NFL Nation: Training camp

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Lovie Smith finished 10-6 in his final season with the Chicago Bears before being fired. Marc Trestman comes in and leads the Bears to an 8-8 record in 2013. Yet expectations soar here on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, where crowds for training camp practices routinely swell to 10,000.

It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.

The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.

If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?

“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”

Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.

“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler is more comfortable in coach Marc Trestman's system, and all of his offensive weapons are healthy and ready to go.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.

2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.

3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mundy
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears brought Ryan Mundy in to compete at safety, but the position, at least in camp, continues to look shaky.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.

2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.

3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
  • The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
  • Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Shea McClellin produced a lackluster debut at linebacker Friday during the Chicago Bears' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the staff remains optimistic about his transition.

McClellin
A first-round pick drafted to play defensive end in 2012, McClellin moved to linebacker in the offseason after two pedestrian seasons as a pass-rusher. Against the Eagles, McClellin struggled in his first live outing at linebacker.

He missed tackles, struggled to shed blocks, and took bad pursuit angles. But those struggles weren’t exclusive to McClellin, though, as pretty much every player at the position experienced an up-and-down evening. McClellin just happens to fall under the microscope more often because of his first-round pedigree.

"It’s one of those things where he’s working at it," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "We see him do it at practice. He looks very instinctive at practice. We saw him make sudden movements and quick decisions in the game. I think he’s already doing that to a certain extent. We just have to get better."

Perhaps the most important component of that process is placing McClellin into as many live-game situations as possible so he can become more comfortable playing the position. Believe it or not, against Philadelphia, the Bears drew a difficult assignment given the first-team defense faced the Eagles’ potent no-huddle offense, which features plenty of zone-read concepts, in a situation in which the club hadn’t game-planned for the opposition.

Such a scenario makes for a chaotic opening few series, but once the defense settled in, McClellin started to improve, and he finished the game with two stops. The truth is the staff isn’t looking for McClellin to light it up immediately, because it knows firsthand the challenge the linebacker is facing in making the transition from defensive end.

What the staff hopes to see from McClellin are gradual steps toward becoming the starter on the strong side.

"The bottom line is that Shea has shown enough out here to believe he has linebacker instincts," linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "I think he’s gonna be fine," Herring added. "He’s committed. He works hard. To be honest with you, there are times out there when he moves better than all of them. He changes directions, instincts, breaking on the ball, it’s a process. Y’all be patient. We’ll know after the first game, second game, where we’re at with him. Right now, he’s on schedule. He needs to play more games. He needs more at-bats, and I really believe that he’ll come and be a solid player for us. That’s my prediction."

Bears Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
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CHICAGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • In game situations, quarterbacks around the league often view pictures in between series of the defenses they faced while they were out on the field. Well, the Bears plan to phase out the picture printouts and instead have them uploaded this season to Microsoft Surface tablets. The Bears tested out the tablets in between different portions of practice, with coaches and quarterbacks coming to the bench to view the pictures on the gadgets. The Bears plan to use both paper printouts and the tablets until they can eventually rely solely on the mobile computer technology.
  • The Bears held their annual Family Fest practice at Soldier Field, with notable veterans such as Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff not participating as coach Marc Trestman gave both a day off to rest. Other non-participants included safeties Chris Conte (shoulder) and Craig Steltz (groin) along with guard Eben Britton (hamstring), and cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps). Trestman excused running back Shaun Draughn from the workout to deal with a personal matter.
  • During Family Fest, the players are introduced by the public address announcer by position before the workout, and they run out of a smoke-filled tunnel as fireworks go off as they enter the field. As the offensive players were announced, they ran out of the tunnel individually. When the defensive players were announced, each position group came out of the tunnel simultaneously, as somewhat of a display of solidarity.
  • The Bears started off practice with Danny McCray and Adrian Wilson as the first-team safeties, with Ryan Mundy and rookie Brock Vereen working with the No. 2’s. But throughout the workout, the Bears used several combinations at the position. At one point, Wilson and M.D. Jennings lined up with the first team. Later on, Wilson and Mundy lined up with the starters. "We’re still in the process of moving people around," Trestman said.
  • Mundy unleashed the biggest lick of the day when he smacked tight end Dante Rosario on a seam route to jar the ball loose. Later in the session though, Eric Weems beat Mundy down the seam for a touchdown in the red zone, causing a brief scuffle between the two that also involved Marquess Wilson. Trestman spoke to Mundy on the sideline shortly after the minor dustup.
  • The offense bested the defense after being dominated the day before at training camp. The group scored a few touchdowns on routes down the seams and on slants. Undrafted rookie safety Marcus Trice provided one of the few highlights for the defense when he broke on intermediate throw from David Fales for an interception.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago's signing of veteran safety Adrian Wilson in June slipped past some observers, with the pundits paying attention believing the team acquired a player no longer capable of consistently performing at a high level.

