Thigpen’s Pigpen

18 11 2010


To the few and far between that read this blog I apologize for not keeping up with it.  My job has owned me the past few weeks. 

A lot has transpired this season since the last post, and I felt it was ironic I follow up Dave’s great post with an article of why I was calling for Thigpen before last game. 

I was simply sick of Chad Henne!

That’s right, I could no longer take the boring check off Marshall within a second, completely ignore the tight end and try to force a ball to Bess or Hartline. There is always the option to dump it to Ronnie, Ricky or Lou for a gain of maybe 1.  This offense was three putting the green every time it got into the red area.  You cannot do that and win in the NFL.  Someone has to be held accountable and while Henne wasn’t playing awful by any stretch, he was not doing enough. 

I’m sick of hearing how its a quarterback driven league nowadays. When has it not been???

Henne needed to do more, for the offense, for this team, and more importantly for himself.  How often in the NFL does a team have three legit starters on a roster? It just doesn’t happen. 

Thigpen is a solid starter and he brings something different to the table.  He is mobile and athletic and if you watched pre-season you know that he is not afraid to chuck it down the field.  This offense was predicated on running the ball, winning time of possession, and not turning the ball over.  The 2010 Dolphins can’t run the football effectively enough, lineman can’t hold their blocks and we are forced to become a more pass oriented team.

In steps Tyler Thigpen, a 26 yr old out of Coastal Carolina with a river-boat gambler’s mentality.  Thigpen loves to chuck it up and make plays, sometimes to his hindrance.  This coaching staff has no doubt tried to coach up this young gun slinger to the best of its ability to be more mindful of the football but something tells me that in between the lines those words fall on deaf ears. 

I expect Thigpen to go all out and leave nothing behind. (Pretty much the opposite of Chad Henne) 

From my perspective, as a fan and as someone who likes to think he knows the game, Henne was playing to his coaches gameplan and not necessarily to his strengths.  I feel that he tried too hard to make that touch pass work that he was criticized for that quite frankly he will never get down. If people weren’t used to Pennington the year before would that touch pass even be brought up? He tried throwing back shoulder throws when he doesn’t have that in his arsenal just yet. He has improved in that area to his credit.  I won’t forget the first game Henne came in against the Cardinals when he drove Miami right down the field zipping passes into tight windows. 

What happened at the end of that drive? He tried to throw a touch pass over a backer to a wide open tight end that fluttered over his head seemingly intended for the boom mic.  I know there is more to it but when you look at it at the surface, he is a .500 quarterback.  If you want an average guy that is going to just get the job done, have good days and bad days, but mostly stay at an even keel show no emotion and be average, than Henne is your guy.  I am not giving up on Henne I just think that he needs to let go a little bit and play to his strengths. 

You need to realize what you do well and do it.  I think that Thigpen realizes what he is which is why he didn’t sign Miami’s extension offer this season. He will be a free-agent after this year and he knows he can play.  You can believe me or not but I met Thigpen this offseason in March at a “gentleman’s club”, affectionately known as a “strippy”.  We talked briefly about the upcoming season and he told me he has been looking forward to it and he hoped to start.  This isn’t a huge breaking story but a small window of what this guy thinks of himself.  He backed that up by declining Miami’s offer this year.  My point is he knows he can play and I believe he is going to do whatever it takes to show the world and the Miami Dolphins what he’s got. 

Be prepared for some bad decisions and forced throws, you also need to prepare for a dynamic that you are not used to in Miami. A mobile quarterback that makes plays with his feet, rolls out and keeps his eyes downfield.  Think a more athletic, smaller eared; I hope he can throw an out route, Jay Fiedler.  Whether you like it or not Fiedler was one of the best quarterbacks we have had since Marino left and with a banged up offensive line, Thigpen’s fresh legs could be the key to victory tonight. 

Tyler Thigpen is Miami’s foreseeable future because you only get the next game in the NFL. It has become a week by week playoff chase and Miami is right in the thick of it. They currently sit on the outside looking in but if they can get a win tonight they have two favorable matchups with Oakland and Cleveland coming up.  Those games looked much easier to win in September but nonetheless they have to win these games.  This 5-4 team needs to get to 6 before it gets to 8 and I think that Thigpen has what it takes to get them there.


Defending Henne by Dave Fazzina

14 10 2010

Fours games in, a .500 record and Dolfans have already started to hit the panic button. Four games, three of which were against 2009 Playoff teams (with two of those teams playing in Conference Championships) and everyone is writing off the Dolphins. Is their reason for alarm?


A 27 point loss to a division rival on our home turf for all of the world to see will certainly warrant that. I, on the other hand, am cautiously optimistic. So who is to blame for Monday Night?

