Friday, January 28, 2011

Mark Ingram: Why The Miami Dolphins Should NOT Draft Bama's Star Running Back

Let me get this out of the way right now: I'm an Auburn Tigers fan. I hate the Crimson Tide with a passion. I cringe at their every victory, and joyously celebrate their every defeat. But that has nothing to do with why I do not want Mark Ingram holding up a Dolphins jersey this April.

More than an Auburn fan, I'm a Dolphins fan, and I absolutely do not care what college a guy went to when it comes to the Dolphins. I would have been fine with the Dolphins drafting Terrence Cody in 2010. Rolando McClain the guy I wanted most in the first round last year before Oakland took him. Give me DeMeco Ryans or Jarrett Johnson any day.

My distaste for the Tide as an Auburn fan has nothing to do with why I don't want the Dolphins to draft running back Mark Ingram. Quite simply, it's because running backs are rarely worth first-round picks, and Ingram just isn't a special enough player to warrant drafting so high when the team has other needs.

That is not to say the Dolphins aren't in need of a running back. Ronnie Brown is slated for free agency, as is Ricky Williams, who spent the early part of the offseason trashing the Dolphins and their head coach on the airwaves. Neither is a lock to return to the team in 2011, and neither would be a long-term solution if they did.

Patrick Cobbs is also a free agent, though he doesn't have starting talent, anyway. Lex Hilliard is an exclusive-rights free agent and should be back, but he hasn't shown anything in three pro seasons and failed to register even one carry in 2010. Kory Sheets spent all of 2010 on injured reserve with a torn Achilles' and has just one career carry.

The Dolphins need not just one, but probably two new running backs for 2011. They could desperately use a Darren Sproles-type, who can catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as a bruiser that can run between the tackles and churn out yards the way Brown and Williams did the past few years.

But Ingram is not the answer. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound back was a stellar producer, setting the school record for rushing yards in a season as a sophomore. He has excellent vision and natural rushing ability, taking good care of the ball and catching out of the backfield. Quite simply, Ingram is a damn good running back.

I do not, however, consider Ingram to be on the level of a Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson coming out of college. He doesn't possess the standout speed or athleticism, and doesn't blend all the physical tools you look for in an elite NFL back. He's a solid, physical running back that can only hope to have the kind of success someone like Marion Barber III has.

If you came up to me and said, "Here's Mark Ingram. Take him, no cost. He can be your starting running back," then I would be on board in a heartbeat. I will flat-out tell you right now that I believe Ingram has all the talent in the world to be a starting NFL running back, and a productive one.

But the important thing to remember is that in most cases, when you exclude the Barry Sanders and Walter Paytons of the world, the offensive line makes the back in the NFL.

It's not really that way for the best running backs at the college level. The lines help, sure, but the backs are just better than the defenders they are going up against nine times out of 10. They are often trying to be tackled by guys that won't ever sniff the NFL.

But in the pros, things are different. Every defense is a million times better than any you'd face in college, and no matter how talented a running back you are, you aren't going anywhere without a productive offensive line.

We learned that much with the Dolphins in 2010, when Ricky Williams rushed for just one touchdown and Ronnie Brown averaged a dismal 3.7 yards per carry just one year after combining for one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.

The Dolphins used the uncapped year to shave off more than $50 million in the contracts for injury-prone veteran linemen Jake Grove and Justin Smiley. And in the long run, that was probably a good decision.

But the team suffered for it in 2010, as free agent left guard Richie Incognito, journeyman center Joe Berger, and rookie right guard John Jerry spent the season seemingly holding a contest to see who could be the least effective lineman on the team.

Until the Dolphins fix these problems and replace those that need replacing, it doesn't matter who fills the Dolphins' backfield.

But even when they do fix the offensive line, they also won't need a running back drafted as high and paid as much as Ingram. They can just as easily find one in the middle rounds of the draft

Just look at two of the best running backs in all of football this year: NFL rushing leader Arian Foster and broken-tackles leader LeGarrette Blount. Both went undrafted, and both had stellar seasons in 2010 thanks to good blocking up front.

Look how Peyton Hillis and Mike Tolbert tore up opposing defenses in 2010. Note that a seventh-rounder and a fourth-rounder have given the Giants a terrific one-two punch in recent years. Look at the backfield of the 14-2 New England Patriots, which probably consists of as much combined talent as Ingram when he was in Pop Warner.

Will Mark Ingram go high in the 2011 NFL Draft? Probably, and understandably so. I don't think he'll necessarily crack the top 15, but I do expect him to go in the first round, probably to a team like the Patriots that has the luxury of not too many glaring hopes (plus two picks in the first round).

But the Dolphins, picking at No. 15, have too many other needs at quarterback, receivers, center, guard, linebacker, and safety to consider taking the one position that is easiest to find in the NFL if you have a good line, and the one position that isn't going to be productive without one, regardless of where he was taken or what he did in college.


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Wide Receiver

The acquisition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall gave the Dolphins the elite, No. 1 target in the passing game that they had been lacking for so long.

The Dolphins aerial attack, or lack thereof, ended up being pretty tame, thanks to the lack of a running game which hindered the entire offense and the conservative styles of offensive coordinator Dan Henning and quarterback Chad Henne.

In the end, the Dolphins ranked right in the middle of the pack at 16th in receiving yards, but the team's passer rating fellow all the way to 28th.

While the Dolphins' receivers were in part limited due to other factors, I will as best I can attempt to rate their individual performance in the 2010 season.



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Dolphins expected to release veteran CB Will Allen

The Miami Dolphins are expected to release 10-year veteran cornerback Will Allen when teams are allowed to do so in February, according to Omar Kelly.

Allen spent all of the 2010 season on injured reserve following what the Dolphins said was a slow recovery from a knee scope. He had missed 10 games the previous season after suffering a torn ACL.

Originally drafted in the first round by the New York Giants out of Syracuse in 2001, Allen signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Dolphins in March 2005 as one of Nick Saban's first free-agency pickups.

Despite pulling in only two interceptions over his first two seasons in Miami, Allen quickly established himself as one of the most productive shutdown corners in the NFL.

In 2008, Allen started all 16 games for the Dolphins and recorded 50 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, 15 pass deflections, and three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

After missing only one game out of his first 54 with the Dolphins, Allen suffered a torn ACL in Week 6 of the 2009 season in a game against the New Orleans Saints.

Allen, who signed a $16.2 million extension through 2011 in the 2009 offseason, landed on injured reserve again on September 5 just before the 2010 season.

Despite his absence, the Dolphins' pass defense increased from 24th in the NFL in 2009 to eighth in 2010, thanks to the arrival of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Todd Bowles' development of second-year corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.

With the Dolphins' starting corners locked in for 2011, nickel back Benny Sapp expected to return, and 2010 fifth-rounder Nolan Carroll, the writing is on the wall for Allen, who is slated to make $5.5 million in the last year of his contract this coming season.

Meanwhile Allen, who will be 33 when the 2011 season begins, will probably have to settle for a one- or two-year deal and has likely seen his last big pay day. He is a talented cover corner, but has never been a turnover machine and it's unknown if his body is going to keep up given his recent injuries.


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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Senior Bowl 2011: The North's Most Intriguing Prospects for the Miami Dolphins

Just as I did last year, I'll be taking a look at 10 intriguing prospects on both the North and South rosters from this year's Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

Last year, two of the Dolphins' top three draft picks—first-round defensive end Jared Odrick and third-round guard John Jerry—were among the 20 players mentioned in my articles.

Keep in mind, these articles are not top 10 lists based purely on talent and potential. Rather, they are tailored to the needs and schemes of the Miami Dolphins. Therefore, elite prospects at positions that are not of need to the Dolphins are not discussed here.

Now, on to the North prospects...



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Dolphins announce full list of coaching changes

The Miami Dolphins have officially announced a laundry list of coaching changes—some already reported, some clarified, and some new all together.