The Chicago Bears obviously view Wilson differently. In fact, Wilson is very much in contention for one of Chicago’s two starting safety jobs, which are currently up for grabs.

Wilson
“I’ve talked to Adrian enough to know he’s truly a professional,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s committed to the game and being great at the game. He’s got an opportunity to come back and play the game in a situation he thinks he can not only help our football team, but to continue to play at a high level. So we’ll see. We’re excited to have him. He’s been an outstanding player in this league for a very long time; one of the best to play this game.”

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wilson caught the eye of the team’s personnel men with a strong workout in June, and one source within the organization believes if the veteran remains healthy, he could give Chicago’s secondary the intimidating presence it has lacked at the safety position in recent seasons. None of the contenders currently on the roster are as physical as Wilson, according to the source.

However, Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, missed all of the 2013 season due to injury. It was reported that Wilson suffered a torn Achilles, but the safety posted on Twitter recently that he was dealing with Haglund’s deformity, which is a bony enlargement on the back of the hell that rubs against and irritates the Achilles.

In 181 career games, Wilson has racked up 978 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 106 pass breakups, and 13 forced fumbles in addition to recovering nine fumbles.

“We brought Adrian in for a workout. It was obvious he still has a very good burst,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “In terms of how he moved around, the burst he displayed, the hand and ball skills, there [was] no reason not to sign him, to put him in the competitive mix. The position is wide open. If Adrian Wilson walks in here and he’s in football shape and, like the rest of them, stays healthy, he can claim the job. But he’s gonna have a fight on his hands.”

The Bears lost last season's starter at strong safety, Major Wright, to Tampa Bay during free agency, and free safety Chris Conte will begin training camp on the active physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. The Bears signed veterans Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray during the early portion of free agency before bringing aboard Wilson late.

Mundy took the majority of repetitions with the starters at strong safety during organized team activities and minicamps. But in Chicago’s defense, the safety “positions are essentially interchangeable,” according to Trestman, which means that Wilson could wind up playing either spot for the Bears, as could Mundy and the other candidates.

“We want to find the best two guys,” Trestman said. “In other words, if Ryan and Adrian are both at the strong safety position on Friday, that doesn’t mean Ryan can’t go to free [safety] on Saturday and Adrian can’t be at strong safety. I’m not trying to get into how we’re going to start this thing. I’m just saying we’re going to move these guys around and try to find the best two guys that can play every down.”

Five Miami Dolphins on the bubble

August, 23, 2013
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night in the "dress rehearsal" game for both teams. The first round of cuts to 75 will be next Tuesday, and the final cut to 53 players is coming on Aug. 31.

This is a huge game for Miami's players who are on the verge of making the team or getting released. Here are five players who need a good performance Saturday night:

1. RB Jonas Gray

Analysis: It’s not often that a team keeps four running backs. But Gray is doing everything he can to make that a tough decision for Miami. Gray has been solid in training camp and preseason games. He even carved out a potential role as a short-yardage and goal-line option for the Dolphins this preseason, which he's done well. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are locks for the 53-man roster. Mike Gillislee also is a draft pick, so he also sticks. Gray is fighting a number's game, and needs to prove Saturday why it is worth keeping an extra tailback.

