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3 posts from October 15, 2013

October 15, 2013

Dolphins cut one, curious to see who they add

The Dolphins this evening announced they cut DT Marvin Austin, which is not an intriguing move other than it strongly suggests the team is about to fill the vacant roster spot with another player.

And that means the Dolphins are trying to add a player to help them the remainder of this year.

But here's the deal, it is not a running back, as a source told me this evening the Dolphins are not looking in that direction right now.

Before going further, allow me to back up a bit ... Today was an interesting day in that I heard there was a lot of activity within the personnel department even as General Manager Jeff Ireland was not around. (He was apparently off scouting).

The activity was so obvious, assistant GM Brian Gaine came to practice after it had begun and had a short meeting with coach Joe Philbin right there on the field -- during practice.

I cannot report anything absolutely concrete, such as phone calls to other teams or agents, but I do know the Dolphins are working toward something.

And then the Austin move happened. And then I was told the corresponding move might be to add an offensive lineman.

The Dolphins, you see, are aware quarterback Ryan Tannehill is very valuable. And their very valuable asset has been treated like a rag doll the first five games of the season, getting sacked a team-record pace 24 times in five games.

So I asked if an offensive lineman might be on the way, And, yes, the possibility exists, was the answer.

The questions remains who?

Bryant McKinnie might be available although he hasn't exactly played great.

I'd love it to be Tampa Bay OT Donald Penn but don't wish to speculate the move would be that big.

The Bills also cut guard Colin Brown on Tuesday, so there's a possibility the Dolphins might be interested in the 28-year-old who has started the past five games for Buffalo.

We'll see.


Notes from Tuesday practice and interviews

In 1988, the pass-intensive Dolphins delivered to Don Shula only his second losing season in Miami in part because they could not run the football. That team rushed for a franchise low 1,205 yards en route to a 6-10 record.

The 2013 Dolphins are a solid 3-2 so far. But they are having more trouble running the football than that long-ago terrible running team.

The Dolphins have 348 rushing yards in five games. They are averaging 69.6 rushing yards per game.

At the current pace the team is going to finish with a historically franchise low 1,114 rushing yards for the season. Does that worry latter day Dolphins coach Joe Philbin?

"I'm not concerned about franchise marks and where we stand with other teams," Philbin said Tuesday. "I want us to be a better running football team, no question about it. I think we will be. But I'm not concerned about comparing us to other teams here."

It is encouraging that Philbin believes better rushing performances are coming. He says the Dolphins have "core" running plays and "have some plays we believe in very strongly," that will lift the team from its current No. 29 rush offense NFL ranking.

One answer might be to actually run the ball a bit more because the Dolphins are only 26th in rush yards per play. More runs, more yards.


Practice update: Every player on the roster participated, at least on a limited basis, in practice today. Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe spent part of practice rehabbing his shoulder during the part of practice open to the media but when practice was over he was drenched in sweat, taped up and carrying his helmet off the field, suggesting he participated to some degree. There is no practice or injury report due today so the Dolphins won't provide any official word on whether Ellerbe practiced or not. But it looks as if he did.


Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is a strong believer in attacking the opposing offenses. He doesn't like the idea his defense is a "bend-but-don't-break" unit.

"Yeah, I hate that term, to be honest with you," Coyle said.

Well, then he should speak with head coach Joe Philbin, who today said his defense has been living by a "bend-but-not-break philosophy."

"I think we've given up some yards," Philbin said. "But in tight situations we've played relatively well. There's been a lot of room for improvement, whether it be third down or the red zone. I think we have a chance to improve as the second half of the season kicks off. After the bye week I see us playing better."

Coyle, meanwhile, sees his defense as an aggressive bunch with that kind of philosophy. Disagreement on semantics aside, both men agree the Dolphins defense is likely to improve.

"We’ve been an aggressive defense," he said. "We aren’t satisfied with the way we’ve played through five games. I think I mentioned it last week, we’ve been inconsistent. There have been flashes of very good play, individual play, but collectively we haven’t had a game where we came out and just flat played from start to finish the way we are capable of. We are working hard. The players are working hard.

