Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's Official: The Dolphins Are The NFL's Worst Team

Cam Cameron meets with Daunte Culpepper following Oakland's 35-17 victory

It's time for Dolphin fans to start wearing paper bags over their heads. Yes, it's true. This is the worst team in the NFL. In fact, I expect MSNBC's Keith Olberman to name Cam Cameron as the worst person in the world. That's how bad this team is right now.

The Daunte Culpepper payback tour landed in Miami today and the Dolphins were blasted 35-17 by their former quarterback. How bad are the Dolphins? Yes, I know they're 0-4. But they just lost to the Raiders, a team that hasn't won a road game since 2005. The Raiders victory ended a 12 game road losing streak. Even FIU had won a game more recently than the Raiders on the road.

Since Dan Marino's retirement, the Dolphins have avoided drafting a young franchise quarterback and have resorted to settling for veteran broken down journeymen from Jay Fiedler, to Ray Lucas to A.J. Feeley to Gus Frerotte and now Trent Green just to name a few.

So how has Trent Green worked out? Oh, God where do I start? For a guy who's 37 years old and a veteran of several seasons, Green has the bad habits of a rookie. He's averaging about two interceptions a game. Just today he was intercepted after throwing a ball off his back foot and up for grabs. He also has shown a horrible habit of throwing the ball late down the middle of the field. We gave up on Joey Harrington for this? We gave up on Daunte Culpepper for this? The Dolphins continued mismanagement of the quarterback position is one of the most sad and laughable spectacles in football.

Lost in the ineptness of the offense is the sterling play of running back Ronnie Brown. Brown has quietly put up some very good numbers in the last two games. It's just a shame the Dolphins always find themselves behind early in the games and are forced to abandon the running game. Here's your sad statistic of the day. The Dolphins have not scored a touchdown in the first quarter of their last 8 games.

But what has really made the Dolphins the worst team is their former strength. The defense has now become a joke. I'm guessing the Dolphins signed linebacker Joey Porter to a $20 million contract to make game changing plays. But so far, Porter has spent most of his time running his mouth than hitting opposing ball carriers. Just this past week he guaranteed the Dolphins would beat the Raiders. Right now Miss Cleo could make as many tackles as Porter. And she's just as bad a prognosticator as Miami's overpaid linebacker. Porter's next prediction should be when he's going to make another tackle.

What happened to the Dolphins run defense? The Raiders rushed for nearly 300 yards. That's absolutely inexcusable in the NFL or any level of football. Yes, I know Zach Thomas hasn't played the last two games due to a concussion. And yes, Channing Crowder hasn't done a very good job as a replacement. But what about Vonnie Holiday? What about Keith Traylor? Miami's defensive tackles are getting zero push up the line of scrimmage. Where's Jason Taylor? Forget about the secondary. Yeremiah Bell's injury was a huge blow to this unit of non playmakers. The truth is this is defense made up of elderly players whose best years are behind them without any quality young talent to provide depth.

For so long the Dolphins have relied on their defense to hide the warts of their offense. Well now the whole team is covered in warts. Does anybody have confidence in Cam Cameron to right this ship? So far, I'd have to say no.

Marlins Spoil the Mets Season

Mets pitcher Tom Glavine is dejected after giving up 7 runs in the first inning against the Marlins Sunday

Congratulations to the Florida Marlins. Why? They didn't win their division. Florida didn't qualify for postseason play. So why am I congratulating a team that lost 91 games and finished dead last in its division? The Marlins knocked out the New York Mets from postseason play. The Marlins took 2 out of 3 games from the Mets at Shea Stadium, while the Phillies won their series and clinched the National League East. Yes, the Mets will now begin their long offseason vacation along with the Marlins. Misery loves company and let the Mets fans be miserable.

So why do I hate the Mets? Truth be told, I hate all New York teams and their fans. Not all New Yorkers are obnoxious and stupid--just most of their sports fans. Just listen to Sid Rosenberg's crappy morning radio show and you'll know what I mean. Down here in South Florida, everybody is either from New York or Latin America. I'm from neither place. But few things give me more pleasure than watching New York teams piss all over themselves. The Mets collapse was a doozy.

Another reason I hate the Mets is almost the entire core of their roster is made up of former Marlins. At first base you've got Carlos Delgado. Move on down to second and you'll find Luis Castillo. In left field you'll find former 1997 Marlins World Series hero Moises Alou. And behind the plate you'll see Paul Lo Duca. Even Lo Duca's backup Ramon Castro is also a former Marlin. It's so ridiculous, the Marlins should call themselves the Triple A affiliate of the Mets. Don't worry Mets fans. Soon you will probably someday see Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera playing for your team over in Queens.

Just a month ago, the Mets were seven games ahead of the Phillies for first place in the NL East. Willie Randolph's team has committed one of the great choke jobs in recent baseball history. It may not be as bad as the 1964 Phillies or the 1978 Red Sox. But it is a collapse that Met fans will talk about for years. And while the Marlins series victory over the Mets isn't as big as winning the World Series in 1997 and 2003, it's almost as enjoyable seeing the Mets fail again--let alone fail so spectacularly. The Marlins will leave New York singing these lyrics, "Meet the Mets. Beat the Mets." Sounds like a catchy tune. I like it.

Daunte's Revenge!

As a longtime Miami Dolphins fan, I generally root for my team every game. But today may have been the exception. All week long, Dolphin linebackers Joey Porter and Channing Crowder were talking trash. They did everything from guarantee victory against the Raiders to belittling Oakland and former Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Meanwhile, Culpepper kept his mouth shut and concentrated on preparing for today's game. Can you say payback?

Jimmy Johnson used to say, "When you talk the talk, you better walk the walk." Well, this week the Dolphins did all the talking and Culpepper did all the walking--all the way to the end zone. The once maligned quarterback came back to South Florida, the same place that booted him out unceremoniously and opened a serious can of whup-ass on his former team. And nobody is happier for Culpepper than I am. Good for him.

Culpepper threw two touchdown passes and ran for three more in the Raiders 35-17 victory. On his second rushing touchdown, Culpepper raced around the corner and dove into the end zone. He then celebrated by pointing to his once wounded knee and screaming to Miami fans he was okay. Earlier this week Dolphins middle linebacker Channing Crowder said Culpepper was too slow and contributed little to the Dolphins. While what Crowder said was true, you don't give your opponent any more motivation than they need--especially when you haven't won a game yet.

Revenge is indeed sweet for Daunte Culpepper. Last year he was brought to Miami through a trade with Minnesota for a second round draft pick. Culpepper had been Pro Bowl player for the Vikings. But he was coming off a serious knee injury that ended his 2005 season and hadn't healed in 2006. But the Dolphins took a chance. He started 4 games for Miami, but Culpepper clearly wasn't ready to play. He was placed on injured reserve and never played for the Dolphins again.

When Cam Cameron replaced Nick Saban, he discarded Culpepper like yesterday's trash. Cameron made it clear he was never going to give Culpepper an opportunity to rehab or redeem himself. Culpepper wasn't even allowed to practice with the team. Instead Cameron went after former Chiefs QB Trent Green and basically gave Green the job without any competition. The last time Dolphin fans had seen Culpepper, he was escorted out by armed guards from the Dolphins training facility at Nova Southeastern University.

For anyone who has ever been shunned or dumped by an employer, this was a victory for you. They say kharma is a bitch. The Dolphins organization and Cam Cameron are now finding out that statement is emphatically true. Eat some crow Joey Porter and save a slice for your buddy Channing Crowder.

Canes Survive Duke

Kayne Farquharson makes a leaping TD catch in the first quarter

Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis always dreamed of playing in the Orange Bowl for the Miami Hurricanes. Yesterday, part of his dream came true. But the former Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School star came up just short as the Canes escaped with a 24-14 victory. Lewis threw for 242 yards including a 31 yard touchdown pass to Eron Riley.

The former HML Trojan was in position to help Duke pull off a huge upset on a day of upsets. Down 17-14, the Blue Devils drove deep into UM territory late in the fourth quarter. But on 4th down, Lewis was sacked by Canes defensive end Eric Moncur, ending a potential winning drive. The Canes then capitalized on Moncur's sack with a Kyle Wright 33 yard touchdown pass to tight end Dajleon Farr.

Lewis's heroics aside, the Canes took a couple of steps backwards. After an impressive 34-17 victory over then 20th ranked Texas A&M, UM seemed to sleepwalk through most of the Duke game. Sometimes statistics can lie. For example, UM quarterback Kyle Wright completed 19 of 23 passes for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. Certainly those seem like great numbers. But Wright also threw 2 costly interceptions. Both came deep in Duke territory, including one in the end zone. He also had to leave the game in the third quarter after taking a big hit that busted his mouth open. Randy Shannon did point out one of those interceptions was the fault of a receiver running the wrong route.

Miami's offensive line also took a huge step backwards. The OL had been one of the most pleasant surprises thus far in 2007. But yesterday's game turned into a flag fest. Drive and drive was marred or killed by holding penalties. It seemed like every Cane offensive lineman was called at least once for holding.

