As is tradition, I had the chance to exchange "5 Questions" with "Matty I", blogger at SBNation's fine Miami Dolphins blog, The Phinsider. Matty I answers my questions about Tony Sparano, the WR corp, and his hopes for the team. Head on over to The Phinsider for my answers to his questions.
Coach Sparano has a VASTLY different style than "Cam Cam", but is he any more effective as head coach of the Dolphins? Is it unfair to lay the blame for an 0-2 start on his shoulders given what he was left with?
TP: It's too early to tell if Sparano will be any more effective as head coach than Cam was. Sure, 0-2 doesn't look good. But they were just 19 yards (or 1 Chad Pennington pass) away from beating the Jets in week one. Even with that said, though, I will be honest. Sparano has made some noticeable rookie mistakes during these first 2 games. Time management was an issue late in the Jets' game. There are some questionable personnel decisions that have been made - like not having Ted Ginn on the field in 3 WR sets last week.
However, it is unfair to lay the blame for the 0-2 start on Sparano's shoulders. The fat of the matter is that this team isn't any good. But this new regime - led by Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland - have come down here and have began a real rebuilding process. And it's likely that things will get worse before they get better. And as far as Sparano goes, I just hope he learns from some of his rookie mistakes just like any player would. After all, Sparano does have the advantage of having a guy like Bill Parcells in his corner - a mentor he can lean to if needed.
Sparano is the head coach, but do you feel as if Parcells is "looming" in the background, directing his every move? In your opinion, does Sparano have the freedom to run the team like he thinks the team should be run?
TP: It's hard for me to say because I'm not down there, but I don't think Parcells "looming" is much of an issue for Tony. Sparano seems like his own guy and I do think he runs the team the way he and his coaching staff wants to. Sure, thee were times during training camp that Parcells was down there on the practice field. But he didn't get too involved. Instead, he would sometimes quickly point out something here or there to one of the young players - usually involving technique. But there's no question that Tony runs the practices and runs the locker room. And on game day, this is Sparano's team. He's down on the sidelines and in the locker room while Parcells is up in his box with Jeff Ireland, Wayne Huizenga, and any other front office personnel - right where they should be.
Statistically, the 'Fins are not doing well in the passing game - 43 for 75 compared to opponent's 35 for 48 as well as 5.7 yard avg compared to an 11.9. In your mind, what's going on? QB, wide receivers, coaching or all of the above?
TP: It's really all of the above. The wide receivers just aren't very good right now. They can't get open and are unable to get any separation at all at times. Chad Pennington is also to blame. It's not so much what he's done, but rather what he cannot do. He can't throw the ball deep. This allows opposing defenses to put 8 or even 9 in the box to take away the running game (causing 3rd and long situations) and also to take away the short passing game - which is what Pennington excels at. Without any threat of the deep ball, there's just no room for these marginal receivers to get open.
Oh, and I will say that coaching is slightly to blame as well. And the biggest issue that most Dolphin fans have with the coaching is how Ted Ginn has been used. Or rather, how he hasn't been used. First off, because of Pennington's weak arm, the threat of the long pass to Ginn is very slim. But the coaches also seem reluctant to put Teddy in the slot. Or the put him in motion. It's clear that Ginn has trouble getting off the jam, so moving him around would help. But for some reason, the coaches are yet to do that.
TP: Even though some fans are already calling for Chad Henne, I still think we're going to see Pennington in there for quite some time. Sparano even laid out some of the plan - stating that Henne would get some playing time late in games that are lopsided in one direction or the other (gee, I wonder which way the games will be lopsided). And I think that is the right way to go about it.
I've long been a proponent of not starting rookie quarterbacks. In fact, I even wrote a recent post that looks at why I'm against starting a rookie QB at any point during the season. The bottom line here is that we saw what happened to John Beck last season when he was thrown into a terrible starting situation - one in which the offensive line was bad and the talent around him at the skill positions was even worse. Why subject Henne, who is likely the QB of the future for this franchise, to that same situation? Let him sit and learn from one of the game's smartest QBs, with the occasional opportunity for Henne to get his feet wet.
TP: I think the biggest change has been the change in culture. Sparano is a tougher coach who brings a tougher attitude with him - and the players do seem to feed of that. He's also as hard of a worker as they come. For example, following Miami's embarrassing performance this past Sunday in Arizona, Sparano went right from the airport to his office at the team's facility in Davie to get back to work. He watched the film from the Cards/Fins game 2 or 3 times before watching the film from the Pats/Chiefs week one game. He spent the entire night in his office - not sleeping at all - trying to figure out how to get better. That's the kind of head coach I want for my team.
I think the one thing that gives us Dolphin fans hope are the players that this regime has drafted. It's looking more and more like this draft class is going to turn out simply awesome. Jake Long (1st round), Phillip Merling (2nd round), and Kendall Langford (3rd round) all seem like they are going to be very good players. Chad Henne (2nd round) might be the team's franchise QB, but it's too early to tell. And a 6th round pick, Donald Thomas, was our starter at RG until he had to undergo foot surgery and end his season. But from all accounts, Thomas might have already been one of the best lineman on the team. Not bad for a 6th round pick. That's why gives us Dolphin fans hope.
And if nothing else, we are at least already seeing improvement over last season in one department: run defense. Last year, the Fins were dead last, giving up an average of 152 yards per game on the ground. So far in '08, they rank 12th and are allowing just 96.5 ypg. And they rank 5th in yards-per-carry against, allowing just 3.1. This is a great sign considering the defensive line was the unit that got the biggest face-lift this offseason and features two rookies who are big contributers (Merling and Langford) - with Langford already a starter.