NFL Nation: Philip Wheeler

Miami Dolphins' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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Examining the Miami Dolphins’ roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)


The only question here is whether Devlin can hold off undrafted rookie Brock Jensen for the No. 3 quarterback job. Neither quarterback stood out in the offseason, but Devlin has the slight edge because of experience.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

The Dolphins would like to have someone step up and challenge Thomas. Undrafted rookie Damien Williams from Oklahoma could be a sleeper to watch. But it's too premature to put Williams on the 53-man roster over the veteran Thomas before the pads come on.

RECEIVERS (6)

This is a deep group with a lot of competition. Williams will be pushed for the final spot by Armon Binns and rookie Matt Hazel, who is practice-squad-eligible.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

New Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor uses some two-tight-end sets. So there might be room for a fourth player such as Dion Sims. But we are sticking with three for now.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
Pouncey’s hip injury puts a major dent in this much-maligned group to start the season. Miami will have five new starters in Week 1.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

This is the strongest area of the team. The Dolphins can come at opponents in waves in the trenches.

LINEBACKERS (7)

This group must improve its play from 2013. The Misi experiment at middle linebacker is particularly important to watch.

CORNERBACKS (6)

This is a solid mix of youth and experience. As long as second-year players Taylor and Davis come of age and Finnegan stays healthy, the depth will be improved from a year ago.

SAFETIES (4)

This group is all about position flexibility. All four players must be able to play back in coverage and closer to the line of scrimmage in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s scheme.

SPECIALISTS (3)

This trio will remain the same for the second straight year.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Koa Misi has played outside linebacker his entire five-year career in the NFL. Before that, Misi was a standout defensive end in college at the University of Utah.

But the Miami Dolphins are trying something with Misi this offseason that he's never done before. Misi was moved inside as Miami's starting middle linebacker. For the first time, Misi is responsible for play calls, getting the defense lined up pre-snap and stopping anything in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Koa Misi
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesMiami is trying out Koa Misi at middle linebacker.
Will the Misi experiment work?

Misi is Miami's new field general on defense. The Dolphins are hoping this improves the performance of their underachieving linebackers.

"We think he has great leadership qualities," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Misi. "We think his play has certainly exemplified that over the course of period of time that I've been here. He plays football the right way, so we are going to see how we adjust to that position and how he relates to the other players at his position and the defense in general. So far he's done a nice job."

Make no mistake, the Dolphins are trying the Misi experiment out of necessity. The Dolphins hired new linebackers coach Mark Duffner this offseason to shake things up.

Miami starting linebackers Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler all struggled last season amid high expectations. This trio received sizable contracts and extensions last year, but the Dolphins were ranked 24th in stopping the run and had issues defending tight ends and slot receivers in the passing game.

"I've always been open to anything," Misi said of the switch. "Like I said to these guys, since I got here, I've been switching positions. I'm always open to try something new. Like I said, if it works, it works and, if not, we'll go back to the way things were."

Will this last all season or eventually change? No one in Miami knows for sure.

But there are no early signs that Miami will go back to last year's alignment. Misi has been the starting middle linebacker in every snap the past two weeks in organized team activities open to the media. The Dolphins have been pleased with the results thus far.

"We know, in the long term, it's going to provide us with more depth regardless of whether we stay with it or not," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "It's hard to get a true evaluation when you're out here running around in shorts. But certainly you can start to see them getting more comfortable with the positions that they're featured in right now.

"I think so far, so good. We've been pleased with the way it's working out."
Free-agent linebacker D'Qwell Jackson signed a $22 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday. The Miami Dolphins were one of several teams interested in Jackson and hosted him for a visit.

Jackson
Although Miami didn’t get Jackson, his visit was telling. It says the Dolphins and new general manager Dennis Hickey are not happy with the current linebacking group. Linebackers Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe did not perform up to expectations in 2014. Miami was 24th against the run and struggled at times in pass coverage against tight ends and slot receivers.

What does this mean for Miami’s linebackers going forward? It means they are under the microscope.

Linebacker is not a primary need. But it’s clear Hickey will look to make an upgrade or add depth when an opportunity arises. There could be another starter cut or released this offseason who could compete, particularly with Misi or Wheeler.

