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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 23: Miami Dolphins

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Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland didn’t hear no a lot this offseason.

The team had been the bridesmaid many times in the last few years when pursuing players and coaches, but they landed plenty of big game this offseason. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Dustin Keller, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes are just some of the players who decided to play in South Florida this season and their arrival has led to a lot of playoff talk around the Dolphins.

That may make it a win-or-else scenario for Ireland, which makes it a good thing that he seems to have positioned the team well from a personnel standpoint. Now that personnel needs to gel in order for the team to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Strengths.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t have too many people to throw to as a rookie last season, which contributed to some of his struggles, and Ireland made sure that excuse disappeared. In addition to Wallace and Keller, Miami re-signed Brian Hartline and added Brandon Gibson as a free agent to give themselves a far deeper and considerably more talented receiving corps than they had last season. There’s been plenty of optimism about Tannehill’s growth this offseason and this group gives him a chance to show it off in a major way.

The Dolphins haven’t had any complaints about Cameron Wake’s pass rush ability over the years. Wake had 15 sacks last season, a career high, and did it without much help from his friends on the defense. If first-round pick Dion Jordan brings the heat as hoped, Wake will be even more dangerous to stop this time around.

Defensive line continues to be a Miami strength when you kick inside to the tackle spot. Randy Starks isn’t likely to get a long-term deal after being franchised, keeping his motivation high to turn in another productive season. Paul Soliai gives them a huge obstacle to opposing run games and Jared Odrick is a handy extra body to use at end or tackle.

Safety Reshad Jones, who is also looking for a new contract, is coming off a very strong 2012 season. A repeat performance will get him that deal and make him someone Miami can build around in the secondary.

Center Mike Pouncey has a good chance to join his brother Maurkice in the Pro Bowl sooner rather than later. He’ll anchor a line that has questions we’ll discuss below and the upside to be an effective unit.

Weaknesses.

It may not turn out to be a weakness in the long run, but there are certainly plenty of questions to answer about the cornerbacks. Grimes and Richard Marshall are both coming off of injuries that could leave them at less than full strength and one can never predict how much rookies like Jamar Taylor and Will Davis will bring to the table in their first seasons.

We’ll stay in the uncertainty more than weakness column as we turn our eye to the running backs. Reggie Bush went to Detroit, leaving second-year man Lamar Miller as the likeliest choice for the lead back role this year. Miller’s speed is intriguing, but he’ll need to show he can do the more mundane business of moving the chains and picking up pass rushers to help make Miami’s offense balanced and productive this season.

As mentioned above, no one other than Wake rushed the passer well enough. If Jordan doesn’t provide the extra pressure, it’s hard to see who might do it.

Camp will be important for the Dolphins because they have so many new players in the system and chemistry will be a must for units with major changes like the offensive line and linebackers. While you’d expect the players to pick things up fairly well, it’s never as easy as just plugging players into spots and letting them go.

Changes.

There will be a new look on the offensive line for the Dolphins this season. Jake Long was the rare one that got away this offseason, heading to the Rams and leaving left tackle in the hands of Jonathan Martin. Martin played the position at Stanford and moved there after Long was hurt last season, so familiarity with the job shouldn’t be too big an obstacle.

The Dolphins also signed Tyson Clabo to play right tackle, a move some questioned because his style doesn’t seem to mesh with the zone blocking principles the Dolphins introduced last season. He’s a capable player, so the line should be in good shape if he takes to the new system.

Linebacker was another area of major change as the Dolphins shipped out Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in favor of Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler. They definitely got younger and faster in the process, but both of the discarded vets were solid players and Ellerbe has a short track record of success for a player who got a big deal this offseason.

Wide receiver Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano were each let go as part of the overhaul of the receiving corps.

One notable area without change was Joe Philbin’s coaching staff, which provides the team with continuity in their effort to build on last season’s result.

Camp Battles.

Richie Incognito should hold onto the left guard spot, but right guard will be a spot of contention for John Jerry, rookie Dallas Thomas and, assuming he’s healthy, free agent addition Lance Louis. Jerry didn’t play well last season, which should make the competition that much livelier.