Well we’ll start with the obvious… SPECIAL TEAMS. This unit was always thought to be the weakness of the team but nobody could have expected what transpired Monday Night. In addition to allowing a kickoff returned for a touchdown, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown this unit also allowed a blocked punt against the Jets last week. Dolphins special teams coach John Bonamego was fired the day after the game. I don’t think this solves the problem but it certainly makes a statement.

Dan Henning, Dolphins Offensive Coordinator should be next to go. Now, let me first say that Henning has forgotten more offensive NFL knowledge then I will ever know, but he is clearly not using his weapons to their full potential. Brandon Marshall is a top 5 wide receiving threat in the NFL. He should be targeted a MINIMUM of 15 times per game. This guy once caught 22 balls in ONE GAME! He is a PLAYMAKER, something not seen in South Beach since the ARRIVAL of Ricky Williams in his prime.

The Wildcat should be abolished. It has not brought many yards or points to the team in the past year and a half and simply stops the flow of the game for Chad Henne. Chad Henne should be on the field for EVERY offensive play. It’s time to open up the playbook and see what this kid (with a cannon for an arm) has to offer. I would like to see some 4 wide receiver sets with Ricky in the backfield to block and/or release in the flat… or even 5 RECEIVER SETS! Henne has shown some great maturation in going through his reads and stepping up in the pocket to give himself more time. The front office had enough faith in undrafted rookies Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore to dump last years third round pick Patrick Turner and trade away dependable Greg Camarillo. Let’s spread these guys out and let Henne fire the ball in. There is only one way to see what Henne has to offer and that is to let him off the leash… maybe it would open up some holes for the running game as well. If Henne gets the chance to prove himself and drops the ball then its time to look into future options. Until then, I don’t want to hear any more talk of Chad Pennington or Tyler Thigpen.

I am happy with the play of the defense thus far this season. Vontae Davis could be one of the top five corners in the AFC and his development each week is a joy to watch. It has been great to see Jason Allen improving but it is also a shame to see Sean Smith, a personal favorite of mine, not living up to his 2009 performance when he started all 16 games. How can a CB decline so much in one off-season? Confidence? The ability to understand Mike Nolan’s system? This guy clearly has talent (YouTube the interception he had vs New Orleans in last years preseason). I think a veteran like Will Allen coming in and working with this young secondary would be very beneficial. There is something clearly wrong MENTALLY with this young athlete. Cameron Wake has been a beast and Misi has been ok (just ok). Dansby is everything we thought he’d be on the field and as a leader and is serving as the gel of the squad. The loss of Channing Crowder is clearly hurting the run defense but I am optimistic that this unit can greatly improve with he and Jared Odrick’s return.
This season is by no means a lost cause but the Dolphins now have to find a way to win some of these games that people had previously written them off for, (at Green Bay, at Baltimore, at NYJ, at New England) and win the games they are expected to. It’s not going to be easy but it’s not impossible. Success through adversity is what makes winners… and this team CAN be winners.

An Early Test

17 09 2010

OK, I’ve been gone for a little while but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been totally immersed in the season. 

To address week one quickly I have some brief observations.

1- I love how the defense played. Dansby’s sack on third down during the first drive set the tone for the whole defense and it carried them throughout the game. That is why they paid him what they did and it’s what they brought him here to do- MAKE PLAYS.

2. Benching second year defensive back Sean Smith was a bold move, especially because it was in favor of arguably the most hated Dolphin, (1st round pick and Nick Saban disciple) Jason Allen. Jason Allen played very well and his only mistake was dropping a sure interception for a TD.

3. The other side of the ball wasn’t great. Chad Henne looked like he was trying NOT to make a mistake rather than pressing the defense and pushing the ball down the field. As for that 50 yr bomb he missed on, it’s very windy in Buffalo and he better not make that a habit.

For this franchise, this weekends game is one of the biggest since the Baltimore playoff thrashing. This game will serve as a great barometer to where this team is at, and what fans should expect this season. Now, I am not saying this is a must win. However, it’s a huge test for both the offense and defense.

Minnesota has been the number 1 rushing defense 4 out of the last 5 years; the year they weren’t first you ask? They finished second! The Williams wall in the middle is something that worries me. The uncertainty at the guard spot through the pre-season and the inexperience of John Jerry is a concern. How will Joe Berger hold up? If Miami can stay committed to the run I think there will be holes to run through. There has to be balance in this game plan and Henne will need to make plays down the field for the front 8 or 9 to loosen up.  I think Minnesota is suspect on the back-end of the defense and there will be some big plays come Sunday. If this is a grind it out type of game I like Miami’s chances.  Getting on the board first would be huge. Look at the Saints formula against the Vikes, come out throwing, establish the pass, and grind out the clock in the second half. Will that happen? In a perfect scenario I would say yes, but this Vikings front four is the best in football.

Believe it or not, what intrigues me the most about this game is the matchup between Jake Long and Jarred Allen.  Long will have arguably the biggest test of his career. Not because Allen is better than Freeney and Mario Williams, who Long has faced before, rather than Long is in his third season and he has never played in this type of environment.  The expectations for him have been high and to this point he has exceeded them. This Sunday will prove how great he can be.

