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Draft review: Miami Dolphins

2013 NFL Draft Getty Images

After analyzing the draft needs of all 32 teams, PFT will review how well each team addressed those needs. Up next: The Miami Dolphins.

What they neededOffensive line, defensive end, cornerback, safety

Who they got:
Round 1: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Round 2: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
Round 3:  Dallas Thomas, G, Tennessee; Will Davis, CB, Utah State
Round 4: Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida; Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
Round 5: Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida, Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida
Round 7: Don Jones, S, Arkansas State

Where they hit: The Dolphins came into the draft with a ton of picks and they leveraged them well to move up and get Jordan. Giving up one of their two second-round picks for a player who is potentially special coming off the edge was a bold move and it is one that can really pay off for the Dolphins in the short, medium and long term. There’s some concern about how he’ll hold up against the run, but it’s gotta be fun for the Dolphins to think about him attacking opposite from Cameron Wake.

Taylor was a very solid pick at No. 54 from both a need and value standpoint. The Dolphins need a starter and he should be at the top of the list of players in the mix for that role. Davis is ticketed for sub packages, another place where the Dolphins need a boost after last season’s misadventures in the secondary.

Where they missed: Thomas played left tackle in 2011, but he moved to left guard last season and seems a longshot to kick back outside at the NFL level. The Dolphins could stand to get better at guard than they’ve been with John Jerry and Richie Incognito, but it would have been nice to see them get better competition for Jonathan Martin at left tackle. The same goes for safety, where the need isn’t acute but a possible chance to add quality competition to the mix went by the wayside to add depth at tight end and running back.

Impact rookies: Jordan and Taylor will be expected to start and play well at two pivotal spots in the Dolphins defense. Jordan will likely get spotted a bit more as the team tries to bring him along against the run, but both guys will have plenty to do with how well the Dolphins stop the pass. Thomas should challenge for a starting job somewhere on the line, Jenkins excels in coverage so should see a fair amount of time in sub packages and Sturgis will try to push Dan Carpenter out of the kicking job.

Long-term prospects: This was something of an odd draft for the Dolphins since there’s a sense that General Manager Jeff Ireland’s job could hang on this year’s results. Jordan isn’t a developmental pick by any means, but he’s not a perfect fit for the Miami defense and may not be developed enough to immediately become the force Ireland clearly thinks he can be. That’s not a bad thing at all, but there’s some disconnect from the rest of the draft where the Dolphins went with safer picks that filled some obvious needs with players that should help right away. There’s a lot of reason to think this draft will help the Dolphins for years to come. Ireland just has to hope it starts helping right away.

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League checking options if Bills are on the road again next week

Willie Nelson AP

With the Bills on the way to Detroit now, the matter of this week’s game is taken care of.

Where they play the next one remains to be seen.

The Bills had already mentioned the possibility that Ralph Wilson Stadium might not be ready for next week’s game against the Browns, and now others are wondering.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the league is looking into alternate sites for the game if the stadium can’t be cleared in time.

While Detroit has become the Bills’ home away from home this week, it’s unclear if they’d go back next week. With the Lions playing Thursday, Ford Field would be available.

Playing the game in Cleveland would seem to be a possibility, based only on proximity. That would bring back memories of the Saints’ 2005 “home game” at Giants Stadium, which was necessitated by Hurricane Katrina.

But you can bet with the Browns in the playoff chase for once, their division rivals would howl about the competitive implications of nine home games for them.

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Phil Simms is offended by complaints about Thursday Night Football

Simms Getty Images

Last night’s game between the Chiefs and Raiders ended up being much better than expected.  Then again, the bar was low.

But the surprisingly strong performance from Oakland and the late victory from the previously winless home team and its ability to hold off a Chiefs franchise that had been 7-3 represents an exception for Thursday nights in 2014.  Actually, it represents an exception for most prime-time games this season.

Phil Simms of CBS, the outlet that broadcast Thursday Night Football through Week Eight and that now loans Simms and the rest of the production team to NFL Network, doesn’t appreciate the concerns that have been raised about the quality of the weekly short-week games.