UM's pass defense continues to struggle at times. Thaddeus Lewis was able to consitantly pick apart the Canes secondary in the second half. Through 4 games, Lewis may be the most impressive quarterback the Canes have played this year. He threw for over 400 yards last week in a loss against Navy. Lewis has a strong arm and showed tremendous mental and physical toughness. The Canes defense sacked him 9 times. But Lewis kept getting up and completing passes.

Some Observations:

*Running back Graig Cooper continues to impress. Cooper had 100 yards rushing including a 2 yard touchdown. Cooper gives UM a big play weapon in the backfield Cane fans haven't seen since Willis McGahee.

*Receivers Sam Shields and Ryan Hill were suspended by head coach Randy Shannon. Shield's suspension was particularly disappointing. This was the second game Shields has missed due to suspension. He was coming off a great performance against Texas A&M and looked like the closest thing Kyle Wright had to a go-to receiver. But you have to wonder about this kid's dedication in the classroom and his discipline. One thing is for sure, Randy Shannon is not going to put up with half-ass effort on the field or in the classroom.

*Kayne Farquharson stepped his game up big time. Farquharson, a junior college transfer out of Homestead, replaced Shields in the lineup and caught 6 pass including a 5 yard touchdown--his first TD as a Hurricane.

*Vegas Franklin continues to be the unsung hero of the Canes defense. Franklin is a fifth year senior defensive lineman who doesn't start. But he's done a tremendous job rushing the passer and has provided valuable depth at both defensive end and tackle. Franklin had 2 sacks against Duke.

*Duke's Thaddeus Lewis is the best quarterback the Canes have seen this year. Yes, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford had a brilliant game against Miami earlier this season. But Lewis doesn't have near the supporting cast of Bradford. Lewis is just a true sophomore and will challenge Boston College's Matt Ryan as the best quarterback in the ACC. It's hard to believe none of the Florida schools recruited Lewis out of Hialeah-Miami Lakes High. He's got a great arm, mental and physical toughness and poise in the pocket. I remember reading about Lewis during his high school days and wondered why UM never showed any interest. Former Hialeah-Miami Lakes head coach Jerry Hughes used to compare Lewis to another former HML star Rohan Davey. Lewis might be better.

*Miami's cornerbacks Carlos Armour and Bruce Johnson must do a better job in coverage. Neither has made many plays or intercepted any passes. Veteran cornerback Glenn Sharpe has returned from inury and should provide quality depth along with nickleback Chavez Grant.

*Speaking of Chavez Grant, he was used as Miami's primary punt returner yesterday. Personally, I would rather see Graig Cooper. He's a much better big play threat.

*Kudos to Kyle Wright who was knocked out of the game in the 3rd quarter after a brutal hit busted open his mouth, requring stitches. Wright re-entered the the game in the 4th quarter and fired a 33 yard TD pass Dajleon Farr for the game's final score. While I've never been a huge Wright fan and his inconsistancy drives UM fans crazy, I'll never question this kid's toughness.

*Linebacker Romeo Davis and defensive tackle Josh Holmes saw their first game action of the season after returning from injuries. Holmes, a redshirt freshman from San Diego, played in his first college game.

*Only 30,614 fans were in the Orange Bowl Saturday afternoon. Why the University of Miami continues to schedule home games in the afternoon is beyond me. Why make fans sit out in the heat, when you could play the game at night. Since the game wasn't televised, there's no reason why this game couldn't have been played in the evening. I can't imagine the players enjoy playing in those day games. It's got to be brutal out there.

*UM freshman cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke was a Pop Warner teammate of Thaddeus Lewis with the Northwest Boys & Girls Club in Miami. After the game Van Dyke said, "I think he (Lewis) has a chip on his shoulder because he wanted to be a Cane. Everytime he plays against us, he wants to go the whole way. We just got to stop him."

Former St. Thomas Aquinas Stars Make Huge Impact

Major Wright (left) & Wes Byrum

Loudmouth college basketball analyst Dick Vitale would call them "diaper dandies". The college football season is young. But it hasn't taken long for Major Wright and Wes Byrum to establish themselves as two of the best freshmen in the country. Just a year ago, Wright and Byrum were teammates at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. But yesterday, they became opponents in one of college football's biggest upsets.

During last night's 20-17 Auburn victory over #4 Florida, Byrum kicked a 43 yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers the win. Byrum is the latest in a long line of great kickers to come out of St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the 6th consecutive St. Thomas kicker to go on to play major college football. His predecessor at STA Brett Swenson is a sophomore at Michigan State and one of the top kickers in the country. Indeed, the great tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas kickers goes back all the way to the 1980s with Pat Moons (Michigan), Greg Cox (Miami) and Richie Andrews (Florida State).

Byrum has been the biggest bright spot in Auburn's disappointing 2007 season. Auburn entered the Florida game with a subpar 2-2 record. The winning kick didn't come easy. He was forced to kick it twice. Florida coach Urban Meyer called time out just before Byrum put his foot to the ball and appeared to kick the winning field goal. The ball sailed perfectly between the goal posts, but the the officials waived it off. However, Meyer's head games didn't work and the cool freshman once again delivered with a perfect kick, silencing the majority of the 90,685 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

Major Wright is already one of the most devastating hitters in college football. Wright earned the starting strong safety position for the Gators as a true freshman, beating out veteran Kyle Jackson who was a key member of Florida's national championship team a year ago. Last night, Wright had 7 tackles including a forced fumble. I can remember watching him in high school and just destroying every ball carrier in site. He's listed at 6'1 and 200 pounds. But he plays and looks a lot bigger than advertised. Wright has been compared to former UM safety Sean Taylor. Both are big, physical players who hit like linebackers and can cover like cornerbacks.

Longtime St. Thomas Aquinas head coach George Smith is known for his grumpy sideline demeanor. But you know "Grumpy George" had a huge smile on his face watching his former pupils excell on one of college football's biggest stages last night.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marlins Own The Cubs

Dontrelle Willis

Baseball can be toughest sport to figure out. The Marlins are a last place team with nothing to play for and just trying to finish their season with dignity. The Cubs are a first place team fighting for a division title with dreams of a championship season. But the baseball gods don't care about standings or won-loss records. The Marlins 3 game sweep of the Cubs gave Florida 10 consecutive victories over the boys from the Windy City's northside.

Just imagine the frustration of Cubs fans. They make up one of the most loyal and rabid fanbases in all of baseball and sports. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. They haven't even reached the World Series since 1945 and only four times since have qualified for the postseason. But that doesn't stop Cub fans from faithfully following their lovable losers. On the flipside, the Marlins have won 2 World Series titles in the last decade. But their fanbase is hardly loyal. The Marlins rank dead last in attendance and at one point drew just 400 people for an afternoon home game. Cub fans dominated the makeup of the crowds during this past three-game series. But they will leave South Florida crying in their beer.

Indeed it seemed the Marlin/Cubs series was played in Wrigley Field Jr.--not Dolphins Stadium. Even actor/comedian and longtime Cubs fanatic Bill Murray came down to South Florida to watch the Marlins beat his beloved team. It seemed just about every Cub fan in South Florida made it to Dolphins Stadium except the infamous Steve Bartman, who in a small way helped the Marlins win their second World Series.

The Marlins finished their home schedule in style. But I can't help but feel bittersweet about this sweep. It may be the last time Marlin fans will ever see Dontrelle Willis pitch in a Florida uniform in South Florida. While Willis has suffered through his worst season on the mound, he remains one of the most popular players to ever wear the Marlins uniform. Willis insisted after his victory Tuesday night that he would return to the Marlins. But I'm not so sure general manager Larry Beinfest would agree.

End Of The Line For Willie Williams

He was once the most heavily recruited high school linebacker in the country. But today former Carol City High School star Willie Williams has again thrown away a once promising college football career. Williams was arrested by Louisville police for possession of marijuana and has been dismissed from the University of Louisville football team.

Louisville was the second school to give Williams a chance. Williams had begun his college career at the University of Miami. During his senior year of high school, Williams was asked to write a diary for the Miami Herald to chronicle his recruiting visits. But while visiting the University of Florida, Williams was arrested and charged with setting off a fire extinguisher in a UF dorm building and hugging a girl against her will. While these seem like silly offenses. It later became public Williams had an extensive arrest record as a juvenile. He was arrested 11 times as a youth. His last arrest came in Pembroke Pines for stealing stereo equipment from a store before his senior year of high school.

Despite his huge rap sheet, colleges didn't shy away from recruiting Williams. He was the most dominant linebacker many longtime Dade County high school football observers had ever seen. In the 2003 Class 6A championship game, Williams made made 11 tackles including 4 behind the line of scrimmage and knocked out the opposing team's starting quarterback. Carol City was crowned state champs defeating Orlando Edgewater. That great performance only fueled the hunger of colleges like Auburn, FSU, UF and Miami to pursue Williams with scholarship offers.

In the end Williams chose to attend Miami. But as soon as he signed his letter of intent to play for UM, the Miami Herald came out with an article that exposed his juvenile arrest record. He quickly became the posterchild of the "thug" athlete. But to label Williams as a thug is not quite that simple. Williams was also an honors student and scored over 1,100 on his SATs. But his book smarts couldn't hide his reputation of bad behavior.