2. DT A.J. Francis

Analysis: Perhaps no Dolphins backup has come on stronger in the past week or 10 days than Francis. The light has come on for the raw defensive lineman. Francis put together two good weeks of practice, and had an impressive preseason game last Saturday against the Houston Texans. The problem is that the defensive line is the deepest area of the team. My latest Miami roster projection has nine defensive linemen, and Francis didn’t make the cut. Ideally, the Dolphins would like to keep Francis on the practice squad. But that would risk Miami losing him to another team. Saturday is a good chance for Francis to show why he deserves to be on a 53-man roster -- whether it is Miami's or someone else's roster.

3. Guard Lance Louis

Analysis: Louis has been in a rough spot in training camp. The four-year veteran is coming off ACL surgery. He missed valuable practice time, but also needed to come back early enough to show what he can do before roster cuts. Louis has plenty of starting experience, but he's still rusty and probably not 100 percent. Louis was my last offensive lineman to make the cut. Much of that was because other offensive linemen are injured. This is a big game for Louis to validate his standing.

4. WR Marvin McNutt

Analysis: McNutt is in a neck-and-neck roster battle with fellow receiver Chad Bumphis. McNutt started training camp fast, then Bumphis took the lead, but lately McNutt is back to making more plays in practice. McNutt also has the size Miami's coaching staff covets. He just needs to work on his consistency. Bumphis is a slot receiver who doesn't offer much versatility. But this battle is still up for grabs, and could come down to the final two preseason games.

5. FB Jorvorski Lane

Analysis: Lane, last year’s starting fullback, has really seen his stock drop in training camp and the preseason. Miami's coaching staff has moved in the direction of versatility and position-flexibility on offense. Therefore, players like Charles Clay and Evan Rodriguez are getting more reps ahead of Lane, who is a pure fullback. If roster cuts were today, I would expect Rodriguez to get the nod over Lane. Rodriguez is a better athlete, receiver and can play special teams. Lane's chances are dwindling fast. He has two more preseason games to try to earn a roster spot.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins completed their 2013 training camp Thursday, and one of the top players in camp was second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The former third-round draft pick has been arguably Miami's most improved player throughout organized team activities, minicamps and training camp. Vernon beat out No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan for the starting job at defensive end, although Jordan has been hampered by an injured shoulder.

Vernon was a backup for the Dolphins last year and registered 3.5 sacks off the bench. This year he’s looking for more. I caught up with Vernon Thursday after the final practice of camp to get thoughts on his progress.

[+] EnlargeOlivier Vernon
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsDefensive end Olivier Vernon (50) hopes to build on a solid rookie season.
James Walker: Olivier, you and left tackle Jonathan Martin have been going at it a lot in this camp. How much are you making each other better for the regular season?

Olivier Vernon: We’re making each other a whole lot better. We try to go against each other every time in practice. As far as pass-rush moves, with me using my hand techniques, I’ve learned so much [facing Martin]. I’ve grown so much from last year to now, it’s like a whole different person. I have him to thank for that. He helped me a lot, and being able to see him, he’s gotten so much better. It works hand and hand.

Walker: I was going to ask about your growth since your rookie year. Has the game slowed down for you in Year 2?

Vernon: Last year was a whole boatload I had to learn. It was kind of overwhelming. But I just tried to go out there and played my best. Now, this year I feel like I know most of the things that’s going on. So it’s much easier. You don’t have to worry about, “Do I have to do this? Do I have to do that?” It slows down for you mentally.

Walker: What’s it been like playing for Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle?

Vernon: He’s a real cool dude. He sets people in position to make plays. If you know your role and you’re good at your role and do your job, you’re going to make plays. Last year was a new coaching staff, so he couldn’t put everything in. We had to crawl before we [could] walk. So this year it should be more things added on defense-wise.

Walker: Miami’s defensive line has a lot of depth. What’s the ceiling for this group?

