AFC East: Pat McQuistan

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
11:37
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The one major question about the Miami Dolphins the entire offseason was never sufficiently answered.

So what is the deal at quarterback, anyway?

Chad Henne was the unequivocal choice of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano at this time last year. There was boundless confidence that the team’s second-round pick in 2008 was ready to take the reins of an offense that was expected to be made more proficient by the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

The results were not pretty. On five occasions, all at home, Henne had the opportunity to win or tie a close game with a fourth-quarter scoring drive, and on all five he failed. Three of the subsequent losses were to also-rans Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland, leaving Miami with a second straight 7-9 finish.

The failures almost cost Sparano his job, as owner Stephen Ross took a run at Jim Harbaugh, and for a time it seemed Henne might be replaced when Ireland engaged in negotiations for Denver’s Kyle Orton that ultimately came up empty. When the dust settled, former Carolina Panthers QB Matt Moore had been brought in as a backup, but nothing had really changed. Henne was still the one.

The team around him does appear to have gotten better. Coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense, sixth in the league a year ago, has remarkable depth on the defensive line and is better at linebacker with the additions of Kevin Burnett and Jason Taylor. Ireland addressed a deficiency in speed at the skill positions with the acquisitions of Reggie Bush and fourth-round wideout Clyde Gates. First-round pick Mike Pouncey, a center, has brought stability to the offensive line.

But in the 12 years since Dan Marino retired, it has always come back to the quarterback. This year is no different.

Even Marshall, who at one point late last season said he was “not sure” he and Henne could coexist, had good things to say about his beleaguered quarterback, who was actually booed at one preseason practice at Sun Life Stadium.

“Chad has been amazing this summer, getting the guys together,” Marshall said. “He’s been the face of leadership.”

Sparano was even more forthcoming.

“I’ve seen more people going to Chad for answers,” he said. “You would have to envision when you’re at Indianapolis or a place like that people are going to Peyton [Manning] for the answers. Well, more people are going to Chad for the answers now, and that’s a direct reflection of what this young man has done.”

Henne and Peyton Manning in the same sentence … now that’s a stretch for even the most loyal Dolphins fan.

Five days after Sparano made those comments, Henne started the first preseason game at Atlanta and was intercepted twice in five throws while Moore, playing with and against second-teamers, was solid.

It may or may not happen, but certainly all the pieces for a year of quarterback controversy are in place.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireWill Reggie Bush be able to revitalize a stagnant running game?
1. Can Bush and rookie Daniel Thomas make people forget Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams? From 2005-10 either Brown or Williams led the Dolphins in rushing, and four of those six years they finished 1-2. Both are getting older -- Williams is 34, Brown 29 -- and the running game ranked 30th in yards per carry (3.7) and 21st in yards per game (102.7) last season. Ireland decided it was time to move on. Thomas, a second-round pick, led the Big 12 in rushing at Kansas State the past two seasons and at 6 feet and 230 pounds, he can pound the middle. Bush, who has missed 20 games to injury the past two seasons, expressed a desire to be the feature back upon his arrival but seems more likely to line up all over the field. “The lack of experience is definitely a concern,” admitted Sparano, whose stable of backs also includes unproven Kory Sheets and Lex Hilliard.

2. How will the season unfold for Marshall? The simple fact that Marshall was perceived to have a down year when he had 86 catches last season -- tied for second in franchise history behind O.J. McDuffie’s 90 in 1998 -- demonstrates how high the expectations are for the man known as “The Beast.” Marshall’s off-field problems, which included the arrest of his wife after Marshall was found stabbed at his home in April, culminated with him being diagnosed and treated for borderline personality disorder this offseason. In camp this summer, it seemed every time Marshall went out for a pass, Henne was the one throwing it. If Gates can be the home run threat Miami lacked after trading Ted Ginn Jr. last season, Marshall could benefit greatly.

