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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Miami's cornerback situation still a problem

Free from the outcry that typically follows a football team's weak links, the most fragile piece of the Dolphins defense has largely been ignored by critics, but more importantly, by the team's front office this offseason.

The defensive backfield in general and the cornerback spot in particular was an area of great disappointment the last 12 months.

First round pick Jason Allen, who played both cornerback and safety and mastered neither in his rookie year, was a non-factor.

Andre' Goodman, a pleasant surprise of a free agent acquisition, finished the season on the injured reserve list.

Will Allen, acquired in free agency to help us forget the ball-hawking exploits of Pat Surtain and Sam Madison, was OK, but hardly a star.

And despite the fact the defensive backfield was Nick Saban's responsibility, the position he actually coached personally, the Dolphins managed only eight interceptions all season. That, by the way, is the lowest mark in franchise history.

Yes, despite having good pressure from the defensive front that included an MVP caliber year by Jason Taylor, the defensive backfield couldn't deliver game-changing plays with any consistency.

That has led to very little activity this offseason to improve the situation.

So Jason Allen has now been settled in at cornerback where presumably his inability to learn all the calls and assignments of the safety spot won't hinder him. But in adding Allen to the cornerback corps, a move that offers no guarantee of working, the Dolphins have serious doubts about perhaps their best CB.

Goodman has undergone another shoulder surgery, the third for him by my count, and could very well miss the start of training camp next month -- maybe even much of the preseason.

So the Dolphins are down to Travis Daniels and Will Allen as their starters. That's no better than where they were last year when, I remind you, the defensive backfield had a franchise low number of interceptions.

So what's the big deal?

Well, while the Dolphins defensive backfield has failed to graduate from suspect status, the chances of things getting worse around them has improved. The New England Patriots, a division rival, have added not one, not two, but three starting caliber receivers, one of whom is named Randy Moss.

The Jets did their part to keep pace with New England by using their first round draft pick on a cornerback. But the Dolphins, aching on offense, could afford no such luxury.

So what is the point? Well, in the world of hindsight critics and second-guess journalists, I simply want to point out this GLARING issue that is bothering me now in June so that when it becomes a problem in September, none of you guys say I didn't bother to tell you this was brewing.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Should the Dolphins mortgage future for present?

Let's make one thing clear right away: The NFL is a today league.

You may hear some coaches and general managers talking about making the right moves that don't mortgage the future. You may hear them talk the good talk about managing the cap now so it doesn't overwhelm them later.

But let's face it, talking the talk is easier than walking the walk. Which leads me, of course, to Trent Green.

I still don't really understand why the Dolphins are so enamored with the soon-to-be 37-year-old Green other than one indisputable, undeniable reason: He gives Miami the best chance to win in 2007. He knows the offense. He has a comfort level with his primary offensive coaches (Cam Cameron and Terry Shea) and he has an ability (when not injured) to make plays.

Of course, that says nothing for the fact Green is a rental at best. He isn't the club's quarterback of tomorrow. He isn't on the upside of his career. He's all about today and now -- whenever that time period finally begins once a trade is made.

So having said all that, do you as fans and amateur general managers, believe the Dolphins should give up a fifth round pick to the KC Chiefs for Green? The team is offering a sixth now while the Chiefs want a fourth.

Do you, assuming you have the franchise's best interest in mind, cave to KC president Carl Peterson for the sake of getting your 2007 quarterback in the fold? Do you give up a fifth-rounder for a guy who may only be around one year, two max?

And, by the way, if you decide you don't do that, you have to realize you may not get Green at all. For all of Miami's confidence that Green will be released eventually, that the Chiefs will eventually come to there senses, there is no absolute guarantee that will happen.

So the Dolphins risk having a quarterback they apparently don't have a lot of faith in (Daunte Culpepper) because they didn't give up a fifth-round pick that could turn into Zach Thomas, but more likely could be Manny Wright.

