AFC East: Phillip Merling

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
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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.
I am enamored with the Miami Dolphins' defense this year. It is talented, productive and deep. And the entire unit is going to benefit greatly from the front three.

Like with any odd front, we need to start with the nose tackle. He is rarely mentioned among the best anchors in the NFL, but Paul Soliai deserves to be. A taller version of guys like Vince Wilfork and Casey Hampton, Soliai is a huge man. And he knows how to use his extreme girth to occupy offensive linemen and hold the point of attack against the run.

[+] EnlargePaul Soliai
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeNose tackle Paul Soliai is the often-overlooked anchor of a strong Miami defensive line.
He is exactly what you want at the position and the type of player who allows everyone around him to do their jobs more easily. Miami was wise to use its franchise tag on Soliai before free agency opened. He is someone the Dolphins could not afford to lose.

Ronald Fields was recently signed as a backup for Soliai. There would be a noticeable drop-off if Soliai were to miss time, but Fields is built for the position and does have starting experience. He is purely a run-stuffer, but the depth he provides is valuable.

Much like Soliai at the nose, Randy Starks is rarely mentioned when discussing the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league. He too deserves to be in that conversation. A power player who also has strong movement skills, Starks is a force against the run or pass. He has played some nose tackle in the past, but is much better suited at end. Starks is a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive lineman.

Kendall Langford will start at the other defensive end spot. He too had an exceptional 2010 campaign. Like the rest of this group, he is more or less the prototype at the position, but I see Langford as a little quicker and more athletic than Starks. He has slightly superior movement skills, but isn’t quite the power player Starks can be. Langford is the real deal, and he might only be getting better.

Last year’s first-round pick, Jared Odrick, also will be in the mix this season. Coming out of Penn State, Odrick looked ideal for this defense. He is well built with long arms and uses his hands to control his opponent very well for such a young player. Odrick is obviously quite talented, and with the wealth of options the Dolphins have up front, the team should be able to bring him along at his own pace instead of forcing him in when he isn’t ready.

The Dolphins were smart to re-sign Tony McDaniel. Like the rest of this line, the re-signing went largely unnoticed, but McDaniel is hitting his prime. He is a tall defensive end with a great wing span. McDaniel played very well for Miami last season and is about as good of a depth defensive lineman as you will find in the league today.

The odd man out, especially after McDaniels’ re-signing, could be Phillip Merling. As it stands today, the 26-year-old Merling probably will make the team, but injuries have plagued him and he might be a better fit as a more traditional base end in a 4-3 scheme. This is a pivotal year in Merling’s career, but as you can see from the above descriptions, getting playing time might not come easy for this former second-round pick.

The Dolphins added Jason Taylor to spell Koa Misi and Cameron Wake, while also providing great leadership. As pass-rushers, these outside linebackers should benefit greatly from all the attention Miami’s defensive line is sure to attract.

Behind this line, Miami added Kevin Burnett to start opposite Karlos Dansby at linebacker. Burnett replaces Channing Crowder and is a major upgrade in athleticism and versatility. Crowder is the better take-on linebacker, but Burnett is more like Dansby. Because of the exceptional defensive line in front of them, this is a great move, as it will allow these inside linebackers to get to the football more freely and will give the defense many more options on passing downs.

Burnett is also much better equipped to handle the variety of receiving threats that New England will throw at the Dolphins. Crowder simply isn’t equipped to keep up with guys like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead in coverage.

Miami’s defensive line is what makes this all possible.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.

Dolphins D cursed by dropped interceptions

March, 15, 2011
3/15/11
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Monday on the AFC East blog, dropped interceptions were a hot topic.

Today, I want to broach a totally different subject: dropped interceptions.

Sean Smith
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesMiami's Sean Smith tied for the league lead with five dropped interceptions last season.
We already know New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw the most passes defenders dropped.

But which defender dropped the most? He's from the AFC East, too.