There’s plenty to sort out at corner with Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson joining the players already named in a fight for roles in the secondary. The best-case scenario for the Dolphins is that all the competition helps answer some of their questions at corner before the start of the regular season.

Miller’s the odds-on favorite for the top spot on the depth chart, but Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee will be fighting for snaps as well. Thomas has disappointed to this point in his NFL career and Gillislee passing him by wouldn’t bode well for his future in Miami.

The Dolphins drafted kicker Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round, which likely makes him a favorite in the battle with erratic incumbent Dan Carpenter.

Prospects. 

With Aaron Hernandez in prison, Rob Gronkowski’s status uncertain because of surgeries and other questions about their receiving corps, many have opined that the Patriots could be in danger of losing their perch atop the AFC East.

If they do, the Dolphins appear to be the team in the best position to replace them as division champs. They were 7-9 last season before making additions that should be improvements in several places, Philbin and Tannehill have a year of experience under their belts and the Bills and Jets are riddled with more holes. It’s easy to see things coming together in a winning season and a playoff berth, whether or not the Patriots plummet.

That said, the Dolphins still need to do it. Teams with busy offseasons never suffer for a lack of buzz, but they do fail to answer the bell on occasion. The Dolphins have the pieces and we’ll find out soon enough if they know how to use them.

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Texans cut 2011 second-round pick Brandon Harris

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Another recent Texans draft pick has been sent packing.

Cornerback Brandon Harris, a 2011 second-round draft pick, was cut by the Texans today, according to James Palmer of CSN Houston.

Bad draft picks have plagued the Texans in recent years, and Harris is a prime example: When you draft a player in the second round, you expect him to be a starter. Harris is released having never started a game in Houston.

Harris, who played his college football at the University of Miami, is a talented enough athlete that some team may decide to give him a second chance in the NFL. But his first chance, in Houston, has ended as a major disappointment.

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Report: Kyle Orton reaches deal with Bills

Kyle Orton AP

He’s back.

Veteran quarterback Kyle Orton has reached a one-year deal with the Bills, ESPN.com’s James Walker reported Friday night.

In July, the Cowboys released Orton, who was said to be considering retirement. At the time, Dallas owner Jerry Jones indicated the 31-year-old quarterback wasn’t done playing just yet.

Jones was apparently right.

With 70 NFL starts to his credit, Orton is likely to displace Jeff Tuel as the top backup to Bills starter EJ Manuel. The more interesting discussion point, though, is whether Orton could eventually push Manuel, who had an up-and-down summer.

Before joining Dallas in 2012, Orton had stints with Chicago (2005-2008), Denver (2009-2011) and Kansas City (2011). He has completed 1,326-of-2,265 passes for 15,019 yards with 83 TDs and 59 interceptions in his NFL career.

The Bills’ reported addition of Orton is their latest attempt to solidify their depth behind Manuel, who missed six games a season ago as a rookie. Tuel, Dennis Dixon and Thad Lewis were the backups to begin the summer, but only Tuel remains of that trio. The Bills also parted ways with ex-Bears quarterback Jordan Palmer on Friday.

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Jack Crawford indicates he will be released by Raiders

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The Raiders are reportedly set to release one of their 2012 draft picks.

Via Instagram, defensive end Jack Crawford indicated Friday night that the club had parted ways with him.

“Wish the best for all my teammates I went to battle with and will always have a place in my heart for the #RaiderNation for giving two of the best years of my life,” Crawford wrote.

The 25-year-old Crawford was a fifth-round pick out of Penn State. He appeared in 19 games in his first two seasons with Oakland, notching 18 tackles. He recorded one tackle in Oakland’s preseason finale vs. Seattle on Thursday. Crawford was listed as the Raiders’ third-string left defensive end.

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Seahawks to release Terrelle Pryor

Pryor AP

The Rams’ patience may have paid off.

Per a league source, the Seahawks will release quarterback Terrelle Pryor.  A 2011 third-round supplemental pick of the Raiders, Pryor will hit the waiver wire, since he doesn’t yet have four years of experience.

The Rams could very well be interested in Pryor, who has shown flashes of potential at the position.  He was unable, however, to beat out Tarvaris Jackson as the backup to Russell Wilson.

Pryor appeared in 11 games with nine starts last year for the Raiders, who traded him to Seattle in the offseason.

