, Drew spent his first two years at East Carolina as a quarterback, red-shirting in 2004 and failing to see game action as a reserve in 2005.

Upon converting to tight end as a red-shirt sophomore in 2006, Drew earned third-team All-Conference USA honors after catching 16 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns. He followed that up with an honorable mention all-conference selection as a junior in 2007.

Drew experienced a breakout season as a senior in 2008, catching 43 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns. He once again earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors.

The Baltimore Ravens selected Drew in the fifth round (149th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft—12 spots before the Dolphins draft tight end John Nalbone.

Drew played in three preseason games for the Ravens in 2009, catching one pass for six yards. He was waived by the team during final cuts and claimed off waivers by Miami the following day.

Drew will wear No. 85 in Miami, which was not worn by any player during training camp.

Analysis

It's disappointing to see Martin's time in Miami come to an end. After a horrendous performance in 2007 (a team-wide epidemic), Martin really rebounded and was a strong player with the Dolphins in 2008, seemingly always making plays and coming up with the clutch catch.

That being said, Martin wasn't really going to ever be a starter in Miami and was unlikely to be re-signed in the offseason anyway.

As for Drew, he's a solid pickup and a decent H-back prospect. He has good speed and athleticism for his size with somewhat of a big receiver build and should develop into an adequate receiving tight end. He needs to refine his blocking technique, but won't be asked to do a lot for Miami early on. He's also reportedly a good special teams player, of which Miami can't get enough these days.

Drew's addition once again gives the Dolphins four tight ends, and it seems unlikely the team will carry that many into the regular season. The Dolphins reportedly wanted to waive fifth-rounder John Nalbone yesterday, but waived offensive tackle Nate Garner instead for fear Nalbone wouldn't pass through waivers.

Now, with three young tight end prospects and only two needed on the active roster, the Dolphins might be willing to let one go and take their chances on him clearing waivers. There's always a chance the team that would have claimed Nalbone on Sunday has already filled that spot with someone else (the Jets claimed Matthew Mulligan off waivers) and won't put in a claim for Nalbone at this point in time.

I expect Joey Haynos will be featured as the No. 2 tight end behind Anthony Fasano, while Drew and Nalbone will battle it out this week in practice for the third tight end job. The Dolphins might waive one before the season opener or they might do it soon after, but either way I don't see Miami carrying four tight ends on the active roster all season.

If I had to guess, I'd say Nalbone will be waived soon and they'll try to slip him to the practice squad. It's always possible Miami liked Drew over Nalbone in the draft and simply took Nalbone because Drew was already gone, and if that's the case their attachment to Nalbone may now have dwindled.

No Surprises Among Dolphins' 13 Cuts

NFL teams were forced to trim down to just 53 players yesterday, and although the Miami Dolphins had much less work to do than any other team, they still had to clear 13 players from the active roster.

There were very few surprises among the Dolphins' cuts, and although I only predicted 10 of the 13 moves correctly, I can't say I was shocked or upset by any of the moves.

In total, the Dolphins placed one player (linebacker Matt Roth) on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list and waived/released a dozen more. You can see the full list of players let go by Miami here.

Here is some brief analysis on each of the moves:

Matt Roth

There was simply no other move to make regarding Roth, as he hadn't been practicing and hadn't indicated he was nearing a return to the field with his phantom groin injury. Roth is Miami's best run-stopping linebacker and you can believe his absence will hurt the defense, but he left the Dolphins with no alternatives.

Roth will be a restricted free agent in the offseason if there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and I expect the Dolphins to play hardball with him if he keeps this up.

Brandon London

I had London making it over Lex Hilliard, though I considered London (and now consider Hilliard) a strong candidate to be cut for any player claimed off waivers.

London seemed like a quality prospect with his size and special teams prowess, but he just hadn't shown enough progression on offense to make it worth keeping him as a sixth receiver.

Unfortunately, London is no longer eligible for the practice squad due to the amount of games he played in 2008. The Dolphins would probably be interested in bringing him back if there were injuries to the receiving corps, but I expect him to be picked up by another team.

