|5 things you have to know about Dolphins||09.01.14 at 9:35 pm ET|
Here are five things you have to know about the Dolphins, who are looking to break the Patriots 10-game winning streak when it comes to regular season openers Sunday in South Florida.
1. They are going to look to push the pace offensively.
Miami imported former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to serve as its new OC, and in an attempt to give the offense a jolt, he’s expected to bring a little Chip Kelly-style flair to the proceedings. That means faster football, and given the fact that the Patriots will be entering into what’s expected to be sweltering South Florida heat, the Dolphins will try and use a quicker tempo to their advantage. For what it’s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL. Of course, it’s debatable how effective the uptempo style will be. But it’s important to remember that Lazor played a sizable role in the growth and development of Nick Foles in Philly’s fast scheme last year, as Foles went from backup quarterback to SI cover boy in the span of a few months and the Eagles went from worst (4-12 and last in the NFC East) to first (10-6 and a division title) under Kelly. It’s clear Miami is hoping that Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense can respond the same way in 2014.
2. They are all-in at wide receiver.
The Dolphins have really gone above and beyond when it comes to giving Ryan Tannehill enough options. With the cap hit for Mike Wallace ballooning to $17.25 million this year, the Dolphins are spending a whopping $29.6 million on their 2014 wide receivers’by far the most in the league, according to a June study by CBS Sports. Wallace, Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson are joined by rookie Jarvis Landry to form a relatively deep group of wide receivers, one that will serve as a nice challenge for a revamped New England secondary at the start of the season. (Some believe Lazor will try and use Wallace in much the same manner the Eagles did with DeSean Jackson, which is an intriguing concept.)
3. The interior of their offensive line is vulnerable.
The Dolphins have struggled with their offensive line dating back to last year — from a pure football perspective, the Incognito-Martin imbroglio simply shone a light on things. Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks of Tannehill last season, 10 more than the second-place finish (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was sacked 48 times) and tied for 10th most all-time in a single season. (For some perspective, Houston’s David Carr was sacked an astounding 76 times in 2002, the all-time mark.) Here’s a highlight reel of all 58 sacks, a sequence that lasts almost 10 minutes.
In all, Tannehill has been sacked 93 times in his first two years in the league. (We haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Miami running game was 26th in the league last season — a sizable portion of the blame for those numbers can also be attributed to the offensive line.) And so it was no surprise the Dolphins made offensive line a priority this offseason. They stabilized their left tackle spot with the addition of Branden Albert, while they used their first round pick on Ja’Wuan James, who appears to be the Week 1 right tackle for Miami. But things are still very rough along the interior, as center Mike Pouncey continues to work his way back from offseason hip surgery (Samson Satele will get the start in his place), while guard play has been questionable at best over the course of the summer. Bottom line? If you want to attack this offense, your best bet appears to be up the gut.
4. Their pass rush will test the New England offensive line early.
Left defensive end Cameron Wake (8.5 sacks last year) and right defensive end Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks last year) combine to form a very nice set of bookends, and are likely the top priority when it comes to pass protection for the Patriots. (Per Football Outsiders, Wake notched at least 20 hurries and 20 quarterback knockdowns for the fourth year in a row.) While the Dolphins are very good off the edge, it would ostensibly be a strength-on-strength matchup against right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left tackle Nate Solder. Miami could have an edge if it finds a way to get pressure up the middle, as the interior of New England’s offensive line has some personnel questions, particularly if Marcus Cannon is utilized more as a backup swing tackle than one of the two available guard spots. But many of the questions people have had about the overall fitness of the Patriots offensive line will be answered against a pretty good front seven in the opener.
