Miami Dolphins: Bang the Drum

Two weeks into preseason and what do we know?

Nothing. That is what we know.

Did you really expect anything more?

There is very little you can truly tell from limited snaps and vanilla schemes. Seeing the players competing is nice but it is best not to get too excited about anything you see. You should also not hit the panic button either.

So leading up to the third game what is there to do?

Bang The Drum

Every year we see players in the preseason that excite us. Players that we want to succeed. It does not necessarily mean they ascend to the starting lineup. We just want to see more.
We bang the drum for them. Much like during the draft there are players we would stand on a table calling for in preseason we all pick players we would pound the table, bang the drum for them to just be given the opportunity to impress.

I have two. One on offense, One on defense.

On offense it was actually real easy for me to decide. While many fans have fallen in love with Jakeem Grant I am not quite there yet. He is exciting and shiny but I still need to see more. My pick on offense is running back Isaiah Pead. He may have started as just a camp body, expected to be churned by the first cuts, but he refuses to go away. While it is a small sample size Pead has been more impressive than any other back on the roster. More chances with the ones are expected and if he continues to impress he can guarantee a roster spot. He may even work his way into the starting rotation.

Anyone who has read my columns over the last few years or who follows me on twitter should have a pretty good idea who my next pick is. Mike Hull. Second year linebacker from Penn State. Much like Isaiah Pead, Hull has looked better than most of the rest of the linebacking corps. Yes he is playing against the backups and he is still a little raw. That is true, but he is also making plays everytime he is given a chance. He deserves the call up. He should be the first linebacker off the bench and in time I believe he will be.

This Thursday in Orlando(and I will be there) I will be banging the drum for each of these men. What about you?


Miami Dolphins: Sophomore Season

As we work our way through the endless NFL offseason much of the conversation is about who was or was not signed in free agency and of course the never-ending debates about who will be picked by which team in the upcoming NFL Draft. These things do matter but it leans into this very human thought:

‘New is always better.’

It does feel that way at times. However in doing so we forget about the new toys we had this time last year. Those draft picks and undrafted free agents prepare to enter their sophomore season. They spent a year getting stronger, getting healthy and most importantly, they spent a season learning how to be pros. Now they have a chance to take that next step.

Jay Ajayi, RB: Ajayi missed the first seven games of the season but towards the end of the year he showed promise for the future. While only running for 187 yds in relief of departed running back Lamar Miller, he did have several runs of over 20 yds. A healthy season should give him the opportunity to compete for the starting job.

DeVante Parker, WR: The 2015 first round pick finished strong after missing several games with injury. When in the lineup he showed the skills that made him a coveted wide receiver just a year ago finishing the year with a 19-yd per reception average and 3 touchdowns. Like Ajayi, a full healthy season should pay dividends.

Jamil Douglas, G/C: Douglas struggled at times when thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie but a year of seasoning and a new coaching staff could allow him to grow into more than a backup.

Jordan Phillips, DT: Serving as a reserve tackle Phillips contributed just two sacks but he did manage four timely pass deflections.

Neville Hewitt/Mike Hull/Zach Vigil, LB: the trio of undrafted free agent linebackers(each was expected to be taken in the late rounds of the draft) combined for just 44 tackles last season but each has the ability to play at this level. Hewitt played some outside linebacker when Jelani Jenkins was out of the lineup. Vigil shared time in the middle early in the season. I feel of the three Mike Hull, the former Penn State star, has the best upside.

Bobby McCain/Tony Lippett, CB: Once they let him on the field Bobby McCain showed he had what it takes to at worst be a slot corner if not outright competing for a starting spot this season. Lippett on the other hand is a raw prospect. A converted wide receiver he has earned rave reviews for how quickly he has made the transition to corner. If he continues to progress his length will be a welcome addition to the secondary.

Perhaps the biggest jump in ability for any player occurs between the first and second year. These are nine players that may make a jump going into their sophomore seasons. Add to that the potential that the new coaching staff may get more out of all of the players on the roster than the previous regime did and there is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season.


Miami Dolphins: Preseason Postscript

Thursday night the Miami Dolphins face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last preseason game of the 2015 season. After that the games truly count.

For the majority of the players on each team there is nothing more to prove. The last game is an open tryout for other teams and practice squads. It is one last chance for the last few players on the 53 to make their mark.

For the players we will actually see during the season the work is already done.

There were questions to be answered this preseason:

How well would a nearly entirely new receiving corps work with franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill?

What effect with Ndamukong Suh have on the Dolphins defense?

Will the offensive line be good enough(especially at guard) to protect Tannehill?

Each of these questions have been answered and then some.