Courtney Bryan

Bryan is a good special teams player (and we all know that unit is a sore spot for the team right now), but he never had a real shot of cracking the top four safety spots. He is not eligible for the practice squad and will have a hard time finding consistent work in the NFL because of it, though he's always a candidate to be signed by someone mid-season for special teams purposes.

Joey Thomas

Thomas probably has the talent of a fourth or fifth NFL cornerback, but he got caught up in a numbers game in Miami. He's a better cornerback than Jason Allen, but the team values special teams ability over defense at that spot and that's one area (well, the only area) where Allen excels.

If you're wondering why the team cut Thomas Friday and kept Will Billingsley on Saturay due to Vontae Davis' injury, it's because Billingsley has a practice squad eligibility and Thomas does not. Thomas is far and away the better corner, so if the Dolphins were concerned Davis' injury might be serious, Thomas would still be around.

Thomas could bounce around the league for a few more years and he's always a candidate to be re-signed by Miami due to injuries in the secondary, but I don't expect him to add much more to his pro football résumé. He may end up in the CFL or UFL at some point.

William Kershaw

Kershaw was another guy I had making the team, this time over a sixth outside linebacker in Quentin Moses. I felt Kershaw was a strong special teams player and had actually shown enough on defense (especially against New Orleans) to earn a spot.

In the end it was not enough, however, as the team opted for an extra pass rusher in Moses. I can't blame the team here and I'm certainly fine with the move, as Moses does still have some upside and he had a good preseason as well.

With J. D. Folsom likely a lock for the practice squad, Kershaw's departure from the Dolphins is probably permanent.

Rodrique Wright

The Dolphins' defensive ends were set a long time ago, and Wright wasn't in the plans. He hasn't shown much in three years as a pro and Miami finally had too much talent at his position to justify giving him a spot.

Wright isn't eligible for the practice squad, but he should be able to make it as a backup somewhere else.

Brandon Frye

Frye was a guy I thought would make the team based on his versatility at guard and tackle, but apparently the team liked Nate Garner better. The Dolphins were actually forced to cut Garner too later in the day for fear one of their tight ends wouldn't make it through waivers.

Frye is eligible for the practice squad with just seven games played last year (it takes nine to make someone ineligible) but I would guess he won't be back. Mark Lewis and Nate Garner are more likely candidates.

Will Billingsley

Billingsley was probably the longest shot to make the team of anyone on the roster. (Despite a relative of his harassing me on youtube all summer that I was an idiot and didn't know what I was talking about for predicting this...)

He's a burner but he's just too raw; he isn't ready to play in an NFL game and may never be. He could be re-signed to the practice squad and probably will in the short-term due to Davis' injury, but I don't expect him to have a lengthy stay.

Mark Lewis

Lewis didn't see action in the preseason until very late in games and though he did a fine job, he's not NFL ready yet. He's a strong candidate for the practice squad but probably not close to activation due to injury at this point.

J. D. Folsom

If Kershaw, who outplayed Folsom in the preseason, didn't make the roster, the Dolphins' seventh-round rookie wasn't either.

Folsom showed flashes in the preseason but didn't do enough to separate himself from outside linebackers like Moses and Erik Walden. He should be able to clear waivers and is a near-lock for the practice squad.

Nate Garner

The Dolphins were going to keep Garner until they became concerned rookie tight end John Nalbone wouldn't clear waivers and make it to the practice squad, so now Garner's likely the one taking a significant pay cut to be on the developmental team. He could garner (hey, a pun!) some interest on waivers, but I anticipate he'll pass through and return to the Dolphins.

James Robinson

Robinson is a raw burner and hasn't shown anything on special teams, so he wasn't going to make the Dolphins' roster. The team probably likes Brandon London better, but Robinson is the only one of the two eligible for the practice squad so that's probably where he'll end up.

Ryan Baker

Baker had no real shot of cracking the active roster with so many quality defensive ends on the team. Similar to the Robinson-London situation, however, Baker should make it onto the practice squad because, unlike Rod Wright, he still has practice squad eligibility.

