Sunday, January 31, 2010

2009 Miami Dolphins Position Grades: Inside Linebacker

Inside linebacker was a very rough position for the Miami Dolphins in 2009, no matter the task, or who was playing.

Whether it was playing the run and tackling, rushing the passer, or covering backs and tight ends in coverage, the Dolphins' inside linebackers simply lacked talent and were over-matched against their opponents.

It's not going to be pretty, but here are my individual and overall grades for the Miami Dolphins' inside linebackers in 2009:

Channing Crowder: D+

Crowder has never been a big play-maker in the NFL, with just 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and zero interceptions in 48 games coming into the 2009 season.

Crowder had, however, always at least been a solid tackler in his career. In 2009, he wasn't even that.

Crowder started 13 games for the Dolphins before a foot injury forced him to miss the remainder of the season. He finished the season with a career-low 51 tackles27 fewer than when he started only 10 games in 2007.

Although he did record a sack and his first career interception—the latter due to pressure from Cameron Wake that forced a gift turnover by Tom Brady—Crowder was simply ineffective in every facet of the game.

Akin Ayodele: D

Ayodele led all Dolphins linebackers (actually, all Dolphins non-safeties) in tackles with 71, and forced one fumble on the season, but he was really quite awful in 2009.

Ayodele was almost entirely ineffective in both of the most vital tasks of his position—run stopping and coverage over the middle.

One of the most telling statistics from the season of a player often tasked with covering opposing tight ends is pass deflections. Ayodele had none all season.

Reggie Torbor: D-

Torbor was signed to a curious four-year, $14 million contract during the 2008 offseason, despite being limited to special teams and not having the talent or upside as a starting linebacker.

In addition to being pedestrian on special teams with just six tackles, Torbor was also an extremely ineffective replacement for Ayodele and Crowder. Though slightly better in coverage than those two, Torbor's tackling was horrendous at times and was a big reason the Dolphins' run defense slipped so much when it did.

J. D. Folsom: n/a

The Dolphins' seventh-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Folsom spent most of the season on the team's practice squad.

He had two stints on the active roster as a rookie, including the season finale, and recorded one tackle as a pure special teams player.

Overall Position Grade: D

No doubt, 2009 was an absolutely awful year for the Dolphins' inside linebackers, and served as a glaring indication that the position was a huge area of need for the team in the 2010 offseason.

Whether it's Arizona Cardinals' impending free agent Karlos Dansby, Alabama's Rolando McClain in the draft (how about both?), or someone else, the Dolphins need to do some serious help at inside linebacker.

How would you grade the Miami Dolphins inside linebackers in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Friday, January 29, 2010

2010 Senior Bowl: Top South Roster Prospects

The Senior Bowl is just days away, and the staff of the Miami Dolphins' week-long look at South roster will come to an end after Saturday's game.

The experience is sure to be a tremendous advantage for the Dolphins in the pre-draft scouting process, as coaching the all week gives them special insight to their talent, intelligence, coachability, and character.

We'll know in a few months whether or not the Dolphins use the knowledge gained this week to draft any of the players they coached (the Dolphins drafted two Senior Bowl players in 2009), but for now, here are my top 10 prospects on the South squad:

(Once again, keep in mind that this is an opinionated list, and is tailored to the needs and schemes of the Miami Dolphins. USC safety Taylor Mays, for example, is not on this list, as the Dolphins don't have a need at strong safety, and I'm not entirely high on him.)

DT Dan Williams, Tennessee

Alabama's Terrence Cody might have the girth that some teams desire at nose tackle, but Williams is a much better combination of size, strength, and athleticism.

At 6-foot-2 and 329 pounds, Williams has all the size to be a nose tackle in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme, and is a much safer pick than Cody due to his conditioning.

The Dolphins' No. 12 pick might be too high for Williams, but he'll probably come off the board in the first round at some point and is very unlikely to be around when the Dolphins pick again at No. 43. Should the Dolphins trade down from the No. 12 pick, however, it's possible they could land at a perfect spot to take Williams in the middle-to-late first round.

CB Patrick Robinson, Florida State

One of the top cornerback prospects in the draft, Robinson (5-11, 190) is very refined in his technique and is a tremendous athlete.

While the Dolphins do not have an immediate need at cornerback and may not be picking at a time to pick Robinson, I think the position is at least worth considering if the right guy is on the board.

Despite picking two cornerbacks in the first two rounds in last year's draft, there's always a need for help in the secondary. Starter Will Allen is coming off a torn ACL and backup Nathan Jones is a free agent.

Also, with a big need at free safety, the Dolphins could always try to move 2009 second-rounder Sean Smith from cornerback. If that were to happen, however unlikely, the need for another young corner would be almost immediate.

CB Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State

Another one of the draft's top cornerback prospects, Cox has good size (5-11, 189) and has more of the big-play production you look for compared to someone like Patrick Robinson.

A potential first-round pick, Cox could potentially be available when the Dolphins pick in the second round. Though cornerback is not an immediate need, as I explained above, it also isn't one which I would totally rule out, either.

DT Terrence Cody, Alabama

If you're looking for a rare, pure, beast of a 3-4 nose tackle, then Cody is definitely your man.

Cody hovers between 340 and 370 pounds, is extremely strong, and has plenty of 3-4 experience in Nick Saban's top-ranked run defense at Alabama.

Although Cody seems like a perfect fit for the Dolphins on the surface given their need for a long-term nose tackle, I have my doubts as to whether or not the team will actually be high enough on him to draft him.

Despite his dominance in college, Cody's size and conditioning is a concern at the pro level, where shear strength isn't enough to get by. His value is also diminished in my view if he's so out of shape that he needs a breather every few plays.

Keep in mind, Bill Parcells' 3-4 scheme has typically not featured the monster, 400-pound nose tackles that some teams like.

Long-time Parcells pupil Jason Ferguson has weighed around 300 to 310 for most of his career. This to me says that Tennessee's Dan Williams is a much more logical fit for the Dolphins than Cody.

LB Eric Norwood, South Carolina

Norwood was a constant playmaker in four seasons for the Gamecocks, averaging 63 tackles and seven sacks in four college seasons.

Like the North squad's Brandon Graham, Norwood is a bit shorter (6-foot-1) than you look for, but has other features that make him appealing. He's very strong and powerful and and is a talent pass rusher.

Norwood doesn't have the size Bill Parcells looks for in his 3-4 outside linebackers, but his ability and versatility to maybe backup the inside as well could make him worth a look in the second or third rounds.

S Myron Rolle, Florida State

Rolle is a guy more known for his off-the-field achievements, as he graduated from Florida State early and opted to forgo his senior season and study at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

He was actually a very good football player for the Seminoles too. His big-play numbers aren't where you'd prefer them with only one interception in 38 games, but he has great size (6-2, 223), good athleticism and strength, and, surprisingly, great intelligence.

Rolle is a guy that's going to go a lot lower than some of the other safeties, but I'm willing to bet he becomes one of the best from this draft. He's smart, highly motivated, and definitely talented.

The Dolphins need help at free safety and I'm not sure how long strong safety Yeremiah Bell will be effective, so Rolle would definitely be a good pick in the mid-to-late rounds.

TE Anthony McCoy, Southern California

McCoy wasn't highly productive on a Trojans team with so many weapons, but he has a lot of the things you look for in an NFL tight end.

Although he lacks ideal speed for the position, McCoy has good size (6-5, 250), good athleticism and hands. He's one of those "does nothing great, but a lot of things well" kind of guys, and has the ability to eventually be a starter in the NFL.

Tight end is a decent need for the Dolphins, but it's unclear if they'll want to address it so early with some more pressing needs at receiver, linebacker, and safety. If they are going to go the tight end route fairly early, McCoy would be an ideal candidate on Day 2 (now the second and third rounds).