Despite Williams criminal history, UM stood behind im. UM President Donna Shalala had to written a letter to the university's distinguished alumni assuring them Williams would be under a zero tolerance policy and deserved a chance to turn his life around. Then UM head coach Larry Coker took a lot of criticism for sticking with Williams.

For a while it appeared Williams was on his way to cleaning up his act. During his two years at UM, he never had any off field problems or arrests. However, his lack of discipline did catch up with him on the practice field. Williams was labled as uncoachable and was not willing to learn or fit into Randy Shannon's defensive scheme. Williams found himself on the bench and only saw sparse action at UM. With his relationship with Shannon growing colder, Williams decided to leave UM. He spent last year at West Los Angeles Community College before transferring to Louisville.

At Louisville, Williams was given a new opportunity for a fresh start. The Louisville program was just coming off a Big East championship and a victory in the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. But again, Williams was unable to fit into Louisville defensive scheme. In high school Williams excelled using his freelance style of play. But in college he wasn't discipline enough to play within a system. His ability as a player was never questioned. But his desire to be coached and fit into a system never matched his physical ability. Williams found himself third string on Louisville's depth chart and barely played in the Cardinals first three games.

It appears Williams's college career is now over. He still has one year of eligibility left. But it's unlikely another school will put up with Williams behavior or his nasty reputation. He will go down as one of the biggest wastes of talent to come out of Dade County. Hopefully some of the young kids playing high school football can learn from Williams situation and use him as a role model of what not to do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ronnie Brown Is Better Than Reggie Bush

Ronnie Brown and Reggie Bush share a common bond. Both are running backs who were the second picks of their respective drafts. Brown was chosen by the Dolphins as the second overall selection in 2005 and Bush was the second pick in 2006 by the Saints. But if you listen to the media, you would think Bush was ready for the hall of fame and Brown is garbage. Brown is not only better than Bush, it's not even close.

If you can cut through the avalanche of worthless hype fed by ESPN, Reggie Bush is easily the most overrated football player on the planet. Has there ever been a player who has received more praise and accolades for doing so little? Bush is basically just a situational back who can't run between the tackles and catches dump passes out of the backfield. Last year he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. So far this season, Bush has just 80 rushing yards in three games averaging 2.8 per carry. Yet if you watch Sports Center, you would think Stuart Scott and all the clowns on ESPN worthip this guy.

Meanwhile Ronnie Brown can't buy any love from his hometown fans. Last year Brown topped 1,000 yards despite missing a few games due to injury. He hasn't been able to break the big play which has left Dolphin fans somewhat frustrated and some begging for the return of Ricky Williams. But just this past Sunday, Brown gained over 200 yards rushing and receiving combined against the Jets. That's more yardage than Bush has rushing all season.

If you watch ESPN, Brown's name rarely comes up. But when you play for a team that's 0-3, it's hard to get any love. But wait a second! Bush also plays for an 0-3 team. So what gives? Reggie Bush is what I call the ESPN media darling. He's got plenty of flash with charisma and living off his legendary reputation from his USC days. Prior to Bush, Michael Vick held the title of ESPN media darling until his dog fighting operation was exposed. Bush and Vick both had freakish quickness and speed which make for great ESPN highlights. But if you really look at them as NFL players, they're more style than substance.

Now that Deuce McCallister will miss the remainder of the season, Bush will now carry the load for the Saints. It could get ugly for New Orleans fans. Bush is simply a scat back who's basically a 21st century version of Eric Metcalf. Metcalf could do everything Bush could do and arguably better. But you wouldn't want Metcalf carrying the ball 20 times a game and neither can Bush.

I don't want to sound completely like a Bush hater. He was one of the great college running backs I ever saw. But his USC days are over and so are the days of Bush scoring on ridicuculous 80 yard runs game after game. In the NFL, every team has speed on defense and those type of big plays are few and far between. But you would never know it when you watch ESPN. Even when Bush gains 5 yards, Sean Salisbury has to actually diagram how Bush made breathtaking short gains. It's really quite embarassing.

I've come to the conclusion that if Ronnie Brown had played at USC, he would be enjoying all the hype and acclaim Bush receives. Only there's one difference, Brown is a true every down NFL running back and simply better. There, I said it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dolphins Need to Start From Scratch

Ted Ginn

We've now seen the Dolphins play three games and the results aren't pretty. Miami's 31-28 loss to the Jets is the latest chapter that is the Dolphins' current winless season. In most cases I would't advocate giving up your season after just three games. But it's pretty obvious this is not a playoff team nor is it close to being one.

It's time for Cam Cameron and his coaching staff to start preparing and building this team for the future. I'm going to say the dirty word--rebuiling. A 37-year-old Trent Green is not going to lead the Dolphins to a winning season. Contrary to Armando Salguero's preseason prediction, the Dolphins are not going 10-6 this year. This franchise has almost exhausted the best years of Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor's career without much to show for it. Changes need to be made.

First, lets begin at quarterback. The Dolphins need to find out if rookie John Beck can play. Beck is not your normal rookie. He's 26 years old and really needs to start contributing right away. The Dolphins don't have the luxury to sit Beck out for a couple of years and bring him along slowly--not at his age. The only way we're going to find out if Beck is good enough is to get him on the field. Remember, the Dolphins passed up on Brady Quinn hoping Beck would be available in the second round. He was available and now we need to find out what he can do.

Trent Green is just the latest stop gap of veteran journeymen brought in to replace Dan Marino starting with Jay Fiedler back in 2000. The Daunte Culpepper experiment was an utter disaster and it's time to move on and find out if Beck has the goods. If he can't do the job, then the Dolphins may have to address the quarterback position again in the draft.

While many, including myself, have criticized the play of Ronnie Brown. Some of the criticism may be unfair. No, he's not a franchise or Pro Bowl running back. But let's not forget Brown did surpass 1,000 yards last year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry despite missing a few games. He's a good player--just not a great one.

The Dolphins also need to find out if Ted Ginn can play. He's only caught one pass in the first three games. Cameron made it clear on draft day Ginn's kick returning ability was a huge reason for his selection as the team's first round pick. But you don't invest a first round pick on a guy who only returns kicks and punts. Ginn needs to start making plays as a receiver. Get him on the field.

How long are the Dolphins going to ignore spending money on offensive linemen in free agency? Rookie center Samson Satele looks like a keeper. But I'm just not buying the Vernon Carey experiment at left tackle. Carey is a right tackle playing out of position. If you want a real left tackle, draft someone who has experience at playing the position in college or a quality veteran free agent.

Can anyone name a defensive player on the Dolphins roster under the age of 30 with Pro Bowl potential? Linebacker Channing Crowder is the closest I can find to that description. I like Crowder and he's a solid player. But he's no Zach Thomas, who at age 33 is still the Dolphins best linebacker. The defensive line has more grey than aqua and orange. Jason Taylor is 32, Keith Traylor is 38 and Vonnie Holiday is 31 Free agent linebacker Joey Porter is 30. Does anyone see any of those guys as part of the future success of this franchise?

Sometimes to build a good team you must tear it down. You may sacrifice wins now when you play rookies and young players. But in the long run, you need to give them experience and get them ready to become good players for the future Beck, Ginn and Satele are rookies who definitely need to be part of that tomorrow. Vernon Carey and Ronnie Brown also belong in the mix. Defensively, the only guys the Dolphins can really build with now are Channing Crowder, Matt Roth and Yeremiah Bell.

The Dolphins need to finally wake up and admit they are in a rebuilding process. Cameron needs to stop with this delusional thinking that he has a playoff team. He doesn't. I'd like to think owner Wayne Huizenga is not this naive. But judging by the personnel decisions made by this organization in recent years, you have to wonder.

Florida College Football No Longer About The Big 3

Southridge grad and UCF running back Kevin Smith leads the nation in rushing

Look out Canes, Noles and Gators. Remember the days when Miami, Florida and Florida State dominated college football in the state? They were known as "The Big 3" and were among the best programs in the nation. Well, at least the Gators are keeping their end of the bargain. There's a new challenger to the Sunshine State collegiate football hierarchy and it resides in Tampa--the University of South Florida.

The Bulls are currently ranked #23 in the latest Associated Press poll. USF and UF are the only Florida programs currently ranked in the top 25. Head coach Jim Leavitt is no longer the best kept secret in college football. Ten years ago, Leavitt arrived in Tampa to start USF's football program from scratch. The Bulls went 5-6 that year while playing a Division IAA schedule that included losses to the likes of Drake, Elon and Southern Illinois. Fast forward ten years to the present and the Bulls are now a big-time program competing in a BCS conference (Big East)

Just six years ago, the University of Miami won its fifth national championship. But just last year, head coach Larry Coker was fired after going 7-6 in his final season while the program continually declined under his watch. Florida State's program has also reached a stretch of mediocrity never seen before during the tenure of legendary coach Bobby Bowden. The Seminoles also went 7-6 in 2006.

So what's happening to Florida's elite college football programs? Back when the University of Miami dominated the 1980s, schools like USF, Florida Atlantic and Florida International didn't have football programs. More and more out of state schools are recruiting Florida's high school talent like never before. Take a look at the rosters of programs like West Virginia, Rutgers and NC State and you will see plenty of Florida high school talent stocking their rosters. Indeed it's about the Big 3 anymore. There are now much more options for Florida's great high school talent at the next level.