"I really believe it’s going to start to come. We’ve got too good of players, and we trust our scheme and what we are doing. We have an aggressive scheme. We have an attacking scheme. That’s why I’m not joking when I say to you I don’t like that term (bend-don’t-break) because although in games it’s looked like that this way this year because we haven’t had the three-and-out consistency or the big play consistency defensively that I believe we can have and hopefully we have here soon as we go forward. We want to get after people. We want to create turnovers. We want to be dictating the tempo of the game. That’s what we plan to do from here on out."

Dolphins defense focused on limiting big plays

One of the areas of concern the Dolphins identified in the offseason -- allowing explosive plays on defense -- was a topic of much conversation and study for the team during the bye week, as coaches tried to figure out why a defense that had limited those plays the season's first three weeks had imploded the past two games.

Against the Saints, the Dolphins yielded three explosive passes (defined by the team as covering 25 yards or more) and one explosive run (defined by the team as a run of 15 yards or more). Then against Baltimore, the defense allowed pass completions of 40, 41 and 43 yards to Joe Flacco and also was hit on a 28-yard run by Bernard Pierce.

The eight so-called explosive plays Miami allowed in the last two games outnumbered the six it had allowed in three previous games. And even the the six previous big plays was too much, if you ask coach Joe Philbin.

No wonder the coach said stopping explosive plays this week against Buffalo is a priority on defense.

"Number one is, we’ve given up too many explosive plays," Philbin said. "That’s something we need to address. We need to do a better job at. I would like to get people in a little longer-yard situations so we can kind of tee up on them, get our pass rush going, our blitz package or drop eight, a variety of all those things. But we have to do a better job of limiting explosive plays, no doubt. "

That is largely the assignment for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who obviously studied the issue so closely he recalled the individual plays from memory on Monday.

"Last week we had four explosive plays," Coyle began. "The first plus 20 yard run we gave up in the entire season was last week. It was in a defense that we didn’t fit the run correctly. It really was a play to our advantage to where they ran the ball and how they did it, yet the ball popped out and they gained 28 yards on it. We need to get that corrected, and I think we have.

"There were three passes, three big passes in that game the other day of 40 yards plus. Two of those came after a completion of about six yards. On the first one we missed a tackle and the guy ran for another 30 some odd yards. There was another one on an over route. We were in great position. It looked like we were going to intercept the ball, and we didn’t make the play on the ball at that point."

I asked Coyle about his level of concern given his boss's worries.

"I’m as concerned or more concerned than coach (Philbin) is about the big plays, but you’ve got to analyze how they are happening," he said. "Sometimes if they are happening, which is balls being thrown vertically down the field, then you have some issues in terms of the matchups. We haven’t really had those major problems thus far this year. I think we are just going to have to make more plays on the ball, create more pressure on the quarterback and hopefully we’ll see those things diminish quite a bit."

The problem with that is Miami hasn't really been at full strength defensively in recent weeks and the big plays have been the fallout result.

With defensive end Cameron Wake mostly out with a knee injury the past two weeks, the Dolphins haven't gotten the kind of pass rush they usually get when he's healthy. Starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson has missed four games and that has had a ripple effect throughout the secondary.

As Patterson is out, that means Nolan Carroll moves up to start and Jimmy Wilson moves up to nickel duty. So the Dolphins are putting their fourth-best rather than third-best cornerback on the field in nickel situations. And with Carroll dinged up at times in recent weeks, rookie Jamar Taylor has been pressed into duty at times. That's the fifth-best cornerback on the field.

(The Dolphins, by the way, are hopeful both Wake and Patterson will be available against Buffalo but it's still too early in the week to know for sure. I'd say Wake is expected to play. Patterson remains a bit of a question mark.)

Safety Chris Clemons has also been limited in practice for several weeks with various injuries. He missed part of the work Monday and Wilson took snaps at safety. That means Taylor must have had to take some snaps at nickel.

It is obviously difficult to get everyone working as a cohesive group when the group's individuals parts are often changing. Despite this, Coyle says the goal set at the beginning of the season when everyone was mostly healthy remains the goal today:

Cut down on big plays.

"We need to do a better job," he said. "We set that as a primary goal going into the season."