AFC East: Dan Marino

DAVIE, Fla. -- Ryan Tannehill solidified his standing as Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback for 2015 -- and possibly beyond. But the immediate future in Miami of backup quarterback Matt Moore remains up in the air.

Moore will become an unrestricted free agent in March. His final game under contract will be Sunday when the Dolphins (8-7) host the New York Jets (3-12) at Sun Life Stadium.

Moore
Moore has spent the past four seasons in Miami, including the last three years as Tannehill's backup. But Moore doesn't know if Sunday will be his final game with the Dolphins.

“I’ve enjoyed everything about my time here,” Moore said Friday. “I’m not sure if that’s going to end or if there’s a new chapter. I don’t know yet. When that time comes, I will figure it out then.”

Moore said he "absolutely" plans to play in 2015. He's just not sure of his destination. Moore, who made $4 million this season, is considered one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL.

But there could be several factors working against Moore returning to Miami. For starters, the Dolphins do not have a lot of cap space going into next season. That will make it challenging to re-sign key free agents such as Moore, starting defensive tackle Jared Odrick and starting tight end Charles Clay.

Miami also is further convinced Tannehill is the answer at quarterback than the team was two years ago when it last signed Moore as an insurance policy. The Dolphins may not want to spend a high amount again on a backup quarterback next season. Tannehill will have started all 16 games for the third straight season, while Moore has completed just 2 of 4 passes for 21 yards this year.

Moore said he understands the business and is “aware of possible change” with the Dolphins next season.

“If the situation is right, that will happen,” Moore said of coming back. “If there's a situation elsewhere that is intriguing, it might also happen. ... I’m going to kind of feel my way through it.”

Lastly, the Dolphins announced their team awards for 2014. Tannehill won the Dan Marino Award for the team’s MVP in 2014. Defensive end Cameron Wake earned the Don Shula Award for leadership and Jason Fox won the Nat Moore Community Service Award.

“It’s a huge honor for me and the guys around me,” Tannehill said of the award. “In order for the quarterback to play well, the guys around me have to be playing well also. I think it’s huge honor, and I love that I got it. But at the same time, you have to give a lot of credit to the guys around me.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- Many of the current Miami Dolphins were children when quarterback Dan Marino dominated the football scene in South Florida. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was still working his way up the coaching ranks in the 1980s and 1990s.

Marino remains the best and most popular player in franchise history, and last weekend the team hired the Hall of Famer as a "special advisor." The reaction from players and coaches has been positive.

"I'm elated that he's part of the organization," Philbin said this week. "He's always kind of been an unofficial part of the organization. I had a chance to visit with him earlier today. He's excited about it. I'm sure there are a lot of things he can contribute to the organization in whatever roles Steve (Ross) and those that are in charge want that to be. He's always welcome here."

Marino's role with the Dolphins has not been defined publicly. There was no fanfare about the hire other than a news release, and there wasn't a news conference that allowed the media to ask Marino questions about his new job.

What is known is Marino will work in a variety of capacities. As time goes on, we will most likely know more about his role in Miami.

"I don't know. I don't know exactly what his role even is," Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill admitted. "No one has really even told me that. But, if he's open to some time, I'd love to pick his brain a little bit."

Regardless of his role, hiring Marino is a big win for the players. It's a rare resource to have a Hall of Famer who has been in current Dolphins' shoes readily available. Marino brings instant credibility as a person who's played the tough quarterback position as good as anyone in NFL history.

"Any time you have a guy like that just being around the organization is positive for you," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. "He's a legend, so any time he can come into this building and see a guy like that around is going to motivate you and help you play. You know he's going always to give you a couple of tips and nuggets, so that's always good."
Dan MarinoGetty Images
Score: Dolphins 28, Jets 24
Date: Nov. 27, 1994
Site: The Meadowlands

We have a winner. Dan Marino's fake spike in 1994 against the rival New York Jets garnered nearly 80 percent of the votes as the most memorable play in Miami Dolphins history -- and I agree with the selection.

For starters, there is no debating that Marino is the best player in Dolphins history, and this was the most memorable play of his storied career. Marino had everyone fooled by yelling "Clock! Clock! Clock!" before throwing a perfect back-shoulder throw to receiver Mark Ingram for a game-winning touchdown. The Dolphins won despite trailing 17-0 in the third quarter.

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Which is the most memorable play in Dolphins' history?

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Marino's fake spike also had extra meaning. It helped propel the Dolphins to the playoffs during the 1994 season and also tore the Jets apart. Miami went on to finish 10-6 and win the AFC East after this November game. New York lost five in a row to end the season, finishing with a 6-10 record. Yes, this was a time when the Dolphins, led by Marino, were regulars in the playoffs.

This is not to discredit the other two finalists. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula's hook-and-lateral call in January 1982 was a perfect play. But it happened in the second quarter of a playoff game the Dolphins eventually lost to the San Diego Chargers.