“That’s a lot of talk from other people with games on other networks, and I want to say to them, ‘Look in the mirror and see how your games are going,’” Simms told 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City on Thursday.  “I see blowout after blowout in some of these night games, and nobody talks about the quality of play there.  You know, I’m a little offended by it, and I want to tell them to be quiet and worry about what you do, and we’ll worry about what we do at CBS.”

Simms expressed specific objection to criticism of last week’s Thursday night contest.  (Frankly, I don’t think it was a bad game, and I don’t recall hearing any complaints about it.)

“I heard some, you know, experts, you know, commentators, talking this past week about the Buffalo-Miami game,” Simms said.  “I thought it was very well played, an exciting game.  Tense, hard hitting.  Everything you’d want in a game. . . . Buffalo has struggled moving the ball against everybody.  What’d you expect their offense to come out there and be great?  So I get a little ticked off about those questions. . . . Let’s look at some of the numbers on the other games that are going and compare them and then tell me what you think.”

He’s absolutely right about that.  Sunday Night Football has consisted of plenty of lopsided games this year.  Ditto for Monday Night Football.  The difference is that the Sunday night package on NBC, which essentially took the reins from Monday night when Monday night migrated from broadcast to cable in 2006, entails games of significance, regardless of the outcome.  The portion of the Thursday night package that was simulcast on CBS and NFLN featured divisional games only, adding a rivalry dynamic to games that wouldn’t naturally draw as much widespread interest.

Simms misses the mark when assuming that the criticism comes from people who work for other networks.  Most if not all of the other networks want to acquire the rights to the Thursday night games when the package is finalized for 2015 and beyond.  Most of the concern about Thursday night games comes from folks with no direct or indirect connection to the broadcasting industry.

The concern extends beyond the quality of the contests.  Playing with only four days between games has triggered a string of complaints from players and coaches over the years.  Simms speaks as if the opposition from those who have to perform with only four days in between is narrow and limited.

“I have not heard a player or coach complain to us — a few players have spoken out, ‘Oh, it’s stupid and this,’” Simms said.  “But you do it once a year, and let’s be honest.  Most players on a team play 20 to 30 snaps every game.  They’re not out there for 60 or 70.  There’s a few.  Offensive linemen.  A few special people on defense, whatever.  But all in all, I’ve gotten great feedback from the players.  The one reason they like it, they get that mini-break when it’s over.  And even the coaches say the same thing to me, almost universally, that this is good.  Play the game, get a few days off, and start again.”

In my own experience, it’s more mixed. Plenty of players like it, plenty of players don’t like it.  Most coaches don’t like it, but they tolerate it. Coaches prefer as few variables as possible; for them, the best schedule has every game being played at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.  All coaches definitely prefer having more than three days between game days to get a team ready to play again.

Simms also defended short-week football from an injury perspective.

“We haven’t had like a rash of injuries on Thursday night,” Simms said. “I can think of very few, really.  So, you know, I don’t know the numbers.  I’m sure somebody has crunched those numbers, and the fact that I haven’t heard them tells me that they’re not negative towards the Thursday night game.  Because if they were . . . other people doing games would bring them out.”

There’s that whole “only people who work for other networks complain about Thursday night” thing again.  Regardless, the issue with player health and safety isn’t that there are more injuries on Thursday.  It’s that players with injuries from the prior Sunday have less time to recover.  Making it harder for them to play well or to play at all.  It also exposes them to enhanced risk of injury aggravation.

Bottom line?  Thursday Night Football will continue.  And the complaints about it will continue, no matter how much it ticks off Phil Simms or whoever is serving as the analyst for the Thursday night games.  And the complaints will have no connection to inter-company politics and rivalries about which no one outside the industry really cares.

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Colts rule out Dwayne Allen and Gosder Cherilus

Dwayne Allen AP

The Colts will face the Jaguars on Sunday without two players who have caught 13 of the 28 touchdown passes that Andrew Luck has thrown this season.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw won’t play again this season after fracturing his fibula against the Patriots last Monday night and tight end Dwayne Allen is out for at least this week after suffering an ankle injury in the same game.

