AFC East: John Denney

DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins had an important Wednesday practice in preparation for the Cleveland Browns.

Here are some notes and observations from Miami’s session:
  • Third-string quarterback Pat Devlin remained out of practice with an undisclosed injury. The last we saw of Devlin was in the preseason finale against New Orleans. Devlin made the 53-man roster but hasn't practiced since. The Dolphins must release their first injury report of the season later this evening to clarify Devlin's situation.
  • Also on the injury front, rookie cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis did not practice, instead continuing to work with trainers. Both rookies have missed every practice this week, and it seems unlikely either will play Sunday against the Browns. Long-snapper John Denney also returned to practice.
  • No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan fully participated in practice and appears all set to play Sunday. Jordan also is getting work on special teams this week. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in a conference call that Cleveland is preparing this week for the rookie to play.
  • Finally, I've been monitoring the progress this week of Miami’s two newcomers: fullback Tyler Clutts and guard Danny Watkins. Both are trying to pick up a new offensive system. One early impression is that Clutts has caught the ball well. Watkins has quick feet and appears to be moving well; he will be the backup behind starting guards John Jerry and Richie Incognito.

The Dolphins have an off day Thursday. The team will return to the practice field on Friday for a walk-through.

A look at AFC East union player reps

March, 3, 2011
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With the NFL's collective bargaining agreement hours from expiring, I thought it would be a good time to provide a rundown of the NFL Players Association representatives for each AFC East team.

These players essentially are the shop stewards, the 32 liaisons who are in closest contact with union executives and the ones responsible for keeping their teammates abreast on all developments.

Three of the four AFC East representatives are free agents, but that's not uncommon. In these cases, union responsibilities often are maintained until players have new teams or retire. Teams cannot sign or trade players until a new CBA is negotiated.

Buffalo Bills

Representative: Safety George Wilson. He's the only AFC East rep under contract, having re-signed Tuesday. Wilson is known as one of the hardest-working and classiest players in the game. The two-time captain entered the NFL in 2004 as a receiver and switched positions to stick around.

Alternates: Outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, punter Brian Moorman.

Miami Dolphins

Representative: Running back Ricky Williams. A running joke in the Dolphins' locker room is that Williams is a good choice because nobody has met with the commissioner more often than he has. Williams just completed his 10th season and is a free agent.

Alternates: Quarterback Chad Pennington, receiver Brandon Marshall, long-snapper John Denney.

New England Patriots

Representative: Left tackle Matt Light. He's one of the Patriots' most charitable and entertaining players. Light just finished his 10th NFL season and was chosen for his third Pro Bowl. He also is a free agent.

Alternates: Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Alge Crumpler.

New York Jets

Representative: Fullback Tony Richardson. He has played 16 NFL seasons and also sits on the NFLPA's 11-man executive committee. He recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post about the looming lockout.

Alternates: Right guard Brandon Moore, safety Jim Leonhard.

Miami enters bye with not-so-special feeling

October, 5, 2010
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Brandon TateAP Photo/Lynne SladkyNew England's Brandon Tate returned the opening kick of the second half 103 yards for a score.
MIAMI -- With nearly a full quarter left to play Monday night, Miami Dolphins fans started shuffling up the Sun Life Stadium steps and out the tunnels.

The Dolphins had been ahead at halftime yet were down by only 20 points. It might as well have been 200.

A victory was hopeless at that point. Forget their big-armed quarterback. Never mind their superstar receiver. Their potent backfield pair was moot. Their respected defense didn't matter either.

There was no reason to have an ounce of faith in the Dolphins with 14:05 still on the clock against the New England Patriots.

In reality, the Patriots' lead was conquerable. How they accumulated it, however, was completely demoralizing.

In the first 15:55 of the second half, Brandon Tate returned a kickoff for a touchdown, Patrick Chung blocked a punt to set up a quick touchdown and Kyle Arrington returned Chung's blocked field-goal attempt for a touchdown to thrust them toward a 41-14 throttling of the Dolphins.

"It was a mess," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said. "It's embarrassing, and these fans deserve better than that."

Special teams doomed the Dolphins so badly you have to wonder if coordinator John Bonamego can keep his job. (Update: Bonamego was fired Tuesday.)

The Dolphins had little shot to be competitive once they surrendered game-breaking after game-breaking after game-breaking play in the kicking game.

"It's just one strike, one big play that just deflates your team," said Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, who was on the field for Tate's 103-yard kickoff return to open the second half. "It takes the air out of you."

Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne wasn't exactly Dan Marino. Scott Mitchell maybe. Henne threw three bad interceptions, one of which Chung -- you can easily imagine Sparano throwing his head back and shouting to the heavens "Chuuuuuuuuung!!!" -- returned 51 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring.

But he had a hot start, completing his first seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins had a 7-6 lead at the intermission.

"We had momentum coming into the second half," Carroll said. "We felt pretty good about our defense going out on the field and stopping them."

