NFL Nation: John Bonamego

Two days after officially coming on board as the Detroit Lions head coach, Jim Caldwell already has a majority of his staff in place -- including one of his coordinators.

Teryl Austin, who had been the Baltimore secondary coach the past three seasons, will get his first shot at being a defensive coordinator in the NFL. He was Florida's defensive coordinator in 2010.

"He's a guy, obviously, that is extremely bright," Caldwell told WDFN in Detroit on Friday morning. "He's a guy that has, without question, has a great balance in terms of overall experience. Energetic and really has an outstanding feel for defensive football. Outstanding communicator as well."

Here's a look at what Austin has done in the past and what his defense could look like.

Caldwell also has some of the other staff ready to go.

Bill Sheridan, who was Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013, has been hired as the team's linebackers coach. Sheridan is a Detroit native who spent time on both the Michigan and Michigan State staffs in the past coaching linebackers. He also coached linebackers at Miami from 2010 to 2011.

So far those are the only two new coaches Caldwell has brought in, although he has chosen to retain a lot of members of the staff.

Offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn will return, along with assistant offensive line coach Terry Heffernan. Tight ends coach Bobby Johnson is also back, but Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press is reporting it is as an offensive line assistant.

Jim Washburn (assistant defensive line), Kris Kocurek (defensive line) and Curtis Modkins (running backs) were also retained, although it is not clear if all will remain in their same roles.

As reported Thursday, special teams coach John Bonamego will also return.
This means defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, linebackers coach Matt Burke and secondary coach Marcus Robertson were also not being brought back. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, wide receivers coach Tim Lappano, assistant wide receivers coach Kyle Valero and quarterbacks coach Todd Downing were previously announced as not retained.

The biggest holes left to fill for Caldwell now are offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach and defensive backs coach, although Austin has extensive experience coaching the secondary.

Here's a look at the coaching staff chart (with obvious flexibility for staff movement):
Head coach -- Jim Caldwell
Offensive coordinator -- TBD
Defensive coordinator -- Teryl Austin
Quarterbacks -- TBD
Running backs -- Curtis Modkins
Wide Receivers -- TBD
Tight ends -- TBD
Offensive line -- Jeremiah Washburn (asst. Bobby Johnson or Terry Heffernan)
Defensive line -- Kris Kocurek (asst. Jim Washburn)
Linebackers -- Bill Sheridan
Secondary -- TBD
Special Teams -- John Bonamego
Jim Caldwell is the new Detroit Lions coach, and though there has been a lot of consternation about the hire, the Lions will succeed or fail based upon his decisions and his ability to develop players, notably quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Caldwell will meet with the media for the first time Wednesday, and based on what I’ve heard and been told about his interview on Jan. 3, he has a detailed plan for how he is going to fix both the Lions and Stafford.

Those are his two most important tasks as Detroit’s head coach. If he is unable to do that, he’ll join the line of Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Rod Marinelli and Jim Schwartz as coaches who couldn’t quite reach the level the team wanted.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDeveloping Matthew Stafford is one of the most important tasks facing new Lions coach Jim Caldwell.
If he can succeed, he’ll have a chance to do something only one coach in the Super Bowl era, Wayne Fontes, has even come close to doing with the Lions: turn the team into a consistent winner.

Here’s a look at five things Caldwell will have to do early in his tenure with the Lions.

1. Hire a competent staff: He could have some names as early as his introductory news conference, but Teryl Austin is a name I’ve been told multiple times as a likely defensive coordinator. Bill Lazor was a name for offensive coordinator, but h has been hired by Miami. If Caldwell doesn’t put together a strong staff, that will be an issue early on. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel also could end up on Caldwell’s staff.

2. Make smart decisions about free agents with GM Martin Mayhew: Dominic Raiola and Brandon Pettigrew are two of the bigger free agents for the Lions. Raiola is a strong presence in the locker room, and it might be smart to bring him back for continuity on an offensive line that was one of the best in the league last season. Pettigrew could be interesting. He is an important cog, as was Dallas Clark, Caldwell’s tight end in Indianapolis and with the Ravens this season. Of course, Clark is also a free agent, so Caldwell might push to get him to Detroit.