5. They are ready for Rob Gronkowski … if the big tight end does play.
The Dolphins hardly sounded shocked at the proclamation from Gronkowski that he was good to go for Week 1. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was asked about Gronkowski’s statement that he was going to play, and he responded with a simple, ‘We assumed that he might.’ In Gronkowski’s career, the Patriots are 6-0 against Miami when he’s in the lineup, but for what it’s worth, the Dolphins have actually done a pretty fair job at containing Gronkowski over the years: In six career games against Miami, he’s averaged four catches, 56 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game, some of his lowest per game averages against a regular opponent. (In his last two games against Miami, Gronkowski had only only four catches.) It remains to be seen if Gronkowski actually plays, and if he does, how many snaps he’ll take. (His overall football fitness remains in question, and Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that you just can run around a track a few times and be ready to play.) But history tells us that the Dolphins have found a way to not stop him completely, but at least slow him down to a point where he not the runaway offensive force he’s been against most teams when he’s been healthy. “He’s an excellent player,” Philbin said Monday when asked about Gronkowski. “He’s been a very, very productive player throughout his career. We’ll have a good plan in place, but he’s certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We’ll be ready for him, for sure.”
|Bill Belichick on constructing ‘best line’ to protect Tom Brady||08.31.14 at 3:36 pm ET|
Much was made of what the Patriots were going to do with the departure of Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay. Josh Kline got the start at left guard Thursday in the preseason finale and looked strong for the most part, with the exception of getting bull-rushed twice that left him on the ground.
Bill Belichick spoke glowingly about Marcus Cannon on Friday in a conference call, leading to speculation that one might see a line of Nate Solder, Cannon, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer to start the season.
There’s also the possibility that Jordan Devey could see action on the interior at either guard position.
The offensive line in front of Tom Brady has seen its fair share of transition over the years. From Matt Light to Nate Solder at left tackle, and Dan Koppen to Dan Connolly at center, there has always been player movement along the line and somehow Tom Brady manages to still run one of the best offenses in football.
But Brady enters this season with more doubt about who will be helping to protect his blind side. Belichick offered some perspective Sunday, reminding everyone that it’s not necessarily the five best individuals on the line but the best working unit that he’s looking for to protect Brady and provide the holes for the running game.
“I think in the end you want to get your, not necessarily your best five athletes, but the best line that you can put out there,” Belichick said. “That group has a lot of responsibility in terms of protecting the quarterback and protecting the running backs and giving your team an opportunity to move the ball consistently. So, whatever that is, I think you always want your best group out there. That may be your best players, there may be situations where you might have a better player that’s not in there but the position doesn’t fit.”
|What to watch for in Thursday’s Patriots-Giants preseason finale||08.28.14 at 7:30 am ET|
Here are seven things we’ll be looking for Thursday night when the Patriots meet the Giants in the preseason finale for both teams.
WHO DOESN’T PLAY
When it comes to the preseason finale, it’s just as important to figure out who doesn’t play as opposed to who does play. As we detailed here, if you’re a starter — or even a veteran — and you find yourself on the field for anything more than 10-15 snaps on Thursday night, it’s a bad sign. (The only area where this might be an exception is along the interior of the offensive line, for reasons we will address shortly.) Based on the work the Patriots were able to put in last week against the Panthers when they looked mostly razor sharp on both sides of the ball, don’t expect many of the starters to see the field against the Giants, despite the fact that we know New York is going to roll out its starters for between 15-18 snaps.
A good chunk of this relates back to the first point — we know quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is going to start and get the bulk of the snaps. But given the fact that history tells us those who don’t play are likely to have a secure roster spot, we’ll be keeping an eye on a few first-year players and monitoring their playing time. Cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back James White have been among the rookies who have played well enough to land a roster spot over the course of the summer — if they end up sitting Thursday night, it’s a good bet they’ve made the roster.
Thursday will be the first professional start for Garoppolo, and he’ll get a chance to show what he can do against a No. 1 defense for the first time in the preseason. The New England coaching staff will be interested in seeing him in as many different situations as possible: two-minute, end-of-half, under pressure from a steady rush, as well as a potential four-minute offense situation. Everything is on the table when it comes to evaluating Garoppolo. From this viewpoint, Ryan Mallett still is the No. 2 quarterback on the roster, but the rookie will get his opportunity to show what he can do come Thursday evening in North Jersey.
|With Logan Mankins gone, what now for Patriots offensive line?||08.26.14 at 10:53 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In the space of 10 months, the Patriots have lost their longtime offensive line coach to retirement and their heart-and-soul offensive line captain to NFL economics.