If Pryor clears waivers, he will become a free agent.

Whether by waivers or free agency, the Rams could use a veteran presence behind Shaun Hill.  The only other quarterback currently on the active roster, Austin Davis, has no NFL regular-season experience.

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Packers lose lineman Aaron Adams for the year with ACL/MCL

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The Packers are going to be in the market for more offensive line help.

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the Packers have lost tackle Aaron Adams to a torn ACL and MCL.

Adams, who spent last year on their practice squad, had a chance to make the team as a backup. But he blew out his knee on the second play from scrimmage Thursday night, and will be placed on injured reserve.

They’ll be without projected starting center J.C. Tretter for the first month of the season with a knee injury, so they’re short on depth at the moment.

That makes some degree of move likely, whether it’s a waiver claim, a trade or a signing.

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Derek Carr or Matt Schaub? Dennis Allen not ready to say

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Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr played well in the preseason finale on Thursday night. But did he play well enough to unseat Matt Schaub as the starter? Coach Dennis Allen isn’t saying.

Allen said today that Schaub was not at the facility because of “a personal issue,” and Allen doesn’t know whether Schaub’s sore elbow is feeling any better. As a result, Allen isn’t prepared to say whether Schaub will be ready to go for Week One.

“I think the biggest thing is I want to be able to check on Matt and see where Matt is health-wise,” Allen said. “Like I said, he was making some progress last week, threw on the side with the trainers. I feel like he’ll be ready to go, but I think we need to see how he’s doing Monday when he gets in here.”

So before Allen can say whether Schaub will start, Allen needs to see whether Schaub is healthy. And that won’t happen until Monday at the earliest.

But if preseason performance is any indication, Carr should start over Schaub regardless of Schaub’s health: Carr completed 66.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception in the preseason, while Schaub completed just 51.1 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and one interception. (For that matter, based on the preseason, third-string quarterback Matt McGloin should move ahead of Schaub on the depth chart, too.) Allen acknowledged that he was happy with the way Carr played in the preseason finale.

“There’s a lot of things that factor into the decision making process, but I will say that I was very pleased with what I saw out of Derek Carr last night,” Allen said.

The quarterback play in Oakland hasn’t been pleasing very often in recent years. Carr has shown promise, and that might be enough to give him the Week One nod.

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Report: Bills sign long-snapper Sanborn to three-year extension

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The Bills have signed one of their core special teams players to a new contract.

The club announced Friday it had signed long-snapper Garrison Sanborn to a contract extension. According to Aaron Wilson of National Football Post, Sanborn received a three-year deal averaging $1.1 million per season. Sanborn is now under contract for the next four seasons, Wilson reported.

A Florida State product, the 29-year-old Sanborn has appeared in every game in the last five seasons for Buffalo. According to NFLPA data, Sanborn is slated to make $895,000 in salary in 2014.

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Rex Ryan would make the Clemson trip again

Rex Ryan AP

A year ago, Jets coach Rex Ryan took some criticism when he left town on the day of final roster cuts to attend the Clemson-Georgia game and see his son, a walk-on receiver at Clemson. This year, Clemson again plays Georgia on the day that final roster cuts are due, and Ryan won’t be making the trip.

But that’s not because Ryan has any regrets. In fact, Ryan told reporters today that he would make the Clemson trip over again, and the only reason he’s not going to the game this year is that his son isn’t going to the game either. Seth Ryan is nursing a broken collarbone and isn’t traveling with his teammates to Georgia, but if he were playing, his dad would be there.

“I am not going to discuss my situation and things like that,” Rex Ryan said. “But, it’s safe to say if my son was playing in the game I probably would have been there again. But he, unfortunately, is not on the travel team right now. He is still injured, so I am not going to go watch.”

On this call, Ryan is right: A quick trip to see his son isn’t dereliction of duty, it’s the right thing to do.

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Eagles trying to trade receiver Damaris Johnson

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Some guys you know are going to be gone, so you can go ahead and cut them on Friday.

But if a team thinks a guy they don’t need might have value, you can bet they’re going to wait until the last minute.

According to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, the Eagles are trying to trade wide receiver Damaris Johnson.

