Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Dolphins' potential cap casualties in 2012

The Miami Dolphins enter the 2012 offseason with an estimated $11.2 million in cap space, giving them money to do some things but not go crazy in the free agent market, especially with potentially pricey in-house free agents to consider like Kendall Langford and Paul Soliai.

As the free agency period approaches in March, I thought I'd look at the Dolphins' roster and see if there was anyone currently under contract that might become a cap casualty due to an excessively high salary.

While the Dolphins honestly don't have many such players, here are a few that might not be worth what their cap hit would indicate, and thus could be on the chopping block over the next month.


SS Yeremiah Bell

Of all the players on the Dolphins, Bell is without question that one that I most believe should and will be cut by the team before free agency begins on March 13. I've always liked Bell and he has a great story, working at a steel mill, walking on at a small school, being drafted in the sixth round, spending his rookie season on the practice squad. He's certainly a story of perseverance and the the career he's had to date is quite impressive.

Three years ago when the Dolphins re-signed Bell to a four-year, $20 million contract, I called it a good move. At the time, Bell was stout against the run and was what I considered an underrated guy in coverage that was always around the ball. He's topped 100 tackles in each of the past four seasons, leading the team in the category every time.

That being said, it's nearing time to part ways with Bell, who will be 34 years old in just over a month and is showing decreasing ability on the field.  Injuries and age have sapped a lot of his athleticism and he's become such a liability against the pass that I can't justify him remaining in the starting lineup, even at a smaller salary.

In the final year of his contract, Bell has a total cap hit of $4.35 million, which is just too high for a player that can't cover or get to the ball quickly anymore. Regardless of whether or not Chris Clemons or Reshad Jones has panned out, Bell is at a point where he's so one-dimensional that I don't think you can start him anymore.

I know a lot of fans out there like Bell, and I always did too. But the logical person in me says Bell is an obvious cap casualty this offseason. He simply costs far too much money when you can find a young guy that could play just as poorly in coverage for 10 percent of the price.



DT Tony McDaniel

If I were in charge of the team, Bell would be my first cut, but McDaniel would be my second. It's safe to say the Dolphins got plenty of value out of a guy they acquired for a seventh-round pick in 2009, as he's totaled 71 tackles and 6.5 sacks while being pretty solid rotational lineman at times over the past three seasons.

That being said, McDaniel is coming off a down year when he graded out as a sub-par pass rusher and run defender. Even if the team moves to the 4-3 scheme, they already have starting-caliber players Randy Starks and Jared Odrick under contract, plus restricted free agent Phillip Merling as a possible backup.

If I'm the Dolphins, I take the $3 million in cap space that cutting McDaniel will provide me and I put that toward re-signing four-year veteran Kendall Langford, who has been one of the better 3-4 linemen in recent years. A starting "rotation" of Starks, Langford, and Odrick completely alleviates the need for McDaniel—especially with such a high price tag.



OL Nate Garner


Garner's had an interesting career with the Dolphins, inactive for every game as a rookie in 2008 after being claimed off waivers by the Jets just before the season; appearing in every game and starting right while holding up well; and missing all of 2010 with a foot injury.

The 2011 season was a bit of a disappointment for Garner, who was expected to compete for a starting job but was deemed too valuable to lose on the bench and gave way to a horrendous pair of immobile starters on the right side on Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo. He started at left guard against the Giants in Week 8, but was about as bad as I've ever seen filling in for Jake Long at left tackle against the Eagles in Week 14, allowing seven quarterback pressures and three sacks.

Garner has shown he can be a valuable backup and even flashed a little potential as a starter in 2009, but his performance this past season makes me question whether or not he can truly play tackle in the NFL even as a reserve. If he profiles strictly inside and doesn't have starting ability, his versatility and value decrease significantly.

If that's the case, Garner might not be worth the $1.4 million he'll cost in the final year of his contract in 2012. If Lydon Murtha can return as a top backup tackle and/or the team could add some depth through the draft, Garner may be expendable at his current price—even if the Dolphins don't even have two starters in place on the offensive line.


Other names to consider

I want to go ahead and say now that I don't really see any of the players below being cut. But with a new head coach, a new defensive scheme, and plenty of changes coming in Miami, you can't quite rule anything out. Here are some guys with big cap hits that might not have to worry now, but could be in danger depending on what moves the team makes in free agency and/or the draft.


WR Davone Bess


Even mentioning Bess in this article might be considered blasphemy to some, but hear me out. I'm well aware Bess is a reliable slot receiver with good hands and an outstanding work ethic. But I would also argue Bess is physically limited with no upside to become anything more than he already is. Not to mention, he's painful to watch "returning" punts.

I don't expect Bess to be cut this offseason, but I wouldn't consider him entirely safe either and he'll be someone to watch in this regard in 2013 as well. Bess is due base salaries of roughly $2.2 million in 2012 and $2.6 million next year, which is not cheap for a guy that's never going to be a No. 1 or No. 2 guy in your offense.

All I'm saying is if the Dolphins end up finding another true starter in the draft over the next year or so, don't be surprised if the fan-favorite Bess ends up going the way of Greg Camarillo.


K Dan Carpenter


Carpenter has been a reliable placekicker for the Dolphins for most of the past four seasons and converted 85.3 percent of his kicks in 2011. Teamed with punter/holder Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney, the trifecta has truly been a well-oiled machine under coordinator Darren Rizzi.

Due more than $2.5 million in 2012 from the extension he signed two years ago, the former Pro Bowler is not cheap but is likely not on the chopping block. Unless a stud placekicker falls into the Dolphins' laps late in the draft or in the undrafted free agent market, Carpenter will probably be around for quite a while.


TE Anthony Fasano

Dolphins fans watch special talents like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham play, and they get frustrated with Fasano. It's understandable, but I would say the Dolphins' starting tight end is being a little under-appreciated right now.

He doesn't have Vernon Davis speed and no one is going to mistake him for a beefed-up wide receiver, but I've consistently argued over the past year that Fasano is a well-rounded starting-caliber tight end as one of the best blockers at his position as well as a capable receiver.

Cutting Fasano could save the Dolphins roughly $3.7 million against the 2012 salary cap, but without so much as a capable backup behind him there's very little chance he's shown the door. Fans should view 2011 sixth-rounder Charles Clay as a role player and not a starter, so right now Fasano is all they've got. Unless they draft one early or land Jermichael Finley in free agency, Fasano will stay.


OG Richie Incognito

Probably the Dolphins' next most reliable offensive lineman after Jake Long, Incognito is a serviceable if unspectacular interior lineman that can hold up in the starting lineup but is never going to dominate. He earned slightly positive grades as both a run blocker and pass protector in 2012, although he struggled heavily with nine penalties committed—second-most among NFL guards.

The Dolphins probably aren't actively trying to replace Incognito, in part because they have holes at right guard and right tackle, not to mention a consistently banged-up left tackle in Long and a second-year center in Mike Pouncey. Unless the Dolphins landed a big-name guard like Carl Nicks in free agency and found a first-year starter high in the draft, Incognito should start at left guard once again in 2012.


QB Matt Moore

You can count me among those that don't believe Moore is the long-term starter, and the Dolphins' organization has made that pretty well known in statements made throughout the offseason. I will say I was pleasantly surprised with his play in the second half of the 2011 season and view him as a more-than-capable stopgap until a franchise quarterback can be found.

Moore is due $2.55 million in the second and final year of the contract he signed in 2011, which is fine money for a starter and even a manageable amount for a No. 2 quarterback. Even if the Dolphins land Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn in free agency, the team has no other experienced backup and an Manning's health risks would make Moore a worthwhile luxury.

The only way Moore could possibly get cut in 2012 is if the Dolphins signed a free agent to start and draft a quarterback high enough to be the No. 2 guy right away (someone like Brandon Weeden), but otherwise Moore will stay in Miami this season regardless of whether or not he's the starter.


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Dolphins announce more changes to coaching staff

New head coach Joe Philbin landed both of his coordinators last week, and this week brought news of more additions and changes to the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff.

As already reported, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi has been retained by Philbin, and joining him as Tony Sparano holdovers in Miami will be tight ends coach Dan Campbell and strength coach Darren Krein.

The team also added George Edwards as linebackers coach and Zac Taylor as assistant quarterback coach. This will be Edwards' second stint with the Dolphins, as he previously served as the team's linebackers coach from 2005 to 2009.

If the Dolphins' official website is to be believed, it appears other retentions could include David Corrao (defensive quality control/assistant linebackers), Dave Fipp (assistant special teams), Jeff Nixon (running backs), David Puloka (assistant strength and conditioning), and Kacy Rodgers (defensive line).

