AFC East: Dannell Ellerbe

W2W4: Dolphins at Bills

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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Sunday will mark a battle of surprise undefeated teams when the Miami Dolphins (1-0) travel to face the Buffalo Bills (1-0). ESPN's Dolphins blog will be on the road this weekend to bring you all the latest on Miami.

Here are three things to watch in this matchup:

1. Protecting Tannehill: It's well documented that the Bills swept the Dolphins last season. One of the primary reasons the Bills' defensive line dominating the Dolphins' offensive line in the trenches. Buffalo registered nine sacks in two games against Miami. Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't have much time to throw and is 1-3 against the Bills in his career. Pass protection will be key to determining if Tannehill can overcome this week.

2. Next man up: Miami is thin at linebacker and will be in transition. The Dolphins put starting outside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve Monday. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi also missed practice all week with an ankle injury and appears to be a long shot. The Dolphins will be relying on backups such as Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins against the Bills' strong running game. Miami is hoping starting outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (thumb) can return this week from a thumb injury.

3. Facing E.J.: The Dolphins will get their first shot at Buffalo starting quarterback E.J. Manuel. The Bills' 2013 first-round pick missed both Miami games last year due to injury. Manuel received a lot of criticism during the preseason and played decent in Buffalo's Week 1 victory over the Chicago Bears. He threw for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
DAVIE, Fla. -- One of the feel-good stories of Week 1 in the NFL took an unexpected turn during the week. Miami Dolphins undrafted rookie Chris McCain, who blocked a punt and recorded a sack on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, got ill soon after as the rest of the team prepared for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

However, McCain returned to the team Thursday in good spirits and participated in his first practice of the week.

[+] EnlargeChris McCain and Tom Brady
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyAn illness during the week tempered Chris McCain's breakout first game, but the undrafted Dolphins rookie expects to play Sunday.
"I feel good to be back here and be able to come back at practice," McCain said. "I feel good and preparing for Buffalo this week. It was bad enough to where it held me out of practice. But I'm thankful it didn't hold me out all week. It wasn't too bad, a couple days."

McCain expects to play despite missing practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I still need a little bit extra preparation, but I think I'll be ready for Sunday when that time comes," he said.

McCain has an interesting backstory. He was a long shot to make the Dolphins after numerous red flags that included getting kicked out of college at the University of California. In addition, McCain went undrafted with a long road to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. He also had to stay focused and out of trouble with the Dolphins.

But McCain did all the right things since joining the team and let his natural athleticism shine. He was a standout in training camp and during the preseason, which set the table for his Week 1 showing against the Patriots.

The Dolphins are thin at linebacker with Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve and the statuses of Koa Misi (ankle) and Philip Wheeler (thumb) up in the air. They could need a backup linebacker like McCain to step up for the second week in a row against Buffalo's talented backfield led by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

"They're very dangerous," McCain said. "C.J. is a very speedy guy, very shifty. Fred is also good. We just have to be ready for the quickness. I believe with our front guys and our second-level guys we'll be able to hold on to whatever we come up against."
DAVIE, Fla. -- One Miami Dolphins starting linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe) recently was put on season-ending injured reserve. A second starting linebacker (Koa Misi) is walking around in a boot, unable to practice so far this week. A third starting linebacker (Philip Wheeler) missed Week 1 and still has a small cast on his hand.

Welcome to the current plight of Miami's linebacker position.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Jelani Jenkins
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJelani Jenkins and Miami's backup linebackers held the Patriots scoreless in the second half in Week 1.
The Dolphins have been hit hard at one position early this regular season. Miami played the entire second half last weekend without its three starting linebackers but persevered to earn an impressive, 33-20, victory over the New England Patriots.

With success comes confidence. The Dolphins held New England scoreless in the second half playing backup linebackers Jason Trusnik, Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Freeny. Miami has truly adopted the "next man up" approach at linebacker.

“That’s football,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “You can’t really lose a lot of sleeper over it. Injuries occur. That’s part of the game.”

Sunday will present another tough test against the Buffalo Bills (1-0), who swept Miami last season. The Bills are 3-1 against the Dolphins since Philbin took over in 2012.

One reason the Bills have been successful against Miami is due to Buffalo’s rushing attack led by tailbacks C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The Bills certainly will test Miami’s run defense and linebackers again on Sunday.