Most of these have already been addressed previously on this site, but here is the full list of coaching changes and additions announced by the Dolphin today.


Darren Rizzi — Special Teams Coordinator

Though this really happened last October when the team fired John Bonamego, perhaps this is just the shedding of any "interim" tag as Rizzi officially gets the title of special teams coordinator.

Originally a tight end at Rhode Island (1988-91), Rizzi's coaching history includes stops at Colgate (1993, assistant), New Haven (1994-97, defensive coordinator), Northeastern (1998, special teams), New Haven again 1999-2001, head coach), Rutgers (2002-07, special teams), and Rhode Island (2008, head coach).

In 2011, Rizzi will be tasked with continuing the effective kicking and punting games as well as improving blocking and coverage units alongside new assistant special teams coach Dave Fipp.


Karl Dorrell — Quarterbacks

As I wrote about earlier today, Dorrell takes over as the Dolphins' quarterback coach after three seasons working with the wide receivers. He replaces David Lee, who has moved on to Ole Miss to be offensive coordinator.

A strandout receiver at UCLA, Dorrell has worked as a receivers coach at the college and NFL levels, as well as as an offensive coordinator and head coach in college. He has been a receivers coach for UCF (1989), Colorado (1992-93), Arizona State (1994), and the Denver Broncos (2000-02). Dorrell was also an offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona (1990-91), Colorado (1995-98), and Washington (1999), as well as the head coach of UCLA from 2002-07.

Despite never working specifically with quarterbacks before, Dorrell will attempt to help Chad Henne make progress as a starting quarterback and potentially groom any rookie the team brings in via the draft.


Steve Bush — Wide Receivers

Bush becomes a first-time receivers coach with the Dolphins, having spent the past three seasons as the team's offensive quality control coach. He replaced new quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell.

A defensive back at Southern Connecticut State (1978-81), Bush began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater from 1982-83. He then served as the defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Springfield College from 1984-85.

Bush then became the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at the University of New Haven for two seasons before working as the defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Boston University from 1988-89 alongside Tony Sparano.

After ten years as a high school head coach in the 1990s, Bush was a defensive backs coach at Syracuse from 2000-04 under former Dolphins defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, while also serving the final four years as the team's quarterbacks coach as well. Bush coached three more seasons at the high school level before joining the Dolphins in 2008.

Bush has never worked directly with receivers and actually has a much greater background on defense. The Dolphins have their stud No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall and a good slot guy in Davone Bess, but are still in search of that capable second starter.


Dave Fipp — Assistant Special Teams

Fipp becomes the Dolphins' new assistant special teams coach, filling a void left open since October when Darren Rizzi was promoted to special teams coordinator after John Bonamego's firing.

Fipp has a pretty extensive background on special teams and defense, as a safety at Arizona (1994-97) and first as a coach at Holy Cross as the special teams coordinator and secondary coach from 1998-99.

After a season as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 2000, Fipp spent time at Cal Poly (2001, secondary coach; 2002-03, defensive coordinator), Nevada (2004, defensive coordinator), and San Jose State (2005-06, co-defensive coordinator; 2007, defensive coordinator).

Fipp then spent three seasons as the assistant special teams coach for the San Francisco 49ers from 2008-10 before being let go upon the arrival of Jim Harbaugh, who was ironically pursued by the Dolphins as well this offseason.

In San Francisco, Fipp was credited with helping develop a handful of Pro Bowlers on special teams, and will be tasked with assisting Rizzi in improving the Dolphins return blocking and coverage.


Ike Hilliard — Assistant Wide Receivers

An All-American receiver at Florida, Hilliard was drafted seventh overall by the New York Giants in 1997. He spent eight seasons with the Giants and four more with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, retiring following the 2008 season with career totals of 546 receptions, 6,397 yards, and 35 touchdowns.

After his playing career, Hilliard worked as an unpaid coaching assistant for the UFL's Florida Tuskers under Jim Haslett in 2009. He was promoted to wide receivers coach under new head coach Jay Gruden in 2010, helping the Tuskers to their second consecutive championship game appearance.

While I had initially passed along reports that Hilliard was a general "offensive assistant," and then later heard he would be the wide receivers coach replacing Dorrell, it turns out Hilliard will in fact hold the assistant wide receivers coach title under Bush.

Hilliard, who played receiver extensively in the in the NFL over the past two decades, will learn the finer points of coaching from Bush, and may actually be able to contribute more specific insight to the team's receivers than the position coach himself.


Tony Sparano, Jr. — Offensive Quality Control

Sparano, Jr. arrives after one season as an assistant defensive line coach for the UFL's Hartford Colonials under defensive line coach Ted Daisher and head coach Chris Palmer.

Prior to joining the coaching ranks in 2010, Sparano was a four-year letterman at the University of Albany, where he played in 35 games and totaled 64 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries as a defensive end. His younger brother, Andy, just wrapped up his senior season as a center for Albany.

Obviously, this is head coach Tony Sparano's son. But let's not freak out about favoritism, nepotism, and all that. First off, everyone in every business knows that it isn't what you know, but who you know when it comes to getting a job. If you had an in with an NFL head coach, you'd probably take advantage of it, too.

Secondly, it's important to remember that Sparano, Jr. is merely a offensive quality control coach. Basically, they do in-house scouting, compiling of statistics (player snaps taken, etc.), opposing team scouting, film study, and so on. Basically, they are like interns that assist with anything the staff needs.

That being the case, Sparano, Jr. isn't going to affect the outcome of any games as a QC coach, and odds are he has a pretty decent football background for a 24-year-old considering his father's résumé.


Conclusion

The most glaring thing to take away from these hires is the lack of experience and some odd fits that are apparently being made. You have a quarterbacks coach that hasn't coached quarterbacks; a receivers coach that has never coached receivers; and some guys extremely inexperienced at coaching altogether in Hilliard and Sparano, Jr. (Throw new tight ends coach Dan Campbell in that ground as well.)

Then throw in an offensive coordinator with a defensive background and very little play-calling experience (with practically none of it productive) in Brian Daboll, and this makes for what looks to be a very inexperienced and jumbled coaching staff.

It's interesting to note that this staff, compared to those from the previous three seasons, was assembled predominantly by Sparano rather than the higher-ups. After the Dolphins botched their attempts to replace Sparano earlier this month, they ended up giving him more control over personnel and his staff.

That's what makes the inexperience and odd formation of this staff all the more surprising. Many, including myself, believe that despite his extension through 2013, Sparano needs a big turnaround in 2011 to avoid being canned next offseason.

But this coaching staff looks a lot like one that is being built for the future, which obviously means Sparano is confident he can right the ship quickly with his hand-picked bunch.


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Dolphins' Karl Dorrell moving to quarterbacks coach

In a surprising turn of events, the Miami Dolphins have filled their vacant quarterbacks coach spot in-house with wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell.

Dorrell will replace David Lee, who left the Dolphins earlier this month to become the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss.

According to multiple Dolphins' reporters from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., newly-hired offensive assistant Ike Hilliard will take over for Dorrell as the team's new wide receivers coach.

A former standout receiver at UCLA, Dorrell, 47, has never worked specifically with quarterbacks in 21 years of coaching between the college and pro levels. He has held wide receiver coaching gigs at the college level with Central Florida (1989), Colorado (1992-93), and Arizona State (1994), as well as in the NFL with the Denver Broncos from 2000-02 and the Dolphins since 2008.

Dorrell has also served as offensive coordinator for Northern Arizona (1990-91), Colorado (1995-98), and Washington (1999). He was head coach at his alma mater UCLA for five seasons from 2003-07, compiling a 35-27 record with one bowl victory in the 2005 Sun Bowl over Northwestern.

With the shifts, the Dolphins' currently have a complete coaching staff. However, that does not preclude them from hiring other general offensive or defensive "assistants" or coaching interns.