Noticeably absent from the website are pass rush coach Bryan Cox, assistant secondary coach Joe Danna, quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell, and offensive quality control coach Tony Sparano, Jr. It's possible some or all of these coaches have already been told they will not be retained. (Obviously, Sparano's son is the most likely to move on.)


George Edwards

Edwards began his coaching career with assistant jobs at Florida (1991), Appalachian State (1992-95) and his alma mater, Duke (1996). He then spent one year as the defensive line coach at the University of Georgia in 1997.

From there, Edwards took his first pro coaching job, serving as the Dallas Cowboys' linebackers coach for four seasons from 1998 to 2001. Although he was not in Dallas at the same time as Bill Parcells or Tony Sparano, Edwards' stint did overlap for two years with Dolphins' general manager Jeff Ireland, who was a scout for the Cowboys at the time.

After two years with the Redskins (2002 as assistant defensive coordinator/linebackers) and 2003 as defensive coordinator) and one season as the Browns' linebackers coach in 2005, Edwards joined Nick Saban's staff in Miami in 2005.

Edwards survived the departure of Saban in 2007 and the firing of Cam Cameron in 2008, becoming one of only two assistants to be retained under Sparano when the Parcells era began in 2008. He spent two years working as the inside linebackers coach for Sparano before taking the defensive coordinator role at the University of Florida, only to leave weeks later for the same job with the Buffalo Bills.

In two seasons as the Bills' defensive coordinator under Chan Gailey, never ranked higher than 24th in the league. The No. 26 defense in 2011, Edwards' unit struggled heavily and totaled just 27 sacks—fourth fewest in the NFL.

In Miami, Edwards replaces Bill Sheridan, who spent the past two seasons as the Dolphins' linebackers coach following Edwards' departure in 2010.


Zac Taylor

After transferring to the University of Nebraska in 2005, Taylor spent two seasons as the Cornhuskers' starting quarterback and guided them to two winnings seasons and an Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan (and eventual Dolphins' quarterback Chad Henne) in 2005. He threw 24 touchdown passes as a senior in 2006, leading Nebraska to the Big 12 Championship Game and the Cotton Bowl while being named the conference's offensive player of the year.

A bit undersized and lacking a great arm, Taylor's pro career came and went quickly. After going undrafted in 2007, he spent a few months on the Buccaneers' roster but was released before training camp, and later had a brief stint with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, although he did not play.

Once his playing career was finished, Taylor joined the Texas A&M staff in 2008, serving a quality control coach under Mike Sherman. He then became a graduate assistant and eventually coached the tight ends.

Taylor, who is also the son-in-law of Sherman, will follow his father-in-law and the new Dolphins' offensive coordinator to Miami. It remains unclear if quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell will be retained or if Taylor will be assisting a new coach.


Analysis

As it stands, it appears the Dolphins' staff looks something like this:
  • Head coach: Joe Philbin
  • Offense:
    • Offensive Coordinator: Mike Sherman
    • Quarterbacks: Vacant
    • Assistant Quarterbacks: Zac Taylor
    • Running Backs: Jeff Nixon
    • Wide Receivers: Vacant
    • Tight Ends: Dan Campbell
    • Offensive Line: Vacant
    • Offensive Quality Control: Vacant
  • Defense:
    • Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Coyle
    • Defensive Line: Kacy Rodgers
    • Linebackers: George Edwards
    • Assistant Linebackers/Defensive Quality Control: David Corrao
    • Secondary: Vacant
  • Special Teams
    • Special Teams Coordinator: Darren Rizzi
    • Assistant Special Teams: Dave Fipp
  • Strength and Conditioning:
    • Head Strength and Conditioning: Darren Krein
    • Assistant Strength and Conditioning: Joe Puloka

As you can see, the offensive staff is getting the most overhaul while the special teams unit and strength unit go untouched and a handful of assistants return under Coyle. This is to be expected, as Philbin is an offensive-minded guy and is going to have more of a hand in that side of the ball, so he's going to put more attention and value familiarity when building his staff there.

Edwards has fizzled as a defensive play-caller a few times now, but he's always been a solid linebackers coach and has gotten the best out of guys like Dexter Coakley, LaVar Arrington, and Channing Crowder. He and Ireland obviously go way back and his transition back to Miami should be pretty smooth.

Meanwhile, Taylor obviously benefits from being able to follow his father-in-law to Miami and certainly would have landed wherever Sherman (a finalist for the Bucs' head-coaching job) did. Still just 28, Taylor won't even be a full position coach as he's still just getting his feet wet in the profession.

All in all, it's difficult to really grade assistant coaching hires, because they are always experienced in their fields and it's hard to quantify just how much of an impact coaches have on players (especially naturally good ones).

The most important roles on the staff have already been filled and by Philbin's top candidates, so everyone else should fall in line and do well themselves.


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012 Senior Bowl: Top 10 North Prospects

With players like Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright not participating due to injuries, the North's list doesn't quite have the same star power as its South counterpart that I examined on Thursday.

That being said, the North roster still offers it's share of quality draft prospects and likely first- and second-day selections.


1. OT Mike Adams, Ohio State

A three-year starter for the Buckeyes, Adams opened 25 contests during his collegiate career. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a junior in 2010 and a second-team selection as a senior despite appearing in only seven games.

A 6-foot-7, 323-pound behemoth, Adams is a prototypical NFL left tackle with the build and athleticism all teams look for. He's a strong pass protector and solid run blocker with room to grow. After a good showing during Senior Bowl week, Adams has probably cemented himself in the first round and has a chance to go higher than expect, as some teams consider him a top-10 talent.


2. OLB Lavonte David, Nebraska

After spending two years at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, David transferred to the University of Nebraska, where he broke Barrett Ruud's single-season tackles record with 153 stops. The first-team All-Big 12 selection and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was also named a second-team All-American. He continued to dominate as a senior, racking up 133 tackles (13 for a loss), 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions.

A quality tackler and all-around good linebacker, David is a hard-hitter with the athleticism to drop back and play in coverage. The biggest knock on him is his size (6'0½ and 225 pounds) but there are teams that will covet the type of player he is and he should find a home on Day 2.


3. OG Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State

After redshirting at Iowas State in 2007, Osemele moved into a starting role midway through his redshirt freshman season. He went on to appear in 49 games and start his final 44 games for the Cyclones, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2009, an honorable mention in 2010, and first-team honors as a senior in 2011.

Measuring in at 6'5⅜ and 333 pounds, Osemele is compactly but sturdily built. He's a strong pass protector and a great run blocker with the power to drive his man backward. He has extremely long arms that could help his chances of staying outside, but the college tackle might find he's more effective at guard in the pros. He's squarely a Day 2 pick with an outside chance to move into the first round.

4. OLB Bobby Wagner, Utah State

A four-year starter for the Aggies, Wagner opened 46 straight contests to close out his career as one of the best linebackers in school and conference history. A three-time first-team All-WAC selection, Wagner racked up 147 tackles as a senior to place him second all-time in the Utah State and WAC record books.

A bit like Lavonte David (see above), Wagner is an excellent tackler and hard-hitter with the biggest knock on him being his height (he's just over 6-feet). He's a well-rounded player that won't fit into every scheme but should be excellent on special teams and eventually start for somebody. Look for him to come off the board sometime on Day 2.


5. DE Vinny Curry, Marshall

Curry became a starter at Marshall as a sophomore in 2009, totaling 3.5 sacks and earning honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. He broke out as a junior, totaling 94 tackles (18 for a loss), 12 sacks, and two forced fumbles. As a senior in 2011, Curry racked up 77 tackles, a career-high 22 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, seven forced fumbles, three blocked kicks and a safety to earn first-team all-conference honors for the second consecutive season. He was also named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.

A dominant pass rusher at Marshall, Curry is a well-rounded defensive end that has all the strength and athleticism to get to the quarterback and also plays the run well. He fits equally into either scheme, profiling as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. One of my favorite players in this year's class, Curry is probably entrenched as a second-rounder but has a chance to sneak into the bottom of the first round.


6. OG Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin

Zeitler appeared in 43 games for the Badgers over four seasons, making all 36 of his starts at right guard. A first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior in 2011, Zeitler helped Wisconsin running back Montee Ball become a Heisman Trophy finalist after leading the nation in rushing with 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Zeitler (6'3⅞ and 315 pounds) isn't going to wow you with his physical tools, but he's a strong all-around blocker. He's great at opening lanes for the run with excellent technique and a hard work ethic. A great fit for a zone-blocking scheme, Zeitler should be an early-round pick.