But without Jackson in the fold, Miami will stay with its current trio. This much we know: Wheeler, Misi and Ellerbe must perform better in 2014.
The Miami Dolphins signed three starting linebackers to sizable contract extensions in the past year. So why is Miami kicking tires on another starting linebacker this week?

Jackson
Former Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s reported free-agent visit Tuesday is an interesting, under-the-radar development for Miami. Here is what Jackson’s visit means for the Dolphins.
  • This is a clear indication that new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey is not satisfied with the starting linebacker corps of Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe. This group all received multi-year extensions in 2013 and underachieved. These were former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland’s guys. That means Hickey has no attachments to those signings. He most likely watched the film of Miami’s 24th-ranked run defense last season and wasn’t impressed.
  • Jackson played inside linebacker in Cleveland, but Ellerbe is the most secure linebacker in Miami. Jackson would have to play outside in place of Misi or Wheeler, who are both in the hot seat for inconsistent play last season. Contractually, Wheeler’s cap value is $6.4 million in 2014, which includes a guaranteed salary of $5 million. Misi has a lower cap number of $2.38 million and appears easier to release in the event the Dolphins landed Jackson.
  • But the Dolphins aren’t guaranteed to get Jackson and definitely aren’t the favorites. There are at least two other reported suitors for Jackson’s services in the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos. Jackson is a good player, and I believe he would be an upgrade over some of the linebackers the Dolphins currently have. But Miami probably wouldn’t try to win a bidding war over other teams considering all the money it already has tied into the position.

Bringing in Jackson for a visit is a strong sign that Miami wants to see better production from that position and that the team wasn't happy with its multi-million dollar investments. Misi, Wheeler and Ellerbe must step up their games if they remain Miami's starting linebackers in 2014.

Dolphins have plenty of cap room

February, 21, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins can use some good news. And here it is: In less than two weeks, the Dolphins will have plenty of cap space to pursue free agents.

Look for the Dolphins to be major players for the second straight offseason when free agency opens March 11. Last year, Miami spent more than $100 million in guaranteed money for outside free agents such as Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and in-house free agents such as Brian Hartline and Chris Clemons.

This year the Dolphins will have approximately $36 million to spend within the projected $130 million salary cap. That includes about $18 million in carryover from 2013, which trails only the Cleveland Browns ($24.5 million) and Jacksonville Jaguars ($19.6 million).

Dawn Aponte, Dolphins vice president of football administration, has done a masterful job with the salary cap to allow Miami to be aggressive for the second year in a row. Miami can certainly use the additional resources. The Dolphins have well-defined weaknesses, such as offensive line, cornerback and safety. Miami also has more than 20 restricted and unrestricted free agents looking for new contracts. Some will stay in Miami and some will sign with other teams.

Already in 2014 the Dolphins have gone through a GM change, coaching-staff changes and the Ted Wells report, which highlighted Miami’s ugly bullying scandal. But March 11 should be an exciting time for the Dolphins and their downtrodden fan base.

Most expensive Dolphins in 2014

January, 13, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins are searching for a new general manager after parting ways with Jeff Ireland last week. One of the biggest jobs for Miami’s new GM will be analyzing the roster.

Despite a spending spree last year in free agency, Miami goes into the 2014 offseason in solid shape with the salary cap. The fact the Dolphins have more than 20 unrestricted and restricted free agents has a lot to do with it.

At right is a chart of the 10 most expensive salary-cap charges for the Dolphins in 2014.

The new Dolphins GM certainly has some decisions to make with their 10 most expensive players. For example, two players on this list are coming off season-ending injuries. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) and receiver Brandon Gibson (knee) ended the 2013 season on injured reserve.

Noticeably missing from this list is Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He is the 12th most expensive player on the roster with a cap charge of $3.455 million next season. That is peanuts for a starting NFL quarterback. Tannehill is entering the third year of his rookie contract.

Miami Dolphins lacking killer instinct

November, 24, 2013
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MIAMI -- There is something missing with the Miami Dolphins this year that is hard to put a finger on.

The Dolphins have talented players. They compete hard on most weeks and can compete with just about anyone in the NFL.

But there is one key reason Miami is 5-6 this season, and it's something that is difficult to measure: The Dolphins simply lack the killer instinct necessary that it takes to build a consistent winner.

The Dolphins' inability to finish was on full display Sunday during their 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Miami blew a 16-6 halftime lead in a game that could have done wonders for its playoff chances. The Dolphins were outscored 14-0 in the second half and allowed 17 unanswered points .