“They are definitely a great one-two punch. They proved that this week,” Trusnik said. “I think they put up around 200 (yards) or something like that this week between the two of them. Both are great backs and have some speed. Spiller has some great speed. Jackson still has a lot left in the tank.”

The status of Wheeler and Misi remain up in the air for Sunday. Wheeler participated Tuesday in the portion of practice open to the media, which is a good sign. Misi did not participate in the media viewing portion. The Dolphins are required to release their first injury report of the week Wednesday afternoon.

New Dolphins linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who signed on Monday, could be a wild card. The former third-round pick was highly-touted coming out of college. But he didn't last long in Buffalo or with the Indianapolis Colts. Sheppard will get plenty of opportunities in Miami considering its recent string of injuries. Philbin said Sheppard is on the “accelerated program” to see if he can learn the defense and contribute.

“As far as on the field, I feel I’m a very physical linebacker,” Sheppard said. “I love getting downhill against the run and getting in there. This team did a tremendous job on Sunday against the run against the Patriots. So I just hope I can come in and add to that dimension of the game.”
An examination of what the Miami Dolphins must do after their win over the New England Patriots:

The Dolphins were in a celebratory mood Sunday evening following their impressive 33-20 win. The defense shut out New England in the second half and Miami's offense scored 23 unanswered points to cap a dominant performance.

On the surface, all seemed well for the Dolphins. But there is one underlying issue facing the team entering Week 2.

A pair of Miami starting linebackers were hobbled in the locker room after the game. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi injured his left ankle and did not return to the game. He was limping and in a boot Sunday night. Dannell Ellerbe injured his hip in the first half and will be put on season-ending injured reserve, the Dolphins announced Monday. The team signed free-agent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to fill Ellerbe's roster spot.

With Philip Wheeler missing the game with a thumb injury, the Dolphins played the entire second half without their three starting linebackers. However, backups Jason Trusnik, Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Freeny stepped in and held their own.

"I'm proud of the way the guys stepped up. I told the team it was really a team win," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "Injuries seem to happen in waves at one position -- it just seems to be the nature of things. Our guys were able to step in. Jelani [Jenkins] came in there, I thought [Jason] Trusnik played a heck of a game and really contributed. [Jonathan] Freeny got in there and contributed. Chris McCain got in there and contributed. I said to the team at the end of the game, the name on the back of the jersey didn't really matter. I thought the guys played like a team."

With Ellerbe out and Wheeler's and Misi's status up in the air, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Miami could play the undefeated Buffalo Bills next week without their starting linebackers. But Sunday's performance by the backups should give Miami confidence it can look in-house to solve the issue.

Dolphins reaction: Emotional win

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
5:59
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 33-20 victory over the New England Patriots:

Misi
Emotion overflows: Undrafted rookie linebacker Chris McCain was emotional and one of the last people to leave the locker room. He blocked a punt and sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his NFL debut. McCain still was surprised by the gravity of it all.

Injury watch: Dolphins starting linebackers Koa Misi (ankle) and Dannell Ellerbe (hip) were hobbling around in the locker room. Misi had a boot on his left foot. Both injuries are worth monitoring heading into Week 2 and possibly beyond.

