Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dolphins release four more

The Dolphins clearly know what they want in players, and they won't keep extra players on the roster just because the league's roster limits allows them to.

Case in point: Another four players were released yesterday, bringing the roster down to 66 players at a time when teams are allowed to have 80 on the roster.

K Connor Barth, WR Anthony Armstrong, and NT Louis Ellis were outright released, while FB Joe Kowalewski was waived/injured.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Safeties

Concluding my look at the team's defensive units, I'll be examining the safeties today.

Yeremiah Bell
Bell made an astounding number of plays last season, finishing second in the entire NFL with 130 plays (tackles, sacks, PDs, etc.). The player he came in second to? Gibril Wilson, the guy who Miami brought in to line up back there with Bell. The team is keeping Bell at his strong safety position and moving Wilson to free safety, so Bell's share of plays should remain about the same as he is asked to come up in the box to help defend against the run. Bell also deserves a lot of credit for leading Miami's pass defense in putting up a -14.2% DVOA vs. tight ends and a -24.8% DVOA vs. running backs, numbers good for 7th and 2nd best in the league respectively. As far as his individual metrics, he had a decent 54% success rate vs. the pass and an extremely good 6.0 adjusted yards per pass allowed, 8th beset in the league. Granted, some of that has to do with him playing so much in the box rather than deep down field, but it's impressive nonetheless. If he can continue last year's run of health, Bell should continue to be a strong presence in the back end of this defense.

Courtney Bryan
You've got to admire Bryan's tenacity in managing to stick around the Dolphins roster for so long. Cut by the team before the season began last year, he was later brought back into the fold in November in an effort to help the ailing special teams coverage units. In seven games, he recorded 3 special teams tackles. He's fine as a mid-season replacement, but I don't see the team keeping him on the roster to begin the year.

Chris Clemons
Chris Clemons from Clemson. Say that tongue-twister three times fast. I really liked this pick as Clemons was a good value in the fifth round. He's a really interesting prospect as a potential future starting free safety. He has excellent speed and his range in the backfield is superb. He's also very durable and experienced, having played 51 games in college, with three years as a starter. He's not a ballhawk, however, so his big-play potential is questionable. He's also not likely to make any huge hits and his tackling is suspect. He'll have time to work on those areas of his game as he spends his first season primarily as a special teams player, but he could see some opportunities as a dimeback if he progresses quickly.

Tyrone Culver
Culver turned out to be one of the team's best free agent additions last year, and he wasn't even added until September, right before the season began. Not only was he an ace special teams player (9 tackles), but he became a primary option in the defense's nickel and dime packages. In that limited playing time, he recorded 35 tackles, 3 passes defensed and one interception. He had a 52% success rate against the pass and trailed only Yeremiah Bell on the team with 8.0 adjusted yards allowed per pass. I listed Culver on my first annual Top 5 Prospects list this offseason, and the team obviously liked what they saw from him as well, signing him to a contract extension.

Gibril Wilson
Wilson was one of Miami's high-priced free agent additions this offseason, signed to take over Renaldo Hill's spot as the starting free safety. The biggest question surrounding Wilson is how well he'll be able to make the transition to free safety after playing SS for most of his career, save for one year with the Giants. You see, Wilson is one of the premier run-stuffing safeties in the entire NFL, but he will be asked to do a lot more pass coverage this year since Yeremiah Bell has the SS position locked up. As a run stopper he is second to none among this team's defensive backs, with a 55% success rate vs. the run last year. (Will Allen came in second at 46% and no one else was even above 40%). But he has also shown a tendency to make careless mistakes in deep coverage, and he gave up a whopping 10.4 adjusted yards per pass last year, one of the worst totals in the league. Granted, he had performed better in coverage the year before that in New York. It'll be imperative for Wilson to get past whatever was affecting his coverage abilities last year if this defense wants to be able to limit the amount of big pass plays it gives up.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
FS - Gibril Wilson
SS - Yeremiah Bell

1. Tyrone Culver
2. Chris Clemons

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Cornerbacks

Next up in the positional previews are the cornerbacks.

And before I even begin with this group, it should be noted that I wasn't even going to pick Eric Green to make this team. The team just beat me to the punch before I could put that prediction in writing. Oh well, anyone who's been reading me since Green was signed knows where I was coming from on that end.

Anyways...on to the guys who actually have a shot:

Jason Allen
After impressing in the latter half of 2007, it seemed like Jason Allen was finally in line for more playing time. However, that wasn't meant to be as the new coaching staff moved him permanently to cornerback and he reverted back to the bottom of the depth chart. Sometimes I just don't understand the coaches' handling of Jason. Yes, we can all admit that he is a bust as a No. 1 pick, but that doesn't mean he is useless. In fact, when he actually does find some small pockets of playing time, he looks decent. I can't believe that he was truly a worse option than Joey Thomas to use last year in most any situation. Jason has obvious flaws. He is one of the worst run-defending defensive backs in the league, surprising given his size and physicality. And he has a penchant for giving up big pass plays. But he did make a noticeable improvement in that area last year, going from 12.3 Adjusted Yards Allowed on passes targeted at him in 2007, to 9.4 AdjYds in 2008. Now, that's still not a good number, but it was a big improvement, and with a permanent move to CB, it wouldn't be surprising to see him continue to get a little better. What Jason does bring to the table is the ability to be a playmaker off the bench. In his very limited playing time over his first three years, Jason has recorded 5 interceptions, the same as Will Allen has snagged in the last four years while starting every game but one. If we admit that Jason's not a top-3 CB, then maybe we can all adjust our expectations of him. Once you get to your fourth or fifth CB, you aren't going to be getting a lock-down guy. But at least if Jason needs to come into the game he can make a play for this defense. And, perhaps most importantly, Jason's a special teams maven. He tied Patrick Cobbs for the team lead in special teams tackles last year with 16.

Will Allen
Will Allen continued with his strong play in 2008, helping Miami to post a -7.2% DVOA vs. #1 WRs. That was good for 9th best in the league. His individual metrics were so good in 2007, however, that they were bound to regress a bit last season. His success rate in coverage fell from 56% to 52%, and his AdjYds allowed rose from 5.9 to 7.8. He made up for it some by tallying a whopping 18 PDs and 3 Ints. He's still a No. 1 corner though, and the team showed their faith in him by extending his contract for another two years. Even so, the team wisely hedged its bets against a decline by drafting two CBs in the first two rounds. Will Allen is 31 years old this year so it can't be expected that he will continue this run of excellence forever. Things haven't looked any different in camp so far though, with Will drawing rave reviews.

Will Billingsley
Billingsley spent all of last season on Miami's practice squad. He did enough while there to get re-signed and brought back for another training camp. His calling card is his blazing speed, but I'm still not sure if he can actually cover. The most I hear about him from camp is when someone beats him for a TD. The best he can hope for is another year of seasoning on the practice squad.

Vontae Davis
I loved the team's decision to take Davis with the 25th pick in the draft this year. He was the most physically gifted and talented defensive back in the draft and possesses some of the biggest upside. This regime loves size at all positions, and it can be especially difficult to find quality size at CB. But Davis looks to be a fit. His excellent bulk doesn't detract from his ability to stay with even the fastest WRs, and it allows him to play with tremendous physicality. He should be a force in run defense. In coverage, he's like a jack-of-all-trades. He can play man; he can play zone; he can play bump and run. He's not the best ballhawk, but he'll make his share of plays. I think Davis' ultimate upside is that of a No. 1 corner. The predominant concerns about him are that he is immature and lacks the appropriate work ethic to reach those heights. Those are legitimate worries, but Tony Sparano has proven an ability to get everyone on the same page and bought into the team ethic.