Allen said early this week that he was day-to-day, but things obviously didn’t progress as hoped over the last few days. With Allen out, Coby Fleener should play a prominent role again this week after catching seven passes for 144 yards against New England.

The Colts will also be without right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who missed practice all week because of a shoulder injury. Joe Reitz or Xavier Nixon will take Cherilus’s place in the lineup.

Cornerback Greg Toler is the third starter ruled out for the Jacksonville game. He’s going through the concussion protocol and hasn’t progressed enough to play this weekend, leaving Vontae Davis, Darius Butler and Josh Gordy to do much of the work at corner.

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Nick Perry’s shoulder could change Clay Matthews’ role

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Having Nick Perry around made it easier for the Packers to shift Clay Matthews inside.

But if Perry’s not able to go this weekend, it could force them to go back to the old plan.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Perry is questionable for Sunday’s game with the Vikings because of a shoulder injury, and hasn’t practiced all week.

They could simply plug Mike Neal in, as he’s taken more snaps at outside linebacker since Matthews was moved inside two weeks ago. Or they could abandon the plan, and let Matthews go back to his natural position.

“It will adjust, no doubt,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the plan. “Certain reps will go to different players, obviously. But we’re prepared for that. That’s really why you operate in the different personnel groups during the week, which we have. We’ll be ready to go either way.”

Matthews swears he’s not unhappy with the move, although it takes him out of his conventional pass-rushing role.

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Emmanuel Sanders back at practice

Denver Broncos v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

The Broncos got some good news on the status of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on Friday.

Sanders was cleared to practice through the league’s concussion protocol and took part in the team’s final practice of the week after missing work on Wednesday and Thursday. Sanders suffered a concussion early in the second half of last weekend’s loss to the Rams and will still need to get final clearance to play against the Dolphins from an independent neurologist, but that’s expected after he was listed as probable for Sunday.

Sanders hasn’t been the only one of Peyton Manning’s receiving targets to miss time this week. Tight end Julius Thomas also missed the first two days of practice with an ankle injury, but Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports that Thomas also had a helmet on while going through drills on Friday.

Renck cautions that Thomas appeared limited during the portion of practice open to the media and said Thursday that he’ll play if he can go. That and the fact that he’s been listed as questionable suggests he’ll be a game-time decision as the Broncos try to avoid their third loss in the last four weeks.

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Justin Pugh ruled out for Giants

Eli Manning, Justin Pugh AP

The Giants will have a different look on the offensive line on Sunday night.

Right tackle Justin Pugh has been ruled out of the game because of the quad injury that knocked him out of last week’s loss to the 49ers. It’s the first time that the 2013 first-round pick will miss a game since becoming a professional.

All indications are that Geoff Schwartz will get the start in Pugh’s place against the Cowboys. After watching Charles Brown struggle to stay in front of pass rushers last weekend, it’s not surprising that the Giants have opted to insert Schwartz at that spot for his 2014 debut despite the fact that they signed Schwartz to be a starting guard.

Schwartz may not be the only new face up front. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports that Adam Snyder is expected to replace rookie Weston Richburg at left guard. Richburg moved into the starting lineup when Schwartz went down with a toe injury in preseason and has struggled as a run blocker this season.

Linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) are also out for the Giants.

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Lions know no one man can stop Gronk

Gronkowski AP

As the Lions prepare to face Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Sunday, they know expecting any one player — linebacker, safety or cornerback — to stop him is unrealistic.

It’s a team effort,” Lions free safety Glover Quin said, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. “Everybody chips in. Obviously, when we get him in situations where he’s having to block, our defensive ends, we’ve got to rough him up. When we get him in situations where he catches the ball, we’ve got to make sure we’re hitting him. When we’ve got him in situations where we’re covering him, we’ve got to make sure we’re covering him. Hopefully, we get some pressure on the quarterback and that forces bad throws. There’s a lot that goes into stopping somebody.”

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said that keeping tabs on Gronkowski will be one of the primary concerns of everyone on Detroit’s defense.