Another program steadily on the rise is Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. Former UM coach Howard Schnellenberger has built a solid football program in a relatively short amount of time. The Owls began play in 2001 as a Division IAA program and just three years later reached the IAA semifinals. In 2004 FAU moved up to Division IA and in its first game beat Hawaii, a respected program. Although the Owls have struggled in their last 3 seasons, Schnellenberger's program is starting to reach a new level. Just last week, FAU beat Minnesota of the Big Ten. FAU is currently 3-1 and 1-0 in the Sun Belt Conference.

Over in Orlando, UCF coach George O'Leary is slowly building a solid program. The Golden Knights are led by running back Kevin Smith, who currently is the leading rusher in college football. Smith, a Miami Southridge graduate, is average 183 yards a game. UCF is 2-1 and 1-0 in Conference USA.

But not every new major program in Florida is flourishing. Florida International continues to struggle terribly. FIU has now lost 16 consecutive games, dating back to 2005. While Florida Atlantic's program has shown signs of quick growth after quickly jumping up to Division IA, FIU has taken several steps backwards on the field. FIU is currently undergoing an ambitious renovation of its on-campus football facility that it hopes will help the program compete with the big boys in the state. Unlike USF and FAU, FIU has its own on campus stadium. But because FIU is still largely a commuter school, I'm not sure an on compus stadium necessarily will bring more fans to the games or create a great college atmosphere. Only winning will bring fans. Right now, FIU is not close to being a competitive program.

Here are my rankings of Florida Division IA football programs:

#1 University of Florida: Without a doubt the Gators boast the best program in the state and one of the elite in the nation. Urban Meyer led the program to its second national championship last year. No other school in the state has the combination of alumni support, money and facilities like UF.

#2 University of South Florida: Who would have thought just a couple of years ago this would happen? USF #2? Absolutely. The Bulls are the only other Florida program ranked in the top 25. In just 10 years, head coach Jim Leavitt has transformed a new program into a legit contender in the Big East. Sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe could challenge Florida's Tim Tebow as the best signal caller in the state.

#3 University of Miami: Miami's program had slipped significantly from one of the nation's elite to mediocrity. But I do see a bright future with new coach Randy Shannon. He's quickly established a solid recruiting class with several strong verbal committments from local high school stars. Miami's best teams have usually been the result of recruiting the best local talent. Shannon is starting to get those players.

#4 Florida State University: During the 1990s, FSU was unquestionable the best program in the nation. But since 2001, FSU has seen a steady decline in its football program. Bobby Bowden is now in his late 70s and one has to wonder about the future of FSU. Like UF, FSU has tremendous alumni support, money and facilities. But they are not getting the blue chip talent like they once did in the 80s and 90s. FSU's offense has been stagnant recently. Bowden fired his offensive coordinator and son Jeff Bowden and replaced him with former LSU coordinator Jimbo Fisher. But so far the results have been the same--mediocre.

#5 University of Central Florida: Don't look now but George O'Leary is building a program that went to a bowl game last year and could win Conference USA. Running back Kevin Smith leads the nation in rushing. O'Leary has been a respected coach for some time, going back to his days at Georgia Tech. He was nearly hired by Notre Dame until it was discovered he lied on his resume. UCF has a new stadium and good enough facilities to match the big programs in the state.

#6 Florida Atlantic University: Howard Schnellenberger's ability to build programs is remarkable. He took UM from a struggling program in 1979 to a national champion in 1983. He took Louisville from the dregs of college football into a respected and outstanding program. He's now doing the same at FAU. You could legimately compare FAU's accent to USF. Both programs have risen at similar paces. The only difference is USF is currently in a BCS conference while FAU plays in the Sun Belt Conference.

#7 Florida International University: Unfortunatley my alma mater is lagging in last place among Florida's so-called big-time programs. While FIU has tried to move its program to big-time status quickly like USF and FAU, the results have not been the same. FIU has lacked the proper leadership and discipline in its program compared to its contemporaries. Don Strock simply wasn't the right man to start the program. The jury is out on new head coach Mario Cristobal. However, I'm skeptical of Cristobal's qualifications. Forget about head coaching experience. Cristobal has never been a coordinator--let alone a head coach. He's young, energetic and supposedly a good recruiter. But is that enough? We'll see.

There are other football programs in the state like Florida A&M, Bethune Cookman, Jacksonville University and Edward Waters. But none of those schools play at the Division IA level just yet.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Canes Mess With The Aggies

Canes running back Graig Cooper celebrates one of his two touchdowns against Texas A&M

Okay, I'll admit I was wrong. The 34-17 score between Canes and Texas A&M didn't surpise me. It's the winning team that shocked me. There's something about a night game at the Orange Bowl that just seems to conjure up the ghosts and goblins that scare UM opponents into submission. Over the years, so many magical moments in Canes history have happened in this same setting. But I didn't think this UM team had the firepower to summon these supernatural spirits. I am happily eating crow.

Coming into the game, Texas A&M was 3-0, ranked 20th in the nation with a powerful rushing attack that averaged over 300 yards a game on the ground. The Aggies were held to just 98 yards rushing. Meanwhile the Canes were unranked and were blown out 51-13 by Big 12 juggernaut Oklahoma. UM had also struggled to blow out a poor FIU team. This game had all the makings for a big Aggie victory in the Orange Bowl. But the folks in Las Vegas knew something I didn't. Not only were the Canes a surprising 2 point favorite, they easily covered the spread. I will never doubt the Vegas oddsmakers again.

Here are some observations:

* Kyle Wright played the best game of his college career. The embattled quarterback completed 21 of 26 passes for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns. His only mistake was a harmless fumble in the third quarter. But throughout the night, Wright made great decisions and got the ball to his playmakers. Barring a Wright injury, it appears Kirby Freeman will spend the remainder of the year on the bench.

* Who knew the Canes had receivers and tight ends? Going into this game, I doubt many casual Cane fans could even name Miami's starting tight end. After last night, I can name three: Dajleon Farr, Chris Zellner and Dedrick Epps. Receivers Sam Shields, Lance Leggett and Darnell Jenkins also came up with big plays. Miami will need more consistancy from this group, if the Canes are to contend in the ACC.

* Texas A&M looked terrible. At times the Aggies could not get out of their own way. Miami's swarming defense made A&M look as though they were stuck in sand. Running backs Javorskie Lane, Mike Goodson and quarterback Stephen McGee were complelely ineffective. What was TAMU head coach Dennis Franchoine thinking? Lane, a 268 pound bulldozer carried the ball only 2 times for just 2 yards. He burned timeouts early in the 3rd quarter and his team completely lacked focus. If I'm an Aggie fan, I want some explanations for this mess.

* Canes offensive coordinator Patrick Nix called a brilliant game. Miami unveiled plays and formations never seen before by Cane fans or opponents. Several times during the game, running backs Javarris James and Graig Cooper lined up at quarterback, while Kyle Wright moved to receiver. Twice the Canes scored touchdowns from this formation. And how about the screens and draws! Finally! Where have these plays been for the last few years? I haven't seen the Canes execute a good screen pass since the days of Ken Dorsey.

* The UM offensive line continues to get better and better. Wright had plenty of time to throw throughout the game. This has been the most surpising and most improved unit of the team.

* Graig Cooper and Javarris James both need to take better care of the football. Both players have struggled with fumbles in the last couple of games. True freshman Shawnbrey McNeal has emerged as the third running back and kick returner.

* Kudos to Texas A&M tight end Martellus Bennett. Bennett, who was recruited by UM, switched his jersey number to 85 to honor former Cane and current Buffalo Bills player Kevin Everett. Durning Bennett's recruitment by UM, he had struck up a friendship with Everett who was his host during his recruiting visit to MIami. Bennett scored on a 33 yard touchdown catch.

* Thursday night's crowd of 44,662 reminded me how loud the Orange Bowl can get for a night game. Even when the stadium is half-filled, the Orange Bowl makes more noise than a full house at Dolphins Stadium. Gottta love the "Overrated!" chants directed to the Texas A&M team.

Happy Birthday Randal Hill

Happy 38th birthday to former Canes and Dolphins receiver Randal Hill. One of the fastest players to ever come out of the University of Miami, Hill made some of the biggest plays in Canes history during his college career from 1987 to 1990.

A Miami native, Hill grew up in the Richmond Heights section of southern Dade County. He was a two-sport star at Killian High School, where he was a 2-time All Dade County cornerback and a state champion sprinter on the track team. His ability to make big plays on kick returns and interceptions earned him the nickname "Thrill". During his senior year at Killian, Hill was named All-State, All South and was selected to the Adidas All American High School Football Team. The Miami Herald named Hill as Dade County's top high school prospect and virtually every football power recruited the speedster.

After going through the recruiting process, Hill decided to stay home and play his college football for the University of Miami. As soon as Hill stepped on campus for his first practice, it didn't take then UM head coach Jimmy Johnson long to figure out Hill's abilities were better suited for offense. He immediately saw action as a true freshman returning kickoffs for UM's 1987 national championship team. By his sophomore year, Hill was starting at wide receiver.