There is also the possibility the Dolphins' could soon be in need of a new secondary coach, as Todd Bowles reportedly "wowed" Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt in an interview for the team's defensive coordinator position.

Bowles made great strides with the Dolphins' young secondary in 2010 and has been interviewed for various head coaching and defensive coordinator positions in the past few years.

One potential replacement for Bowles could be Eric Mangini, who was new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's head coach with the Jets and Browns.


Analysis

I must admit this move confuses me. The way I think about the situation is this:
  • The Dolphins need much better play from their quarterback, either via progression from Chad Henne or a totally new player
  • The Dolphins hired a relatively inexperienced Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator, despite just two years as a play-caller and two as a quarterbacks coach
  • The Dolphins moved a receivers coach to quarterbacks coach, despite the fact that he had plenty of play-calling experience but no quarterbacks coach experience
 That all being the case, why not promote Dorrell to offensive coordinator (he certainly has more experience and has paid his dues more than Daboll) and have Daboll serve as quarterbacks coach, having both coaches work at positions they've already had before?

I could be wrong here, and it's not impossible that Dorrell could be a good quarterbacks coach after years as a receivers coach and coordinator. Maybe he could even provide some insight to Henne or whoever ends up quarterbacking the Dolphins because of how much he's worked with receivers.

On a team that has been so desperate to find a quarterback over the last decade and one that may be facing the reality that their hand-picked selection from 2008 may not be that guy, it seems a little risky for a head coach on the hot seat like Tony Sparano to have a guy that has never coached quarterbacks coach his quarterbacks.


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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dolphins add Dave Fipp, Ike Hilliard to coaching staff

The Miami Dolphins have hired former San Francisco 49ers assistant special teams coach Dave Fipp for the same role with the Dolphins, according to sources covering both teams.

Fipp steps into the role previously held by current special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who took over in Week 5 after John Bonamego was fired following a disastrous performance by the Dolphins' special teams unit in a 41-14 loss to the New England Patriots on Oct. 4.

Veteran NFL wide receiver Ike Hilliard has also reportedly joined the coaching staff as an offensive assistant, per Jeff Darlington at the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

The Dolphins, who have brought in five new coaches already this offseason, now have just one vacancy to fill with former quarterbacks coach David Lee gone to Ole Miss.

Such a hire might not happen this week, as general manager Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano are both in Mobile for the Senior Bowl.


Dave Fipp

A walk-on at the University of Arizona who eventually earned a scholarship and started his final two seasons at safety, Fipp began his coaching career with two seasons as the secondary coach and special teams coordinator at Holy Cross.

After a year as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 2000, Fipp served on season as the secondary coach at Cal Poly, followed by two seasons as the team's defensive coordinator.

Fipp then served one season as co-defensive coordinator at Nevada with Chris Ault in 2004, followed by two seasons as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for San Jose State. He stepped into a full defensive coordinator role for the Spartans in 2007.

Hired by the 49ers as an assistant special teams coach in 2008, Fipp has been credited with helping a handful of 49ers reach the Pro Bowl, including punter Andy Lee, return specialist Allen Rossum, and special-teamer Michael Robinson.

Fipp worked three seasons for the 49ers–two under special teams coordinator Al Everest and the most recent season under Kurt Schottenheimer. He was let go upon the hiring of Jim Harbaugh as the Niners' head coach in 2011.


Ike Hilliard

A standout receiver at the University of Florida, Hilliard helped the Gators win their first national title in the 1997 Sugar Bowl. An All-SEC an All-American selection as a junior, Hilliard finished his three-year playing career with 29 touchdown catches and was eventually inducted into the school's athletics hall of fame.

Hilliard was drafted seventh overall by the New York Giants in 1997 and went on to spend eight seasons with the team, including the final seven as a starting receiver. He helped the team reach Super Bowl XXXV against the Baltimore Ravens with a career-high eight receiving touchdowns during the 2000 season.

An unrestricted free agent in 2005, Hilliard signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spent four seasons with the team, including the 2007 season as a starter.

A neck injury forced Hilliard to retire following the 2008 season, but he finished his 12-year professional career with 546 receptions for 6,387 yards and 35 touchdowns. Among the Giants' leading career receivers, Hilliard currently ranked fifth in receptions, eighth in yards, and 12th in touchdowns.

Hilliard immediately got into coaching following his retirement, serving as a volunteer receivers coach under Jim Haslett with the UFL's Florida Tuskers in 2009. Hilliard was promoted to the full-time wide receivers coach position in 2010 under new head coach Jay Gruden and helped the Tuskers' receiving corps rank second in the league as they lost to the Las Vegas Locomotives in the championship game for the second straight season..


Analysis

Fipp has plenty of experience at both the college and pro levels as a special teams assistants, working with quality coaches and learning from more experienced men along the way.

While the Dolphins' kicking and punting games need little help, the team's coverage and blocking units in all areas do. The team got better after Bonamego fell in the ax following the first Patriots' game, but Darren Rizzi couldn't fix things over night.

He will have some nice tools to work with including Jonathon Amaya, Lex Hilliard, and Roberto Wallace, but both Fipp and Rizzi will be tasked with making the unit more efficient as a whole.

As for Hilliard, this is yet another inexperienced hire but one that I like a lot. Similar to new tight ends coach Dan Campbell, Hilliard has extensive experience playing in the NFL in the last decade and thus has a wealth of wisdom to share with the Dolphins' young receivers.

Hilliard will also be able to learn from a greatly experienced receivers coach in Karl Dorrell, and could even be groomed for a full-time receivers coach gig if Dorrell eventually becomes an offensive coordinator in Miami or elsewhere.

Considering the Dolphins have let Tony Sparano make fairly inexperienced hires at offensive coordinator, tight ends coach, and now an offensive assistant role in Hilliard, perhaps there is some chance he'll get to stick around in Miami for more than just 2011.


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Monday, January 24, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Running Back

How exactly do you fairly grade a team's running backs when the offensive line just isn't getting it done up front?

That's the situation I'm in here with the 2010 Dolphins, because despite their drop-off in production, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are no different than they were in 2009, or 2008, or any year before that when they found much greater success on the ground.

The only difference in 2010 was that the Dolphins opted to go the cheap route on the offensive line, using the uncapped year to dump the large contracts of talented by injured-prone veterans Justin Smiley and Jake Grove, while starting veteran backup Joe Berger, hot-headed Richie Incognito, and Rookie John Jerry at center, left guard, and right guard, respectively.

The result was disastrous, as all three failed to display starting-caliber ability and were routinely manhandled by opposing defensive linemen in both run blocking and pass protection.

Of course, this is an article grading the Dolphins' running backs, but there is simply no way to do so without mentioning how little help they got from the big guys up front. So keep that in mind.


Ricky Williams
2009 grade: A
2010 grade: B

Of the Dolphins' two starting tailbacks, Williams was  the best as he rushed for 673 yards and two touchdowns on a pretty solid 4.2 yards per carry.

Fumbles were once again a bit of a problem for him, as he did lose the ball four times and had two recovered by the opposing defense.

In all though, Williams ran hard and hit the hole as well as he could, considering there weren't really holes to be found.


Ronnie Brown
2009 grade: B+
2010 grade: C

Like Williams, Brown was hampered by the unproductive offense line, and it's not entirely fair to judge him on his 2010 numbers when he's clearly the same guy he's always been throughout his career.

Starting all 16 games for the first time in his six-year career, Brown actually had his yards-per-carry average dip below four (it was 3.7) for the first since since entering the NFL as the second overall pick in 2005.

What separated Brown from Williams in 2010 was that Williams hit the hole hard and ran downhill when he needed to, which at least allowed him to maintain a decent average despite sub-par blocking and bad play-calling.

Brown, on the other hand, was far too hesitant hitting the hole and danced around in the backfield way too much, especially considering how bad the blocking was. Obviously, this kind of thing is a vicious cycle, but hesitation and lack of instincts have always been my biggest criticisms for an otherwise great back.