RB Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State

Dixon capped off his collegiate career in a big way, earning first-team All-SEC honors after leading the nation's best conference in rushing with 1,391 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Although he lacks top speed and has had some character issues, Dixon does bring to the table tremendous size and strength, measuring at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds without an ounce of fat on him.

The Dolphins may be in need of a running back with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams a year away from free agency and retirement, respectively, and Dixon is an intriguing prospect to consider in the early rounds.

OG John Jerry, Ole Miss

The brother of Atlanta Falcons 2009 first-rounder Peria Jerry, John Jerry leaves the Rebels as a four-year starter and two-time All-SEC selection.

Jerry doesn't have great speed of athleticism, but he's a powerful, mauling blocker with great strength and size at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds.

The Dolphins' right guard spot is up in the air, and Jerry would be an ideal fit for the team's power-blocking scheme. The Dolphins reportedly like Jerry from coaching him at the Senior Bowl thus far, and could be targeted in the fourth or fifth rounds.

FS Nate Allen, South Florida

Everyone that watched a Dolphins game in 2009 knows free safety is a big need, as Gibril Wilson was one of the biggest free agent busts in recent memory.

Allen could be the guy to replace Wilson if the Dolphins took him in the second round. He has good size (6-2, 206), speed, athleticism, and strength, while also bringing great football intelligence, work ethic, and top-notch leadership qualities.

Which prospects from the South squad would you most like to see drafted by the Dolphins? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

2010 Senior Bowl: Top North Roster Prospects

Senior Bowl week is here, and the football scouts, professional and amateur like myself, are busy keeping an eye on all the senior prospects available in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Although the Miami Dolphins' staff is coaching the South squad, the North also has its share of talent to be considered as well.

These are my top 10 prospects on the North roster, specifically looking through the lens of the Miami Dolphins' needs and schemes:

OG Mike Iupati, Idaho

Guards rarely get drafted in the first round, but Iupati is making a strong case to go within the top 32 picks of this year's draft.

There are simply very few things to dislike about Iupati, who has all the size (6-6, 330), strength, athleticism, and talent you look for in an NFL interior lineman.

Although the Dolphins' offensive line is one of the NFL's best, and Iupati is likely to go somewhere between the Dolphins' first- and second-round picks this April, there has to be a point where the team would at least consider drafting Iupati if they ended up in the right position.

Even a team with a good line could certainly use Iupati, and the Dolphins do have some question marks at guard. Left guard Justin Smiley has had a tough time staying healthy in two seasons with the Dolphins, while right guard is totally up in the air as Nate Garner, Donald Thomas, and Dimitri Tsoumpas all try to separate themselves from the pack.

While it is very unlikely the Dolphins will be in position to draft Iupati, he's worth mentioning as a prospect for the team simply based on his talent alone. A trade down in the first round (or up from the second round) would be essentially to even being in position, however.

LB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri

Arguably the best outside linebacker in the draft, Weatherspoon was highly productive during his career at Missouri, topping 100 tackles in each of his last three seasons and recording 9.5 tackles and four interceptions between his junior and senior years.

Weatherspoon has it all, from size (6-2, 245) to speed (4.6 forty) to athleticism to instincts and smarts. He's a great talent and good leader with an outgoing, coachable personality.

Although he played outside at Missouri and projects there in the 4-3 scheme, Weatherspoon is also a good fit inside in Miami's 3-4 scheme. The Dolphins would need to be picking in the late first round to have a shot at Weatherspoon, however, so a trade would necessary.

WR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

Gilyard was a major component in the Cincinnati's fantastic 2009 campaign, leading the Bearcats with 87 catches for 1,191 and 11 touchdowns. It was Gilyard's second second consecutive season of over 80 receptions, 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Gilyard is a bit on the small side at 6-feet, 179 pounds, but he's a dynamic playmaker with excellent speed and athleticism and good hands. He's also a highly productive return man, with five career touchdowns on special teams.

Wide receiver is one of Miami's biggest needs, and a playmaker like Gilyard is someone they will surely consider if he's still on the board when they are picking in the second round.

CB Kyle Wilson, Boise State

Wilson is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the draft, and for good reason. He has a very good blend of size and speed and is an excellent tackler with good ball skills.

While the Dolphins don't have a dire need for a cornerback, he'd be worth considering in the second round given Will Allen's knee injury and lack of young depth behind Miami's two second-year corners.

Wilson is likely to creep into the first round with a good offseason, however, so the Dolphins may not be in position to even consider him without a trade.

DE Jared Odrick, Penn State

A two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Odrick was named the conference's defensive player of the year in 2009 after recording 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks.

A versatile prospect, Odrick has great size (6-5, 296) and combines good athleticism and strength with a nonstop motor and constant effort.

Despite playing defensive tackle in college, Odrick projects very well to the five-technique defensive end position in the 3-4 scheme. The Dolphins are very deep at the position and probably won't be looking to draft one high, but he's worth mentioning as someone that is a great talent and a good fit for the scheme.

CB Devin McCourty, Rutgers

Projected as a mid-to-late round pick as prior to his senior season, McCourty has rocketed up the draft charts in 2009 after a strong year with six interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

The brother and former Rutgers teammate of Tennessee Titans 2008 sixth-round pick Jason, McCourty doesn't have blazing speed, but makes up for it with good technique and tackling skills. He's also a capable kick returner and blocked seven kicks in his college career.

As explained when discussing Kyle Wilson, cornerback is not an immediate need for the Dolphins. However, McCourty is a talented player who can contribute on defense and special teams, and thus is someone to consider in the second or third round.

LB Brandon Graham, Michigan

Graham measured in at the Senior Bowl a bit on the small side at only 6-foot-1, but it's hard to deny his production.

Graham was a constant pass-rushing force during his last three seasons with the Wolverines, racking up an impressive 29.5 sacks and 56 tackles for a loss since the start of the 2007 season.

Despite lacking the ideal height for the 4-3 defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker positions, Graham does possess great strength and pass-rushing technique to go along with a nonstop motor.

It's no secret the Dolphins are in desperate need for some outside linebackers with Joey Porter's likely release and Jason Taylor's return uncertain, and Graham would be an ideal prospect to consider in the second or third rounds.

OT Vladimir Ducasse, Massachusetts

An intriguing FCS prospect, Ducasse arrived in America from his homeland of Haiti in 2002 at the age of 14 and being forced to learn English as a new language. Less than a decade later, he's one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the NFL Draft.

Ducasse possesses all the tools you look for in an offensive tackle, with ideal size (6-5, 330), a big body with long arms, tremendous strength and athleticism. Despite the small school knock, there is no doubt Ducasse has the talent to compete with the big boys at the next level.

While it's true the Dolphins have no need for an offensive tackle, Ducasse is still someone worth considering in the second round. He projects greatly at guard, where the Dolphins need a lot of help on the right side, and could even take over at right tackle for Vernon Carey a few years down the line.

TE Ed Dickson, Oregon

Dickson ranks as one of the top tight ends in the draft and arguably the best at this year' Senior Bowl, really challenged for that title only by Southern California's Anthony McCoy.

A three-year starter for the Ducks, Dickson leaves Oregon as the most prolific receiving tight end in school history with 124 receptions for 1,557 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Dickson is more of a receiving tight end than a blocking one, which could be a nice complement to Anthony Fasano or Joey Haynos in Miami. Dickson has the skills to develop into a productive NFL pass-catcher, and thus is someone for Miami to look at in the third round.

DT Cam Thomas, North Carolina

Thomas isn't the kind of guy that will blow anyone away with stats, as he recorded 83 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks in 46 career games with the Tar Heels.

Still, nose tackle isn't a position about the glory, but about the grunt work, and Thomas can certainly handle that roll. He has the ideal size (6-3, 330) you look for in a nose tackle, obviously has great strength, and carries his weight well (yeah, we're looking at you, Terrence Cody).