7. DE Billy Winn, Boise State

Spending his first three seasons with the Broncos at defensive tackle and starting both his sophomore and junior seasons, Winn totaled 99 tackle (28.5 for a loss), 12.5 sacks and six pass breakups over that span and earned second-team All-WAC honors in 2009 and 2010. As a senior, Winn shifted to defensive end in the Broncos' 3-4 but continued to have success, notching 33 tackles (eight for a loss), three sacks, and a fumble recovery to earn second-team All-MWC honors.

Winn doesn't have a great first step, but he's a good power rusher from the inside and he can hold his own against the run. The 6-foot-3, 296-pound Winn has played both 3-4 defensive end and 4-3 defensive tackle in college and projects at either spot in the pros, making the versatile lineman a likely second- or third-round prospect.


8. QB Kirk Cousins, Michigan State

Cousins was a three-year starter for the Spartans, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors during his sophomore and junior seasons and second-team honors as a senior in 2011. He finished his collegiate career with nearly every school passing record under his belt, throwing for 9,131 yards and 66 touchdowns against 30 interceptions.

Knocks on Cousins include an average arm and slightly less-than-ideal height at 6-foot-2, but he's a fairly accurate quarterback that can make all the throws and commands an offense well. He had a good Senior Bowl week (especially compared to some of the other ones there), and looks like a third-round pick that could sneak into the second because of the league's need for the position.


9. RB Doug Martin, Boise State

Despite taking a backseat to Boise State's aerial attack for much of his collegiate career, Martin was a reliable workhorse for the Broncos over his final three seasons despite a brief move to the defensive side of the ball as a sophomore. A two-time first-team all-conference selection, Martin surpassed 1,200 rushing yards each of his final two seasons and scored 45 offensive touchdowns in his career.

Martin was overshadowed by Kellen Moore and Boise's passing game, but there is no question he's a talented runner. With his sturdy, compact frame, low center of gravity and power up the middle, he has all the makings of an NFL feature back. Running backs don't go as high as they once did, but Martin should be off the board in the second or third round.


10. WR Brian Quick, Appalachian State

Quick appeared in 52 games during his career at Appalachian State, leaving as one of the best receivers at the FCS level. His production steadily increased over four seasons and he left the Mountaineers with 202 receptions, 3,148 receiving yards, 16.9 yards per catch, and 31 touchdowns.

Although he didn't play at the top level of college football, Quick has all the tools NFL scouts look for in a receiver. Standing a chiseled 6-foot-3½ and 222 pounds with long arms, Quick has the size to out-muscle defenders for the ball and make him a nice red-zone target. If he runs fairly well for his size, he should should in as a nice middle-round pick with the chance to go on Day 2.


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Friday, January 27, 2012

Dolphins land Mike Sherman, Kevin Coyle as coordinators

If Miami Dolphins fans are to put their trust in rookie head coach Joe Philbin, they should also be happy that the new guy running the show landed his apparent top choices for both of his staff's coordinator positions.

Reports on Friday revealed the Dolphins had agreed to terms with former Packers' and Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman as offensive coordinator and long-time Bengals' defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle as his defensive counterpart.

Sherman and Coyle will replace Brian Daboll and Mike Nolan, respectively. Nolan agreed to become the Atlanta Falcons' defensive coordinator before Philbin was hired, while Daboll was not asked back to the Dolphins' staff and is rumored to be a candidate for the OC position in Kansas City under Romeo Crennel.

The Dolphins' coaching staff has already undergone a major overhaul under Philbin, as at least six assistants and likely more have been told they will not be back.

Interestingly, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers are reportedly returning under Philbin, likely due to the outstanding production of their respective positions.


Mike Sherman

Philbin and Sherman go back about as far as you possibly can, with their first encounter coming at Worcester Academy (Mass.) in 1980 when Philbin was a student and tight end and Sherman was an English teacher and assistant football coach.

From there, Sherman served as a graduate assistant at Pitt (1981-82) before holding offensive line coach positions at Tulane (1983-84), Holy Cross (1985-87), Texas A&M (1989-93, 1995-96), and UCLA (1994), with an offensive coordinator gig sprinkled in at Holy Cross in 1988.

Sherman spent two seasons as the Packers' tight ends coach from 1997-98 before spending a year as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator in 1999. He became the Packers' head coach in 2000 and assumed general manager duties in Green Bay in 2001. Despite posting five straight winning seasons and four consecutive playoff appearances, Sherman was stripped of personnel control prior to the 2005 season and went 4-12 that year before being fired.

After spending two seasons with the Texans as assistant head coach, including the final year as offensive coordinator, Sherman returned to Texas A&M in his first collegiate head-coaching capacity. In four seasons with the Aggies, Sherman compiled a 25-25 record and 0-2 bowl record, with his best season coming in 2010 when the team went 9-4 and ranked 19th in the AP poll. Sherman was fired on December 1, 2011.

Although Sherman was immediately connected to Philbin as a potential offensive coordinator in Miami, he was recently considered the favorite for the Buccaneers' head-coaching job. When that job went to Rutgers' Greg Schiano on Thursday, Sherman was free to join Philbin's staff with the Dolphins.


Kevin Coyle

Coyle, 56, began his collegiate career as a defensive back at the University of Massachusetts in the mid-1970s. He then served as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati from 1978-79 and coaching assistant at Arkansas in 1980.

In 1981, Coyle served as defensive coordinator at U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, followed by four years as a defensive assistant at Holy Cross and five more years as the team's defensive coordinator, during which time Holy Cross went 49-5-1 as the winningest Division I-AA team in the nation.

Coyle's college coaching career continued for the next decade, with defensive coordinator stints at Syracuse (1991-93), Maryland (1994-96), and Fresno State (1997-2000).  At Syracuse, Coyle coached long-time Jaguars' and brief Dolphins' safety Donovin Darius.

For the past 11 seasons, Coyle has served as a defensive assistant for the Bengals, including the past nine as defensive backs coach. Since his promotion, the Bengals rank fifth in the NFL with 150 interceptions and has sent players like Deltha O'Neal and Leon Hall to the All-Pro team. The Bengals blocked Coyle from interviewing for the Eagles' defensive coordinator job last year.


Analysis

There certainly won't be an adjustment period with Philbin's newest hires, as Sherman and Coyle both worked together at Holy Cross and Coyle has been close friends with Philbin for years now. It's been suggested that more familiar faces might follow, such as Jaguars' linebackers coach Mark Duffner and Aggies' quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley.


Sherman also brings with him inside knowledge of former Aggies' quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is widely regarded as the No. 3 prospect in the draft at his position after likely top-10 picks Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Combined with Philbin's first-hand knowledge of Packers' impending free agent Matt Flynn, the Dolphins should be in good position to evaluate potential quarterback candidates.

I would expect some players will be disappointed that Todd Bowles is not returning to the staff, but Coyle has plenty of secondary experience and should alleviate any concerns rather quickly. He is expected to bring the 4-3 defense to Miami, which is a change I examined in depth earlier this week.

While every coach has had his share of struggles, it's hard not to like the experience Sherman and Coyle bring to the table. Each has success in their past, including head-coaching stints for Sherman and plenty of play-calling jobs for Coyle. The two should work well with Philbin and it's nice that the team didn't have to settle for anything other than his top choices.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Miami Dolphins 2011 Position Grades: Wide Receiver

The Miami Dolphins' receiving corps remained largely unchanged in 2011, with the fourth-round rookie Clyde Gates the only new faced added to the bunch and the top three guys (Marshall, Hartline, Bess) remaining the same.

The Dolphins' elite receiver put up elite stats, but overall the unit failed to produce at a high level after the team lost its starting quarterback. Backup quarterback Matt Moore played well but threw for just 2,497 yards in the 13 games and sometimes there just weren't enough passes to go around.

Here are how I graded each of the Dolphins' wide receivers individually:


Brandon Marshall

2010 grade: B
2011 grade: B

Marshall did a lot of things better in 2010 than he did in 2011, including putting up better numbers and securing his first Pro Bowl selection as a member of the Dolphins. He tied for sixth in the NFL in receptions (81) and eighth in yards (1,214) while scoring six touchdowns through the air.

Where Marshall struggled most in 2011 was catching the football consistently. As good as his final numbers were, they could have been much better and I can recall a handful of big drops that could have gone for touchdowns and changed the course of a few games. Marshall ranked second in the NFL with 14 drops and fourth in the league in drop rate at 14.7 percent.