Patrick Cobbs
2009 grade: C+
2010 grade: D+

Coming off a torn ACL that limited him to just five games in 2009, Cobbs saw a much more limited role in offense than he did in 2008 when he caught 19 balls for 275 yards as the team's third running back.

Primarily limited to special teams in the first half of the season, Cobbs did make a few splashed on offense during the season with eight catches for 91 yards and two scores.

Cobbs has never been a very talented back and is more the jack-of-all-trades, hard-working special-teams type, and there weren't as many touches to go around in 2010 thanks to the struggles of the offense.


Lousaka Polite
2009 grade: A+
2010 grade: D

Perhaps no player for the Dolphins regressed more from 2009 to 2010 than Polite. I can say with complete objectivity that Polite was the NFL's best blocking fullback the year before last, while he struggled mightily in 2010.

It wasn't all on Polite, as this was really the first year since he'd arrived that the team didn't have a good run-blocking line or two quality blocking tight ends.

That doesn't change the fact that Polite, who signed a contract extension in 2009, failed to block effectively for most of the season and was absolutely a detracting part of the offense.

Despite being his usual self converting short-yardage situations and even scoring his first NFL touchdown in 2010, Polite failed to effectively executive his primary responsibilities as a blocker.


Lex Hilliard
2009 grade: C
2010 grade: n/a

A favorite of the uneducated Dolphins fan for the past three years, Polite has failed to crack the Dolphins' top three running back spots save for the time Cobbs went down with a torn ACL in 2009.

Hilliard actually had his most unproductive season to date (excluding the rookie season he spent on the practice squad), failing to carry the ball once and catching only two passes on the season.

He's a quality special teamer, but he simply doesn't offer any upside on offense.


Overall 2009 Position Grade: A-
Overall 2010 Position Grade: C+

Like I've said over and over in this article, the Dolphins' running backs struggled in large part because of the ineffective offensive line. Poor quarterback play, poor play-calling by Dan Henning, and the lack of a quality No. 2 tight end also played roles in what ended up being a complete recipe for a well-below average rushing "attack."

The Dolphins' backfield could be in for some significant changes in 2011, as every tailback the team had in 2010 has an expiring contract this offseason.

Hilliard is the only exclusive-rights free agent, and I have to expect he'll be tendered and brought back due to special teams ability and the lack of other running backs under contract at the moment. That being said, I would not give him a realistic chance to start in 2011, regardless of what other moves the team makes.

I'd also expect the team to pursue a new deal with Cobbs, whose quality special teams play is always valuable and whose top-notch work ethic clearly rubs off on his teammates. He doesn't offer much on offense aside from a third-down back type, so he's not going to break the bank in free agency.

Before this offseason began, I would have guessed that Williams would re-sign on a short-term deal and Brown would walk in free agency. With Williams' negative comments about Sparano and the Dolphins, it seems like he has played his last down for the team.

While Williams' departure might make the Dolphins more interested in retaining Brown, I have to imagine he'd like to move on after the situation in 2010 and he might be seeking more money than would be worth paying given his age and injury history.

If I'm the Dolphins, I re-sign Cobbs and Hilliard, pick up a speedy, change-of-pace back like Darren Sproles in free agency, and find my long-term starting running back in the middle rounds of the draft.

In almost all cases, though, the offensive line makes the running back what he is. That is why it doesn't really matter who is in the backfield for the Dolphins if the team doesn't shore up its interior line.


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Randy Starks a Pro Bowler; Jake Long an All-Pro selection

The Miami Dolphins now have their most Pro Bowl selections since the 2003 season with four, as defensive end Randy Starks has been added to the AFC squad's roster to replace Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

A nine-year NFL veteran, Keisel himself was added to the Pro Bowl roster as a replacement for injured Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, but was forced to pull out when his Steelers advances to the Super Bowl yesterday with a win over the New York Jets.

Starks will join Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake and long snapper John Denney as the third member of the team in Honolulu for this coming Sunday's Pro Bowl. Starting left tackle Jake Long earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection, but dropped out due to a shoulder injury he endured through most of the second half of the season.

The selection actually comes about a year too late, as Starks was easily one of the most dominant 3-4 defensive ends in all of football last season with 56 tackles and seven sacks in 2009.

Asked to move back to defensive end during the season when Jared Odrick was lost for the year, Starks shifted back to his old spot after spending the entire offseason bulking up for and working at nose tackle to replace the retired Jason Ferguson.

The position shuffling clearly hurt Starks' productivity, as he totaled just 30 tackles and three sacks and was probably the fourth-most consistent lineman on the team behind nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive ends Kendall Langford and Tony McDaniel.

Originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft, Starks signed a five-year, $21 million contract with $7 million guaranteed as an unrestricted free agent in 2008.

A two-time All-ACC selection at Maryland, this Pro Bowl selection is the first of Starks' seven-year career.


Jake Long selected to AP All-Pro Team

The honors keep piling up for Dolphins franchise left tackle Jake Long, who was the lone member of the team selected to the Associated Press All-Pro Team for 2010.

Voted to the Pro Bowl for his third consecutive season in 2010, Long was been named to various All-NFL and All-Pro teams across the media over the past month.

Despite playing nearly half the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, Long really turned in just one bad game (against the Bears in Week 11 just five days after his injury) and was easily one of the best tackles in football through most of his 16 starts.

Drafted first overall out of Michigan in 2008, Long now has three AP All-Pro selections and three Pro Bowl selections in as many seasons.

While it's still a long way away and health will play a factor, it's safe to say that Long could be headed for enshrinement one day if he keeps up this pace and keeps playing at the level he has thus far.


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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Former NFL tight end Dan Campbell promoted to tight ends coach

The Dolphins have filled one of their two remaining coaching vacancies in-house, as former NFL tight end Dan Campbell has been promoted to the position of tight ends coach by the Miami Dolphins, according to Omar Kelly. He replaced George DeLeone, who joined Paul Pasqualoni's staff at UConn.

Campbell, who lasted played in the NFL in 2008 with the Detroit Lions and won a Super Bowl ring while on injured reserve with the Saints in 2009, served as a coaching intern on offense for the Dolphins this past season.

In addition to Campbell, the Dolphins have also hired a new offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll), running backs coach (Jeff Nixon), and head strength and conditioning coach (Darren Krein).

The Dolphins have one remaining vacancy to fill, left by quarterbacks coach David Lee, who joined Houston Nutt's staff as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss.


Background

A Texas A&M alum, Campbell was drafted by the New York Giants in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He played four seasons with the team, totaling 43 catches for 369 yards and five touchdowns while helping Tiki Barber rush for over 1,300 yards in 2002.

Campbell joined Bill Parcells' Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in 2003 and appeared in 35 games (30 starts) over three seasons as the No. 2 tight end behind Jason Witten. He missed most of the 2004 season with torn ligaments in his foot and had an emergency appendectomy before the 2005 season.

After signing a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions as a free agent, Campbell experienced his most productive season as a receiver in 2006 with 21 catches for 308 yards and four touchdowns.

Campbell only played in one game for the Lions in 2008 before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve. He signed with the Saints in 2009, but again spent the season on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in training camp.

A coaching intern on the offensive side of the ball in 2010, the 34-year-old Campbell interviewed twice with the Dallas Cowboys for an assistant offensive line position (coincidentally with former Dolphins' offensive line coach Hudson Houck) before staying on with the Dolphins as tight ends coach.


Analysis


In an interesting little turn of events, Campbell is now tasked with coaching the player that was drafted to replace him with the Cowboys in 2006 in Dolphins' starting tight end Anthony Fasano.

He's also a player that is familiar to head coach Tony Sparano, having played three seasons in Dallas when Sparano was the assistant head coach/offensive line coach under Parcells.

Campbell obviously doesn't have any real experience as a coaching tight end, but he is still relatively fresh off a long and productive career as a quality blocking tight end in the NFL.