The first team offense has run like clockwork. Moving down the field and scoring in each of the preseason games. Tannehill is looking more like a seasoned veteran than a young player entering his fourth season. While we have not seen much out of first round draft pick Devante Parker(recovering from foot surgery) between a resurgent Rishard Matthews, second year star Jarvis Landry, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills the receiving corps looks as deep and talented as it has in years.

The offensive line has been a concern to say the least over the last few seasons. The last two season the Dolphins gave up 58 and 46 sacks respectively. That is simply too many hits on the quarterback to expect much prolonged success. During this preseason they have played without starting left tackle Brandon Albert and frankly they have not looked bad. The guards, a question for years, have held their own. Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas have competed over the two guard positions and the results are positive. Thomas and Douglas are the likely starters but nothing is set in stone. This is not to say that suddenly this is an all-pro line. Far from it. This is a competent line that should be good enough to reduce the sacks to a reasonable number.

Now we come to the man called Suh. Could he possibly live up to the massive contract he signed during the offseason? The early answer is yes. Against the Atlanta Falcons the defense, especially the front seven, abused quarterback Matt Ryan series after series to the point he looked relieved to take a seat. This line is fierce and rejuvenated. The best thing about Suh thus far is that he does not seem remotely satisfied in the success so far. That is what a leader does-he strives to be better tomorrow.

Beyond that depth is still lacking but that takes time. Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas look to be able to fill the role expected of injured Louis Delmas. UDFA rookie linebackers Zach Vigil and Mike Hull both look like diamonds in the rough, if only there is room on the roster for both players.

There are still minor questions to be answered. That will come with the final preseason game and the cut down to 53. Until then things look good.

In fact things look better than they have in years.


Miami Dolphins Preseason: Week 1 Chicago Bears

Life is good. Football is back.

I know, I know it is only preseason. Still it is football. It is a slight peek at what we may see once the regular season arrives.

The first week is often a crap shoot. Sloppy play is not unusual. Teams get on the same page while also seeing the first live action against someone in another jersey. The final score is unimportant.

So what did we see when the Miami Dolphins met the Chicago Bears?

First Team Offense and Defense:

Ryan Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh both showed that they were worth every penny. Tannehill led a successful drive in his limited game action going 6 of 7 for 56 yards and the one touchdown the Dolphins would score. During Suh’s time on the field the defense was dominant against the Bears first team offense.

Offensive Line:

While some have worried the offensive line would fall to pieces during real-time game action they did not. Even Dallas Thomas(who may feel is the weak link) performed admirably. It was not perfect but it was enough to hold of signing Evan Mathis for now. The next few weeks will demonstrate just how good the line can be.

Rookie Linebackers

Second year linebackers Chris McCain and Jordan Tripp both left the game with injuries. Neither injury seemed significant with Tripp’s the more serious of the two. The silver lining was getting to see extended playing time from two of the rookie undrafted free agents: Mike Hull and Zach Vigil. Both players found themselves around the ball again and again. They showed enough that both players deserve a closer look which they may get in the upcoming weeks while McCain and Tripp heal from their injuries. More playing time could accelerate the learning process for these rookies making it easier to rely on them during the regular season.

One game in the books. Plenty to like, also plenty to learn from.

This week there are joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, followed by the 2nd preseason game.

Time to get back to work. Be better tomorrow than they were today.



Finding the next Linebackers

This is the dead zone. The part of the off-season where nothing, and I mean nothing, happens.

Players have participated in OTAs and practices. The new guys have gotten a taste of the playbook. Coaches have started learning some names. And then a month off. The last vacation before training camp and preseason.

I sat back and thought about what I truly wanted to see when the players returned. Ndamukong Suh? No I know what to expect. Ryan Tannehill working with his brand new receiving corps? Tempting but not at the tope of my list. No it was the linebackers. The linebacking corps is the biggest question for me.

Two spots are taken. Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins will clearly be starting when the season arrives. The question is who will join them and who will man the middle. That is a question that has been unanswered for far too long.

There are a lot of names: Chris McCain, Jordan Tripp, Kelvin Sheppard, Spenser Paysinger are the veterans. They are joined my undrafted rookies Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull, Jeff Luc and Zach Vigil. Eight players for perhaps five spots.

This is where it gets interesting. It is fun to see who rises to the top. I feel confident that McCain and Tripp will be there at the end but who else makes it. Some may assume Sheppard and Paysinger have the advantage being veterans but the rookies were all expected to be late round draft picks. Mike Hull and Zach Vigil in particular were projected to be drafted as early as the fourth round. Either player could conceivably compete for the middle linebacker spot within two years.

The question may come to experience versus potential. That is what defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will have to decide. That is what training camp is for. Time to see the cream rise to the top.