NFL Nation: Dan Carpenter

After a flurry of activity last week, the Buffalo Bills were quiet on the free-agent front this weekend.

That gives us a chance to take a step back and assess what the team has done thus far. It's still early in the process -- the free-agent signing period began less than a week ago -- but the following is our early read on the Bills' moves.

Let's rank them, best to worst:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaSigning Brandon Spikes should shore up the Bills' run defense.
1. Signing Brandon Spikes: This is the player Bills fans wanted in Buffalo. Spikes adds toughness and physicality to a run defense that struggled at times last season. The Bills wanted to free up Kiko Alonso to make more plays, so they moved Alonso to the weak side and signed Spikes to take on more blockers at the line of scrimmage. Spikes can handle that load, and he'll have help in front of him from a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles: Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Spikes got a one-year, $3.25 million deal that can reach $3.5 million with incentives. The contract is incentive enough for Spikes; he'll be in a "prove-it" situation that could allow him to have greater value on the open market next offseason with a strong season in Buffalo.

2. Signing Corey Graham: The Bills may have overpaid a little here, but that's OK. Even if Graham doesn't slide into a starting spot, he figures to play the majority of defensive snaps. Cornerback play is as important as ever in the NFL, especially at the depth levels. If opposing offenses spread the field, Graham will be an asset in the slot or on the outside. Signing Graham also helps the Bills avoid a situation like early last season, when injuries forced Justin Rogers into the starting lineup. That wasn't a good fit for Rogers, but paying Graham $4 million per season is insurance against that happening again. Graham also adds value on special teams, where the Bills had issues last season.

3. Signing Keith Rivers: Of the Bills' moves thus far, this one may have flown under the radar the most, yet Rivers could have a significant role in the Bills' new defense. Since Spikes is a weaker player against the pass, Rivers will likely be part of sub packages on passing downs. He'll need to show off some athleticism that the New York Giants didn't see in him, as they turned to Jacquian Williams in that role instead. Overall, Rivers is expected to have a bigger role than he had in New York, which is where the Bills are gambling a bit. Still, it's a low-risk, high-upside signing, as the Bills signed Rivers for $5 million over the next two seasons. Their best move is to supplement the position in the draft.

4. Re-signing Dan Carpenter: The Bills got Carpenter back at an affordable price, paying him an average of $2.49 million over the next four seasons. If Carpenter keeps up his pace from last season -- when he didn't miss a kick after the first quarter -- he'll continue to be a quality find by the Bills' front office. Then again, if Dustin Hopkins is eventually waived and performs just as well elsewhere for a lesser price, the move to go with Carpenter won't look quite as good. Carpenter still needs to improve on his kickoffs, but he wasn't phased by the Buffalo weather on his field goals last season.

5. Signing Chris Williams: The Bills had a need at left guard. Was Chris Williams the best option available? Possibly. But why sign him to a deal with $5 million in guaranteed money? As much as general manager Doug Whaley disagrees with the term here, Williams was a bust with the Chicago Bears. Yes, he's still in the league -- but his play was shaky last season for the St. Louis Rams, and now the Bills are banking on him as their starting left guard. It's not going to crush the salary cap or doom the team if Williams flops, but it's just an odd move. Why not limit your contract offer to a one-year, "prove-it" deal and make Williams fight for a starting job?

Note: Financial terms for tight end Scott Chandler and running back Anthony Dixon are not yet available, so we'll hold them out of the ranking for now.
With the free-agent signing period set to open Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley said talks are "status quo" with safety Jairus Byrd.

Byrd
"Lines of communication are open," Whaley told WGR 550 on Tuesday afternoon. "We still have until 4 where we're the exclusive negotiating people. But we'll see how that goes. The clock's ticking."

Byrd is seeking a deal worth at least $9 million per season, according to ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker. The three-time Pro Bowl safety has been linked to talks with the St. Louis Rams and Dolphins, among other teams, during the open negotiating period that began Saturday.

Meanwhile, Whaley said the Bills have been aggressive in trying to retain two of their other free agents: tight end Scott Chandler and kicker Dan Carpenter.

"They have some offers on the table," Whaley said. "We're just waiting to hear back from them."

Yahoo! Sports' Rand Getlin reported Tuesday that Carpenter was flying from South Florida to Buffalo.