3. Matthew Stafford: Part of the reason Caldwell was hired was to work with Stafford, with whom the coach met on his interview. Stafford, according to receiver Kris Durham, seemed to like Caldwell. That relationship will be critical to any success Caldwell has in Detroit. He believes he has a plan to fix Stafford -- both Joe Flacco and Peyton Manning are high on Caldwell's ability to help quarterbacks -- and the coach will have to be able to implement that plan as soon as possible.

4. Keep at least two current assistants: This goes with the first point. John Bonamego did a really good job with special teams almost all season, including finding strong gunners in Don Carey and Jeremy Ross. Jeremiah Washburn turned an offensive line with two rookies on the right side into one of the top groups in the NFL, and players seemed to really like him. Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek did a good job with the defensive line, and Matt Burke was strong with the linebackers. Consider at least some of them to keep some continuity.

5. Get out in the community: This might sound silly, but Caldwell is not a popular hire with the Detroit fan base. By all accounts, he is a good, well-intentioned man, so by doing a lot of community outreach early on, he could turn some people who are currently not pleased about the hire. Of course, the best way to do that is to win games, but getting out in the community would be a strong start.

Payton's injury shouldn't hurt Saints

October, 20, 2011
Sean PaytonKim Klement/US PresswireSean Payton will be working from the press box during the Saints' game Sunday night.
Sean Payton doesn’t need crutches.

Less than a week after tearing up his knee, the coach of the New Orleans Saints might not be walking well, but he’s got perhaps the NFL’s best stable of assistant coaches to lean on.

Payton’s injury was an accident. Tight end Jimmy Graham plowed into Payton as he was being pushed out of bounds by a couple of Tampa Bay defenders. But it’s no accident that Payton has a virtual all-star team of coaches, who began preparing for Indianapolis about the same time the head coach was getting out of surgery, to help him through what should be only a minor and temporary crisis.

Payton’s expected to return to work Thursday; he’ll be in the coaches’ booth in the press box for Sunday night’s game with the Indianapolis Colts and on game days for at least a few more weeks. And while that will mean some adjustments, this is a staff built to handle a situation like this.

One thing Payton understood when he took the job back in 2006 was the importance of surrounding yourself with a good staff. He still has eight members of his original staff, nine if you count assistant special teams coach John Bonamego, who left for three seasons with the Dolphins but returned to the Saints this year. Even the “newer’’ members of the coaching staff are very much part of the family. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a former head coach, came in 2009 and brought along his son, Blake, as an assistant. That was also the same year Brian Young joined the staff, after playing defensive tackle for the Saints from 2004 through 2008.

Payton might not be strolling the sidelines anytime soon, but his system remains very much in place and everyone from the assistants to the players knows how things are done.

“We reminded the team that his absence in the earlier part of the week and not knowing how much he’ll partake in the latter part of the week is not an excuse for us to lose,’’ assistant head coach Joe Vitt said. “It’s not an excuse to not prepare. Because the excuses are out there if you want to take them.’’

The Saints aren’t going to be making or taking any excuses on Vitt’s watch. His style is that of a drill sergeant and his NFL coaching experience runs all the way back to the days when he was with the Colts, who were then still in Baltimore. He’s respected in the Saints’ locker room and all around the league.

“Ninety percent of the time in the NFL, that just means more money or a title to keep someone happy,’’ Payton wrote in his book “Home Team.’’ “But if you went to the dictionary and looked up 'NFL assistant head coach,' you’d see a picture of Joe Vitt.’’

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt, Sean Payton
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire"It's not an excuse to not prepare," assistant head coach Joe Vitt, left, said of the injury to Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Vitt, who did a stint in 2005 as interim head coach of the St. Louis Rams, was one of the first coaches Payton hired — a move that set off a celebration at the time because most veteran coaches were hesitant to move to New Orleans in the uncertain aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Other than the signing of (quarterback) Drew Brees, this was the most important acquisition we made,’’ Payton wrote about Vitt’s hiring.