“He’s an exceptional player,” Austin said. “He’s a big man and he can do so many things. He’s outside, he’s inside, he blocks, he runs, he catches the ball well, and he runs after the catch. You have to account for where he is because he such a dynamic player.”

In the last three games, Gronkowski has 22 catches for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Stopping Gronkowski won’t be easy, but it may be necessary if the Lions want to pull an upset in New England.

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Jordan Cameron practices Friday but ruled out

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

One of the AFC’s Pro Bowl performers from a season ago has returned to practice after more than a three-week absence.

Browns tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) was on the field Friday as the Browns worked out ahead of Sunday’s matchup at Atlanta, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer observed.

The 26-year-old Cameron has missed the last three games after suffering his third concussion in less than two years in the October 26 win vs. Oakland. Overall, he’s hauled in 13 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown in six 2014 contests. Earlier in the campaign, Cameron was plagued by a shoulder injury, further hurting his production.

The Browns’ offense is already slated to have wideout Josh Gordon back in the lineup on Sunday after a nine-game suspension. The Browns’ final injury report, posted later today, could tell us more about Cameron’s status for Week 12.

UPDATE 1:21 p.m. ET: According to Cabot, Cameron has been declared out of Sunday’s game.

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Jonas Gray not at practice Friday

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

One of last Sunday’s breakout performers wasn’t spotted at practice Friday.

Patriots tailback Jonas Gray was not seen working out with New England this morning, Lee Schechter of ESPNBoston.com reported.

Gray was not on the injury report on Wednesday or Thursday. He rushed for 201 yards on 37 carries in New England’s 42-20 victory at Indianapolis on Sunday night.

The Patriots’ final injury report will be released later Friday. New England (8-2) hosts Detroit on Sunday.

Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White and the newly signed LeGarrette Blount are the Patriots’ other backs.

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Steven Jackson, Julio Jones practicing Friday

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Two of the Falcons’ key skill-position players returned to the practice field Friday.

Wide receiver Julio Jones and tailback Steven Jackson were both spotted at the club’s Friday workout, Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reported.

The Falcons’ leading receiver, Jones (67 passes, 912 yards, three TD receptions) had missed the first two practices of the week because of illness, while Jackson (128 carries, 467 yards, four rushing TDs) was also out sick on Thursday.

On Thursday, coach Mike Smith had indicated Jones would play vs. Cleveland on Sunday even if he missed Friday’s practice.

The Falcons (4-6) share the NFC South lead with the Saints.

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Bills fans having a hard time getting refunds for Sunday’s game

Phone Getty Images

At a time when the NFL has made plenty of missteps, the league did the right thing by moving Sunday’s Jets-Bills game to Detroit.  Now, the onus falls on the Bills to do the right thing by the customers who bought tickets to the game that won’t be used.

For season-ticket holders, the money will be credited to next year’s invoice — unless a refund is specifically requested by December 2.  While convenient to accept the credit, it amounts to a potentially massive no-interest loan to the Bills, who will retain the use of the cash for several extra months.  (The Bills also will likely receive a large insurance payment for the interruption to the business resulting from the loss of a home game, which when combined with the interest earned on the money retained from season-ticket holders could give the Bills a net financial gain.)

For those who had purchased tickets to only the Jets game, refunds will be provided.  According to the Buffalo News, however, the Bills have given the wrong phone number to call in order to obtain a refund.

“Information on the Bills Website instructs ticket holders to call 1-877-228-4357,” writes Tiffany Lankes of the Buffalo News.  “But that’s actually the phone number for a domestic violence crisis center in Ohio, which has been receiving a barrage of calls from Bills fans.”

The Bills’ website, as of this posting, is still displaying the wrong number.  The correct number to call is 1-877-228-4257.  The Bills’ ticket office will reopen on Monday.

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PFT Live: Browns talk with Mary Kay Cabot, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Josh Gordon AP

The Browns welcomed wide receiver Josh Gordon back to the team this week as his 10-game suspension came to an end in time for him to help their push for a possible division title or playoff spot in the final six weeks of the season.

