AFC East: Dion Sims

The Miami Dolphins (7-6) will travel to face the New England Patriots (10-3) in a must-win game for Miami.

Here is the team’s final injury report:

Out: G Nate Garner (illness), Anthony Johnson (ankle)

Doubtful: LB Koa Misi (hamstring, knee), LB Jelani Jenkins (foot), LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring)

Questionable: TE Charles Clay (hamstring, knee), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), LB Chris McCain (ankle), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)

Probable: DB Walt Aikens (illness), DE Dion Jordan (ankle), TE Dion Sims (neck), S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring)

Analysis: The Dolphins, as expected, will be very thin at linebacker. Misi and Jenkins are not expected to play. Miami will have a tough time defending Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Dolphins should be healthier in the secondary. Finnegan and Taylor are both questionable but practiced every day this week. So there is a strong chance one or both will play. This is a must-win game for Miami and the team needs all the healthy players it can get.
DETROIT – The Miami Dolphins (5-3) received some good injury news Sunday when the team made starting running back Lamar Miller active for its game against the Detroit Lions (6-2). Miller is Miami’s leading rusher with 518 yards and averages 4.9 yards per carry.

Here are Miami’s inactives for Sunday:
The Dolphins are looking for their fourth straight victory. Be sure to check out ESPN.com’s Dolphins page and on Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL for the latest Miami coverage throughout the day.
The Miami Dolphins (5-3) will travel Sunday to play the Detroit Lions (6-2) in a big game for both teams.

Here is a look at Miami’s final injury report:

Out: TE Dion Sims (toe)

Doubtful: G Daryn Colledge (back)

Questionable: RB Lamar Miller (shoulder), LB Koa Misi (ankle), DT Earl Mitchell (abdomen), S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring), LB Kelvin Sheppard (hip/groin)

Probable: TE Charles Clay (knee), G Mike Pouncey (hip), LB Jordan Tripp (ankle), DT Anthony Johnson (back), LB Chris McCain (foot),

Analysis: The Dolphins had good participation in practice this week, and most are expected to play. The biggest concern is Miller, who has been limited throughout the week with a shoulder injury. Miller is a big part of Miami’s offense, and backups Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams would share the load if Miller cannot play Sunday. Colledge most likely will miss his second straight game, and backup Dallas Thomas expects to start at left guard. The Dolphins will have two games in four days, which will be taxing physically and mentally for the team. Miami will play its next game Thursday against the Buffalo Bills.
The Miami Dolphins (4-3) will host the San Diego Chargers (5-3) in a big game for both teams. Miami enters on a two-game winning streak, while San Diego has lost two in a row.

Here is a look at the final injury report for Miami:

Out: TE Dion Sims (toe)

Questionable: G Daryn Colledge (illness, back), LB Koa Misi (ankle)

Probable: TE Charles Clay (knee), LS John Denney (knee), CB Cortland Finnegan (neck), G Nate Garner (neck), LB Chris McCain (foot), C Mike Pouncey (hip), S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring)

Analysis: The Dolphins are very healthy to enter the midpoint of the season. Sims, Miami's backup tight end, will miss his first game of the season. Rookie Gator Hoskins will take some reps behind starting tight end Clay on Sunday. Colledge is a wild card, because he hasn't practiced all week. However, Colledge also is one of Miami's toughest players and said he's aiming to play. If Colledge cannot start, backup guard Dallas Thomas or Nate Garner will replace him. For the Chargers, running back Ryan Mathews (knee) has been ruled out, which is good news for Miami’s defense. Matthews gave the Dolphins trouble last season and rushed for 127 yards. San Diego linebacker Manti Te'o (foot) and cornerback Jason Verrett (shoulder) also were ruled out.
DAVIE, Fla. – Bill Lazor doesn’t hold back. That is one of the first things the Miami Dolphins players and media learned in his short time thus far with the team.

Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Lazor was blunt in his assessment of Miami’s offense despite a stellar performance in a 33-20 win over the New England Patriots. The Dolphins scored more than 30 points for just the second time in 17 games, dating to last season. However, Lazor was laser focused on ways his group can improve.

"My No. 1 feeling is that we better get better fast, particularly in the passing game," the offensive coordinator said. "I feel like there were a lot of plays we should have made and didn’t make. Some might have been the throw or the decision. Some were dropped. ... I think we have to be better to win tighter games."