The other side of the ball will be just as big of a test.  Last year Miami faced the best quarterbacks in the league with the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady (2x). They faced Favre when he was a Jet with less weapons and a different offense.  Favre is coming off of his best season as a pro believe it or not and he will look to exploit the Dolphins young secondary. 

Big plays were a big problem last year for this defense and if they can limit the big play ability of this defense it could prove to be the difference in this game.  Jared Odrick’s leg injury puts this defensive line in a tough situation.  To spell Odrick Miami has signed Lionel Dotson off of Denver’s practice squad and he will likely start. There has been some speculation that Randy Starks would move back to the end position and Paul Soliai would start. If practice is any indication that will not be the case.  I am sure you will see it at some points in the game but look to see Starks plugging the middle. 

If Adrian Peterson gets off to a fast start it will be a long day for this defense.  Bottling him up will be first and foremost in the Mind of Mike Nolan, and hopefully some well-timed blitzes will force Favre into some bad decisions that he is known for. 

The Miami Dolphins will win this game if three things happen. 

1-They win the turnover battle.

2-They win in time of possession.

3-They weather the storm and take an early lead.

Playing on the road in the Metrodome was something that took Favre years to learn how to do.  It is well-known that Favre has had some of his worst games in that stadium as a Packer.  Chad Henne has had some success playing in the Metrodome from his Michigan days, but he has never seen that place the way he will Sunday morning.  The Vikings will come out fast and it will be extremely loud in that building.  It is the Dolphins job to quiet them as quickly as possible. If Miami is forced to come from behind in that environment, I think it will be a disappointing afternoon.

Farley’s Guide to Fantasy Football

20 08 2010

  It is that time of year my friends, fantasy football is upon us.  Let the heavens shine down, the angles sing, and the beer flow.  I can’t wait to criticize some guy I don’t even know with words I wouldn’t say to Hitler.  Or to totally binge for about five hours on Doritos, Cheetos, burritos, and anything else I can shove in my mouth that ends in o’s.  It is a time to get all the guys together and insult each other while we attempt to play GM for the day.  Projections, rankings, cheat sheets, anything you can find that could be used to rank a player will be sitting on some out of shape guys lap.  Rock your favorite team’s colors, or wear a hockey jersey and get ridiculed.  The point is, it doesn’t matter. Anything goes at a fantasy football draft, bring an executioners mask and a whip, take a cab because you will drink yourself into thinking your team is good, hire a hooker to make your picks; it’s probably your best chance.  This article will dive into everything regarding fantasy football so pull up a chair and enjoy. We will discuss some sleepers and some guys to stay away from.  We will talk about the types of fantasy football players and the different ways to draft.  I am drawing wood just thinking about it, buckle up because here we go!

 I first want to give you some perspective on the types of people you may run into at the draft.

 1. The Analyst- This is probably my least favorite guy at the draft.  He’s got 17 notebooks that he likes to cross-reference and you need to remind him of the time limit every pick.  He could have the first pick in the draft and not make up his mind.  He runs background checks on his players and gets doctor’s records from when they were camp counselors growing up.  This guy will give you all the statistics on why his team will be successful and then all of the reasons why he missed the playoffs yet again.

 2. The Loudmouth- This guy will most likely bring a friend with him because he’s been telling him how he dominates the league. The reality is that its protection from the rest of the guys drafting who want to bludgeon him.  He doesn’t stop talking the whole draft and feels the need to shout his picks out in case a plane were taking off at the bar you’re in.

 3. The Expert- Not to be confused with the analyst, the expert will criticize every one else’s pick and only like his team.  You take Chris Johnson overall and this guy has ten reasons why he would’ve taken another guy.  Your 17th round defensive selection isn’t up to snuff and is ridiculed just as your first round pick.  This guy loves getting people not involved in the draft on his side like the waitress or the bartender.  This is the second worst guy to sit near aside from loudmouth.

 4. The Timid Guy- This guy is new to your league and has probably only played in a free league where they play for bragging rights at the water cooler. More than likely some guy from your league brought him in as a filler for the guy who got arrested for looking at child porn. He second guesses himself on every pick and the loudmouth and expert are making him very nervous.  After he reaches on the Jets defense in the 6th round, it’s all downhill from there. Each pick after that is just eyes closed gulping hoping he will get a “nice pick man” or “damn, that was my guy”, but that doesn’t happen.  Awkward silence follows every pick from timid guy furthering him into his shell.

 5. The You Stole My Pick Guy- Let me be frank here, this guy wins the no shit award.  He will have the eleventh pick in the first round and be pissed that AP didn’t fall to him. After seemingly every pick in the draft he chimes in with, “damn man that was my pick”. He will then take almost as much time as the analyst because he hasn’t accounted for someone else picking a player on his rankings. You are better off bringing a muzzle to the draft because he gets as bad as loudmouth. 