Vitt is also the linebackers coach, so with he and Gregg Williams running the show, Payton’s injury shouldn’t have any real impact on the defense.

But having Payton upstairs instead of on the sideline will create some logistical challenges for the offense.

“We’re going to work through all the mechanics,’’ Vitt said. “One of the things around here we take great pride in is our preparation. We’ll see what works for us. This coaching staff has been together a long time. We need to work through these challenges for our football team to win a football game”

But the experience of the offensive staff should be able to help cushion those challenges.

“(Payton) empowers our assistant coaches a lot anyway,’’ Brees said. “I think for all of us it’s business as usual, and then if there are adjustments that need to be made along the way, then we’ll make them and we won’t even think twice about it. That’s the way we operate.”

Brees already is anticipating one change. Brees said he expects Payton will call the plays from above and relay them through offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael on the sideline. In the past, Payton has communicated plays directly to Brees via radio.

“I think the fact that it’s going to be Pete’s voice now and he’ll be actually relaying the plays into me, that won’t be all that unusual for me,’’ Brees said.

That’s largely because Brees has at least as much history with Carmichael as he does with Payton. Brees played in San Diego when Carmichael was an assistant there. Carmichael came to the Saints as quarterbacks coach in 2006 and later moved up to offensive coordinator. And it doesn’t hurt that Brees is somewhat of a coach on the field.

“I’ve done that before, so you understand where the challenges are and it’s just the fact that (the play) has to get relayed,’’ Brees said. “There are a couple seconds earlier that you have to get the play out. I don’t know the setup up in the box, but I’m sure Sean will have it all laid out. I’m sure it will go off without a hitch.”

That goes for the defense and special teams as well. The only real difference you’ll see will be a few television shots of Payton sitting up in the booth.

Like always, he’ll be supervising his system with the people who put in place to help run it.

Are Dolphins in a state of despair?

October, 29, 2010
The NFL Nation blog assembled a roundup of teams in despair after seven weeks. The idea was to examine teams that have failed to meet expectations or were especially struggling.

The Miami Dolphins were considered for the list, but ultimately were left off -- albeit barely. The line of thinking in omitting them was they are undefeated on the road and one bad break away from being 4-2.

But considering they're in third place in AFC East with the New York Jets and New England Patriots pulling away, I decided to take a look at the state of the Dolphins, using the same format as our "despair" package.

What's gone wrong: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross declared over the summer that his team would be in the Super Bowl. A major reason the Dolphins don't look the part is they haven't been able to get their offense moving despite a substantial commitment over the offseason. They gave young quarterback Chad Henne that coveted, big-play target by trading two second-round draft choices for Brandon Marshall. The Dolphins then made Marshall the league's highest-paid receiver. But the investment hasn't paid off. The Dolphins have scored fewer points than the Buffalo Bills. Only the Carolina Panthers have scored fewer than the Dolphins' six touchdowns in the red zone. Defensively, the Dolphins have had problems stopping the pass. Right cornerback has been a weakness. But the defense has been decent overall. Special teams were so abysmal, they already fired coordinator John Bonamego.

How to fix them: Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning needs to find a way to open things up. They have too much skill to be so dull. In addition to Marshall, they have running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and slot standout Davone Bess. Jake Long is one of the best left tackles in the game. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan must figure out how to generate turnovers. Ball-hawking is a Nolan trademark, but the Dolphins have just three fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

Panic rating: Moderate. The Dolphins have a lot of positives going for them, but they went into the season with high expectations, and the chances to achieve their goals will dwindle rapidly as long as they chase the Jets and Patriots.