Good vibes: Overall there were positive vibes in the locker room. Miami’s coaches and players were gleeful after just beating a team many feel is a Super Bowl contender. But the Dolphins also were professional enough to realize it’s only Week 1.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins continue their preparation for Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Here are some notes and observations from Wednesday’s session:
  • Miami running back Knowshon Moreno and stating tight end Charles Clay continue to make progress from knee injuries. Both members of the offense took part in Wednesday’s practice in full pads, which is a good sign. Moreno showed good body lean and low pad level running near the goal line, and Clay made a pair of nice catches for first downs in team drills. It appears there's a good chance at least one of these players will suit up for Saturday's "dress rehearsal" game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Dolphins won't officially determine playing time for another day or so.
  • The Dolphins are doing a lot of mixing and matching at nickel linebacker in an effort to find the best duo. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi, Philip Wheeler, Jordan Tripp and Chris McCain are among those getting a look on the first-team and second-team nickel defense. Most teams on Miami's schedule have an extensive spread package on offense, which means the Dolphins must find success in the nickel with the right players. “In regard to how soon, we’re still going to look at some other combinations this week,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “But the sooner the better.”
  • Miami’s defense put together a good day rushing the passer in this full-padded practice. The Dolphins brought various blitzes and confused the offensive line, both starters and backups. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebackers Misi, McCain and Tripp were among those who recorded sacks in team drills.
  • The running game has been a major emphasis in practice this week. The Dolphins had minus-5 rushing yards in the first half last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when starters and key backups were in the game. Miami must run the ball better -- starting Saturday against Dallas -- for the offense to reach its potential. "It hasn't been to where we want it to be," Tannehil said. "I think that we have the talent, we have the ability, the up-front blocking and the backs to make big plays in the running game. We haven't shown that so far on the game tape."
  • Philbin said it’s hard to set a specific goal for Miami’s new offense under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. But one thing he’s believed in was success comes with scoring 25 points per game, which equates to 400 points per season. The Dolphins struggled to score consistently last season and averaged just 19.8 points per game.
The Miami Dolphins completed their 2014 training camp on Thursday. The feeling of getting through the grind of hot, physical practices never gets old for players, whether they're a rookie or a 10-year veteran.

ESPN.com’s Dolphins page attended all 15 training camp practices for Miami this summer. Here are five things we learned about the Dolphins:

1. Bill Lazor is a good addition

Analysis: I really like Lazor’s approach on offense. It is refreshing to see the route combinations, fast tempo, quick decisions and pre-snap motions all put in to confuse a defense. A lot of what Miami’s offense is doing just makes sense. That hasn’t always been the case in the past two years under former Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. It remains to be seen if Miami’s personnel can handle all the things Lazor aims to accomplish. Lazor is pushing his players -- and particularly quarterback Ryan Tannehill -- hard in training camp. At some point, Lazor will have to scale back once he figures out the mental and physical capacity of his players. But after seeing this offense up close almost on a daily basis, the concepts are solid.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Bill Lazor
AP Photo/Alan DiazBill Lazor has been pushing Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense hard.
2. Linebacker experiment doesn’t look promising

Analysis: The Dolphins’ defense was 24th against the run last season. Much of the blame went towards the linebackers, which couldn’t stop the run and also struggled against play-action passes defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. With the Dolphins tied into high-priced, multi-year contracts, they were stuck with the trio of Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe as their 2014 starters. The only solution was to rearrange the positions. Miami’s coaches moved Misi to middle linebacker and Ellerbe to outside linebacker in hopes of getting better play from both linebackers. This experiment hasn’t looked good. The tackling remains suspect and neither linebacker is great in coverage. The Dolphins are hoping another year in the system will result in significant improvement from this trio. There are still three preseason games remaining. But I didn’t see tangible evidence of improvement in training camp.

3. Jimmy Wilson is ready to start

Analysis: The Dolphins received bad news with the four-game suspension of starting safety Reshad Jones for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. But Miami groomed backup safety Jimmy Wilson three years for this moment. Wilson, a former seventh-round pick, has been solid from Day 1 this offseason. He has consistently made plays as the backup safety and nickel cornerback. This week that continued when Wilson was promoted to a starter in training camp. It does not appear the drop off from Jones to Wilson will be large. It will be up to Wilson to take advantage of the opportunity. So far that has been the case.

4. The Dolphins have too many receivers

Analysis: If I’m an opposing team with a need at wide receiver, I would closely watch Miami’s upcoming roster cuts. Multiple receivers have flashed in training camp, and the team could be six or seven deep at the position. I anticipate the Dolphins will cut a receiver (or two) who can make a 53-man roster elsewhere. A player such as Armon Binns, for example, could very well become expendable in Miami but a productive backup elsewhere. In addition, the Dolphins could have solid receivers who don’t see the field. Rishard Matthews and/or Damian Williams could be the final two receivers on Miami’s 53-man roster but won’t get playing time without injuries. The Dolphins should consider trading one of their low-level receivers to see if they can help depth at another position that isn’t deep.