Nathan Jones
Jones was a pleasant surprise last season. It was thought that he was being brought in from Dallas to primarily play special teams - which he did, and did well, finishing with 9 special teams tackles. But he quickly vaulted up the team's depth chart and settled in as the nickel-corner. He flourished in that role, providing stable coverage and showing an uncanny ability to pressure the QB on blitzes. The coaches have been cross-training him a bit at safety this offseason, and that will only increase his chances to get on the field. With the arrival of the two rookie CBs, Jones will get bumped down the depth chart a bit, but he's still a great player to have on the team.

Sean Smith
Another size-CB, Smith has loads of it, standing 6'3.5" and weighing 214 lbs. Corners of this size are few and far between. Most draft analysts were writing him off as a CB and predicting a move to safety in the pros, but thus far he's shown a ton of promise at corner and he's already moved into the starting lineup. This is quite an impressive feat for a guy who has only been playing corner full-time for two years. Before that, he was a WR and RB, and those ball skills are immediately evident. Despite the strong early signs, Smith still needs a lot of seasoning. You'd think, given his size, that he'd be an imposing hitter and tackler, but those are actually weak points of his game. And with his height, it's inevitable that he will need work on his footwork and technique in order to keep up with smaller, shiftier WRs out of their breaks.

Joey Thomas
Thomas was signed by the team in October and played in six games in a reserve role. The team must like something about his game since they keep bringing him back, but I just don't see it. He's about to turn 29 years old, and I can't see the reason for giving him a roster spot. He's not a strong special teams player, and the only thing that sticks out in my mind about his play last year was him getting beat in coverage.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Will Allen
2. Sean Smith
3. Vontae Davis
4. Nathan Jones
5. Jason Allen

Monday, August 24, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Linebackers

Next up in the series of training camp positional previews are the linebackers.

Charlie Anderson
Anderson is very close to being another free agent bust. The team handed him a sizable contract worth $2.5 million a year and he did very little to earn that cash last season. He was given an opportunity last offseason to take over Jason Taylor's vacant starting position, but he was quickly eclipsed by Matt Roth. The most action he saw was as a situational pass rusher, but even in that role he only recorded 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks. A lot of fans think he really turned it on late last season, but the only thing they can probably remember him doing was blocking a punt, which while nice, is useless from a projection standpoint. And besides, if 2.5 sacks is turning it on, well then the team should probably be looking in another direction - and that they did, by signing Cameron Wake. Still, the team might not be willing to give up on Anderson after just one year and he'll have a chance to make the team, but he'll have to battle with Erik Walden and Quentin Moses. If nothing else, Anderson was active on special teams, finishing with 13 tackles, although he also committed several boneheaded penalties on special teams as well.

Akin Ayodele
Ayodele flies under the radar on this team, but he's still a useful player to have on the roster. He has his obvious limitations in pass coverage where he is below average, and as a pass rusher he is useless. Over the past two seasons, Ayodele has registered zero sacks, zero QB hits, and only three QB hurries. But as a run defender, Ayodele generally shines. He is the team's best run-stuffing MLB, and only Matt Roth is a better run-stuffer than him among the LBs. With Ayodele, you know what you're getting, and I don't expect that to change this season.

Channing Crowder
There was some question this offseason about whether the team would re-sign Crowder or let him walk as a free agent. The front office locked him up with a fair three-year deal that will see him stay on as the team's starting MLB for the foreseeable future. Never a good pass rusher, Crowder did take a small step in the right direction last year, recording 5 QB hits and 8 hurries, as opposed to his 2007 totals of 3 and 6. His run-stopping ability, while still average, also took small steps forward last year. Where he saw the most improvement was in coverage, increasing his success rate vs. passes from 31% up to 51%. There was a definite learning curve last year as Crowder took over the reigns of the defense formerly held by Zach Thomas, but if he can continue his gradual improvement this year, particularly against the run, the defense will be well-served. Crowder's been serviceable up to this point in his career, but I think there's still a ways to go before he reaches his ceiling.

J.D. Folsom
Folsom was such an unknown coming out of Weber State that even he didn't think he would be drafted and had already begun planning for veterinary school. He doesn't fit the Parcells/Ireland size requirements for LBs, as he is just 6'3, 228 lbs. What Folsom does bring to the table though is speed and special teams skills. He's a super long shot to make the team, but he would be a nice practice squad candidate.

William Kershaw
Kershaw was signed to Miami's practice squad in October of last year and was then called up to the active roster in December. He appeared in one game and was inactive for another. In his one game against the Chiefs, he made an impact on special teams, finishing with two tackles and a forced fumble. He's a candidate to make the team as a backup MLB, but I just don't think he offers enough to justify the roster spot.

Quentin Moses
Moses is an interesting development project. He showed enough in college to be a third-round draft pick, but then was cut by two teams before his rookie season even began. Miami then signed him and he's stuck around for two years. He hasn't showed anything really impressive during that time as he completed the transition from DE to OLB, but he has been improving. He's still only 25 years old and he likely has a higher upside than Charlie Anderson. It might be worth it to keep Moses over Anderson as a situational pass rusher and allow him to continue his development in this system.

Joey Porter
In his second season with the Dolphins, Porter returned to the 3-4 OLB position that he had excelled in during his time with the Steelers. And boy did that work wonders for him! He finished second in the league with 17.5 sacks, and added 6 QB hits and 12 hurries. Porter essentially had the entire duty of pass pressure put on his shoulders since no one else on the defense could seem to generate any kind of consistent pressure, and he responded better than anyone could have imagined. Of course, teams eventually figured out a way to neutralize his pass rush - run the ball right at him. In the last quarter of the season, this was a common tactic and Porter just ran out of steam. This was also an effective tactic because of how poorly Porter played against the run. On the surface, he actually improved his numbers on runs against him where he actually made the stop. Unfortunately, most of the time he was simply ridden out of the play by a blocker. KC Joyner found that Porter faced 82 Point of Attack runs and he defeated his blocker on only 8 of those plays, for an absolutely pathetic 9.8% win rate. He also allowed an average of 5.6 yards per attempt on those plays. Now 32 years old, it's almost impossible to expect another campaign with such gaudy pass rush numbers, but he'll still produce in that area. Where he needs to focus is the run game.

Matt Roth
Roth has had a perplexing offseason so far. There were stories that he had lied to the team about an illness that was actually a groin injury and that he's been medically cleared to play but yet he remains inactive on the Non-Football Injury list. No one really knows what's going on here other than the fact that Roth is yet to play in a single training camp practice thus far. In his absence, Jason Taylor has taken over the starting OLB spot opposite Joey Porter. Regardless of who starts, each player will get a lot of playing time in a rotation. The bigger issue is how much playing time Roth is risking by sitting out this long. If the majority of the snaps are being handled by Porter and Taylor, the team is going to be in trouble since it will be virtually impossible to stop the run. Roth really blossomed in his full-time transition to outside LB last season. Whereas he was too small to hold up against blockers as a DE, he is a dominant run-stopper as an OLB. His stop% against runs last year was 78% according to Football Outsiders, which was 15th best in the league. He also had a 24.6% POA win rate according to Joyner. Roth also improved a bit as a pass rusher last year, tallying 5 sacks, 2 hits, and 5 hurries. The team really needs him to return to the field ASAP.

Jason Taylor
The prodigal son returns! Taylor is back in Miami after his one-year hiatus in Washington, which turned out to be a bit of a lost season for Taylor. The Redskins had him playing out of position and then he went down with a serious leg injury. He's healthy now and back in the position where he saw so much success just a few years ago. He's also 35 years old now and no one should expect the same kind of production from Taylor that he put up so consistently in his first run with the team. He's definitely lost a step or three from his prime, but his game intelligence allows him to make up for some of his physical shortcomings. The plan was to use Taylor as a situational pass rusher, but Roth's extended absence has forced him into a starting role. That's a role he's no longer suited for since he is such a liability against the run. Of all the players currently on Miami's roster, Taylor had the worst stop% vs. the run last year, at 63%. He allowed an average of 3.7 yards on those runs where he made the stop (It was 68% and 3.6 yds in 2007). Taylor can be an effective, disruptive force for this team, but he needs to be in a rotation with Roth in order to avoid getting worn down and run over.