Coach on hot seat? Tony Sparano appears safe, even though the man who hired him, Bill Parcells, has drifted from the organization. General manager Jeff Ireland still is in place, and he has worked with Sparano since their days in Dallas. Sparano banked some serious respect when he came aboard and led the Dolphins to the AFC East title a year after going 1-15. The fans love him because he's a straight shooter.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 23, Packers 20

October, 17, 2010
Wrapping up the Miami Dolphins' 23-20 overtime win against the Green Bay Packers.

What it means: In an overtime thriller, the Dolphins remained unbeaten on the road and kept themselves in the thick of the AFC East race.

Heroes: Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake registered three sacks, including one on third down deep in Packers territory to force a punt in overtime. Dan Carpenter kicked a 44-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to win the game.

Special teams rebound: After an atrocious performance against the New England Patriots two weeks ago that led to coordinator John Bonamego being fired the next morning, the Dolphins had a tidy day on special teams. Nolan Carroll averaged 26.0 yards on kick returns. Davone Bess averaged 11.5 yards on punt returns. Brandon Fields averaged 41.8 yards per punt and didn't have any blocked. Carpenter capped the day with his big overtime kick. He hit from 53 yards and 41 yards earlier.

Trending: The Dolphins didn't have more rushing attempts than pass plays for the third straight game, despite playing much of the game with a lead and head coach Tony Sparano's comments suggesting last week they preferred to run. Chad Henne passed 39 times for 231 yards (two touchdowns, one interception), while Dolphins running backs combined for 35 carries.

Marshall law: Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall had a busy afternoon with 10 receptions for 127 yards. He hit the century mark by halftime and was much quieter in the second half.

What's next: The Dolphins will try to pick up their first home victory Sunday against the hot-shot Pittsburgh Steelers in Sun Life Stadium.

Bonamego firing bothers Westhoff

October, 8, 2010
From one special teams coach to another, Mike Westhoff sent his regards to John Bonamego.

The Miami Dolphins fired Bonamego on Tuesday morning. Westhoff, the New York Jets' coordinator, said he reached out to let him know others were thinking of him.

"I'm the guy to do it," said Westhoff, who's in his 28th NFL season. "I've been around the longest. I think I know enough that I can talk from experience on both sides of it, from having good days and bad days. ... I know one thing. I know he appreciated it when we talked."

[+] EnlargePat Chung
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBrandon Fields' blocked punt was just one of three special teams disasters that plagued the Miami Dolphins on Monday.
The Dolphins fired Bonamego hours after the New England Patriots annihilated them 41-14. The Patriots scored 21 points off special teams gaffes: a 103-yard kickoff return, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.

Westhoff called a play that helped the Jets block a Dolphins punt the week before. As a result, the Dolphins cut linebacker Erik Walden supposedly for not picking up Jets safety Eric Smith on that punt block.

"I helped it happen," Westhoff said of the Bonamego's dismissal, "but it's happened to everybody."

Westhoff coached for the Dolphins from 1986 to 2000. His tenure ended when Dave Wannstedt fired him.

Westhoff said he was disappointed in the Dolphins' decision and sounded bothered Bonamego took the fall alone, with no players getting released, too.

One Dolphins player was at fault for two of the three special teams implosions, Westhoff claimed.

"It's interesting that there was one particular guy that was involved in two of those major breakdowns," Westhoff said. "Frankly, I don't think he could play. I don't want the guy either."

Who could this player be?

"I'm not going to tell you," Westhoff said. "That wouldn't be fair, but there was a common denominator."

Let's try to figure it out.

We can eliminate the blocked field goal as a play Westhoff was referring to for two reasons: 1) It was pretty obvious left wing Lydon Murtha simply let Patriots safety Pat Chung blow right past him; 2) nobody on the field-goal unit was on for punt protection or kickoff coverage.

Only four players were on both the punt and kickoff units: Bobby Carpenter, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard, Tim Dobbins and Tyrone Culver.

We can eliminate Dobbins and Culver from the discussion because they lined up on the right side for the punt, and Chung's block came through the left. Carpenter was the left tackle. Hilliard was the left wing. Cobbs was the personal protector.

