AFC East: Mike Maser

Dolphins are malcontents on interior O-line

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
2:36
PM ET
There's a commonly held belief the Miami Dolphins boast one of the NFL's best offensive lines.

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.

Assistant coach

Hired offensive line coach Mike Maser in January 2008, fired him in January 2009.

Hired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo in January 2009.

Left guard

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.

Center

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.

Right guard

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.

Others

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.

Camp Confidential: Dolphins still eager to prove

August, 16, 2009
8/16/09
11:30
AM ET
 
  Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
  Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano wants his team to stay hungry.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- As long as Tom Brady stays healthy and Bill Belichick is in charge, the New England Patriots will be considered a Super Bowl contender.

Stands to reason they also are prohibitive favorites to take the AFC East crown.

Camp Confidential: AFC East
Bills: Thurs., July 30
Jets: Sat., Aug. 1
Patriots: Wed., Aug. 5
Dolphins: Sun., Aug. 16
Training camp index
Understandably, some of the Miami Dolphins are upset. Outside linebacker Joey Porter publicly expressed indignation that the defending division champs are being disregarded. Inside linebacker Channing Crowder got into a sniping match with New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who declared his team's objective was to win it all.

But don't expect Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to cause a ruckus over a perceived oversight. He's quietly embracing it. Sparano doesn't want his team to act as if it has accomplished anything.

"What I don't want to do is to think we are good by any stretch of the imagination," Sparano said this past week during a break at training camp. "I think that we need to make sure this team stays hungry and continues to want to do the hunting out there."

Key Questions

Who will emerge as Chad Pennington's top target?

Analysts listed receiver as an area of grave need. The Dolphins' front office obviously didn't agree. They didn't sign any free-agent help and waited until the second day of the draft to select any receivers.

Miami wide receivers caught only five touchdown passes last year and managed only 11 receptions of 25 yards or more. The top three averaged 11.9 yards per catch.

Greg Camarillo was Pennington's obvious go-to guy last year, grabbing 55 passes through the first 11 games. But a torn knee ligament sidelined him for the final five games and puts a dubious spin on his projected role.

Davone Bess, who possesses a similar skill-set to Camarillo's, had 54 receptions last year. Ted Ginn finished with a team-high 56 catches for 790 yards, uninspiring numbers for the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft.

Seven of tight end Anthony Fasano's 34 receptions were touchdowns.

But when the Dolphins need to convert a critical third-and-8 play, whom will defenses worry about?

Third-round draft picks Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline have had decent camps so far. Turner is tall and catches anything he gets his hands on, while Hartline is more of a possession receiver. Maybe one of them can emerge, but it's too soon to count on either of them.

Can a rookie win the starting right cornerback job?

 
  Joel Auerbach/US Presswire
  Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis is expected to compete for the starting spot.
The Dolphins drafted Vontae Davis 25th overall, making him the first pure cornerback off the board. They took Sean Smith with the 61st pick.

Both were expected to compete with veteran free agent Eric Green for the starting spot opposite Will Allen. But a week into training camp, Smith was taking Green's first-team reps.

Earning a coach's trust is difficult for a rookie, especially at a position as pressure-drenched as cornerback. Smith has been convincing.

He's 6-foot-4, and the Dolphins drafted him to compete with the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson and the other big receivers they'll face this year. But to overtake a higher draft pick and a veteran so early in camp is an encouraging development.

Will new center Jake Grove and new assistant Dave DeGuglielmo transform the offensive line's personality?

Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells and Sparano didn't like what they saw out of their offensive line last year. One of the first offseason moves was to fire veteran O-line coach Mike Maser and hire DeGuglielmo, a New York Giants assistant.

One of their chief personnel priorities -- maybe the biggest -- was to find a run-blocking center.

The Dolphins wanted better success between the tackles. It didn't help that both of their opening-day starting guards were lost along the way. But they identified the main problem was second-year center Samson Satele, who started all 32 games of his career.

They signed Grove, an Oakland Raiders free agent, and then traded Satele to the Raiders for a sixth-round draft pick and a swap of fourth-round picks.