Now you understand the situation Miami GM Randy Mueller is in.

What do you do? Do you make the deal and move on or do you stand firm over a fifth-round pick?

Do you guard tomorrow's pick like it was treasure? Or do you simply talk the talk, but don't walk the walk?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A debate about Marijuana

Judging from your responses to the previous post, I see there's a wide range of opinion on Marijuana so I want to give you my thought on it.

I know a lot of you believe suspending Ricky Williams for testing positive for Marijuana is wrong. I know a lot of you think Marijuana is no more harmful, maybe less so, than alcohol. I know a lot of you think the NFL's inability to keep secret test results, well, secret is a greater misdeed than actually testing for the drug in the first place.

I'm not going to argue any of those points with you because I doubt I could change your mind. But consider this:

Marijuana is illegal. That is a cold, unavoidable, undeniable fact. It is illegal throughout the US and certainly in Florida where Ricky Williams wants to make his living. So to excuse his use of the illegal drug is simply excusing someone breaking the law. Look, running a red light isn't horrible. People do it every day. That doesn't make it right. It is illegal. Period.

Being Cuban-born, someone asked me the other day what I thought of the current immigration debate going on, guessing I would be in favor of open borders. My response was the same as a pundit I heard recently when he was asked his opinion about illegal immigration. "It's illegal," he said.

Simple as that. Illegal immigration is illegal. Marijuana is illegal. Running that red light? Illegal.

At some point in our society bogged down by relativism we really do have to draw lines over which people cannot cross. Some of you may call that intolerance. I call it order. Face it, this is not a gray issue. The law is black and white. And we have to obey that law to protect losing the order and excellence of our society. Otherwise we become a bunch of nuts doing whatever we want.

Now you may not agree with the law and that is your right. But you don't have the right to break the law. You have the right to call your local politician and try to get the law changed. But none of us have the right to run red lights, or water our lawns whenever we want during a drought, or smoke Marijuana. Those rights simply do not exist.

Beyond the fact Marijuana is ILLEGAL, the NFL includes Marijuana among its banned substances. That means the stuff is a double no-no. It is no secret to any NFL player, least of all Ricky, that if you test positive for Marijuana, you are outside the bounds of NFL rules. How much more plain can it be?

If Ricky needs Marijuana to medicate some unknown condition, I guess it's his choice to do that. But he forfeits his privilege of playing in the NFL.

A few years ago, Lester Hayes became a Pro Bowl cornerback, in part, by covering his body with a sticky substance that allowed him to catch the football. The guy was often interviewed about become a human Velcro with the substance all over his uniform and he once said it was a big reason he reached his level of success.

Well, the NFL eventually banned the substance. Hayes then had the choice of complying with the ban or, after many fines, probably being suspended. He wanted to play enough that he discarded the sticky substance. Guess what? Lester Hayes was still a fine player without the stuff.

Ricky Williams is obviously fond of Marijuana. But the NFL has banned it. So Ricky has to make his choice of complying with the ban or finding something else to do. It's a matter of choice, people. No one is FORCING Williams to stop smoking Marijuana. But he can't be smoking the stuff and play football any more than he can use brass knuckles to ward off tacklers.

It's not about whether Marijuana gets a bad rap. It's not about whether it's harmless. It's just not allowed.

And so it is not a debate.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Statement from Ricky Williams explains a lot

In light of his April positive drug test, the fifth positive test we know of in his seven-year career, Ricky Williams has issued a statement that tells us a lot about where his head is at.

Here's the statement issued through the Associated Press:

"Due to the recent reports about me failing a drug test, I feel it is appropriate for me to issue this statement. Last month, following a psychological evaluation requested by the NFL, we -- the psychiatrist and I -- came to the realization that there were a few things I needed to iron out about myself in order to make my return to the NFL as successful as possible.