On Brandon Tate's 103-yard kickoff return up the sideline, when he "broke around the edge, he had two unblocked guys," Westhoff said. "Make the tackle."

Carpenter was the first to miss. Nolan Carroll appears to be the other unblocked pursuer Westhoff referred to, and he's not on the other units.

Carpenter, a backup linebacker, was the first-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, when Dolphins consultant Bill Parcells and general manager Jeff Ireland were there.

"If they had included some personnel with [Bonamego's dismissal], I might have not felt so bad," Westhoff said. "That bothers me. I know the guy worked hard. It's their business. It's not mine. They have the right to decide their own. I respect that, but I'm disappointed when those things happen."

Final Word: AFC East

October, 8, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes
AP Photo/Bill KostrounSantonio Holmes joins a Jets offense that has been clicking on all cylinders the past three games.
Santonio Holmes won't make the New York Jets' offense better than it has been. The reason I say this is because it's close to impossible. The Jets' offense has been plenty explosive without Holmes, who was serving a four-game suspension. Over their past three games, the Jets have averaged 32.3 points. That's not inflated by defensive or special-teams touchdowns. That's all offense. With a fixed number of touches to go around, Holmes won't propel the Jets to 40 points on a weekly basis. But his presence will help the Jets maintain a high-octane offense by giving Mark Sanchez more one-on-one options.

In the young quarterback rivalry, Sanchez is crushing Chad Henne so far. One of the hottest topics on the AFC East blog throughout the offseason dealt with which second-year starter would be better. If this were a boxing match, Henne still would be on his feet, but the referee would be looking at him closely. Sanchez not only won the head-to-head matchup, but he's also 3-0 in the division and dominating statistically. Sanchez is tied for fourth with eight touchdown passes, ranks fourth with a 105.3 passer rating and hasn't committed a turnover yet. Henne is 1-2 against the division. He has five touchdowns, four interceptions and an 86.2 passer rating. But there still are 12 games left for Henne to find his groove or for Sanchez to collapse, neither being out of the question.

That said, the Dolphins need to stick with Henne. The Dolphins are in a bit of turmoil heading into their bye week. They've blown a fantabulous 2-0 road start by dropping two straight at home. They fired special teams coordinator John Bonamego this week and still seem to be searching for their offensive identity. There have been whispers about a quarterback controversy after Henne threw three interceptions and was pulled from the fourth quarter of Monday night's humbling loss the Patriots. The bye week's always an appropriate time to make this type of switch. Waiting in the wings is Chad Pennington, the veteran who fell into Miami's lap and was the driving force in turning a 1-15 team into a division champion in 2008. But the Dolphins must stand by Henne -- at least for now. To hit the panic button four weeks into the season would suggest the front office and coaching staff doesn't have faith in their program.

The Buffalo Bills would love to see Trent Edwards on Sunday. Bills fans might dread the prospect of Edwards returning to Ralph Wilson Stadium and beating his old team. But think about it: If Edwards gets on the field, then that means the Bills' defense has either chased or knocked David Garrard from the game. The Bills have recorded only four sacks so far. "If we can chase anybody out the game, that would be good," Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams said. "Getting after some guys is something we haven't had the luxury of yet. Hopefully, we can do that no matter who's playing."

The Randy Moss and Marshawn Lynch trades are going to look bad on paper all year. We can safely assume Moss and Lynch to play the rest of 2010 with chips on their shoulder pads. Each should put up big numbers. Moss is returning to the Metrodome and will be tracking down Brett Favre bombs. Lynch badly needed a change of scenery. We should expect Lynch in his Seattle Seahawks uniform will look like the Pro Bowl back the Bills selected 12th overall. Meanwhile, the mid-round picks they were dealt for won't become players until April. Fans shouldn't expect those prospects (a third-rounder for Moss, a fourth-rounder for Lynch) to pay off. Of course, if the Patriots can pull off a trade for another receiver, that might mitigate Moss' absence, but it's doubtful that replacement will match what Moss does in Minnesota.