Greg Camarillo's 64-yard touchdown catch in 2007 might be the most exciting overtime play in franchise history. But the Dolphins were 1-15 that year. There were no high stakes other than to avoid the embarrassment of being the NFL's first 0-16 team. (By the way, the Detroit Lions set that mark the following year.) Also, the quarterback on Miami's overtime play was Cleo Lemon. You're going to choose Lemon's best play over Marino's best play?

All in all, there have been many tremendous plays and tremendous players throughout Miami's storied history. The Dolphins' franchise has won two Super Bowls and still boasts the only undefeated NFL team to win a championship. And now, after a tough run over the past five seasons, Miami fans hope the Dolphins will create more good memories sooner rather than later.

Special thanks to all the fans who participated this week.
Dan MarinoGetty Images
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days, we’ll also feature: Legendary coach Don Shula's “Hook and Lateral” play call in the 1982 divisional playoffs against the San Diego Chargers; and Greg Camarillo's 64-yard overtime touchdown catch in 2007 that prevented Miami from becoming the NFL's first 0-16 team. Please vote for your choice as the Dolphins’ most memorable play.

Score: Dolphins 28, Jets 24
Date: Nov. 27, 1994 Site: The Meadowlands

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Which is the most memorable play in Dolphins' history?

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    79%
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Discuss (Total votes: 33,173)

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino threw 420 total touchdowns as a member of the Miami Dolphins. But no touchdown pass was more clever and more memorable than his fake-spike play against the rival New York Jets in 1994.

In an important division game, the Dolphins fell behind 17-0 in the third quarter and looked out of it. But Marino rallied Miami with 28 second-half points to pull off the 28-24 win.

Marino's most important throw came on the final drive. Trailing by three points, the Dolphins were deep into New York’s territory. After the Dolphins made it to the Jets' 8-yard line with the clock running, Marino yelled on the field "Clock, clock, clock!" while motioning to spike the ball with his right hand. Jets players froze at the line of scrimmage. But instead of spiking the ball, wide receiver Mark Ingram ran a quick out and beat a confused Jets cornerback Aaron Glenn for the game-winning touchdown. Glenn was picked on and allowed three touchdown passes by Marino in this game.

At the time, this November game had first place on the line in the AFC East. The Jets collapsed after this loss and went winless in five straight games to end their season. The Dolphins went on to win the AFC East, advance to the playoffs and lost in the divisional round. The wily veteran Don Shula outcoached a young Pete Carroll in this game.

Ingram and Marino were in the zone together. Ingram caught nine passes for 117 yards and all four of Marino’s touchdowns. But the pair were especially in tune on the fake-spike play. This remains the defining play in the career of Marino, who is the best player in Dolphins history.

Dan MarinoSimon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we'll feature: Jumbo Elliott's improbable touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 "Midnight Miracle" and the infamous Butt Fumble on Thanksgiving night, 2012. Please vote for your choice as the New York Jets' most memorable play.

Score: Dolphins 28, Jets 24
Date: Nov. 27, 1994 Site: Giants Stadium

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It was a once-in-a-lifetime play and it took the Jets nearly a lifetime to recover -- or so it seemed.

With 22 seconds remaining in a critical AFC East game, Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino fired an 8-yard touchdown pass to Mark Ingram for the go-ahead score -- but this was no routine touchdown. Marino used a sleight of hand to trick the Jets. Behind center, he called for a "clock" play, giving the spike motion. The Jets relaxed, thinking Marino was going to fire the ball into the ground to stop the clock. That's what 20 players expected -- all except Marino and Ingram, both of whom performed their own ad lib. The ball was snapped and, against an unsuspecting defense, Marino found Ingram in the end zone for the game winner. They picked on rookie cornerback Aaron Glenn.

For the Jets, it was devastating on a few levels. For one, they lost a game they should've won. They should've finished the day in a first-place tie, but they blew a 24-6 lead in the final 16 minutes. In one of the most memorable games of his legendary career, Marino tossed three late touchdowns to rally the Dolphins. The psychologically fragile Jets never recovered, losing their final four games to finish 6-10. Their coach, Pete Carroll, was fired after only one season. The losing didn't stop, as they dropped 28 of 32 games under Rich Kotite, a sorry era that made the Jets a national laughingstock.

The Fake Spike was one of the turning points in team history, a demarcation point that separated hope and hopelessness. Finally, after two-plus years in the dark, the Jets got it right, hiring Bill Parcells, who resurrected the franchise. But the Fake Spike lives on, haunting those who were duped by Marino's chutzpah and creativity. Carroll still is asked about the play, and he doesn't particularly care to reminisce. He vanquished the demon last February, winning the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, the site of the old Giants Stadium -- wonderful symmetry. Sure enough, the Fake Spike came up in the Seahawks' post-celebration.