 6. The Even Keel Guy- Not to be confused with timid guy, this guy has no opinion on anything. He doesn’t acknowledge really anyone at the draft and drinks cranberry juice the whole time.  He shows up right on time and doesn’t wait for Mr. Irrelevant to be picked.  Once his roster is full he ducks out to go home and paint figurines pants. The worst part about this guy, he doesn’t give a shit and wins almost every year!

 7. The Homer Guy- This guy is crucial to have in any draft. He overvalues players on his favorite team so much that when all is said and done his backup quarterback is actually his favorite team’s backup. These guys allow the valuable players to fall to you in the first round.  The only problem is that when you are drafting behind them and are targeting someone from his team you realize your bubble is burst.

 8. The Commissioner- This guy runs the league and I feel bad for him. He loves fantasy football so much that he takes the reigns and runs the league. He’s planned the venue, gotten all of the food, and bought the draft kit.  He is so busy planning everything and sticking player’s names on the board that his team takes a serious hit.  Don’t worry about the commissioner though, he knows every guy in the draft and probably works with half of them.  He will manipulate the guys that had good drafts to give up players for lesser value during the season so he makes a playoff run and usually finishes in the money.

 9. The Returning Champ Guy- This guy won the league last year and takes every moment possible to remind everyone of this throughout the draft. He justifies every pick with one response, “that’s why I won the championship last year”.  God forbid you criticize this guy, or bring up the fact that the only reason he won was because Peyton Manning came out of the game early, or the five previous season of him missing the playoffs never happened.  He will more than likely miss the playoffs this season because he has tasted victory and has lost his passion, and because it was a fluke.

 Now that we have reviewed the types of people you will be dealing with, I will go over drafting strategy.

 There are many ways to attack a draft and for this reason I will try to be as brief as possible.  The first thing to do is to identify what type of league you are in and how the points are awarded, is it PPR? Know the roster breakdown, is there a flex position or is it standard format (1 QB 2 RB 3WR 1 TE 1 K 1 DEF).  Once you have the format of the league down you can begin your assessment and start you rankings.   

When ranking players I have one major piece of advice for you. Do not solely go by what a player did last year!!!! This is a huge mistake made by most players around the world. You have the list of players and just rate them on their statistics from the previous year.  It is well documented that the rate at which a player repeats his stats from last year are very minimal and this is a direct reflection in your top 15 running backs.  The rate at which these guys repeat is not as common as you would think.  There are a handful of guys who could be top 5 one year but end up being the 18th scoring back the next.  For this reason my recent draft strategy has been to target wide receivers’.

Do your homework on receivers and unless you get a top four pick this year plan on taking a wide out.  The old fantasy strategies of the past where guys would take a running back with his first two picks without blinking an eye are over. If you are going to stockpile early, it better be at the receiver position.  I am a big fan of drafting a ton of running backs, but the value in the later round is there, trust me. 

I won’t go into depth about the statistics like the fantasy magazines because quite frankly I am not getting paid to write this article, unless you take into consideration that I am at work writing this. Bottom line, you need to think ahead of the curve, take the guy that you want when you want. Sometimes you need to reach on guys earlier than projected, sometimes players fall into your lap.  The key is to have a strategy going into it and only deviate if something drastic happens. Like having Jones-drew fall to pick five when you were sure you would be getting Andre Johnson.  If this happens, I would love to join your league.

 I will end this article with a few players to keep away from and some sleepers.

 STAY AWAY from Rashard Mendenhall. I know, I’m an idiot. Hear me out though, He has only carried the load for about three quarters of a season and more importantly, his offensive line sucks!!!! Couple that with the loss of a starting quarterback to keep defenses honest and hello 9 in the box!  Oh yeah did I mention he plays the Ravens and Bengals twice.  If that weren’t enough to convince you here’s another scheduling conflict- weeks 13, 14, and 15 he plays CIN, BAL, and the Jets!!! An awful way to end the year for your number one pick. You’re welcome.

 Another guy I’m staying away from this season is Steve Slaton.  This guy couldn’t be more in the dog house if he were rooming with Michael Vick. Yeah it was lame, but would prefer a baha men reference? This guy cannot hold onto the ball much less his job.  Ben Tate going down kept Slaton from being cut but trust me Kubiak hates Slaton.  You cannot fumble the ball and stay in the lineup as a running back.  I know you’re probably thinking about targeting him in the middle to late rounds of the draft, don’t. Reach on Arian Foster and thank me later.

 Jermichael my favorite Finley is another guy I am staying away from.  At this point you are probably about to stop reading but hear me out.  This guy is being drafted before Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and in some cases Dallas Clark. I love Finley’s talent don’t get me wrong the guy is a beast. The only reason I say stay away is because the value at this position is probably the highest its been in a long time. You can get a valuable tight end much later in the draft and create a solid roster without reaching for a tight end and missing out on some value at other positions.