"I am an honest, God-fearing man who is intensely dedicated to being the best person I can be on and off the football field. There is no need to smear my name or to defame my character for the sake of news. When the time is right, God willing, I will be back on the field scoring touchdowns for whatever team is fortunate enough to believe in me.

"I appreciate all the support I have received from my fans and I assure all others that I am strong, clean, and happily preparing myself for a triumphant return to the NFL."

Alrightie then. Let's break this down.

First, we should sympathize with Ricky because he is clearly a troubled soul. The man is forever on a search for the meaning of life and, really, for the meaning of himself, and seemingly never finds what he is looking for. He is nearing 30 years old and still doesn't know himself, is still trying to, "iron things out," as he says. Of course, none of us have arrived yet for we all fall short of the mark. But most of us have some limits and controls over detrimental behavior despite our imperfections.

It is ironic to me that a man who has played a disclipined sport all his life and now teaches the discipline of yoga hasn't enough discipline to keep from doing something that hurts everyone around him, including himself. And if there is any question that smoking pot is bad for Ricky he should simply ask himself, "Did me testing positive this last time help anyone I know?"

The answer is a resounding NO.

On the other hand, "Did me testing postive hurt anyone I know?"

Absolutely. Himself. His children. His team. His agent. His fans.

Secondly, the statement contains at least two out and out lies in one sentence. He says he is "strong, clean and happily" preparing for a return to the NFL. Really?

If he's clean why did he test positive again? If he's happily preparing for his return, why is he seeking the help of a psychiatrist who, by the way, has agreed that Ricky needs to iron some things out?

Thirdly, and perhaps most troubling of all, I don't see any remorse in this statement. Is Ricky sorry he just assured himself of missing training camp because his suspension hearing is moved back to September? Nope. Is Ricky sorry for causing HIMSELF any of the smearing and defamation of which he speaks? Nope. Is Ricky sorry he disappointed a ton of people? I don't see that in this statement.

No remorse. No repentance. And that typically leads to no change.

Finally, I assume Ricky is still planning a return to the NFL -- a "triumphant," return no less. That means anyone concocting conspiracy theories that Ricky tested positive on purpose as a passive aggressive way of not having to play in the NFL is just trying to excuse harmful behavior.

It also means Ricky's still got a generous amount of ego left that he hasn't successfully suppressed amid the reportedly humble lifestyle he is living in Northern California. I'm not saying the ego thing is bad, I'm just noting that his words belie his lifestyle.

All in all, the statement paints a portrait of the same enigma I've seen in the Dolphins locker room (when he's been there) since 2001. Sometimes he's not all there. Sometimes he's too aware. All the time he's undefinable.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

ESPN: Ricky tests positive again

ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that Ricky Williams tested positive for marijuana in April and will not be allowed to reapply for reinstatement from his drug suspension until September.

If this is true, and there is no reason to believe it is not since Mort is usually nails on his reporting, it means Ricky has let everyone -- the Dolphins, his agent, his family and most of all himself -- down again.

It also means Ricky has likely played his final game in Miami, maybe anywhere.

This news shows there was wisdom in the non-commital manner the Dolphins have been answering questions about Ricky. Clearly, the team is in the loop about Ricky's progress (or lack thereof) and if they were aware Ricky fell off the wagon, so to speak, it makes sense they would distance themselves from him or try not get anyone's hopes up about his return.

This news also confirms the Dolphins have been correct with their unstated, yet obvious, policy of never again relying on Ricky because, well, the guy has proven over and over that he cannot be counted on.

Miami made the mistake of counting on Ricky twice in the last three years and got burned each time.

Dave Wannstedt counted on Ricky to be his offense in 2004 and Ricky bolted before the season. Nick Saban counted on Ricky to be a stabilizing force in his backfield last year, a great insurance policy against Ronnie Brown's so-so performances, and sure enough, Ricky wasn't around when his coach and team needed him.

So it is obvious neither general manager Randy Mueller nor coach Cam Cameron are going to allow themselves to depend on Ricky. Ever.