Whaley also said the Bills have extended contract offers to defensive lineman Alex Carrington and linebacker Arthur Moats.

"We're waiting to hear back from those guys," he said. "Hopefully we hear back before 4 p.m."

Laying out options for Bills at kicker

February, 24, 2014
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Earlier Monday, we continued our "pricing the market" series with kicker Dan Carpenter, comparing his statistics to those of similar free-agent kickers last offseason.

The point of the exercise is to determine a fair-market value for Carpenter's services. Teams and agents will often pore over contracts from the prior year's free-agent period, finding the closest match to the player and using that data in negotiations.

There are other factors involved, however. In this case, the Bills have some leverage in any talks with Carpenter. They used a sixth-round draft choice last April on Dustin Hopkins, who beat out veteran Rian Lindell for the kicking job in training camp.

In early September, Hopkins' season was ended by a nagging groin injury. Along came Carpenter, a sixth-year veteran who had a career season in Buffalo. He was perfect on field goals in the second quarter or later and connected on 4 of 6 kicks from 50 yards or longer.

After bouncing around several teams last summer, Carpenter now has re-established himself as an NFL kicker. Barring an injury or a significant slide in his performance, he'll have a job next season. But will it be in Buffalo?

That all depends on how the Bills handle the next few weeks. Here are their options:

Assign Carpenter the franchise tag: This would be the most aggressive option on the Bills' part, and also the most unlikely. While the NFL has yet to release its franchise tag amounts, a kicker is expected to cost a guaranteed one-year salary of $3.4 million. Even though the Bills have the cap space to pull it off, that's a steep price tag for a specialist, especially when the Bills have a viable replacement (Hopkins) already on their roster.

Re-sign Carpenter and create competition: This would be the most ideal scenario for the Bills, but it could be hard to pull off. Keeping both Carpenter and Hopkins on the roster into training camp would provide them with options at kicker based on how both players perform in the preseason. However, it could be hard to convince Carpenter to return under those circumstances. If all of his contract offers were relatively equal, Carpenter would likely choose the team that offers him greater job security (i.e. no young kicker as competition). Assigning Carpenter with the franchise tag, on the other hand, would ensure competition at kicker but also bring a greater cost than a deal on the open market.

Let Carpenter walk: This would be the most cost-effective option for the Bills. If they feel comfortable with Hopkins as their "lead" kicker entering training camp, this could be the way they go. Hopkins will cost just $523,000 against the salary cap this season. The Bills could then sign an undrafted free-agent kicker (at a minimum salary) and call it a day. They would be losing Carpenter, who could prove to be a quality kicker, but this approach would show a level of financial discipline from the team.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season, SI.com’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.
videoMIAMI -- When Buffalo Bills kicker Dan Carpenter trotted onto the Sun Life Stadium field to attempt a second-quarter field goal Sunday, he was greeted by boos from his former home crowd.

Carpenter is the most accurate kicker in Dolphins history, completing 81.9 of his field goals from 2008-12. But it was two big misses last season -- leading to Miami losses to the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals -- that cost him the confidence of fans and ultimately his team.

Oddly enough, it was the Jets and Cardinals who picked up Carpenter for brief stints following his release this summer. The Bills later signed him to replace an injured Dustin Hopkins prior to the season opener.

Carpenter nailed a 31-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining Sunday, giving the Bills a 23-21 lead and silencing those who had jeered him.

"I think Dan is well respected," Marrone said. "He had a great career here. I don't think anyone needs any extra motivation in this league to come back and kind of say 'Hey, I told you so.' But I guarantee you this: knowing Dan, he's a whole lot happier that our team won than he is anything else."

Marrone couldn't have been be more right.

"There was nothing special about it," Carpenter said of his return to Miami. "I have no hard feelings with what happened with the Dolphins. I'm glad to be in Buffalo right now and doing anything I can to help this team win."

The story was different for quarterback Thad Lewis, who made his second consecutive start with the Bills on Sunday. Lewis grew up a few miles from Sun Life Stadium in Opa-Locka, Fla. and drew extra motivation from playing in his old back yard.

"I kept telling him to calm down and relax," Marrone said. "He was all fired up. So immediately, my antennas go up and I say, 'Hey, just because you came home doesn't mean you got to go off the deep end on me.' He said, 'No coach, I'm fine.' And he calmed down."