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT via Getty ImagesMike Wallace was one of the few bright spots for the Dolphins on Sunday.
"I think we kill ourselves," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace (five catches, 127 yards) said after the game of Miami's second-to-last drive when the Dolphins could have gone up 10 points. "I think we could have put them away on the drive before that. We just didn't. We've got to have killer instinct. I don't think we really have it that well.

"We've got to do a better job of finishing teams off when we have them coming back out of the half. That's the biggest thing."

Getting outplayed in the second half and fourth quarters have been troubling trends for the Dolphins all season. Miami also blew a 17-0 halftime lead to the New England Patriots on Oct. 24.

There were many of the same ingredients in Sunday's collapse to Carolina, which won its seventh straight game. The Dolphins became predictable and one-dimensional on offense and couldn't get key stops on defense late in the game.

Miami's inconsistent running game produced just 52 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the Dolphins' leading rusher with 36 yards. Carolina's front seven dominated Miami's patchwork offensive line, which is missing two starters due to the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal.

With Miami becoming predictable on offense, it became easy for Carolina to shut out the Dolphins in the second half.

"Penetration," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Miami's inability to run. "We were running one or two times an outside zone play, [and] the defensive ends are 4 yards in the backfield and we tried to bend and weave. Again, if you don't get the ball at any point to the line of scrimmage it's tough. You have to do better."

With the offense stalling, it became more and more difficult for Miami's defense to hold the lead.

Miami's defense did a solid job bottling up Carolina quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton for much of the game. Newton threw for 174 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But his 80-yard touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter sealed the victory for Carolina. Newton capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds remaining.

"I feel like they started making adjustments," Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said. "They blocked up a few plays differently. They are a good team and they made some plays and we didn't make them towards the end when it counted."

The Dolphins have the talent to be a playoff team. But they often don't play that way, especially in crunch time.

Whether that's a player or coaching issue is debatable. Opposing coaches have made good halftime adjustments against Miami's coaching staff. Yet, at the same time, it's up to the Dolphins players on the field to produce. Too often that does not happen late in games.

That leaves the Dolphins with a mediocre 5-6 record with five games remaining. There is a strong chance they will end up regretting tough losses like Sunday's when their season is over.

Philip Wheeler fined $21,000 for QB hit

November, 15, 2013
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DAVIE, Fla. -- The bad news continues for the Miami Dolphins.

Miami starting linebacker Philip Wheeler was fined $21,000 for his hit on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon in Monday’s loss, an NFL spokesman confirmed to ESPN.com. Wheeler hit Glennon in the head and neck area, and it was a big penalty in Miami's 22-19 loss to the Buccaneers.

Wheeler is the second Dolphins player to be fined by the NFL for hard hits on quarterbacks this season. Miami rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins also was fined in October for his hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Thad Lewis.

Dolphins' D prepares for Rob Gronkowski

October, 22, 2013
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DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins are struggling on a three-game losing streak. They have a variety of issues, which includes sloppy play, lack of pass protection, and a quarterback with seven turnovers in the past three games.

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
To add to the misery, the first-place New England Patriots (5-2) will be unleashing Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski on Miami’s defense this Sunday. Gronkowski made his 2013 debut last week against the New York Jets and recorded eight receptions for 114 yards.

Gronkowski will have another week of practice to shake the rust and get in shape before facing the Dolphins (3-3) in a big AFC East game on Sunday.

“Obviously, they made a conscious effort to try and get him the football,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said of Gronkowski. “He’s a unique guy in that his combination of size and strength, his ability to body position people is really what separates him. I thought the Jets did some things, that at times they did some good things with him in the ball game, but yet he still caught the ball and had over 100 yards of receptions in the game.”

The Dolphins have struggled defending tight ends at various points this season. They’ve allowed four passing touchdowns to tight ends in six games. Two tight ends -- Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns -- recorded 100 yards or more against Miami.

Gronkowski and Graham are widely regarded as the top two tight ends in the NFL. Graham lit up Miami’s defense for four catches, 100 yards and two touchdowns on Sept. 30. Gronkowski has the potential to do similar damage. Dolphins linebackers Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe have been inconsistent defending tight ends in the middle of the field and vertically.