The Dolphins sorely need a long-term nose tackle, as veteran Jason Ferguson might retire and Paul Soliai has the physical tools but hasn't produced. Thomas will certainly be available for the Dolphins to pick at some point, and I suspect he'll garner some consideration in the fourth or fifth round.

Which North squad prospects would you most like to see the Dolphins draft/sign? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Placekicker Dan Carpenter named to AFC Pro Bowl squad

At the conclusion of the regular season, the Miami Dolphins had one Pro Bowl selection—offensive tackle Jake Long. Now, they have three.

The same week Dolphins strong safety Yeremiah Bell was named as a replacement for Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea, it was announced that Dan Carpenter will replace the San Diego Chargers' Nate Kaeding as the AFC squad's kicker.

It's not surprise to see Kaeding withdraw from the game, as his three missed field goals in the divisional round of the playoffs greatly hurt his team in an eventual loss to the New York Jets.

A second-year player originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Montana, Carpenter joins ex-Dolphins Garo Yepremian and Olindo Mare as just the third placekicker in franchise history name to the Pro Bowl.

Although a strong case could have been made for Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who missed just one kick all season under 57 yards, Carpenter is certainly not a bad pick either.

After maintaining his hold on the Dolphins' placekicking job in a preseason kicking competition with Connor Barth, Carpenter went on to convert 25-of-28 field goal attempts and all but one extra point attempt during the 2009 regular season.

With the additions of Bell and Carpenter, the Dolphins will now have two representatives in the 2010 Pro Bowl being played in their home stadium. Jake Long withdrew from the game earlier this month due to injury.

Do you agree with Dan Carpenter being named to the Pro Bowl roster? share your thoughts here!

2009 Miami Dolphins Position Grades: Outside Linebacker

The Miami Dolphins ranked third in the NFL with 44 sacks in 2009, but not all was well as the Dolphins' pass-rushing position of outside linebacker.

The team experienced headaches with the boisterous Joey Porter and the banged-up, now-departed Matt Roth.

Porter's play was also a problem on the field, as was the lack of depth at the position.

It's safe to say many changes are coming for the Dolphins at outside linebacker, but for now, here are my individual and overall grades for the Miami Dolphins' outside linebackers in 2009:

Jason Taylor: A

I didn't really know what to expect from Taylor in his Miami reunion in 2009. After all, he'd been plagued with injuries for the first time as a Redskin in 2008, and at age 35 was making the switch to 3-4 outside linebacker full-time.

Taylor's talent, dedication, and intelligence trumped any age or scheme concerns, however, as he was by far the Dolphins' most efficient outside linebacker.

Not only did he lead the position in Miami, but Taylor was also one of the best all-around 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL as both a good pass-rusher and run-stopper.

Although he recorded just a decent amount of sacks with seven, Taylor also forced three fumbles, intercepted a pass while ranking fourth in the league at his position against the run.

With Joey Porter likely on the way out and little proven, young talent at the position, the Dolphin would be wise to work out a contract with Taylor in 2010 similar to the one he played on last season.

Cameron Wake: B

A sack machine in two seasons in the CFL, Wake's snaps were limited during his rookie season with the Dolphins due to inexperience, questionable skills against the run and in coverage, and apparently Joey Porter's unwillingness to come off the field at times.

Despite his limited playing time, Wake was an extremely efficient pass rusher with 5.5 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures in just 167 snaps. The NFL sacks leaders, with roughly three times as many sacks, played about eight to 10 times as many snaps as Wake.

Wake was also dominant at times, forcing a game-sealing interception against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and racking up an astounding nine quarterback pressures in just 33 snaps against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Joey Porter: C

After playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2008, Porter's play steeply declined in 2009.

He may have led the team with nine sacks, but Porter was absolutely horrible against the run and was actually a pretty poor pass rusher outside of those few instances he did bring the quarterback down.

Porter was also a headache on and off the field, clashing with the coaching staff, earning a suspension for one game, and reportedly refusing to come off the field during others.

Given his poor production in 2009, there is now little reason to put up with the headaches his mouth bring.

Charlie Anderson: D+

Signed as a situational pass-rusher in 2008, Anderson saw his snaps cut by more than half in 2009, in large part due to the arrival of Cameron Wake.

Anderson did have a few good moments, in particular during his start for a suspended Joey Porter against the Buccaneers, where he recorded six tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.

That was by far Anderson's biggest game in 2009, and for the most part he was a non-factor on the Dolphins' defense.

Quentin Moses: n/a

A highly productive college player at Georgia with a largely disappointing pro career thus far, Moses served as the team's fifth outside linebacker and a special teams player for most of the season.

In 10 games, Moses recorded six tackles and one sack, seeing only 43 snaps on defense. Given his lack of impact, Moses is sure to have his hands full just making the team in 2010.

Erik Walden: n/a

Walden was limited solely to special teams as Miami's sixth outside linebacker in 2009, recording eight tackles. With no defensive production to evaluate and mediocre impact on special teams, he simply doesn't qualify for a grade.

Overall Position Grade: C+

Jason Taylor was simply outstanding for the Dolphins in all facets, and Cameron Wake was a great situational pass-rusher, but that's about where the positives end.

Joey Porter's play and behavior were problems all season, while Anderson, Moses and Wake had little or no real impact on the Dolphins' defense.

How would you grade the Miami Dolphins' outside linebackers? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2009 Miami Dolphins Position Grades: Defensive Line

The 3-4 defense line is an integral part of the scheme, as all the players are tasked with occupying the opposing offensive line and allowing the four linebackers behind them to rush the passer and/or stop the ball-carriers.

While they didn't always get the ideal amount of help from the eight guys playing behind them, the Dolphins' defensive line was one of the most reliable and productive units on the team in 2009.

These are my individual and overall grades for the Miami Dolphins' defensive line in 2009:

Randy Starks: A+

Signed to a five-year, $21 million contract during the 2008 offseason, Starks initially struggled with the transition from 4-3 defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end.

He certainly put things together in 2009, however, dominating opposing offensive lines and wreaking having up the middle.

Starks was the second-best 3-4 defensive end against the run in 2009, behind only the Cleveland Browns' Robaire Smith.

Players at his position aren't primarily tasked with rushing the passer, but that didn't stop Starks from also ranking second among 3-4 defensive ends in sacks with seven.

There were simply no holes in Starks' game in 2009, which is why he gets such a high grade from me.

Kendall Langford: B+

Langford doesn't have the eye-popping, big-play numbers that his fellow linemate Randy Starks does, but 3-4 defensive lineman don't play a glorified position.

The reality is that Langford was excellent in his sophomore season with the Dolphins, playing the run very well and doing his share of pass rushing.

The Dolphins certainly found a gem in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft in Langford, and along with Starks, the two make up arguably the best pair of starting 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.

Jason Ferguson: B

Despite being 35 years old, Ferguson is still playing at a fairly high level and remains a quality starting nose tackle.

Injuries have limited his availability in recent years, however, and a torn quadriceps forced him to miss the final seven games of the 2009 season.

When he did play he was quite productive, even surpassing his 2008 tackle total by one, despite playing in seven fewer games this season.

It's unclear how much Ferguson has left in the tank, but if healthy, he still has the ability to be a strong veteran backup at nose tackle.

Phillip Merling: B

Although the man picked a round after him, Kendall Langford, has been a better pro to-date, Merling has held his own and has become a key piece of the Dolphins' defensive line rotation.

Despite starting just two games, Merling played regularly at defensive end and at tackle in four-man fronts, appearing in all 16 games and recording a career-high 33 tackles.

Merling also notched 2.5 sacks and batted down three passes, proving to be a very useful third defensive end with starting talent.