3. Will new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll bring spice to a boring offense? Miami’s top two receivers last season, Marshall and Davone Bess, averaged 11.8 and 10.4 yards per catch, respectively. No wonder Henne came to be known as “Checkdown Chad.” But in the Dolphins’ first scrimmage this year, Daboll unveiled four-receiver sets and had Bush lined up everywhere from the backfield to wideout. Despite having Josh Cribbs, Daboll’s offense didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard in Cleveland, finishing 29th in total offense and 25th in yards per play. Sparano prefers the ground-and-pound, but Henne and Daboll must demonstrate they can keep up with prolific offensive units, such as New England, San Diego and Houston -- which happen to be Miami’s first three opponents.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

If a former first-round pick can qualify as a surprise, second-year defensive end Jared Odrick has earned that distinction. Odrick was lost early in the opener against Buffalo last season with a broken leg. His comeback was then stopped six weeks later by a broken ankle, ending his season. Worse, it turned out his first injury was eerily similar to one he suffered as a sophomore at Penn State, raising questions as to whether he could remain healthy enough to be counted upon. But in the early weeks of camp, Odrick was a force, as he and partner Tony McDaniel moved ahead of last season’s starters, Randy Starks and Kendall Langford, in team drills. That quartet, as well as Phillip Merling and Ryan Baker, give Miami inordinate depth at defensive end.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

After losing Justin Smiley to chronic shoulder injuries, the Dolphins had a vacancy at right guard in 2010 and drafted John Jerry out of Mississippi in the third round. Jerry, the younger brother of Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry, got 10 starts but struggled to beat out journeyman Pat McQuistan. When Miami selected Pouncey in the first round of this year's draft, Richie Incognito, who played both guard spots at times last season, was put on the left side and John Jerry was given the opportunity to win the right guard spot. After seeing unsatisfactory results in the first two weeks of camp, Sparano moved Vernon Carey over from right tackle and brought in free-agent Marc Colombo, who had been let go by Dallas.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeClyde Gates
    Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins hope that pick Clyde Gates will be able to stretch the field like Ted Ginn Jr. did.
    Two relatively obscure rookies provided two of the more intriguing storylines of training camp. Gates, of Abilene Christian, whose father was released from prison last fall after serving a lengthy sentence for first-degree murder, was one. Seventh-rounder Jimmy Wilson of Montana, who spent 26 months in jail before being acquitted of a first-degree murder charge, was the other. Gates, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 at the combine despite nursing a sore groin, provides needed speed at wide receiver, and Wilson is a big hitter and ball hawk in the secondary.
  • While first-round pick Pouncey was drawing favorable comparisons to his Steelers All-Pro twin brother, Maurkice, for his blocking and intelligence, his struggles snapping the ball were an ongoing concern as camp progressed. Mike Pouncey, who moved to center as a senior at Florida after his brother left early, had some nightmarish games on shotgun snaps with the Gators and clearly doesn’t have the technique down yet.
  • Marshall isn’t known for being shy around a microphone, but he wasn’t in a talkative mood the first three weeks of camp. He spoke only once, to reveal his diagnosis for borderline personality disorder, and took only a handful of questions. Of course, Marshall was in the middle of the Henne soap opera last season, so there was speculation he didn’t want to stir up the water this year as he continues to undergo treatment for his disorder.
  • The only real battle for a starting job in camp has been at free safety. Third-year man Chris Clemons, last season's starter, was trying to hold off Reshad Jones, who made a favorable impression in limited opportunities as a rookie in 2010. Jones had a sack and an interception against Tennessee in one of his two starts and seems to be more of a playmaker.
  • The biggest mystery in camp surrounded the status of Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long, who was put on the physically unable to perform list early and did not work at all the first three weeks. Sparano said Long’s injury did not involve his knee, which along with his shoulder required surgery after last season.

Long gets slight edge over Thomas here

June, 14, 2011
6/14/11
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Jake Long or Joe Thomas?

It's like deciding between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They're both elite. You can't go wrong with either pick.

But when you belong to ESPN.com's prestigious Power Rankings syndicate, you have to make tough choices.

In this week's left tackle poll, Thomas edged Long by one point. Long was listed first or second on each of the eight division bloggers' ballots. Three of them, including me, placed Long on top. Thomas received one third-place vote, but amassed five first-place votes to come out ahead.