Vernon: It can be great. We got a special D-line group. We all try to make each other better, especially with competition. The sky is the limit I feel like for this D-line.

Walker: Any predictions for your alma mater this year: the University of Miami?

Vernon: For the U? I know they’re going to beat the Gators [laughs]. That's for one. But I feel like they’re going to be okay. They’re going to be alright. It all depends on what happens with this whole NCAA thing [investigation].
The Miami Dolphins continued their trend of handing out big contract extensions this week. Miami signed starting safety Reshad Jones to a four-year, $30 million extension. Jones now is under contract through the 2017 season.

Miami spent more than $200 million in total contracts this offseason. However, Jones initially was not one of those players the team rewarded. After some early tension, which included Jones considering a holdout, general manager Jeff Ireland stayed true to his word and eventually took care of Jones.

“We’ve been working on this since OTAs [organized team activities],” Jones explained Tuesday. “They said they would get it done, and like I said they went out and got it done. So that’s a thanks to [owner] Stephen Ross, Jeff Ireland, Coach [Joe] Philbin and this whole organization for making this possible.”

Now that Jones is financially secure, he can fully turn his attention to football. Jones had a career year in 2012 when he recorded 94 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and a sack. He was one of Miami’s few playmakers on defense last season.

This year Jones, 25, is thinking big. He’s already one of the top young safeties in the NFL. But Jones’ goal this year is to be mentioned among the very best at his position.

“The sky is the limit,” Jones said Tuesday. “I think I went out last year and demonstrated that I’m one of the elite safeties in this game. I just want to be consistent, continue to keep doing what I’m doing and be a leader on this team.”

The Dolphins could certainly use another big year from Jones. For the first time in years, Miami enters the season with a lot of preseason hype and playoff expectations.

Jones came to Miami as a fifth-round pick in 2010. But he quickly established himself with the Dolphins and became a full-time starter one year later. Once Jones was put in the starting lineup, it was clear that he was a keeper.

It’s rare that a fifth-round pick becomes one of the highest-paid players at his position after just three seasons. But Jones proved himself on the field and the Dolphins are showing confidence that his stellar play will continue.

“It feels even better, knowing that I had to work for it,” Jones said of his road to the big extension. “When you have to work for whatever it is, I think it’s more rewarding. So it feels good knowing that I went out, proved myself and I earned it, it wasn’t just given to me.”
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins will hold their annual training camp scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium Monday at 7 p.m. ET. This is the first chance for the 2013 Dolphins to play under the lights in their home stadium.

Expect the intensity to be increased from practice. Miami will be going over real-game scenarios in this scrimmage in preparation for its first preseason game Aug. 4 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Here are five things to watch:

    [+] EnlargeMike Pouncey
    Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThe Dolphins may experiment with the roster some by moving Mike Pouncey to right guard during training camp to offset injuries on the line.
  • Stability on offensive line: This has been the weakest unit so far in Miami's training camp. There were already concerns about this group entering the preseason. But starting guard John Jerry's injury has resulted in further instability. The Dolphins are trying out multiple combinations to fill in for Jerry’s absence. One combo actually included moving stud center Mike Pouncey to right guard, which I think is an awful idea and weakens the center position. Monday's scrimmage will be a good showcase to see if Miami's offensive line can figure things out.

  • Ryan Tannehill: As usual, all eyes at Sun Life Stadium will be on Miami’s starting quarterback. Tannehill started training camp slowly, but he’s really heated up in the past several days. Let's see if he can carry that momentum into this scrimmage and also into next Sunday's first preseason game against Dallas. Tannehill is developing an increasing rapport with his new targets: Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller. Most importantly, he's taking care of the football. Tannehill hasn't thrown an interception in four straight practices.

  • Dion Jordan: Miami’s No. 3 overall pick got his first action in 11-on-11 drills Sunday, and he’s expected to play Monday night. The Dolphins have brought Jordan along slowly after his shoulder surgery in February. Jordan has showed strong flashes of athleticism and pass-rushing ability. His play in this scrimmage could dictate how soon Jordan will be ready to participate in preseason games.