The problem for Lewis was that his play on the field also calmed down from his impressive start last week in Cincinnati. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 202 yards, but was intercepted once, sacked four times, and forced to pull out big plays in third-and-long situations.

"We made some big third downs," Marrone said. "As we progressed through the game we made some plays. We really weren't in sync like we should be."

At one point in the third quarter, Lewis was drilled by Dolphins Jelani Jenkins after a completed third-and-11 pass, Lewis' helmet flying off in the process. After flags flew and receiver Stevie Johnson was taken down after a 17-yard gain, Lewis got up and pumped his fist in celebration.

"I'm not a rah-rah guy but when you're down and out you feel like you have to do something to get the team going," Lewis said.

Lewis said it was the first time he's won in Sun Life Stadium, dating back to his career at Duke.

"It was awesome," he said. "I had about 16, probably more people that I know, but I only had 16 tickets so they didn't hit me too hard."

Despite his local ties, Lewis said he was rarely able to afford Dolphins tickets growing up, an upbringing that his coach and teammates said helped build his character as an NFL player.

"When you look at him being out there on that field, it's perseverance throughout his background," Marrone said.

"He's a guy we have a lot of faith in," running back Fred Jackson said. "We love what he brings to the table. Hopefully he can continue to play well."
It wasn't long ago when Buffalo Bills kicker Dan Carpenter was involved in one of the biggest training-camp storylines with the Miami Dolphins.

[+] EnlargeCarpenter
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsDan Carpenter spent five mostly successful seasons in Miami, but the Dolphins decided to go in another direction last spring at the kicker spot.
Carpenter was a longtime kicker in Miami who was being pushed out by rookie draft pick Caleb Sturgis. Carpenter's career was mostly successful with the Dolphins -- he made the Pro Bowl in 2009 -- until he hit rough patches last year under a new coaching staff.

Several missed kicks in key spots last year influenced the Dolphins to look for an alternative in April's NFL draft. Miami cut Carpenter on Aug. 14 after the second preseason game. Now, Carpenter has found a new home in Buffalo (2-4) and will face the Dolphins (3-2) for the first time Sunday.

Carpenter is off to a stellar start with the Bills, making 12 of his 13 field-goal attempts. He also has three field goals of 50 yards or more.

Although Carpenter is coming to Sun Life Stadium to beat his former team, he said his motivation isn't personal.

"I don't have any bitter feelings about what happened," Carpenter said Wednesday in a phone interview with ESPN.com. "I understand it's a business, and obviously they found a young [kicker] who is doing really well for them. But it will be fun. It will be different to come back to Florida and get dressed in the visiting locker room and come out of the tunnel and go to the other sideline. It will be something new and I'm excited."

Carpenter, who spent five years with the Dolphins, said he's not sure what type of reception he will receive this weekend in his return to Miami. He was once a popular special teams player. But Dolphins fans eventually grew frustrated last year when he failed to make several field goals in big spots. A case can be made that Miami could have won an extra game or two last year if Carpenter was more consistent.

The writing was on the wall for Carpenter in the spring when Miami spent a fifth-round pick on Sturgis. Carpenter also was due to make $2.68 million from the Dolphins in the final year of his contract, compared to Sturgis' $405,000 salary.

To this day, Carpenter isn't sure how much salary factored into the decision.

"To answer the financial question, I don't know financially where Miami sits. ... So that's kind of a hard question to answer," Carpenter said. "I was given just as many kicking opportunities in camp and in the games that [Sturgis] was. To his credit, he did really well and they went with him. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm now in Buffalo and enjoying my time up here. We're going to come down there and try to get a win."

Imagine this scenario: There's just a few seconds left in Sunday's game and Buffalo trails Miami by two points. Carpenter lines up to attempt a game-winning field goal that could send the Dolphins spiraling to a three-game losing streak.

It's a real possibility, and Carpenter admits the thought has crossed his mind.

"As a kicker you think about that every week," Carpenter said. "Every game in the NFL is usually very tight, score-wise. They're always close. A lot of games come down to three points or less in this league. That just shows the competitiveness of this league. That's something that could play out any week, and any week you hit a game-winner it's going to be special."