Conclusion

The Dolphins are now down to 53 players, but don't expect it to be the same 53 when the team plays the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 13. Players will be awarded to teams off waivers today, and Miami will likely snag a few of their own. (Fingers crosses for a ninth offensive lineman and a return specialist.)

Should the Dolphins claim two or three players, they'll have to clear roster spots for them. Likely candidates to be cut in this case are running back Lex Hilliard, tight end John Nalbone and linebackers Quentin Moses and Erik Walden.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dolphins vs. Saints: Random Observations

The preseason is over (thankfully) and the Miami Dolphins managed to go undefeated through the exhibition round, even if it didn't always look pretty. The wins and losses don't mean as much as how the team looked on the field, and there are still some concerns I have heading into the regular season.

Fortunately there have been some positives too, and a lot of those positives came in the preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints. My overall take from the game was this: The players I thought should make the team but had a chance of being cut (Greg Camarillo, Charlie Anderson, William Kershaw) showed me why they should make the team, while the players I thought should be cut (Lex Hilliard, John Nalbone) did nothing to change my mind.

Game Observations
  • Pennington doesn't have great arm strength as we all know, but man he can throw a pretty ball sometimes. The touch he put on some early passes to Camarillo and Davone Bess was flawless. That guy just knows how to play quarterback.
  • Meanwhile, Chad Henne looked great after a rough outing last week against Tampa Bay. Pat White was...well, let's just pray he doesn't have to play any time soon.
  • Patrick Cobbs looked fantastic out there minus a questionable fumble. You have to like a guy like Cobbs, because he's a hard worker and does lots of little things well. He's not going to get more touches than Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams, but he's constantly showing why he deserves some kind of role in the offense.
  • The top receivers looked good tonight, especially Camarillo and Bess which was nice to see. Both made some very good catches, and at this point I have to think they're both safer bets to start than rookie Brian Hartline. All three should factor into the passing game in some form.
  • Some of the younger receivers, such as Hartline, Patrick Turner, Brandon London and James Robinson, struggled or failed to stand out last night. Granted, London and Robinson mostly played with Pat White at quarterback, but I still didn't see much from any of them.
  • Patrick Turner's lack of development has me slightly concerned, especially because he was a projected late-rounder entering the draft and was a pretty big reach by Miami. He was drafted to be what Ernest Wilford was supposed to be, but I'm worried he's going to be what Wilford actually was.
  • Rookie tight end John Nalbone had a really bad drop that went right through his hands and could have easily been intercepted as it popped straight into the air. He hasn't done one thing to convince me he shouldn't be relegated to the practice squad.
  • I'm starting to become a little concerned about Jake Long. It seems he's been beaten more this preseason than he was during his entire 16-game rookie season, and that can't be good. He's a tremendous athlete and and extremely talented player so I expect he'll fix the problem, but Miami can't afford to have a hole at left tackle.
  • Jake Grove got handled a few times as well, which was disappointing because he's supposed to be this strong, hard-nosed kind of guy that doesn't let that happen. Fortunately for Miami, Samson Satele is struggling in Oakland and hasn't even locked up the starting job. Grove's still the better fit here.
  • The Dolphins' defensive line was great again, and I was impressed with just about every member of that unit. Paul Soliai showed flashes of what he's capable of, while Tony McDaniel was a terror for Saints third-stringer Joey Harrington. McDaniel should definitely be able to work his way into a four-man rotation at defensive end and looks to be a seventh-round pick well spent.
  • The Dolphins' pass rush was superb in this game and was the main reason New Orleans couldn't do anything on offense. Jason Taylor and Charlie Anderson especially stood out. I'd considered Anderson a dark horse to not make the team (though I never expected him to be cut), but after last night I'd call him a lock.
  • Quentin Moses and Erik Walden didn't stand out to me last night, so it'll be interesting to see which one makes the team. It's one of the closest competitions left.
  • Reggie Torbor played well, which was good after a stupid penalty last week. He's pretty overpaid as a third inside linebacker, but he should make the team.
  • William Kershaw was all over the place on defense, at one point making the tackle on three straight plays. A quality special teams player, that kind of performance on defense should be enough to earn him a spot on the roster as a fourth inside linebacker. I expect J. D. Folsom to head to the practice squad.
  • How about Sean Smith? That kid is simply a beast. He's been the clear-cut choice to start from Will Allen since Day 1 and it's much deserved. Cornerback is a very hard position and he'll probably have his struggles as a rookie, but I can't wait to see him tested because I feel he's going to win some battles even early on.
  • No word yet on the severity of Vontae Davis' knee injury, but the Dolphins better hope it's nothing big. Miami doesn't need Nathan Jones and Jason Allen seeing more playing time (or in Allen's case, any playing time) on defense than they already are.
  • Speaking of Allen, a drop by a New Orleans receiver on a tough catch was the only reason Allen didn't have a touchdown scored on him last night. As good as that guy is on special teams, he's just as bad on defense. He should have a long career because of that lone talent, but I don't ever expect him to be a contributor on defense no matter where he goes.
  • The Dolphins need a return specialist in a bad way. Davone Bess and Patrick Cobbs can be counted on to hang onto the ball when they're returning, but that's about it. I expect Miami to scour the waiver wire tomorrow for more of a home-run threat.
  • I was content with the special teams unit's performance last night until the punt return touchdown by Rod Harper in the fourth quarter. Long snapper John Denney and punter Brandon Fields were the only guys even in position to try and make a tackle, which is completely unacceptable. This unit was a sore spot in 2008, and if John Bonamego can't get them turned around this year, he's a lock for a pink slip in the offseason.
The deadline to trim rosters down to 53 players is tomorrow, Sept. 5. At 66 players, the Dolphins have at least 13 moves to make, not including more moves for any players claimed off waivers from other teams.