The question now is, what will the Patriots do without Dante Scarnecchia and Logan Mankins? Part of that question has already been answered as new offensive line coach Dave Duglielmo has had a full spring and summer with the players he hopes will keep Tom Brady clean, healthy and upright all season.
But the second part of that equation is a big TBD.
“We have a lot of guys with a lot of good experience, like Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer and there’s a whole list of guys who know what they’re doing. We can definitely get by,” Solder said.
Obviously, the Patriots are looking for much more than just getting by when it comes to keeping No. 12 upright. They’re not looking for the next Pro Bowler per se, but rather someone who will give them consistent play from the left guard position that they’ve gotten for the past nine seasons from Mankins.
And while Connolly and Wendell could be options at left guard, there are other names to consider who could step in immediately. Jordan Devey, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon. All three have played the interior line at some point in their time in New England, with Devey and Kline getting the most reps during games while Cannon has played primarily tackle, filling in at right tackle last season when Sebastian Vollmer went down with a season-ending broken leg.
Then, late in the season, against the Ravens in Baltimore, Belichick provided some possible foreshadowing of life without Mankins at left guard. With Solder out with a concussion, the team shifted Mankins to left tackle. It was the 24-year-old Kline who filled in for Mankins at left guard, making his first career NFL start.
Whoever gets the call at left guard, Solder is completely confident that he can help lead the new group into the 2014 season.
“A ton of confidence,” Solder said. “Those guys work so hard and they’re awesome people. I have a ton of confidence. That’s why they’re here. The way I kind of view leadership is to do my job the best that I can. If that influences people, I hope it does, but that’s kind of the role I see myself in.”
|Centers of attention: Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork all in spotlight||08.04.14 at 7:00 am ET|
One of the more interesting positions over the first week-plus of Patriots training camp has been center, where Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have all gotten plenty of work.
Wendell enters the 2014 season as the incumbent, having served as the No. 1 center for the better part of the last two years. A favorite of both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, he’s played almost more snaps than anyone else in the league since the start of the 2012 season.
It’s been a long journey for the 28-year-old Wendell, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, got his first series of starts along the interior in 2010 and moved into the starting center position in 2012.
“When Ryan first got here, he couldn’t even make our practice squad,” Belichick recalled earlier this summer when asked about the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Wendell. “He was a camp player [and] wasn’t on our practice squad at the beginning of the season. We brought him back to the practice squad during his first year.
“I’d say it’s been about as big of a progression as really any player could have, any player I’ve had or any player could have — maybe Steve Neal. But it’s the same kind of thing — guys [who] weren’t even on the practice squad that eventually became starting players in the NFL. That’s a pretty big jump. It took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and he’s certainly done his part and worked hard. He’s a very smart football player, and doesn’t have many missed assignments.”
At the same time, he figured to be pushed by the 23-year-old Stork, a rookie with a peerless college resume — he won the Rimington Award last year as the best center in college football in 2013, and was a captain for the national champions from Florida State.
“Bryan was a pretty durable player,” Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio said of the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Stork, who started 41 games as a collegian with the Seminoles. “He played a lot of football. He played against good people.
“Smart guy, tough, good playing strength, had a good playing style, good demeanor. He did a lot of good things, and there was a lot to like about him.”
However, one player who has really emerged has been the 31-year-old Connolly, a part-time center who has really made his bones the last few years as the starting right guard. When Stork went down with an undisclosed injury — he’s missed three of the eight practices this summer as a result — the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Connolly stepped in as the backup, while Marcus Cannon took many of the reps at right guard. The move appeared to be a chance to take some of the reps from Wendell and give the starter a bit of a rest. But to this point, Connolly has performed well, and has added some more spice to the mix.
Read the rest of this entry »
|Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line||02.03.14 at 1:46 pm ET|
With the Patriots done for the year, we’ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks. Now, it’s the offensive line.
Depth chart: T Nate Solder, G/C Dan Connolly, G/T Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, T/G Marcus Cannon, T Sebastian Vollmer, G Josh Kline, G/T Will Svitek, G Chris Barker, OT Markus Zusevics. (C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey and OL R.J. Mattes are all practice squadders.)
