Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Linebackers

koa jordantripp

The linebacker position was an issue last season that needed addressing. I wrote about it leading up to the draft. It can be found here.

It was a frustrating situation. Dannell Ellerbee and Philip Wheeler were brought in to inject youth and speed to the linebacking corps. They were expected to improve an already solid front seven. They did not.

How bad were the results? During the second half of the Tampa Bay game I suggested that one of them should be cut. Not by the end of the season, not after the game. I wanted them cut right there on the field, take their playbook and make them walk home. If nothing else that would have sent a message.

Ok. Maybe that would have been a little extreme. However, improvement must happen this offseason. As a group we need to see better angles, quicker recognition and more consistent effort. Can last years starters step up their game or is it time for the next man to step up?

Koa Misi: Misi was one of the few bright spots for the Dolphins at the linebacker position last season. He was consistently solid playing the strongside outside linebacker position. This year the five-year veteran takes on a new challenge-middle linebacker. His athleticism and motor should serve him well in the middle. The question will be is this a solution or merely a Band-Aid to the linebacking woes.

Dannell Ellerbee: When he came over from the Baltimore Ravens Ellerbee was expected to excel at middle linebacker. After all he had filled in for future Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis during the Ravens Super Bowl run. Seemed like a no brainer. Did not work out that way. Perhaps the change from a 3-4 to the 4-3 slowed his progress. This season Ellerbee is expected to lineup on the strongside, which it is felt is a more natural position for him.

Philip Wheeler: If anyone is on a short leash this season it is Philip Wheeler. Watching him last season I saw so many bad angles and even worse at times I saw a lack of effort getting to the ball carrier. While the other two starters have switched positions, I expect Wheeler to have competition for his starting job. He may be better in a pass rushing specialist role than as a full time starter.

Jelani Jenkins: The second year player out of the University of Florida took some time to adjust to the NFL. When he finally did he started taking some snaps away from Wheeler. If he continues to progress and more importantly impress he may have an outside shot at taking the starting job. While still a little raw I see tremendous upside to Jenkins.

Jason Trunsik: Trunsik has been the break in case of emergency linebacker for the last few seasons. He is a good, solid backup at all three positions. While good I feel he simply does not have the upside necessary. Sadly someone else taking his spot may be the surest sign of progress for the position overall.

Jordan Tripp: The fifth round pick out of Montana is intriguing. He has the skills to play at all three linebacker positions. During OTAs it seemed they were training him at all positions. Whether this is to take advantage of his versatility or to simply find where he fits best remains to be seen. From my own personal scouting I see him as a future middle linebacker. Until he finds his way into the starting lineup he should find a home on special teams, where he should excel.

What little I have seen and heard so far about the linebackers has been promising. I simply hope they can step up and put the memories of 2013 far in the past.



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This is Jimmy V week.

I did not know Jim Valvano.
I never saw him play, never saw him coach. When he was cutting down the nets after winning the 1983 NCAA Basketball Tournament I was only 12 years old. I was unaware of Jim Valvano’s entire existence until this:

It is odd going from being unaware of someone to feeling a great admiration for that same someone in the span of mere minutes. That is what Jim Valvano gave us.

Sports is life. It is more important than the simple games we play and enjoy. Sometimes it can bring people together in a fellowship, a brotherhood that would not exist otherwise.

The “Jimmy V” speech is outstanding. It is inspiring. You do not need to even like sports to be touched by the words he said that night. The thoughts he shared that night transcend the sporting world.

“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s one heck of a day.”

It is an amazing day. Here was a man dying of cancer(he would pass less than a month later) urging those in attendance to live their lives to the fullest. That night he would form the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research to help others. And he has helped so many others. Not only those helped by the foundation, but those inspired by his shining example.

It inspires me every day of my life. Every time I watch that speech is like watching it for the first time. Chills go down my spine and I feel like I could run through any wall. I feel I could do anything. Time is a gift, there is only so much that we each have. So live your life.

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

To donate: 1-800-4-JIMMYV

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Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Defensive Line

cam wake


The Miami Dolphins defensive line was a strength of this team last season and it continues to be one this year. Even with the departure of Paul Soliai and the 4-game suspension of last years first round pick Dion Jordan this unit should continue to impress.