The Dolphins' defense played a solid game. Although it was hardly on the field in the second half, it limited Tom Brady to one touchdown pass and Randy Moss to zero catches for only the fifth time in his career.

About the only thing the Patriots didn't spring on special teams was a fake kick for a touchdown, but that at least would have incorporated the element of surprise.

"It seemed like they drained us," Dolphins linebacker Tim Dobbins said of the special-teams breakdowns. "We tried to fight back, and they just kept making plays and making plays."

Sparano spat out a laugh when asked whether the special teams coach or his players were to blame.

[+] EnlargePat Chung
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyPatrick Chung's block of this Miami field-goal attempt was scooped up by Kyle Arrington and returned 35 yards for a touchdown.
"Next question," he eventually muttered.

The Dolphins stagger into their bye week with a 2-2 record after opening the season with a pair of road victories. That seemed encouraging, a 2-0 start against the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings and with all of their home games left. You had to like the Dolphins' chances to make the playoffs.

They're 0-2 at home and facing a rugged second quarter of the schedule. Their next four games are at the Green Bay Packers, versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Cincinnati Bengals, and at the Baltimore Ravens.

Miami has much to think about on special teams, many flaws to correct.

Perhaps the week off will help Bonamego work through some issues. Perhaps it's the perfect time to bring in somebody else.

"It's not him, not at all," Carroll said in defense of Bonamego. "It starts with the players on the field. He can only do so much for us. It's our job to execute. He knows exactly what he's doing. He does his job to a 'T.' Now it's on us to execute."

Brandon Fields, who had two punts blocked in the preseason, had one stuffed for the second straight week -- and on a similar crisscross ploy each time. The New York Jets pulled it off eight days earlier in roughly the same spot on the field. The Dolphins even released linebacker Erik Walden for blowing his assignment.

Sparano said they worked all week on preventing the block from happening again.

On the blocked field goal, a 53-yard attempt by Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter that could have drawn the Dolphins within 10 points, Chung split linemen Lydon Murtha and Joe Berger on the left side.

Sparano said Chung's blocks were unrelated in terms of scheme or philosophy, which, to me, is worse than if there'd been a common thread. That means the Dolphins had two glaring weaknesses Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien exploited.

Answers are in short supply.

Fields, Carpenter and long-snapper John Denney weren't interviewed after the game and had cleared out of the locker room by the time Sparano's postgame news conference ended. The Dolphins don't allow assistant coaches to be talk to the media after games.

"It's a bad taste in your mouth," Sparano said, "but we put ourselves in this position. So we're going to have to deal with it. We're going to have to taste it now for the next couple weeks."

Dolphins among NFL's youngest, biggest

September, 18, 2010
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For the second straight season, the Miami Dolphins opened with one of the NFL's least experienced teams.

The NFL this week released its annual demographics report from Week 1 rosters.

The average Dolphin had 3.47 seasons of experience, lowest in the AFC and second-lowest in the league. They carried 13 rookies or first-year players, tied for third in the NFL. They have only four players who are 30 or older, fewest in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeChad Pennington
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireThirty four-year-old Chad Pennington is one of the elder statesmen of the Dolphins.
Just one of their 30-year-old players is a starter: safety Yeremiah Bell. The others are quarterback Chad Pennington, running back Ricky Williams and long-snapper John Denney.

The only teams greener in any of those categories are the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

By contrast, the Cleveland Browns had 18 players who were 30 or older. The Pittsburgh Steelers had 17.

Not much else stands out from this year's annual report in the AFC East, but there are some interesting notes compared to last year.

The New England Patriots had the NFL's oldest roster last year with an average age of 27.19 years. They dropped to 26.34 years old this year. That makes them slightly younger than the NFL average. Lowering the Patriots' average age were 13 rookies or first-year players, tying them with the Dolphins for third in the league.

The Patriots and the New York Jets, however, have three times as many thirtysomethings as the Dolphins.

Around the NFL, teams averaged 26.45 years, 4.35 seasons of experience and 10.5 rookies or first-year players.

Only one club was slimmer than the Buffalo Bills last year. Their average weight was 240.79 pounds mainly because former head coach Dick Jauron liked mobile defenders for his Tampa 2 defense and valued defensive backs.

Under new head coach Chan Gailey, the Bills have switched to a 3-4 defense and bulked up. Their average weight on opening day was 246.81 pounds. They had 13 players who weighed 300 pounds or more, tying them for sixth in the league.

The Dolphins had the second-heaviest club last year at 251.38 pounds, reflective of Bill Parcells' longstanding attitude that bigger is better. They actually got bigger this year, averaging 253.62 pounds, but dropped to third behind Parcells' previous team, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Baltimore Ravens (by two-one hundredths of a pound).

Dolphins continue youth movement

May, 3, 2010
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It's difficult not to be intrigued by the Miami Dolphins' roster when you consider their collective age.

