AFC East: Ikechuku Ndukwe
They have one of the game's best left tackles in Jake Long. Right tackle Vernon Carey is effective.
But all the clutter between those bookends makes me wonder how the Dolphins can be considered elite. In the three years since Bill Parcells assumed control of football operations and hired offensive-line coach Tony Sparano to run the show, the Dolphins have turned over their interior with alarming frequency.
The Dolphins on Thursday released center Jake Grove. The Dolphins identified him as a critical upgrade last year and signed him to a four-year, $29 million contract.
Now Grove is gone, just like their big free-agent signing from 2008, left guard Justin Smiley. The Dolphins signed Smiley for five years and $25 million. He lasted two seasons.
They'll use their third center over the past three opening days and have constantly changed guards.
No other unit in football depends on chemistry as much as an offensive line, but the Dolphins have been malcontents with their centers and guards.
Let's take a look at O-line personnel the Dolphins have rototilled since Parcells, Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland came aboard with emphasis on starters.
Hired offensive line coach Mike Maser in January 2008, fired him in January 2009.
Hired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo in January 2009.
Smiley started 12 games in 2008, 12 games in 2009 (released).
Andy Alleman started five games, including postseason, in 2008 (traded).
Nate Garner started four games in 2009 (injured reserve).
Richie Incognito projected 2010 starter.
Samson Satele started 16 games in 2008 (traded).
Al Johnson was 2008 backup (released).
Grove started 10 games in 2009 (released).
Joe Berger started six games in 2009, projected 2010 starter.
Donald Thomas opened 2008 season with job, started 12 games in 2009 (released).
Ikechuku Ndukwe started 15 games in 2008 (traded).
Garner started four games in 2009 (injured reserve).
John Jerry projected 2010 starter.
Guard Shawn Murphy, 2008 fourth-round draft pick deactivated all 22 games (released).
Center/guard Steve McKinney played zero games in 2008 (released).
Guard Evan Mathis played seven games in 2008 (released).
Guard Matt McChesney played one game in 2008 (injured reserve/released).
Guard Andrew Hartline played two games in 2009 (released, practice squad).
Guard Cory Procter signed, released last week and re-signed Thursday.
Tackle/guard Pat McQuistan acquired last week in a trade.
I'd be surprised if the Chargers would make that trade. They need a running back because LaDainian Tomlinson will turn 31 years old in June and has nothing left. Jones is a year older than Tomlinson, and while Jones did roll up 1,402 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, he was worn down and banged up at the end of the year.
The Chargers would be reckless to trade the 19th overall draft choice in 2006 (an All-Pro with a league-leading 10 interceptions in 2007) for an old running back who would put the Chargers' backfield in the same spot a year from now.
Josh in Pennsylvania is trying to find out what undisclosed draft compensation the Miami Dolphins received for trading offensive linemen Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe to the Kansas City Chiefs in August.
You've stumbled upon one of the great mysteries in the NFL, Josh. In fact, we've been able to find out more about negotiations between the league and the players association than we have the particulars of this trade. There have been reports the Dolphins obtained the Chiefs' sixth-round pick, but we can't seem to confirm it.
I reached out to the Dolphins this week to find out the answer and was told by a spokesman that the team's policy is to not reveal such information. I contacted the NFL, and a spokesman told me they will release the final draft order in April, but the Dolphins were free to tell me if they wished. AFC West blogger Bill Williamson approached the Chiefs and was rebuffed. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton said this is the only 2009 trade particulars he doesn't have nailed down.
Paul in Lexington, Mass., takes umbrage with the notion the New England Patriots are aging, a sentiment expressed by analysts in a recent column I wrote about the Jets having a brighter future than the defending AFC East champs.
As Paul astutely points out, the Patriots have youth all over the place. More than half of the members on their roster had five or fewer seasons of NFL experience in 2009. The Patriots will have their usual bumper crop of draft picks in April. They already have four selections within the first two rounds.