Overview: It was an up-and-down season for the New England offensive line. On many occasions, the group was able to do an excellent job buying time for quarterback Tom Brady to deliver the ball, as well as create sizable holes for backs like LeGarrette Blount to run through over the course of the season. However, there were times — and part of this was due in part to breakdowns in other areas, as well as injury — that the line struggled to hold up. Over the course of the season, the Patriots faced some of the best defensive front sevens in the league, and while they were frequently up to the challenge, there were times where they had issues, particularly in pass protection. Some of that can be blamed on the fact that, as a group, the offense was still searching for an identity and struggling with the acclimation of so many new faces. But don’t tell that to the offensive line, a group that continued to hold itself to an almost impossibly high standard regardless of the opponent and situation.
As a group, it was clear that health was an occasional issue. Vollmer had a leg injury that limited him to eight games, while Solder missed a game because of a head injury. As a result, the Patriots had to rely on versatility and depth to get them through some of the toughest points of the season. After Solder went down late in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami, Kline stepped in at left guard and Mankins played left tackle. The same combo faced the Ravens the following week, and held up impressively in the face of the stern Baltimore pass rush.
In the end, much of the mental toughness that eventually became the calling card of the 2013 Patriots came from the offensive line, and, by extension, Mankins. Now the second most senior member of the roster in terms of time in a New England uniform (he was drafted in 2005, and while there have been guys who have been in the league longer — Andre Carter, Isaac Sopoaga — only Brady has been with the Patriots longer than Mankins), he’s the leader of the line, and one of the premier leaders in the locker room. After nine years in the league, Mankins — who was named a second-team All-Pro for the fifth time in his career in 2013 — continues to set the standard.
Going forward, this group will be interesting to watch. The Patriots have a decision to make on pending free agents Wendell and Svitek, and Vollmer faces a return from a leg injury that prematurely ended his 2013 season. And then, there’s the question of how the group will react to the retirement of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who leaves the franchise after 30-plus seasons. Stability, consistency and continuity have always been the watchwords of the New England offensive line, and as it enters a new era without Scarnecchia, the transition to new coach Dave DeGuglielmo will be something to watch in 2014.
Best moment: It’s shortsighted to measure an offensive line purely on sacks alone, but their work against the Falcons was pretty impressive — Brady wasn’t sacked in a September win in Atlanta. (The only game all season he wasn’t sacked.) The stretch drive the group was able to put together over the final three regular season games and the first playoff game, clearing the way for Blount to carry the offense on his back, particularly against the Bills, Ravens and Colts.
Worst moment: Probably the singular worst series for the New England offensive line was coming out of the half for the start of the third quarter against the Jets on Oct. 20: the first six offensive plays for the Patriots went as follows: sack/interception/four-gain gain/five-yard gain/no gain/sack. It’s tough to lay all that at the feet of the New England offensive line, but by Mankins’ own admission, it starts up front, and the line wasn’t able to get the job done. By the end of the quarter, a 21-10 lead turned into a 27-21 deficit, and ended up in an overtime loss. For more from Mankins on that breakdown, click here.
By the numbers: 1,218. The number of snaps played by Wendell this season, tied with Brady for most on the team.
Money quote: “I’ve coached a lot of tough guys. I don’t think there’s any that I would put ahead of him. Maybe some on that level, but none ahead. Anytime Logan needs help getting off the field, you feel like it’s something serious. Usually he ends up just staying out there, but for him to need assistance getting off the field was definitely a concerning moment. Then when [head athletic trainer] Jim Whelan came back and told me, as you mentioned, after the next series that Logan was back, I was a little bit surprised to hear that. He’s a tough individual, tough-minded, physically and mentally tough.” — Bill Belichick on Logan Mankins
|Patriots practice Wednesday: Nate Solder, Aaron Dobson absent, Marcus Cannon returns||12.11.13 at 11:11 am ET|
With temperatures below freezing outside, the team worked out in sweats and shells indoors at the Dana Farber Field House to prepare for much warmer conditions Sunday. Sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s are expected for kickoff at Sun Life Stadium.
Solder played all 83 snaps in Sunday’s win over the Browns while Dobson missed his second straight game with a injured left foot, a foot that remained in a walking boot on Sunday as he watched the game from the press box.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon – returned to practice after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.
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