Keep an eye on Carpenter this weekend on Buffalo's sideline. If the game is close, an old friend could have a chance for revenge against at a crucial time.
Veteran Dan Carpenter will take over kicking duties for rookie Dustin Hopkins in the Buffalo Bills' opener on Sunday, head coach Doug Marrone said.

Carpenter was signed on Tuesday after Hopkins suffered a strained right groin in Monday's practice.

"I thought it was a high-level (strain) and he’d be out some time, but it’s not so I think it’s going to be a condition thing," Marrone said. "I think if he was a position player I’d be able to tell you a couple days, but I think because he uses that leg I think it’s just a matter of when he gets out there and starts swinging it and see how he feels."

After five seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Carpenter has bounced around in recent weeks, joining Buffalo after being cut by the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets.

Hopkins was in uniform for Wednesday's practice but did not participate.

Here is the full Bills' participation report from Wednesday's practice:

DID NOT PRACTICE
CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist)
K Dustin Hopkins (right groin)
OL Doug Legursky (knee)

LIMITED IN PRACTICE
S Jairus Byrd (foot)

FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
QB EJ Manuel (knee)
The Cleveland Browns will eventually add a kicker to their roster, and it looks like Tuesday will be the day.

Billy Cundiff and Dan Carpenter are among the kickers who will try out for the Browns on Tuesday, according to The Plain Dealer. Both were most recently cut by the New York Jets, who went with Nick Folk.

Cundiff has experience kicking in the AFC North, having previously played for the Ravens and Browns. But he hasn't been the same since missing a field goal in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.

Carpenter spent the past five seasons with the Miami Dolphins, making 81.9 percent of his field goals. He's been cut by three teams (Dolphins, Cardinals and Jets) over the past 19 days.

As ESPN Radio in Cleveland pointed out, other free-agent kickers include Justin Medlock, Olindo Mare and Neil Rackers. The Browns have been without a kicker on their roster since cutting Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay on Saturday.

Observation deck: Jets-Eagles

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets' quarterback competition took a night off, as neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith played Thursday night in the final preseason game. Matt Simms got the call and led the Jets to a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The Jets finished the preseason at 3-1. Big deal. No one will remember their record in 24 hours. The focus shifts immediately to opening day and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are a myriad questions for the Jets, starting with the quarterback position: Smith or Sanchez? Sanchez (shoulder) remains day-to-day and should know more about his status when he meets with the medical staff over the weekend.

No Geno: That the Jets didn't play Smith suggests they believe there's a good chance he will be the opening-day starter. The rookie could've used the work -- his preseason consisted of 3½ quarters -- but it would've been too risky to expose him to potential injury. Coach Rex Ryan bubble-wrapped almost his entire starting lineup. The only projected starters/key reserves that saw action were Vladimir Ducasse (started at right guard), cornerback Kyle Wilson and safety Antonio Allen. Why play Wilson, a virtual starter? It was very curious and, no doubt, will fuel speculation about his future. Were the Jets showcasing him for a trade? Wilson has been a first-round disappointment, but he has value because of his versatility.

Tough dude, Simms: Battling for the No. 3 QB job, Simms was absolutely terrific. Undaunted by a seven-sack first half, Son of Phil completed 33 of 44 passes for 285 yards and no turnovers, although there were a couple of near-interceptions. He went 25-for-27 in one stretch, shades of his dad in Super Bowl XXI. He showed toughness, poise and accuracy. How can he not make the team? Greg McElroy (knee), who didn't play, should be worried about his roster spot. Newly signed Graham Harrell didn't play, but could factor into the equation.

Porous pass protection: The Jets had better hope their starting offensive linemen stay healthy, because the backups are shaky -- and that's being kind. They could be in the market for a backup swing tackle because veteran Jason Smith, who re-signed last week, played quite possibly one of the worst games ever by a lineman. Facing the Eagles' backups, Smith -- the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 -- allowed at least three sacks. He was pulled at halftime, the best thing to happen to Simms all night.

Defensive stand: The Jets' No. 2 defense dominated Chip Kelly's No. 2 offense. LB Ricky Sapp, LB Danny Lansanah, DE Leger Douzable, LB Nick Bellore and S Jaiquawn Jarrett were among the standouts.

Kicking competition: It was a draw between incumbent Nick Folk and challenger Dan Carpenter. Folk was good from 28 yards, Carpenter from 43. Each recorded a touchback on his only kickoff.