"Is this vindication for the 'spike' play?" Carroll asked rhetorically at his news conference.

Looking into the cameras, he continued, "Hey, Marino, you got a lucky freaking play, all right? It happened. That was a long time ago."
MIAMI -- On Monday, news broke that Dan Marino and 14 other players joined the large, concussion-related lawsuit against the NFL late last week. By Tuesday, Marino was looking for a way out. A source told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Marino's joining the lawsuit was an "error" and his lawyers are working to withdraw his name.

Marino issued a statement Tuesday evening explaining the turn of events:
“Within the last year I authorized a claim to be filed on my behalf just in case I needed future medical coverage to protect me and my family in the event I later suffered from the effects of head trauma. In so doing I did not realize I would be automatically listed as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL. I have made the decision it is not necessary for me to be part of any claims or this lawsuit and therefore I am withdrawing as a plaintiff effective immediately. I am sympathetic to other players who are seeking relief who may have suffered head injuries. I also disclaim any references in the form complaint of current head injuries.”


Marino said he did not realize joining the lawsuit would list himself as a plaintiff, which led to national headlines as such as high-profile former player. At the very least, that is a poor job by Marino's legal team not to explain the situation. It is also well-documented that Marino has been in talks with the Dolphins about a potential position with the team. Suing the NFL and simultaneously attempting to become an NFL employee wasn't a wise move.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway in this peculiar story is the Dolphins and Marino might be close to an agreement to work together. At least on Marino's end, it appears he didn't want to jeopardize the potential opportunity with this lawsuit.

Marino is the greatest player in Dolphins history and should have a position with the team in some capacity -- the Dolphins know it and Marino knows it. Getting Marino removed from this lawsuit obviously makes things less awkward.

Would Dan Marino to Dolphins work?

February, 25, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins have been a team in turmoil for the past several months. Whether it was because of a late-season collapse, firings of coaches and a general manager or the infamous bullying scandal, Miami has stayed in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

That is partially the reason there is some momentum to bring Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino into the fold. Marino is available after being let go by CBS, and the Dolphins could use some good publicity.

But would Marino to the Dolphins work? Let’s examine the pros and cons.
  • Pros: The Dolphins need an image makeover and Marino is the most popular former Dolphin in South Florida. He was the best quarterback in franchise history. Marino’s image alone brings back memories of when the Dolphins were consistently a competitive franchise. Marino offers instant credibility. The Denver Broncos recently did a similar move by bringing back John Elway, their best quarterback, in a prominent role. The move worked wonders for Denver’s organization. Why can’t it work the same for Miami?
  • Cons: What role would Marino have? The Dolphins already have a structure where the GM (Dennis Hickey) and head coach (Joe Philbin) answer directly to owner Stephen Ross. What sense would it make to have Marino as team president or some other prominent role also answer to Ross? Also, how much does Marino really know about talent evaluation, or overseeing the process of talent evaluation? He’s never done it. Just because Elway was successful doesn’t mean Marino can have the same impact. There are also questions of whether or not Marino wants to put in the long hours it takes to work everyday in the NFL.

It seems unlikely the Dolphins would hire Marino at this stage in a prominent role. That would be disruptive to Miami’s current setup under Philbin and Hickey. A figurehead role may not be enough to satisfy Marino. The timing may not be right.
It’s been 29 years since the Miami Dolphins last played in a Super Bowl. It has been 40 years since Miami actually won the big game on Jan. 13, 1974.

The Dolphins and their fans are rightfully proud of their two Lombardi Trophies. The team proudly displays both in the front lobby of its training facility. You also constantly hear about the glory days when the Dolphins were a dominant franchise that consistently competed for championships.

However, four decades have passed since Miami’s last championship, and nearly three decades since its last Super Bowl appearance. The Dolphins’ run at the top of the NFL has become a distant memory.

[+] EnlargeDon Shula
AP Photo/Dave BergmanThe Dolphins haven't been to a Super Bowl since Don Shula roamed the sidelines.
What will it take for Miami to get back to its once-elite status? ESPN.com’s Dolphins page has some suggestions:

  • Stability at head coach: The Dolphins had Don Shula, one of the greatest head coaches of all-time, at the helm during their glory years. Shula brought smarts, motivation and stability to the head-coaching position in Miami. He coached the undefeated Dolphins during the 1972 season, the Super Bowl champs again in 1973, and the two appearances in the early 1980s. Since Shula retired in 1995, Miami has gone through a litany of bad head coaches. Nick Saban, Cam Cameron and Tony Sparano all failed in Miami. Current Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is 15-17 in two seasons. It remains to be seen if Philbin is the long-term solution.
  • Long-term solution at quarterback: In today’s NFL, you must have an answer at quarterback. Dan Marino provided stability in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, the Dolphins have played the game of revolving doors over the years with quarterbacks such as Chad Henne, Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington, Jay Feely and Jay Fiedler. They hope 2012 first-round pick Ryan Tannehill is the answer. He’s shown promise, but also some holes in his game. Tannehill will get a third season to prove he’s the guy. If not, Miami must look elsewhere to find their long-term solution, especially now with the NFL increasingly becoming a heavy passing league.
  • A better front office: Talent evaluation is a huge part of a team’s long-term success, and the Dolphins have been hit and miss in that department over the years. Miami needs a general manager who is consistently adding talent and helping provide the identity of a team. What was Miami’s identity last year? The Dolphins weren’t an offensive team or a defensive team. They didn’t pass the ball well, run the ball well, or consistently stop the pass or run. The front office needs to work with the coaching staff to bring everyone together for one mission and one focus.