5. Dolphins have cornerback depth

Analysis: It remains to be seen whether veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan, 30, can stay healthy for 16 games. But the Dolphins must feel good about their depth with the emergence of second-year cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. The 2012 second- and third-round picks, respectively, are coming into their own this summer. Both Taylor and Davis stayed around the football and made plays in training camp. It has to provide the coaching staff comfort.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins will not admit it publicly, but through the first week of camp it is clear the defense is well ahead of the offense. It's also been that way most of the offseason during organized team activities and minicamp open to the media.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThe Dolphins hope offseason acquisitions such as Cortland Finnegan will move their defense into the elite category.
Therefore, unless there is a dramatic turnaround over the next few weeks, the Dolphins will be relying on their veteran defense to carry this team to start the regular season. Miami is implementing a new, up-tempo offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor and currently experiencing growing pains. Yet, Miami’s defense is a group that’s run the same system the past three seasons and returns most of its starters.

Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle says he's fine with the increased expectations.

“Defensively, we like the challenge,” Coyle said. “We like the challenge of having a veteran group of guys that feel that they can be among the league’s top defenses and if we execute we feel we can do that. We’ve got a lot of work to go through to get to that point, but certainly I think our offensive players and our offensive staff are doing a great job of giving us a lot of problems.”

Miami’s defense was difficult to figure out last season. The Dolphins were strong in certain areas, such as opponent scoring, but struggled against the run and defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Miami hopes it addressed those issues.

The Dolphins swapped starters Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker and Koa Misi to middle linebacker in hopes of getting more production. New safety Louis Delmas also is expected to add a physical element over the middle of the field, and cornerback Cortland Finnegan is out to prove he still has gas in the tank opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes.

The Dolphins’ offense only averaged 19.8 points per game last season and still won eight games. Lazor was brought in increase scoring, but it might not happen immediately.

Miami's defense has the advantage of continuity that the team hopes pays dividends through all 16 games.

“We’ve got guys that can make plays. We’ve got very good speed on defense. We’ve got a lot of good athletes,” Coyle said. “We’ve got a group of guys that are hungry and I really like the chemistry of these guys. ... I think if we keep building it, we have a chance to do something special.”

Miami Dolphins' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:00
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Examining the Miami Dolphins’ roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)


The only question here is whether Devlin can hold off undrafted rookie Brock Jensen for the No. 3 quarterback job. Neither quarterback stood out in the offseason, but Devlin has the slight edge because of experience.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

The Dolphins would like to have someone step up and challenge Thomas. Undrafted rookie Damien Williams from Oklahoma could be a sleeper to watch. But it's too premature to put Williams on the 53-man roster over the veteran Thomas before the pads come on.

RECEIVERS (6)

This is a deep group with a lot of competition. Williams will be pushed for the final spot by Armon Binns and rookie Matt Hazel, who is practice-squad-eligible.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor uses some two-tight-end sets. So there might be room for a fourth player such as Dion Sims. But we are sticking with three for now.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
Pouncey’s hip injury puts a major dent in this much-maligned group to start the season. Miami will have five new starters in Week 1.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

This is the strongest area of the team. The Dolphins can come at opponents in waves in the trenches.

LINEBACKERS (7)

This group must improve its play from 2013. The Misi experiment at middle linebacker is particularly important to watch.

CORNERBACKS (6)

This is a solid mix of youth and experience. As long as second-year players Taylor and Davis come of age and Finnegan stays healthy, the depth will be improved from a year ago.

SAFETIES (4)

This group is all about position flexibility. All four players must be able to play back in coverage and closer to the line of scrimmage in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s scheme.

SPECIALISTS (3)

This trio will remain the same for the second straight year.

Camp preview: Miami Dolphins

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation's James Walker examines the three biggest issues facing the Miami Dolphins heading into training camp.

Bill Lazor's offense: There is a new sheriff in town responsible for adding life into Miami's struggling offense. The Dolphins hired Lazor, a former quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, to take over for Mike Sherman after Miami's offense became stale and predictable last season. Lazor may be the biggest key to getting the Dolphins over the hump. Miami's 27th-ranked offense held the team back during its 8-8 season. Lazor is bringing an up-tempo style and many of the principles he learned from Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Early indications are that Lazor is a demanding coach who expects a lot of his players. Lazor threw a lot at this group in organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp and had mixed results. There were mixed protections, dropped balls and overall sloppy play at times, which is expected at this stage. Still, Lazor's scheme is getting rave reviews from Dolphins players on both sides of the football. The key will be for the offensive players to pick up the scheme well enough to have early success. According to Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the entire offensive playbook was installed before training camp. The Dolphins cannot afford to be sloppy and unorganized on offense early in the regular season. They will play a pair of division games in Week 1 and Week 2 against the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, respectively.