It is not simply the talent on the field it is also the depth that promises consistent play no matter who is out there.

I will start with the Defensive Ends.

Cameron Wake: Wake is the star of this unit, maybe of the entire team. After joining the Dolphins in 2009 after a successful run in the CFL, Wake has shown that he is an elite defensive end. Providing 8.5 sacks as well as one of the plays off the year in his walk-off safety against the Cincinnati Bengals 2013 was another excellent season from him. The only question with Wake is how long can he perform at this level. He is 32 and he did miss some time last season to injury. Keeping an eye on his playing time might be a wise move by the Dolphins.

Olivier Vernon: This third year player out of the University of Miami had his coming out party last season. Posting 11.5 sacks opposite of Cameron Wake. At the beginning of last offseason he was not even expected to start, but he held off Dion Jordan to keep the job. Now it is time for Vernon to prove last season was not a fluke. After a full season starting I expect him to be more consistent and effective, elevating the performance of the entire line.

Dion Jordan: The Dolphins 2013 first round pick has an unique combination of size, speed and agility. How unique? Jason Taylor kind of unique. While he saw his playing time limited last season while recovering from injuries, he came into this season in great shape even adding some muscle to help against the run. Recently it was announced that he will serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFLs PED policy. While some make a big deal out of this, I believe everyone is entitled to a mistake. As long as Jordan learns from this and does not become an habitual offender there should be no problem. He will be back by the beginning of October adding another weapon to this defense.

Derrick Shelby: Shelby provides solid depth to this line. Still a young player with room to grow, he should be a regular part of the defensive end rotation this season.

Terrence Fede: The rookie draft pick from Marist contributed over 30 sacks during his college career. Still very raw, he has the kind of athleticism that teams covet at the defensive end position. Fede looked to be an easy choice for the practice squad this season, but with the Jordan suspension he may sneak onto the main roster at the beginning of the season.

The Defensive Tackle position will look a little different this year. Gone is space-eater Paul Soliai replaced by Earl Mitchell. It looks like defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is looking for versatility at the position.

Randy Starks: Starks signed a two-year $12 million dollar contract to return to the Dolphins this offseason. A two-time pro bowler he is effective working at defensive tackle and also at end. At thirty he is one of the older members of the defense but still can perform as a full-time starter.

Jared Odrick: Like Starks, Odrick has the versatility to play inside or outside. The former first round pick contributed 4.5 sacks last season bringing his career total to 15.5 for the Dolphins. Entering into a contract year, expectations should be high for Odrick this season. I expect to see him excel in his second season as a full-time defensive tackle.

Earl Mitchell: Coming over from the Houston Texans, Mitchell is expected to fill the run stopping role Soliai once manned. If nothing else he should be a solid member of the defensive tackle rotation.

A.J. Francis: Francis impressed in last years preseason. Unfortunately he did not make the final 53 man roster, being picked up by the New England Patriots and spending several weeks on their roster. By the end of the season he was back on Miami’s roster. With a season of experience he has a good chance of making the roster and providing depth in the defensive tackle rotation. He also has a chance to surprise and steal snaps from the starters this year.

Even with a suspension and the ongoing threat of injury that always exists I expect this line should continue to be a strength. It is very simple. Next man up. The depth and talent are there. Each and every man simply needs to step up when his number is called and I expect nothing less.


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Chasing Excellence

As each week passes we get closer to the return of the NFL. Training camps approach, preseason beacons.

Fans start being fans. They obsess about every little bit of information they hear about their teams. Some obsess as much about what their rivals do.

One of the common complaints is that their team did not do enough to beat the Patriots, the Seahawks, the Broncos, whoever. When I see this all I can think is that they have the horse around backwards.

Yes, you can build your team to counter a particular teams strengths. In some small way you can achieve success this way. The problem lays in the fact that what it takes to beat one team may leave you vunerable to others. It is not the way to create excellence.

That is what we are after isn’t it?