These are issues three decades of owners, coaches and players have yet to figure out. Miami was 8-8 last season and made a little progress from 2012. But there is still plenty of work to be done, including the hiring of a new general manager after recently parting ways with Jeff Ireland.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Thursday from around the web: Morning take: Expectations are high for Tannehill in Year 2, but they're not that high. Tannehill simply has to play solid football most weeks. He doesn’t need to match a Hall of Famer.
Morning take: The Dolphins' top three picks are all banged up. Dion Jordan is recovering from a shoulder injury, and corners Jamar Taylor (groin) and Will Davis (toe) look unlikely to play on Sunday. Miami has a lot of talent and should be able to sustain these injuries.
Morning take: Tannehill, Mike Pouncey, Cameron Wake, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Soliai and Richie Incognito make up a good group of veterans. Miami has a good locker room and that shouldn’t be a problem this year.
Morning take: Gordon is serving a two-game suspension, and this definitely benefits the Dolphins. Gordon is a playmaker who could have been a threat for the Browns.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Facing arguably the greatest challenge of his 14-year NFL career, stripped of his go-to receiver Wes Welker and then some, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrived at training camp hoping to do more.

Never before has the team had such a youthful look at the position, where there have been more struggles than successes in drafting and developing talent. The Patriots opened training camp with 12 receivers on the roster, six of whom are rookies.

Three of those young pups -- second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson, fourth-rounder Josh Boyce and free-agent Kenbrell Thompkins -- have taken more repetitions with Brady through the first three days of training camp than most could have imagined. One reason the results have looked fairly sharp is the extra work that was put in thanks to Brady's early arrival (rookies reported the day before Brady).

It is almost as if Brady is more than just the team's quarterback now; he's part coach, too. Unlike his record-breaking 2007 season, when there was an immediate connection with veterans Randy Moss, Welker and Jabar Gaffney, there is a certain teacher-student dynamic in play now. Brady, a stickler for detail, can be tough to please.

"He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, so he’s definitely demanding,” said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dobson, a smooth-strider from Marshall who the Patriots hope will fill the outside role that Chad Johnson (2011) and Brandon Lloyd (2012) filled the past two years. “[He’s] definitely tough to play for.”

Some used to say the same thing about Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino, and there is a connection in play between Marino and what Brady currently faces. Because Marino had played for so long in Miami (1983 to '99), the offense grew so much each season that it was difficult in Marino’s later years for any young or new receiver to handle. So when go-to receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper were no longer in the mix -- they had grown with Marino in the offense -- it was a challenge to find anyone capable of stepping in.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has acknowledged that’s a similar dynamic to what his team is currently navigating. This is Brady’s 14th year in the Patriots’ offense, which has evolved in many layers since his first year in 2000, and there is a lot there for any receiver to handle, let alone a rookie.

That is a big reason why the Patriots were drawn to Dobson and Boyce in the draft, and why Thompkins -- an older rookie at 25 who went undrafted after two years at Cincinnati -- has been an under-the-radar surprise to this point. All have a high football IQ. And so does free-agent signee Danny Amendola, who has developed a quick rapport with Brady that stands out.

Still, the Patriots might have to “trim the fat” in some areas of the playbook, according to Belichick. There will also be times when patience will be tested.

But watching Brady through the first three days of camp, part of it seems to have invigorated him. Those close to him say he is more committed than ever before; he turns 36 on Aug. 3, craves another Super Bowl championship, and knows that if all the receiver changes are going to produce the desired results -- especially with the rookies -- it is going to take extra work.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Distractions from tight end Aaron Hernandez.

In an unprecedented move, Belichick called a news conference two days before the team’s training camp practice to address Hernandez’s murder charge and its impact on the franchise. Then Brady spoke to reporters the following day. The goal was to balance the fine line between showing empathy and perspective to something bigger than football, but also position the club to move forward.

Because of that proactive approach, Hernandez wasn’t much of a topic of discussion from a media perspective by the second day of training camp. But will that change as new developments come to light in the case against Hernandez?

As one would expect, Belichick addressed players about the situation in a team meeting at the start of camp.