Nothing has really changed for me after this game, so if you want to know who I think will be cut, you can simply read my Aug. 29 article on the subject.

One minor change I have about those predictions is that I feel Brandon London is a strong candidate to be cut too. Problem is, I don't like anyone on my current cut list to keep over him. That's why I'd single out London as a strong candidate to survive final cuts, but be let go if a better receiver (preferably a guy with return skills) can be found on waivers. The same thing happened to Anthony Armstrong in '08 before London was claimed.

Be sure to check back all day Saturday and follow me on twitter, as I'll be tracking all the cuts by Miami and the other 31 NFL teams throughout the day!

Sean Smith is a BEAST

No, this isn't your typical breaking news report or game analysis or anything like that. Instead, we're going to take this opportunity to: a) take a look back at something I predicted correctly and something I said that seems to be right-on (for once); and b) marvel at the awesomeness that is Dolphins rookie cornerback Sean Smith.

Here's what I said about Smith, who I had going to Miami in the last three versions of my mock draft, in the days leading up to the draft:
"Still, I'm a big fan of Utah's Sean Smith, and I don't consider No. 25 too early to take a 6-4 corner with 4.5 speed and good ball skills."
Yes, I got the round wrong, but only because I was hoping Miami would take Smith in the first round because I knew he'd be worth it.

And now, time to watch Smith's sick one-handed interception of Saints quarterback Mark Brunell last night:



Called it. Totally called it. NFL wide receivers beware.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In-game tweeting during Dolphins-Saints tonight

The Miami Dolphins play the New Orleans Saints in the 2009 preseason finale tonight, and the importance of the game for players on the roster bubble cannot be understated.

A few guys I'm keeping an eye on:
  • Chad Henne - He's safe from the Turk, I want to see how Henne responds from last week's rough performance.
  • Lex Hilliard - The early preseason star has faded of late and will need a big showing to convince the team he's worth keeping around.
  • Brandon London - London still isn't showing much as a receiver, which makes his performance on special teams extremely important. He needs to be indispensable there to secure a spot.
  • Quentin Moses and Erik Walden - These two could be competing for one roster spot, even if Matt Roth goes on the PUP list. Both have some talent and potential and will have one last chance to stand out.
As always, I'll be tweeting my in-game observations during the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints preseason finale tonight. Follow me at http://www.twitter.com/phinsspotlight and feel free to comment on my tweets and send me your own observations or questions.