  • Cornerback play: Miami was 27th against the pass last season but looks improved at cornerback. Brent Grimes has been one of the top performers in camp so far, and Dimitri Patterson and Richard Marshall have staged a good competition for the No. 2 corner slot. This is a good opportunity for players to begin carving out roles in the secondary, particularly for young corners like rookie Will Davis, R.J. Stanford and Nolan Carroll.

  • Running backs: There haven’t been a lot of big plays so far from the running backs. Some of that is due to Miami’s run defense, which is stout. Tailbacks Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee appear to be the top three options for the Dolphins at this stage. Miller, the starter, appears to be the best of the three. But there haven’t been a lot of running lanes. This is another byproduct of the Dolphins' instability on the offensive line. This unit is regularly getting hammered by Miami’s defensive line, which is very deep.

I will have a full report in the AFC East blog from Miami’s scrimmage late tonight. But if Dolphins fans cannot wait that long and want immediate analysis, follow my Twitter account for live updates and observations as they happen.
The Miami Dolphins suffered their first season-ending injury of training camp over weekend. Backup receiver Armon Binns landed awkwardly on his leg Sunday and suffered a torn ACL in his left knee.

Binns had a solid spring and made several plays during the first week of training camp. He was the early favorite for the No. 4 receiver job behind starters Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Binns caught 24 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown during his split time last season with Miami and the Cincinnati Bengals.

With Binns out, the backup receiver positions are wide open. The Dolphins are expected to keep five or six receivers on their 53-man roster. Wallace, Hartline and Gibson are the only locks, leaving as many as three spots remaining.

Here are the early candidates:

No. 1: Marvin McNutt

Skinny: McNutt has made the most big plays of all the backup receivers in camp, including Binns. McNutt now has the inside track to become one of Miami's top reserves at receiver.

No. 2: Rishard Matthews

Skinny: Matthews surprised Miami last year as a seventh-round draft pick. But a recent camp injury will result in missed time and put him behind the rest of the group.

No. 3: Jeff Fuller

Skinny: Binns' injury opens up a golden opportunity for a player like Fuller. He has good size and is a former college teammate of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, Fuller remains inconsistent in camp.

No. 4: Brian Tyms

Skinny: He's a raw talent who flashed in the spring but has disappeared so far in training camp. Unless he produces big in preseason games, Tyms could be a practice-squad option.

No. 5: Jasper Collins

Skinny: The Dolphins like his ability to return kicks. But Collins hasn't done much in training camp as a receiver. That's probably not enough to make the 53-man roster.

Other candidates: Kenny Stafford, Chad Bumphis, Andrell Smith.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins are a full week into training camp, and I was in attendance for Day 7 to take in all the action.

Here are some notes and observations:
  • The stars of Sunday’s practice were Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who got a sack and blew up a running play behind the line of scrimmage in team drills, and backup quarterback Pat Devlin. Miami made a roster move to cut quarterback Aaron Corp. Therefore, Devlin got more reps and had his best practice of training camp. He threw touchdowns to receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson. However, Devlin did throw a late interception to rookie cornerback Will Davis to end practice. Look for Devlin to play a lot in next week’s Hall of Fame Game.
  • Miami continued to experiment with its offensive line Sunday. Mike Pouncey was played at both center and right guard with the first team. Josh Samuda played center and left guard with the starters. Rookie guard Dallas Thomas got fewer reps with the starters.
  • Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had his fourth straight day of practice without a turnover. Tannehill also threw a pair of touchdowns to receiver Brian Hartline and running back Marcus Thigpen in the corner of each end zone. After a slow start, Tannehill appears to have hit his stride in training camp.
  • Cornerback Dimitri Patterson worked with the first team for the second day in a row. Patterson has strung together three good practices in a row, and is ahead of Richard Marshall for the time being. Patterson has displayed good quickness and ball skills so far.
  • As we mentioned earlier, the Dolphins had their first fight of training camp. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick and Samuda got into a wrestling match after the whistle during 11-on-11 drills. They eventually patched things later in practice. You can read the full report of what happened here.
  • The Dolphins will play in Sun Life Stadium on Monday night for a team scrimmage. This will be a good opportunity for players to step up and impress the coaching staff.
DAVIE, Fla. -- It took a full week of practices, but the Miami Dolphins finally had their first fight in what’s been another hot and humid training camp.