“He had comments, but that’s between him and the team. If he wants to share it, that’s fine,” said offensive lineman Logan Mankins, one of the team’s captains. (No surprise, but Belichick hasn’t been in the sharing mood.)

Mankins, the third-longest tenured player on the team (nine years) after Brady (14) and Wilfork (10), touched on how players are attempting to move on.

“At the time, you kind of reflect, but now it’s football season and everything goes in a drawer; no matter how you feel about it, it’s put away,” he said. “It’s football, it’s straightforward, and that’s all you can concentrate on or you’ll fall behind. Bill puts so much pressure on everyone and demands so much work and focus that if you’re not just focusing on football, then you’re in trouble.”

2. Void at top of tight end depth chart.

By the time the Patriots had blazed a trail through the NFL in 2011 with their innovative two-tight end offense, Rob Gronkowski had played almost 95 percent of the offensive snaps and Hernandez about 77 percent. The results were impressive, and others around the league considered plans to attempt to duplicate it.

That’s also when the Patriots extended the contracts of both players -- Gronkowski through 2019 and Hernandez 2018 -- with the idea of building their offense around them (over Welker).

The plans obviously haven’t worked out as desired, and if Gronkowski isn’t ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 at Buffalo after a surgery-filled offseason, it sparks the questions: Who fills the void, and how does it impact plans to play with multiple tight ends?

[+] EnlargeJake Ballard
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Patriots may lean heavily on former New York Giants TE Jake Ballard early in the season as Rob Gronkowski rehabs from injury.
Former New York Giant Jake Ballard (6-6, 260) and returning veterans Daniel Fells (6-4, 260) and Michael Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260) are the top candidates, while rookie free agent Zach Sudfeld (6-7, 260) is a potential sleeper.

“I don’t want to say this is Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig, but that’s the classic story … it’s there if they can do it,” Belichick said.

Still, it would be a surprise if the Patriots run as many multiple-tight end sets as they did in 2011. The numbers were down to about 50 percent last year when Gronkowski and Hernandez missed significant time with injuries.

3. Tim Tebow’s role.

On a scale of 1-10 in terms of importance to the team’s success, No. 3 quarterback Tim Tebow is closer to the “1” than the “10.” Yet there is intrigue.

Tebow hasn’t been consistent as a drop-back passer in practices and appears to be at his best on the move or as a runner. That explains why he has been the only quarterback in the drill in which ball carriers run with the football in a confined space after making a catch, and then the defenders execute proper tackling technique.

Do the Patriots see enough value in him, possibly as a scout-team quarterback, to reserve a coveted spot on the 53-man roster? That’s a hot-button topic that has generated passionate response from both circles.

“He’s a good guy first, a super-nice guy and a good guy to talk to,” Mankins said of Tebow. “He works his butt off, so we’ll see if he can find a role.”

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Since Brady is the quarterback, Belichick is the coach, and the team is playing in the AFC East, what’s not to like? And we’ve made it to this point with nary a mention of the team’s defense, which should be improved when factoring in that 10 of 11 starters return and the addition of a few complementary pieces, such as veteran safety Adrian Wilson, who brings size (6-3, 230) and an intimidating presence.

Last year, the Patriots traded up in the first round for defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and they could be difference-makers. Jones was hobbled by an ankle injury for most of the second half of last year and said one of his primary goals this offseason was to improve his upper-body strength. Hightower played 51 percent of the defensive snaps in 2012 but looks primed to possibly become more of a three-down option this year.

Furthermore, cornerback Aqib Talib had a significant impact -- both on the field and in the meeting room -- after he was acquired in November. Having him for a full year, in theory, should help the defense improve.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

There has been too much turbulence this offseason, including starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard’s arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Dennard is due in court in Lincoln, Neb., on Aug. 27 to determine if he violated his probation and could potentially face an NFL suspension.

Uncertainty with Dennard, the unknown in the passing game, Gronkowski’s health questions, and layers of the roster that appear thin on depth (interior DL) mean that the margin for error the Patriots traditionally have doesn’t seem as big as before.
Finally, the departed Welker was known for his consistency and durability. The Patriots are hoping Amendola can fill the void -- and the early returns are positive -- but there are questions about whether he can play a full 16-game season based on his injury history.

OBSERVATION DECK

• The Patriots’ coaching staff returns intact from 2012, marking only the second time in Belichick’s 14-year tenure that has happened. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who joined the Patriots in January, has the title of “offensive assistant.” At times in practice, he’s worked closely with Tebow.

Devin McCourty, the 2010 first-round draft choice who made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback in his first season, appears to be settling into the safety position nicely. McCourty first moved to safety in the middle of last season, and his command of the defense, along with strong communication and sideline-to-sideline skills, make him a solid fit at the new position.

• Teammates call Wilson “The Incredible Hulk” because of his chiseled physique. Wilson and fellow veteran Steve Gregory are the top candidates vying for a starting role next to McCourty at safety.