Bye week inventory: Miami Dolphins

October, 8, 2010
A look at the Miami Dolphins heading into their bye weekend ...

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIBrandon Marshall has 27 receptions for 340 yards so far this season.
Reason for hope: The Dolphins stagger into their bye week with back-to-back home losses, but they are 2-2 because they won both of their road games. The Dolphins are a balanced team seemingly with playoff-caliber talent on both offense and defense. Although they're still finding their way, I still can envision the Dolphins making a run at the division title.

Brandon Marshall has showed flashes of why he's considered one of the NFL's biggest receiving threats. He can dominate a game. Davone Bess has become a top-notch slot receiver who's clutch on third down. Ronnie Brown is averaging 4.7 yards a carry, and Ricky Williams looks sensational, even though he isn't getting the same turn-back-the-clock attention as LaDainian Tomlinson. Defensively, cornerback Vontae Davis is forcing teams to throw away from him. Outside linebacker Cameron Wake is on pace for 12 sacks.

Cause for concern: A quarter into the season, the Dolphins still are searching for their offensive identity. They appear torn between being that run-dominant club of the past two years and a team that wants to sling the ball with Chad Henne and Marshall as the stars. Henne doesn't look too comfortable in the role yet. Also, the Dolphins remain attached to the Wildcat despite averaging less than 2 yards a try.

Special teams has been a glaring weakness. Head coach Tony Sparano made a move to correct that by firing coordinator John Bonamego and promoting assistant Darren Rizzi. They have two weeks to patch up their problems there. Pass defense has been another issue. While the Dolphins rank sixth in allowing only 181.5 air yards a game, that number is skewed. They faced Trent Edwards in Week 1, a bumbling Brett Favre in Week 2 and Tom Brady hardly had to throw in Monday night's 41-14 "Gong Show." The Dolphins still have trouble covering tight ends, and right cornerback Jason Allen is a liability on No. 2 receivers.

Time to heal: A week off will help Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long cope with the knee that has been bothering him. Rookie defensive end Jared Odrick, their first-round pick, should return from an ankle injury after the bye. Inside linebacker Channing Crowder is slowly recovering from a groin problem that has keep him off the field all season.

AccuScore forecast: The projection is for a 9-7 record. The Dolphins have a 10 percent chance to win the AFC East, and a 24 percent chance to get into the playoffs.

Miami fires special-teams coach Bonamego

October, 5, 2010
The Dolphins fired special-teams coordinator John Bonamego on Tuesday 12 hours after a special-teams meltdown helped the New England Patriots crush Miami 41-14.

Assistant special-teams coach Darren Rizzo will take over as the lead coach of the unit, the team announced. Bonamego had been the team's special teams coach since 2008.

Miami enters bye with not-so-special feeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answers are in short supply.

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

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

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 41, Dolphins 14

October, 4, 2010
MIAMI -- The New England Patriots wrecked the Miami Dolphins 41-14 on Monday night in Sun Life Stadium.

What it means: Some were calling the Dolphins a legitimate contender after their impressive 2-0 start on the road. The Patriots knocked them back to reality with a second straight home loss. As bad as everybody thought the Buffalo Bills got blasted by the New York Jets, this game was even more lopsided.

Hero: Patriots safety Patrick Chung blocked a punt, blocked a field goal that Kyle Arrington returned for a touchdown and returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown.

Goat: Dolphins special teams coordinator John Bonamego should be squirming. The Patriots returned a kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a field goal for a touchdown and needed two plays to turn a blocked punt into a touchdown.

Marshall? Moss? The superstar receivers had a combined zero catches at halftime. Brandon Marshall finished with five for 50 yards. Moss never did get one.

Slots-o-fun: Slot receivers Wes Welker and Davone Bess had big games. Bess made nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown and would have been a bigger story had the Dolphins won. Welker had eight for 70 yards.