I like the idea of Campbell getting his coaching career started in Miami, and I have to believe he has something to offer the Dolphins' tight ends as a player that has plenty of experience in the current football era.

I'm not going to go over the Dolphins' problems at tight ends, since I already did ad nauseam in my article on the departure of old tight ends coach George DeLeone.

I will, however, say that Campbell does indeed have a significant task on his hands. Fasano has been a serviceable but unspectacular starting tight end, but the Dolphins found themselves without a capable backup in 2010 and that significantly hurt the offense in all facets.

The Dolphins desperately need Campbell to either coach up Dedrick Epps, Jeron Mastrud, or Mickey Shuler into a more capable player for 2011, or he needs the Dolphins' front office to give him more to work with if those guys aren't going to cut it.


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Conference Championships game predictions

I knew I should have picked Green Bay last week, but of course I didn't. I got the Chicago and Pittsburgh picks right, but lost the Atlanta and New England picks.

This week though, I'll be 2-0, baby. I can feel it.

Last week's record: 2-2
2010 season record: 172-92 (65.1%)


Packers over Bears — Aaron Rodgers is unstoppable right now (even against elderly, autograph-seeking cancer patients) and there is just something I don't like about the Bears. Maybe it's because my lying ex-best friend from childhood is a die-hard native Chicago fan. I feel like if there is any justice in this world, his teams will never win any championships in his lifetime. Although the Cubs don't really need any help not winning championships.

Steelers over Jets — Okay, so they came in and knocked off the hottest team in the NFL in their own backyard. But that has to be it, right? Aren't the Jets just a little too cocky now? Hopefully the Steelers knock them down a peg or two and send them home crying.


Discuss this article and share your own game predictions on the forum here!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland receives contract extension

Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has received a contract extension from team owner Stephen Ross, according to reports.

Ireland, who like head coach Tony Sparano was entering the final season of his four-year deal from 2008, has similarly received a two-year contract extension through 2013.

The move comes in the same month the team gave Sparano a two-year extension after Ireland and Ross actively tried and failed to land a big-name replacement for the head coach.

Ireland, who came over from the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 upon the arrival of executive vice president Bill Parcells in Miami, took over more control over personnel this past season when Parcells moved into a consultant-type role.

The Dolphins struggled to their second straight 7-9 season in 2010, which had owner Ross looking to make a splash with a coaching change.

In a controversial head coaching search that had the Dolphins reaching out to Bill Cowher and flying cross-country to speak with Stanford's Jim Harbaugh all while Sparano remained in limbo, the Dolphins eventually settled on retaining Sparano. (Translation: everyone else rejected them.)


Analysis

I certainly can't say I'm happy with this move, as I feel Ireland has done a worse job in his role than Sparano did in his and I was particularly bothered by how Ireland aligned himself with Ross and threw Sparano under the bus this month in an attempt to alleviate blame and save his own job.

It's also hard to know just how good of a job Ireland has done in his role, because he never really had official "final say" until Bill Parcells eased out of the job in 2010 and we have no way of knowing what role he played in the good moves or the bad.

While the current regime have obviously improved since their 1-15 season in 2007 with quality additions via free agency, trade, and the draft, they have also had their share of significant gaffes.

This is the front office that drafted guard Shawn Murphy in the fourth round in 2008 and "quarterback" Pat White in the second round, wide receiver Patrick Turner in the third round, and tight end John Nalbone in the fifth round in 2009.

It's also the same front office that signed linebacker Reggie Torbor to a $14 million contract, wide receiver Ernest Wilford to a $13 million contract, guard Justin Smiley to a $25 million contract, safety Gibril Wilson to a $27.5 million contract, Jake Grove to a $29 million contract, and so on.

(Obviously, players like Grove and Smiley weren't necessarily bad for the Dolphins' but it's safe to say they didn't stick around long enough to really earn the money that was paid to them while they were here.)

Without knowing if Ireland had an active role in any of these moves or if he was against them, there is no way of telling just how capable he is of being a good NFL general manager.

But even with the two-year extensions to Ireland and Sparano, there is no guarantee they'll be around long enough to turn things around. Despite Ross' "financial apologies," the pressure is on Ireland and Sparano to win in 2011.

If they do not, don't doubt for a second that Ross will pull the plug on this regime and completely overhaul the franchise's personnel.


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Friday, January 21, 2011

Dolphins add Jeff Nixon, Darren Krein to coaching staff

The Miami Dolphins filled two of their four coaching vacancies Thursday, hiring Jeff Nixon as the team's new running backs coach and Darren Krein as the head strength and conditioning coach.

Nixon replaces James Saxon, who was let go this week after three seasons on the job. Meanwhile, Krein steps in for Evan Marcus, who left to join the University of Virginia earlier this month.
 
With the two additions, the Dolphins have two remaining coaching vacancies to fill—both on the offensive side of the ball.

Replacements are still needed for quarterbacks coach David Lee, who is now offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, and tight ends coach George DeLeone, who joined Paul Pasqualoni's staff at UConn.

Nixon and Krein join offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as the Dolphins' three new additions to the coaching staff since the 2010 season ended.


Jeff Nixon

A running back at West Virginia (1993-94) and Penn State (1996), Nixon served as a student assistant for one season on Joe Paterno's staff after graduation.

Nixon then spent one year as the running backs coach at Princeton, followed by four seasons under the same title at Shippensburg, where he would earn his master's degree in elementary administration.

From 2003-05, Nixon worked at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as the team's running backs coach, tight ends coach, and special teams coordinator.

Following one season of coaching running backs and wide receivers at Temple, Nixon earned his first NFL gig as special teams quality control coach on Andy Reid's staff with the Philadelphia Eagles. He worked under special teams coordinators Rory Segrest (2007-09) and Bobby April (2010).

Nixon served in that role for four seasons until joining the Dolphins in January 2011 in his running backs coach position at the NFL level.


Darren Krein

An first-team All-Big East selection as a senior at the University of Miami, Krein was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of the 1994 NFL Draft. He missed his entire rookie season and was briefly with the Green Bay Packers the following spring, although he never played for the team.

After re-injuring his knee in 1996 with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League, Krein retired from professional football.

Krein served two seasons as the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Seahawks under head coach Dennis Erickson from 1997-98, and was later rehired by head coach Mike Holmgren in 2001. Krein served eight seasons under Holmgren and one under Jim L. Mora before being let go when Pete Carroll took over in 2010.

Analysis

How do you analyze a strength and conditioning coach? Who knows. It is a bit curious the Dolphins didn't promote assistant strength coach David Puloka, though I assume he remains on the staff in that position under Krein.

Nixon was a college running back in the 90s and has plenty of experience coaching the position at the college level, but has never done so in the pros and has not worked on offense since 2006.

And really, that's the interesting thing about these hires. One of them was out of football in 2010, and the other was a special teams quality control coach, so both are taking on jobs they weren't doing last year.

It's also interesting to note that both guys are first-timers at their positions. Krein has never been more than an assistant strength coach, while Nixon has only coached running backs in college and only special teams in the NFL.

That is not to say they aren't qualified, however. All coaches have to start somewhere, and it's safe to say a head coach as thorough as Tony Sparano did his homework before adding these two.

It's just a bit surprising he didn't go with coaches that are more proven and established, especially considering he may very well be coaching for his job in 2011.


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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dolphins' long snapper John Denney headed to Pro Bowl

The Miami Dolphins' representatives at the 2011 Pro Bowl fell from two to one when offensive tackle Jake Long dropped out due to a shoulder injury, but now it's back to two with the addition of long snapper John Denney.

Hand-picked by AFC head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, Denney will join Dolphins' outside linebacker Cameron Wake in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl on Jan. 30.

It's a nice honor for Denney, who was signed by Nick Saban and the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of BYU in 2005 and is the longest-tenured long snapper on the AFC East.