Mueller drafted Lorenzo Booker to be Miami's backup running back. And the man who once dealt Ricky to the Dolphins for two first-round picks is almost certain to take a long-range view of the situation, meaning it's hard to trust a running back longterm when he's nearing his 30th birthday (May 21) and has missed two of the last three seasons.

Cameron, meanwhile, has offered a sobering contrast to the manner in which Nick Saban treated Ricky upon his hiring. Saban called Ricky right away and embraced him. Cameron has made no such reach for Ricky's digits and has doggedly deflected every Ricky question as if it was a plague hurled at his children.

Cameron, in fact, has handled questions about Ricky with a similar aloof style to how he's handled Daunte Culpepper questions. And we all know by now what he intends to do with Daunte once Trent Green is aboard.

It just seems that Cameron's love for predictable goody-goody citizens that are unlikely to give the Dolphins' family a bad name leaves free-spirited, often-weird Ricky out of the picture.

Add to the intrigue the fact Ricky's locker was given away to Booker last week, and you have compelling reasons for believing Ricky's career here is over.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Our respects to Ms. Emma Culpepper

I want to pause from the sometimes nauseating debates that happen on blogs, particularly sports-related blogs like this one, to offer a note with which I'm sure no one here will disagree.

I wish to pay my respects to Ms. Emma Culpepper, the lady who reared Daunte Culpepper from the time he was one day old. Culpepper, 92, passed over the weekend at her home in Ocala.

I did not know Ms. Culpepper and barely know the Dolphins quarterback other than the few times we've talked in a professional setting since he came to Miami last season. But I know Ms. Culpepper reared as many as 15 children during her life, most of them not hers.

I know she took in Daunte Culpepper when she was already in her sixties.

I know she did a pretty good job with at least one of her kids, because despite any of Culpepper's faults as a player, he is nonetheless a gentleman.

That makes Ms. Culpepper more valuable than a quarterback. That feat, for which there is no reward other than one in heaven, is more noble than winning any MVP award. Too often, covering professional sports, one can lose sight of what is important and what is truly valuable and what is undeniably noteworthy.

This passing reminds us that touching lives is more important than touchdowns. Raising kids to be good citizens is of greater value than raising trophies in triumph.

This passing reminds me how blessed I am that my mother is still with me at age 81. It makes me appreciate that we'lll be able to celebrate Mother's Day together this weekend. It reminds me not to take the time I have left with her for granted.

I love you, Mami.

I don't know if Culpepper reads this blog or not. But if you, like me, admire what Ms. Culpepper and all mothers do for us -- how they improve our world while they are in it -- go ahead and leave your thoughts or condolences.

Friday, May 04, 2007

When all said, done Trent Green will be starter

Today has been a very revealing day for anyone wondering who will be the Dolphins starting quarterback in 2007.

In case you're wondering, it will be Trent Green.

Yes, this takes into account the fact Daunte Culpepper is happy and hopeful because he is feeling no pain in his twice surgically repaired right knee and expects to test it in the Dolphins' next minicamp June 8-10.

Yes, this takes into account the fact rookie John Beck showed an outstanding arm in minicamp practices today.

But mostly it takes into account the facts. And these are the truths as I know them.

Trent Green has a contract in place with the Dolphins. He has been told he can come to Miami and be the starter for one or two years, depending on how he holds up. His quarterback coach in KC (Terry Shea) is now Miami's QB coach. His QB coach in Washington years ago (Cam Cameron) is now Miami's head coach. And the offense the Dolphins are going to run this year?

Green knows it better than several of Miami's offensive coaches.

If you're still not convinced of what I'm saying, I recommend you navigate (how's that for a techie word?) to That will get you to a 35-minute interview Green did with KC radio station WHB on Friday.