Reggie Torbor
Torbor was rather underwhelming in his first season in Miami, coming off the bench as the primary backup MLB. He didn't show any impressive pass rushing or coverage abilities. He was adequately stout against the run though. Coaches say that he has been improving this offseason, and with his experience, he provides a decent stopgap in case an injury strikes. He was also very active on special teams, tallying 11 tackles.

Cameron Wake
I've already written extensively about Wake on this site, so I'll just repeat some of those things here:

Signing Wake from the CFL was akin to a baseball team signing a dominant player from one of the Dominican or Japanese leagues. The talent level he faced up there obviously doesn't compare to what he'll see in the NFL, but dominance is dominance, and I'm interested in any young player who has already achieved that kind of production on a professional level. He may not be any good against the run, but he's a top prospect because of his singular ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Is Wake going to step right in and deliver double digit sacks like he was doing in Canada? Nope. But people shouldn't expect him to. He's likely going to be one of the bottom linebackers on the depth chart this season, so his playing time may be sporadic. He has a lot to learn, especially when it comes to stopping the run, before he is granted any role larger than what Charlie Anderson held last year. But like I said, I'd much rather have Wake taking those limited snaps this year and improving his game so that he can hopefully have a bigger role next year.
The big issue with Wake is that his pass rush moves seem to be limited at the moment to simply speed rushing past the defender. There will be times when that's not enough, and as defenders scout him they will be ready to stop it. He needs to develop a secondary move in order to acclimate to the NFL game.

Erik Walden
Miami claimed Walden off waivers in November last year and he was immediately put to use on special teams where he proved to be especially adept. In six games with Miami, he recorded 5 special teams tackles. Before coming to the Dolphins, he had recorded 10 special teams tackles with Kansas City. Whether he can be a factor as a linebacker remains to be seen, but his special teams prowess should earn him a spot on the roster.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
OLB - Jason Taylor
ILB - Akin Ayodele
ILB - Channing Crowder
OLB - Joey Porter

1. Matt Roth
2. Reggie Torbor
3. Cameron Wake
4. Erik Walden
5. Quentin Moses

Roster moves aplenty

The Dolphins front office was extremely busy today, trimming the roster down with some cuts and making a trade as well.

First, the team released WR Ernest Wilford, RB Anthony Kimble, LB Orion Martin, LB Tearrius George, and NT Joe Cohen. WR Chris Williams was also waived/injured, but it is believed that the team is trying to reach an injury settlement with him. If they do not, and no other team claims him off waivers, he would revert to Miami's Injured Reserve list. Apparently, Williams broke his left hand in Saturday's preseason game against the Panthers.

Wilford's release ends the tenure of what was an incredibly poor free agent pickup last offseason. The team gave him $6 million guaranteed last year, and he will cost the team $4.5 million against the cap this year. This, my friends, is the penalty for poor free agent signings (throw Eric Green on that trash heap, too).

In a positive move, the team was able to turn some of its offensive line depth into future resources. G Andy Alleman and T Ikechuku Ndukwe were traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in return for an undisclosed 2010 draft pick. I love this kind of move. It shows the benefits of bringing in young players with some level of potential. Even though Miami didn't have a huge need for either one of them, what with the emergence of Shawn Murphy and the acquisition of Joe Berger, the team was able to turn them into a future draft pick. This is just a small example of why it's so important to stock the second and third strings of the team with young developmental players. They can be treated like a farm system, and if their progress toward playing time is impeded, as it was in this case, the team can still profit off of them.

With all of these departures, the Dolphins roster now stands at 71 players, including Matt Roth who is still on the Non-Football Injury List. The NFL requires its teams to be at 75 players or less by September 1, so the team now has room to actually add players if they so choose. Of course, anyone brought in between now and the final roster cuts likely doesn't stand a very good chance of making the team, so perhaps the coaches just want to get more reps for the players who are on the roster right now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Defensive line

Today I'm beginning my look at the defensive side of the ball with the defensive linemen. I'm going to switch up the order in which I list the players and simply go alphabetically by last name.

As a unit, however, the defensive line took great strides forward last season in terms of shutting down the run. After being the NFL's second-worst run-defenders in 2007 with an average of 4.47 ALY allowed, the team finished 2008 allowing an average of 4.11 ALY, good for 14th in the league. Now a lot of that had to do with Matt Roth taking over for Jason Taylor at OLB, but the young defensive ends played their part in this success as well.

Now on the individual players.

Ryan Baker
Baker was signed as an undrafted free agent this year, but the front office definitely loves his size at defensive end (6'5, 295). I've heard some good things coming out of camp about him, but the numbers game along the defensive line probably make the practice squad the most realistic option for Baker, at least to begin this season. You can never have enough big run-stuffing DEs in a 3-4.

Joe Cohen
Cohen finished the season last year on Miami's practice squad. He's been serving as a nose tackle prospect, but thus far he hasn't really shown anything to make the front office think he could eventually replace Jason Ferguson.

Lionel Dotson
As a seventh-round draft pick, it was pretty impressive that Dotson made the team's roster for every game last season, even if he was inactive for 14 of them. Dotson played DT in college, so much of last year was spent transitioning him to play DE in Miami's 3-4 scheme. He seems to have gotten more comfortable this training camp, and should find a way on the roster as a reserve player.

Louis Ellis
Interestingly enough, Ellis is the only player on Miami's roster listed as a nose tackle. The team signed him as an UDFA this year and he seems like a good bet to make the practice squad, as the front office is always looking for future NTs. He was named the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons. Coming from a small school (Shaw), he'll need a lot of technique and conditioning work, but it's easy to see the potential there.

Jason Ferguson
The trade for Ferguson worked out great for Miami, as he was able to stay healthy for the most part and allowed the 3-4 to function as the coaches envisioned. However, he'll be turning 35 this season, and even if he makes it through the whole season, he needs a solid backup who can hold down the middle of the line while Ferguson takes a breather on the sideline. Randy Starks filled that role capably last year, but he is in the running for the starting right defensive end spot this year. Just to demonstrate the need for a quality backup NT, Ferguson was only directly involved in 21 plays last year (tackles, passes defensed, etc.) or 2.7% of the team's total defensive plays. Now compare that with other NTs like Vince Wilfork (67 plays, 9.1%), Kris Jenkins (54 plays, 6.5%), or Jay Ratliff (55 plays, 7.2%). So while Ferguson may be a great run-stuffer when he's in there, the amount of plays he's actually available for is dwindling.

Kendall Langford
Langford turned out to be a tremendous selection last year, earning the starting LDE job as a rookie and holding it down for the entire year. As expected, he was a monster against the run, allowing a paltry 1.8 yard average on the 29 runs he made tackles on. Furthermore, the team allowed an average of only 3.13 ALY over right end, good for 11th in the NFL. His 86% stop percentage on runs was tied for best on the team with Vonnie Holliday. Langford does need to improve his pass rush, however. He started the season off strong with two quick sacks, but those would be his only two of the year. He finished with zero QB hits and only four hurries. Those numbers have to go up.

Orion Martin
Martin is listed as a DE on the team's roster, but he's been practicing as a linebacker. An UDFA out of Virginia Tech, I expected Martin to get drafted and was quite pleased to see him end up in Miami as a free agent. He's a bit of a 'tweener right now, as he transitions from DE to LB, but he has top notch intangibles and is a great special teamer. He is a prime candidate for the practice squad, where he can refine some pass rush moves from a stand-up position and help this team down the road.