Unsung hero: Patriots outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich had an amazing game against his former team. He intercepted Chad Henne twice and recorded a sack to put the Dolphins at third-and-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Trending: For the second straight week, Brandon Fields had a punt blocked in Dolphins territory. The Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later to take a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter. The New York Jets blocked one in Week 3 and turned it into a field goal. Fields also had a pair of punts blocked in the preseason.

Injuries of note: Patriots Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather hurt his knee and didn't play in the second half.

What's next: Both teams are on their bye weeks. In Week 6, the Dolphins visit the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, and the Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in a rematch of last season's first-round playoff.

Observations from Dolphins-Jaguars

August, 22, 2010
Some thoughts from the Miami Dolphins' lightning-delayed 27-26 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night:
  • Chad Henne was nothing short of great. Henne, despite drops by Ricky Williams and Brandon Marshall, completed 11 of 14 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Anthony Fasano. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano should be ecstatic after Henne's lukewarm preseason debut.
  • Fasano is a player who could use a little mojo. He seemed to have a breakthrough season of sorts in 2008 with 34 receptions for 454 yards and a team-high seven receiving touchdowns. He had an erratic 2009, catching 31 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Great baseball players have a way of impacting games in the field when they're slumping at the plate. Marshall showed he can make a difference even when he's having trouble with drops with sensational downfield blocking on two touchdowns.
  • Chad Pennington's recovery from reconstructive shoulder surgery appears nearly complete. Saturday was a psychological milestone for him. He played one series and connected on three of his four attempts for 54 yards and a touchdown. His longest completion was a fluttering jump ball to Marshall for 37 yards down the left sideline. Vintage Pennington -- and vintage Marshall.
  • Bad news for backup quarterback Pat White. He didn't take a snap. So in two games he has handed off once and knelt down twice to run out the clock. What on earth can the Dolphins do with him?
  • Nose tackles aren't supposed to get sacks. Then again, nose tackles aren't supposed to be as fast as Randy Starks. He shot up the middle to drop Luke McCown for a 10-yard loss in the second quarter. The Dolphins are going with an undersized player there in place of the retired Jason Ferguson.
  • The Dolphins' pass defense has to be a concern. Maybe the biggest concern through two preseason games. First-team quarterbacks Josh Freeman and David Garrard went a combined 10 of 12 for 132 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
  • Another worry: the backup offensive line. Tyler Thigpen, who's fairly mobile, was sacked four times.
  • Yet another worry: penalties. The Dolphins have committed 14 for 117 yards through two preseason games. Only five teams have been flagged more frequently, and two of them have played three games.
  • Rookie cornerback Nolan Carroll continued his strong preseason. He has been impressive on defense, and on Saturday night averaged 25 yards on four kickoff returns.
  • Brandon Fields went into 2010 with zero punt blocks in 61 games, including the preseason, regular season and playoffs. So it's disconcerting he has had a punt blocked in back-to-back games. Saturday night's was in the end zone for a safety on Miami's first possession. Special teams coordinator John Bonamego better fix protection.
  • Jason Allen is a bust as a defensive back and certainly hasn't been worth the 16th overall pick the Dolphins used on him in 2006. But he might be the best special-teams player in the AFC East. He forced a fumble on the free kick following the safety.
NFL assistant coaches are some of the best people to know for those looking to learn more about the game.

That has been my experience in covering the NFL since 1998.

I've helped push for better media access to assistants through the Professional Football Writers of America. I've also learned more about some of the issues important to coaches, including some outlined in this recent story about the NFL Coaches Association.

The chart shows NFLCA team reps as the association talks about forming a union.

Kevin Spencer (Cardinals), Johnnie Lynn (49ers), Dan Quinn (Seahawks) and Andy Sugarman (Rams) are the reps for NFC West coaching staffs. The 49ers' Jimmy Raye is president of the NFLCA executive committee.

It's not clear yet whether the NFLCA will move to unionize and such an effort would face a challenge even if the association did decide to move in that direction. But as coaches consider their options, these assistants presumably will be active behind the scenes.

Posted by's Tim Graham

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