Marshall did a lot of good things in 2011 and made some incredible highlight reel plays, but in the end I can't give him an A when he dropped as many passes and missed as many opportunities as he did.


Brian Hartline

2010 grade: C-
2011 grade: B

Hartline's reception and receiving yards totals actually went down from 2010 to 2011, but I don't blame him. There weren't enough passes to go around this season, but Hartline made the most of his targets. Leading the Dolphins with 15.7 yards per catch, Hartline was seemingly on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays every other week with increbile toe-taps and diving catches.

I give Hartline a lot of credit for how he played this season and I was very impressed with his speed and hands. I think on a good team he could be a dangerous weapon because of his ability to stretch the field, and I hope the Dolphins finds a quarterback soon so we might be able to see it happen in Miami.


Davone Bess

2010 grade: A
2011 grade: C

Bess' numbers dropped significantly in 2011, as Brian Daboll attacked downfield more and Matt Moore didn't look for Bess in the slot nearly as much as Chad Henne had in past years. After catching 79 balls for 820 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, Bess finished the 2011 season with just 51 receptions, 537 yards and three scores.

I gave Hartline a pass because of the Dolphins' passing inadequacies, and Bess deserves a bit of one too. However, I don't feel like Bess was all that impressive in the slot this year, ranking eighth at the position in drop rate. He has a lot of ability in the slot when used correctly, but the production just wasn't there this season.


Clyde Gates

2011 grade: n/a

A raw speedster out of Abilene Christian,  Gates served as the Dolphins' No. 4 receiver for his entire rookie season but did not see the field much time in the Dolphins' offense thanks to sets featuring one or more tight ends being so prevalent. For the year, he played only 156 snaps during the season and was targeted just 10 times, catching two passes for 19 yards and dropping one.

Although he ranked third among rookie in kick return average, I'm grading these players solely for their time at wide receiver and Gates simply didn't do enough to qualify. I never expected him to have much of a rookie season on offense with three veterans ahead of him, so I wouldn't label him a disappointment at this point.


Marlon Moore

2010 grade: D+
2011 grade: n/a

Aside from a big game against the Raiders in 2010, Moore hasn't done much of anything in two pro seasons. He's played in just 13 games with six receptions and landed on injured reserve in November. Once again he'll have to battle for a roster spot in 2012, and he might have a hard time accomplishing it a third time around.


Roberto Wallace

2010 grade: D
2011 grade: n/a

Like Moore, Wallace has done little since being undrafted two seasons ago. He's built like Brandon Marshall but certainly hasn't played like him, catching six passes for 62 yards in his career. Moore didn't notch a reception in two games in 2011 before going to injured reserve in October. A quality special-teamer, Wallace might be the victim of a numbers game i n2012.


Julius Pruitt

2011 grade: n/a

Undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist in 2009, the lanky burner has spent most of his three seasons on the practice squad. He earned a promotion to the active roster in November and went on to appear in nine games, but he did not record a reception and played just five offensive snaps. Pruitt is out of practice-squad eligibility and that will make a sustained professional career much more difficult.


Closing Comments and 2012 Outlook

2011 overall position grade: B-

The Dolphins' receiving corps continues to be a bit of a mixed back. Their high-priced No. 1 receiver is putting up solid numbers, but could be a lot more consistent. Bess is physically limited and Hartline isn't being used to his potential. You might think unit needs more talent, but an elite quarterback probably succeeds with this unit.

That being the case, I don't think we see many changed to the position in 2012. The top three guys remain under contract and are pretty entrenched on the depth chart, unless Marshall happens to get thrown in prison for something (hey, I can dream) or an elite receiver falls into their laps in the draft. With Marshall's contract and Pro Bowl season in 2011, it seems unlikely the Dolphins spend big money in free agency.

At best, the team might take another receiver in the middle rounds of the draft to eventually supplant Bess or replace Hartline if he walks in free agency, but quarterback is the much bigger issue and that's where the Dolphins' focus will rightly be.


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2012 Senior Bowl: Top 10 South Prospects

As I do every year, I'm taking a look at the top prospects from each roster at the Senior Bowl. Because the South won the Civil War (I assume, I dropped out of school in third grade), we'll start with them, with the top North roster prospects coming tomorrow.


1. DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina

A two-year starter for the Tar Heels, Coples racked up 22.5 sacks over his final three seasons despite having to fill in at defensive tackle as a junior before moving back to his natural end position in 2011. The two-time All-ACC selection was investigated by the NCAA for attending draft-day parties with Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn, but was ultimately cleared of any wrong-doing.

The biggest concerns about Coples seem to be about his work ethic and on-field motor. He's a natural athlete with the versatility to play inside or outside in a 4-3 defensive line or even outside linebacker in the 3-4. With a good pre-draft showing, Coples could land himself in the top 10 and won't fall much farther.


2. OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

The Crimson Tide's top pass rusher over the past two seasons, Upshaw totaled 104 tackles, 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles since the 2010 season began. He was a first-team All-SEC selection after racking up 9.5 sacks (fourth in the SEC) for the national champions.

A complete player that can get to the quarterback, stop the run and even drop into coverage, Upshaw played outside linebacker in Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme but could also play defensive end in a 4-3. The biggest knock on him right now is his height (officially 6'1½) but he compares well to the Steelers' LaMarr Woodley and should go in the first round.


3. OG Cordy Glenn, Georgia

A three-year starter primarily at left guard, Glenn served as the Bulldogs' left tackle as a senior and earned first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American honors. In all, he started 49 games in four seasons at right guard, left guard and left tackle.

Despite being over 6-foot-5 and 348 pounds, Glenn carries his weight very well and has great athleticism for his size. He obviously has the ability and versatility to play outside, although he's best suited for guard and is the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the draft at that position. He has mid-first round upside and should go soemwhere on the first day of the draft.


4. LB Zach Brown, North Carolina

Brown began his collegiate career as a special-teamer before starting 11 games over his sophomore and junior seasons. Despite starting just five games in 2010, Brown ranked second on the team with 72 tackles. He went on to lead the Tar Heels in tackles as a senior with 105 stops, earning first-team All-ACC honors.

He's not the biggest got at just over 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds, but he's got incredible speed and athleticism for a linebacker. He's still raw in terms of coverage and isn't the biggest hitter, but his upside should land him in the first round of the draft.


5. QB Nick Foles, Arizona

A three-year starter for the Wildcats, Foles improves his completion percentage, passing yards, yards per completion, and touchdowns every season since his sophomore year began. He closed out his career with 4,334 yards (fifth in the NCAA) and 28 touchdowns as a senior in 2011.

Foles' most impressive aspect is his size, as he measures in at 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds with big hands and long arms. He's not all that mobile but can move around in the pocket well enough. He's still developing as a passer, but teams will fall in love with his physical tools. Initially viewed as a day two pick, it wouldn't be surprising if he snuck into the first round in this quarterback-needy league.


6. CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

Jenkins was a freshman All-American for the Gators in 2008 as well as a first-team All-SEC selection as a junior in 2010. Jenkins totaled 121 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, eight interceptions and 25 pass deflections in three years in Gainesville before being kicked off the team prior to the 2011 season after two arrests for marijuana possession in a three-month span.

Jenkins transferred to Division II North Alabama for his senior campaign in 2011 and racked up 36 tackles (four for a loss), a fumble recovery, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and a blocked kick in 12 games while earning second-team All-American honors.

A natural athlete, Jenkins has great instincts and good ball skills for a cornerback. His 5-foot-9 height isn't ideal, but he more than makes up for it with his anticipation and coverage ability. The issue for him is maturity and the off-the-field troubles he's had, but if he can stay out of trouble and impress in team interviews he should be a first-round pick based on talent.


7. OT Zebrie Sanders, Florida State

A four-year starter for the Seminoles, Sanders opened 50 contests in four seasons. After serving as a right tackle for most of his first three years in Tallahassee, Sanders started all 13 games at left tackle as a senior in 2011 and was a first-team All-ACC selection.

A tremendous blocker when he's not staying motionless throughout the play, Sanders measures in at just under 6-foot-6 and 308 pounds with extremely long arms. There is concern he might be better suited for right tackle in the pros and he's struggled with elite rushers in the past, but he could play on the left side in the right system and should go somewhere in the late first round.


8. QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

Despite a standout prep career, Weeden played minor league baseball straight out of high school after being selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2002 draft. After spending five seasons in the minor league systems of the Yankees, Dodgers and Royals while reaching high-A ball, Weeden enrolled at Oklahoma State and redshirted on the football team in 2007.