Football Outsiders research shows Miami Dolphins right cornerback Sean Smith tied for the league lead with five dropped interceptions last year even though he didn't re-assume his starting role until Week 9.

Smith's proxy, Jason Allen, also dropped two, giving the Dolphins seven at that position alone.

The NFL average for an entire defense was 6.3 dropped interceptions last season. The Dolphins had 19 of them. The Green Bay Packers were next with 14.

Dolphins free safety Chris Clemons dropped three interceptions, tying him for sixth in the league. Cornerback Benny Sapp dropped two. Defensive ends Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford, outside linebacker Koa Misi, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Nolan Carroll and safeties Reshad Jones and Tyrone Culver had one apiece.

The Dolphins actually snagged 11 interceptions. Only three teams recorded fewer.

Think defensive coordinator Mike Nolan tore out his hair much?

The other three AFC East teams combined didn't have nearly as many dropped interceptions as the Dolphins did.

In fact, the rest of the AFC East had just as many as Smith, Allen, Clemons and Sapp alone.

The Jets and Buffalo Bills each had five dropped interceptions. Strong safety Donte Whitner was the only defender on either team with two. Bills cornerback Drayton Florence didn't have any drops one season after leading the league with five.

The New England Patriots were incredibly fortuitous when it came to interceptions. They had 25 picks, but dropped only two: inside linebacker Jerod Mayo and cornerback Darius Butler.

Stout D-line keys Dolphins' defense

February, 17, 2011
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When analyzing the Dolphins’ impressive defense, it would be easy to overlook the contributions of the defensive line. That would be a huge mistake. And Miami’s front three has an excellent chance of being even better next season.

Randy Starks is the best player on this line. He has filled in at nose tackle, but I think he can be one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league. Few realize just how good Starks is, especially as a pass-rusher. He is powerful, agile and can line up effectively at several different spots along a defensive front.

[+] EnlargePaul Soliai
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeNose tackle Paul Soliai is a pending free agent.
But Starks isn’t the only defensive end of prominence for the Dolphins. In fact, this is very much a position of strength for Miami. A year ago, the Dolphins used their first-round pick on Jared Odrick, a player whose skill set fits perfectly in Miami’s scheme. A broken leg derailed his rookie season, but that year spent learning the system and being in a professional environment could pay off in 2011. Odrick played defensive tackle in a 4-3 at Penn State; Miami can bring him along slowly in its scheme. He should be a part of an excellent rotation with Starks, Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling, who also was unable to help Miami’s cause during the first few months of the season because of an Achilles injury. Langford is quite a good player in his own right and has progressed very nicely at the NFL level. He has the long body type you look for at end and blends the ability to pressure the passer with the ability to hold the point of attack. Tony McDaniel was also a very pleasant surprise and should have earned himself a permanent role even with everyone healthy.

Nose tackle is obviously an extremely important position in a 3-4 scheme, and Paul Soliai is up for free agency. Soliai is a massive human being and exactly what you are looking for on the nose from a run-stuffing perspective. Miami needs to get him locked up, and I wouldn’t object to using the franchise tag to keep Soliai. In a pinch, Starks could handle this role again -- and probably will get some snaps there either way in their different packages -- but Soliai would be a major loss. Drafting a nose tackle in the middle rounds might also be a good idea even if Soliai does return.

Miami’s defense is one good free safety away from being one of the elite units in 2011. The Dolphins already were one of the best defenses against the run and at rushing the passer. The defensive line is a major reason why.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Inactive list intrigue for AFC East games

December, 5, 2010
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There are some notable inactives to report for Sunday's games involving AFC East teams.

For their must-win game against the Cleveland Browns in Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins have scratched receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Al Harris.

The absences of Crowder and Harris might be more significant than Marshall. The Dolphins won without him last week in Oakland, and quarterback Chad Henne played one of his best games.

Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling is back from his Achilles injury and active for the first time this year.