As fans we want our teams to achieve excellence. Win division titles and championships. Unfortunately some teams may stand in our way. Season after season we fall to the same team. The same team prevents us from achieving our goals. Finding a way to beat them seems to be the right course of action.

But is it the only way?

Of course not. There is never only one way to achieve our goals. So if not designing the team to beat the rival how do you get over the hump?

Simple. Make your team better. Breakdown your own flaws. See what you do well and what you don’t and fix that. Do that and everything takes care of itself. Every great team has its own personality, live in that. Be yourself, do not pretend to be someone else.

When we play at being someone else we fail. Be yourself and it will all work out.


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Play to win, not draw.



This Thursday the US Men’s National Team will play the most important match of their lives. Beating Germany would make a statement. Beating Germany would declare that the US team is ready to make that next step to becoming an actual power in the soccer (or futbol if you prefer) world. So why do so many seem to want the US to play for a draw?

For me this actually started with the Germany-Ghana match. While I was cheering on Ghana(for what looked like an upset of Germany), a friend of mine tried to convince me that I should be cheering on Germany. His rationale was that it would give the US team and easier road to the knockout stage if Germany won. It would have. If Germany won all the US would have needed was a draw, which is what they got. I did not care. For me it is nice and simple. I wanted Germany to lose because Germany is one of the best teams in the entire World Cup, if there is a chance to prevent them from making the knockout stage then you take it. As far as the US team is concerned: Take Care of Business.

It is real simple win and you get in. That was true against Portugal, it is still true against Germany. Win and we are in.

I feel like I am channeling Herm Edwards here,

“You Play to Win the Game!”

It was true when he said it as a football coach, it is still true now.

Playing to win is the only way to do it.  Playing for a draw-there are too many things that can go wrong. Athletes are programmed to win, not to tie.  Trying to draw against one of the best teams in the world is courting disaster. You play to win, you may settle for the draw. But you always play to win. Come Thursday the US team will play to win and all will be good.

Take care of business.

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Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Offensive Line


San Diego Chargers v Miami Dolphins

It is rare that a teams number one need heading into the offseason is as obvious as the Miami Dolphins was headed into this offseason. Giving up 58 sacks will do that. Having a scandal hijack your season will do that. Needing to replace 3/5ths of your offensive line will do that. There is a possibility that the only returning starter for these Miami Dolphins may be Mike Pouncey. And that is just fine.

New blood can help wash away the bad memories of last season. Not all the struggles were the lines fault. The running backs could have pass blocked better. Ryan Tannehill could have gotten the ball out quicker. Mike Sherman could have done a better job calling plays. At the end of the day you have to play the hand that is dealt you and do the job in front of you.

The offensive line is the position group most dependent on working as a team. I do not believe that you need superstars on the offensive line. Having good solid players who work together and communicate is much more important. At first blush heading into the 2014 season the offensive line is already much improved.

I expect the starting unit to be as follows: Branden Albert, Shelley Smith, Mike Pouncey, Dallas Thomas and first round pick Ja’Wuan James. Of the group the biggest surprise of the offseason is the performance of Thomas. While some (myself included) did not expect much from him he seems to have improved immensely since his rookie season.

For the reserves I expect to see: Sam Brenner, Nate Garner, Jason Fox along with rookies Billy Turner and Tyler Larsen. Before the draft I would have even been happy to have Fox as our starting right guard. Fox, Brenner and Garner should do well filling in for the starters if called upon. Turner and Larsen may surprise and develop into solid reserves or even possible starters down the line.

Compared with last season I feel much better about the line headed into training camp. What was once a trouble spot now seems to be a strength of the roster. Cannot wait for preseason.



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Father’s Day Football.


My traditional Father’s Day post. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there
-miss you dad.

Originally posted on 4th Down and Forever:

Once in a while an idea will find me all by itself. This Father’s Day I saw a post on Facebook of all places suggesting that Father’s Day should take place in the fall so we could spend our day with or fathers and sons watching football.

Sounds good to me.

Then I thought why does it have to be in the fall. From 1934-1976 the Chicago College All-Star Game took place between departing college players and the NFL champions. What is wrong with beginning that tradition once again. Very simple have a team of college all-americans play against NFL pro bowl athletes, have the game coached by the head coaches of the defending National Champions and Super Bowl champions. Nice and simple.