Assuming the Cowboys' starting quarterback job as a junior in 2010, Weeden threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns and was a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He was even better as a senior, completing a higher percentage of his passes for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns. However, he was relegated to second-team All-Big 12 honors behind Baylor quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

Weeden has the measurables (6'3½, 219) and the arm you look for in a pro quarterback, and he obviously has the production to match it. The issue with Weeden is his advanced age. Because of the five years he spent playing minor league baseball, Weeden will be 29 a month into his rookie NFL season. There's also the question of whether his physical maturity boosted his ability at the college level.

While he doesn't exactly fit the mold of a franchise draft prospect because of his age, someone is going to fall in love with him and expect seven or eight good years out of him. He has the talent of a first-rounder and might make that happen if he impressed in pre-draft workouts, but at worst he's a second- or third-round pick.


9. DE Melvin Ingram, South Carolina

Ingram began his collegiate career as a linebacker in 2007 before missing the 2008 season with a foot injury. He returned to a backup role the following season and started just one game in 2010, but still led the team with nine sacks. As a full-time starter as a senior, Ingram totaled 10 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss as a first-team All-SEC selection.

He's a big like Courtney Upshaw in the sense that he's a quality SEC pass rusher that doesn't have ideal height. Measuring in at 6'1⅞ and 278 pounds, Ingram is good against the run but can be a bit inconsistent getting off the ball. Although he started his career at linebacker, I don't see him standing up in the pros and view him as more of a 4-3 end that moves inside in pass-rushing situations. He could sneak into the first round, but I think he'll go sometime soon after.


10. DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson

The No. 39 prep prospect in the nation according to ESPN.com in 2008, Thompson made an immediate impact for the Tigers as a true freshman and went on to start his final three seasons. In 53 games (38 starts) at Clemson, Thompson totaled 208 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 47 quarterback pressures, and nine pass breakups.

The 6-foot-2, 311-pound Thompson is one of the most well-rounded defensive tackles in this year's class, with good ability to stuff the run and great burst from inside to get to the quarterback. He profiles best as a 4-3 defensive tackle and should find a home in the second round.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How the 4-3 scheme would change the Dolphins' defense

Reports from the Senior Bowl in Mobile this week say general manager Jeff Ireland is discussing a move to the 4-3 defense, and Bengals' defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle is the leading candidate to implement the scheme under new head coach Joe Philbin.

We first started to see a some 3-4 looks in Nick Saban's hybrid scheme in 2005-06, but the shift was full-blown upon the arrival of executive vice president Bill Parcells and the rest of his crew, largely made up of former Cowboys' assistants and other coaches from his past that had experience in his 3-4 scheme.

But now we might be heading back to the 4-3, and that means a handful of position changes for the Dolphins' front seven as well as a different set of targets in free agency and the draft. Linebackers become ends, ends become tackles, and some players that would previously be valuable might be expendable.

For a quick refresher, here's an over-simplified comparison of the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes:

3-4
  • The three-man defensive line is primarily tasked with clogging holes at the line of scrimmage to allow the linebackers space to work. This requires three "defensive tackle-like" linemen, despite the "defensive end" label.
  • The primary pass rush comes from the outside linebackers, who are often converted defensive ends. They are however also tasked with playing the run and sometimes dropping back into coverage.
  • The inside linebackers are your typical linebackers. First and foremost, they play the run and cover tight ends.
4-3
  • The interior defensive linemen are the bigger guys on the line, clogging up the middle and lining up between the center and guards.
  • The primary pass rush comes from the defensive ends.
  • The three linebackers play the run and work in coverage.
Although some players only fit into one scheme or the other (for example, a 3-4 team would have practically no use for an undersized defensive tackle or linebacker), Some guys easily translate to different positions between schemes. An oversimplified conversion would go like this:
  • 3-4 defensive ends = 4-3 defensive tackles
  • 3-4 outside linebackers = 4-3 defensive ends
  • 3-4 inside linebackers = 4-3 linebackers (middle or outside)
This isn't always exact, but it's generally a good guide to go by.

Now, let's take a look at how the Dolphins' current roster (and some of their free agents) would fit into the 4-3 scheme that will potentially re-debut in Miami in 2012...


Defensive Line

This is where the most significant changes will take place. In the 4-3 scheme, defensive ends like Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel, Ryan Baker and free agents Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling will practically all play defensive tackle. There is some talk that Odrick could stay at end with his athleticism and pass-rushing ability, but he's really better suited inside. From the looks of it, the depth is pretty good here—especially if Langford can be re-signed.

What's also interesting here is that the move to the 4-3 makes nose tackle Paul Soliai, who made over $12 million under the franchise tag in 2011, fairly expendable. While it's true that Soliai can play in either scheme, the need for a 360-pound behemoth is much less in the 4-3. Soliai will be much more valued by 3-4 teams because monster nose tackles don't grow on trees. With a rotation of Starks, Odrick and Langford inside, there's no reason to pay Vince Wilfork-type money to Soliai, regardless of how good he is or if he fits in the 4-3.

Perhaps the money saved on Soliai can go toward a contract extension for the Dolphins' newest 4-3 defensive end—Pro Bowler Cameron Wake.  The Dolphins' only quality pass rusher, Wake is entering the final year of his four-year, $4.9 million contract. He has plenty of experience with his hand in the ground from his time in the CFL and with Miami in 2009, when he racked up 6.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher. (The Dolphins' use a four-man front in those situations, so the rushers usually line up at defensive end even on a 3-4 team.)

Also moving to defensive end would be Jason Trusnik and Jonathan Freeny, although both profile as special-teamers and neither is guaranteed a roster spot. (Though the veteran Trusnik would be safer.) Free agent Ikaika Alama-Francis would move back to end as well, but I don't expect him to be re-signed.


Linebackers

One player I didn't mention in the conversion to defensive end is 2010 second-rounder Koa Misi. Although he was an end at Utah (and actually played some tackle) and stood up in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme, I question whether he has he pass-rushing abilities to move back to defensive end.

The 250-pound Misi is probably a little light and lacking in athleticism or power to be a true pass rusher, and the numbers seem to show that. Misi totaled 4.5 sacks as a rookie, but failed to record a takedown over the final 10 weeks of the season and record just one sack in all of 2011.

Misi's biggest strength now comes against the run, so it makes sense that he stays at linebacker and move away from a pass-rushing role that he's clearly not cut out for. Some people see him moving to middle linebacker in the 4-3, but I'm not sure he has the instincts or the overall ability.

As for Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, both have previously worked at outside linebacker in 4-3 schemes, although both are versatile guys and both have experience in either scheme. I would project them to start opposite each other at outside linebacker in the 4-3, though with no starting-caliber middle linebacker on the roster right now, you'd probably have to play one there if the team played tomorrow.


The Depth Chart

If the Dolphins shifted to the 4-3 scheme and put out a depth chart of their current roster, this is roughly how it would look: (Obviously, lacking a full roster would some guys to play slightly out of position.)
  • LDE Cameron Wake, Jonathan Freeny
  • LDT Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel, Ryan Baker (RFA)
  • RDT Randy Starks, Phillip Merling (RFA), Isaako Aaitui
  • RDE Jason Trusnik
  • LOLB Karlos Dansby
  • MLBKevin Burnett, Austin Spitler (ERFA)
  • ROLBKoa Misi
    • Starters in italics

Looking Ahead

Obviously, re-signing Langford would move Odrick back to the role he's in now as more of a No. 3 rotational guy, although all of them would see significant playing time. As much as I like Soliai, I just don't see him being worth the money in this scheme, and that might be a good thing. McDaniel is also a potential cut for salary cap reasons.

Trusnik hasn't played end since college and is not a starting talent, so like Misi he's solely a start here due to lack of other options under contract. A starting linebacker (probably in the middle) and a starting defensive end are musts this offseason.

As you can see, the need for a pass rusher looms as large as ever despite the switch—the only thing different is the name of the position, which becomes defensive end rather than outside linebacker. The Dolphins need to extend Wake and find a quality rusher opposite him, whether it's a big free agent like Anthony Spencer or Mario Williams, or someone like UNC's Quinton Coples in the draft.

 Coples probably has the athleticism to stand up and play in the 3-4 as well, but he primarily profiles as a 4-3 defensive end and a top-15 talent, making him someone the Dolphins will certainly consider at the No. 8 or 9 pick in April. The Dolphins have already expressed heavy interest in Coples at the Senior Bowl.