Since taking over for long-time veteran snapper Ed Perry, Denney has appeared in all 96 possible regular season games, as well as the team's lone playoff game in that span against the Baltimore Ravens in 2008.

Bad snaps have been few and far between for Denney, and the only rough game I can ever remember him having was the regular season finale against the New York Jets in 2008.

The Dolphins signed Denney to a four-year, $3.03 million contract last June, joining placekicker Dan Carpenter and punter Brandon Fields as the Dolphins locked up their special teams trifecta long-term.

In Honolulu, Denney will be working with Baltimore Ravens placekicker Billy Cundiff, who was 26-of-29 in field goals with 40 touchbacks, and Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler, who 47 yards per punt with 27 dropped inside the opponent's 20-yard line.


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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Assistant coaches James Saxon, George DeLeone leaving Dolphins

It's one step forward and two steps back for the Miami Dolphins, as it was revealed today that the team is losing two offensive assistant coaches on the same day they announced the hiring of Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator.

According to the Miami Herald's Armango Salguero, James Saxon has been relieved of his duties as running backs coach, while tight ends coach George DeLeone is voluntarily leaving the Dolphins to join former defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni's staff at the University of Connecticut.

In addition to these positions, the Dolphins are also in need of a quarterbacks coach and a strength and conditioning coach, as David Lee and Evan Marcus joined coaching staffs at Ole Miss and Virginia, respectively.


James Saxon

A running back for the Dolphins from 1992-1994, Saxon was running backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs before arriving to handle to same position in Miami in 2008.

Working under Saxon, Dolphins' running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined to rush for over 1,500 yards in 2008 and 1,700 yards in 2009.

The duo's production dipped to just over 1,400 yards in 2010, but the quality of production dropped dramatically with Brown posting a career-low average of 3.7 yards per carry and Williams rushing for just two touchdowns.

As a team the Dolphins' rushing offense ranked 11th in the NFL in Saxon's first season with the team, and then up to fourth in 2009. The unit dropped all the way to 21st this past season.


George DeLeone

DeLeone previously worked with new-old boss Paul Pasqualoni at Southern Connecticut State in the late 1970s. They were also members of the same coaching staff at Syracuse from 1987-2004, including Pasqualoni's 14-year tenure as head coach of the Orangemen beginning in 1991.

Like Saxon, DeLeone was also a member of head coach Tony Sparano's inaugural staff in 2008, arriving after two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Temple Owls under head coach Al Golden.

It was under DeLeone's instruction that starting tight end Anthony Fasano posted his most productive seasons, including a career-high seven touchdowns in 2008 as well as personal bests in receptions (39) and receiving yards (528) this past season.

Developing tight ends has not been a productive process for the Dolphins, however. Top backup Joey Haynos missed the entire 2010 season with a torn Achilles', while a combination of one second-year player (John Nalbone) and three rookies (Dedrick Epps, Jeron Mastrud, Mickey Shuler) failed to register a reception until Week 16.


Analysis

It's not really fair for Saxon to get the axe here, because the Dolphins' running game was a strength his first two seasons and it was the offensive line that was to blame for the lack of ground production in 2010 as opposed to Brown or Williams.

Quite simply, the Dolphins did a smart thing by getting rid of Justin Smiley and Jake Grove's big contracts in an uncapped year, but the running game suffered as a result as all three starting interior linemen were pretty bad for the Dolphins in 2010.

Maybe the team wasn't happy with the lack of development of 2008 sixth-rounder Lex Hilliard (though I never thought he had much upside, anyway); maybe Saxon didn't get along with Sparano; maybe Sparano, in desperation mode, just felt like a change was necessary.

As for DeLeone, he's leaving on his own accord, so it's not as if the Dolphins were blatantly unhappy with the job he was doing. Like Saxon's group, however, the Dolphins' tight ends saw a decrease in over production in 2010 compared to previous years.

While Anthony Fasano did a fine job as a receiver, the lack of a capable No. 2 blocking tight end significantly hurt the running game by taking away two-tight end sets and also completely eliminated an entire position in the receiving game. Consider:

Dolphins' tight ends receiving statistics (excluding Fasano):
  • 2008 (David Martin/Joey Haynos): 33 receptions; 472 yards; four touchdowns
  • 2009 (Joey Haynos/Kory Sperry): 22 receptions; 193 yards; three touchdowns
  • 2010 (Mickey Shuler): two receptions; 28 yards; zero touchdowns
Think about that for a second. In 2008, David Martin posted a career year as a second-stringer, obliterating the totals he compiled as the team's starter under Cam Cameron in 2007.

Combined with Fasano, the Dolphins' tight ends in 2008 accounted for 77 receptions, 926 yards, and 11 touchdowns.  Together, Fasano, Martin, and Haynos were for the Dolphins a lone tight end that out-produced the Chargers' Antonio Gates.

(That kind of tight end production and reliability also says a hell of a lot about what Chad Henne had to work with him 2010 compared to what Chad Pennington had in 2008, but that's a whole other argument.)

Not only did Martin, and to a lesser extent Haynos, provide a quality receiving tight end alongside Fasano, but they also did an excellent job blocking for the run, which in turn helped Brown and Williams find great success.

Finding either a reliable No. 2 tight end, or possibly even an elite No. 1 tight end that could move Fasano into a Martin-type role, is in large part on the coaching staff.

However, it will also be up to DeLeone's replacement to groom and develop that player, which is something that would go a long way in helping the running game, the quarterback, and thus, the Dolphins' overall success.


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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Quarterback

Just as I did last January, I will be grading the Dolphins position by position on a semi-daily basis, starting here with quarterbacks and finishing up with special teams some time next month.

The Dolphins' quarterbacks were a big part of the Dolphins' offensive woes in their 7-9 season in 2010, as they ranked near the middle of the pack in yards and completion percentage, but just 27th in passing touchdowns and 28th in passer rating.

Here are how I graded the Dolphins' quarterbacks individually:


Chad Henne

2009 grade: C+
2010 grade: D+

Third-year quarterback Chad Henne struggled, with himself partially to blame and the rest of the blame going to offensive coordinator Dan Henning's terrible play-calling and the lack of a productive running game.

Not allowed to audible or change plays by the coaching staff, Henne struggled to create a productive passing attack and often relied on safe, checkdown passes to the running backs. He failed to get into any rhythm as a passer and consistently fell short during big drives late in the game.

I wouldn't say Henne drastically regressed in 2010, and his numbers actually improved from 2009 almost across the board. However, a lot of that was due to playing it safe with dump-off passes. There is really no way of knowing how he would have done if the coaching staff had taken the training wheels off.


Tyler Thigpen
2009 grade: n/a
2010 grade: D

Thigpen saw extended action against the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots, as well as an entire game when he started for an injured Chad Henne against the Chicago Bears.

His lone start was the Dolphins' worst game of the season on offense, as they were shut out by the stout Bears' defense and Thigpen was sacked six times while throwing an interception.

Thigpen showed off his mobility a bit in the wildcat and as a regular quarterback, but he was actually sacked twice as often per passing attempt as Henne. This is often the case with mobile quarterbacks, as they end up trying to use their legs to extend plays and end up running into sacks.


Chad Pennington
2009 grade: D+
2010 grade: n/a

On Chad Pennington's first passing attempt of the season after taking over for a benched Chad Henne against the Tennessee Titans, he was pushed into offensive tackle Jake Long and re-aggravated his shoulder. He completed his second attempt to Brian Hartline for a 19-yard game. Then, he promptly exited the game and was on injured reserve by the following Tuesday.

Soon to be 35 years old this spring, the weak-armed Pennington doesn't seem likely to be able to continue an NFL career behind a backup/mentor role. He certainly cannot be relied upon to start for a team, or even be a primary backup, if his shoulder can't hold up through more than a few hits.


Overall 2009 Position Grade: C
Overall 2010 Position Grade: D+

Dolphins fans were hoping to see the continued progression of Chad Henne in 2010—something to make them believe the search for a long-term answer at quarterback might actually be over.