Those are valid points, but the problem is the Patriots are getting older in key positions. I will buy the argument the Patriots' divisional dynasty won't die if someone can convince me they'll turn one of their many draft picks into another Tom Brady. Four-fifths of their starting offensive line was born in the 1970s. Star receiver Randy Moss turned 33 a week ago. If the Patriots re-sign Kevin Faulk, then they'll have three running backs who'll be 33 or older before training camp.
Jon in Kenmore, N.Y., wonders what the Buffalo Bills will do at nose tackle because they don't have "a single player on the roster capable of playing the most important spot" as they switch to a 3-4 defense.
Options exist through the draft and -- to a lesser degree -- free agency. How the Bills proceed will depend on how they prioritize their various needs. Will they spend their ninth overall draft choice on an offensive tackle? A quarterback? Will there be enough nose tackles available on the open market?
Let's assume nose tackle will be a main concern. And for the purpose of addressing this question, let's pretend it's their ultimate offseason prize. If they wanted to draft the best nose tackles in this year's class , they probably can. Many draftniks rate Dan Williams of Tennessee the best of the lot. He still should be on the board at No. 9, but that might be a reach for Williams. The Bills also have the 41st selection and could take a shot at Alabama's Terrence Cody or North Carolina's Cam Thomas there.
Free agency appears lacking because nose tackles are such a commodity. The Patriots and San Francisco 49ers are expected to put franchise tags on Vince Wilfork and Aubrayo Franklin. The Pittsburgh Steelers could franchise Casey Hampton. Green Bay Packers nose tackle Ryan Pickett will be unrestricted, but he stated he wants to return -- and could be franchised anyway.
The Bills' best option might be Jason Ferguson if the Dolphins part ways with him. Ferguson is a free agent who will turn 36 next season and is coming off a leg injury.
Edward in Caldwell, Ind., has a solution to the Pro Bowl problem. He proposes they merge it with the Hall of Fame Game and have the all-stars play the same weekend the new Hall of Fame class is inducted.
I like how you think outside the box, Edward, but I see two hitches with your suggestion.
The first problem is that it would eliminate a game (read: revenues) from the NFL menu. You can throw any two teams together for the Hall of Fame Game and it won't make a difference, so fielding two teams of all-stars would be a wasted opportunity for the NFL to make a few bucks.
The other issue that immediately comes to mind is teams wouldn't want their best players playing outside their supervision so close to the season. When someone gets hurt in the Pro Bowl in February, he has months to rest and recover. A tweaked hamstring or a pulled groin at the start of training camp would be maddening.
Ryan in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, thinks Rex Ryan's XXXL personality is a distraction for the Jets and wants to know if I agree.
Ryan's behavior has done far more good than harm for the Jets because his players respond to it. The locker room is loyal to Ryan because of he's a charismatic leader who constantly reinforces his faith in the roster. Is he too arrogant? Is he irresponsible? Perhaps, but that loose personality helped propel the Jets to within 30 minutes of the Super Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Biggest surprise: None of the Miami Dolphins' final cuts can be labeled a surprise.
The most notable move was putting outside linebacker Matt Roth on the non-football injury list. Roth, the strong-side incumbent, missed every rep of training camp and the preseason with a mysterious groin injury that has Dolfans wondering whether he's dogging it to protest not getting a new contract or the team is punishing him for not coming to camp in shape. Now he'll be unavailable for six games.
The biggest name among Saturday's departed was receiver Brandon London, who caught only three passes last year but was valuable on special teams. Then again, the Dolphins haven't been too happy with their special teams lately.
No-brainers: Few roster moves the Dolphins made required heavy thought, especially Saturday. The only spots up for grabs when camp opened in August were at the bottom of the roster. Yes, there were starting jobs to compete for, but they essentially knew what players were going to suit up for them on Sundays.
Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe might've been significant dismissals Saturday had they not been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago. They were the starting guards in last year's playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, but they were deemed expendable. The Dolphins previously cut veteran cornerback Eric Green.
What's next: The Dolphins seem to have some adjustments to make with numbers at certain positions. They have only eight offensive linemen, but kept an extra tight end and a running back. They have six outside linebackers and only three inside linebackers.
Those allotments could be tweaked based on what castoffs interest football operations boss Bill Parcells and coach Tony Sparano.
In his first day of practice after missing 27 days of training camp, Aaron Maybin worked with the second team at defensive end. On his first play in 11-on-11 drills, he sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Defensive end Aaron Schobel and wide receiver Terrell Owens missed Monday's practice due to injuries.
The Dolphins made a number of personnel moves Monday, including cutting wide receiver Ernest Wilford.
The team also traded offensive linemen Andy Alleman and Ikechuku Ndukwe to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for an undisclosed 2010 draft choice.
New England Patriots
Ron Borges of the Boston Herald explains why the Patriots, after indicating the uncertain status of the CBA made offering long-term deals difficult, finalized a contract extension for right tackle Nick Kaczur.
The Boston Globe asks who the Patriots should have returning punts during the regular season -- a rookie or a veteran?
Jim Donaldson of the Providence Journal looks back on some of the high-profile players the team has cut over the years and concludes that when the team cuts ties with someone, it is usually the right move.
New York Jets
The Fifth Down Blog looks at whether coach Rex Ryan should name Mark Sanchez the starter at quarterback. Steve Serby of the New York Post also examines the Jets' quarterback battle.
Running back Leon Washington showed off his versatility in the Jets' 24-23 loss to the Ravens, according to M.A. Mehta of The Star-Ledger.
Adam Caplan of Scout.com reports Thomas suffered a torn pectoral muscle while lifting weights and is "expected to miss most if not all of training camp." The report states Thomas should be healthy by the start of the season, but all of that missed prep time will hamper his return.
Thomas was projected as the starter after spending almost his entire rookie season on injured reserve. He surprisingly won the job out of training camp, but broke his left foot in the 2008 season opener.
The Dolphins were disappointed in their center and guard play last year. They signed free-agent center Jake Grove and traded center Samson Satele to the Oakland Raiders. Left guard Justin Smiley played well last year but is returning from a mangled leg.
Thomas was the feel-good story of last year's camp. The sixth-round pick was considered a project, maybe even a practice-squad player for a year.
A University of Connecticut football coach discovered Thomas during a pickup basketball game on campus and convinced him to play as a walk-on. Thomas didn't start until his senior year.
The Miami Dolphins were decent when it came to run blocking last year. They had two capable backs in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, finishing 11th in the NFL in average per carry but 22nd in average yards per game.
KC Joyner's film-room research, which will be included in his upcoming book, "Scientific Football 2009," shows the Dolphins were pretty good --- not great.
The chart here breaks down a lineman's performance by net point-of-attack attempts (plays in which he was at the point of attack plus penalties committed and drawn), yards gained on these plays and his blocking success rate.
Joyner considers an 80 percent POA success rate borderline acceptable.
The Dolphins had four who met that baseline. But two linemen didn't, and nobody graded out at 89 percent or higher. Every other AFC East team had at least one 90 percent grade.
That illustrates why head coach Tony Sparano, an offensive line coach at his core, fired line coach Mike Maser after the season.
Satele led the AFC East with 20 lost blocks, even though eight linemen had more POA attempts than his 130. But he did have the most POA attempts on the team and was involved in gaining the most yardage when blocking at the point of attack.
In Joyner's behind-the-chart numbers, left guard Justin Smiley was pushed into the backfield a team-high three times, but that's a respectable number. Right guard Ikechuku Ndukwe allowed a team-high five defenders to get into the backfield and make contact with the ball carrier.
Rookie left tackle Jake Long was defeated only five times at the point of attack, was pushed into the backfield only once and allowed two backfield penetrations.