Paul Soliai: C+

I've probably said it a hundred times on this site, but Soliai has all the physical tools to be a great nose tackle in the NFL. It's the stuff upstairs that's prevented him from establishing himself as an NFL starter.

A constant in the coaching staff's doghouse, Soliai did have his most productive season to date in 2009, starting five of 14 games played and recording 25 tackles.

Soliai was solid against the run this past season, but was inconsistent overall and disappeared or got dominated at others.

Tony McDaniel: D+

Serving as Miami's fourth defensive end, McDaniel was also tasked with backup up nose tackle Paul Soliai for the second half of the season when Jason Ferguson went down with an injury.

Although he worked his way into the defensive line rotation and played in all 16 games, McDaniel didn't make many plays against the run or the pass in 2009.

McDaniel, who finished the season with 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks, doesn't have much upside and profiles as a career backup.

Ryan Baker: n/a

An undrafted rookie out of Purdue, Baker saw action in five games during the second half of the season, jumping 2008 seventh-round pick Lionel Dotson on the depth chart.

Although he did make a small splash with two tackles and half a sack in his NFL debut against Buffalo in November, Baker did not record another tackle in 2009 and was deactivated during the regular season finale.

Lionel Dotson: n/a

A seventh-round pick in 2008, Dotson has appeared in just two games during each of his first two NFL seasons, recording three tackles.

Recording a career-high two tackles in 2009, Dotson spent most of the year inactive as the team's fifth or sixth defensive end.

Ikaika Alama-Francis: n/a

Signed in November, Alama-Francis was inactive for all six games on the Dolphins' roster in 2009.

The former 2007 second-round pick was picked up as a developmental prospect, and should be given the chance to earn a backup job with the team in 2010.

Overall Position Grade: B

Things weren't always easy for the Dolphins' offensive line, as they lose their anchor in nose tackle Jason Ferguson midway through the season.

That being said, there is little to complain about when analyzing the unit's performance in 2009.

The Dolphins' ranked in the upper half of the league in yards-per-carry against, and the team's run defense would have been even better had they not been starting two average inside linebackers (Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder) and a one-dimensional pass-rusher in Joey Porter.

The team's top three defensive ends ranged from very good to superb, while the overall nose tackle play between Ferguson and Soliai was strong for the most part as well.

A long-term nose tackle is still needed, but defensive end is arguably the deepest position on the team right now, and should help the Dolphins hold up well against the run in the coming years.

How would you grade the Miami Dolphins' defensive line in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!

2009 Miami Dolphins Position Grades: Offensive Line

All told, the Miami Dolphins' offensive line was easily one of the most productive units on the team in 2009.

While even the best players on the line had their struggles, be it (briefly) with performance or (not-so-briefly) with health, the players as a group performed admirably for most of the season.

With one Pro Bowl selection on the unit and a few others ranking near the top of the league at their respective positions, the Dolphins' offensive line was a forced to be reckoned with in all aspects.

These are my grades for the Dolphins' offensive line in 2009:

Jake Long: A+

Coming off a Pro Bowl season a rookie in 2008, Long struggled out of the game by allowing two sacks to Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham in the 2009 regular season opener.

Long quickly turned things around, however, and dominated for most of the season as both a pass protector and run blocker. He allowed just four sacks all season long, and ranked second among full-time starting left tackles with just nine quarterback pressures, behind only Cleveland's Joe Thomas.

Long was simply fantastic all season, and his performance is all the more impressive when you consider he played most of the season protecting a first-year starting quarterback in Chad Henne, whose pocket presence early on was understandably shaky.

Earning his second Pro Bowl selection in as many seasons, Long is making a strong case that the Dolphins made the right call with the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Jake Grove: B+

As has become a regular occurrence in his six-year professional career, Jake Grove failed to play a full 16-game season due to injury. In fact, he has done so just once in his career.

Despite missing a quarter of the season, however, Grove was an excellent blocker when he did play and was a strong contributor to the ground game.

In addition to positive marks as a pass protector, Grove ranked as the second-best run-blocking center in the AFC, behind only the New York Jets' Nick Mangold.

Grove was acquired last year to replace Samson Satele and at some strength and power to the center position, and he's certainly accomplished that.

Now he just needs to stay healthy.

Vernon Carey:

I've always felt he was a sub-par left tackle and average right tackle more suited for guard, but Carey certainly held his own on the right side of the line in 2009.

Although he didn't play anywhere near Long's level despite facing less talent at defensive end on the right side, Carey was a solid pass protector last season, allowing just four sacks on the year.

It was the running game, however, where Carey really shined, dominating opposing defenders as the third-best run-blocking right tackle in the league.

Joe Berger: B-

A versatile interior lineman who had spent his entire career prior to 2009 as a backup, Berger got his first real opportunity at playing time during his second stint with the Dolphins this past season.

Berger appeared in all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2009, including six starts at center in place of an injured Jake Grove. In fact, Berger even got the nod in the final two games of the season, when Grove was available and played off the bench.

Despite playing about half the snaps of most NFL starting centers, Berger ranked as an above average blocker in 2009 and gave the Dolphins two centers among the NFL's top-12 most productive of the season.

Berger's hard work and dedication, teamed with an extensive knowledge of the staff's offense from his time in Dallas, has made him an invaluable reserve and surprisingly capable starter.

Justin Smiley: C+

Coming off a broken leg suffered midway though the 2008 season, Smiley was a little rusty in 2009, and not quite the dominant interior lineman he was during his first season with the Dolphins.

Smiley was a strong pass protector in 2009, although this is a far less difficult task as an interior lineman facing bigger but slower defensive tackles.

Meanwhile, Smiley was merely average as a run-blocker, and if anything was the weakest link on an otherwise extremely sound unit.

Smiley struggled with some nagging injuries in 2009, and his level of play was nearly matched by a second-year offensive tackle with no game experience prior to the season in Nate Garner. Had it not been for Donald Thomas' poor play at right guard, Smiley might have had a more difficult time wrestling his job back from Garner.

Nate Garner:

After not appearing in a game serving as Vernon Carey's backup at right tackle as a rookie in 2008, Garner displayed his versatility by starting games at both guard spots in 2009, as well as working at center when both Grove and Berger were injured against Carolina.

Initially replacing Justin Smiley due to injury, Garner's solid play, combined with mediocre play on the part of Donald Thomas, allowed Garner to slide over to right guard and finish out the season as the team's starter.

While his production was just average, Garner was certainly one of the biggest surprises in 2009, and it's safe to say he exceeded any of our preseason expectations.

I don't see Garner as a long-term starting prospect, but he has shown he has the talent to be a versatile sixth lineman off the bench, and can start in a pinch if needed.

Donald Thomas: D

Hopes were high for Thomas in 2008, as the raw rookie sixth-rounder earned a starting job with the team in his first NFL preseason.

A foot injury in last year's regular season opener put his development on hold, and Dolphins fans hoping for a diamond in the rough were forced to wait another year to see what the team had in Thomas.

Starting the team's first 12 games of the 2009 season at right guard, Thomas was all-around sub-par as a below average pass protector and run blocker. His poor play was not as glaring due to excellent play on both sides of him, but he was certainly the weak link in the unit before ultimately being replaced by Nate Garner.

Expectations for Thomas have perhaps been a little too high, as many sixth-round picks don't even make the team their first season. It is also possible that Thomas earning the starting job in 2008 was more a reflection of the talent (or lack thereof) competing with him rather than his own performance.

Thomas is still young and still fairly new to football as someone that didn't play until college, so I still think there is some upside there. Nothing will be handed to him, however, and he'll be battling to just make the team in 2010.

Andrew Gardner: n/a

The Dolphins' sixth-round pick in 2009, Gardner dressed for only one game as a rookie with no starts.

Gardner continue to be developed as Jake Long's primary backup on the left side, and should get the chance for a bigger role during his second season.