His most memorable play came in 1989 against Notre Dame. Facing a 3rd down and 44 situation, Canes quarterback Craig Erickson fired a deep pass to a streaking Hill, who beat two Notre Dame defenders for a 45 yard gain. The play sparked an epic 10 minute touchdown drive that led to Miami's 27-10 victory over the Irish. The victory gave Miami another national championship.

Hill is also remembered for his notorious tunnel touchdown against Texas in the 1991 Cotton Bowl--his final college game. Hill broke free on a long touchdown reception and kept on running through the end zone and into the tunnel. He later emerged from the stadium tunnel taunting the Texas players by motioning his hands like guns. Hill finished his college career with 107 catches for 1,643 yards and 11 touchdowns and ranks in the top 10 in all three categories in Canes football history.

In 1991 Hill was selected in the first round by the Miami Dolphins. But his pro career would never match the success of his college days. He played seven seasons for the Cardinals, Dolphins and Saints. He best season was 1992 with the Cardinals, catching 58 passes for 861 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Not lacking in confidence, Hill was known for his brash behavior and celebration dances. He legally changed his middle name to Thrill and would often raise his arms in celebration--even after a routine 5 yard catch. Hill once said he used to dream about running with cheetahs and getting stopped by police for running too fast. Since retiring from football, Hill became a law enforcement officer in Broward County.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Nat Moore

Happy 56th birthday to former Dolphins receiver Nat Moore. From 1974 to 1986, Moore was one of the most prolific receivers in Miami history and had the distinction of catching passes from hall of fame quarterbacks Bob Griese and Dan Marino. During his NFL career, Moore caught 510 passes for 7,546 yards and 74 touchdowns.

Born Nathaniel Moore in Tallahassee, Nat moved to Miami as a young boy and was a 3-sport athlete at Edison High School in football, basketball and track. He didn't letter in football until his senior year, while playing for legendary Edison coach Haywood Fowle. At Edison, Moore starred as a running back and led Dade County in rushing as a senior in 1968. He became the second player in in Edison High history to rush for over 1,000 yards and earned a spot on the Miami Herald's All-City team.

But due to his small size and limited football experience, Moore was not heavily recruited by major colleges out of high school. He originally earned a scholarship to the Universifty of Tennessee-Martin. Unhappy at UTM, Moore returned to Miami and enrolled at Miami-Dade Community College South Campus, where he starred on the basketball team as a point guard. Moore's life would change forever when he was noticed by a University of Florida assistant football coach while playing basketball at Miami-Dade CC. The coach had remembered Moore's football exploits at Edison High and recommended him to then Gators head coach Doug Dickey. He soon earned a football scholarship from the Gators.

Moore finished his college career at the University of Florida and quickly became one of the great players in Gator history. As a junior in 1972, Moore led the SEC in rushing and set a then UF record with over 800 yards. Despite and injury-plagued senior year, Moore was drafted in the third round by the Miami Dolphins in 1974.

At 5'9 and 184 pounds, Moore was switched from running back to wide receiver by head coach Don Shula. He originally distinguished himself as a kick returner as a rookie in 1974. But it didn't take long for Shula and Dolphin fans to notice Moore's natural athletic gifts as a receiver. Possessing great quickness and outstanding hands, perhaps Moore's greatest asset was his courage. Despite his small stature, Moore was known to run patterns over the middle and take vicious hits. His most famous play was his "helicopter catch" in a Monday Night game against the New York Jets. He was hit by two Jet defenders and was launched in the air while his body spun completely around. The play is one of the most famous highlights ever shown by NFL Films.

In 1977 Moore was named to the Pro Bowl and led the NFL with 12 touchdown catches. He also helped his quarterback Bob Griese receive All-Pro honors that season. Known a great team leader, Moore served as a mentor to younger teammates Mark Duper and Mark Clayton and helped them develop into Pro Bowl receivers. It was a trait Moore had learned from his mentor Paul Warfield when he entered the NFL.

Moore's most memorable game came on December 2, 1985 when he caught 2 touchdown passes from Dan Marino to beat the Chicago Bears on a Monday Night game in front of a raucus crowd at the Orange Bowl. The Bears entered the game undefeated and had one of the great defenses of all time. To exploit Chicago's defense, Shula had Moore line up in the backfield and isolate him on Bears linebacker Wilber Marshall. Marshall was not quick enough to keep up with Moore in pass coverage and this mismatch was exploited the whole game. The Dolphins would win 38-24, handing the Bears their only loss of their championship season.

Off the field, Moore was named the NFL's Man of the Year in 1984 for his outstanding service to the community. In 1986, he received the Byron White Humanitarian Award. When his football career ended, he started the Nat Moore Foundation which helps disadvantage youth in Miami-Dade County. A staunch supporter of his alma mater, Moore has spent the last decade as a color comentator for University of Florida football games on Sunshine Network and Sun Sports. He also does broadcast work with the Miami Dolphins during the preseason on TV and as a sideline reporter for the Dolphins radio network. A successful businessman, he also runs a sports promotions firm, Nat Moore & Associates, Inc.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Disastrous Home Opener

Cowboys running back Marion Barber stiff-arms Jason Taylor

The Miami Dolphins continue to make their fans cry. In what was supposed to be the team's home opener, turned into a 37-20 Dallas Cowboys love fest. Before the game even started, it quickly became apparent there were almost as many Cowboy fans among the sellout crowd as Dolphin supporters. Indeed the Cowboys fans were louder and had much more to cheer about. I'd be willing to bet most of those Cowboy fans weren't from even from Texas. It's likely almost all of them hailed from South Florida.

But what do you expect? South Florida is a transient community where most people come from somewhere else and nobody is going to support the local team when they're not winning. As for the game itself, every weakness on the Dolphins team was exposed.

This franchise needs to wake up and realize it can't be successful with a journeyman quarterback. Trent Green had some good seasons in Kansas City. But he's 37 years old and coming off a year where he had a season ending concusion. Green threw 4 interceptions and lost a fumbled snap from center. On one of those interceptions, he badly overthrew a wide-open Chris Chambers. Those turnovers kept constant pressure on the Dolphins defense, which had to defend the Cowboys offense on the Miami side of the field all day. I expect to see rookie John Beck get some serious playing time before this season is over.

But let's be real. The Dolphins defense was also exposed. You have to wonder how much gas is left in the tank of Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. Both are still good players. But when you start playing in your 30s, you're a football version of a senior citizen. Defensive tackle Keith Traylor is the oldest player on the team at 38 years of age. Fellow defensive tackle Vonnie Holiday is 31. Every team has veteran players. But Miami's best defensive players are all in their 30s. Where is the young stud who lead this team in the future? Channing Crowder is okay. But you need more than just okay.

Where was the pass rush? The Dolphin defense registered zero sacks and at times Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sat back in the pocket long enough to eat a ham sandwich and drink a beer. When there was pressure, Romo showed his elusiveness with his feet and managed to find receivers open on crucial downs including a touchdown pass to Terrell Owens on 4th down and 4.

The Dolphins have done the worst job of drafting first round talent. The jury is out on Ted Ginn. I'm willing to give him a pass because he's only played two games. But he's yet to show the Devin Hester tendencies that made Cam Cameron draft Ginn and his family. Last year's first round pick Jason Allen is a complete waste. Forget about starting in the secondary. Allen can't even play nickle or dime. Even when he plays on special teams, Allen can't even do his job without making a mistake. He was penalized while on kickoff coverage. Left tackle Vernon Carey is playing out of position. He's serviceable at best as a left tackle. But if you're going to be a playoff contender, you need a top notch left tackle to protect the quarterback's blind side. Put him back to right tackle where he belongs.

So now that brings us to my biggest disappointment of the Dolphins recent first round picks--Ronnie Brown. I'm sure Ronnie is a good guy and a great teammate. But 33 yards rushing on 11 carries is not going to cut it. Everybody knows he was the 2nd overall pick of the 2005 draft. Like it or not, when a player is drafted that high, he must become at least a Pro Bowl player. Anything less is a failure. You don't draft solid or average players with the 2nd overall pick. Brown is so average, he makes me want to take another chance on the chronic ganja smoker Ricky Williams. Brown spent much of the second half standing on the sidelines looking bewildered. Cameron has even tried playing head games with Brown. During the preseason, Brown was used as a kickoff returner. There were even signs backup running back Jesse Chatman might take his job. This is Brown's third NFL season and he's yet to show any resemblence to a franchise running back. Right now I would have to rate Brown as a payroll bandit.

It didn't take long to notice the absence of safety Yeremiah Bell. The tackling in the secondary was atrocious. Travis Daniels covering Terrell Owens is a mismatch of monstrous proportions.

Folks, this is going to be a long season. I'm still going to stick with my prediction of 6-10. But this team may be worse than I thought. The encouraging sign is the Dolphins will get a high pick in the draft. Unfortunatley, their recent draft records indicate the Dolphins are more likely to select a lemon rather than a blue chipper. Welcome to the world of the Detroit Lion and Arizona Cardinal fans. We Dolphins fans now finally understand your pain.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Kinder & Gentler Rivalry?