After dealing with young and inexperienced receivers, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is happy for Gronkowski’s return. Brady targeted Gronkowski 17 times in the tight end’s first game Sunday. The Dolphins expect Gronkowski to get plenty of opportunities again in Week 8 and have to be ready for the burly and talented tight end.

“You don’t want him to catch the big balls down the field,” Coyle said. “If you can kind of keep him contained where he’s catching shallow balls that is a good thing. You have to be able to do some things to try and take him out of the game, so that’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

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MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins consistently take a “next man up” mentality. But what happens when the next player keeps getting injured?

After a relatively healthy three weeks, Miami’s defense is being hit hard with injuries. The bye week is coming at just the right time for the Dolphins (3-2). Miami suffered some new injuries and is still reeling from old ones following a 26-23 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

Ellerbe
The list of injured defensive players is a long one. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder), cornerback Nolan Carroll (shoulder), defensive end Cameron Wake (knee) and cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) are all starters who either didn’t play or couldn’t finish Sunday’s game against Baltimore. Several other Dolphins players are also banged up on defense, but played through it.

“That’s the view of the NFL: When a guy goes down, the next guy should be ready to step in and fill that void,” Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said in the locker room afterward. “I feel like the backups did a pretty good job coming in and filling that void.”

Miami’s defense kept the points down, relatively speaking. But the Dolphins allowed 384 yards in the loss and couldn’t get key stops in the second half.

Miami’s short-handed defense was clearly gassed in the third and fourth quarters. The rotation was shortened because of injuries, and Baltimore took advantage by scoring 20 second-half points.

The Dolphins were a strong second-half team in the first three games. But Miami had a short week of preparation, and injuries have this group gasping for air. The Dolphins allowed 133 yards rushing on 40 carries.

“It’s hard to lose people in the game,” Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi said. “It was definitely hard on us.”

Miami will get two weeks to recover before facing the Buffalo Bills (2-3) on Oct. 20 at Sun Life Stadium. That should provide ample time for most of Miami’s defensive players to return. Miami needs to win at home, especially within the division.

The Dolphins need a better overall performance from their defense week in and week out if they want to put themselves in position to make a playoff push. The Dolphins fell to 1-1 at home this season, and have lost two straight.

“I want to be 5-0 as a player, just for this team, because we work really hard,” Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said. “But we’re not proud with 3-2. We’re going to take it and we’re going to learn from the mistakes of this game and make sure we’re not 3-3 after the bye.”

Dolphins-Falcons halftime notes

September, 22, 2013
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MIAMI -- The Atlanta Falcons lead the Miami Dolphins, 13-10, at halftime.

Here are some notes from the game at intermission:
  • Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is on fire in the first half. He completed 12 of his first 14 attempts in the first half to get Atlanta out to a 10-0 lead. Ryan finished the half 15-of-17 for 118 yards and a touchdown.
  • The tackling for Miami's defense was awful in the first half. Atlanta's offensive skill players consistently ran through tackles for additional yards. The Dolphins even made changes in the first half by bringing in rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins over starter Philip Wheeler. It's unknown if Wheeler was benched due to performance. But he looked healthy and ready to play on the sideline.
  • Defending the tight end has been an issue for Miami’s defense the past few seasons. Falcons future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez had four receptions and three first downs in the first half. His early production led to Atlanta’s opening touchdown drive.
  • Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake injured his knee in the second half and his return is questionable.He was working on the bike to test his knee. We will see if he re-enters the game in the second half.
  • There is a good crowd at Sun Life Stadium. This is probably as packed as I’ve seen a Dolphins game in a while. The buzz is certainly there following Miami’s 2-0 start. But the Dolphins must win consistently, particularly at home, in order to keep a strong home-field advantage.
Ryan Tannehill and Julio JonesUSA TODAY SportsRyan Tannehill and the undefeated Dolphins will try to upset Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Miami Dolphins are basking in the light of a 2-0 start while the Atlanta Falcons are just trying to find some healthy bodies.

The two teams play each other Sunday in a game that has big implications in the AFC East and NFC South races.

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas examine this matchup:

Yasinskas: James, like many, I thought the Dolphins would be an improved team. But it's looking like they might be even better than I thought. They've gone out and started their season with two big wins on the road. What's going right for the Dolphins and, more importantly, how good are they?