The sun was beaming in South Florida on Sunday morning, and the Dolphins also had another physical practice in full pads. So it wasn't a surprise that tempers flared between teammates during 11-on-11 drills.

Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick got into it with offensive lineman Josh Samuda, who is getting a look on the first-team offense at both guard and center. The pair continued to scuffle after the whistle and had a wrestling match on the ground. After the fight was broken up, Odrick ripped off his helmet and fought through teammates in an effort to get more of Samuda.

After practice, I asked Odrick about everything that went down.

“It’s just the heat of the moment, and things like that happen,” Odrick said. “It’s two football players working hard to be good, and it gets like that sometimes when you’re playing a physical game.”

Fighting in training camp is an annual rite of passage in the NFL. However, the Dolphins had a quiet start with scuffles up until that point.

“You know, that was a balloon waiting to pop,” Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake said. “But I think it’s good. Obviously everyone is out there trying to make a play. They’re trying to make our day terrible, and we’re trying to make their day terrible. At the end of the day, we’re all teammates and we go in there and shake hands.”

Cooler heads eventually prevailed. Several minutes later Odrick walked over to Samuda in practice and the two shared a laugh together.

“We’re all on the same team. His locker is three over next to mine,” Odrick explained. “Me and Josh are good friends. ... You’re kind of glad things like that happen. You kind of see what kind of guys you have on your team, and I’m glad Josh is on my team. He’s a guy that’s willing to stand up and fight for the rest of his linemen.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins continued their training camp Saturday with their sixth session.

Here are some notes and observations from Miami training camp:
  • Cornerback Dimitri Patterson got a good look on the first team in this practice. Patterson, who has been steady as the No. 3 corner all week, made several good plays on the ball. On one play in team drills, Patterson nearly jumped a route and intercepted a pass by quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “He’s really doing a good job,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “He’s playing fast and decisive. ... He’s really got that cat-like quickness that you like to see and the ability to redirect.”
  • Saturday was probably the best day of training camp so far for Miami’s running backs. Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee have had trouble reeling off big gains against the Dolphins’ physical and athletic front seven this week. But there were more big runs than usual by the trio on Saturday. The only major negative was Thomas’ fumble in team drills, which was recovered by defensive tackle Jared Odrick.
  • The Dolphins continue to experiment with various changes on the offense line after an injury to starting guard John Jerry. On Saturday, the Dolphins explored a significant change by moving starting center Mike Pouncey to right guard and playing Josh Samuda at center. It’s early, and chances are the Dolphins are just trying out different combos at this point. But potentially moving Pouncey, who is a stud, away from center would be a mistake in my opinion. You need to have your strength in the middle of the offensive line and the center does the most communication with the quarterback and the other offensive linemen. “It’s weird, but it’s whatever the team needs right now,” Pouncey said. “We’re short guys, so they want to see guys work in different spots and we’ll see how it goes.”
  • Tannehill was solid again on Saturday. He got off to a slow start to camp but has strung together three good practices in a row. Tannehill made several good connections to tight end Dustin Keller and receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson in team drills. Most importantly, Tannehill has gone three straight practices without an interception.
  • Fullback Evan Rodriguez got reps with the starters over Jorvorskie Lane. Rodriguez was claimed off waivers this offseason after he was released by the Chicago Bears, and the coaching staff is trying to see where he fits. “You got to start off slow, but now I’m getting a feel for it,” Rodriguez said. “It feels good to be back out here.”
  • The announcement by Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett that quarterback Tony Romo (back) will not play in next week’s Hall of Fame Game impacts the Dolphins. Miami was 27th in pass defense last season and could have benefitted from reps against a quality quarterback. Starters will most likely play just a series or two, but every rep against a quality quarterback counts. Romo recently received an extension exceeding $100 million from the Cowboys this offseason.
  • Saturday on the injury front Jerry, tailback Cameron Marshall, kicker Caleb Sturgis and cornerback Jamar Taylor all missed practice for at least the second day in a row. Backup wide receiver Armon Binns also fell awkwardly after making a diving attempt at a catch and injured his left shoulder or arm.
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.