Others players that either played 3-4 outside linebacker (like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw) or 4-3 college ends like Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, USC's Nick Perry, and Marshall's Vinny Curry are also early-round options.

Just as they were with the 3-4 scheme, the Dolphins are really one linebacker away and that's really due to the lack of development of Koa Misi. If you put Dansby and Burnett in their natural outside positions, you could find a middle linebacker in free agency like Atlanta's Curtis Lofton or Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson, or go the cheaper route in the draft.

In summary, the Dolphins' needs don't really change with a shift to the 4-3 scheme. They still need a pass rusher and they need an upgrade over Misi in the starting lineup. Those statements are true in either scheme. The only changes were were a few of the Dolphins' starters line up and in some cases what their position is called, but their roles are largely the same and most of the personnel translates to the scheme well.

I have to admit I'm a little bummed about the shift, but we all remember the days of Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Tim Bowens, and Daryl Gardener in the 4-3 scheme in Miami. I'd also point out that both of this year's Super Bowl teams run a base 4-3, so there's certainly no right or wrong answer in what scheme you run. All that matters is finding the right personnel, finding good coaches, and executing on the field.


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Dolphins interview Quinton Coples at Senior Bowl

Word over the last few days has indicated the Miami Dolphins may be moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme, and lending credence to those reports is a tweet from Ben Volin indicating the Dolphins chatted it up with former North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples Tuesday in Mobile.

Widely regarded as one of the top defensive prospects in the 2012 class and rated by some as the best defensive end on the board, Coples profiles anywhere from a defensive end or defensive tackle in a 4-3 or even outside linebacker in a 3-4, depending how he chooses to handle his weight.

After two seasons as a rotational defensive end for the Tar Heels, Coples moved inside to defensive tackle in the spring of 2010 after starter Marvin Austin was suspended for the entire season. Despite playing out of position, Coples totaled 59 tackles and 10 sacks to earn first-team All-ACC honors. Moving back to defensive end as a senior, Coples racked up 55 tackles and 7.5 sacks and earned all-conference honors for the second consecutive year.

Coples was investigated by the NCAA for attending draft-day parties with Austin and Robert Quinn, but was ultimately cleared of any wrong-doing. There are also concerns about his on-field discipline and work ethic, although he's been nothing short of impressive so far at the Senior Bowl with Scott Wright of DraftCoundown.com saying Coples "was very well spoken" and "should excel in interviews."

Officially measuring in at 6'5¾ and 281 pounds, Coples is actually working on getting lighter and faster to potentially stand up in a 4-3 scheme and drop into coverage. He's extremely athletic with long arms and is a natural pass rusher in either scheme, however.

If the Dolphins shift to the 4-3, they'll need a pass rusher opposite Cameron Wake because that's really been the biggest hole in the front seven over the past few years. Positions like offensive tackle and quarterback (if not addresses in free agency) will be among the others under consideration, though an impressive pre-draft showing by Coples can certainly propel him into consideration for Miami's No. 8 or 9 pick.


Follow all the Dolphins' draft prospect interactions with the 2012 NFL Draft player interest tracker here!

Bengals' Kevin Coyle emerges as defensive coordinator favorite

New Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is reportedly close to filling one of the primary positions on his staff, as Omar Kelly reports Bengals' defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle left the Senior Bowl to fly to South Florida and interview for the team's vacant defensive coordinator position.

Coyle was the first potential candidate named after Philbin's hiring, mentioned by an NFL Network report over the weekend. Although the two have never coached on the same staff in college or the NFL, they are apparently close friends and FOX Sports' Alex Marvez reports Coyle attended the recent funeral for Philbin's son, who drowned in Wisconsin on Jan. 8.

The 56-year-old Coyle has 35 years of coaching experience at the high school, collegiate, and NFL levels. He has spent the past 11 seasons as a defensive assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals, including the last nine as the team's defensive backs coach.

Coyle would replace Mike Nolan, who spent two years coordinating the Dolphins' defense before taking the same position with the Atlanta Falcons earlier this month.

Although the team got off to a slow start in 2011, Nolan crafted one of the league's better defenses over the past two seasons. The united ranked sixth in yards allowed in 2010 and was the No. 3 run defense this past season.

The addition of Coyle would likely mean major changes for the Dolphins' defense. Although the Dolphins have run the 3-4 scheme for the past four seasons and Philbin himself came from a 3-4 team in Green Bay, it is widely believed he will shift to a 4-3 scheme and Coyle would be a logical choice to implement it. Such a move would impact where many of the Dolphins' front seven players line up and could even impact the team's free agency priorities.

Ben Volin tweeted Tuesday evening that it would be a major upset" if Coyle does not get the job in Miami, and that he is expected to bring Jaguars' linebackers coach Mark Duffner with him. Duffner, 58, has spent the the past six seasons in Jacksonville and a Jan. 20 report had his quoted as saying he wanted to remain with the team under new head coach Mike Mularkey.

Coyle has coached under Duffner at the University of Cincinnati, Holy Cross and Maryland, and also worked with Philbin on the Packers' staff from 2003 to 2005. He would replace linebackers coach Bill Sheridan, who has already been told he will not be retained on Philbin's staff.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dolphins look at draft prospects Marvin McNutt, Mitchell Schwartz Tuesday

Draft prospects drawing interest from the Miami Dolphins at the 2012 Senior Bowl continue to trickle out, and DraftCountdown.com reports team officials were seen chatting up Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt and California offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz in Mobile Tuesday.

Originally recruited as a quarterback, McNutt switched to wide receiver during his redshirt sophomore season at Iowa. A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010, McNutt posted a career year as a senior with 82 catches for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn first-team all-conference honors. For his career, McNutt totaled 170 receptions, 2,861 receiving yards and school-record 28 receiving touchdowns.

Measuring in at 6-2½ and 216 pounds, McNutt was called "may be the most impressive physical specimen that I've seen thus far" by DraftCountdown.com's Scott Wright at the Senior Bowl. Considered a mid-round prospect with the potential to move up if he runs well in pre-draft workouts, McNutt has the big frame and soft, reliable hands to make him one of the best possession receiver prospects in the draft.

The Dolphins have no immediate need for a possession wide receiver, but they could certainly use the depth and you never know how long Brandon Marshall is going to be around given his high salary, attitude problems and legal run-ins. You have to imagine the Dolphins would at least consider McNutt in the third round or beyond, especially since new head coach Joe Philbin has a long history with Hawkeyes' coach Kirk Ferentz.

The younger brother of Carolina Panthers' guard Geoff Schwartz, Mitchell Schwartz redshirted at Cal in 2007 before going on to start all 51 games over the next four seasons. A right tackle for most of 2008 and all of 2009, Schwartz anchored the blind side during his final two years and was an all-conference selection both seasons.

Schwartz is your typical college tackle whose draft prospects aren't accurately represented by his impressive collegiate resume. Measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds, Schwartz probably doesn't have the elite athleticism to stay on the left side in the pros and is probably best suited for tight tackle or guard. He's a smart, sound technician that is going to be either a solid start of quality versatile backup, but he shouldn't be under consideration until the mid-to-late rounds.


Follow all the Dolphins' draft prospect interactions with the 2012 NFL Draft player interest tracker here!

Paul Soliai named to Pro Bowl; Dolphins meet with Janoris Jenkins

Much like Dolphins' defensive lineman Randy Starks was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010—a year after he was truly deserving—nose tackle Paul Soliai has been added to the AFC's Pro Bowl roster, replacing either the Ravens' Haloti Ngata.

Soliai joins offensive tackle Jake Long and wide receiver Brandon Marshall as the Dolphins' third Pro Bowl selection of the 2011 season, although Long has since dropped out due to multiple injuries suffered during the regular season.

Originally a fourth-round pick out of Utah in 2007, Soliai spent a few years in the dog house battling weight and maturity issues before emerging as an elite nose tackle in 2010 with 39 tackles and two sacks while playing stellar run defense as the anchor of the Dolphins' 3-4 defense.

Coming off a breakout season and heading for unrestricted free agency, the Dolphins opted against signing Soliai to a long-term deal in 2011 and instead placed the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing him a salary of more than $12 million this past season.

While Soliai didn't perform badly in 2011, his tackle numbers dropped and he fell to Pro Football Focus' 10th-ranked 3-4 nose tackle and 24th overall defensive tackle (both schemes) against the run.

Soliai earned an overall positive grade, but I'd hardly call him Pro Bowl-worthy this season. Just as with Starks, this seems to be something of a "makeup" selection for his play the season before when he was the No. 4 nose tackle in the game and No. 10 overall defensive tackle.