The Dolphins, coming off an AFC East title, went into 2009 with the most rookie and first-year players on their 53-man roster. The NFL average was 9.6, but the Dolphins carried 14.

They were the sixth-youngest team in the NFL at 26.09 years (league average 26.61 years). Only two teams were less experienced than Miami's average of 3.83 seasons per player (league average 4.48 seasons).

Miami is trending young again for this year. As Boston Globe writer Albert Breer points out, the Dolphins have a division-low seven players on their roster who will be 30 or older on opening weekend.

The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills have 10 apiece, while the New England Patriots have 16.

But of the Dolphins' seven tricenarians, only four likely will be in the starting lineup. One is long-snapper John Denney. Another is third-string quarterback Chad Pennington. The other is suspended nose tackle Jason Ferguson.

What I find even more remarkable about the Dolphins' average age is that, after trading Ted Ginn, they have only two players remaining from their 2007 draft class: backup defensive tackle Paul Soliai and punter Brandon Fields.

That's a one-year famine they seem to have compensated for with their past three classes, undrafted free agents and waiver pickups.

NFL goes pink for breast cancer awareness

October, 3, 2009
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AP Photo/David Duprey
Many NFL players, like the Bills' Donte Whitner, show their support for breast cancer awareness by wearing pink.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


The moment his father called a family meeting, Ryan Denney knew something was wrong.

The Denney clan had gathered in their hometown of Thornton, Colo., for a happy occasion in March 2008. Brett Denney, a defensive end for Brigham Young University and little brother to Buffalo Bills defensive end Ryan Denney and Miami Dolphins long-snapper John Denney, was getting married.

The wedding was Saturday. The meeting was called for Sunday morning at their parents' home.

"I had a bad feeling," Ryan Denney said.

There, in the living room, patriarch Craig Denney delivered the sobering news to his children. Their mother had breast cancer. Two lumps had been found. Both were malignant.

"People were tearing up. It was quiet," Ryan Denney said recently in front of his stall in the Bills' locker room. "You need a minute to take it all in.

"Then our first reaction was 'What can we do to try and fight it? What are the options?' Fortunately, it was early enough that there was a good plan of attack."

Surgeons removed the lumps and some lymph nodes. She endured four months of radiation. But Sheri Denney survived.

"It's a touchy subject," Ryan Denney said, "but for us it's been very positive."

So often, breast cancer isn't discovered soon enough. Reminders to get mammograms are critical.

The NFL will use its influence -- and acquiesce some of its manliness -- to support National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in a highly visible way during this weekend's games.

As part of a campaign called "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives," players will wear pink in an effort to drive home the importance of yearly mammograms for women 40 and older.

Players will wear pink cleats, pink wristbands, pink gloves, pink ball caps. Captain patches will be pink. So will the towels quarterbacks tuck into their waistbands. Coins used before the games will be pink. The padding around the goal posts will be pink.

"I'm more than comfortable with my manhood to wear pink shoes," Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter said. "I know we're going to auction them off and send the money from the proceeds of that. So whatever I can do to help in that situation is good. And I think it's a good cause."

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is expected to wear pink cleats and throw spirals into receiver Jerricho Cotchery's pink gloves. New England Patriots running backs Laurence Maroney and Fred Taylor also have signed up for the pink gloves.

Others expected to wear pink cleats this weekend are quarterbacks Brett Favre and Drew Brees, receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

"I think it's a great statement by the league and by the players and all of us that are putting our support behind something that hopefully can be better for everybody going forward," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

"I don't think I'll be in a pink hoodie, though, no."

Bills safety Donte Whitner won't be on the field Sunday because of a thumb injury, but he has clamped onto a pink mouthpiece since training camp. He does so to honor his grandmother, Rosetta, who died from lung cancer in March.

NBCAM.org, the Web site for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, states an estimated 40,170 women will die from breast cancer this year, but there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

The objective of "A Critical Catch" is to raise awareness and urge regular checkups. The flashes of pink amid all the testosterone-clouded action certainly will stand out.

"The NFL is a national stage," Ryan Denney said. "A lot of people will tune into the game, mostly men. But maybe those are the guys that need to be made aware if they have a wife, a mother, a loved one that they can ask 'Hey, mom, have you been checked out lately?' "

NBCAM.org cites two of the most common reasons women don't get checked are because their doctors don't mention it or because it simply never dawned on them.

Sheri Denney learned she had cancer because a friend badgered her into going along to a mammogram screening.

The fear that cancer might be discovered often causes women to procrastinate on getting a mammogram or to avoid one completely.

"That was one of the reasons my mom was hesitant to go get tested: The only thing you're going to find out is that you have a problem," Ryan Denney said. "So if you don't get tested, you don't have a problem.

"You hate to think that in six months or two years down the road she gets sick and goes in to the hospital. Then it's maybe too late."

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