Andrew Hartline: n/a

An undrafted rookie and college offensive tackle, Hartline was signed off the Dolphins' practice squad in late November after mounting injuries to the Dolphins' interior offensive linemen.

Hartline worked at both guard and center for the Dolphins in practice, but did not appear in a game.

Lydon Murtha: n/a

Signed off the Detroit Lions' practice squad in midseason, Murtha appeared in just one game for the Dolphins (vs. Tampa Bay) before landing on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

It wasn't realistic to expect contributions from Murtha anyway, who joined the team later than most of the team's offensive linemen and came in as a seventh-round rookie.

Murtha has plenty of experience at right tackle from his time at Nebraska and could project inside at guard as well, so he should have a decent shot at earning a backup job in 2010.

Overall Position Grade: B+

Although right guard was the shaky spot on the offensive line for the second consecutive season, play from most of the other positions was significantly improved.

The Dolphins' tackles did a fantastic job protecting a young quarterback, while all five starters made contributions to one of the NFL's best downhill running games.

There are a few things that need to be worked out at right guard, and a couple other starters need to stay healthy (I'm looking at you, Grove and Smiley).

All in all, the Dolphins have one of the NFL's best starting units in the NFL, as well as a solid group of young reserves.

How would you grade the Miami Dolphins' offensive line in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forums here!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Full list of 2010 NFL Free Agents

In case you haven't already, click the button to the left (or here if you're lazy) to view my spreadsheet of every NFL free agent this offseason.

The list includes all 604 unrestricted, restricted, and exclusive-rights free agents from all 32 teams.

Furthermore, it is sortable by 2009 team, player name, primary and secondary positions, and type of free agent.

I will continuously update this list during the offseason as players are signed, so it will always be accurate!

Yeremiah Bell named Pro Bowl replacment; other news and notes

  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell will replace Colts safety Antoine Bethea in the 2010 Pro Bowl. Bethea will be forced to miss the game, as his team will be playing in Super Bowl XLIV in two weeks. The Dolphins' sixth-round pick in 2003, Bell finished the season with 114 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions. It's a questionable selection, to be sure, as Bell is pretty one-dimensional and is only a solid NFL safety. Then again, Antoine Bethea probably wasn't deserving in the first place, either.
  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel poses the question of whether or not the Dolphins should release linebacker Joey Porter this offseason, citing new information regarding some troubling behavior on Porter's part. According to Skolnick's sources, which appear to be teammates and potentially fellow linebackers, Porter would routinely refuse to leave the field, sending teammates off the field after they had been sent in to spell him. That kind of insubordination, coupled with a high salary and diminishing ability, seems like plenty of reason to cut ties with the former Pro Bowler, even if a long-term replacement isn't currently on the team. The Dolphins should release Porter, re-sign Jason Taylor, continue to develop Cameron Wake, and draft an outside linebacker within the first three rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. Any potential contributions by Porter don't outweigh the constant headache he brings to the team.
  • Senior Bowl week begins today, and as you well know, the Dolphins' staff (sans an outside linebackers coach) will be leading the South squad. Here is the full roster of players on the South team that the Dolphins' staff will get an up-close look at this week. Some of the prospects that interest me most include Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody, Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams, Miami tight end Jimmy Graham, Auburn running back Ben Tate, Ole Miss wide receiver Dexter McCluster, and South Florida defensive end George Selvie.
  • Edgar Thompson of the Palm Beach Post suggests the Dolphins' in particular will take a close look at nose tackles Cody and Williams, as the position is one of great need for the Dolphins. It's possible, however, both players could come off the board between the Dolphins' first- and second-round picks.
  • Adam Schefter of ESPN suggests that Denver Broncos outside linebacker and impending restricted free agent Elvis Dumervil will "be on Miami's radar" this offseason. However, this is pure speculation, and it's important to note that the NFL's sack leader will likely receive the highest tender from the Broncos, which would cost Miami its first- and third-round picks if they signed him. Schefter also hurts his credibility by saying "Mike Nolan brings 3-4 defense to Miami," despite the team having run it for the past two seasons.

Did Yeremiah Bell deserve his Pro Bowl selection? Discuss that topic and others from this article here!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conference Championship game predictions

I only missed the Jets game last week (unfortunately), but that's been partially rectified by putting a flaming bag of crap on Nate Kaeding's doorstop.

Now, on to the conference championship games.

Last week's record: 3-1
Season record: 178-86 (67.4%)

Colts over Jets — New York's dominant defense is carrying them through the playoffs, but if anyone can beat them, it's Peyton Manning. He might not light up the scoreboard, but I expect him to put up more points than Mark Sanchez and the Jets can match.

Saints over Vikings — Okay, so maybe I'm biased. I hate Brett Favre so much, and I can't bear the thought of him potentially winning another Super Bowl. Drew Brees and the Saints' offense can certainly match, if not exceed, that of the Vikings, but it'll come down to whether their defense can stop Minnesota's offense enough.

Post your own predictions for these games on the forum here!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My (long-awaited) 2009 NFL All-Pro Team and Awards

It's a little delayed and a little late compared to most of the media's all-pro teams and awards (did I just compare myself to the actual media?), but I finally got around to compiling and, most importantly, posting my 2009 All-Pro Team and individual awards.

First, the all-pro team:


WR Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers: A tremendous play-maker in 2009, catching nine touchdowns and ranking behind only Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson in yards per reception among NFL starters.

LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns: His team was horrendous, and his quarterbacks shaky for most, if not all, of the season, but Thomas was far and away the best and most complete blocker in the NFL this past year.

LG Carl Nicks, New Orleans Saints: One of the league's best run blockers, and also very stout in the passing game.

C Nick Mangold, New York Jets: Was simply a monster for the Jets all season, nearly doubling any other center's run-blocking efficiency.

RG Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints: Was the best run blocker in the NFL this season, while also helping Drew Brees lead one of the NFL's most high-powered passing games.

RT Willie Colon, Pittsburgh Steelers: The best pass-protecting right tackle in the NFL this season, allowing only six quarterback pressures.

TE Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: Didn't have the touchdown total of some of the other elite tight ends, but racked up catches and yards and was also a huge factor as a run-blocker.

WR Andre Johnson, Houston Texans: Is as complete a receiver as their is in the NFL and helped quarterback Matt Schaub lead the NFL in passing yards.

QB Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: Manning wasn't the most efficient quarterback in the NFL statistically, but he was near the top, and his leadership skills/importance to his team are second to none.

RB Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans: An easy choice, as Johnson was an absolute monster as a receiver and on the ground, with just the sixth 2,000-yard rushing season in NFL history.

FB Lousaka Polite, Miami Dolphins: No fullback in the NFL came close to Polite's efficiency in run blocking and short-yardage conversions this season.


DE Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts: Is only average against the run, but he led the NFL in quarterback pressures this season as a constant terror to opposing passers.

DT Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins: Plays defensive end in Miami's base 3-4 scheme, but is essentially a tackle, and was excellent in all facets of the game in 2009.

NT Kelly Gregg, Baltimore Ravens: One of the most underrated defensive linemen in the game, Gregg was superb against the run as he anchored the Ravens' 3-4.

DE Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers: Plays as a constant end in the 49ers' hybrid scheme and was by far the most productive 3-4 end in the NFL.

OLB DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys: Started off slow, but had a great finish despite a frightening neck injury and is more than just a good pass rusher.

ILB Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens: Still playing at an extremely high level and can make plays all over the field.

ILB Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers: Easily the best 3-4 inside linebacker in the NFL, and just an absolute beast.

OLB Brian Cushing, Houston Texans: A tremendous playmaker as a rookie, racking up 133 tackles, 4.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions.

CB Darrelle Revis, New York Jets: Only allowed two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers all season as the best shutdown corner in the NFL.

CB Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers: Fantastic against both the pass and the run, and an astounding playmaker in 2009 with four forced fumbles, nine interceptions, and three touchdowns.

Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens: Darren Sharper has the big interception total, but Reed was much better against the pass overall and continues to be an absolute ball-hawk.

SS George Wilson, Buffalo Bills: Very strong against the pass and the best run-stopping strong safety this season.

Special Teams

K Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders: Two of his three field goal misses on the season were from 57 and 67 yards out, and his kickoffs were extremely strong as well.

P Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders: Easily the best punter in the NFL this season, and one of the best in league history.

KR Josh Cribbs, Cleveland Browns: Was a huge game-changer on special teams, averaging 27.5 yards per return and taking two back for scores.

PR DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles: Led NFL in punt return average among full-time returners, with a league-best two touchdowns.

ST Tim Shaw, Chicago Bears: Led NFL in special teams tackles without missing one and also forced a fumble.

And now, the player and coach awards:

NFL Awards

MVP — Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts: One of the league's best passers, and no player is more vital to his team's success.

Offensive Player — Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans: A hugely productive season and absolutely astounding final numbers as both a runner and receiver.

Defensive PlayerCharles Woodson, Green Bay Packers: A complete corner who had more big plays in defensive than anyone in the league.

Offensive RookieOT Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens: Percy Harvin made a strong case, but Oher played two very difficult positions for a rookie (five at left tackle, 11 at right tackle) and performed extremely well in all areas.

Defensive Rookie Brian Cushing, Houston Texans: A tackling machine and huge playmaker his rookie season.

Comeback Player — Tom Brady, New England Patriots: Returned from a tough knee injury and played extremely sound football all season, despite some pretty poor play around him.

Head Coach — Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals: Dealt with HBO cameras during training camp, the death of Chris Henry, and the death of his defensive coordinator's wife, all the while leading his team to an AFC North title.

Offensive CoordinatorJason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys: Got his team over its regular December woes and into the postseason with great play-calling and tutelage of Tony Romo.

Defensive Coordinator — Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati Bengals: Turned Cincinnati's usually sub-par defensive into a Top 10 unit, all while dealing with the unexpected death of his wife mid-season.

General Manager — Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens: Is entirely responsible for the personnel of Baltimore's third-ranked defense, as well as the arrivals of vital offensive players like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Jared Gaither, Matt Birk, and Michael Oher.

Discuss this article on the forums here!

Miami Dolphins: Jan. 21 news and notes

  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald posted one of the most detailed and comprehensive explanations on the impact of this whole Collective Bargaining Agreement mess. The presence of a CBA greatly impacts free agency and all sorts of other things us fans are into, so head over there and check it out.
  • Salguero also aptly points out that, despite the hiring of Bill Sheridan as inside linebackers coach and Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator, the Dolphins still have one coaching vacancy to fill: outside linebackers coach. This is indeed an important hire, as 3-4 outside linebackers are the scheme's primary pass rushers, but are also asked to play the run and drop back in coverage.
  • For those of us who don't pay for ESPN Insider, Edgar Thompson of the Palm Beach Post informs us that Mel Kiper, Jr.'s first 2010 mock draft has the Dolphins taking linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 12. This seems to be the most popular choice among Dolphins fans and it's mine as well, as McClain could be a Patrick Willis-type player in the Dolphins' scheme. The Dolphins' biggest threat to take McClain—the Denver Broncos at No. 10—are slated to take Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, per Kiper.
  • Armando Salguero also mentions Kiper's mock, but says the Dolphins are also impressed with Clemson running back C. J. Spiller. I have a hard time believing the Dolphins would ignore glaring needs at wide receiver, nose tackle, inside and outside linebacker, and safety to draft a running back who, while a play-maker, is not immediately needed, and might end up being Reggie Bush 2.0.
  • The Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel both look at some of Mike Nolan's credentials, good and bad. One thing that's clear is that he has coached some extremely talented linebackers to great success.
  • Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, in his limited-approaching-nonexistent "wisdom," does make one good point, in that Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby is very likely to hit the open market this offseason. As a six-year veteran, Dansby's free agency status is not affected by the CBA. Additionally, due to the fact that he's been franchised twice already, doing so again would mean guaranteeing Dansby a base salary equal to the average of the five highest salaries in the NFL.
  • Florio then went back to making stuff up and trying to make something out of nothing, insinuating the Dolphins had tampered with Nolan while he was still under contract with the Broncos. Their points are weak at best, however, and the fact Miami approached the team with a formal request before any known contact with Nolan or his agent makes it unlikely any tampering charges will be filed. The fact the Broncos so willingly let Nolan go also indicates that they simply don't care how it all came about.
  • One of Miami's latest CFL imports was BC Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala, who was signed earlier this month. Now, the man he blocked for in 2009 will be getting his shot in the NFL as well. Running back Martell Mallett, who was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie after rushing for 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in 2009, has been signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Discuss this article on the forum here!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2009 Miami Dolphins Position Grades: Tight End

Tight end was one of the positions that saw the most regression for the Miami Dolphins from 2008 to 2009.

Last season, newcomer Anthony Fasano gave the Dolphins a legitimate dual threat at tight end, while veteran backup David Martin made clutch catch after clutch catch following a few shaky year in Miami.

This season was different, as Anthony Fasano struggled in the passing game, Martin was released prior to the season, and 2008 third-stringer Joey Haynos was asked to step in to a larger role.

Here are my individual and overall ratings for the Miami Dolphins' tight ends in 2009:

Anthony Fasano: C+

A year after serving as Miami's best red-zone target, Fasano struggled mightily in the passing game.

Fasano's touchdown total fell from seven to just two, and his yards from 454 to 339. He also dropped three passes and lost two fumbles on the season.

If it sounds like there wasn't much good about Fasano's play this season, that's understandable. So why the fairly high rating for a player that was essentially a negative contributor in the passing game?

One word: Blocking. Fasano was in fact the second-best blocking tight end in the NFL this season, behind the Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten. He was a big contributor the Dolphins' highly successful ground game.

Despite his struggles as a receiver, Fasano's heavy blocking role and consequently fewer opportunities in the passing game could also have been a factor in his decreased statistical production.

Joey Haynos: D+

When Haynos was signed off the Green Bay Packers' practice squad, the 6-foot-8 rookie seemed like a great potential deep threat. However, he understandably failed to see much game action as a rookie behind veterans Fasano and Martin.

Haynos stepped into the No. 2 tight end spot in 2009, and expectations were high given his physical tools, as well as how Martin had performed in that role the previous season.

Like Fasano, however, Haynos was a bit of a disappointment. He didn't make much of an impact in the receiving game, and was only a solid blocker in the running game.

Haynos still has potential and may get more of a shot to prove himself in 2010, but he has a long way to go and has not yet shown he's a legitimate starting prospect.

Kory Sperry: n/a

Sperry made an early splash when he was signed off the team's practice squad in mid-November, catching a touchdown pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first career game and start.

Although he went on to play in the team's final eight games, Sperry was mostly limited to special teams and finished with just three catches for 31 yards and the lone score in his rookie season.

While he did play half the season, Sperry reasonably didn't see much action as the team's third tight end, and thus get's an n/a from me.

Honestly, it's impressive he even played that much since he didn't attend training camp with the team and eventually beat out the Dolphins' fifth-round pick, John Nalbone, for the promotion.

John Nalbone: n/a

A rookie fifth-round pick out of Monmouth, Nalbone failed to make any kind of impact with the Dolphins his rookie season.

After spending the first seven games of the regular season as the inactive third-string tight end, Nalbone was waived and finished the season on the team's practice squad. When the Dolphins wanted a third tight end in mid-November, fellow practice squad rookie Kory Sperry got the call instead.

Part of me wants to give Nalbone an F for failing to even get into a game as a drafted rookie, especially over an undrafted one in Sperry that spent training camp with the San Diego Chargers.