There were several passing plays Miami missed through the air that could have been big plays. Here are a few that come to mind:
  • Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace beat Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis in the first half by two steps. But the ball thrown by quarterback Ryan Tannehill was outside and Wallace made the would-be touchdown catch out of bounds.
  • Miami starting running back Lamar Miller was open on a swing pass inside the 10-yard line. Miller appeared to be heading for a touchdown, but he lost his footing after catching the ball and settled for a 3-yard gain.
  • Dolphins tight end Dion Sims got behind New England’s defense and dropped a would-be 28-yard touchdown pass at the 5:51 mark in the fourth quarter.

But the Dolphins did more things right on offense, which is why Miami walked away with a double-digit victory over the Patriots. The biggest reason was 191 rushing yards, which controlled the pace of the game in the Dolphins' favor. Miami was 7-of-13 on third-down conversions, and Lazor had high praise for the offensive line's performance.

However, Lazor pushed Miami’s offense hard since the offseason and that has contributed to the unit’s immediate improvement since last season. It appears Lazor won't change his approach even after a week of success.
Jamar Taylor, Dion Jordan and Will Davis AP Photo, Getty ImagesJamar Taylor, Dion Jordan and Will Davis made a minimal impact as rookies.
Most of the attention over the next three weeks will be focused on the 2014 NFL draft, as each team tries to shape its present and future by identifying the right college players to fill needs.

But for the Miami Dolphins, success or failure this season will depend more on the development of the 2013 draft class. Few teams got less production from their rookies last year than Miami. Only the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks had fewer snaps from first-year players -- and those teams, which competed in Super Bowl XLVIII, were stacked with established veterans.

The Dolphins, who faltered down the stretch and finished 8-8, did not have that luxury.

It's time for Miami's second-year players to come of age during an important time for many within the organization. Head coach Joe Philbin is entering an important third year after going 15-17 his first two seasons, and there could be a lot of change next year if the Dolphins aren't successful.

Most of Miami's top picks -- including defensive end Dion Jordan, offensive lineman Dallas Thomas and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis -- basically had red-shirt seasons in 2013, thanks to injuries, inconsistency and lack of confidence from the coaching staff. That lack of production was one reason why the Dolphins failed to get to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.

"They got less than anybody in the league out of their draft class, and they had high picks. That's a huge issue," ESPN.com NFL scout Matt Williamson said. "But if that group, the corners and especially Jordan, can play up to what Miami thought they were and what most people thought they were, the Dolphins could rebound."

"We have a lot of hope for the draft class from last year," Philbin said at the NFL owners meetings in late March. "A lot of them have been back early, working. You want to see development throughout the course of an individual player's career, but I think all of you guys would agree you usually see a significant jump between Year 1 and Year 2. These are guys we thought highly of a year ago when we drafted them.

"They had some injury issues that kind of curtailed their development in Year 1. So I'm excited about working with them, developing them and seeing them progress here this season."

The 2013 draft class was one point of contention last year between Miami's coaching staff and the front office. Philbin didn't feel his rookies were ready to take on larger roles. Jeff Ireland, then the Dolphins' general manager, believed in the talent of his draft picks and felt they were not being used properly. Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, was perhaps the biggest example.

Due to offseason shoulder surgery, Jordan missed time in training camp and the preseason. He never found his footing in the regular season and he fell behind veteran defensive ends Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby.

Williamson described Jordan as "a ridiculous athlete." He has immense potential but spent most of the season as the third or fourth defensive end and on special teams. He was involved in 321 snaps and had a disappointing 26 tackles and two sacks.

There have also been offseason trade rumors involving Jordan, which Philbin has denied. Miami's head coach expects Jordan to have a larger role in 2014.

"We feel like with a full offseason, with more time devoted to his fundamentals, he will have a better grasp of the position he's playing," Philbin said. "We do want to do a better job with the numbers, rotating him in. ... We want to get him more snaps on first and second down. "

The Dolphins also are counting on young corners Taylor and Davis, who were drafted in the second and third round, respectively. Both had injury setbacks last season and played a combined 104 snaps.

Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes will occupy one starting job, and Taylor and Davis will compete with veteran free-agent acquisition Cortland Finnegan for the other spot. Finnegan, a former Pro Bowl corner, is the favorite to start due to experience. But Philbin is not going in with any preconceived notions.

"I want to see the best player, whoever can help us win football games," Philbin explained. "Whoever performs the best should be the starting corner."

Miami got most of its rookie production last year from unlikely sources. Fifth-round kicker Caleb Sturgis proved to be the Dolphins' best rookie acquisition last season. He beat out longtime Miami kicker Dan Carpenter in training camp and led the Dolphins with 111 points.

The Dolphins also had decent production from undrafted rookie guard Sam Brenner, who made four starts and played 274 snaps. Brenner stepped up following the suspension of guard Richie Incognito in Miami's high-profile bullying scandal.

Brenner's production highlighted the fact that Thomas, a 2013 third-round pick, was too green to step in and be productive. Thomas was rotated between guard and tackle in training camp and never got comfortable in either position. Thomas must find a home at this season in order to provide quality depth.

In fact, it will be vital for Miami's entire 2013 draft class to find roles and contribute next season. The Dolphins used nine draft picks last year, and most have yet to make an impact.

"The Dolphins have a young quarterback [Ryan Tannehill], so they need to build a real core for the long term," Williamson said. "They need last year's draft and this upcoming come to build around Tannehill. They don't need to live for today. A strong core is more important than winning it all this year, although that philosophy can get you fired in Miami if you're 6-10."

Midseason Report: Miami Dolphins

November, 6, 2013
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The Miami Dolphins (4-4) enter the midpoint of their season as a .500 team. There have been plenty of ups and downs in the first eight games.

Here is a look back at Miami’s first-half grades:

QB Watch: Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill

September, 25, 2013
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A weekly analysis of the Miami Dolphins' quarterback play.

Tannehill
Rewind: Miami second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill improved to 3-0 as a starter this season and 10-9 overall with a 27-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Tannehill’s numbers were not overly impressive. He threw for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. However, Tannehill showed growth as a young quarterback, outdueling Atlanta Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter and producing a late comeback. Tannehill was masterful on Miami’s final touchdown drive, completing 9-of-12 passes and throwing the go-ahead touchdown to rookie tight end Dion Sims.

Fast-forward: The quarterback matchups only get tougher for Tannehill. After producing back-to-back wins over Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Ryan of the Falcons, Tannehill must now square off against Drew Brees in New Orleans. Brees is off to another good start for the high powered Saints (3-0). It will be up to Tannehill to keep pace with Brees, a tall task. Tannehill has beaten some good quarterbacks early in his career, but potentially outdueling Brees would be the biggest to date.

Protection issues: The Dolphins have allowed 14 sacks in the first three games, including five against Atlanta. At times, the running backs didn’t pick up blitzes, and at other times, the pocket collapsed. Tannehill also has a penchant for holding the ball too long. All of this needs to improve if Tannehill is going to stay healthy and upright for 16 regular-season games. Tannehill showed up on the injury report last week for the first time with a right shoulder injury. It’s not serious, but it is a warning to the offense that it must protect its franchise quarterback.

Prediction: The Dolphins began the year with five tough games, and this was the one I pointed to as the most difficult. The circumstances and matchups in this game simply do not favor Tannehill and Miami. The Saints are a heavy blitzing team, and picking up blitzes is a weakness for the Dolphins' offense. Tannehill has an even-keeled personality, so I do not expect him to be overwhelmed or intimidated by the bright lights of playing on “Monday Night Football” for the first time in his NFL career. However, I expect the Saints to make things tough for Tannehill in this game.

Thoughts on GM Jeff Ireland's extension

September, 23, 2013
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The Miami Dolphins extended general manager Jeff Ireland’s contract through at least 2014, a source told Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald on Monday. The move happened in the offseason, according to the report.