Instead, they got a regressed offense, a coach even farther on the hot season, and as much uncertainty as ever with the current regime Bill Parcells put into place and then left to fend for itself.

While Henne's patience with the fan base has worn thin, I do believe he still has the potential to be a good NFL quarterback if developed the right way and paired with enough talent on offense.

Whether or not Henne gets that chance in Miami remains to be seen. A lot of that will be determined by any veteran acquired to compete with him via free agency or trade, and whether or not the Dolphins use a high draft pick on the quarterback position this April.

Henne will probably get a shot to start in 2011, but he won't be on a short leash and his eventual replacement may be added to the roster this offseason.


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Dolphins Winning Drive - 1/18/11

A daily vlog of Miami Dolphins news, discussion, and analysis on my drive home from work. This episode discusses the Dolphins' hiring of Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator.




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Monday, January 17, 2011

Jake Long, two Dolphins rookies honored for 2010 season

Three-time Pro Bowler Jake Long has been named to the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America All-NFL Team for 2010 after yet another stellar performance at left tackle.

In addition, rookies guard John Jerry and linebacker Koa Misi were named to the PFW/PFWA 2010 All-Rookie Team.

A third-round pick out of Ole Miss, Jerry appeared in 12 games as a rookie, starting 10 at right guard. Second-rounder Misi opened 11 of 16 games and served as the Dolphins' starting outside linebacker opposite Cameron Wake, recording 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

Long, who played most of the season's second half with a torn labrum in his shoulder, was the all-around best tackle in the game in 2010 with Cleveland's Joe Thomas having a down season by his standards.

Jerry and Misi, meanwhile, appear to have made the all-rookie team due to lack of other options around the league rather than their own performances. Misi was solid but unspectacular against both the run and as a pass rusher, while Jerry actually got benched for Pat McQuistan in the middle of the season for being so unproductive as a blocker.

The selections do however represent an increase in the Dolphins' presence on both teams from 2009. No Dolphin, including Long, made the PFW/PFWA All-NFL Team in 2009. Only one rookie—cornerback Vontae Davis—made their all-rookie team that year.


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Brian Daboll named Dolphins' new offense coordinator

The Dolphins have hired former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for the same position in Miami, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

Mortensen broke the news via twitter Monday afternoon, only to be contradicted by ESPN colleague Adam Schefter moments later, who said Daboll was to be the Dolphins' quarterbacks coach. Schefter retracted his own tweet a minute later, saying Daboll was indeed hired as offensive coordinator.

Other candidates known to have interviewed with the Dolphins include former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress; Hartford Colonials (UFL) head coach Chris Palmer; Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett, who will remain on his brother's staff in Dallas; and former San Diego Chargers tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski, who is expected to become Ron River's new offensive coordinator in Carolina.

Daboll replaces 68-year-old Dan Hennning, who is retiring from the NFL after 31 seasons, including the last three as the Dolphins' offensive coordinator.

The Dolphins now have two vacancies on their current coaching staff, with quarterbacks coach David Lee gone to Ole Miss and strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus having joined the University of Virginia.

One spot on the staff that won't need to be filled will be that of secondary coach, where Todd Bowles is expected to remain in Miami now that the Dallas Cowboys have hired Rob Ryan as their new defensive coordinator.


Background

After playing safety at the University of Rochester, Daboll became a restricted earnings coach for William & Mary in 1997.

Daboll them served two seasons as a graduate assistant on Nick Saban's staff at Michigan Sate from 1998-1999 and subsequently joined Bill Belichick's staff in New England as a defensive assistant from 2000-2001, earning his first Super Bowl ring with the Patriots' victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

In five seasons as the Patriots' wide receivers coach from 2002-2006, Daboll earned two more Super Bowl rings in wins over the Carolina Panthers (XXXVIII) and Philadelphia Eagles (XXXIX). Wide receiver Deion Branch earned the Super Bowl MVP award against the Eagles under Daboll's tutelage.

Daboll joined former Patriots' assistant's Eric Mangini's staff with the New York Jets in 2007, serving two seasons as the team's quarterbacks coach. He worked heavily with future Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington in 2007 and helped Brett Favre to his 10th career Pro Bowl selection in 2008.

When Mangini became head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2009, Daboll followed him as offensive coordinator. Daboll's offense ranked 31st in scoring in 2010, although he is credited with quarterback Colt McCoy's progression as a rookie and helping running back Peyton Hillis 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.


Analysis

My primary concern with Daboll is his lack of experience as an offensive coach. He played safety in college and began his pro coaching career as a defensive assistant last decade. In all, he has nine years as an NFL assistant on the offensive side of the ball, including just two as a play-caller.

On the positive side, he does come from the Nick Saban-Bill Belichick coaching tree, which of course has its roots in the Bills Parcells coaching tree. He should mesh better with head coach Tony Sparano than some of the other candidates considered.

You also can't really fault Daboll for Cleveland's offensive woes in 2010, as they went into the season without any kind of answer at quarterback and were severely limited in terms of talent at offensive skill positions.

At the very least, Daboll shouldn't have the blatant problems with senility that Grandpa Henning did and probably won't utilize drive-killing wildcat formations and and play-action passes on third-and-20.

It will also be interesting to see if Daboll's brief history with impending free agent Chad Pennington plays any kind of role in the veteran quarterback returning as either a player or assistant coach.

While Daboll isn't the sexiest name the Dolphins could have hired, he does have some highlights on his resume and should have a chance to succeed if the team can give him adequate personnel.


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Miami Dolphins: An Early Look at the Team's Free Agents in 2011

Although the offseason doesn't officially begin until March (assuming there is a new CBA and no lockout), the Miami Dolphins' 2010 season concluded over a week ago and the team is now looking toward the new year.

To that end, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at all of the Dolphins with expiring contracts this offseason, explaining their different free agent statuses as well as discussing the ones that could potentially be retained.

Keep in mind that this article is assuming a new CBA is worked out and that the old free agency levels will be in place. As things were in 2010 due to the lack of a CBA, players had to wait six years before they hit unrestricted free agency. Under the pre-2010 system (and potentially this offseason) it broke down like this:
  • Exclusive-Rights Free AgentZero to two years of NFL service. If tendered a contract offer by their old club, ERFAs have no choice but to re-sign and play for that team, or not play football at all.
  • Restricted Free AgentThree years of NFL service. RFAs are tendered contract offers at one of four different salary levels. Each level corresponds to a draft pick compensation amount for the old club if the player signs with a new team. Players can either re-sign with their old club or sign an offer sheet with a new team. The old club has seven days to match the offer from the new club and retain the player.
  • Unrestricted Free AgentFour or more years of NFL service. Players are free to sign with another club once the free agent signing period begins. Old clubs receive no compensation if a player signs elsewhere. Old clubs do have the option to place the franchise tag or transition tag on a player before their contract expires in the offseason.
In this instance, "NFL service" is defined as six games or more in a season in which a player was on a full-play level, i.e. active roster, injured reserve, or the PUP list. Players on the practice squad, non-football injury list, etc. do not count.

Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, here are the Miami Dolphins' free agents for the 2011 offseason...




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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Divisional Round game predictions

I started off at 0-2 last Saturday for the Wild Card picks, but was able to rebound with a 2-0 record on Sunday. Hopefully I can do a bit better this week, but none of these games are gimmes.

Last week's record: 2-2
2010 season record: 170-90 (65.4%)


Steelers over Ravens — This is obviously a touch match-up between two bitter division rivals, but I have to give the slight edge to the home team with the NFL's best scoring defense.

Falcons over Packers — Trying not to let my dislike for the Falcons cloud my judgment, Atlanta is a tough team to play at home and has to be the favorites here.

Bears over Seahawks — The Seahawks might have had their day in the sun last week, but now they are on the road and again facing a superior talent. I don't see them pulling it off twice in a row.