Nevertheless, a Pro Bowl selection is only going to drive up the impending 28-year-old free agent's market value even more. Despite what you might call a "down year" in 2011, effective 355-pound nose tackles don't grow on trees and are highly coveted in a league where the 3-4 is as prevalent as it is today.

Aside from money, the biggest factor that could determine Miami's interest in re-signing Soliai is their defensive scheme. Despite running the 3-4 scheme for the past four years and new head coach Joe Philbin coming from a 3-4 team himself, reports this week have the Dolphins potentially shifting back to the 4-3 scheme.

Such a move would alleviate the need for a high-priced nose tackle like Soliai, as the 4-3 scheme would have current defensive ends Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Jared Odrick, Tony McDaniel, and Phillip Merling moving inside and pass rushers like Cameron Wake moving to defensive end.


Dolphins interview potential first-round CB Janoris Jenkins at Senior Bowl

I've already discussed a few of the players that have met with Dolphins at this week's Senior Bowl festivities, but beat writer Ben Volin and former Gators' reporter passes along news that the Dolphins interviewed former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins on Monday.

A four-star recruit from Pahokee, Fla., Jenkins was a freshman All-American for the Gators in 2008 as well as a first-team All-SEC selection as a junior in 2010. Jenkins totaled 121 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, eight interceptions and 25 pass deflections in three years in Gainesville before being kicked off the team prior to the 2011 season after two arrests for marijuana possession in a three-month span.

Jenkins, who was also arrested in 2009 for fighting and resisting arrest at a Gainesville bar, transferred to Division II North Alabama for his senior campaign in 2011 and racked up 36 tackles (four for a loss), a fumble recovery, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and a blocked kick in 12 games while earning second-team All-American honors.

Measuring in at just under 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds, Jenkins has the talent of a first-rounder but character concerns that are going to make teams be extra careful about selecting him. With a strong offseason showing and good interviews (while staying out of trouble, of course), Jenkins could end up back in the mid-to-late first round.

The Dolphins likely wouldn't consider Jenkins at No. 8 or 9 overall, and it's a stretch to think he'd reach the team's second-round pick (No. 40 or 41 overall) unless he has a bad pre-draft showing. However, the Dolphins would certainly consider him in the late-first if they trade down in a "best player available" mentality.


Follow all the Dolphins' draft prospect interactions with the 2012 NFL Draft player interest tracker here!

Special teams coach Darren Rizzi retained; Bush trade details revealed

Despite reports Monday that at least six Miami Dolphins assistant coaches will not be retained on new head coach Joe Philbin's staff and certainly more to follow, one coach that is expected to be back in 2012 is special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi.

Philbin and Rizzi have never coached on the same staff at any level, but perhaps the two know each other from other means or maybe Philbin was just impressed with the job Rizzi has done in more than a year running the Dolphins' special-teams unit.

Rizzi was initially added to Tony Sparano's staff as an assistant special teams coach in 2009, working under then-coordinator John Bonamego. When Bonamego was fired in October 2010 after a disastrous blowout loss to the Patriots, Rizzi was promoted to the coordinator role and maintained the job in 2011.

It's hard to argue with Philbin's decision to keep Rizzi, because special teams has been one area the Dolphins have truly excelled over the past year. Plackeicker Dan Carpenter converted 85.3 percent of his kicks in 2011; Brandon Fields is regularly one of the best punters in the NFL; and long snapper John Denney hasn't missed a game in seven seasons and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2010.

The Dolphins also ranked 13th in the NFL in kickoff return average with rookie Clyde Gates serving as the primary returner. On the coverage side of things, the Dolphins held opponents to 22.9 yards per return (10th in NFL) and 9.9 yards per punt return (16th) while not allowing a return touchdown.

It's no surprise that Philbin is overhauling the staff and likely bringing in a handful of guys familiar to him, but it's nice to see he's not doing so blindly and is retaining a great coordinator to run a special-teams unit that was a well-oiled machine in 2011.


Bush officially becomes a steal for Dolphins

When Reggie Bush wrapped up his first season in Miami, it became clear that he was a great addition for the Dolphins. Before this week, we already knew the first-time 1,000-yard rusher cost the Dolphins only special-teamer Jonathon Amaya and an "undisclosed pick" that was not contingent on Bush's performance.

Ben Volin reported Tuesday that the deal was officially Bush for Amaya and a swap of sixth-round picks in 2012, meaning the Dolphins didn't even lose a pick in the upcoming draft but rather just slid down a bit.

The Dolphins will give the Saint the eighth or ninth pick in the round, depending on the offseason coin flip to break a tie with the Panthers. (Because it is in an even round, the pick will be the reverse order of the Dolphins' and Panthers' picks in the first round.)


In return, Miami will receive the No. 27 pick in the sixth round. The overall pick is not yet known because the NFL has not announced the compensatory picks (which begin in round three) given out to teams for free agents lost the previous offseason. For reference, the 27th pick in the sixth round in 2011 was the No. 192 overall.

Bush is due a $4.5 million base salary in 2012 before hitting the free agent market the following offseason. Regardless of what Philbin does with Miami's offense, the former No. 2 overall pick is expected to enter camp entrenched as the team's feature back.


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Dolphins talk to Chris Rainey, two others at Senior Bowl

Monday was the first day of practices at the 2012 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. and the Miami Dolphins have began talking to the present draft prospects. Ben Volin tweets the Dolphins interviewed former Florida running back Chris Rainey, while DraftCountdown.com has the team chatting up UConn defensive lineman Kendall Reyes and NC State linebacker Audie Cole.

Rainey (5-8, 178) was ESPN's 34th overall prep prospect in the nation before committing to the University of Florida in 2007. A hybrid running back/wide receiver, Rainey had his most productive season as a fifth-year senior in 2011 with 861 rushing yards, 381 receiving yards, and seven offensive touchdowns. He was arrested and kicked off the Gators' team in 2010 after sending a threatening message to his girlfriend, but re-joined the team this past season.

His raw athleticism helped him in college, but Rainey will have a harder time finding a role in the pros. His small stature will prevent him from being a feature back in the NFL, but he does have the physical tools to be a dynamic third-down back, slot receiver, and return man. Because of his offensive limitations and some character concerns, he probably won't go before the middle rounds but could be a nice weapon in the right situation.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Reyes earned a starting job on the Huskies' defensive line during his redshirt freshman season and never looked back. Opening 41 of 49 career contests, Reyes racked up 142 tackles (31.5 for a loss), 11.5 sacks, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups while earning first-team All-Big East honors each of his final two seasons.

Reyes profiles as a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end (or three-technique), which is where he'd play in Miami assuming the team keeps its defensive scheme despite a coaching change. Strong and a good athlete, Reyes has plenty of upside and starting potential and has a shot to go in the second or third round. That would make him an option for the Dolphins if another Kendall (free agent Kendall Langford) cannot be retained.

A quarterback, safety, and linebacker in high school, Cole worked at outside linebacker during his sophomore and junior seasons before moving inside as a senior in 2011. He led the Wolfpack in tackles each of his final three seasons, capped off by a senior campaign that saw him record 108 total stops (13.5 for a loss), 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Cole is a strong, athletic linebacker with good range and a 6-foot-4, 248-pound frame. He projects as a second-round pick, which is probably higher than the Dolphins would be willing to take a player like him. Cole projects as a 3-4 inside linebacker and the Dolphins won't need one unless they decide to release Karlos Dansby or Kevin Burnett in a cost-cutting move, which seems unlikely.


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Monday, January 23, 2012

Todd Bowles, Brian Daboll among those not returning to Dolphins' staff

The Miami Dolphins lost defensive coordinator Mike Nolan before their head-coaching search was even over, but now it seems the staff is preparing to undergo a radical transformation under new head coach Joe Philbin.

Reported on Monday indicated that numerous members of Tony Sparano's staff with the Dolphins will not be retained under Philbin, including offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and assistant head coach/secondary coach Todd Bowles, who went 2-1 serving as the team's interim head coach after Sparano was fired late during the 2011 season.

Bowles, who has drawn head-coaching consideration around the team for a few years now, was a finalist for the Dolphins' head position himself before losing out to Philbin. There was some talk he could return in a defensive coordinator role (one he's never held in the NFL), but that apparently is not the case.

Daboll spent just one season running the Dolphins' offense, replacing the retired Dan Henning, after coming over from the Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins ranked 23rd in total yards and 20th in points in 2011, although Daboll certainly didn't have all the tools he needed on offense and lost his starting quarterback three games into the season.