For the Buffalo Bills' game at the Metrodome, guard Eric Wood, tight end Shawn Nelson and cornerback Terrence McGee are out, as expected.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will play, but receivers Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are out. So is right guard Steve Hutchinson. That might help Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams add to his sack total.

As NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert notes, the Vikings have just three receivers: Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo. Rookie quarterback Joe Webb could see some action as a target.

Edwards from starter to gone in a week

September, 27, 2010
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Eight days ago, Trent Edwards was good enough to be the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback.

Edwards
Edwards
Twenty-four hours ago, he was good enough to be their No. 2 quarterback.

Now he's unemployed.

A week after they demoted Edwards and gave the job to Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills released Edwards, the player his teammates voted a captain and the quarterback head coach Chan Gailey deemed his best after six months of evaluation that included scores of practices, countless meetings and four preseason games.

Along the way, Gailey deprived his remaining quarterback of precious reps.

Unless there's something sinister going on with Edwards behind the scenes, this makes absolutely no sense and comes off as a bush-league maneuver.

I get that Bills fans have tired of Edwards and most probably are applauding the transaction.

But the decision reflects poorly on the organization. Again, unless there's more to the story, it looks like either general manager Buddy Nix and Gailey -- the men dispirited Bills fans are desperate to believe in -- thoroughly bungled the most important position on the field, or impetuous owner Ralph Wilson ordered them to dump an experienced NFL quarterback.

All of it is illogical on so many levels.

There has been no news of an arrest, so we can strike that outlandish possibility. Edwards said all the right things last Wednesday when reporters asked him about the switch. Edwards didn't badmouth the team. He handled the move with class.

Look around the league and you'll find players being kept around despite dreadful behavior. Braylon Edwards, Albert Haynesworth, Phillip Merling. Trent Edwards wasn't going to be a distraction.

Had there been any problems with Edwards, the Bills wouldn't have deactivated third-string quarterback Brian Brohm for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots. Had the Bills needed a reliever for Fitzpatrick, Edwards would have taken the field.

Now he's not good enough to be on the roster?

At best, this was a cost-cutting move. Edwards hit an escalator in his contract that would have paid him a base salary of $1.65 million. That's not obscene for a backup quarterback. Fitzpatrick's base salary this year is about $2.36 million.

What a waste of time.

AFC East wire: Henne stars for Dolphins

August, 22, 2010
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Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 13

DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins might be the best NFL team people don't notice.

They're often overlooked in the AFC East. The New England Patriots have at least tied for the division's best record in nine straight seasons, and the big-talking New York Jets, coming off an appearance in the conference title game, are a fashionable Super Bowl pick.

Miami shouldn't be discounted.

Head coach Tony Sparano, who dropped 55 pounds in the offseason, wants his players to be hungry. The theme of training camp is "Feed the Wolf," a slogan he put on T-shirts in response to the Dolphins sliding from 11-5 and a division championship to a losing record last year.

"I had a meeting with the group and kind of got into them a little bit during practice about 7-9 not being good enough and how this football team shouldn’t be fat," Sparano explained. "They should be starving.

"One of the things that we talk about is feeding the wolf with little successes every day. ... We feed the wolf when we do something good, and that's what our guys understand. Small successes will lead to bigger successes down the way."

So when it comes to the AFC East race, dare we call Miami a sheep in wolf's silk-screened clothing?

THREE HOT ISSUES

Brandon Marshall
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Dolphins hope the addition of Brandon Marshall can improve the passing game.
1. What will the Chad Henne-to-Brandon Marshall connection mean to the offense? The Dolphins have been all about the ground game since Bill Parcells and Sparano took over in 2008. Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, rugged offensive line, the Wildcat, possession receivers ... Run, run, run.

Last year, the Dolphins ranked fourth in run offense and 20th in pass offense. Henne threw the fewest touchdown passes of any quarterback with at least 400 attempts. Just five of those touchdowns went to wide receivers.