What's ahead: Now comes the bloody part of the business. Teams must pare their rosters to 53 by 6 p.m. ET Saturday, meaning the Jets have to slice 22 players over the next 48 hours.

Dolphins camp notes: Sturgis emerges

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DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins held their final practice of their 2013 training camp on Thursday. The team will get ready to travel to Houston to face the Texans in their third preseason game.

Here are some notes and observations from Thursday's session, which took place inside the bubble due to rain:
  • For the first time in five years, the Dolphins had a new kicker take over the position. Rookie Caleb Sturgis was the only kicker in practice after beating out veteran Dan Carpenter, who was cut Wednesday evening. Sturgis didn't do much in practice Thursday, but he’s officially Miami’s kicker for the 2013 season. The rookie was matter-of-fact after winning the kicking competition. “It’s not much of a different feel,” Sturgis said after practice. “It’s the same mindset when I got out there every day.”
  • Miami didn’t have to release Carpenter for another two or three weeks. But according to Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the timing was right to make a decision. Sturgis will get more reps/kicks to end the preseason and Carpenter has more time to find a job. “We just felt this was the right opportunity to do it for both parties, really,” Philbin said. “Caleb Sturgis is going to need time and practice to prepare for game-like situations. The more game-like situations he can get in, the better. That was certainly a part of it.”
  • To fill Miami’s open roster spot left by Carpenter, the team signed defensive end Antwan Applewhite. He’s a six-year veteran who played with the San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers. Defensive end is one of the deepest areas of the Dolphins. But Applewhite is happy for the opportunity. “I’m just trying to bring a little bit of experience and any knowledge that I have about the game to the team,” Applewhite said.
  • Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill had another solid practice to wrap up a good week. However, Miami’s backup quarterbacks struggled. Matt Moore (one interception) and Aaron Corp (two interceptions) both turned over the ball Thursday. Rookie cornerback Will Davis intercepted a tipped pass from Moore, and Corp struggled mightily with picks to linebacker Philip Wheeler and safety Reshad Jones.
  • On the injury front, defensive linemen Dion Jordan (shoulder) and Randy Starks (knee) both sat out of practice. Jordan dressed for warm-ups and continued his rehab assignment while the Dolphins practiced team drills. Neither player practiced all week and they appear to be long shots to play in Saturday's game against Houston.
  • Josh Samuda continues to play with the starters at right guard, which has been a closely watched position during camp. Nate Garner missed practice this week with a reported shoulder injury and John Jerry (knee) only participated in individual drills. This game against Houston is a good chance for Samuda to prove himself after struggling last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • This will be a very important game for Miami's bubble players. The Dolphins are starting to fill roles and this third preseason game is a good gauge for where a lot of players stand. Special teams will be particularly important. This will be the best way for fringe players to make the roster.

The Dolphins will be traveling Friday and will take the field against Houston Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET.

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

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DAVIE, Fla. -- The tough questions came at a furious pace in the first week of Miami Dolphins training camp.

Is this team a legitimate playoff contender?

When will we see big plays from free-agent signing Mike Wallace?

Can rookie and No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan make a huge and immediate impact?

Welcome to the world of the 2013 Dolphins. This is not your typical, hapless South Florida football team with low expectations. This year’s Dolphins are gunning for the postseason and have a roster good enough to do damage in the AFC.

The Dolphins have not been to the playoffs since 2008. But this year’s Miami team is deeper and more talented than any in recent memory, which has raised the bar.

“You want to have great expectations for yourself, but at the same time you don’t want to put too much on yourself,” Dolphins second-year coach Joe Philbin said. “You just want to go in and work every single day to get better. We aren’t predicting anything or say we are going to do this or that.”

Are the Dolphins true contenders this season? Let’s examine some key issues.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can the Dolphins catch the Patriots?

Seemingly every move Miami made this offseason had something to do with closing the gap with the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots.

The Dolphins had an inconsistent pass rush and needed more to rattle Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. As a result, Miami traded up eight spots to No. 3 and drafted the super-athletic Jordan to pair with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.

Miami also had the 27th-ranked pass defense because of poor cornerback play and slow linebackers. The Dolphins fixed that by signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes and speedy linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler in free agency.