UM's Lance Leggett scores on an 80 yard pass from Kyle Wright

This time there weren't any fists flying, helmets thrown or bodies getting trampled--and that was just the fans in the stands. Last year's inaugural football game between UM and FIU was marred by an ugly bench clearing brawl resulting in the ejection and suspension of several players. The violence even spilled into the stands, where fans from both schools decided to take out their frustrations. So can't we all just get along?

Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes and Golden Panthers returned to the Orange Bowl to renew their young and combustible rivalry. This time the game was played without any incidents on the field. The fans on the most part were well behaved. Sure there were a few wackos who let their alcohol consumption get out of control--especially in the west end zone. But what's a game at the OB without a few zealous drunks.

Once again the Canes beat their city rivals 23-9. But this game was hardly the easy victory most people thought. There are a couple things you can conclude from this game. First, the Golden Panthers might be getting better. FIU has now lost its last 15 games--currently the second longest losing streak in major college football behind Duke's 22 game streak. But FIU was able to do something to the Canes they couldn't accomplish last year. They scored. The Golden Panthers got a 65 yard touchdown pass from Wayne Younger to Trenard Turner and a field goal.

Secondly, the Canes have several major issues that will keep them in mediocrity. Kyle Wright returned as the starting quarterback and played okay. He made some big plays, including an 80 yard TD pass to Lance Leggett and finally made the passing game productive with 224 yards. But there were also some mental mistakes that included an interception in the end zone and inconsistancy. Defensively, the Canes secondary continues to give up big plays. FIU's passing game is not very good. But they were able to get big play for a touchdown. Younger, a freshman walk-on from Cocoa, was able to make some plays with his feet and frustrate the Canes defense at times.

A victory is a victory. But I'm not sure Cane fans should feel too good about this one. Miami has a major problem at the defensive tackle position. The Canes top three tackles are all injured. At one point backup defensive end Vegas Franklin moved inside along with sophomore backup Joe Joseph. They did a solid job. But this could become a huge concern with a physical Texas A&M team next on the schedule this coming Thursday.

Another concern is UM was unable to really put away FIU. The Golden Panthers hung around for most of the game. The Canes were a 32 point favorite and simply couldn't finish off FIU. But you have to give some credit to head coach Mario Cristobal's squad. The never quit and played hard the entire 60 minutes.

Some observations:

* Carlos Armour and Bruce Johnson started for the Canes at cornerback. Randy Phillips has been moved to safety. The secondary continues to give up big plays.

* Kyle Wright can make some beautiful throws. His touchdown pass to Lance Leggett was a perfect example. But he continues to make bonehead plays in key situations. He threw 2 interceptions including one in the end zone that killed a drive. He must show better consistancy or it will be same as last year--another mediocre and disappointing season.

* Canes freshmen running backs Shawnbrey McNeal and Lee Chambers made their debuts as kick returners and in the backfield. Both showed some flashes of speed. Thank goodness, Randy Shannon decided to remove 260 pound tight end Richard Gordon from kickoff returns.

* FIU will win a game sometime this season. I don't know who they're going to beat. But it will happen. Mario Cristobal has his hands full with a very young squad--led by a redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback Wayne Younger. But if he can continue to get 60 minutes of strong effort from his players, progress will be made.

* Gotta love the name of FIU linebacker Toronto Smith. He and fellow linebacker Scott Bryant were all over the field making plays and kept FIU in the game.

* It's rare that a punter gets special mention. But FIU's Chris Cook made a couple of beautiful punts that pinned the Canes inside at their own 1 yard line.

* The crowd of 40,915 was more than 10,000 fewer than last year. Why UM continues to schedule afternoon games is beyond me. For the love of God, please move the games to night. If you need to lose weight, my best advice is come to a Canes home afternoon game. I guarantee you'll lose at least 5 pounds. Just make sure you put on some deodorant.

Bulls On The Rampage In Texas

Northwestern receiver Tommy Streeter

They came. They saw. And they conquered. Congratulations to the Miami Northwestern Bulls on their 29-21 victory over the defending Texas and USA Today national champion Southlake Carroll Dragons. For years, it has been written in books and shown on movies how huge high school football is in the State of Texas. The book "Friday Night Lights" was a best seller. The movie also did well at the box office and a TV show based on the book and movie made its debut on NBC last year.

No program in the past decade has represented dominance in Texas better than Southlake Carroll High School. The school is located in a wealthy Dallas suburb where the average household income exceeded $185,000. Southlake Carroll head coach Hal Wasson makes over $90,000 a year and only coaches football. He doesn't teach a single class. The Dragons play their home games in a $15 million stadium and have their own indoor practice facility that would be the envy of some NFL teams. The Dragons average close to 20,000 fans per home game. They had won 49 consecutive games and 3 of the last 4 Texas Class 5A state titles.

Miami Northwestern High School is located in Liberty City--one of the most economically deprived areas in Florida. The school sits across the street from the notorious Pork & Beans Housing Project. The Bulls are the defending Florida 6A state champs. But coming into this season, the program was mired in controversy after the entire coaching staff was fired for covering up a sex crime committed by its star running back Antwain Easterling. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Rudy Crew had threatened to cancel Northwestern's season.

Enter new head coach Billy Rolle, who was hired to clean up Northwestern's program. Rolle has been a proven winner. He's the only coach in Dade County history to win state titles at two different schools. He coached Northwestern from 1997 to 2000 and won the 6A title in 1998. He later coached Killian High to the state title in 2004. Known as a strict disciplinarian and for his attention to detail, Rolle was the perfect coach to restore prestige to the damaged Northwestern program.

Northwestern's victory Saturday night came in front of more than 30,000 fans at Ford Stadium on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Most of those fans left in shock. The game was also televised nationally by ESPN U. The Bulls had many standouts. Five of their players have made verbal committments to attend the University of Miami.

But the biggest star of the gane was a kid who had yet to make a college choice--Tommy Streeter. At 6'4 and quick as a hiccup, Streeter caught 4 passes for over 100 yards and 3 touchdowns. He repeatedly burned the smaller and slower Dragon defensive backs for big plays.

Canes fans who have been frustrated with mediocre play on offense the last few seasons can now look forward to some great talent coming to Coral Gables. Bulls quarterback Jacory Harris fired 4 touchdown passes and showed his cool in the pocket. Harris outplayed his counterpart Riley Dodge who tossed a pair of costly interceptions in the second half. Harris is one of five Northwestern players who will play their college ball for UM. Receiver Aldarius Johnson, who broke all the county records last year, also caught a touchddown pass and will be wearing the orange and green next year. Indeed help is on the way.

While it was only a regular season game,I can't emphasize how huge this victory was for Northwestern. Southlake Carroll had built a reputation of invincibility. None of the players on the Dragons roster had ever lost a football game. They were the pride of the Lone Star State. They had taken on all comers in Texas and beaten them all. But Northwestern proved to the nation what we in South Florida have known for a long time. The best football is played right here. Case closed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Happy Birthday Dan Marino

Happy 46th birthday to former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. Marino played his entire 17 year pro football career with the Dolphins from 1983-1999 and set virtually every career passing record in NFL history. During that time he racked up an amazing 61,361 passing yards, 420 touchdown passes and 8,358 pass attempts. His 4,967 completions have since been surpassed by Brett Favre, who is also on track to break most of Marino's records.

Born Daniel Constantine Marino Jr. in Pittsburgh, he was a sports prodigy of the Steel City. In high school Marino was a Parade All American at Central Catholic High School. But football wasn't his only sport. Marino was also a standout baseball star and was drafted in the 4th round by the Kansas City Royals. Despite at tempting contract offer by the Royals, he decided to instead play football for the University of Pittsburgh.

In college, Marino was a 4-year starter and set all the passing records in Pitt history. Pittsburgh finished in the AP top 10 all 4 years of Marino's career. During his junior year in 1981, he was a Sporting News All American and threw a school record 31 touchdown passes and led the Panthers to victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. He also finished 4th in the 1981 Heisman Trophy voting.

But due to a somewhat disappointing senior year, Marino slid to the 27th overall pick of the 1983 NFL Draft. He was the fifth quarterback selected in a draft behind John Elway, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O'Brien. But it didn't take long for Marino to show he would surpass all of them statistically.

After sitting behind incumbent starter David Woodley his month, Marino started his first game in week 6 of his rookie year and never looked back. He was the 1983 NFL Rookie of The Year. In 1984 he set the standard for passing excellence throwing for a record 5,084 and a then-record 48 touchdowns (since broken by Peyton Manning). That year he led the Dolphins to the AFC championship and a birth in Super Bowl XIX. The Dolphins would lose to 49ers and Marino would never return to the Super Bowl.

Blessed with one of the quickest releases the game has ever seen, a powerful right arm and remarkable pocket presence, it's unlikely Miami Dolphin fans will ever see the likes of Marino again. Since Marino's retirement, the Dolphins have used 11 different quarterbacks as starters.

Since his retirement Marino became a television analyst for CBS and HBO. He's also a spokesperson for Nutrisystem and established the Dan Marino Foundation which has distributed over $7 million to autism research, a neurological disorder which also affects Marino's son Michael. Marino and his wife Claire have 6 children and continue to live in Weston.