During that interview Green openly talks of his relationship with Cameron and his talks with the Dolphins in recent months. He says he has convinced Carl Peterson to at least talk to the Dolphins this week after the sides stopped talking during the draft. The sides are talking about trading Green for a sixth round draft pick.

And he says Miami is the best fit for him.

"I want to be able to finish my career as a starter in a manner I've earned," Green said.

The reason Miami is such a good fit for him? He's been promised the starting job.

And that means Culpepper, despite his improving health, despite his personal optimism, despite all the signs things are looking up, will be either released or traded when Green comes on board. Now I'm not saying this is what the Dolphins should do. I'm saying this is what they're going to do. Please understand that.

One reason they will do this is the Dolphins don't believe Culpepper and Green can co-exist or want to on the same team. Another reason is Culpepper probably can't beat out Green based on his limited knowledge and practically no experience with the offense.

The fact is, ladies and germs, is if you put the pieces together, Miami's quarterback situation has been decided regardless of how long it takes to get Green to Miami. And now that Green has gone on something of a public relations offensive in Kansas City, I think that might be sooner rather than later.

Your thoughts?

Culpepper says he'll be ready for next camp

Just got out of the Dolphins locker room where Daunte Culpepper told me he expects to be ready to be back on the field for the next Dolphins minicamp which will be June 8-10.

"I'm going to use it as a way to get ready for training camp," Culpepper said.

Coach Cam Cameron said Culpepper's right knee is in the 90 percentile of health, while Culpepper said he's feeling no pain in the knee

More to come on that.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have released the names of the 14 college free agents they have signed following the draft. Of all the guys to look for, MKristo Bruce is at the top of my list.

He's something a tweener, not fast enough to play linebacker, not stout enough to be a fulltime defensive end. But the Dolphins think he's molded like Jason Taylor and even David Bowens. So he fills a need and Randy Mueller told me he's got a legit chance to fit in if he's the player they saw on film.

We'll see. Here's the signees:

Mkristo Bruce DE 6-6 260 10/16/84 Washington State ’07
Courtney Bryan S 6-0 202 10/2/84 New Mexico State ‘07
Marion Dukes T 6-3 319 11/22/84 Clemson ‘07
Tala Esera G 6-3 310 6/15/84 Hawaii ‘07
Tuff Harris CB 6-0 198 1/23/83 Montana ‘07
Gabe Hatchett WR 6-2 216 1/19/83 Southern Oregon ‘07
Marquay Love DT 6-0 307 7/20/85 Houston ’07
Edmond Miles LB 6-0 230 7/6/84 Iowa ’07
Stephen Parker G 6-4 303 8/2/84 Arkansas ’07
Geoffrey Pope CB 6-0 186 6/21/84 Howard ’07
KerryReed WR 6-1 201 12/24/84 Michigan State ’07
David Sutton WR 6-6 222 5/30/84 Texas-El Paso ’07
Chris Vedder S 5-11 210 9/4/85 San Jose State ’07
Julius Wilson T 6-4 327 10/17/83 Alabama-Birmingham ’07

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Offensive line still a worry for Dolphins

Following the draft and all but the last vestiges of free agency, I look at the Dolphins and still wonder how it is all going to come together with this offensive line.

The Dolphins expended a second round pick on Samson Satele this year and that is a good sign because, for the longest time, this team hasn't put enough resources into the improvement of the O-line.

Jimmy Johnson addressed the line on the cheap and Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban weren't much better. Consequently, the Dolphins have struggled to mount a consistent running game and haven't exactly been the Great Wall of China on pass protection, either.

But there could be help on the way -- at least in the interior of the line -- if Satele is the player the Dolphins think he is. If he's that player, he could be a starter at guard before the season is out.

And why not? A second round pick at a position of dire need should certainly be good enough to challenge for a starting job right away if not win it outright.