With an aggressive attack that saw the Dolphins rank 14th in completions over 20 yards, Daboll has to earn some credit for getting quality production out of backup quarterback Matt Moore down the stretch, generating the best rushing season of Reggie Bush's career, and putting Brandon Marshall back in the Pro Bowl with elite numbers that could have been much better if not for more than a dozen dropped passes.

Also known to be moving on from the Dolphins' staff are wide receivers coach Steve Bush, assistant receivers coach Ike Hilliard, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, and linebackers coach Bill Sheridan. Hilliard has already taken a promotion as wide receivers coach of the Washington Redskins, while DeGuglielmo is reportedly close to re-joining Sparano with the New York Jets.

There are still a dozen of other assistants that are still unspoken for, including offensive quality control coach Tony Sparano, Jr., but it seems likely Philbin could be overhauling most or all of the coaching staff and we might not see any familiar faces return.

From a hiring standpoint, Jaguars' offensive line coach Andy Heck was a rumored candidate for the Dolphins' offensive coordinator job, but has since recommitted to Jacksonville. Former Texas A&M and Packers' head coach Mike Sherman, who may be the favorite for the Buccaneers' head-coaching job, is also a candidate for the offensive coordinator role in Miami and has an extensive history with Philbin.

On the defensive side of the ball, NFL Network suggested Bengals' assistant Kevin Coyle could be a candidate for a coordinator position under Philbin. Coyle has spent the past 11 years with the Bengals, including the last nine coaching the defensive backs.


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A look at the Packers' impending free agents

With the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin, rumors immediately began swirling that the Miami Dolphins would be pursuing flavor of the month and looming free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, who worked with Philbin over the past four season in Green Bay.

It's certainly a logical connection to make, as the Dolphins' are still looking for a long-term answer at quarterback and Philbin would know better than anyone the kind of potential Flynn has.

But could Philbin's presence bring anyone else from the Frozen Tundtra to South Beach? In this article, I'll take a look at all the Packers' impending free agents and their chances of reuniting with Philbin in Miami.


CB/FS Jarrett Bush
Undrafted out of Utah State in 2006, Bush has spent the past six seasons as a reserve defensive back and special-teamer for the Packers. Starting two of 16 games in 2011, Bush set career highs with 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. However, he has graded out below average in coverage over the past few years and offers little upside.

Philbin is obviously familiar with Bush but his specialty is on offense. The Dolphins certainly need cornerback depth behind Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, but Bush isn't that great of an option and is going to cost more than he's worth as a six-year veteran. I don't see a match here.


TE Jermichael Finley

Originally a third-round pick out of Texas in 2008, Finley has been on the cusp of being one of the NFL's elite receiving tight ends for a few years now. He caught 55 passes for 676 yards and six scores in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury five games into the 2010 season. 2011 was a mixed bag for Finley, who totaled 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns but also led all NFL tight ends with 12 drops.

The Dolphins obviously have a starting tight end in Anthony Fasano, who isn't a playmaker but is one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the league as a reliable receiver and strong blocker.Any offense could use a weapon like Finley and it'd be nice to have a really dynamic tight end in the offense, but I'd hardly consider a starting tight end near the top of the Dolphins' needs.

Despite his inconsistency, Finley would obviously be a bit of an upgrade in the passing game, though Fasano's cap hit will be over $4 million and it seems unlikely they both could coexist. Fasano is in the last year of his deal, however, and Finley might have done some damage to his market value with his drop problems in 2011.

Assuming he isn't franchised by the Packers, I think Finley is someone that will interest the Dolphins to some extent. Finley seems to have a good relationship with Philbin (he tweeted a congratulations shortly after the announcement) and would give the Dolphins a nice weapon on offense. What it will come down to is how much it will take to bring him in and what they'll do with Fasano and his contract.



QB Matt Flynn

As Dolphins fans have been starved for a franchise quarterback since Dan Marino called it quits, Flynn is obviously the name that is going to be connected to the Dolphins the most over the next month or so. He hasn't played much, but he did hold up well in a 2010 start against the Patriots and set franchise records with 480 yards and six touchdowns in the 2011 regular season finale against the Lions.

I'm not anti-Flynn, but I am wary of his upside and I think he's being a bit overrated by fans of teams that desperately need a franchise quarterback. He was only a solid college player and a seventh-round pick for a reason, and I think a few good games (and sitting behind an elite quarterback in Aaron Rodgers) has created this reputation for him that isn't totally justified.

I'm not opposed to the Dolphins bringing Flynn in, and I do think that if anyone knows whether or not he's worth hanging his Miami tenure on, it's a guy like Philbin that's worked with him closely for four years. My only concern is that the team doesn't get into a bidding war for him an end up handing Flynn a guaranteed starting job and a big contract, because I just don't think the sample is there to deserve it right now.


RB Ryan Grant

Grant emerged as the Packers' starting tailback with a 956-yard performance in 2007, and he followed that up with two 1,000-yards seasons and a career-high 11 touchdowns in 2009. After being limited to just one game due to injury last season, Grant (and the Packers' running game in general) took a backseat to the aerial attack in 2011 as he totaled just 559 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games.

The Dolphins have their starting tailback in Reggie Bush and also have a second-year man in Daniel Thomas that I still feel has a ton of upside. Meanwhile, Grant is a pretty average back and at 29 is probably past his days as a true starter. I wouldn't rule him out for the Dolphins, but unless someone gets hurt of Philbin really doesn't like Thomas, there doesn't seem to  be much of a role for Grant in Miami.


NT Howard Green

I think we all remember Howard Green's training camp stint with the Dolphins in 2006 (sarcasm), but in case you haven't been following his career as thoroughly as you should have been, here's a little recap. Sixth-rounder by the Ravens in 2002. Spent time with Houston and Baltimore and Houston again that season. Spent 2003 and 2004 with Saints. Out of the league in 2005. Camp with Dolphins in 2006, Vikings in 2007. With Seahawks 2007 to 2008. Jets in 2009, Redskins camp and Jets in 2010. Packers 2010 to 2011. Whew.

At best, Green is a backup lineman and at 33 his upside is long gone. He has the versatility and experience to play anywhere in the 3-4 scheme, but I just don't see him being worth backup money and I don't see someone his age being used for Dolphins' line depth when they usually use youngsters there. It's not a fit.


CB Pat Lee

A second-round pick out of Auburn (War Eagle!) in 2008, Lee has had a pretty uninspiring career. Limited by injuries and buried on the depth chart, Lee missed the 2009 season entirely and has started just one game in 32 played in three seasons. For his career, he has just 21 tackles and a pass deflection.

Lee still has upside at 27, but he's obviously disappointed as a second-round pick when undrafted Packers' corners like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have excelled. I would have no issue with him coming in to compete with Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson for a reserve role in the secondary, but that's far from a lock.


OLB Erik Walden

The second ex-Dolphins player on this list, Walden was a special-teamer in Miami for two-plus three years from 2008 to 2010, totaling 13 tackles in 19 games. After being waived by the Dolphins during the 2010 season, Walden was picked up by the Packers and eventually played a significant role in their Super Bowl run, including a three-sack performance in the regular season finale. Walden came back down to earth quite a bit in 2011, 15 of 16 contests but totaling just 60 tackles and three sacks.

Walden looked like the one that got away in 2010, but he graded out as a terrible run defender and ineffective pass rusher as a full-time starter in 2011. He might overprice himself a bit in the free agent market but I think he'll have a hard time landing a starting job and should probably be more of a special-teamer and backup. He's a candidate to interest Miami, but he's not going to solve their pass-rushing woes opposite Cameron Wake.


C Scott Wells

Originally a seventh-round pick of the Packers back in 2004, Wells began his career as a guard but has been entrenched as the team's starting center since the 2006 season began. In all he has opened 100 of 111 games played and has recently graded out as one of the better centers in the league, coming in at No. 4 according to Pro Football Focus in 2009 and 2011 and No. 8 in 2010.

My initial guess would be that the Packers will make a strong push to re-sign Wells and that will be his first option as well. He has a long, established tenure in Green Bay and they look to be contenders for years to come, so if the money is right he should be trying to stay.

That being said, the Dolphins could make a run at Wells, too. If Philbin thinks either Wells or second-year center Mike Pouncey can shift to guard, the addition of Wells would help solidify a line that is at least 40 percent incomplete with free agents Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo needing to be replaced. Philbin was the assistant offensive line coach during Wells' first two seasons and was his position coach during his first year starting at center, so he has plenty experience with the guy and may be very interested in a reunion.


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