Tony McDaniel
Miami traded a seventh-round pick for McDaniel this offseason. He's seen some starting reps in practice at defensive end, but his ultimate role will probably be as a utility lineman who can play any of the three positions when needed, much like Randy Starks was last year. He already has three seasons of NFL experience under his belt despite being only 24 years old. The major issue with him has been his ability to stay on the field during those three seasons, having already missed 23 games in his short career due to injury. He has said that he is willing to play some DT and NT, although his height (6'7) may make that a tough task. Still, he had a respectable 79% overall stop percentage last season and should make for useful rotation player.

Phillip Merling
Merling actually got outplayed by Langford last year by a wide margin, despite being drafted with the 32nd overall pick in the draft. His overall stop percentage of 57% was atrocious, but it was his 68% stop percentage on runs that really stood out as needing immediate improvement. Only Jason Taylor had a worse rate last season (among players on Miami this year). That's a bit odd since he was such a good run-stuffer in college, and I'd expect him to get things turned around. Merling did show some promise as a pass rusher though. He finished with 3 QB hits and 6 hurries. Unfortunately, he is continuing with his habit of not always playing all out in practice, which makes it difficult for the coaches to properly evaluate him. It may lead to Randy Starks taking the starting job from Merling. Even if that happens though, Merling is going to play a key role in the line rotation.

Paul Soliai
Whenever it seems like Soliai is in danger of playing himself off this team, he turns things around and flashes that tremendous potential that made him one of my favorite picks of his draft class. He's really the only true NT that can help back up Ferguson right now. Sure, Starks, McDaniel, and others could probably do it as well, but that would take them away from the DE rotation. After flaming out in a big way his rookie year, he finally seemed to turn things on in the second half of 2008. And, realistically, it takes a long time to fully develop as a nose tackle. I think if Soliai can get his weight under control once and for all and get over whatever issues caused him to get suspended by the team twice last season, he will finally start to prove that he is a serious option for this team's future at NT.

Randy Starks
Starks was a great free agent addition last season. He turned out to be a jack-of-all trades along the defensive line, playing some DE, DT, and NT. Even though he wasn't a starter, he made 32 plays, which was the third highest total on the team among defensive linemen. He was good against the run (79 St%) and great against the pass (88 St%). He also finished with a D-linemen high of 8 QB hurries and 3 QB hits, tacking on 3 sacks as well. Starks is still just 26 years old and there is definitely untapped potential remaining. He is on his way to winning a starting DE job, and with that he may take another step forward in his game.

Rodrique Wright
Wright was inactive for all 16 regular season games in 2008, but he did see some playing time in the playoffs against Baltimore. He seems to be at the point in his career where his great upside may just be turning into unrealized potential. If he hasn't shown anything up to this point in his career, it may be time to cut ties and move on. He'll have an opportunity to battle with Dotson for the final DL spot on the roster, but I think Dotson has more to offer at this point.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
DE - Randy Starks
NT - Jason Ferguson
DE - Kendall Langford

1. Phillip Merling
2. Tony McDaniel
3. Paul Soliai
4. Lionel Dotson

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I told you so....the Eric Green edition

Well, that didn't take long did it.

The Dolphins thankfully realized the error of their ways and released the cornerback who was consistently getting torched day in and day out in practice - Eric Green, the guy they inexplicably signed for $6 million this offseason.

And I hate to say it...but I told you so. This acquisition couldn't have been more easy to predict as a failure.

Here is the column I wrote right after the team signed Green. Here's an excerpt:

Success Rate
'08 season

'07 season
'07 vs. #1 WR


'07 vs. #2 WR


'07 vs. Other WR


To put it bluntly, those numbers are awful. To rank among the worst starting cornerbacks in the league two years in a row (when you are in the prime years of your career no less!) is a clear indication that you should not be starting anymore. Heck, judging by his performance against backup receivers in 2007, I question his viability at any level of the depth chart.

This is just another triumph for advanced metrics. If they are showing trends that strongly, it's impossible to ignore them, and it makes me wonder what good they ever saw in Green in the first place.

Thankfully, Parcells and Ireland changed their propensity to shy away from drafting cornerbacks highly, and took not one but two highly rated CBs in the draft this year.

But this whole episode speaks to another phenomenon that irritates me to no end - the homer fan who simply cannot accept that statistics show that a player was and very likely will continue to be a poor player. Before Miami signed him, I had seen Eric Green in only the most limited capacity, and yet even I could tell that he was awful just by researching his metrics. Obviously, it's always nice to have your own scouting-based reactions to players, but when the numbers are that bad over multiple years, you really don't need to "wait and see for yourself."

Here's a few of the comments that were posted on that article over at The Phinsider:

This is too negative for my taste. This is not our September team its our March team. I just think we should relax and give it more time.
I’ll trust in the front office and their judgement. Once the season starts, if these guys start getting torched for yards and TDs, then i’ll be concerned.
We’re Dolphins fans. Let’s boost these guys confidence, not pick it apart. Fans = support. Breaking out poor stats = detractors.

The point is, we as fans, with little more than some numbers and the observations of fans who have seen these free agents play for their whole careers, can make pretty accurate assessments about the abilities of players. Just because Parcells and Ireland sign someone doesn't always mean it was the best move to be made. No one is perfect. The team is acknowledging that fact by cutting ties with Green weeks before the first round of cuts even need to be made.

I applaud that willingness to accept a mistake and move on. Now they just need to work on limiting how often these kinds of moves need to be made. I just hope I don't have to write another one of these columns concerning Jake Grove.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Training Camp Day 10-13 Recap

Trending Positively
  • CB Sean Smith - Promoted to the starting lineup in place of Eric Green, Smith has proved that he is indeed NFL ready straight out of college. His ball skills are proving to be as advertised and he looked really good in the first preseason game.
  • RB Lex Hilliard - Hilliard looked great against the Jaguars, hitting the hole with authority and finishing runs with power. He can stay on the practice squad again this year, but he would be in danger of being poached by another team. His flexibility to play fullback only helps his cause. It would be great to see Hilliard take over for Ricky Williams after Williams' decides to hang it up.
  • WR Chris Williams - Williams struggled with his first few return attempts against the Jaguars, but then he started to show some real promise. He's been getting a ton of work as the returner in practice and he'd probably be a better option than Davone Bess, especially if Bess is going to be a starting WR. The problem is, where does Williams fit on this team? He could probably make it on as a sixth WR instead of Brandon London if the team decides to keep that many, but he'd also have to be kept active on game days, possibly leading to one of the other receivers being inactive.
Trending Negatively
  • K Dan Carpenter - Carpenter has been struggling enough in practice to warrant the team signing some competition in Connor Barth. Both are accurate enough kickers, but accuracy is a poor way to judge kickers since it is not predictable from year to year. Kickoff distance on the other hand is both extremely important and predictable. And from all accounts, Carpenter has the better kickoff leg, so we should want him to make the team. Unfortunately, if he continues to miss too many kicks in practice, the front office won't have a choice but to make a switch.
  • WR Patrick Turner - After a real nice first week of camp, Turner has started to backslide, dropping several passes and going invisible for stretches.
Other Notes:
- Matt Roth remains out on the PUP list.
- Shawn Murphy continues to get the lion's share of starter's reps at RG with Donald Thomas getting a few each day.
- Randy Starks is still the starting RDE.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Offensive line

Concluding my look at the offensive side of the ball, today's roster breakdown will focus on the offensive linemen.

