don’t like to get overly absorbed with who-beat-who and who-pancaked-who in
early training camp sessions. After 30 seasons of following these things, I’ve
found that drawing hard conclusions in early August is a fool’s errand; in
other words, a general waste of time.
is especially true with Tony Sparano’s players. As we learned last season,
things are not always what they initially seem. The depth chart will change
often, casting those currently running with the first team to the third team
and vice versa, all the while moving players from comfortable tasks to
uncomfortable ones to challenge their mental grasp of the game. Sparano clearly
loves to create adversity for his players; he does this to get a better feel
for who he can trust in live game situations.
is a reason why I prefer to look for broad themes and general observations early
on. The guys who can play generally tend to identify themselves over time.
start with size. We’ve heard a lot about how Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and
Sparano like big players. Last year we began to see evidence of this, headlined
by OT Jake Long and DEs Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford.
training camp, we are reminded not to think just about the offensive and
defensive fronts. Yes, both areas are indeed bigger. Instead, think about the
wide receiver and tight end positions. Collectively, this may be the tallest
corps of pass receivers in team history.
adding rookie Patrick Turner (6-5) in the draft, the Dolphins had stockpiled
Brandon London (6-4), Anthony Fasano (6-4), Ernest Wilford (6-4), and Joey
Haynos (6-8). David Martin (6-4) was already on the roster.
all the height? Match-ups, people. Match-ups!
you know who the tallest projected starter at defensive back in the AFC East is,
outside of the Dolphin roster? It’s Jets safety Kerry Rhodes (6-3, 214). No
other projected starter checks in at better than 6-1. The others will be giving
up 4-6 inches to these Dolphin pass catchers on every snap.
Scotty of Star Trek fame might say, “Ye cannot change the laws of physics”.
me put this in more practical, football terms. Post and corner pass routes, for
example, are run at angles that give receivers a decided advantage when a pass
is thrown to the inside (post route) or outside (corner route) shoulder. The
bigger the height differential between receiver and defender, the bigger the
advantage. Now, factor in a hyper-accurate quarterback like Chad Pennington,
and you get a sense of what Dan Marino meant when he said there’s no defense against
the perfect pass.
opposing defenses try to double up to counter the height issue to one side or
the other, quick and/or fast guys like Ted Ginn, Greg Camarillo, and Davone
Bess will get open and can do damage.
by the personnel combos we’ve seen thus far in the OTAs and early in camp, the
Dolphins are planning to put this size advantage to more extensive use.
Sparano, “This big receiver thing right now is kind of all over the place in
this league…some big, physical guys out there that can really run. >From our
end, we have a couple of these big receivers with (Patrick) Turner, (Brandon) London
and even (Brian) Hartline is a little bit of a bigger guy.”
have to be cautious of big receivers”, Sparano continued. “Are they all guys
that do the same thing? But one of the things I do like is that this team needs
to improve in the red (zone). I think the big receivers in the red (zone) are
going to be critical.”
area where this team needs to improve on, offensively, is third down
conversions”, Sparano noted. “I think when you have big people out there that
can body up some third down plays, do some of those things, that is going to
help you. So I see a need for big receivers; bigger, physical guys.”
that Parcells and friends have been liberally pouring out the growth tonic in
the secondary as well. Before their arrival, the tallest DB on the team was
Jason Allen (6-1). Now? Every starter except CB Will Allen could be 6-0 or
better. And the tallest, 6-3 CB Sean Smith, is as big as the Jets’ Rhodes (a safety).
the past, a guy like Randy Moss (6-4) was a huge red zone mismatch against the
Dolphins…one-on-one, or in creating seams for others. Let’s see if that
continues this year.
is looking for the same thing we were looking for in the draft…big corners”,
explained Sparano. “So you are starting to see big, physical corners against
small receivers. That isn’t a square deal all the time either. So you want the
bigger guys to be able to help you out”.
is next: How did guys progress from Year One to Year Two, and from Year Two to
Year Three from a physical and mental perspective? I tend to pay a lot of
attention to these players early in camp.
is a reason why I find the Shawn Murphy situation so interesting. Sparano
claims that the starting right guard job is his to lose, which to me is the
shocker of camp thus far. Why is Sparano so bullish on Murphy?
have seen a lot of improvement from Murphy”, said Sparano. “I thought in the
spring…if you said to me give me two to three players that probably improved
the most in the spring, I think Murphy was one of those two to three players. I
was impressed with what he did in the spring. Impressed as you could be with
what a lineman does in helmets and T-shirts”.
Murphy can fend off Donald Thomas remains to be seen. Then again, Thomas is
another one of those Year One to Year Two guys.
Chad Henne is another one of these growth players. There no question that he is
much more comfortable with the playbook and in reading defenses. He’s much
smoother and confident in what he is doing, and his physical conditioning looks
to be improved as well. The Dolphins are right; this is a guy clearly on the
upswing. The next step for him is to translate it from the practice field into
a preseason game.
being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pennington looks to be
improved as well. He has full command of the Dolphin playbook now. Just as
importantly, however, was that he enjoyed a full and healthy offseason of
physical training. It’s only the second time in his career that he has done so,
and it was huge.
is nice being healthy and feeling normal”, said Pennington. “Not having to come
into the training room and going through all the rehab things. I can train with
the people I love training with as far as a trainer back home and all different
people (and) being able to access the guys in the strength and conditioning
program as well as our training staff. Not (having to) do the simple basic
stuff of shoulder rehab. I can get into the meat and potatoes of it where I can
make some big time strides”.
Pennington-speak for ‘I’m bigger and stronger than I was last year’.
may very well be in the prime of his career, right now, and he’ll be surrounded
by players who are more confident than ever. Could this be his best season
He has a chance.
in most years, special teams will be a good area of interest early on as hungry
players try to do anything they can to make the roster. Last season, this was
the most disappointing area on the team. Will the coverage teams be improved? I
wish I knew. To my untrained eye, there was little evidence in the OTAs that
the mindset (or talent) is improved in any way. We’ll see how they do in the
scrimmages and preseason games.
I give you three names:
Brown (6-0, 230).
Williams (5-11, 230).
Polite (6-0, 245).
are one thing, seeing them is quite another. These three look to be in the best
shape of their lives. I feel sorry for the people who will have to tackle them.