Have all procedes go for charity, I’m thinking Big Brothers.

What better celebration of fathers across the country than having a football game used to raise money…

View original 24 more words

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Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends


Much of the focus the offseason is on Ryan Tannehill. Will the new offensive line protect him? Will he make the next step? Is he this franchise’s “franchise” QB? While those questions are valid, the answers will always depend on other players as well. No matter how good Tannehill plays he will always depend on the men catching his passes.

Today I take a look at those receivers. While Tannehill gets much of the credit and often all of the blame, the receivers are the ones we are watching at the end of the play.

Wide Receivers: This is a solid group. Talented players who just needed a little push to be great last season. Who will still be standing this season for that push?

Brian Hartline: For some reason Hartline is dismissed by many. Somehow there are those that do not believe in him as a top receiver. Good speed, great hands. Two thousand yard seasons. And still he just is not good enough for some. He is the most consistent receiver Miami has had in years. He is Tannehill’s security blanket. I expect him to get his third 1000-yd season this year, securing his place in Miami Dolphin history.

Mike Wallace: Contrary to popular belief Wallace did not have a horrible season last year. 900 yds and 5 touchdowns is not bad. I blame expectations. Many are concerned with the chemistry between Wallace and Tannehill. Tannehill gets a lot of blame for not hooking up on those long passes but I do not agree. Other receivers were more successful on the long passes than Wallace so it does not seem to be only a quarterback issue. What I want from Wallace is for him to fight for the ball more this season. When that ball is in there air it should be the receivers ball until someone takes it away from him. So go get the ball.

Rishard Matthews: Matthews had his coming out party this season. When Brandon Gibson went down he showed that he can play at this level. He may still have a fight on his hands for a roster spot but I believe he can get it done.

Brandon Gibson: Of all the veteran receivers I worry the most about Gibson. It is not a lack of talent or production that concerns me. It is simply the fact that Matthews and rookie Jarvis Landry may be able to do his job. And for less. Add to that his recovering from injury he might end up as a surprise cut.

Jarvis Landry: Wide Receiver was absolutely not a need for this team coming into the draft. The receiving corps was already rock solid. Landry is a luxury. He can be the cherry on top. There are those that believe he can be an Andre Johnson type receiver. A solid playmaker. Lets see what he brings.

The rest: Most of the rest are simply camp bodies. Armon Binns looked good last offseason and Stephen Williams has looked promising during the OTAs outside of them I do not expect much. The best thing that Binns and Williams bring to the table is size. At 6’3″ and 6’5″ respectively they have much more length than the rest of the position.

Tight Ends:

Charles Clay: Clay had a breakout season. He showed the ability to be a big play seam threat. Now do it again. Do it while everyone is watching you.

Michael Egnew: Egnew was expected to be a playmaking tight end when he was drafted. We are still waiting to see that. I believe his best role is as Clay’s primary backup.

Dion Sims: A decent in-line tight end. He flashed once or twice last season but did not seem to be anything special to me. He will be pushed hard by rookie Arthur Lynch. Depending on how many tight ends we keep he may be the odd man out.

Arthur Lynch: My favorite pic of the draft. I watched him catch pass after pass from Aaron Murray at the University of Georgia. While he is not going to stun anyone with his speed, he is very adept at making plays in the passing game. He should eat in the intermediate range that opens up due to Clay’s play down the seam. I expect him to play early and often.

The receivers should do a lot to help Tannehill excel this season. The final cuts may be hard decisions to make. It is a very good place to be.

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Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Running Backs


Earlier is this series I addressed the quarterback position, now I take a look at the running backs.

The running back position will be important for the Dolphins success this season. To call last seasons production in the running game disappointing is an understatement. Only six teams ran for fewer yards than Miami did last year. With those results most would put the blame on the players. However only three teams had fewer rushing attempts. The playcalling has to be called into question. This is a team which averaged 4,1 yards per carry. They need to be more productive. Some of that may come with more of a commitment to the run, only time will tell if that occurs. The rest is dependant on these running backs.