Jake Long
Long was pretty much everything we could have hoped for out of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. As expected, he was a force in the running game, but he also proved to be more adept in pass protection than many were expecting (only 2.5 sacks allowed). He showed tremendous toughness late in the season, playing through an ankle injury that was obviously hurting him. But you wouldn't have known it by judging his play since he never let it affect his performance. His impact was especially felt in certain off-balanced Wildcat formations in which he lined up on the right side of the line outside of Vernon Carey. He's just an absolute gamer, and he will be a rock on this line for a long time.

Vernon Carey
Opposite Long, Carey did an admirable job in his transition back to the right tackle position. He picked up right where he left off as a bulldozer in the running game. Miami averaged 4.22 Adjusted Line Yards when running behind right tackle last season (16th in NFL) and 4.65 ALY (3rd) when running to the right end. Obviously, the 4.22 ALY behind RT is less than his usual numbers (4.98 in 2007; 4.72 in 2006) but it's still productive. Now that he won't have to worry about another position switch this offseason or a contract extension, I'd expect the team's running performance in his direction to once again be in the top ten in the league.

Justin Smiley
Smiley may have been Miami's best offensive lineman before going down for the season with a nasty injury. He was especially great at pulling, and his blocks were the key aspects of several huge plays. He's locked in as the starter at left guard, but it's impossible to ignore his injury history. He just cannot stay healthy for a full season, and we can't be sure that the ankle ligaments he tore in November won't act up again once the season rolls around. As long as he's playing, he'll be very good, but it's not guaranteed that he'll make it through a whole season for a change.

Jake Grove
I bashed the team's signing of Jake Grove when it happened, and I'm still not convinced that it was the best move for this team. You mean to tell me the team spent close to $30 million on a 29 year old player who can't stay healthy and who has had perhaps one good season in the league (and that while playing in a scheme which he will not be using in Miami)? I've seen some numbers, and I love numbers, that would seem to say Grove played pretty well last season. Of course, I've seen other numbers, which say he played like crap too. But let's assume he did play well last year. He obviously didn't play well in his years before that, so what was the difference? Well, it's simple. Oakland employed a zone blocking scheme for the first time in Grove's tenure there last year. Miami will not be using such a scheme. Just to compare Grove's ALY numbers to Satele's (who most people assume is worse as a run blocker):

Jake Grove





Samson Satele


Looking at that chart just makes me very sad. I really hope I'm dead wrong on this, but I'm not holding my breath at this point.

Donald Thomas
Thomas was a bit of a revelation last year, surprisingly taking a hold of the starting right guard spot in training camp and not letting go. Of course, he then went down halfway through the first game of the season, ending his rookie campaign, and then went down again this offseason, derailing his return to the starting lineup. He's back now, but probably not at 100%, and it's anyone's guess as to when he'll be at that level again. But reviews from coaches, teammates, and even opposing players have already been amazing. They talk of the amount of force he hits his man with and how "heavy" his blocks feel. The starting job is his for the taking once he's fully healthy, and the sky is the limit for such a young player who is still so technically raw.

Nate Garner
The Dolphins claimed Garner off waivers right before the beginning of last season. He was inactive for every game, but he obviously showed off enough talent in practice to stick around and earn the opportunity to be a key reserve. His ideal role would be to backup Carey at right tackle.

Brandon Frye
Frye was signed off the Texans' practice squad in November. He played in seven games for the Dolphins last year, all in a reserve role. During camp, he's been cross-trained at both guard and tackle, but with Donald Thomas returning to health and the drafting of Andrew Gardner, there may not be enough room for Frye.

Andrew Gardner
I really liked the selection of Gardner in the sixth round this year. He's a huge kid with loads of starting experience in college (four-year starter, 48 consecutive games). Unfortunately, he tore a labrum during his senior year, and that can obviously be a devastating injury for linemen. But so far so good. As long as he can adequately step in at either tackle position here and there when needed, Gardner will be a valuable selection.

Shawn Murphy
Murphy looked to be on the road to being a bust last year after Miami traded up in the fourth round to take him. He then went on to reward that hefty investment by being declared inactive for every single game last season. He was struggling so mightily that the coaches wouldn't even cross-train him at multiple positions. But he entered this offseason with a renewed motivation and reshaped his body to get stronger. He's been working as the starting right guard ever since Thomas went down with another injury. His grasp on that role in tenuous at best, but it's an encouraging sign to at least see him given such responsibilities after the disappearing act he pulled in his rookie season.

Andy Alleman
I'm a big fan of Alleman's, going so far as to name him Miami's fourth best prospect this offseason. So I was understandably concerned when he had to miss some practice time in camp due to a back injury. He's back practicing now, so hopefully everything is all cleared up. After being awarded to Miami on waivers, Alleman started seeing significant playing time almost immediately. He rotated with Ike Ndukwe at RG, and then started four games at left guard after Smiley went down for the year. He can also play center in a pinch. It's important to have guys like Alleman on the team - backup offensive linemen who can reliably be called on to step into the starting lineup at multiple positions should injury or poor play strike.

Ikechuke Ndukwe
Ndukwe started every game last year at right guard after Thomas was lost for the season. But his play was so uninspiring that he often wouldn't finish the game there. The coaches were desperate to find an upgrade, and they were constantly rotating players into his position. With Murphy now leapfrogging him on the depth chart at the guard position, Ndukwe has been moved to tackle. The reports are not promising there either.

Joe Berger
This is actually not Berger's first stint with the Dolphins. He spent a lot of time inactive during his first two years in the league with Miami, but he did see time in three games. He's back again, this time as the team's primary backup center, although he can flex out to the guard spot as well.

Mark Lewis
Lewis was an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. He got extended practice reps after Thomas went down and actually started to show the coaches some promise. He's a prime candidate for the practice squad.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
LT - Jake Long
LG - Justin Smiley
C - Jake Grove
RG - Donald Thomas
RT - Vernon Carey

1. Andy Alleman
2. Shawn Murphy
3. Joe Berger
4. Andrew Gardner

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Tight ends

I included Ernest Wilford in my wide receiver breakdown even though at this point he's probably more of a TE in the eyes of the team. Still, I don't think he's going to make the roster either way. Anyways, here's a look at the four guys currently competing at tight end.

Anthony Fasano
Fasano was a revelation last year. He gave the team a true weapon in the passing game and was probably the best every-down receiving option on the team. Not only that, but he was the only tight end on the team who could hold his own in the running game as a blocker. To put it simply, Fasano is a complete player, and it's been a while since Miami has had one of those at TE. He clearly thrived out of the shadown of Jason Witten in Dallas, and the great part is that he's still only 25 years old. There's still a lot of upside here. Fasano was actually so good in the passing game last year, he finished 4th in the NFL in DVOA (34.8%) and 6th in DYAR (156).

David Martin
Martin's season last year is an enigma. Where did that come from? We knew he had solid receiving skills, but to put up the third best DVOA in the NFL (37.3%) and 10th best DYAR (131)? That was out of left field. If those kind of numbers could be depended on from Martin, then he would deserve a spot on this year's team. But they aren't. And so Martin is very much in danger of losing his roster spot to one of the younger guys who can actually block. Honestly, what about Martin's career would lead you to believe that last year wasn't just some fantastic fluke? He's incredibly injury prone, and he's already undergone sports hernia surgery this offseason. Also, he's 30 years old, so the speed he relies upon so much is getting chipped away at more and more every year. But more importantly, he's never put up a receiving season even remotely close to the one he had last year.

There's also the small issue of a tight end's other major responsibility - blocking. Martin is horrible at this aspect of his job, consistently missing far too many blocking assignments. With the team likely keeping three tight ends, I'm just not sure it's worth cutting ties with one of the promising young guys to keep around an old, injury-prone guy who very well could revert right back to being his mediocre one-dimensional self after a surprisingly good season.