Another reason to feel good about the line's interior is that Joe Toledo is apparently healthy following his lost rookie season. Remember he was a pretty fair investment also as a fourth round pick. Given the fact that by the start of the regular season he will have had 1.5 training camps, a full season of attending meetings, and this offseason's conditioning program under his belt, I don't think it a reach to expect him to challenge for a starting job.

Combined with Rex Hadnot, who can start at either center or guard, and vetern Chris Liwienski as a backup, the Dolphins seem set in the interior of the line. Of course, this on the expectation the team did a good job of drafting the two players I just mentioned and everyone stays healthy.

The tackle spots are another matter.

The team is moving Vernon Carey from right tackle to left tackle. Cam Cameron is confident this move will work. "I looked, I watched him, I watched what [Hudson Houck] was doing with him and I talked to our scouting staff," Cameron said.

"I talked to Randy Mueller before we got in this draft. I said, in my view, we've got a guy who can develop into the kind of left tackle we're looking for. Is that going to happen? We're going to find out."

Methinks they're going to find out Carey is a fine right tackle, but for reasons of agility, mobility and quicks on his feet, Carey could struggle against premier edge rushers as a left tackle. I just don't see him making the change successfully.

Remember the Dolphins tried him at LT his rookie year? It didn't go very well as the experiment lasted about two weeks. Or was that two minutes? Sure, Carey has improved since then. But this is asking him to make a leap.

As for right tackle, the team has penciled L.J. Shelton into the spot. Let me see ... Shelton was the team's worst graded fulltime starter when he was the left tackle early last year. He's never really been solid with either Arizona or Cleveland before he came to Miami. So the Dolphins expect an epiphany?

It's clear the Dolphins need to upgrade their tackle spot. I know this. You know this. And even the Dolphins (I hope) know this.

Otherwise why would Cameron have corrected a reporter over the weekend when the reporter (not me) mistakenly said the coach said he was comfortable with that position.

"Did I say comfortable," Cameron said. "I don't think when you're trying to grow offensively you're going to sit here at the end of April and say we're comfortable."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On Manny Wright, Marcus Vick cuts and more

Just had a sit-down with Dolphins GM Randy Mueller. Very interesting stuff, but first the news:

Receiver Marcus Vick and defensive tackle Manny Wright have been cut.

Bye-bye Nick's kids.

Wright was a project from the beginning and after crying as a rookie and being AWOL last season, he took a called third strike with the Dolphins this offseason when he reported to the conditioning program sloppily out of shape.

At the minicamp two weeks ago -- three weeks into the team's offseason conditioning program -- Wright had managed to get DOWN to 345 pounds. His assigned weight is 330.

For Vick, the fact he is one of the slowest and least experienced receivers on the team made for a bad combination. The Dolphins can deal with inexperience, but they have no patience for a lack of speed anymore.

"I want to gasp when that ball is tossed to an Ahman Green," Mueller told me. "I want that feeling. We had that in Seattle for a while. When Deuce [McAllister] was young in New Orleans, we had that. It’s the feeling that your guy might go at any time. He might not, but he might. We need to get more of those guys on offense.

"Hopefully we'll get that feeling with Lorenzo [Booker] and Ted [Ginn Jr.].”

Mueller told me the Dolphins have one, maybe two more pieces of the puzzle to add during the remainder of free agency: READ OFFENSIVE LINE HERE.

Of course, Trent Green will happen eventually. It must be mentioned that Green knows the Miami offense even though he's never played a down for the Dolphins. The offense has been handed down from Don Coryell to Joe Gibbs to others like Dick Vermeil and Cam Cameron.

So time is on Miami's side as it waits for Green to be released, or for KC to realize it has no negotiating power to get a deal done for its price.

As for the turnover the Dolphins have undergone in the three months Mueller has been piloting the ship?

“We think change is good," he told me. "We need to shake it up. It wasn’t working. We’re going to continue to look to improve this team. If it can be done, some way , somehow, we’ll do it.”

By the way, my story in Wednesday's Herald will have more news from the interview.

So what do you think?