On Friday’s edition of PFT Live, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer will join Mike Florio to talk about what kind of impact people should be expecting from Gordon this weekend. Beyond the specific questions about what Gordon can do after such a long spell away from the field, they’ll also talk more generally about what the Browns need to do in order to get a win that would give a healthy boost to their postseason chances.

Florio will also be taking questions from PFT Planet, so send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to let us know what’s on your mind this Friday.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Belichick: LeGarrette Blount’s role is “totally up to him”

LeGarrette Blount AP

Running back LeGarrette Blount is back in New England as the newest member of a deep group of running backs.

The Patriots have last week’s hero Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White and James Develin in the backfield along with Blount, who was released by the Steelers on Tuesday after leaving the Patriots to sign with them as a free agent in the offseason. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked how Blount, who had 266 yards on 65 carries for the Steelers would fit into that mix.

Belichick was circumspect about specifics, but said that how much Blount plays will ultimately be up to Blount.

“That’ll be up to him, just like everybody else,” Belichick said, via WEEI.com. “When he gets an opportunity, how much he can take advantage of it, how much he can be productive, what he can do with those opportunities will determine how many more there are. It’s totally up to him. He knows that. We’ve talked about that. He knows that’s the way it is and I think he’s excited about it.”

Blount knows as well as anyone how running backs can fall into and out of favor in New England. There were 10 weeks last season, including the playoffs, that saw Blount get 10 or fewer carries and eight weeks when he had 11 or more so there’s little reason to believe anyone has much of an idea about how Blount’s return to New England will play out at this point.

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DirecTV announces Jets-Bills is available on Sunday Ticket

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Getty Images

Monday night’s Jets-Bills game will be available to NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers, as well as on the local CBS affiliates in the Buffalo and New York City markets.

DirecTV announced this morning that Jets-Bills, which was pushed back from Sunday afternoon to Monday night because of the snowstorm in Buffalo, will be on NFL Sunday Ticket. That only makes sense, as Sunday Ticket subscribers are paying for the privilege of seeing every NFL game. It wouldn’t be fair to Jets or Bills fans who live outside New York that they wouldn’t be able to see the game.

However, it took a bit of maneuvering to reach this point. In fact, DirecTV was telling customers this morning that they wouldn’t be able to see the Jets-Bills game on Sunday Ticket, before reversing course and saying the game would be on Sunday Ticket after all. But now it’s official: If you have DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, you can watch Jets-Bills on channel 706 on Monday starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

The NFL’s contracts with CBS, ESPN and DirecTV made it a bit difficult, as ESPN pays for the exclusive right to televise NFL football on Monday night. ESPN probably isn’t thrilled that some viewers of its regularly scheduled Ravens-Saints game will be siphoned off and will be watching Jets-Bills instead.

This was the right call. Fans who pay for Sunday Ticket are paying a lot of money because they want to see every NFL game. This morning’s announcement ensures that they can.

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Jay Cutler wants to keep on rolling (out)

Jay Cutler AP

When the Bears self-scouted over the bye week, they realized that quarterback Jay Cutler was a bit of a sitting duck.

So last week against the Vikings, they rolled him out more and used more shotgun formations, and being able to throw on the move helped him get back on his feet.

It was a subtle change, but one Cutler hopes they stick with.

It was great,” Cutler said, via John Mullin of CSNChicago.com. “We got to keep doing it. We got to keep doing it in different ways, showing different looks, get off the spot as much as we possibly can because it helps with everything. It helps the pass rush, get some easy balls out to the flat, out on the outside lets the guys run, it’s got to be something in our offense that we do more of.”

Cutler was sharp as ever last week, completing 72.1 percent of his passes.

Of course, the challenge this week is repeating against guys who know his weaknesses well.

Against former Bears head coach Lovie Smith and former Vikings head coach and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, he’s facing two coaches who will instruct the Buccaneers everything they learned from years of coaching with and against Cutler.

Frazier’s Vikings sacked Cutler often, but Smith probably has even more valuable insight as to which buttons to push against his former quarterback.

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