The ballot I submitted:
  1. Jake Long, Dolphins
  2. Joe Thomas, Browns
  3. Jordan Gross, Panthers
  4. Michael Roos, Titans
  5. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets
  6. Ryan Clady, Broncos
  7. Chad Clifton, Packers
  8. Donald Penn, Buccaneers
  9. Doug Free, Cowboys
  10. Andrew Whitworth, Bengals

Choosing between Long and Thomas is splitting hairs. They've been selected for the Pro Bowl every season in the NFL and are the reigning first-team All-Pros. Thomas was the third overall draft pick in 2007, Long the top choice in 2008.

But I gave Long the edge because of the circumstances he has dealt with in Miami.

Thomas has benefited from playing alongside reliable and steady left guard Eric Steinbach all four years. Steinbach has started 62 of a possible 64 games. For the past two seasons, first-round pick Alex Mack has shined, going to a Pro Bowl last year.

Long has had no such luxuries. He has played next to five left guards in his three seasons: Justin Smiley, Andy Alleman, Nate Garner, Richie Incognito and Pat McQuistan.

The Dolphins have been just as dicey at center. They should have their fourth different opening day starter in four years after drafting Florida center Mike Pouncey. They've used five centers the past three seasons.

Long also played at an All-Pro level last season despite a shoulder injury that had some wondering if he should shut it down.

New England Patriots fans might be wondering why I didn't include Matt Light on my ballot. While he did go to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year, Stats Inc. blamed him for 10 sacks for 78 yards in losses and four penalties -- all more than his previous two seasons combined.

Buffalo's O more productive than Miami's

October, 25, 2010
10/25/10
11:17
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Compare the offenses of the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.

If you were putting a unit together, how many Bills -- position for position -- would you select ahead of Dolphins?

The Dolphins have what appear to be franchise players all over the place: quarterback Chad Henne, receivers Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey.

A lot of those players were on fantasy rosters this weekend. I doubt there were many Bills active in your league.

But the winless Bills have put together a vibrant offense that has been unnoticed by a lot of people outside Western New York. They nearly shocked the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday before falling in overtime 37-34.

The Bills can't win because their defense is terrible, but their offense has scored 10 more points than the Dolphins have.

Buffalo has 121 points through six games, not exactly the 2001 St. Louis Rams but more points than three clubs that have played seven games. More impressively, the Bills started with just 17 points over their first two games.

Since Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Trent Edwards at quarterback in Week 3, the Bills are averaging a reasonable 24 points a game and have scored at least 30 points in two of their past four games.

Hey, it's a start, and Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning should be envious.

The Dolphins haven't posted more than 23 points in any game because they can't score touchdowns and settle for field goals far too often. They kicked five field goals in a 23-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Competition has been similar between the Bills and Dolphins. They've played three common opponents and each other.

The Bills' different opponents have been the Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Dolphins have played the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.

The average defensive ranking for Buffalo's opponents is 17.5 compared to 15.7 for Miami's opponents.

Miami Dolphins cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
6:41
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Check here for a full list of roster moves.

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins' decision to release tight end David Martin isn't surprising on account of his ability, but because of the depth chart. Joey Haynos is out with a foot injury, leaving incumbent starter Anthony Fasano and the unconvincing John Nalbone. The Dolphins also cut guard Donald Thomas, who was good enough to be their opening-day starter as a rookie in 2008 and again last year. Thomas played all 16 games last year and started 12. But the Dolphins have been trying to find the correct combination for the interior offensive line since Bill Parcells arrived at the end of the 2007 season. They signed free agents Richie Incognito and Cory Procter, drafted John Jerry in the third round and just traded for Pat McQuistan from the Dallas Cowboys. Thomas couldn't beat out any of them.

No-brainers: Based on 2008 draft status, it's notable that the Dolphins already have given up on quarterback Pat White (second round) and receiver Patrick Turner (third round). But they didn't belong. Neither of them ever showed they belonged in the NFL. White was drafted to enhance the Wildcat package, but he couldn't throw. Turner was deactivated for all but two games last year and was outplayed by undrafted rookies this summer.

What's next: Miami has no glaring needs, but they could stand to improve at a number of positions. General manager Jeff Ireland will be scavenging for what he call "acorns" that have fallen out of other teams' trees. Areas to look at will be the pass rush and, as always, interior O-line.

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