However, Nalbone was understandably raw coming out of Division I-FCS Monmouth, and fifth-round picks don't always make their drafting teams at all.

The Dolphins re-signed Nalbone to a two-year contract after the season, but he'll find himself on the outside looking in if he doesn't significantly improve in the offseason.

Overall Position Grade: C

The Dolphins' running backs scored 20 touchdowns on the ground in 2009 and were highly productive throughout the season, and a big part of that was the positive contributions by Haynos and, in particular, Fasano.

Neither, however, is much of a play-makers in the passing game, and both performed well below average in that department.

While a stud tight end might be nice to have, the Dolphins' offense has bigger needs, and they seem to get by just fine without one.

Discuss this article on the forum here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ace in the Hole: Dolphins Tab Mike Nolan as Defensive Coordinator

Toward the end of last week, the Miami Dolphins' search for a new defensive coordinator was looking grim.

Potential candidates Mike Zimmer and Romeo Crennel had already taken other jobs, and the team's top two prospects—Al Groh and Keith Butler—turned down the Dolphins' offer.

Just when fans were beginning to resign to the fact that an in-house promotion of secondary coach Todd Bowles was likely, everything changed in one 24-hour period.

Less than a day after a "mutual parting of ways" between the Denver Broncos and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Dolphins pounced and inked the former NFL head coach to a deal.

An experienced defensive coach with a long history with the 3-4 scheme, Nolan replaced Paul Pasqualoni, who was fired after two years on the job and a steep decline in 2009.


The son of former NFL head coach Dick Nolan, Mike Nolan was a three-year starter at safety for the University of Oregon.

Following his playing career, Nolan spent six years as a coach at the collegiate level. After spending one season as a graduate assistant at Oregon in 1981, Nolan coached the linebackers at Stanford for two seasons, the defensive line at Rice in 1984, and the linebackers at LSU through 1986.

Nolan made the jump to the NFL in 1987, joining Dan Reeves' staff with the Denver Broncos as linebackers coach. Reeves had previously played for a Dallas Cowboys' staff that included Nolan's father as defensive coordinator in the 1960s.

Nolan then served a series of defensive coordinator jobs, with the New York Giants (1993–1996), Washington Redskins (1997–1999), New York Jets (2000), and Baltimore Ravens (2002–2004). Nolan's stint with the Jets was under general manager Bill Parcells and head coach Al Groh.

Upon receiving his first head-coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers in 2005, Nolan directed his team to a 4–12 record and last-place finish in the NFC West. After two more losing seasons, Nolan was fired seven games into the 2008 regular season, finishing his Niners stint with an 18–37 record.

Nolan was hired as the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator under new head coach Josh McDaniels in 2009.

Despite guiding his unit to a No. 7 ranking in yards allows and No. 12 ranking in points allowed, the Broncos and Nolan agreed to part ways on January 18, 2010.


Man, oh man, did I not see this one coming!

I, like a lot of Dolphins fans, was hoping for a big-name guy that could bring some new ideas to the team. All hope seemed to be lost after Groh and Butler turned Miami down, and I was expecting Todd Bowles to be promoted to the job within the week.

Then the Denver Broncos gave the Dolphins a late (or really early) Christmas present, allowing the man who turned one of the league's worst defenses in 2008 into a top-10 unit in 2009 to simply walk away.

Nolan has a great history as a defensive coordinator in this league, and has long run one of the NFL's best attacking 3-4 schemes. While Pasqualoni also ran the 3-4 in Miami, his teams have been known to be a little too laid back at times.

Nolan does wonders with personnel, turning Aubrayo Franklin into one of the NFL's best nose tackles and Patrick Willis into a Defensive Rookie of the Year in San Francisco, while helping Broncos linebacker Elver Dumervil realize his potential with an NFL-best 17 sacks in 2009.

He should also help draw in free agents on the defensive side of the ball, and help the Dolphins' linebacker corps (hopefully with some new faces) improve in all facets of the games.

I'm excited in particular to see what he can do for the progression of Cameron Wake, who had a solid rookie season rushing the passer, but still needs help against the run and in coverage.

All in all, Nolan is a superb hire for the Dolphins that should go a long way in improving a mediocre defense in 2009.

His hiring is also yet another example of why, no matter how bad things look, you can never underestimate a Bill Parcells-led front office.

Discuss Mike Nolan's hiring on the forum here!

Dolphins hire Bill Sheridan to coach inside linebackers

After about a week of speculation, the Miami Dolphin have finally filled their first coaching vacancy of the offseason, hiring Bill Sheridan as inside linebackers coach.

Sheridan replaces George Edwards, who coached the Dolphins' linebackers in some capacity since 2005 before becoming the University of Florida's defensive coordinator earlier this month.

Most recently the New York Giants' defensive coordinator in 2009, Sheridan was fired after just one season on the job after his unit finished the season ranked 30th in the NFL. The Giants lost eight of their last 11 games and missed the postseason, and allowed 40 or more points in five games.

Sheridan was the Giants' linebackers coach from 2005 to 2008 before replacing defensive coordinator Steve Spaguolo, who became the St. Louis Rams' head coach in 2009.

A Detroit native, Sheridan began his coaching career at the high school level, coaching wide receivers, offensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs at Shrine Catholic.

Sheridan joined the University of Michigan's staff in 1985, and followed two years with the Wolverines with stints at Maine, Cincinnati, Army, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and a second stint at Michigan.

In Miami, Sheridan will coach in the 3-4 scheme for the first time as a pro coach, which is why he will focus on the team's inside linebackers, rather than the entire unit. In the scheme, inside linebackers play more as traditional 4-3 linebackers, focusing on run-stopping and coverage of running backs and tight ends.

The Dolphins lack an elite starter among their inside linebackers, as starters Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele are serviceable but average at best. Backup Reggie Torbor is an extremely overpriced special teams player and not a suitable starter.

With Ayodele and Torbor likely roster casualties in the offseason, the Dolphins will presumably target an inside linebacker in the offseason. Alabama's Rolando McClain and Florida's Brandon Spikes are viewed as the top inside linebackers in the 2010 NFL Draft, while the Arizona Cardinals' Karlos Dansby headlines the free agent market.

Discuss Sheridan's hiring on the forum here!

Check out the new Miami Dolphins Spotlight forum!

In the interest of generating some more Miami Dolphins discussion right here on the site, I've decided to open a forum where everyone can post messages and discuss all kinds of football and non-football topics.

I'd love to make this a pretty busy forum with lots of fruitful and stimulating discussion, so feel free to post any Dolphins-related links or comments. You could also encourage any other football fans you know to come by and join in as well!

You can check out the forums here, or as always by clicking the Forum link from the main menu at the top of the site!

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 Miami Dolphins Position Grades: Wide Receiver

Miami Dolphins fans have a love-hate relationship with the team's receivers.

They loved the sure-handed, big-effort play of Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, and Brian Hartline. They hate the first-round bust Ted Ginn, Jr. and the apparent waste of a third-rounder, rookie Patrick Turner.

There isn't a star among the bunch, but a few of them certainly stood above the rest in terms of reliability and production.

These are my individual and overall grades for the Miami Dolphins' 2009 wide receivers:

Greg Camarillo: B-

Camarillo was certainly Miami's most reliable receiver in 2009, ranking second on the team in both receptions and yards while not dropping a single pass all season. He ranked 13th in the NFL this season by catching 72.5 percent of all the balls thrown to him.

That being said, he remains a limited talent with average physical tools. He failed to get into the end zone once this season and doesn't stretch the field, averaging just 11 yards per reception.

Camarillo is the prototypical Miami receiver in recent years, with good hands, average speed, a try-hard mentality, and a fairly low ceiling. He's a reliable player, but nothing more than a No. 3 receiver on a good team.