Ryan Tannehill: A case can be made that quarterback play is the key to every season in the NFL. But never has the spotlight been brighter on Tannehill. The kid gloves are off and this a crucial third year for the former first-round pick. Is Tannehill a franchise building block or just another average quarterback? He's shown reasons to make a case for both sides. But the Dolphins are standing behind Tannehill for at least one more season to see if he can improve on his 15-17 career record. This year Tannehill must prove he can lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. The wild card is Tannehill is learning a new offense for the first time in his career. He played for Sherman at Texas A&M and the Dolphins, which used the same offense that was built around his skills. It's unknown how Tannehill will respond to playing in a different offense. Tannehill made plays in OTAs and minicamp, but he certainly didn't look dominant. His accuracy was off at times and he didn't make many deep-ball connections, which has been a weakness of his for two years. Tannehill must build on his offseason performances and strive for more consistency in training camp and the preseason.

Linebacker issues: The Dolphins enter training camp without a natural middle linebacker in the starting lineup. Miami addressed a lot of holes this offseason, but the team is going into the season with the same group of linebackers that struggled stopping the run and couldn't defend slot receivers or tight ends with any consistency. The Dolphins believe they've found the answer by moving Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker and swapping Koa Misi to middle linebacker. Miami's coaching staff believes Ellerbe will be free to make more plays outside, while Misi's athleticism will translate better in the middle. Misi has never played middle linebacker in his NFL career or at the University of Utah. This is a risky experiment by the Dolphins at an important position. The middle linebacker is often the quarterback of the defense. Misi will be responsible for making the play calls, lining up players and patrolling the middle of the field. The good news is there is still plenty of time for this group to get in sync during training camp and the preseason. The Dolphins invested a lot of money in their linebackers, so they are sticking with them for at least one more year.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Koa Misi has played outside linebacker his entire five-year career in the NFL. Before that, Misi was a standout defensive end in college at the University of Utah.

But the Miami Dolphins are trying something with Misi this offseason that he's never done before. Misi was moved inside as Miami's starting middle linebacker. For the first time, Misi is responsible for play calls, getting the defense lined up pre-snap and stopping anything in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Koa Misi
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesMiami is trying out Koa Misi at middle linebacker.
Will the Misi experiment work?

Misi is Miami's new field general on defense. The Dolphins are hoping this improves the performance of their underachieving linebackers.

"We think he has great leadership qualities," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Misi. "We think his play has certainly exemplified that over the course of period of time that I've been here. He plays football the right way, so we are going to see how we adjust to that position and how he relates to the other players at his position and the defense in general. So far he's done a nice job."

Make no mistake, the Dolphins are trying the Misi experiment out of necessity. The Dolphins hired new linebackers coach Mark Duffner this offseason to shake things up.

Miami starting linebackers Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler all struggled last season amid high expectations. This trio received sizable contracts and extensions last year, but the Dolphins were ranked 24th in stopping the run and had issues defending tight ends and slot receivers in the passing game.

"I've always been open to anything," Misi said of the switch. "Like I said to these guys, since I got here, I've been switching positions. I'm always open to try something new. Like I said, if it works, it works and, if not, we'll go back to the way things were."

Will this last all season or eventually change? No one in Miami knows for sure.

But there are no early signs that Miami will go back to last year's alignment. Misi has been the starting middle linebacker in every snap the past two weeks in organized team activities open to the media. The Dolphins have been pleased with the results thus far.

"We know, in the long term, it's going to provide us with more depth regardless of whether we stay with it or not," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "It's hard to get a true evaluation when you're out here running around in shorts. But certainly you can start to see them getting more comfortable with the positions that they're featured in right now.

"I think so far, so good. We've been pleased with the way it's working out."

Previewing NFL's Owners Meetings

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL’s league meetings will begin Monday.