 I love me some Chad Henne. Now before you call me the Homer Guy, Henne passed for over 300 yards in 3 of his last five games and I’m not sure if you heard this but, he is throwing to Brandon Marshall!!! Marshall made Kyle Orton relevant last year and with a great running game (4th in the NFL) Henne will have plenty of opportunities to make a splash.  The round you can get him in raises the value in my opinion. You can land Henne in the 11th round in most drafts which for the production would be a steal.

 If you have been paying attention, I am high on Arian Foster. Foster has the advantage of being the only running back in good standing with his head coach, and coming off a strong season.  This isn’t a case of taking stats from last year; it’s a case of reading the writing on the wall. The changing of the guard in Houston will be complete and with this high scoring offense Foster will have to try to not put up numbers.  He just might be my favorite player in the draft this year. 

 It’s safe to say the Darren McFadden experiment has failed.  Michael Bush is the guy I like in Oakland and he is still going late enough to be a value pick.  The Raiders are on the upswing, let me repeat that, the Raiders are up and coming.  The addition to Jason Campbell provides the Raiders with something they haven’t had in a while (since Rich Gannon) stability at the quarterback position.  This will allow the offense to have some balance and in turn thrust Bush into the spotlight.  Enough about thrusting Bush, that’s just weird its 2010. The fact is that Bush’s only downfall is that he isn’t great catching the ball out of the backfield.  I expect that to change because Campbell is a check down master.

 Target the three I have listed and cross off the guys I am staying away from and you should be OK this year.

Training Camp Summary

10 08 2010

 Well it’s been a little over a week of camp and here are a few interesting things I think you should keep your eyes (you have two of them I don’t understand why the phrase is keep your eye on something) on:

 1- The interior line battle is intense.  Out of the 3 spots available there have been 6 different starting combinations thus far in camp.  Jake Grove just tweaked his leg and it has given an opportunity for Joe Berger to step up.  After seemingly being on the outside looking in, Nate Garner has worked his way back into the starting rotation the past few days.  The rookie John Jerry is getting the most first team reps because Sparano “has seen game film on the other guys” and knows what they have done vs. NFL players.  Jerry’s game film is against college competition so I am not sure where he will end up when the season starts.  Richie Incognito has been very physical and has been as advertised; his strength and fire will keep him in the mix and possibly a favorite for the opening day starting slot if the rookie Jerry struggles in pre-season play.  Donald Thomas needs to be more consistent if he wants to start opening day for the fins this season, and recent rumbles are trending in the other direction.  The main thing to take from this competition is that it is a great problem to have!  Look directly in the division where Logan Mankins is holding out and New England is scrambling to find a contingency plan.  Miami has a great situation along the front line and interchangeable parts give them great depth.

 2. Brandon Marshall will not only help speed up Chad Henne’s development, but also the development of Miami’s young defensive backs.  It was heavily documented that early in camp, Marshall torched Sean Smith at will, causing the 2nd year corner out of Utah to fall twice.  The education Smith is getting against an elite receiver day in and day out in camp is something coaches couldn’t duplicate with a scout team burner or a big bodied jumper. Marshall is all of the above and Smith, and his pride, will be better because of it. 

 3. Veteran signings will help this young line.  In the wake of the Philip Merling injury, the front office decided to bring in two seasoned veteran defensive lineman in, Marques Douglas and Charles Grant.  Douglas played for Mike Nolan in Baltimore and in San Francisco, and Grant played for, close friend of the front office, Sean Payton last season.  These two linemen provide great depth behind the two young projected starters at defensive end; Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick.  This coaching staff loves rotating lineman to keep them fresh throughout games and bringing in two veterans to both teach and produce will no doubt help the development of Langford and Odrick. 

 4. The rest of the wide receivers are forming the way most would have thought going into this year.  Brian Hartline has lined up opposite Marshall since day one, with Camarillo and Bess right behind.  After recovering from a back injury Patrick Turner has shown signs of improvement and will need to maintain his level of play if he wants to make the 53.

 5. Chad Henne has been by far the most impressive quarterback according to Sparano during camp.  He has great command of the huddle and teammates have noticed the confidence in the young signal caller.

 6. The biggest question mark of this team going into the season was no doubt the free safety position.  So far Chris Clemons is doing a great job of limiting his mistakes.  When asked about reps, Tony stated that Clemons led the team in reps and in his 200-plus reps, made 1 mental error.  That is a great sign with such a young player, learning a new defense.  If Clemons can learn on the job and get his nose around the ball, he could be the surprise of they year and a big reason for this team to turn the corner. 