DANA POINT, Calif. -- A pair of Miami Dolphins earned hefty bonuses as part of the NFL's performance-based pay system.
Right guard Ikechuku Ndukwe received $266,912, and tight end Anthony Fasano received $253,769 from a league-wide pool of about $105 million that was doled out, the NFL announced Tuesday at the annual owners' meeting in the St. Regis Hotel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Compared to the other AFC East clubs, the Miami Dolphins don't have many free agents to worry about. But almost every one was a significant contributor to their 11-5 season last year, and most were starters.
Five of their seven unrestricted free agents accounted for 70 starts.
The Dolphins are about $25 million to $27 million under the salary cap.
Unrestricted (free to negotiate with other teams beginning Feb. 27)
- S Yeremiah Bell
- T Vernon Carey
- LB Channing Crowder
- CB Andre Goodman
- S Renaldo Hill
- C Al Johnson
- WR Tab Perry
Restricted (Dolphins have right to match offer from other team)
Exclusive rights (cannot negotiate with other teams if tendered qualifying offer)
MIAMI -- Miami Dolphins rookie left tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 overall draft pick and frontrunner among all AFC tackles in Pro Bowl voting, is out of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots because of a right lower-leg injury.
Long was assisted on the field and walked off gingerly late in the third quarter. He was examined on the trainers table behind the Dolphins' bench. His right shoe and sock were off. Then he was escorted into the locker room, presumably for X-rays.
No announcement has been made in the press box regarding the injury or whether Long will return, but it doesn't look like he will.
MIAMI -- The Wildcat looked more like a fluffy Persian kitty.
The first three games the Miami Dolphins used their Wildcat offense it played a significant role. They recorded two victories and lost on a fourth-down desperation scramble in the final seconds.
"They are the No. 1 defense in the league, and we knew it was going to be tough," Dolphins running back Patrick Cobbs said. "Our execution wasn't as good as it should have been. I credit a lot to them, and we have to go back to the drawing board."
The Dolphins called a Wildcat play only six times. One was aborted by a false start. The five snaps generated 4 yards.
- Brown runs for minus-1 yard
- Right guard Ikechuku Ndukwe false start
- Brown hands off to Ricky Williams for 5 yards
- Brown runs for no gain
- Brown runs for minus-3 yards
- Brown hands off to Cobbs for 3 yards
Fans might have noticed the Dolphins run some plays that resembled the Wildcat but were not counted as such because quarterback Chad Pennington took the snaps before making an inside handoff (or faking it) to Brown or Williams on a misdirection.
The Wildcat failed to produce a touchdown for the first time. Miami scored six touchdowns out of that formation in the previous three games.
Baltimore also snapped Brown's four-game touchdown streak.
In the locker room afterward, some frustrated Dolphins sounded fed up about answering Wildcat questions.
"It's funny," Brown said. "The first couple of weeks, everybody was talking about 'Wildcat! Wildcat!' This is just part of our offense. It wasn't so much about the Wildcat. It's about our offense as a whole wasn't able to execute and put up plays and it showed. Running the football, we weren't able to get much going."
The three teammates did a dance called the Cupid Shuffle.
Multi-millionaires Brown and Carey ought to chip in to help Ndukwe, who was signed last year off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad and survived the final cuts in Dolphins training camp as a backup.
Ndukwe makes the NFL minimum for players with two credited NFL seasons: $445,000.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Two weeks into the season, Miami Dolphins ridicule had resumed. The wait-and-see grace period was over.
New football operations department, new general manager, new head coach, half a new roster ... the Dolphins didn't look any different than the version that went 1-15 last year.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Rookie tackle Jake Long and the rest of the Dolphins O-line showed a new side against the Patriots in Week 3.|
Derision was spread thickly and impartially. But the place it stung most of all in the Dolphins locker room was among the offensive linemen. Their running attack was nil. Sacks were plentiful.