[+] EnlargeCameron Wake
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsWith its pass rush lacking last season, Miami will need Pro Bowler Cameron Wake to be a force again in 2013.
The Dolphins’ pass offense also wasn’t up to par last season and had only one touchdown reception from the receiver position. As a result, Miami signed tight end Dustin Keller and receivers Brandon Gibson and Wallace in an effort to score points and keep up with New England, which led the NFL in total offense in 2012.

The Patriots have been on top of the division for the past dozen years. But considering New England’s offseason troubles and Miami’s upgrades, the Dolphins believe they have a shot to make a run in the division.

“Nobody stays on top forever, and the underdog will have his day,” Ellerbe said this week. “And I feel like we’re an underdog right now. It’s a new season and only time will tell.”

2. Will QB Ryan Tannehill thrive in Year 2?

The 2012 quarterback class exploded on the scene last season. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks all led their teams to the playoffs. Tannehill, who won seven games in Miami, was a cut below. Now, he is expected to take the next step in Year 2.

Miami cannot afford a sophomore slump from Tannehill. The Dolphins built the offense around his strengths and put the right pieces in place for him to thrive. His presence and mentality as a leader are apparent.

“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect coming in other than coming in and fighting for a job,” Tannehill said. “This year I got to really use the offseason to grow my leadership, set things up, get with guys. Now coming in I can really focus on taking this team to the next level, doing everything I can to improve my game and to help improve the guys around me as well.”

Tannehill got off to an uneven start in training camp. He had a particularly poor practice last Tuesday, when he threw a pair of pick-sixes to Ellerbe and safety Chris Clemons. Poor sessions like that are reminders that Tannehill has only 16 NFL starts and still has a lot to learn. However, Tannehill strung together better practices later in the week.

3. Can RB Lamar Miller carry the load?

The AFC East blog touched on this topic earlier in the week. Miller, a second-year tailback, is expected to replace former starter Reggie Bush this season. Keep in mind that Miami is putting a lot of stock in Miller after just 51 carries last season. To Miller’s credit, he led the Dolphins with 4.9 yards per carry.

Durability will be the biggest question. Miller had injury issues in college, which is one of the reasons he fell to the fourth round of the 2012 draft. But Miller has looked healthy and effective so far in training camp.

“I feel very comfortable just getting used to running the ball, the offensive line scheme and just being [involved] more,” Miller said last week. “I just know what I’m doing. I’m not second-guessing too much, and I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me to do. Last year, I was thinking about it too much.”

One of the big things Miller must improve on is his pass protection. It was one of the reasons he failed to get consistent playing time last season. Miller spent a lot of time this offseason with San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore to work on becoming a complete tailback.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Dolphins are a faster and more dynamic this year. Practices are faster and there’s more talent flying around the football field.

One of the biggest complaints in Miami the past few years has been that the Dolphins didn’t have enough playmakers. Players such as Wallace, Keller, Ellerbe, Grimes and Jordan were all added to change the makeup of the team. The added speed and athleticism are expected to add at least a couple wins to last year’s total.

“I think we are faster as a football team,” Philbin confirmed. “I think our play speed -- it’s still a little bit early in camp to get a real good feel and to compare it to a year ago as to what it’s going to be this year -- but I think it has the potential to be a very fast team.”

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

I’m still not sold on Miami’s offensive line. This is a group that was up and down last year, and the Dolphins lost their most proven player in former four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long.

[+] EnlargeBrent Grimes
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsComing off an Achilles injury, CB Brent Grimes has displayed his Pro Bowl form early in Dolphins camp.
Miami’s offensive line is one of the thinnest groups on the team this year. As a result, the Dolphins have been doing a lot of experimenting to find the right combination of players in the first week of training camp.

The biggest question involves new left tackle and 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin. He will replace Long and plays an important role in protecting Tannehill’s blind side. Martin was inconsistent at left tackle late last season while Long was injured. His performance in camp so far has been average. We’ve seen both good and bad from Martin.

Projected starting guard John Jerry suffered an injury in the first week, which has affected depth on the team. Miami is trying rookie Dallas Thomas as the starting guard and also exploring Mike Pouncey at guard. This is clearly not one of the team's strengths.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore looks solid early in training camp. Moore has been mostly efficient and accurate playing with the backup units. Moore also has thrown the deep ball well. A case can be made that Moore has been the most consistent quarterback in the first week of training camp. This is a rare year in Miami where there is no quarterback competition or controversy. But Moore is proving to be one of the best veteran backup quarterbacks in the NFL and looks ready if Tannehill is injured.