 7. The running backs look solid with a healthy Ronnie Brown returning to camp stating his injury is a “non-issue”.  Ricky Williams is in great shape and doesn’t show any signs of aging.  The group took a hit when Kory Sheets was lost for the season due to a torn achilles, but the only way he would’ve made the squad would’ve been in the return game.  He would’ve had to really shine returning kicks to make this roster, but it is seen as a questionable position for this team and it looks like Cobbs and Bess will get the duties to this point.  Cobbs has been nursing a hamstring the past few days and Hilliard has been quiet in camp, no news on him.

 8. Both Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder have been getting acquainted with one another both on and off the field. Crowder says he and Dansby have been spending time together picking each others brain since the free agent signing landed in South Beach.  Teammates and coaches alike have been very impressed with Dansby’s play and tremendous size for the position.  This duo will need to take the reigns with young players surrounding them at all positions.

 9. The defensive backs will be a solid group for years to come.  It’s no secret that pass coverage is a need on this team.  Last year Miami finished the season starting two rookies at the cornerback position.  Sean Smith and Vontae Davis received on the job training against some tough opponents.  I look for these two to keep improving and form a sort of  Surtain/Madison pair at the edges of this defense for the future.  Will Allen is making a bid for his old job again and if he can get back to full strength it will be interesting to see what coaches will do.  One of the biggest surprises of camp thus far is the rapid development of rookie corner Nolan Carroll.  Carroll was a fourth round draft pick out of Maryland and he has been around the ball quite a bit.  In Saturday’s scrimmage Carroll deflected a pass that led to an interception and dropped an interception of his own.  He is around the ball and coaches say he is picking up information quickly.  Sparano commended Carroll’s demeanor around the facilities and credits the young man as being a guy with “great make-up”.  Look for Carroll to surpass Jason Allen as the fourth corner on the depth chart by the time the season starts.

 10. The outside linebackers are a closely watched group.  Cameron Wake has seemed to overtake Charlie Anderson at the weak-side linebacker spot and Koa Misi is taking all the reps at strong-side.  Wake has dominated in his pass rush at times during camp and Sparano has noted that Wake’s pass coverage skills have improved along with his play against the run.  Misi has been throwing his body around and has played with a high motor.  He has gotten a lot of mixed reviews depending on who you talk to, but Crowder has the rookie’s back.  The pre-season games will be the only barometer these coaches have to shaping out the group.  The biggest surprise from camp, more so than Carroll, is Ikaika Francis (Ike).  Ike has made the conversion from being a defensive end and has lost 15 pounds in order to do so.  He has been very stout against the run and Sparano likes the way he’s been moving.  This reminds me of the Matt Roth experiment which worked out well for the Dolphins.  It will be interesting to see whether or not the development will happen quickly enough and efficient enough from Francis to get on the field but his progression has gotten him to second on the depth chart to this point.

 Miami opens up its pre-season schedule vs. the Tamp Bay Bucs this weekend; look for Tyler Thigpen to get most of the snaps.  My focus will be on the defensive side of the ball and the young player consisting of Clemons, Odrick, and Misi.

Position Ranking (OTA Edition): Safeties

30 07 2010

Well, training camps are begginning today and what better time to close out my rankings.  Today I look at the last line of defense, the safeties.  A very demanding position the safety is asked to cover a large area.  Set back from the line of scrimmage, safties need to be able to diagnose plas and formations and communicate them to the rest of his secondary.  Some of the most notable defensive players in the league play the safety position.  Safties need to be able to do all tasks on the field. They need to be able to run with recievers as well as tight ends, come up to make tackles, or be responsible for a third or half of the field in deep zone coverage.  The AFC East hosts some very young budding stars at this position.

1) Buffalo Bills- OK, you can say whatever you want but I had to throw them a bone here. It may be the only thign they finish first in, unless you count losses of course.  The Bills have an extremely deep and very talented core of safties which is what warrants them the number one ranking here.  Jairus Byrd busted onto the scene last season with 9 interceptions! Donte Whitner has been a very solid Free Safety for this team for 5 season and his injury last season allowed Byrd to shine.  Whitner, a former first rounder out of Ohio State is a much better coverage guy back there than Byrd, but he lacks the play-making ability of the second year ballhawk.  It will be vey interesting to see what happens with this group, I predict Whitner is moved over to strong safety to start the season because Byrd was the lone bright spot in a forgettable 2009 season for the Bills.  The strong safety for the Bills last season was George Wilson, a 5 year vet out of Arkansas.  Wilson finished second on the team in tackles and contributed with four interceptions of his own last season.  Wilson saw his first season of serious playng time last year and played well.  If Whitner (my presumed starter) has trouble with his transition, Wilson will retain his duties thus making another Bills first round draft pick moot.  The main thing to know about this group for the Bills is that they have three starters, some teams in this division aren’t sure if they have one.