"People were ragging on the O-line pretty bad," rookie left tackle Jake Long said.
Rags to rushes was the line's theme last week. The Dolphins exploded in Week 3 with a 38-13 frolic over the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium.
Most of the attention was trained on the captivating single-wing Wildcat offense the Dolphins unveiled. But the offensive line controlled the game regardless of the formation.
"They had something to prove in the game, no doubt about it," said Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, a long-time offensive line assistant. "You take criticism for a couple weeks about not running the ball, offensive linemen take that personally, offensive line coaches take that personally. And they should."
In one afternoon's work, against one of the NFL's best front sevens and arguably the most fearsome defensive line, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams each tripled his rushing yardage output for the season.
Brown ran 17 times for 113 yards and four touchdowns. Williams ran 16 times for 98 yards.
"Did anybody give us any chance, really, to play like that?" left guard Justin Smiley said. "Everybody in our room did. We know what we're capable of doing and how we're capable of playing, but the first two weeks we didn't execute. Last week we went into the game hitting on all cylinders, and we dominated."
Domination isn't a word Dolfans are used to hearing in their favor, but their revamped offensive line was in total command against the Patriots.
The Dolphins linemen don't view their performance as one good afternoon but as a coming-of-age performance for a group still learning to play together. They'll have a chance to back up their performance Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, who rank 13th in rushing defense but third in third-down efficiency.
"We were as good as an offense can play," Smiley said. "We set the bar awfully high. That's what's expected of us now.
"So now there's no excuse every week. We have to go out there and play like that."
Only second-year center Samson Satele is in the same position as 2007. Smiley, from the San Francisco 49ers, was the Dolphins' top free-agent signing. Long was the No. 1 draft choice. Right tackle Vernon Carey lined up on the other side last year. The Dolphins signed right guard Ike Ndukwe off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad before the season finale.
Carey, who is 27 years old, is the oldest offensive lineman. He and Smiley are in their fifth seasons, making them the unit's most experienced. All five starting linemen have only 127 career starts combined.
By comparison, Jets guard Alan Faneca has 157 career starts and Jets tackle Damien Woody has 124. The three-man Patriots defensive line the Dolphins went against last week have 217 career starts among them.
"I go against them every day," Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter said of the Dolphins O-linemen. "They're a young group. In time, around Week 8, Week 9 they'll be able to prove how good they really are."
Suffice to say, with Bill Parcells running Miami's football operations, establishing a redoubtable offensive line was a high priority. Sparano was Parcells' offensive line coach with the Dallas Cowboys. The Dolphins brought in Mike Maser, who has coached NFL offensive lines for 14 years.
But Miami's running game was a joke through the first two games.
Brown and Williams had grand plans to rush for 1,000 yards apiece, but 19 backs, including four rookies, had more yards than the 121 yards the Dolphins mustered as a team -- and that figure included a couple receiver reverses and a quarterback scramble.
So much for smashmouth, right? You wondered if Sparano would rather get caught singing Smashmouth songs into his hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror than call a run play on third and 3.
From an offensive lineman's perspective, mocking a team's ground game is tantamount to questioning his manhood. But the Dolphins had no one to blame but themselves.
"We weren't running the ball like we wanted to," Long said. "Everybody was talking, and that was the big thing: 'Why can't this offensive line open up holes?'
"We took that personally and put it on ourselves and took the blame."
Then they went out and bulldozed the vaunted Patriots defense, gashing their renowned defensive front in earnest.
Miami befuddled New England with the Wildcat package only six times. Take out those unusual plays and Miami still had 342 net yards, didn't allow a sack and gave Chad Pennington enough time to complete 17 of 20 passes.
"Whether that be good or bad, that's the way it is now," Smiley said. "Now people know we can play that way. There's no gimmicks. It's the way things have taken shape.
"Obviously, a lot of people were down on us, but with good reason. We weren't playing up to expectations. We're showing our capabilities now."