[+] EnlargeTommy Kelly
Mike Reiss/ESPNDT Tommy Kelly should add some punch to the middle of the Patriots' defense, forming a strong 1-2 duo with Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork.
• Former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly (6-6, 310) projects as a starter next to Vince Wilfork; defensive end Rob Ninkovich called Kelly an under-the-radar player who is making a mark. Mankins said: “He’s been impressive so far, very athletic for his size. He’s quick for an inside guy. I like his work ethic. He’s been giving great effort, and if he gives us that kind of effort all season, I think he’ll have a good season.”

• Running back Stevan Ridley lost two fumbles in the team’s third practice, with Belichick sending him to run two punishment laps. Ridley led all Patriots running backs in playing 45 percent of the snaps last season, and the projection is that he should match that number this year. But if he struggles to hold on to the ball, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount and second-year man Brandon Bolden are the top candidates to step in to that bigger back role. Blount was 2-for-2 in a goal-line running drill on Sunday. Shane Vereen looks primed to fill the void created by Danny Woodhead’s defection to the Chargers to serve as the team’s “passing back.” On Sunday, he was featured as a pass-catcher when the team worked on the screen game.

• The entire offensive line returns intact, although there could be a competition at right guard, where third-year player Marcus Cannon (6-5, 335) has been working with the top unit while incumbent Dan Connolly (shoulder) works his way back.

• Top draft choice Jamie Collins, the linebacker/defensive end from Southern Mississippi (52nd overall), has received his initial work at linebacker. He’s the first linebacker to rotate into 11-on-11 drills, often replacing middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been more of a two-down player.

• Former Canadian Football League defensive lineman Armond Armstead opened training camp on the non-football illness list. Belichick said the illness is different from the heart condition that led him to leave Southern Cal in 2011 and land in the CFL, and there is no indication when/if Armstead might join the team at practice. In addition, receiver Julian Edelman and Gronkowski opened camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Leon Washington, who signed with the Patriots after three seasons with the Seahawks, has served as the primary kickoff returner, where the Patriots are banking on improved results after ranking 25th in the NFL last season (21.2-yard average).

• Ballard, who said he played at 278 pounds in New York, is down to 260. The hope is that it doesn’t affect him at the line of scrimmage as a blocker, but makes him faster and takes pressure off his knee.

• Incumbent punter Zoltan Mesko, who is entering the final year of his contract, is joined on the roster by rookie Ryan Allen, the two-time Ray Guy Award winner from Louisiana Tech. Both are lefty punters; Belichick has employed a left-footed punter in each of his 14 seasons as coach.
Ryan TannehillAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeRyan Tannehill hopes to be the next quarterback from the 2012 class to lead his team to the playoffs.
DAVIE, Fla. -- NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino showed up to Miami Dolphins' minicamp on Wednesday. There was no major announcement or holding court with the media. Marino simply arrived, kept close tabs on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense, then quietly left about two hours into practice.

Marino's mere presence was symbolic of the pressure Tannehill faces in Miami. No Dolphins quarterback has come close to filling the large shoes of Marino after he retired after the 1999 season. Miami’s quarterbacks in this millennium have either been awful (Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington), former draft busts (Chad Henne, John Beck) or caretakers who couldn’t consistently take over games (Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler).

But something appears different about Tannehill. He is more Marino than Harrington in arm strength and physical ability. The 2012 first-round pick was also taken higher than Henne, but you don’t get that same feeling of bust potential. Unlike Fiedler, Tannehill has already demonstrated that he can take over a game and explode for 400 yards, as he did in September in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

But what are realistic expectations for Tannehill in Year 2? Fellow rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson each led their teams to the playoffs last season. Tannehill showed promise but was a couple of notches behind his peers. He threw for 3,294 yards but had more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Tannehill also had a losing record (7-9) and was left on the outside looking in during the postseason.

However, the Dolphins are showing the same confidence in Tannehill that the Indianapolis Colts are showing with Luck or the Washington Redskins are with RG III. More than anything, Miami’s coaching staff said, they love Tannehill’s work ethic and mental approach. Combine that with Tannehill’s athleticism and ability to make all the throws, and the Dolphins believe the sky is the limit for their young quarterback.

“One thing about Ryan is he never gets too high and he never gets too low,” Miami quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor told the AFC East blog this week. “Last year things never got too big for him. It’s not that he never made mistakes -- there were drives and stretches here and there. But I don’t think it ever got too big where he totally broke down, and that’s encouraging for a rookie quarterback. With all the looks that he saw, I thought he handled it pretty well.”

Taylor was a former assistant coach at Texas A&M and has been around Tannehill since he was 19. Taylor watched Tannehill, 24, grow from a redshirt freshman who played receiver his first two years in college to an NFL quarterback with high expectations. According to Taylor, Tannehill is much more comfortable in his position as a building block in Miami.