Marino Facts:

NFL records set by Dan Marino

(Note: This list documents records set by Dan Marino. Some of the records have since been broken.)

* Most Attempts, Career: 8,358
* Most Completions, Career: 4,967 (since broken by Brett Favre (5021) in 2006)
* Most Yards Passing, Career: 61,361
* Most Touchdown Passes, Career: 420
* Most Passing Yards, Season: 5,084 in 1984
* Most Touchdown Passes, Season: '48 (since broken by Peyton Manning (49) in 2004)
* Most Games, 400 or more Yards Passing, Career: 13
* Most Games, 400 or more Yards Passing, Season: 4 in 1984
* Most Games, 300 or more Yards Passing, Career: 63
* Most Seasons, 3,000 or more Yards Passing: 13 (1984-92, 1994-95, 1997-98) (since broken by Brett Favre 15)
* Most Consecutive Seasons, 3,000 or more Yards Passing: 9 (1984-92) (since broken by Brett Favre 15)
* Most Games, Four or more Touchdown Passes, Career: 21
* Most Games, Four or more Touchdown Passes, Season: 6 in 1984
* Lowest Percentage, Passes Intercepted, Rookie Season: 2.03 in 1983 (296-6)
* Most Seasons Leading League, Attempts: 5 (1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1997)
* Most Seasons Leading League, Completions: 6 (1984-86, 1988, 1992, 1997)
* Most Seasons, 40 or more Touchdown Passes: 2 (1984, 1986)
* 100 TD Passes in Fewest Amount of Games to Start Career: 44 (9/7/86 at San Diego)
* 200 TD passes in Fewest Amount of Games to Start Career: 89 (9/17/89 at New England)
* 300 TD passes in Fewest Amount of Games to Start Career: 157 (9/4/94 vs. New England)
* Highest TD-INT differential: +168

NFL records tied

* Most Seasons Leading League, Yards Gained: 5 (1984-86, 1988, 1992) with Sonny Jurgensen (Philadelphia, 1961-62; Washington, 1966-67, 1969)
* Most Consecutive Seasons Leading League, Completions: 3 (1984-86) with George Blanda (Houston, 1963-65)
* Most Consecutive Games, 400 or more Yards Passing: 2 (1984) with Dan Fouts (San Diego, 1982), Phil Simms (N.Y. Giants, 1985), and Billy Volek (Tennessee, 2004)
* Most Wins against one team: 22 against the Indianapolis Colts ( Brett Favre vs. the Chicago Bears)

Additional statistics

Regular season

* Named NFL Most Valuable Player (1984)
* Played 242 games, starting 240 of them
* Career completion percentage of 59.4%
* Career passing efficiency rating is 86.4
* Threw 252 interceptions in his career
* First QB in NFL history to have six 4,000-yard seasons (1984-86, 1988, 1992, 1994)
* Only QB in NFL history to pass for 5,000 or more yards in a single season (5,084 in 1984)
* Led 37 fourth-quarter comeback victories, second only to John Elway.
* Holds Dolphins team record for most seasons played, 17.
* Had 116 wins under Don Shula – the most by a head coach - quarterback combination in NFL history.
* Won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week honor 18 times in the regular season (and 20 times overall, including playoffs).
* Started 240 Regular Season Games and Held a 147-93 record as a starter (second to John Elway's NFL-best 148-82-1 regular season record)
* For perspective, his 61,361 career passing yards is the equivalent of having passed his way across the state of Rhode Island.


* Played in 18 Playoff Games and Held an 8-10 Record in the Playoffs
* Passed for 4,510 yards over career in playoff games[6]
* Threw at least one touchdown pass in sixteen of his eighteen playoff contests, throwing a touchdown pass in his first thirteen postseason contests.

Friday, September 14, 2007

RIP Adrian Ellis (1972-2007)

Former Columbus High football legend Adrian Ellis was found shot to death in his car outside an apartment complex in Homestead. He was just 35 years old. I was saddened to hear about Ellis's death after seeing an article in the Miami Herald yesterday.
I had never met Ellis. In fact, I hadn't heard his name in over a decade But I can recall reading about his exploits on the football field back in the late 1980s when he was a student athlete for the Columbus Explorers.

He was one of the most dominant defensive backs to play in Dade County during the 80s. Ellis wasn't very big at 5'9 and 180 pounds. But he was very quick and versatile. He could play virtually every skill position on both offense and defense. I remember back in the days when WLRN Channel 17 used to televise local high school football games. Ellis was one of those players who jumped off the screen and made a huge impression on me. It seems just like yesterday he was playing quarterback, receiver, defensive back and sometimes lining up at running back. He literally seemed like a one-man team.

Ellis graduated from Columbus High with a 3.15 GPA in 1990. He was recruited by virtually every major program in the South. The Miami Herald chose Ellis to its all-decade team for the 80s and named him the 4th best prospect in Dade County and the 15th best player in the state. He was All-State and a prep All American. I can remember being excited as a Canes fan when I learned Ellis had announced he would attend the University of Miami. He seemed destined for stardom.

More than 17 years later, I had never heard from him again--until now. Ellis never played a down for the Canes. He was thrown off the team by then head coach Dennis Erickson after several arrests--including armed robbery. Ellis had led a very reckless and troubled life. Ellis was arrested 13 times since he turned 18 in 1990. He spent nearly 20 months in jail before resurecting his college football career at the University of Central Florida, where he also was a backup centerfielder on the baseball team.

When his college career ended, he returned to the projects in South Miami where he grew up. He later became a community activist and a respected youth football coach for the South Miami Grey Ghosts Optimist Club--a program that has competed regularly for state championships. In an attempt to get his life back together, Ellis pursued a career in local politics. Three times he ran for a City of South Miami commission seat. But due to his extensive arrest record and troubled past, he lost in all three elections. According to the Miami Herald, Ellis chaired the Head Start Policy Council made up of parents of kids in the program, and he's been a board member for the county's Community Action Agency for the past six years.

Ellis was a man of extremes with plenty of demons. Depending on what you read, one report said he fathered 11 children from several relationships. Another article listed 15 children. His oldest child is currently a senior at South Miami High School. He also has a son Adrian Jr. who plays football at Columbus High. He lived with some of his children near the South Miami Parks and Recreation Department, where he worked as a youth football coach.

But the same mean streets he tried to clean up as an activist and politican finally caught up with him. Police found Ellis dead Tuesday night in his car outside the Riverwalk Apartments in Homestead.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Marlins Power Surge Doesn't Bring Wins or Fans

Less than 500 fans watch the Marlins beat the Nationals Wednesday afternoon

If a tree falls in the forest, does it still make a sound? Well, maybe the same could be said for a Marlin's players when they hit a home run. The Marlins have already set a team record with 190 round trippers this season. They say chicks dig the long ball. But lately there haven't been many female or male fans admiring those home runs. Three Marlin players (Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla) are on pace to surpass 30 home runs this year, while playing in a park known as being pitcher-friendly.

But despite the lofty power numbers for the Marlins this season, the team has 83 losses--most in the National League. This is just further proof pitching and defense wins ballgames. It's no coincidence the Marlins are the worst defensive team in baseball and have a crippled pitching staff led by the less than mediocre likes of Rick VandenHurk, Sergio Mitre, Scott Olsen and Dontrelle Willis.

The bottom line is the Marlins are a bad ballclub. You can hit a ton of home runs, but horrible defense and pitching will still lead you to the basement in the standings. But the Marlins long term problems go beyond the playing field. Check out the fans in the stands--or the lack of them. Yesterday's game drew the smallest crowd to perhaps ever see a major league game. The announced attendance was 10,000. But that number was just for tickets sold. The truth is less than 500 were in Dolphins Stadium to witness the Marlins victory.

Don't look now, but the Grim Reaper is tip-toeing behind the Marlins and ready to tap the franchise over the shoulder. Baseball has always been a tough sell in South Florida. There are plenty of the excuses. The weather is too hot. It rains too much. The team plays in a football stadium. But the real truth is the team is terrible and there is no interest in baseball in South Florida.

Everybody knows the Marlins need a new stadium. The City of Miami would like to tear down the Orange Bowl and build a new stadium for the Marlins at the OB site. I don't care if they put a roof on the stadium. Fans might come out for a while, just because the stadium is new. But in the long run, baseball still won't draw. Most people who go to Marlin games are from Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Nobody is going to travel all the way down to Little Havana to watch baseball everybday. Sorry, but it's not going to happen.

Time is running out. The Marlins lease with Dolphins Stadium ends in 2010. Owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson have not been able to come up with an agreement with the City of Miami, Dade County or the State of Florida on a stadium site and how to fund the stadium. Desperation is starting to set in. Just last year, Samson and Loria traveled to San Antonio, Portland and Las Vegas, pitching the idea of possiblly moving the franchise. I just don't see taxpayers agreeing to fund a baseball stadium here in South Florida.

WQAM sports talkshow host and former Miami Dolphin Jim Mandich suggested the Marlins should build a stadium near the water--simliar to San Francisco. While I think that's a great idea, unfortunately the City of Miami doesn't have such plans. That's too bad because it may be too late to save the national pastime in South Florida.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bell's Injury Is Going To Hurt

Yeremiah Bell

When the Dolphins announced safety Yeremiah Bell would be out for the season with a torn achilles tendon, there were plenty of Dolphin players, coaches and fans feeling his pain. Don't get me wrong. Nobody hurts more than Bell. But right now, the Dolphins secondary is on life support.