Here are several topics of interest that we will be focusing on:
  • Locker room culture: Dolphins fans no longer want to hear about Jonathan Martin and the team’s high-profile bullying scandal. However, improving locker room culture in Miami and around the NFL certainly will be a topic of discussion among owners, coaches and general managers. The Dolphins had the curtain pulled back on their locker room last season during the 144-page Ted Wells report. There were several disturbing details that resulted in players switching teams and a firing of an assistant coach and head trainer.
  • Compensatory picks: We will find out if the Dolphins will get compensatory picks. Miami lost several key free agents in 2013, such as tailback Reggie Bush and left tackle Jake Long. But the Dolphins also went on a spending spree in the final offseason for general manager Jeff Ireland that included high-price signings like receiver Mike Wallace and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.
  • Stadium renovation: The NFL said Ross’ stadium renovation proposal is not on the docket for this year’s league meetings. But there’s a good chance Ross will discuss his plan and get a feeling from other owners on whether funding the renovations himself is a good idea. Ross is planning to spend about $350 million of his own money to improve Sun Life Stadium. However, he would like property tax relief in exchange for the renovations. Ross may also meet with the media for the first time this week since the stadium story became public.
Free-agent linebacker D'Qwell Jackson signed a $22 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday. The Miami Dolphins were one of several teams interested in Jackson and hosted him for a visit.

Jackson
Although Miami didn’t get Jackson, his visit was telling. It says the Dolphins and new general manager Dennis Hickey are not happy with the current linebacking group. Linebackers Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe did not perform up to expectations in 2014. Miami was 24th against the run and struggled at times in pass coverage against tight ends and slot receivers.

What does this mean for Miami’s linebackers going forward? It means they are under the microscope.

Linebacker is not a primary need. But it’s clear Hickey will look to make an upgrade or add depth when an opportunity arises. There could be another starter cut or released this offseason who could compete, particularly with Misi or Wheeler.

But without Jackson in the fold, Miami will stay with its current trio. This much we know: Wheeler, Misi and Ellerbe must perform better in 2014.
The Miami Dolphins signed three starting linebackers to sizable contract extensions in the past year. So why is Miami kicking tires on another starting linebacker this week?

Jackson
Former Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s reported free-agent visit Tuesday is an interesting, under-the-radar development for Miami. Here is what Jackson’s visit means for the Dolphins.
  • This is a clear indication that new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey is not satisfied with the starting linebacker corps of Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe. This group all received multi-year extensions in 2013 and underachieved. These were former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland’s guys. That means Hickey has no attachments to those signings. He most likely watched the film of Miami’s 24th-ranked run defense last season and wasn’t impressed.
  • Jackson played inside linebacker in Cleveland, but Ellerbe is the most secure linebacker in Miami. Jackson would have to play outside in place of Misi or Wheeler, who are both in the hot seat for inconsistent play last season. Contractually, Wheeler’s cap value is $6.4 million in 2014, which includes a guaranteed salary of $5 million. Misi has a lower cap number of $2.38 million and appears easier to release in the event the Dolphins landed Jackson.
  • But the Dolphins aren’t guaranteed to get Jackson and definitely aren’t the favorites. There are at least two other reported suitors for Jackson’s services in the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos. Jackson is a good player, and I believe he would be an upgrade over some of the linebackers the Dolphins currently have. But Miami probably wouldn’t try to win a bidding war over other teams considering all the money it already has tied into the position.

Bringing in Jackson for a visit is a strong sign that Miami wants to see better production from that position and that the team wasn't happy with its multi-million dollar investments. Misi, Wheeler and Ellerbe must step up their games if they remain Miami's starting linebackers in 2014.

Most expensive Dolphins in 2014

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
12:00
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The Miami Dolphins are searching for a new general manager after parting ways with Jeff Ireland last week. One of the biggest jobs for Miami’s new GM will be analyzing the roster.

Despite a spending spree last year in free agency, Miami goes into the 2014 offseason in solid shape with the salary cap. The fact the Dolphins have more than 20 unrestricted and restricted free agents has a lot to do with it.

At right is a chart of the 10 most expensive salary-cap charges for the Dolphins in 2014.

The new Dolphins GM certainly has some decisions to make with their 10 most expensive players. For example, two players on this list are coming off season-ending injuries. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) and receiver Brandon Gibson (knee) ended the 2013 season on injured reserve.

Noticeably missing from this list is Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He is the 12th most expensive player on the roster with a cap charge of $3.455 million next season. That is peanuts for a starting NFL quarterback. Tannehill is entering the third year of his rookie contract.

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