Joey Haynos
Haynos was signed off the Packers' practice squad in late September last year. He was never real active in the passing game although he did have a nice TD catch. The coaching staff seems to like him though, and I'm sure his gigantic size (6'8) has something to do with that. He's definitely still raw, but the tools are there, and if Miami has enough confidence in him to cut ties with David Martin, then Haynos will move into a much larger role this season.

John Nalbone
In the fifth-round of this year's draft, Miami picked a bit of a sleeper player in Nalbone, but I liked the pick. Nalbone was one of the few complete tight ends in the draft. He has excellent hands but can certainly block as well. Because of his excellent hands, it was a bit surprising to hear the reports all through minicamps about how much he was struggling catching the football. But things have seemed to turn around recently in training camp and he's showing off those skills that got him selected. Coming out of Monmouth, his game is obviously still very raw, and it'll take him a while to get acclimated to the NFL level. Even still, there's no way the team is going to cut Nalbone to try and stash him on the practice squad like some people are saying. There's no way he'd clear waivers. I'd much rather cut David Martin, and let Joey Haynos and Nalbone comprise the second and third strings on the TE depth chart. Nalbone's potential is as a starting TE, and he could even surpass Haynos on the depth chart later on this season.


Here are the KUBIAK projections for Fasano and Martin:



Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Anthony Fasano
2. Joey Haynos
3. John Nalbone

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Training Camp Day 7-9 Recap

Trending Positively
  • LB Quentin Moses - He's been starting to show some life, especially rushing the passer. Said Sparano, "He's kind of flashed in every practice." Even with a great camp, it will be hard to find the space to fit Moses on the team.
  • LB Cameron Wake - Wake had been playing poorly all offseason until the point when the pads came on. Now he's showing his speed off the edge, pressuring the QB, and looking more comfortable in Miami's defensive scheme.

Trending Negatively
  • OL Ike Ndukwe - Ndukwe was the weak link on the offensive line for all of last season, but he played just well enough to start each week. Even with Donald Thomas back and likely to take over the RG spot once again, it was thought that Ndukwe would at least stick around as an experienced backup. But he's been getting beat often in practice, and the team may be better off keeping a younger guy with higer upside.

Other Notes:
- Newly signed FB Matt Quillen left the team. That makes four people to quit the team so far this training camp. (Jared Bronson, SirVincent Rogers, Ethan Kilmer, and Matt Quillen)
- The team signed WR James Robinson (6'3, 193), formerly of the CFL, K Connor Barth, formerly of the Chiefs, and FB Joe Kowalewski, formerly of the Jets.
- Matt Roth still isn't practicing. David Martin returned to practice after sitting out on Friday.
- Shawn Murphy and Donald Thomas alternating reps at first team RG, with Murphy getting the majority.
- Sean Smith was promoted to first team CB opposite Will Allen, with Eric Green going to the second team.
- Randy Starks got some reps at first team RDE. That position is rotating between Phillip Merling, Tony McDaniel, and Starks.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Training Camp Day 4-6 Recap

Trending Positively
  • WR Ted Ginn - Unlike Anthony Armstrong, who seems to have taken a big hit now that the pads are on, Ginn's speed seems to finally be translating on the field. He's getting good separation, even beating red hot Will Allen several times.
  • NT Paul Soliai - With the team resting Jason Ferguson for some practices, Soliai is getting an opportunity to work with the first team and is taking advantage of the chances, putting in several strong practices.

Trending Negatively
  • Pat White - I don't think White has had an above average practice since he's put on a Dolphins helmet. For someone who was so accurate in college, he can't seem to hit the broad side of a barn nowadays. There's some concern that he may be struggling with the size of the pro ball, which is certainly discouraging if true. He can get by this year running only special spread and Wildcat packages, but if Miami is going to get the full value that they invested in him, he's going to have to learn how to operate from under center as well.

Other Notes:
- FB Chris Brown was cut, and UDFA FB Matt Quillen was signed to take his place. T SirVincent Rodgers and S Ethan Kilmer also quit the team.
- G Donald Thomas is back to participating in some team drills, as he continues to recover from his pectoral injury.
- DE Tony McDaniel is now working with the starters while Phillip Merling works with the second team. Merling, however, was making plays with the second team.
- G Joe Berger, G Shawn Murphy, G Donald Thomas have been splitting some first team reps at RG.
- TE David Martin missed practice on Friday. It could be his sports hernia creeping up again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Wide Receivers

The past two installments of my roster breakdown haven't had much controversy or real competition. That changes with today's breakdown which looks at the wide receiver position. This is a group of players with no clear cut leader and lots of inexperienced youth.

So let's see who brings what to the table.

Ted Ginn
Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 starts off their description of Ginn like so:
Comforted by the soft bias of low expectations, Ginn improved just enough in his second season to highlight the gap between potential and production.

I think that's quite an apt statement. Other than some Dolphins fans, most people looked at Ginn's very pedestrian rookie season and completely wrote him off. But his poor rookie season (-25.8% DVOA, -71 DYAR) just made it that much easier for him to "impress" in sophomore season even if his performance last year wasn't exactly "good."

He certainly improved, but with those metrics in your first year, it's almost impossible not too. He still finished last year with -10% DVOA and only 19 DYAR. Hell, Derek Hagan finished with 7 DYAR and he only caught three passes.

The point is, Ginn still has a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to route-running and beating physical coverage. He's obviusly shown that he can be a threat, but up to this point he has failed to be a threat on every play. The team needs more from Ginn this year. I think taking him off return duties will help his development. Thankfully, KUBIAK sees Ginn taking a rather pronounced stride forward this year in his development and possibly becoming that solid starter we've all hoped he could be since day one.

Greg Camarillo
Camarillo avoided the David Tyree career path last year by turning in a very solid season following a play of epic porportions that could have defined the career of a lesser player. Instead, all he did was multiply the number of passes he saw thrown his way eightfold (from 10 to 83). Until his unfortunate knee injury, Greg had firmly established himself as Chad Pennington's favotire, most reliable target. Of course, as I explained when discussing Ronnie Brown's knee injury, even though Greg may look physically fine in training camp, he likely won't be 100% until this time next year. That may lead to him ceding more of his workload to Davone Bess, but Camarillo will still likely start off the year as the starter opposite Ginn. And as long as he can stay on the field, he'll be productive.

Davone Bess
According to the advanced metrics, Bess was Miami's best WR last year, despite not starting until Camarillo was lost for the season in November. He finished with 81 DYAR and a 1.3% DVOA (the only non-Derek Hagan positive DVOA of all the WR). He also had the best catch percentage (72%) of all the WRs. Suffice to say, the team uncovered a real gem in this undrafted free agent. He'll be the team's slot receiver to start the season, but will likely be sprinkled in the two-WR sets as well.

Patrick Turner
Turner, Miami's third-round draft choice, may have been a bit of a reach that high in the draft, but he's been a pleasant surprise so far in camp, running great routes and catching everything. He's certainly been more impressive than Brandon London and Ernest Wilford, Miami's two other big-bodied receivers. He's hardly a deep threat, but if he can develop into a reliable possession receiver, Miami will have made a good decision.

Brian Hartline
Hartline was taken one round after Turner, showing Miami's strong desire to upgrade the WR group. His breakout season in college came in 2007, but he couldn't follow up on that with a strong senior season, as Ohio State switched to a heavily run-based offense. He is said to be very intelligent and has proven himself as an ace special teams player. Special teams is likely where he'll see the majority of his work this year.

Brandon London
I put London on my Top 5 Prospects list, and since that time he hasn't done a whole lot in camp to back up my selection. I picked him out as a prospect primarily because of his size and the fact that Miami lacked any other tall WR. But that's changed with the selection of Turner and Hartline. London's biggest contributions last year were on special teams, but that probably won't be enough to earn him a roster spot this year. London's only real chance of making this team requires them keeping six WRs, and even then he'll have to beat out Anthony Armstrong. Then again, this front office craves size, so they just might squeeze him onto the roster.