Newcomer to watch

Taylor
Jason Taylor looks familiar in his uniform, but don't expect him to be the same player he was before the Dolphins traded him to the Washington Redskins last summer.

Sure, Taylor still can be an impact pass-rusher. But he will be playing a new role and a different position from the one where he amassed almost all of his 120.5 career sacks.

Porter is the weakside outside linebacker. Taylor, a fixture all those years with his hand on the ground as Miami's right defensive end, will be the strongside outside linebacker. That means Taylor usually will line up on the left side in a two-point stance.

The Dolphins brought him back to be more of a situational pass-rusher, not to play every down. He should split snaps with incumbent Matt Roth (a run-stopper with limited coverage skills) and Cameron Wake (a Canadian Football League phenom who recorded 39 sacks in two seasons).

A mysterious situation has kept Roth sidelined through the first two weeks of camp. His agent claimed he had a groin injury. The Dolphins claimed he was ill and out of shape. Either way, that has allowed Taylor to get more reps so far.

Market watch

Ginn
Dolfans have been waiting for Ginn to live up to his billing and can only hope this is the season he finally puts it together. The club showed confidence in the speedster by declining to go after any veteran receiver help.

"Teddy is going into his third year, and I think it's time for him to really show what he was drafted here to do," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said prior to the draft.

Observation deck

Ronnie Brown, who got off to a slow start in training camp last year because he was coming off knee surgery and a wrist injury, has looked sharp. His quickness and maneuverability stands out next to the other backs, including Ricky Williams, who doesn't look as explosive as he did a year ago. ... Williams is 32 years old and starting to show it. ... Rookie quarterback Pat White better be able to contribute from the Wildcat formation because he has been lousy as a quarterback. What makes White a threat is his ability to pass and run out of the formation, but his arm has been scattershot since he arrived. Defenses should force him to throw it. ... Kickers always have been expendable on a Parcells team. The Dolphins unearthed a gem last year with undrafted rookie Dan Carpenter, allowing them to save money by cutting Jay Feely. But Carpenter might have lost his footing. The club signed free agent Connor Barth to push him. Carpenter hasn't responded as well to the competition as the front office hoped. ... Rookie receivers Turner and Hartline, both third-round draft choices, have looked impressive. Turner is a tall target with soft hands who could turn into a third-down and red zone weapon. ... Sparano seems to be gaining confidence in third-year defensive tackle Paul Soliai, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. Soliai is listed at 6-foot-4, 355 pounds. He twice was suspended for one game last year for weight issues. "A year ago I questioned how important this whole thing was maybe to Paul. ... From a professional standpoint, I think this guy is starting to get it. He is starting to figure out that this isn't only a hobby," Sparano said.

Point of attack: Dolphins run blocking

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
2:15
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

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.

2008 Dolphins O-line at the point of attack
Player POA att. Yds Avg POA pct.
Jake Long, LT 105 532 5.1 88.6
Justin Smiley, LG 86 433 5.0 87.2
Andy Alleman, LG 52 167 3.2 73.1
Samson Satele, C 132 711 5.4 79.5
Ikechuku Ndukwe, RG 126 638 5.1 85.7
Vernon Carey, RT 119 646 5.4 84.9

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.

The Dolphins also addressed the biggest weakness, according to Joyner's numbers. They signed Oakland Raiders free-agent center Jake Grove and later pawned Samson Satele off on the Raiders.

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.

Sparano explains why he axed Fins O-line coach

February, 23, 2009
2/23/09
9:55
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL scouting combine provided the first chance for us to ask Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano why he decided to fire offensive line coach Mike Maser last month.

Maser was the only assistant dismissed from the staff even though he was Sparano's first hire -- two days after the Dolphins named Sparano head coach. Maser was on the Jacksonville Jaguars' staff with Sparano in 2002.

Maser oversaw a line that suffered season-ending injuries at both guard positions and helped rookie Jake Long make the Pro Bowl.