Here are some thoughts on the extension:
  • The timing of the news is interesting. This is as good a time as any to get word out on the extension. Ireland has been an unpopular figure in Miami for years, but his image is coming around after a 3-0 start. If this move was announced when it happened, that likely would have garnered a bad reaction from Dolphins fans.
  • The extension shows how much confidence owner Stephen Ross has in Ireland. The Dolphins were 7-9 last year, and Ross still made the move. Ross also opened his wallet this offseason to allow Ireland to spend more than $200 million in contracts this offseason. The two have a good relationship that involves trust on both sides.
  • Miami’s fast start all but ends any talk of Ireland on the hot seat. The team is winning and Ireland's moves this offseason are panning out. Free agents such as receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes are all major contributors to the Dolphins staying undefeated. Draft picks such as defensive end Dion Jordan, tight end Dion Sims, kicker Caleb Sturgis and cornerback Don Jones are also making plays early.

Locker Room Buzz: Miami Dolphins

September, 22, 2013
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MIAMI -- Observed in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 27-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Wake
Ice bath: There were ice chips all over the Dolphins' emblem in the center of Miami's locker room. I asked around and several Dolphins players told me they gave head coach Joe Philbin an ice bath following his locker-room speech and the team's 3-0 start.

Mixed emotions for Wake: Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake had mixed emotions in the locker room. He told me he was happy for the win but disappointed "beyond words" that he couldn’t finish the game after suffering a knee injury in the second quarter and help the defense. I asked Wake about the injury, and he responded, “I will be alright.” Wake is expected to have further tests this week.

Happy rookie: Dolphins rookie tight end Dion Sims was all smiles after his first career reception was a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sims said he’s keeping the football as a keepsake. He still seemed in awe that he got the opportunity to win the game after getting just one pass thrown his way. Sims made it count.
The Miami Dolphins will face the Cleveland Browns in their regular-season opener on Sunday. Here is a preview of players you may not see based on this week’s practices:

QB Pat Devlin, CB Will Davis, CB Jamar Taylor: All three players are ruled out on Miami’s final injury report. They missed every practice this week.

RB Mike Gillislee: Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas will get a majority of the carries. Miami needs a fullback (Tyler Clutts) on the active roster for certain formations as well. Gillislee could be the odd man out.

TE Michael Egnew: He brings no value on special teams and is a backup behind Charles Clay. Egnew’s lack of blocking also puts him behind rookie tight end Dion Sims.

OT Will Yeatman: Miami has nine offensive lineman, and Yeatman could get the short end of the stick on game day.

LB Josh Kaddu: He’s a backup linebacker, and fellow backups Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins play special teams.

DB Don Jones: The Dolphins are thin at defensive back, but Jones is on the back end of the depth chart.
MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins completed their fifth and final preseason game Thursday night with a 24-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints. This game was played mostly by backups on both sides.

Earlier this week, I mapped out three things to watch from Miami’s perspective. Here is a recap of how the team fared in those areas:

1. Players on the bubble: Much of Miami’s roster is set. But this was a big game for those toward the back end. The biggest bubble player was third-string quarterback Pat Devlin. He showed some good and some bad with 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Dolphins must decide if it’s worth keeping three signal-callers or use that extra spot on another position. Bubble players with better showings Thursday were defensive lineman Vaughn Martin (four tackles, a half-sack) and safety Kelcie McCray (four tackles). Both might have done enough to claim two of Miami’s final roster spots.

2. Progression of tight ends: Miami is still in search of its best option at tight end after losing starter Dustin Keller (knee) for the season. Projected starter Charles Clay was inactive. But Dion Sims stepped up, grabbing four balls for 36 yards and a touchdown. Second-year tight end Michael Engew also got a lot of playing time but didn’t produce, to the tune of one reception for 5 yards. Sims is raw, but he has a good chance to contribute if he gains experience.

3. No injuries: Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin played it as safe as possible in this one. He sat every starter with the exception of right guard John Jerry, who needed the work. As a result, Miami walked out of the fifth preseason game with no significant injuries to its starting lineup. Barring any setbacks next week in practice, the Dolphins should enter their Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns in good health.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Saints

August, 29, 2013
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MIAMI -- Rapid reaction from the Miami Dolphins' 24-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints at Sun Life Stadium in Thursday's preseason finale:

What it means: This game didn’t mean anything for key players. That is why Miami head coach Joe Philbin decided to sit quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a majority of Miami’s starters. It was mostly about preventing injuries, and the Dolphins accomplished that goal. Miami will enter the regular season mostly in good health.