Marshall's arrival can change that dramatically. While the Dolphins will continue to rely on their ground game, Henne now has a go-to target on third-and-critical or in the red zone. Marshall's amazing talents are on display every day at camp. He has sensational hands, outleaps helpless defenders and can snatch any ball remotely in his area.

Don't expect Marshall to extend his streak to four seasons of at least 100 receptions, but his presence gives Henne the kind of target who opens up all sorts of possibilities the Dolphins haven't had in years.

2. Will unproven outside linebackers provide enough of a pass rush with Joey Porter and Jason Taylor out the door? The Dolphins' 44 sacks last season tied for third in the NFL. But four of their top six contributors, totaling 28 sacks, either are no longer on the team (Porter and Taylor), playing a new position (Randy Starks) or out for year (Phillip Merling).

The Dolphins are counting on Cameron Wake and rookie Koa Misi, a pair of tantalizing-but-unverified pass-rushers, to handle most of the workload. Starks has the most sacks of any returning player with seven. But he has been moved to nose tackle, a position where Pro Bowlers record one or two sacks a year.

Wake's 5.5 sacks were next on the list. By the looks of his performances in camp, he'll be a force on passing downs even if he can't stop the run as effectively as the Dolphins would prefer. Misi, a second-round draft choice, has handled first-team reps with aplomb.

Richie Incognito
Doug Murray/Icon SMIFree agent Richie Incognito is one of the players battling for a starting spot on the offensive line.
3. What will the interior offensive line look like? The Dolphins should have the makings of a nasty offensive line, but the inner three positions aren't solidified.

The Dolphins have had trouble settling on a center. Two years ago, they signed free agent Jake Grove and traded away Samson Satele. Now Grove is alternating first-team reps with Joe Berger for a spot that's up for grabs.

At guard, incumbent Donald Thomas, third-round draft choice John Jerry and free-agent signee Richie Incognito are fighting -- in Incognito's case, literally -- for jobs.

Sparano, an O-line aficionado at his core, wants his center and guards to be more than maulers in the run game. They must be better pass protectors.

"People think the left tackle's the only guy that [pass blocks on an island]," Sparano said. "But that's not true when you're turning the protection away from one of them. So to identify who can really handle those one-on-one battles is going to be important for us. That to me is what has to get better."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ikaika Alama-Francis wasn't good enough to stick with the 0-16 Detroit Lions. He was their second-round draft choice in 2007, but they cut the young defensive end after two seasons. He was on the street for two months before the Dolphins signed him in November. Alama-Francis was a healthy scratch for all six games he was on the roster and an afterthought heading into the offseason.

But with three workouts left until the Dolphins broke for the summer, they switched him to outside linebacker. Alama-Francis weighed 290 when he joined the Dolphins in November. He's an explosive 275 now.

"He looks like a linebacker out there, moving around right now," Sparano said. "He's a handful in the rush. He sets the edge of the defense pretty well, strong guy and very, very smart. I like what he's done."

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Quarterback Pat White hasn't shown any obvious signs of development to contradict the general belief Miami wasted a second-round draft pick on him last year. White missed the first day of training camp because of unexplained personal reasons. One report, quoting a family member, suggested White wouldn't play this year. He arrived the next day, but he hasn't shown much.

White has gotten limited reps, buried behind Henne, Chad Pennington and Tyler Thigpen. When given the opportunity, White's passes are scattershot, albeit more accurate than last year.

Merling would have been the easy choice here had he made it to training camp. Before he could get there, he was charged with felony assault of his pregnant girlfriend and suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.