  • Grimes has made several “wow” plays and looks 100 percent recovered from his Achilles injury. Grimes missed most of last season with the Atlanta Falcons, and the Dolphins signed the former Pro Bowl corner to a one-year contract because of durability concerns. Grimes is very athletic, which helps him overcome his lack of size. Grimes and Wallace have had some very good battles in camp, and it's making both players better.

  • Miami’s kicking competition so far is going to the incumbent. Veteran Dan Carpenter has been more accurate in the first week of training camp. Rookie Caleb Sturgis, a fifth-round pick, came to the Dolphins with strong credentials. But Sturgis missed several kicks this week, and that’s put him behind Carpenter early. Sturgis also injured his groin in the first week and missed some practice time. Financially, the Dolphins could save more than $2 million this year by going with Sturgis. But the company line is that the best player will win the job.

  • The deepest part of Miami’s roster is its defensive line. The Dolphins have a very strong rotation of starters and backups at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Wake, a Pro Bowler last season, is joined by Jordan and young upstart Olivier Vernon, who has been very impressive in camps. Miami’s defensive tackle rotation includes Pro Bowler Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick, who has shifted to the position full time from defensive end. These players will be rotated to keep the defense fresh.

  • Miami’s rookie cornerbacks are off to a slow start. The Dolphins invested second- and third-round picks in corners Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. Taylor missed all of OTAs and minicamps with a sports hernia injury and injured himself again in the second day of camp. Davis has stayed healthy but has allowed several big pass plays in the first week. Cornerback is a tough position to play in the NFL, and it will take time for Taylor and Davis to get up to speed.

  • The Dolphins’ backup receiver positions are wide open. Miami is expected to keep at least five receivers on the 53-man roster this year, and only three spots (Wallace, Brian Hartline, Gibson) are locked up. Other receivers such as Armon Binns, Rishard Matthews and Marvin McNutt are battling for the final spots. They all occasionally show flashes, but consistency has been an issue.

  • Finally, the role of fullback appears to be reduced compared to last season. The Dolphins are using more three-receiver sets this year, and tight ends Keller and Charles Clay at times have been moved around and used as an H-back. Versatility will be important for this position. Fullback Evan Rodriguez has been getting more looks with the starters lately than last year’s starting fullback, Jorvorskie Lane.
DAVIE, Fla. -- After one day off, the Miami Dolphins took the field on Friday for their fifth practice of training camp.

Here are some notes and observations:
  • The coaching staff made two significant changes on the starting offensive line Friday. First, starting right guard John Jerry wasn't at practice and Richie Incognito moved from left to right guard. Second, rookie Dallas Thomas was moved up to the first team and played left guard. Philbin didn't explain why Jerry missed practiced, but said he wanted to experiment with the offensive line. The group had a slow start to training camp this week. Philbin kept a close eye on the unit most of the morning in practice. “It’s training camp and you want to get a look at different combinations of guys in different spots,” Philbin said. “We’re still in the teaching phase of the offense. So a young player like Dallas Thomas hasn’t had experience throughout the whole install. So we don’t want to be flipping him around quite yet. I will look at the tape, but I think he was good.”
  • Miami starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill had his best practice of training camp. Tannehill was sharp, efficient and made quick decisions. More importantly, Tannehill made several really good throws to new No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace for first downs. The Tannehill-Wallace tandem also had their best connections of the week. Tannehill has received some early criticism for his slow start in camp. But he’s had two good practices in a row on Wednesday and Friday without any turnovers.
  • There has been an interesting dynamic developing between rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis and veteran kicker Dan Carpenter, veteran punter Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney. The veteran specialists have been together in Miami for several years, and Sturgis is the “new guy” in town trying to break up the trio and take Carpenter's job. As a result, the media has noticed there hasn't been much communication between the veterans and Sturgis during practices since he arrived. However, Sturgis didn’t seemed bothered when asked about it Friday. “He’s a good pro,” Sturgis said of Carpenter. “He’s nice to me, but he does his own thing and I do my own thing. There’s definitely nothing between us.” Also worth noting Friday is Carpenter missed two field goals, from 50 and 52 yards. He has been solid otherwise in camp.
  • First-round pick Dion Jordan (shoulder) had some contact Friday for the first time in one-on-one drills only. He has been limited without contact since being cleared to practice on Tuesday. “Anytime I get to go out there and compete with the guys, I feel like I’m getting better,” Jordan said. “It’s been a couple months before I’ve been able to come out here and get some natural football work. So it was great."
  • Finally, in other injury news, rookie cornerback Jamar Taylor and backup running back Cameron Marshall both sat out of practice. Philbin refuses to discuss injuries in training camp. But Marshall had a wrap on his left leg and Taylor has been trying to overcome a sports hernia injury all offseason.
Quarterback isn't the only position where there will be various competitions involving rookies in training camp. Two teams in the AFC East also drafted place kickers on Day 3 of the NFL draft.