Brian Hartline: B-

Despite ranking third on the team in receptions with 31, Hartline was arguably the Dolphins' best receiver in 2009. Hartline finished third on the team with 506 yards, and his 16.3 average blew away that of any of the Dolphins' other receivers.

Hartline also dropped only three passes, and stretched the field better than any Dolphins receiver as he came up with a couple big deep grabs. Leading the team in receiving touchdowns with three, Hartline also added a rushing score on the season.

Davone Bess: C

It's not saying much, but Bess was the Dolphins' most productive receiver in 2009, leading the team with 76 catches for 758 yards. His two receiving scores tied him for second on the team, along with two running backs and two tight ends.

Like Camarillo, Bess is nothing more than a solid slot guy, and probably shouldn't be starting in the NFL. He'd excel as a No. 3, because he has good hands and decent quickness, though his straight-line speed is sub-par.

Unlike Camarillo, Bess struggled a bit with dropped passes this season, finishing second behind only Ginn with seven drops. Up from five drops as a rookie in 2008, Bess needs to get the problem under control to be one of the better slot receivers in the NFL.

Ted Ginn, Jr.: D

I had high hopes for Ginn after a productive 2008 season, when he caught 56 passes for 790 yards and two scores. Realistically, they were quite solid numbers for a second-year receiver on a run-first team with a quarterback (Chad Pennington) that was lacking in arm strength.

Ginn struggled heavily and regressed significantly in 2009, catching 38 passes for 454 yards and a touchdown while tying for the NFL lead in drops.

Ginn's route-running remains an issue, as does his propensity to run out of bounds or fall to the ground to avoid a hit. Although he made a few splashes as a returner in a big win against the Jets, Ginn struggled on special teams as well and was just a wholly unproductive player for the Dolphins in 2009.

Patrick Turner: F

Up until now, I'd refrained from assigning grades to players that didn't play enough (Tyler Thigpen, Kory Sheets, etc.) and I plan on continuing to do that.

However, Turner is a different case, because unlike a backup quarterback acquired midseason or a rookie running back signed off another team's practice squad as a fourth running back, Turner actually had some expectations this year.

Expectations that he failed to meet, like, you know, playing on offense, catching a pass. That sort of thing.

While another rookie receiver picked after Turner (Brian Hartline) earned significant playing time and led the team in yards-per-catch and receiving touchdowns, Turner appeared in only two games for the Dolphins in 2009, and never played a down on offense.

Turner reportedly struggled to gain separation in practice, and seems to be the Dolphins' most recent version of Ernest Wilford. Unless he improves significantly this offseason, he could find himself released just one year into his rookie contract.

Overall Position Grade: C-

The Dolphins have a few guys at receiver you can't help but like—Bess, Camarillo, Hartline—but all of them are limited physically and their ceilings as pros probably aren't that of starting wide receivers.

What the Dolphins have is a handful of decent slot receivers and a few major disappointments. The former group is worth keeping around, but what the Dolphins desperately need is a true, play-making No. 1 wide receiver.

With Chad Henne emerging as a big-armed, talented NFL quarterback and looming, potentially significant changes coming at running back over the next few seasons, the Dolphins need to begin their search for that No. 1 receiver immediately.

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Miami Dolphins: Jan. 18 news and notes

There haven't been any signings or, unfortunately, coaching hires today, but here are a few Dolphins-related news items floating around this new "InterWeb" thing:
  • The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly looks at some potential high-priced roster casualties, listing Gibril Wilson, Joey Porter, Akin Ayodele, Reggie Torbor, and Jason Allen as possibilities. I think Wilson is a given, and Porter is very likely. I don't see both Ayodele and Torbor being cut (or possibly either) without anyone to replace them. Also, I'm very content with Jason Allen making just over $1 million, because he has experience in our defensive scheme and is a standout special teams player.
  • Kelly also reports that Assistant Head Coach/Secondary Coach Todd Bowles is "a viable option" for the Dolphins' defensive coordinator job. He also says the hiring of former Giants' defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan as linebackers coach is looming.
  • Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post suggests New England Patriots' defensive line coach Pepper Johnson for the Dolphins' defensive coordinator job. Johnson, 45, played under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants and New York Jets, and under Bill Belichick with the Giants, Jets, and Cleveland Browns. He has spent the last decade as an assistant under Belichick in New England, serving as assistant linebackers coach in 2000, inside linebackers coach from 2001 to 2003, and defensive line coach since. The division-rival Patriots would have to give Miami permission to interview Johnson for the job, as teams can block assistants from taking a job with any team that isn't a head-coaching gig.
  • Biggane also looks at five young players who went through growing pains in 2009, but are looking to improve for the future.
  • Edger Thompson of the Palm Beach Post points out that the Dolphins' staff is slated to coach at the Senior Bowl in exactly one week, which could put the search for linebackers coaches and a defensive coordinator on hold of they aren't filled by then.
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald informs us that Sun Life Financial will pay the Dolphins $7.5 million a year for the naming rights to the stadium formerly known as Land Shark. The arena will officially become Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday, Jan. 20, in time for this year's Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Divisional Round game predictions

I split on my picks during the Wild Card Round, getting the Cowboys and Ravens right, but missing the Jets and Cardinals wrong. Please don't hit me again.

Last week's record: 2-2
Season record: 175-85 (67.3 %)

Saints over Cardinals — New Orleans ended the season with a pretty slow going, but I expect Drew Brees & Co. to pick it back up for the playoffs and out-duel Kurt Warner.

Colts over Ravens — Baltimore completely man-handled the Patriots last week, but I don't like betting against Peyton Manning and I'm not going to do so here.

Vikings over Cowboys — Dallas played extremely well against Philly and is very hot right now, but Minnesota can match them in every aspect of the game and exceed them in a few.

Chargers over Jets — New York's defense is playing well, but I think Philip Rivers is able to do enough to put an end to their season.

Miami Dolphins spurned: Al Groh, Keith Butler decline defensive coordinator job

Despite reports last weekend that Al Groh-to-Georgia Tech was close to a done deal, many in the media and Miami Dolphins fan base assumed that Groh would alter course and head to Miami when the team fired defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni on Monday.

I was among them, predicting that Groh would be named the Dolphins' defensive coordinator by the end of the week, and it seemed it seemed to be coming to fruition when Groh interviewed for the job on Wednesday.

But it was the Dolphins, and not Georgia Tech, that were spurned by Groh, as it was announced today that Groh would indeed take the Yellow Jackets' defensive coordinator job.

For whatever reason, a long history with Bill Parcells and the appeal of a pro coordinator job versus a college on was not enough to sway Groh.

The Dolphin have also reportedly lost out on another top choice of theirs in Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler, who has declined Miami's offer and will remain with the Steelers.

With Groh and Butler declining the Dolphins' offers, Mike Zimmer staying put in Cincinnati, and Romeo Crennel heading to Kansas City, all of the Dolphins' top and/or most sensible candidates are now off the table.

It seems more likely now than ever that Assistant Head Coach/Secondary Coach Todd Bowles will earn an in-house promotion, although I know many of us would prefer a fresh face in the mix after last season's struggles.

The Dolphins could also hire former Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, although it is believed the team was looking at him as simply a linebackers coach and not a coordinator candidate.

The Dolphins' defensive coordinator job is very much up in the air right now, and unless a mystery candidate is waiting in the wings, it's quite possible the Dolphins will have to do some settling to fill the position.

Pasqualoni heads back to Big D

The Dolphins are still looking for their new defensive coordinator, but the one they fired already has a new job.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Cowboys have hired Paul Pasqualoni as their new defensive line coach.

Pasqualoni will replace Todd Grantham, who has been hired as the new defensive coordinator under Mark Richt at the University of Georgia.

This will be Pasqualoni's second stint with the Cowboys, as he served as the team's tight ends coach in 2005 and later as linebackers coach in 2006 and 2007.