Bell was the Dolphins best playmaker in the secondary and there's a huge dropoff in talent when it comes to his replacement. Travares Tillman and Cameron Worrell will now compete in practice to replace him. But none of them has Bell's ability to blitz, intercept passes and make game changing plays. The situation is so bad, the Dolphins may have to use Jason Allen, last year's first round pick who's been a collosal bust.

How bad is Jason Allen? The Dolphins have been doing everything they can to keep him off the field. You get the feeling defensive coordinator Dom Capers is scared to death to give Allen any playing time. The team has shuttled Allen back and forth from safety to cornerback and now back to safety, hoping Allen can show the ability to play somewhere with a least a bit of competance. The only reason he's on the team right now is he was a first round pick and only in his second year. Right now, Allen makes Jamar Fletcher look like Rod Woodson.

Bell was the type of player you can't help but root for. He's the anti Jason Allen. He was a walk-on at Eastern Kentucky and a 6th round pick back in 2003 when Dave Wannstedt was head coach. Bell paid for college while working in a Kentucky steel mill. He's the only player from the Dolphins 2003 draft class still with the team. Plus whenever he makes a great play, Joe Rose sings, "Yeremiah was a bullfrog and he was a good friend of mine." With Bell out of the lineup, there will be fewer interceptions by the DBs and less singing in the broadcast booth.

The Return of Kyle Wright

Canes QB Kyle Wright

I'd like to think UM head coach Randy Shannon has been reading my blog. Afterall, it was just a couple of weeks ago I stated Kyle Wright would somehow return to the starting lineup. I never once thought Kirby Freeman would play well enough to keep the starting job. Everytime I watch Freeman, he looks like a high school quarterback playing college football. With less than 100 yards passing in his first two starts this season, Freeman's performances have been an insult to high school quarterbacks everywhere. He struggles just to complete short screen passes. He can't read a defense to save his life. He often tucks the ball to run after making his first read and he has no accuracy whatsoever.

Well, today Shannon made it official and announced Wright will start this Saturday against FIU. If you watched the Canes 51-13 loss to Oklahoma, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Wright did a better job of moving the offense. That's not saying much. The Canes looked like a Pop Warner team while playing a superior Sooner squad. But his touchdown pass to Ryan Hill marked the only time the Canes offense reached the end zone.

Let me make it clear that I've never been a huge fan of Wright. He has a lot of bad habits like holding on the ball too long and his instincts for the game are severly lacking. But I'm glad to see him get another chance to redeem himself. He's a 5th year senior and sitting on the bench is no way for Wright to exit UM. Like it or not Cane fans, Wright is the best passer UM has. (Freshman Robert Marve has yet to play a down) Wright's always had great physical tools--size, arm strength and athleticism. Let's hope it's never too late to realize that potential.

Changing the subject, I'm glad Randy Shannon finally saw the light and moved cornerback Randy Phillips to safety. Just this past Saturday, Phillips was burned for 3 touchdowns by Oklahoma receiver Malcolm Kelly. In defense of Phillips, Kelly is going to beat a lot of cornerbacks. But Phillips has been the constant target of every opposing quarterback that plays the Canes. Even though UM starts a true freshman DeMarcus Van Dyke at the other corner, teams still prefer to pick on Phillips.

I just could never understand why Shannon has kept Randy Phillips at cornerback so long. Phillips was a highly recruited safety coming out of Glades Central High School in Belle Glade. He never played cornerback until he arrived at UM. At the time, UM was lacking depth at the cornerback position. But he's just too slow to play corner. Now it's two years later and Phillips needs to move back to the position that best suits his talents.

Happy Birthday Ed Reed

Happy 29th birthday to former University of Miami safety Ed Reed. Reed, who currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens, was a 2-time All American and a 4-year starter for the Canes from 1998-2001. He was the defensive captain on the 2001 national championship team.

A native of St. Rose, Louisiana, Reed intercepted a UM record 21 passes in his career and returned 5 of them for touchdowns. His most memorable play came when he converted a Boston College turnover into a long touchdown, preserving a UM victory that helped keep the Canes unbeaten in 2001. Reed was also a member of the UM track team and was a Big East champion in the javelin. He was a Louisiana state champ in the javelin at Destrehan High School in the New Orleans area.

Reed was the Ravens first round pick in 2002 and has been one of the NFL's best safeties since his arrival in the league. In 2004, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year and is a 3 time Pro Bowl selection.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Former Cane Kevin Everett Suffers Neck Injury

Kevin Everett

I want to send out my thoughts and prayers to former University of Miami tight end Kevin Everett who suffered a serious neck injury while playing for the Buffalo Bills. Everett, a native of Port Arthur, Texas, played two seasons for the Canes in 2003-2004 after transferring from Kilgore Junior College in Texas.

As of this morning, Everett was still in intensive care and in serious condition. Everitt had a solid career at UM. In 2004 he ranked second on the team with 23 catches for 310 yards. Everett was the bridge between Kellen Winslow Jr. and Greg Olsen at the tight end position. It's a further reminder how dangerous the game of football can be. Get well soon!

Sideline Soldier?

Joey Porter

It's the question every Dolphins fan wants to know. Why was linebacker Joey Porter standing on the sidelines during overtime while the Dolphins defense was getting trampled by Clinton Portis? As Ricky Ricardo would say, "Cam, you've got some splaining to do!"

So far, we've yet to hear an explanation from head coach Cam Cameron or defensive coordinator Dom Capers. But it's enough to make the most loyal Dolphin fan sick to his stomach. It was obvious to everybody in the stadium the Dolphin defense was fatigued and sucking wind. The Redskins rushed for 191 yards. Everyone knew the Redskins were going to run the ball and the Dolphins did nothing to stop them.

Look, I understand Porter missed the entire preseason while recovering from an injury. But he started the game and made a couple of nice plays. It's really discouraging to see the Dolphins wasting their top free agent acquisition on the bench, while the team desperately needed him. Why Cam? Why?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Same Old Dolphins

Ronnie Brown tries to break the tackle of Redskin linebacker Marcus Washington

The coaches may change, but the results stay the same. Once again the Dolphins have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the NFL, there's a fine line between winning and losing. Any lost opportunity can come back and bite you in the end.

In today's Dolphins 16-13 overtime loss to Washington, Miami had a chance to win the game late in regulation. A couple of Trent Green passes to Chris Chambers brought the Dolphins inside the Redskin 10 yard line with less than a minute left. However a pair of penalties moved Dolphins so far back, they had to settle for a tying field goal to send the game to overtime. From that point, you just knew it wasn't going to end well for The Fish.

The Redskins ended up winning the coin toss and Clinton Portis ran all over a tired Dolphin defense in overtime, setting up the winning field goal. What bothers me about this game is the Dolphins were given every opportunity to win. Not only did the penalties near the end of regulation kill Miami. Dolphin receivers dropped 5 passes. One of the most crucial drops was by tight end David Martin, who was wide open on a third down during Miami's second to last possession of the 4th quarter. If Martin catches that pass, who know s how the game turns out. We will never know. But such is life in the NFL.

A few obersvations:

* Joey Porter was impressive in his first game in aqua and orange. For the first Porter actually hit somebody as a member of the Dolphins. The last time he hit anyone was Levi Jones at a Las Vegas casino.

* This game was vintage Chris Chambers. At times he makes great catches and big plays. But he continues to make you want to pull your hair out in agony when he drops easy passes when he's wide open.

* What's up with all the dropped balls? The Dolphin receivers dropped five passes, some of them crucial plays that ended up killing drives.

* Jason Taylor is still a beast. It never ceases to amaze me what he can do on the field. If he's not sacking quarterbacks and bringing down ball carriers in the backfield or even intercepting passes,Taylor showed a new dimension to his game. During the Redskins final play in reglation, Washington quarterback Jason Campbell fired a Hail Mary pass into the end zone. Taylor was back in the end zone on pass coverage and batted the pass away. Unfortunately, the pass ricocheted to Redskin receiver Antwaan Randel-El who nearly scored if not for a heads-up tackle by Taylor at the one-yard-line.

* Trent Green played okay. He didn't do anything to lose the game. Often he was betrayed by his teammates with drops and crucial holding penalties.

* Vernon Carey continues to be a work in progress at left tackle. He started out shakey, but played okay. But if the Dolphins are to become a contender again, this position needs to be upgraded and Carey should return to his natural position--right tackle.

* Ronnie Brown is never going to be the franchise player he was expected to be when he was selected as the 2nd overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He's a decent to good player. But the fact is Brown has never been able to carry the load at any level he's played at except maybe high school. In college, he shared carries with Cadillac Wiliams at Auburn. During his rookie year, he split carries with Ricky Williams. By the way, Williams proved to be the better back. And now he's sharing the load with Jesse Chatman, who just two years ago, was out of football after he practically ate himself out of the league.

* Armando Salguero's prediction of a 10-6 season is looking more ridiculous by the moment.