Anthony Armstrong
Armstrong was the toast of minicamps, making burnt toast out of a lot of the cornerbacks he faced. And then he put on the pads for training camp, and he couldn't separate quite so easy. Armstrong's game is based heavily on speed, but you need more than that to succeed at the NFL level. He's still eligible for the practice squad, so he could end up there again.

Ernest Wilford
Wilford was a gigantic free agent bust last year. He was only activated 7 times on game day, catching a measly three passes for 25 yards. I really have no idea what happened to him, as he had racked up more than 500 receiving yards three years straight. In a desperate attempt to salvage his Dolphin career, the coaching staff is experimenting with him as a tight end/H-back. Surprisingly, he was apparently somewhat impressive in that role during minicamps. I'm not buying it though. His ship has sailed, and I don't want to see him take a roster spot away from a young guy with actual promise.

Chris Williams
Williams is a tiny guy (just 5'7.5, 154 pounds) but he was an explosive player in college who doubled as a solid kick and punt returner. Those skills could win him a spot on the practice squad.


Here are the KUBIAK projections for Ginn, Camarillo, and Bess.



Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Ted Ginn
2. Greg Camarillo
3. Davone Bess
4. Patrick Turner
5. Brian Hartline
6. Brandon London

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Running backs and fullbacks

Up next in the training camp roster breakdowns are the running backs and fullbacks.

Ronnie Brown
Brown had a hand in the revolution that was the Wildcat, taking the reins and making it look like he had been orchestrating that style of offense his whole life. But the more amazing aspect of Ronnie's season last year was his ability to play a full sixteen game season for the first time in his career, and doing so a year removed from tearing his ACL. Of course, most people will look at his 916 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and say that Ronnie was back to normal last year. Except they would be wrong. As I tried to continually warn last offseason, ACL injuries are serious stuff, and despite the outward appearance of normalcy, the player will, in all likelihood, be hindered in his performance until the full 18 month recovery time has come and gone. If you want proof that this was indeed the case, just look at Brown's DYAR statistics for 2008 and 2007. DYAR is a counting statistic not a rate statistic, mind you, and Brown played in only 7 games in 2007 as compared to 16 in 2008. In 2007, he amassed 156 DYAR; in 2008, 127 DYAR. That's more DYAR in less than half the games. So no, Ronnie was not completely healed last year, but he probably is now. And that can only mean good things if he can once again play in every game.

With Pat White onboard, Ronnie might cede some of his Wildcat involvement to the rookie, but he'll likely make up for it with a larger role in the conventional offense and also by taking over more of Ricky Williams' carries.

Ricky Williams
Like Ronnie, Ricky's conventional stats from last season are highly deceptive. In his first meaningful and extensive game action since 2005, his 160 carries for over 650 yards would seem like a solid contribution. But as his advanced metrics show, he was absolutely horrible running the ball in critical situations. On third and fourth downs, he posted a putrid DVOA of -75.2%. In the red zone he had a -21.1% DVOA - the only Dolphin RB with a negative red zone DVOA. Even at 32 years old, it would be hard for Ricky not to improve on those numbers. In any case, he should probably be phased out of most of the team's red zone packages and short yardage situations.

This isn't to say that Ricky is useless nowadays. Far from it. He was excellent as the motion back in the Wildcat, and he showed that he still has some explosiveness left in his legs. As long as Ronnie can continue on with his clean bill of health, Ricky makes for a valuable backup who can shoulder his fair share of the carries.

Patrick Cobbs
Cobbs had been hanging around the bottom of Miami's roster for a couple of years now, but in 2008 he showed why he belongs. Cobbs became the team's jack-of-all-trades, working as a running back, a slot receiver, a Wildcat factor, a kick returner, and a kick coverage guy. He was especially effective catching the ball on third downs, hauling in 8 receptions for 62 yards and 5 first downs. Furthermore, Cobbs totaled 110 receiving DYAR with only 19 catches, good for 8th best in the entire league. Cobbs' versatility in the passing game makes it easier for the team to keep only five wide receivers instead of six if they think that extra roster spot would be better used elsewhere. He also blossomed into a great special teams coverage guy, tallying 16 special teams tackles - tied with Jason Allen for most on the team. Essentially, Cobbs makes for the perfect third back.

Lex Hilliard
Hilliard was drafted in the sixth round of last year's draft and spent the entire season developing on the practice squad. With Brown, Williams, and Cobbs all firmly established above him, it will be tough for Hilliard to make the team. But he could help himself by showing he's able to play both halfback and fullback. That versatility could prompt the team to keep five backs, with Hilliard serving as the fourth RB and backup FB. In four preseason games last season, Hilliard rushed 24 times for 68 yards. If he can't make the team this season, he's still eligible for a spot on the practice squad.

Anthony Kimble
Kimble was an undrafted free agent this year out of Stanford. He's only been playing the RB position since 2005, having played WR before that. When I looked at the Speed Scores of this year's rookie running backs, Kimble was found to have a very poor score of 91.6. There's really nothing exciting about Kimble, and his chances of making the roster are slim to none.

Lousaka Polite
Polite joined the Phins in the middle of last season and immediately went to work carving out a niche on the team. He became the team's starting fullback as well as the go-to guy in short yardage situations. He carried the ball 8 times on third and fourth-and-one situations and converted for the first down each time. Of his 23 total rushing attempts, he converted 15 first downs for an incredible 65.2% conversion rate. While he was a decent run blocker, he could stand to improve in that area since that is his primary role on the team. He could also improve as a pass catcher. But when you throw in his special teams contributions, Polite makes for a nice player.

Chris Brown
Brown spent the end of last season on Miami's practice squad. He can play both fullback and tight end, but there's really no room for him on the roster. He's eligible for the practice squad again.


Here are the KUBIAK projections for Ronnie Brown, Williams, and Cobbs.

R. Brown


Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Ronnie Brown
2. Ricky Williams
3. Patrick Cobbs

1. Lousaka Polite (starting FB)

Training Camp Day 2+3 Recap

Trending Positively
  • CB Will Allen- This should be no surprise, since Will Allen has been one of the league's better corners since he arrived in Miami. All offseason long and now in training camp, he's been locking down his side of the field. Of course, it probably helps to be lining up across from the personification of burnt toast that is Eric Green. The QBs simply have no reason to try and test Will right now.
  • WR Patrick Turner - Turner has been showing off some great route-running skills in camp, putting him squarely ahead of Brandon London as the team's best big WR.

Trending Negatively
  • CB Jason Allen - Jason's been struggling in coverage for most of camp thus far, getting beat deep on multiple occasions. He's not assured a roster spot, despite his special teams contributions, so he'll need to step it up if he wants to be the team's fifth corner.
  • WR Anthony Armstrong - The darling of minicamps is proving why it's unwise to latch onto a speed-based player who impresses so much in pad-less practices. Now with the pads on and hitting and jamming taking place, it's much harder for a WR to get by solely on speed.

Other Notes:
- Andy Alleman filled in as the starting LG while Justin Smiley attended the birth of his son.
- Former NFL WR Terry Glenn is at camp working as a coaching intern.
- LB Jason Taylor is the starting SLB while Matt Roth remains out with a groin injury.
- DE Tony McDaniel saw some first-team reps.
- WR Brennan Marion unfortunately was lost for the season when he tore his left ACL for the second time in the last eight months. This kid had a truly inspiring story and an insanely good Super Score metric. I was really hoping to see him get a chance to develop on the practice squad. He was waived/injured today, but he will revert to the team's Injured Reserve if he clears waivers.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Training Camp Day 1 Recap

For this year's training camp, I'm going to put up daily recap posts after all the camp reports have been published by the beat writers. But instead of listing everything and anything I deem interesting or important, I'm going to make a list of players I feel are trending negatively and positively based on their performances during camp. I'll then include a short list of other newsworthy items from the day.