Walker: It's early, Pat, but Miami is already exceeding my expectations. I pegged the Dolphins to be an 8-8 team this year. That still could happen if the team loses focus, but Miami is on pace to do better. I credit two things: improved playmaking ability and the growth of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Miami committed more than $200 million in free-agent contracts to players like receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. All of those players came up big in last Sunday's win over the Indianapolis Colts. When you add in the fact Tannehill has improved in his second year, it's easy to see why the Dolphins are also taking the next step. Atlanta is a team many believe is a Super Bowl contender, but the group is banged up. Pat, how much will injuries impact the Falcons in this game?

Yasinskas: Atlanta has some major injury problems. The Falcons had to put defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing on injured reserve this week and there are reports that running back Steven Jackson will miss a few weeks. The loss of Biermann means the Falcons will have to play rookies Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow at linebacker and second-year pro Jonathan Massaquoi at defensive end. If Jackson is out, the Falcons will have to go with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as their running backs, and that's a sharp drop-off. That probably means the Falcons will pass even more than usual and rely on Roddy White and Julio Jones. Is Miami's secondary ready for that tandem?

Walker: I had a good conversation with Miami's top cornerback, Grimes, on Tuesday. He was complimentary of both White and Jones -- and Grimes would know. The former Falcon watched both receivers grow in Atlanta and practiced against them. It will be fun to see who has the advantage between Grimes and White/Jones, depending on the play. Grimes told me they all know each other so well that it's probably a push. The bigger concern for Miami's secondary is the other cornerback spot. Veteran starter Dimitri Patterson didn't play in Week 2 due to a groin injury. He's working his way back and could play Sunday. Rookie corners Will Davis and Jamar Taylor also returned to practice this week, which could provide depth. Similar to the game against Indianapolis, Miami must do a lot of things schematically to cover up its issues opposite Grimes. That includes using the safeties over the top and getting a good pass rush. Speaking of pass rush, the Dolphins have nine sacks in the first two games. Can they exploit the Falcons in this area?

Yasinskas: Miami's pass rush has to be a major concern for the Falcons. Atlanta revamped its offensive line in the offseason and it's taking some time to come together. The right side of the line is of particular concern with guard Garrett Reynolds and Lamar Holmes as the starters. Reynolds is average at best and Holmes, a second-year pro, was thrown into the starting lineup when Mike Johnson went down with an injury in the preseason. Holmes is very much a work in progress, so the Falcons will have to try to give him some help by getting their tight ends and running backs involved as pass-blockers. Still, Atlanta should be able to move the ball through the air because it has Matt Ryan, Jones, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Has Tannehill developed enough to win a shootout?

Walker: That's an interesting question, Pat. I'm not sure anyone -- even Miami's coaching staff -- has the answer. I did notice the Dolphins' game plan in Week 1 against Cleveland was fairly conservative compared to Week 2 against Indianapolis. Those are two different teams, and perhaps the Dolphins realized they needed to be more aggressive throwing and take more vertical shots deep to match Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. This is a similar type of challenge, because Atlanta's offense is built around scoring points in the passing game. Tannehill is getting better at taking over parts of a game in Year 2. His play in the second half the past two weeks has been terrific. The Dolphins are outscoring opponents 24-6 in the third and fourth quarters, in part because Tannehill is moving the chains, putting points on the board and keeping Miami's defense fresh. I don't expect this game to be all on Tannehill's shoulders. The defense remains the strength of the Dolphins. Keeping Atlanta's scoring around 23 points or fewer, as opposed to having Tannehill throw for 400 yards, is probably Miami's best shot to win.

This time, Luck couldn't bail out Colts

September, 15, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The reputation was inevitable for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

Eight fourth-quarter rallies in 12 victories in his young career. He has earned the right to be known for his come-from-behind ability.

But you knew the magic that Luck provided during fourth quarters would run out at some point. The Colts couldn’t continue to rely on him to bail them out. It’s a fun story and all, but it’s a dangerous way to try to succeed.

That point was proven on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsMiami's Cameron Wake and Randy Starks made sure that Colts QB Andrew Luck didn't have any fourth-quarter dramatics.
Luck threw a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone and took a sack on fourth down with under two minutes left as the Colts fell 24-20 to the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I guess a little angry at myself,” Luck said. “Again, credit to them. They put us in all these situations, but I feel like we are a better team than what we showed out there. But I don’t know if I’m any harder on myself after this loss, other losses, wins, whatever it may be.”