Patrick Turner
Steve Mitchell/US PresswirePatrick Turner has had his ups and downs during training camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • You can't comprehend the size of some players until you see them in person. Marshall and Karlos Dansby are two of those guys. We can lose perspective when we're inundated with athlete heights and weights that are often fudged, but Marshall (6-4, 230) and Dansby (6-4, 250) are monstrous for their positions.
  • Starks' transition from defensive end to nose tackle has been interesting. He's small for the job at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, but his speed and athleticism have created problems for the Dolphins' O-line.
  • Second-year receiver Patrick Turner is having an erratic summer. When I first laid eyes on him at rookie camp in 2009, I immediately was struck with how great his hands were. Turner made catching a football seem so effortless. He has been plagued by drops throughout this training camp, and when he does make a catch his teammates sound overly encouraging -- "Way to go, Pat!" -- to keep his confidence up. Turner was inactive for 14 games last year because he has no special-teams value. If the Dolphins can't trust him as a receiver, he'll have a hard time getting on the field.
  • Free safety Chris Clemons, a fifth-round draft choice last year, has looked like he belongs. The position was viewed as a question mark when the Dolphins axed Gibril Wilson, but Clemons has had some bright moments.
  • I'd be shocked if any star has signed more autographs in training camp than Marshall. After every open session, he slowly walks along the fence and puts his signature on every piece of memorabilia or scrap of paper thrust in front of him. Maybe he's doing his penance for past misdeeds, but Dolfans have no reason but to love him so far.
  • Tough break for running back Kory Sheets, who suffered a season-ending right Achilles injury while returning a kickoff Wednesday. He had a nice shot to make the roster and made one of the most eye-popping plays I saw during my stay. On Monday night, he exploded through the offensive line and got into the second level with such speed, his teammates reflexively screamed "Whooooo!"
  • Veteran cornerback Will Allen, rebounding from a knee injury, has been the team's nickelback. The Dolphins want sophomores Vontae Davis and Sean Smith to stay on the field. Although Allen would be a quality contributor, his contract could put him on the bubble. He has two years left on his contract with base salaries that total $10.7 million.
  • Two years ago, Greg Camarillo was the Dolphins' best receiver. Now he looks like the fourth receiver behind Marshall, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. That's a nice problem for Miami to have.
  • Like the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins aren't fooling around with extra legs in camp. They know Dan Carpenter will be their kicker and Brandon Fields will be their punter and aren't bothering to push them.
  • Just talking out loud here because I realize frustrating receiver Ted Ginn had to go, but what if the Dolphins still had his speed to stretch the field with Marshall? That would have been a challenge for opposing defenses.

Dolphins pointing at Spears for Merling?

July, 23, 2010
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In light of defensive end Phillip Merling's felony assault charge quickly followed by a season-ending Achilles injury, the Miami Dolphins reportedly have interest in prying defensive end Marcus Spears away from the Dallas Cowboys.

Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero, noting Spears was Bill Parcells' first-round draft pick in 2005 for Dallas, wrote the Dolphins could go after Spears before the end of training camp.

NFC East overlord Matt Mosley notes Spears has a close bond with Dolphins defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, a former Cowboys assistant.

Mosley suggests Spears could be had for as little as a fourth- or fifth-round draft choice. The Cowboys tendered Spears at a lower amount than they're paying backups Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen, prompting trade whispers throughout the offseason.

Spears had 50 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. He had 16 quarterback pressures, ranking an uninspiring sixth for Dallas.

But ESPNDallas.com reporter Calvin Watkins writes if the Dolphins are interested, then they haven't expressed that sentiment to the Cowboys yet.

Watkins, citing an unnamed source close to the Dolphins, reports they haven't contacted the Cowboys about any of their defensive ends.

AFC East wire: Year to forget for Merling

July, 23, 2010
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Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Merling charge another Dolphins problem

July, 19, 2010
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The Miami Dolphins' already-distressed offseason became a little more trying with the news the Broward County state attorney's office filed felony charges for aggravated battery against defensive lineman Phillip Merling on Friday.

Palm Beach Post writer Ben Volin reported the development Monday. Merling's pregnant girlfriend claimed he hit her "about five times" in the face. Merling, the 32nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds.

To illustrate how the Dolphins' offseason has gone, look no further than the club's four most recent news links on NFL.com. All pertain to arrests, suspicious behavior or a player suspended half the season for violating the league's drug policy.