So here goes for Day 1:

Trending Positively
  • G Shawn Murphy - With Donald Thomas still injured, Tony Sparano declared the starting RG spot Murphy's to lose. Even if Murphy doesn't eventually win the starting job, just showing the ability to be a promising backup will be a tremendous improvement over last year. Remember, the team traded up in the fourth round to take this guy, so he has got to produce something. At least for the moment, he's on the right path.
  • WR Greg Camarillo - Greg seems to be on the Ronnie Brown path of returning from a serious knee injury far faster than anyone expected. He's practicing at full speed with no brace. We should all keep our expectations for him down, however, since no matter how he says he feels or how he looks, no player returns to 100% effectiveness after that kind of injury until at least a year has gone by. Ronnie Brown may have looked and played fine last season, but even he has admitted that the knee wasn't fully better until this offseason.
Trending Negatively
  • LB Cameron Wake - The only positive thing I've heard all offseason about Wake is that he runs fast on kickoff coverage. Hooray!? Seriously, he needs to start showing some pass rush abilities if he wants to make this team.
  • CB Eric Green - Another guy who I have yet to hear anything positive about. In fact, the only thing I saw all offseason long and now in training camp about Green is that he gets toasted repeatedly by almost every WR on the roster. I don't understand how he is still lining up with the starting unit, and furthermore, I don't understand how some people think he deserves a roster spot over Jason Allen and Nate Jones.
Other Notes:
- G Donald Thomas did bungee work on the side and participated in some individual drills. The team is taking it slow with his recovery from a torn pectoral.
- G J.D. Quinn (he of the three prior DUI arrests) was thankfully cut and TE Jared Bronson was placed on the reserve/did not report list in order to make room for the signings of Pat White and Chris Clemons.
- G Andy Alleman's back injury is better and he is practicing as the second-team LG and third-team center. He's a solid, valuable backup to have around. Joe Berger is the backup center.
- TE David Martin's sports hernia is also better, and he is practicing.
- LB Matt Roth was placed on the PUP list due to a lingering groin issue that has plagued him seemingly for his entire career. He played with the injury all last season and had surgery on it in March, but it is bothering him again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Quarterbacks

With a fresh new site re-design (not drastically different, but a bit cleaner and bigger; I hope you like it!) it's time to start delving into my annual complete position-by-position roster breakdown.

I do these positional previews because they're a great way to see where the strengths and weaknesses of the team lie heading into camp and to get an idea of who might make the final roster and who might get squeezed.

Miami still needs to cut two players to account for the signings of Pat White and Chris Clemons, but for the most part, the 80-man roster is set.

I'll start my positional breakdowns with the most important position on the team - the quarterbacks. For many of these write-ups, I'll be including the Football Outsiders' KUBIAK statistical projections (published in Football Outsiders Almanac 2009 - a must read), which have proven to be quite accurate predictors in the past. They are definitely more accurate than listening to what a biased group of Dolphins fans thinks a player will do.

Anyways, let's begin.

Chad Pennington
Last season's miraculous turnaround simply doesn't happen without Chad Pennington falling out of New York and into Miami's hands (well, that and Miami's cupcake schedule and injury/fumble luck). Pennington is the ultimate class-act team player, and from the moment he stepped into the Dolphins' facilities he was considered a leader. His confidence was contagious, especially to the multitudes of youngsters who surrounded him. Seemingly rejuvenated in Miami, Pennington put up the second-best year of his career (bested only by his superb 2002 season), finishing with 1172 DYAR and a 25.7% DVOA.

Despite the presence of two promising youngsters below him on the depth chart, Pennington is unquestionably Miami's starter heading into 2009. But that is certainly not guaranteed to be the case all season long. Perhaps most unsettling about Pennington's prospects for 2009 is that he has never had consecutive healthy or productive seasons in his career. To wit, here are Pennington's games started totals throughout his career along with his corresponding DVOA metrics:


Whew! That's a roller-coaster ride right there. Even with Miami's greatly improved medical staff, it's hard to believe that Pennington will completely buck his own history. It's also hard to believe that Pennington has anywhere to go but down after a season like last year. After all, how many quarterbacks put together back to back career years in their 32 and 33 year old seasons. It's not impossible, but it should fairly be expected that we will see some regression to the mean in Pennington's case.

Chad Henne
Despite the addition of Pat White in this year's draft, it still seems pretty clear that the team believes Henne is its future QB. The only question is when that future will begin. Given Chad Pennington's year-to-year flip flop in health and production, Henne's future may begin sooner than 2010. Miami shouldn't necessarily pull the switch at the slightest sign of trouble from Pennington, but if Pennington is struggling at midseason, it's probably in the best interests of the team to get Henne some meaningful experience this year.

In the short action he saw last year in the Arizona game, Henne played pretty well, even though it was in garbage time. His problems don't concern his tools, but rather his consistency. That was his major issue coming out of college, and it remained his biggest issue in minicamps. Having Pennington as a mentor should surely help Henne in this aspect of his game, and another training camp should be enough time to get Henne ready to step in for Pennington whenever he should be needed.

Pat White
One of the most controversial picks in this year's draft was Pat White. Is he a QB? A WR? A punt returner? Well, according to the coaching staff, he's a QB and that's all at this point. Of course, he's not just a regular QB, but rather one that will learn how to run both the conventional offensive sets as well as the Wildcat packages, adding a new level of aerial depth that was lacking with Ronnie Brown running the scheme last year.

While I thought White was drafted too highly, it's obvious that pick #44 was Miami's only chance to get him without trading up in round 2 to jump ahead of the Patriots, who also clearly were in love with him. The fact of the matter is White has a chance to help the Dolphins fundamentally change the landscape of the league for a second year in a row by drastically upgrading the potential of the Wildcat. If that requires drafting above value, then so be it.

As a conventional QB, the Lewin Career Forecast looks lovingly upon White. The LCF is a projection system for first and second round college QBs based solely on games started in college and completion percentage. It's been found that those two stats alone correlate highly with future NFL success. White's 49 career college games and completion percentage of 64.8% are about as good as you can get. Of course, we all know White isn't going to be used like a regular QB, at least to begin with, so using traditional forecasting tools on him may be moot.

This year, White will be a Wildcat specialist. But there are several questions that must be answered in that regard. First of all, White will not be able to be listed as the emergency third QB on games days if the coaches want him to run the Wildcat. Therefore, he will have to be active on game days and that might force the Dolphins to make Henne the emergency QB even though he will be second on the depth chart. Second of all, and I'm still amazed that I've not seen this addressed anywhere in the media, is that if White is solely going to be a Wildcat QB that means the opposing team will know what Miami is running every time he checks into the game. A big part of the Wildcat's surprise last year was that Pennington always remained in the game and simply split out wide when Ronnie took the snaps. No substitutions were required, so the defense did not have an opportunity to make their own substitutions. If White is being checked in and out, the opposing defense has the opportunity to make its own substitutions to neutralize the formation, much like the Ravens did in both their matchups with Miami last year. To counter this problem, White may need to learn how to play a little receiver or conventional QB so that he can be left in the game for stretches at a time, including when normal plays are being run.


Here are the KUBIAK projections for these three players. It should be noted that both Henne's and Pennington's projections are given as if they were to start a full 16 game season. This is done in order to generate meaningful stats.


The projections for White also include 17 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
1. Chad Pennington

2. Chad Henne

3. Pat White