It was noticeable in organized team activities and minicamp that Tannehill is in control of the offense. He’s more vocal with teammates and has a quiet confidence that this is his team.

Miami is in search of leaders after several veterans like Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were released or didn’t return in free agency. Tannehill is one of the young, inexperienced players who must fill that void.

“It’s night and day compared to last year,” Tannehill said of his standing on the team. “Just the confidence and the knowledge of the game and what is going on. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am comfortable with where I am at and where this team is at. Anything we can do to get better, myself included, it’s easier to build this year compared to last year.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
AP Photo/J Pat CarterThe Dolphins opened up their wallet to bolster their offense, including giving Mike Wallace a five-year, $60 million deal.
Tannehill has all the tools to succeed this year. The Dolphins have put together as nurturing an environment as possible to ensure Tannehill takes the next step in his development. Miami spent $60 million to land free-agent receiver Mike Wallace and an additional $15 million total to land starting tight end Dustin Keller and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tannehill now has deep speed at receiver and a safety valve at tight end that he lacked last season. The Dolphins were 26th in passing in 2012 and scored only 18 points per game.

If minicamp is any indication, the Dolphins will not be afraid to air it out this year. Tannehill is taking his shots deep and throwing the football all over the field in practices. Tannehill is also routinely making more checks and changes at the line of scrimmage to get out of bad plays, an area where he struggled in 2012.

“He can see a safety start to creep up or lean a certain way, or a linebacker's depth from the line of scrimmage from the heels of his defensive lineman,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “Determining whether we turn and protect there or do we go the other way because that guy is in coverage, which I think [is] more recognition of defenses. ... We threw the book at him last year in the hopes that he would get to a point where we are at right now, where now he is just focused and not so much on the offense but on the defense.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sherman and Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin know what a talented quarterback looks like. They have coached future Hall of Famers Brett Favre (Sherman) and Aaron Rodgers (Philbin) during their stints with the Green Bay Packers and know how to make it easy for quarterbacks. The fact that they both view Tannehill as a franchise starter carries a lot of weight.

“They’re able to relate those experiences with Ryan and the struggles [Favre and Rodgers] had and the success they were eventually able to achieve,” Taylor said. “So they’ve kind of seen the step-by-step process those guys took and [are] able to use that to relate it to Ryan.”

The Dolphins are going all-in with Tannehill, and much is expected this season. On paper, Miami looks like a team ready to make a playoff push in 2013, and much of that will come down to Tannehill’s development and improvement.

Tannehill may not get the same press and national attention as other quarterbacks in his draft class, but his goals are the same.

“Ryan wants to win Super Bowls at the end of the day,” Taylor said. “I do think he has a long ways to go right now. He knows that. So every day he’s just trying to become a better player, and be better than the day before and don’t make the same mistake twice.

“What that ceiling is, it’s hard to predict. Time will tell.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins continued Day 2 of their three-day minicamp on Wednesday. The AFC East blog was live in attendance to take in all the action.

Here is a recap of big happenings in Dolphins’ camp.
  • Although unusual, most of the buzz in minicamp Wednesday surrounded the fullback position. Former Baltimore Ravens fullback and Pro Bowler Vonta Leach was in town to meet with Miami’s brass. Miami head coach Joe Philbin spent some time with Leach in Green Bay early in Leach's career. Philbin told a funny story about Leach’s first day. “I remember on his first day I had to point him to the practice field and give him a ride to the practice field – and that’s a true story,” Philbin said. “He was lost. He was totally lost.” Philbin added that the Dolphins are always looking for ways to improve the team.
  • Meanwhile, one of Miami’s fullbacks had an awful day at practice. Fullback/tight end Charles Clay had three drops and another borderline drop in team drills. Clay and Jorvorskie Lane are both in the spotlight now that Miami is looking to upgrade at fullback. The Dolphins also claimed former Chicago Bears fullback Evan Rodriguez off waivers, although he didn’t do much Wednesday in his first practice.
  • Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have one of his better days. The offense sputtered in team drills and Tannehill threw two interceptions -- one to cornerback Brent Grimes and the other to cornerback De’Andre Presley. One of Tannehill’s issues from last year is reducing turnovers. He had more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) in 2012.
  • Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino stopped by to watch practice. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee and general manager Jeff Ireland also were in attendance.
  • Miami No. 3 receiver Brandon Gibson had another very good day. He made several terrific catches and is making good progress in the slot. Gibson is a smooth route runner and provides a sizable target inside. Gibson looks much more comfortable than he did three weeks ago.
  • It was an up and down day for Dolphins rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis. The fifth-round pick made three field goals from 43, 47 and 50 yards, but he also missed two kicks from 43 and 46 yards. Sturgis is in a tight competition with veteran incumbent Dan Carpenter. It will be up to the rookie to do extra if he wants to take the roster spot Carpenter has held for several years.
  • Finally, Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive tackle Randy Starks received reps for the first time in team drills. Starks, who held out of organized team activities in a contract dispute, played mostly on the second team. But Starks also rotated some with Jared Odrick at defensive tackle with the starters. Miami could have a strong three-man rotation at defensive tackle this year with Starks, Odrick and Paul Soliaia. Second-year player Olivier Vernon is playing a lot at defensive end, and it appears he will compete with No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan in training camp for the starting position.
Former head coach Jimmy Johnson is best known in the NFL for winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson took a 1-15 team in 1989 and turned it into a multiple Super Bowl winner by the time he left the Cowboys in 1993.