Devlin showcase: Third-string quarterback Pat Devlin entered on the roster bubble, and got the start against New Orleans in what was essentially a showcase game. Devlin showed some good and some bad. He finished 22-of-38 passing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Dolphins will debate ahead of Saturday's deadline whether to keep Devlin on the 53-man roster.

Bubble performers: It was a good day for several Dolphins on the bubble. Two who particularly helped their standing were defensive lineman Vaughn Martin and safety Kelcie McCray. Martin recorded four tackles and was credited with a half-sack, while McCray had four tackles and stayed around the football. Receiver Marvin McNutt also had four receptions for 99 yards -- which included a 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter -- to most likely solidify a roster spot.

Tight-end development: Miami is still in search of a player to replace injured tight end Dustin Keller, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Rookie Dion Sims took a step in the right direction with four receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. Charles Clay, who rested Thursday, is the most experienced backup tight end and the leader in the clubhouse. But Sims might be the most complete option with his blocking and catching. The rookie may also have the highest ceiling. Sims just needs to work on his consistency.

Cuts are coming: Miami must trim its roster to 53 players by Saturday evening. The Dolphins have 25 players to cut, and there will be several tough decisions to make the end of the roster.

What’s next: Now the real fun begins. The Dolphins will prepare over the next 10 days for their regular-season opener on Sept. 8 at the Cleveland Browns. It was a long preseason for the Dolphins. They were one of two teams to have five exhibition games. Miami hopes the extra work paid off.

What to Watch: Saints-Dolphins

August, 29, 2013
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play their fifth and final preseason game Thursday against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

Here are three things to watch for the Dolphins:

1. Players on the bubble: Miami must make 25 roster cuts by Saturday evening to get down to the 53-man limit. Several key players to watch are defensive tackle A.J. Francis, third-string quarterback Pat Devlin and receivers Marvin McNutt and Chad Bumphis. Look for the bottom portion of the roster to get plenty of playing time. Shameless plug alert: I will do my roster projection Friday after the final preseason game.

2. Progression of tight ends: It was not a strong outing for Miami’s tight ends following the season-ending knee injury to starting tight end Dustin Keller. The Dolphins got just three catches and 34 yards from the position. New starter Charles Clay had just one reception for five yards -- though he was targeted six times by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This will be an important game for Miami’s tight ends to get reps in preparation for the regular season, even if Tannehill isn’t on the field. Let's see what more Clay, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and Dion Sims can do.

3. No injuries: To be blunt, there isn’t much for teams to gain in this final preseason game. The most important thing for the Dolphins is to exit without significant injuries. The real games start in about 10 days, when the Dolphins travel to face the Cleveland Browns. Miami head coach Joe Philbin has been coy about playing time for his starters. Some may play briefly, while others might not play at all. This is a game for backups and fringe players.
DAVIE, Fla. – It was not a stellar showing for the tight ends of the Miami Dolphins last weekend. Following the season-ending knee injury to Dustin Keller, Miami got just three receptions for 34 yards in a 17-16 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New Miami starter Charles Clay caught just one pass for five yards. He was targeted by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill six times, and the two couldn’t get on the same page. At least two attempted connections resulted in tipped balls that nearly turned into turnovers.

"It’s never a thing you want to put on film, having a game like that," Clay admitted this week. "But at the end of the day, it happened. I just have to come out here and work hard and do all that I can to prevent it from happening again."

Clay knows improvement is needed. The next step in his development starts Thursday in Miami’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints.

Clay is the most versatile and experienced tight end for the Dolphins. That is why he’s getting the first shot to replace Keller. Other tight ends such as Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and rookie Dion Sims don't have the same level of experience or trust of the coaching staff. Clay, Egnew and Sims are all recent draft picks of Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland.

Miami initially used Clay as an H-back/fullback in training camp. But those plans were altered once Keller went down. Clay is being used more at tight end, and it's taking time to re-adjust to that role.

“It’s wherever they [Miami’s coaches] need me,” Clay said. “If they need someone to play tight end, I feel I can do that. If they someone to help out in the slot or at fullback, I feel I can do that. Whatever the game is that week, I feel like I can help.”

It’s unlikely any of Miami’s tight ends will match the production Keller would have provided this season. But the Dolphins must hope the group as a whole can be productive enough to keep the passing offense moving in a good direction.

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