Patriots over Jets — The Jets have ton a tome of smack talking in the week leading up to this game and I think they are a bit overconfident. I like Bill Belichick to get his team ready to stomp them.


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Dolphins sign CFL linebacker Mark Restelli

The Miami Dolphins have signed Canadian Football League linebacker Mark Restelli to a future contract, according to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The news comes just one day after it was reported the team is one of four teams negotiating a contract with wide receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux of the CFL's BC Lions.

A two-year veteran of the CFL, Restelli (6-2, 215) played college football at Cal Poly, where he was an honorable mention All-Great West selection as a junior in 2007.

In 44 starts for the Mustangs, Restelli racked up 267 tackles (16.5 for a loss), three sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 14 passes defended, and one blocked kick in 46 games (44 starts)

After going undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft in 2009, Restelli signed with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos. He started 17 games during his rookie season, recording 58 defensive tackles (three for a loss), 16 special teams tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

A knee injury limited Restelli to just six games (three starts) in 2010, during which time he totaled 16 defensive tackles, five special teams tackles and four sacks.

Contract details with the Dolphins have not yet been released, but Restelli likely received a two- or three-year deal worth the league minimum. The Dolphins now have 56 players on their 80-man offseason roster, not including their 16 free agents with expiring contracts.


Analysis

Those hoping for Restelli to become the next Cameron Wake should probably curb their enthusiasm. (Which reminds me—when is that show coming back in the air???)

Restelli was a solid player at Division I-FCS Cal Poly and held his own in the CFL, where linebackers can afford to be smaller and quicker due to the width of the field compared to the American counterpart.

In the NFL with the Dolphins, however, Restelli likely does not possess the necessary speed or skills to play safety, but he also lacks the bulk to be an inside linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme at just 215 pounds.

Rather than think of Restelli as the 2011 version of Wake, think of his as the 2011 version of former Dolphins and BC Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala.

That is, Restelli is the type of prospect that projects solely on special teams at the NFL level, which hurts his overall chances of making the team because he lacks the versatility to contribute in other areas.

With little upside, Restelli will have to be head and shoulders above the rest on special teams to earn a spot on the team's active roster in training camp.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dolphins talking contract with CFL wideout Emmanuel Arceneaux

The Miami Dolphins have signed three players from the Canadian Football League's BC Lions in the past two years, including Pro Bowl starting linebacker Cameron Wake. Now, they are close to adding another.

Reports out of Vancouver say the Dolphins are one of four teams, along with the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Seattle Seahawks, that are discussing contract terms with Lions wide receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux.

Arceneaux played four seasons at Alcorn State, totaling 99 receptions, 1,618 yards and 12 touchdowns while also running track. He received little to no interest following the 2009 NFL Draft and signed with the Lions as a free agent.

The Lions' third-leading receiver as a rookie, Arceneaux caught 63 passes for 858 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009. He followed that up with a 67-catch, 1,114-yard, five-touchdown performance in 2010.

Arceneaux has reported workouts for the Dolphins and New York Jets in late December and has since drawn interest from a number of other NFL teams as well.

While the Dolphins do have competition for Arceneaux's services, including two teams still alive in this year's playoffs, they have an established pipeline from the BC Lions and can point to Cameron Wake as a proven success story from the CFL franchise to the NFL.

The 23-year-old Arceneaux measures in at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, but he runs a 40-yard dash between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds and is not exactly what you would call a vertical threat.

While he is drawing interest from handful of NFL teams, it's still likely he's going to get a very inexpensive two- or three-year deal, with the deciding factors being signing bonus and opportunity.

If signed by the Dolphins, Arceneaux would join the Dolphins eight-man deep offseason wide receiver group in hopes of competing for a roster spot during this summer's preseason.

Arceneaux is obviously someone that interests the Dolphins, but he is not an elite prospect and certainly doesn't bring with him the dominant resume that Wake did.

While there is always a chance he could blossom given the right situation and tutelage, Arceneaux could just as easily be the next Ryan Grice-Mullen or Rolly Lumbala rather than Cameron Wake.


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Former Vikings' head coach Brad Childress to interview with Dolphins

The most high-profile name to date in the Miami Dolphins' search for a new offensive coordinator has emerged, as reports have former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress slated to interview for the job Saturday.

Childress is the fifth known candidate to be considered for the job, following San Diego Chargers tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski, Hartford Colonials (UFL) head coach Chris Palmer, Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett, and Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

The 54-year-old Childress was hired as the Vikings' head coach in 2006, replacing Mike Tice. He guided the team to consecutive NFC North titles in 2008 and 2009, losing to the Eagles in the Wild Card Game the first year and losing to the Saints in the NFC Championship last season.

After a 3-7 start to the 2010 season, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf fired Childress and replaced him with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who shed the interim tag earlier this month.

While Childress might simply have an insatiable itch to coach (he has coached at the college or pro level every year since 1978), one reason he might not be willing to work for the Dolphins or any other team this season is the money he's owed by the Vikings.

The Vikings must pay Childress $3 million for both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and any pay he receives from a new job will be deducted from that total; thus, he'd essentially be working any other position for free.

Other concerns with the potential hiring of Childress are Sparano's unfamiliarity with him or his offense, and the fact that Childress has long been a proponent of the West Coast Offense.

Childress found great success with the WCO as a quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator under Philadelphia Eagles' head coach Andy Reid, helping quarterback Donovan McNabb to five Pro Bowl selections between 2000-2004.

The WCO, which calls for a short-horizontal passing game to set up the run, would almost certainly conflict with Sparano's run-first, power-blocking offense utilized through Henning for the past three seasons.

It's also unclear how such a change would affect current starting quarterback Chad Henne, although the Michigan alum did work in the WCO under former Wolverines quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler.

There is also no guarantee Henne starts for the Dolphins in 2011, though he would remain the favorite without a veteran free agent or trade acquisition.

Despite his two-year extension through 2013, Tony Sparano needs to win this season if he wants to keep his job beyond 2011. Such a situation would making hiring Childress a risky move.

While Childress has certainly been a productive offensive coordinator in the NFL and would be an upgrade over Henning's tired scheme, such a drastic change with a desperate Sparano on the hot seat may not be the best match.


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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Browns' offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, three others considered by Dolphins

In addition to Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach Jason Garrett, three others have been named as potential candidates for the Miami Dolphins' vacant offensive coordinator position.

As mentioned in my article on Garrett's Wednesday interview, San Diego Chargers tight end Rob Chudzinski and Hartford Colonials (UFL) head coach Chris Palmer have also been contacted about the job.

Chudzinski is slated to interview for the job Thursday, although he is considered the favorite for the same role with the Carolina Panthers under new head coach Ron Rivera, who was previously the Chargers' defensive coordinator.

Another name that has surfaced is Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who reportedly interviewed with the Dolphins Wednesday for either the offensive coordinator job or the quarterbacks coach position.

Although he is still under contract with the Browns, Daboll is expected to be let go in the near future when team president Mike Holmgren names the successor to recently-fired head coach Eric Mangini.


The 35-year-old Daboll is a member of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, having served as a defensive assistant for the Patriots from 2000-2001 and as wide receivers coach from 2002-2006.

Daboll followed Mangini to the New York Jets in 2007, serving two years as the team's quarterbacks coach, including the first year with Dolphins' impending free-agent quarterback Chad Pennington.

Not exactly an ideal candidate to replace Dan Henning's stale and predictable offense in Miami, Daboll's Browns offense was the only in the NFL in 2010 to score fewer points than the Dolphins.

He also doesn't exactly have a whole lot of experience as a quarterbacks coach, with only two pro seasons as a quarterbacks coach and no college playing experience at the position.

Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, who is under quite a bit of pressure to deliver a winner in 2011, is expected to name Henning's successor within the next week.

Daboll seems a less-than-ideal fit considering his limited history as a coordinator or quarterbacks coach and his lack of productivity in his most recent role.


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