2) New England Patriots- New England couldv’e easily been ranked one with Brandon Meriweather alone.  After struggling with the schemes of the hoodie’s defense early in his career, Meriweather has quickly turned into a star at the position.  The game has started to slow down for the former Hurricane standout and allowed him to fly all over the field making plays.  He is also the reason that the pass defense has not suffered with all of the changes at the corner back slot.  Opposite Meriweather is a bit of a question mark.   James Sanders started the first game of the season only to be demoted to reserve duty for most of the year.  He finished strong and started the last four games which gives him the edge on Brandon McGowan.  McGowan started 11 games for the Pats’ last season but played himself out of that role by week 14.  Both players have shown flashes of promise but whoever is most consistent during camp will liekly get the job.  No matter who wins the job, look to see both 6 yr vets see the field for New England.  The combination of these three talents gain them the two spot, but the inconsistent playat free safety keeps them from top billing. 

3) New York Jets- The Jets are bringing in some new talent ofter the departure of Kerry Rhodes.  Rhodes made soem big plays for this defense during its playof push and his absence will hurt the unit.  Replacing Rhodes will be Brodney Pool who came over from the Browns this off-season.  Pool has good ball skils at the safety position and if I were to label him, he would fall into the; covers better than he tackles category.  Pool has 11 interceptions in his 5 season of play and with great corners on both sides, Pool should have a lot of opportunities to make plays in coverage.  The strong safety for this defense is Jim Leonhard.  Leonhard followed Rex Ryan to New York after becoming the starter during the 2008 season with the Ravens. Leonhard is a high motor guy who always seems to be around the pile.  Extremely undersized, the former badger from Wisconsin plays big.  He hits hard and throws his body around the field.  With Pool’s coverage skills, and Leonhard’s seemingly disregard for his body, this combination has a good chance to gel and be a very solid group for the gang green.  Backing up Pool and Leonhard will be Eric Smith.  Smith managed a few starts last season and has good size (6’1″) for the position, especially wen compard to Leonhard.

4) Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins find themselves in the four slot here due to them having no idea who will start at free safety.  Chris Clemons, Reshod Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jason Allen?  Two of those guys are nickle and dime corners in some sets.  Clemons, the second year man from Clemson, will get the first shot at the job in my opinion.  He has good coverage skills and great speed to cover ground.  He lacks physicality that is coveted by this coachign staff and his communication skils are a work in progress.  He showed some signs last season that he had what it takes in the NFl and this coaching staff is putting a lot of pressure on him to follow through.  Yerimiah Bell enjoyed his first Pro Bowl selection last season and is a very solid stonrg safety.  He hits a ton and  has great athleticism to cover both tight ends and recievers.  His tackling skills are above average and he will need to take Clemons under his wing in order for the group to be effective.  This position is no doubt the biggest focus in Dolphins camp this off-season, and it may be the reason this team does not get over the hump and make the playoffs.

Position Rankings (OTA Edition): Corner Backs

23 07 2010

In my opinion corner back is one of the toughest positions to play in the NFL.  Most positions you can be aggressive and at the snap get right after the ball.  When you’re out there on an island you have to sit back and use your instincts to diagnose routes and react off of a number of factors.  Film study is crucial to get a read on what your weekend foe will be doing.  When a receiver runs an out does he cut it at 6 or 7 yards?  How well can he get off of a jam?  Can he out jump you?  There are a ton of keys that a defensive back has to look for and when he makes up his mind he had better be right, or he could be on the wrong end of a highlight reel.  Let’s not forget he could be subject to a pulling guard or tackle on a screen play with no help. 

It’s a bit of bang or bust when it comes to corners, and for this reason you see teams address the position all over the draft board and in free agency.  There are so many different schemes and zones that you may see a player succeed in one defense and fail miserably in another.  Think of covering a guy who runs a sub 4.4 that is 6′- something who can jump through the ceiling… sounds like dating a girl with 13 brothers and a minister for a father.  It is not a fun position unless you are playing against Jamarcus Russell every week (shout out to the Purple Drank), seeing as he will eat and drank’ his way out of the NFL it doesn’t look good. The AFC East as you should all know by now has the best corner and arguably the best football player in the league, yeah I said it.  The season that Darrelle Revis had last season against the players he faced is almost as impressive as Tom Brady’s bludgeoning of the NFL in 2007.  I digress with the rankings…

1) New York Jets- When you have someone like Revis on one side of the field it wouldn’t matter who was alongside for the Jets to achieve the top ranking here.  However, when you add someone with the pure athleticism of Antonio Cromartie, you cause fits for offenses and coordinators across the league.  I will throw some numbers at you in case you have forgotten what Darrelle Revis did last year; here is what the best receivers in the world did against him: 

Andre Johnson- 4 catches 35 yards 0 TD

Randy Moss (2 games)- 9 catches 58 yards 1 TD

Marques Colston- 2 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Steve Smith ( the real one) -1 catch 5 yards  0 TD ( Revis picked off two passes headed Smith’s way and returned one for a 67 yd TD.