Luck’s numbers weren't bad -- 25-of-43 for 321 yards and a touchdown. But he was also unfortunate because the Dolphins were able to get their hands on a lot of his balls to go with some throws that were behind his intended targets.

Those miscues would have been forgotten if Luck could have pulled off his second straight winning drive in the fourth quarter.

Luck drove the Colts down to Miami’s 34-yard line when he tried to zip a pass to receiver Reggie Wayne. Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes didn’t have a problem coming up with the interception in the end zone because Luck’s pass was poorly thrown.

“I forced the throw up there,” Luck said. “Good coverage by Grimes. We knew coming in he was a phenomenal corner. ... There’s another play I’d love to have back.”

Grimes said, “We knew coming in, and we talked about it all week that he makes plays down the stretch. That’s his thing.”

The Colts' defense did its part and forced the Dolphins to punt after the turnover.

You just knew something special would happen after Luck bounced off two Dolphins defenders and one of his teammates to scramble for 14 yards on the Colts’ first possession of the ensuing series. Then there was a 22-yard completion to Griff Whalen, who was playing because of an injury to receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (shoulder). Another 18 yards to Wayne followed.

But that’s when it all stopped. That’s when things became reality again for the Colts.

An incompletion to T.Y. Hilton in the end zone -- a pass that should have been intercepted by Dolphins safety Chris Clemons. Another incomplete pass.

The final offensive play also proved how much the Colts missed running back Vick Ballard’s blocking ability.

Luck took the snap out of the shotgun, and running back Donald Brown looked pitiful trying to block linebacker Philip Wheeler. Brown went for the block -- if you want to call it that -- and Wheeler threw him to the side like it was nothing and sacked Luck.

No magical ending this time.

“Disappointing last series,” Luck said. “I don’t think I handled a lot of those plays well. You start thinking about the plays afterward. They did a good job of pressure on that last play. You never want to get sacked on fourth down. That’s almost one of those cardinal sins, if you will, of playing football.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- It would have been understandable if the Miami Dolphins' defense crumbled late in the fourth quarter against Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts' franchise quarterback was in his house and already has eight career fourth-quarter comebacks in a little more than one year in the NFL.

Luck was on the move and driving deep in Miami territory in an effort to make the Dolphins his ninth fourth-quarter victim. But these were not your typical Dolphins on Sunday. This Miami defense made crucial plays when it needed it most to pull off a 24-20 victory.

Wheeler
The Dolphins' defense used a bend-but-don't-break approach to eventually get the best of Luck. The biggest play was a sack by Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler in the final 2 minutes to end the Colts' rally. Down four points, Luck drove Indianapolis to Miami’s 23-yard line with a chance for the go-ahead touchdown.

Miami sacked Luck three times, but none more important than Wheeler bringing the Colts quarterback down late in the fourth quarter.

"I missed a sack earlier in the game, because I never played against him before,” Wheeler said. “He’s big. He’s bigger than I thought, and I just wanted to get him to the ground on the last play.”

Miami’s defense is learning to finish when it matters most. Luck threw for 321 yards and had the upper hand on the Dolphins for most of the game. But Miami’s faster, revamped defense made the clutch plays in the fourth quarter to preserve its second consecutive road win.

The Dolphins spent a lot of money in free agency to add talented playmakers on defense, and it's paying dividends. Miami signed Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe at linebacker. Both players combined for 26 tackles and a key sack against Indianapolis. The Dolphins also signed top cornerback Brent Grimes, who made a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone. Grimes out-fought Colts receiver Reggie Wayne on another big play for Miami’s defense.

“We stayed even-keeled,” Grimes said of Miami’s fourth-quarter defense. “We knew we had to step up and make some plays. We knew [Luck] would extend some plays, breaks some tackles and do what he does. ... We just kept our cool and played fundamentally sound football.”

Miami’s defense is showing a lot in the first two games of the season. In Week 1, the Dolphins rattled the offensively inept Cleveland Browns and recorded six sacks and three interceptions. In Week 2, Miami faced a much better offense and top-level quarterback in Luck. The confidence of this unit continues to grow with each game.

Dolphins camp notes: Sturgis emerges

August, 15, 2013
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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.

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