Training camp preview: Patriots

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
2:00
PM ET
After a rough offseason, the New England Patriots will begin their 2013 season Friday with the start of training camp.

New England remains the preseason favorite to win the AFC East. But this team is weaker than previous years due to several offseason circumstances.

Here are three things to watch in Patriots camp:

1. Can New England block out distractions?

Analysis: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did a smart thing Wednesday. He faced the Aaron Hernandez situation head-on before training camp, because questions were coming either way. Belichick relieved some of the media pressure surrounding Hernandez's arrest on murder and other charges and the team's subsequent release of the star tight end. But this story will follow the Patriots to some degree all summer and beyond. The players must prove they can overcome the loss on the field as well as answer Hernandez questions off it. New England is a team which despises distractions, but this will be a challenge.

2. Will wide receivers step up?

Analysis: It’s been a question all offseason. Now, it’s time for some answers. Which receivers will step up in New England’s offense? Danny Amendola, if he stays healthy, is a proven commodity. But the rest of the Patriots’ receivers have plenty of question marks. New England lost a ton of production by not bringing back 2012 starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. This year’s group includes veterans Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Kamar Aiken, Kenbrell Thompkins and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is good at raising the level of his supporting cast -- but it is asking a lot of Brady to try to lead this group to another Super Bowl title.

3. How much better is the defense?

Analysis: One of the bright spots for the Patriots this offseason has been the additions on defense. New England spent resources in free agency and the draft to improve this side of the football. The Patriots signed veteran free-agent safety Adrian Wilson and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to toughen up the defense. They also drafted three defenders in the first three rounds to infuse some youth and energy. If other young defenders such as Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower take their games to another level, the Patriots defense could make good strides in 2013.

 
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addressed the media for the first time following the release of Aaron Hernandez. New England cut the former tight end after Hernandez was charged with murder and five additional gun charges.

Here was Belichick’s opening statement Wednesday to the media:
"I’m going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez today. I felt that it was important enough to do that prior to the start of camp. It’s a sad day, really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy really to everyone who has been impacted. A young man lost his life. His family has suffered a tragic loss and there’s no way to understate that. When I was out of the country, I learned about the ongoing criminal investigation that involved one of our players and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed in what we had learned. Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing. After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively. [Patriots owner] Robert [Kraft] and his family and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and our players and our organization to represent the community the right away both on and off the field. We’ve worked very hard together over the past 14 years to put together a winning team that’s a pillar in the community. I agree 100 percent with the comments that Robert has already made on the situation; I stand behind those as well. This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot. We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior and this does not in any way represent the way that the New England Patriots want to do things. As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation. Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds. They’ve met many challenges along the way and have done things to get here. Sometimes they’ve made bad or immature decisions but we try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis and try to do what’s best for the football team and what’s best for the franchise. Most of those decisions have worked out but some don’t. Overall, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program but I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this. Moving forward consists of what it’s always been here: to build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that our fans can be proud of. That’s what we’re here for."

This was not your typically staunch Belichick. Although guilt or innocence has yet to be determined, Belichick was genuine in his disappointment for Hernandez putting himself in this position as well as personal sorrow for the victim's family. He also admitted that the Patriots may make alterations to the way they evaluate players. That will be important for Belichick and Kraft going forward.

Belichick was wise to address the media about the Hernandez situation a couple of days before training camp. Patriots players will still face Hernandez questions this week. But both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the team’s top leaders, have said their part and can begin moving on from a controversial situation.

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