The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills picked kickers in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively. The Dolphins selected Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis and Buffalo picked Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins.

Sturgis will compete with Dolphins veteran kicker Dan Carpenter, who struggled at times last season. Carpenter missed five field-goal attempts in 2012 and botched 21 attempts the past three seasons. Carpenter has kicked in Miami for six consecutive seasons, but may have to earn his spot against Sturgis this summer. It's also possible that Carpenter could be a salary-cap casualty for the Dolphins, who spent a lot of money in free agency this offseason.

Meanwhile, veteran kicker Rian Lindell has been a staple in Buffalo for nine seasons. His accuracy remains solid. But at 36, Lindell's leg strength is diminishing. Hopkins comes to Buffalo as the NCAA's all-time leading scorer. Most importantly, Hopkins has a strong leg, which is needed in Buffalo's inclement weather for field goals and kickoffs. Similar to Carpenter, Lindell also could become a salary-cap casualty. But at the very least, Lindell must compete for his job.

Keep an eye on both of these new kicking developments in the AFC East this offseason.

Dolphins sign kicker Nate Kaeding

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
12:06
PM ET
The Miami Dolphins signed veteran kicker Nate Kaeding, the team announced Friday. Incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter was hampered by a groin injury and placed on injured reserve.

Keading is a former two-time Pro Bowl selection with the San Diego Chargers. He will replace Carpenter for the rest of the season.

Miami has been fortunate with injuries all season, but the injury bug is hurting the team in December. In addition to Carpenter, Miami could be without starting wide receivers Davone Bess and/or Brian Hartline, who are dealing with back injuries.

The Dolphins will host the Buffalo Bills Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 24, Jaguars 3

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
4:09
PM ET

MIAMI -- Here are some thoughts on the Dolphins' 24-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars:

What it means: It means Miami (6-8) won its first game in December and snapped a two-game losing streak. The Dolphins are trying to finish the year strong and continue to progress under a rookie quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and rookie coach (Joe Philbin). Miami has already matched last year’s win total by beating Jacksonville (2-12) on Sunday with two games remaining.

Henne's rough homecoming: The Dolphins made sure to make Chad Henne's homecoming a rough one. Henne, Miami's second-round pick in 2008, played his former team for the first time and couldn't get in the end zone. Miami's defense knows Henne well and exposed him. He was 18-of-34 for 221 yards in a losing effort. Henne also was sacked twice and led Jacksonville to just three points.

Tannehill solid: Henne's replacement in Miami, Tannehill, played a solid game against the Jaguars. Tannehill made plays with his arms and his legs. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, Tannehill added 52 rushing yards. The Dolphins appeared willing to let Tannehill use his mobility more in this game. He had several designed runs that caught Jacksonville off-guard.

Fourth-down blues: Overall this was a sloppy game, and that was shown in the fourth-down execution. Jacksonville failed to convert on fourth-and-1 on two occasions, and Miami ran a head-scratching fake field goal in the third quarter. Miami kicker Dan Carpenter lined up for a chip shot, but punter/holder Brandon Fields caught the ball and threw it way out of bounds. The Dolphins could have gone up 10 points at the time. But Jacksonville is so bad that it didn't matter.

What’s next: The Dolphins will return to AFC East play for the remainder of the season. First, Miami will host the Buffalo Bills next weekend at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins will wrap up their 2012 season on the road against the division-champion New England Patriots. Miami lost to both teams in the first meetings.

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