"Dolphins DE Merling officially charged with felony battery"

"Dolphins' Ferguson calls it a career"

"Lawyer: DUI won't keep Brown away from Dolphins"

"Car registered to Dolphins' Hartline abandoned after crash"

Players acutely aware of 'Madden' scores

June, 8, 2010
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Every time I write an item about ratings for the "Madden" video game, I receive responses from readers who just don't understand the phenomenon.

"Madden" has become an NFL institution. Back in the day, athletes used to know they made it when they saw themselves on a trading card and would compare them over the years. Now they eagerly await their video-game ratings.

On Monday's edition of "NFL Live," host Suzy Kolber asked studio analysts Tedy Bruschi and Eric Allen how much "Madden" scores matter among the players.

Allen mentioned he played on teams that gave out championship belts.

"It was a big deal to win the Madden challenge at the end of training camp," Allen said.

Bruschi said Madden carried "a lot of weight, especially the younger [players]" with the New England Patriots.

"I remember plenty of locker-room conversations where guys are talking about their speed ratings, their strength ratings," Bruschi said.

"But I'll tell you what's most important: Your awareness rating. If you've got a 60 or a 65 awareness, you need to get yourself in the film room because even Madden sees it."

EA Sports, maker of the "Madden" franchise, is leaking ratings for teams, star players and top rookies here and there, but a complete list of individual player scores hasn't been released. "Madden NFL 11" comes out in August.

Since Bruschi brought it up, here are some of the notable AFC East veterans (rookies and players who haven't seen much action are skewed much lower) who had weak awareness ratings in "Madden NFL 10" last year.

Recapping busy AFC East offseason day

May, 27, 2010
5/27/10
10:51
PM ET
A nighttime collection of goings on from Thursday, with all four AFC East clubs active either on the practice field, in the front office or the holding center.

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots

New York Jets

Dolphins bolster D-line with Jared Odrick

April, 22, 2010
4/22/10
10:48
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[+] EnlargeJared Odrick
Fernando Medina/US PresswireThe Dolphins drafted Penn State's Jared Odrick to add depth on the defensive line.
The Miami Dolphins traded out of the No. 12 slot, acquiring a package from the San Diego Chargers that gave them their first pick at 28th Thursday night. The Dolphins picked up Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick.

Why the Dolphins took him: Odrick was one of the top four defensive tackles in the draft. He is a strong run defender who can occupy multiple blockers with better technique and be a disruptive force in the running lanes.

How Odrick fits: He is projected more as a five-technique defensive tackle than a nose tackle. Unless the Dolphins have a different idea, he will compete with defensive ends Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford for snaps.

Scouts Inc. says: Stout and shows good strength at the point of attack. Extremely competitive and works hard to fight through blocks. However has some problems holding ground against double teams. ... Fires off the ball and strong initial surge. Heavy hands and can stack blockers up in one-on-one battles. However, mechanical at times and needs to do a better job of wading through traffic in pursuit. ... Quick first step in pass rush and flashes the ability to penetrate but lacks ideal closing speed and can be a step late getting to the quarterback as a result. Struggles to counter once engaged.

video

Around the AFC East: Seau considering comeback

July, 7, 2009
7/07/09
10:31
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Buffalo Bills

  • Buffalo Rumblings continues its series of the 10 Bills who will have the biggest impact on the 2009 season with No. 6, Leodis McKelvin
Miami Dolphins
  • With Vonnie Holliday gone, Phillip Merling will have every opportunity to start if he can be productive.
  • New Dolphins CEO Mike Dee talked with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Sarah Talalay about team management's philosophy and some of the challenges facing the organization.
  • The Sun-Sentinel's Dave Hyde says the way the Cardinals handled contract negotiations with Kurt Warner should be the model for how the Dolphins proceed with Chad Pennington.
New England Patriots
  • Junior Seau told a San Diego radio station on Monday that he'll consider coming back for his 20th NFL season at the end of October or November.
New York Jets

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