Rhoddy White -4 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Reggie Wayne (shouldn’t count but it supports my point) -3 catches 33 yards 0 TD

Chad Johnson (I don’t call him a Spanish numeral)- NOTHING!!! In fact, the Bengals only threw for 31 yards the whole game!!

So in 8 games the best recievers in the world averaged about 3 catches and 25 yards a game!!!  Revis is one of the few players that will be worth the contract they sign, no matter how much it is.  There is also some solid depth at this position for the Jets.  Dwight Lowery has played starters minutes at that position and has been productive.  Then when you think they are set at the position, they draft Kyle Wilson, arguably ( and in my opinion) the best corner in the draft at the 29th overall spot.  These four players make up the best corner back unit in the league!

2) Miami Dolphins- Call me biased if you want but this young tandem in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith reminds me of the Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison dominance of the late 90’s.  Both players are entering their second year in the league and received on the job training last season playing in every single game their rookie year.  Vontae Davis is an extremely physical player, at 5’11 Davis can jump with the best of them ( ask Randy Moss who Davis jumped over for an interception at New England this season) and is a very strong tackler at the edge.  Sean Smith is a converted wide receiver and stands 6’3″ tall! This gives him a great advantage in jump ball situations and when he improves his tackling he will be a complete corner in this league.  Then you have the veteran in Will Allen.  Allen’s season was cut short last year due to an ACL tear.  Before the injury Allen was having his best season yet.  He needs to get used to playing the Nickel position because the two sophomores will play ahead of him.  Adding depth to the defensive backfield is Jason Allen.  A former first round pick out of Tennessee, Allen has been a disappointment given his draft position.  He was shuffled back and forth from safety to corner with the different coaching staffs he experienced, and he has settled into a solid Nickel and Dime package defensive back that is also a special teams standout.  Rounding off this group is rookie Nolan Carroll out of Maryland.  I throw his name into the mix here because I value high character guys and Carroll has a great pedigree.  If it weren’t for a broken ankle in his senior season he would’ve been drafted much higher than the fourth round and the Dolphins feel like they got a steal with him.  I see Carroll competing and possibly winning the 4th slot in the middle of this season. 

3) Buffalo Bills- The Buffalo Bills edge out New England because they have a good blend of experience and youth at this position.  They also have a very physical group of corners, it seems to be a theme with the franchise.  Reggie Corner and Drayton Florence finished 4th and 5th in tackles on the team.  Both players like to stick their nose into plays and be physical.  They are almost the same in that they can tackle but have hands like feet and they will let a few interceptions slip through their hands.  Terrence McGee is a pesky defender who is an absolute ball hawk.  In seven seasons he has 17 interceptions and 83 deflections.  McGee is an undersized corner who will lose a jump ball and in phone booth situations with larger receivers.  Leodis McKelvin is going into his third season and is coming off of a broken leg that ended is 2009 campaign.  McKelvin is most notably remembered for fumbling a kick off return that set the tone for an awful season for his Bills.  However McKelvin is considered a play-making corner that has excellent ball skills and when it is in his hands has the potential to take it to the house every time.  Expect McKelvin to work slowly back into the starting role and knock out one of the veterans in front of him.  Ashton Youbooty is the fifth corner on the squad that will see the field in limited action.  .

4) New England Patriots- I can hear Pats fans getting their pitchforks ready and sounding the homer alarms.  The bottom line with this ranking is that there is too much flux at this position and not enough talent.  Another contributing factor to this ranking is the lack of pass rush forcing them to cover longer, which will hurt them. Leigh Bodden is a very solid corner and this ranking does not reflect him as much as it does the supporting cast.  Bodden is a very instinctual corner who, if I were an English teacher, I would give him a B+.  The problem is he isn’t getting younger and his supporting cast maybe needs to be a bit older.  Darius Butler, a very young player is maybe a year away and Jonathon Wilhite is way too inconsistent to be called anything more than serviceable.  Wilhite allows receivers’ get too much separation when running down the field and he lacks the size and speed to dictate a route.  Butler will no doubt start this season and should begin his ascension to being a productive starter.  I think he has the potential to be a solid corner in this league I just don’t know when it will be.  He is very athletic and can jump through the roof.  His development will be critical to this group’s success this season.  Devin McCourty was the very unpopular first round pick from the Patriots in this years draft.  He will compete for the Nickel position and may blossom into a starter, you never know at this position.  Terrence Wheatley was a 2nd round draft choice in 2008 and he could work his way into the 4th cornerback slot.  He suffered a broken wrist last season against Indy and will figure in at the bottom of this rotation.  The biggest difference with this team as it always is, is the coaching.  Bill Belichick has won super bowls with what has seemed like a lack luster defensive backfield and his scheme has proven time after time that it can be effective.  Maybe the youth at this position will get a chance to play together for a long period of time and gel to crate a solid unit.  Maybe they draft another 7  with their plethora of picks next year.  No one knows what the hoodie is thinking.