Knowshown Moreno:

Moreno signed this offseason after spending the beginning of his career with the Denver Broncos. He is the all-around back Miami seems to need. Good runner, nice hands and a talented pass blocker which is something the Dolphins sorely lacked last season. Most see him as the starter walking in the door. That may not be the case. With only a one-year contract I do not feel anything is set in stone with Moreno. Add to that the suggestion that he was not quite in football shape for the OTAs, I believe Moreno will have to take the job away from last years starter Lamar Miller.

Lamar Miller:

Lamar Miller came up short of expectations last season, his first as a starter. The expectations were at fault. He ran for 700 yards and a 4.0 per carry average. While he started slow, by the end of the season he began to look like a NFL starter. This was the guy that the coaching staff let Reggie Bush walk for. His biggest drawback is his pass blocking. At times he looked good, other times he seemed like a bull fighter avoiding contact. Another season of training camp can do nothing but improve this. To prove he deserves to be the starter he will have to hold off Moreno.

Daniel Thomas:

Daniel Thomas may be in the worst spot of anyone this offseason. He was inherited by Joe Philbin when he took over the Dolphins. The general manager (Jeff Ireland) who drafted him was chased out-of-town this offseason. Depending on how many backs are kept on the roster this may be his last hurrah. While he had success last season as a change of pace back it may have been too little, too late. Thomas never quite lived up to his potential, struggling with injuries and fumbles throughout his time in Miami. He may stick for depth but the clock is ticking on his career.

Mike Gillislee:

Gillislee is a big question mark. He only had 6 carries in his rookie season. It is hard to judge how someone will do based on that. He showed talent and patience during his time at the University of Florida, whether he can bring that to the NFL game remains to be seen. I believe in him. I see an all-around back who just needs the opportunity to impress. If nothing else he will provide inexpensive depth to Miller and Moreno.

Yes there are a few other backs on the roster. Frankly they do not matter. I do not believe any of them will be any more than training camp bodies. As for Marcus Thigpen-he seems to be trying his hand as a slot receiver to make the team. I do not believe he makes it simply as a kick returner.

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Miami Dolphins Training Camp Primer: Quarterbacks

Miami Qbs

As the season creeps closer the Miami Dolphins prepare for training camp. With one OTA in the books the time has come to take a good look at the position groups. Decisions will need to be made. Some dreams will simply come to an end. Before any of that happens it helps to look at what you have to work with.

I thought I would take it from the top. Starting with the most important position on the team, Quarterback.

Ryan Tannehill:

This offseason is important for Tannehill. He needs to make that next step in his evolution, at the same time he is the unquestioned starter of this team. If he disappoints this season he may face some real competition in the near future. He has shown growth from the first to second season, this season he must put that together. After suffering over fifty sacks last year his toughness is not in question. Now is the time to improve his pocket awareness and decision making. If he can get on the same page with all of his receivers and take advantage of his athleticism, Tannehill may live up to the promise that he teased us with last season.

Matt Moore:

Matt Moore’s only job this offseason is to be Matt Moore. He is already one of the best backup-QBs in the league, preparing to step into the offense at a moments notice is more than enough. He has the break-in-case-of-emergency job. You never want to have to use them but you are glad they are there.

Pat Devlin:

This could be the end of the line for Devlin. There is only so long you can stick as the number 3 quarterback, many teams only keep two. He will face competiton from undrafted free agent Brock Jensen. Devlin’s best hope this offseason is showing enough progress to possibly replace Moore as the backup.

Brock Jensen:

Jensen led NDSU to another championship in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) this last season. He is simply put a winner. That combined with his ability as a dual threat quarterback makes him an ideal player to develop behind Ryan Tannehill. In his senior season he ran for over 400 yds and 10 touchdowns while completing over 65% of his passes. That skill set should fit in nicely in Miami. If he can show enough promise he may unseat Delvin as the final quarterback on the roster.

Overall the quarterback position is set. The important questions will be how the offense changes under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazorand how the quarterbacks respond. If Ryan Tannehill takes to the new offense the Dolphins may look forward to an exciting season.

Categories: Football, Miami Dolphins, NFL | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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