The Dolphins ranked 12th in total offense, 11th in yards per run attempt and 10th in fewest sacks allowed.

The firing seemed odd. Sparano didn't give a specific reason for removing Maser and hiring New York Giants assistant offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. But Sparano indicated communication was a significant problem and he didn't want to second-guess his gut.

"Well, to be honest with you, there's something that from my end -- and I don't want to get into it too much because I really think an awful lot of Mike and what Mike did for us -- but you have a feeling sometimes," Sparano said. "From my end, what I didn't want to do is if I have those kinds of feelings on where we need to be ... That group is a finicky group, that offensive line group.

"I think that to my end, communication-wise, I think it's important. Mike did a great job out there coaching them on the field. But I felt there needed to be a change. I moved in that direction.

"I didn't want to move in that direction a year from now and sitting here, saying 'Why didn't you do this a year ago?' I felt like this is the time to do it. We evaluate players. We evaluate coaches. My coaches know that."

(Read full post)

Dolphins unhappy with O-line development

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
9:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The Miami Dolphins, not content with their 11-5 record, have fired veteran offensive line coach Mike Maser.

Maser's next media guide entry will state he helped the Dolphins pull off one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in league history, shaped the line for an offense that set a record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season and sent running back Ronnie Brown to the Pro Bowl.

Not bad. But obviously not enough to keep his job.

Miami Herald beat writer Jeff Darlington reports New York Giants assistant offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo is the leading candidate to replace Maser. Here is DeGuglielmo's bio from Giants.com.

Two days after Tony Sparano took over as head coach, he named Maser his first assistant.

The Dolphins ranked 11th in rushing offense, averaging 118.6 yards a game. They surrendered only 26 sacks.

But as I wrote in a blog the day after the Baltimore Ravens ousted the Dolphins from the postseason, there are serious questions about a ground game many expected to be elite behind Brown and Ricky Williams.

In 11 games, Brown failed to rush for at least 60 yards. Williams failed to reach 60 yards in all but two games. Seven times, Williams ran for fewer than 30 yards.

The Dolphins had trouble locating serviceable depth and patching together their three interior linemen, especially after left guard Justin Smiley went down with a season-ending leg injury in Week 13.

Second-year center Samson Satele was one of the rare bright spots of 2007, but he turned into such a liability the anxious Dolphins signed Al Johnson off the street Nov. 29.

Sixth-round draft pick Donald Thomas surprisingly emerged from training camp as the starter at right guard but suffered a foot injury in the season opener. Even so, disappointing fourth-round pick Shawn Murphy was inactive every game.

The list of free-agent centers or guards the Dolphins signed and cut included Mike Byrne, Steve McKinney, Ruben Riley, Pedro Sosa, Trey Darilek and Evan Mathis. Matt McChesney was an in-season free agent who landed on injured reserve.

Dolphins O-line responds to criticism

September, 30, 2008
9/30/08
1:51
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

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."

Dolphins rummaging for O-linemen already

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
7:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

When the Miami Dolphins drafted G Donald Thomas in the sixth round, nobody could have imagined that playing without him would be so discouraging.

But Thomas, a raw prospect from UConn who didn't play organized football until his sophomore year and didn't start until he was a senior, won a starting job early in training camp and started Sunday's season opener against the New York Jets. But he injured his left foot during the game.

Now Thomas is done for the year, and an offensive line that gave up four sacks and produced 49 rushing yards Sunday is even weaker.

A day after waiving FB Boomer Grigsby, the Dolphins placed Thomas on injured reserve and signed former Carolina Panthers G Evan Mathis.

The Dolphins can't be thrilled with the switch. Despite Thomas' inexperience, the coaching staff was high on him. Mathis started 15 games in 2006, but the former third-round draft choice fell out of favor last year. He was inactive for 12 games and played in only one. He was among Carolina's final cuts.

Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning and line coach Mike Maser held the same roles with the Panthers while Mathis was there.

Miami also has fourth-round pick Shawn Murphy. The son of former baseball star Dale Murphy was inactive Sunday.

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