Johnson
Johnson
But Johnson also has very strong ties in Miami, where he had success both at the collegiate and NFL level. The total body of work earned Johnson the No. 13 spot on ESPN.com’s list of all-time great coaches.

Johnson’s rise to fame among the coaching ranks began during his five very successful years as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 1984-88. Johnson's fiery coaching style led the Hurricanes to a national championship in 1987 and a stellar 52-9 overall record at Miami.

After leaving Dallas in 1993, Johnson came out of retirement three years later to lead the Dolphins. Johnson’s goal was to get Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino a Super Bowl ring, but that never materialized.

Johnson had a 36-28 record in Miami and led the Dolphins to the playoffs in three of his four seasons. But Johnson was 2-3 in the postseason with the Dolphins and wasn't able to get over the hump. Johnson retired for the last time after 1999 season, which also happened to be the same time Marino retired. Both had a huge influence on the Miami football landscape in the 1980s and 1990s.
Most experts agree that the NFL draft's most talented quarterback class was in 1983. Three Hall of Fame signal-callers came from that group in the first round, and ESPN's "30 for 30" series did a tremendous job documenting it Tuesday night.

A total of six quarterbacks were taken in the first round, with four AFC East teams drafting the position. Half of the division landed Hall of Famers and the other half whiffed.

Here is a recap of the first round of the 1983 draft for the AFC East:
  • The Bills drafted Jim Kelly No. 14 overall. He went on to lead Buffalo to four Super Bowls and became the franchise's all-time leading passer. The Bills dominated the AFC East and won the AFC from 1990-93 but came up short each time in the Super Bowl. Kelly is a staple in Buffalo and still lives there.
  • The Patriots drafted Tony Eason one pick after Kelly, at No. 15 overall. His career highlight was helping to lead New England to the Super Bowl during the 1985 season. But Eason was mostly a bust and only reached double figures in touchdown passes three times. He would have an injury-plagued career and posted a 28-23 record in as a starter in right seasons.
  • The Jets drafted Ken O'Brien No. 24 overall. Jets fans were disappointed that the team passed on Dan Marino for O'Brien -- and they were correct in their assessment. But O'Brien had a decent career that included two Pro Bowls, and he was actually 8-7 head-to-head against Marino during their AFC East rivalry in the 1980s and early 1990s. But O'Brien could never come close to matching Marino's overall numbers and victories. O'Brien was 50-59-1 as a starter in his career.
  • Fortunately for the Dolphins, Miami landed Marino at No. 27, the second-to-last pick of the first round. Marino went to a very good Dolphins team and a Hall of Fame coach in Don Shula. The pair turned out to be the second-winningest quarterback-coach combination of all time, trailing only New England's Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Marino's super-quick release and arm was one of the best ever. But like Kelly, Marino never won a Super Bowl.
  • The old Baltimore Colts were also in the AFC East in 1983. They drafted quarterback John Elway No. 1 overall, and you know the rest: Elway did not want to play for Baltimore and threatened to play baseball. As a result, the Colts traded Elway to the Denver Broncos, where he went to five Super Bowls, won two titles and had the most accomplished career of this famed quarterback class.

It's mind-boggling to think of the possibilities with every AFC East team drafting a quarterback in 1983.

What if the Jets took Marino? What if the Bills passed on Kelly and he went to New England one pick later?

The history of the AFC East would've been entirely different.
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC East:
  • An NFL executive believes the New York Jets can land a first- and third-round pick for star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Morning take: If the Jets can get that kind of value, they should jump at it. Revis is the best corner in football, but he wants a huge extension in 2014 that the rebuilding Jets cannot afford. I’m skeptical a first-round pick will be involved, but we will see.
Morning take: This is bad news for the Jets and Buffalo Bills. Both teams need quarterbacks, and this year’s class isn’t close to the rookie talent we saw last year.
Morning take: If that’s the case, it should only happen in the middle or later rounds. The Dolphins have clearly defined needs and quarterback is not one of them. Ryan Tannehill has potential to be the long-term solution.
Morning take: This is the second defensive end the Patriots landed from Canada. The Patriots are going far and wide to add to their pass rush.

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