The Eagles are deep enough at receiver they probably wouldn’t be able to/want to keep Johnson.

He’s undersized, but he’s also shown enough as a special teamer and a wideout that he might interest someone. He caught 19 passes for 256 yards for the Eagles last year, and might be worth the obligatory conditional late round pick to someone.

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Report: James Harrison not likely to sign with Cardinals

James Harrison AP

A notable ex-Steeler doesn’t appear to be headed to Pittsburgh West.

Free agent outside linebacker James Harrison isn’t likely to sign with the Arizona Cardinals at this time, Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Parise told Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic the two sides couldn’t reach agreement on a deal.

“Couldn’t make the numbers work,” Parise said, according to the Republic.

The 36-year-old Harrison appeared in 15 games (10 starts) for Cincinnati in 2013, notching 30 tackles. His best seasons came with the Steelers, for whom he was a five-time Pro Bowler.

Current Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was a Pittsburgh assistant for much of Harrison’s tenure with the club, and Arizona has been a landing spot for other ex-Steelers in recent years. But for now, Harrison won’t be added to that list.

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Redskins cut eight players

Andre Roberts, Richard Crawford AP

The Redskins began cutting their way to 53 players on Friday by parting ways with eight members of the roster.

That group includes cornerback Richard Crawford, who was a 2012 seventh-round pick of the team. He played 10 games as a rookie, recording 18 tackles and an interception while also returning eight punts for an average of 19.5 yards per return. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and retains practice squad eligibility thanks to this year’s change in the rules.

Washington also waived safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, guard/center Tevita Stevens, tight end Ted Bolser, punter Robert Malone, center Kevin Kowalski, wide receiver Lee Doss and defensive tackle Robert Thomas.

The Redskins roster now stands at 67 players, leaving 14 more moves to make before Saturday’s deadline.

 

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Josh Gordon hasn’t ruled out litigation, yet

Gordon AP

A lawyer who apparently isn’t too busy to check out PFT (and we appreciate that) has floated an intriguing theory about the out-of-the-blue decision by Browns receiver Josh Gordon to seek permission to play in the land of Labatt Blue.

Did Gordon ask to play in Canada knowing that the request would be denied, so that he in turn could bolster an effort to seek an injunction preventing the implementation of his suspension via a lawsuit challenging the suspension?

Those facts would help show what the law calls “irreparable harm,” one of the key factors that must exist for a court tell a party who wants to do something to not do it until the case has ended.  Gordon currently is caught in a vise, unable to play for the Browns and also not permitted while suspended to play for anyone else.  While that may not win the day, it’s one of those real-world facts that could cause a judge to conclude that Josh has gotten jobbed.

Of course, none of that is relevant unless and until Gordon sues.  Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Gordon’s legal team is still exploring the possibility of filing suit.

Time is running out.  Practice in advance of the Week One game at Pittsburgh begins on Wednesday.  Courts will likely be shut down until Tuesday, given the holiday weekend.  If Gordon wants to get an order allowing him to practice and play, he needs to move a lot more quickly than, say, the NFL did in resolving his appeal.

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Tyrann Mathieu will tackle in practice this week

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The Cardinals activated safety Tyrann Mathieu from the PUP list on August 19, leaving the date of his regular season debut as the biggest question left to answer in Mathieu’s return from a torn ACL.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to see Mathieu play in the preseason finale if he was going to face the Chargers on the first Monday night of the season. Mathieu didn’t play in that game, but Arians left the door open for Mathieu to play because the second-year man will take part in tackling drills during Arizona’s padded practice next week.

“I wasn’t kidding,” Arians said regarding his earlier comments about Mathieu playing in Week One. “We’ll see how he tackles, though.”

Mathieu is hopeful that Arians, General Manager Steve Keim and the medical staff will feel that he’s ready to hit the field, but Darren Urban of the team’s website marks himself down as “doubtful” that we’ll be seeing Mathieu against Philip Rivers and company. Even if he misses that game, it shouldn’t be too long before Mathieu is back in the Cardinals secondary.

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Greg Jones released by Saints

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The Saints brought veteran fullback Greg Jones aboard early in camp after Erik Lorig went down with a leg injury, but he won’t be helping to open holes or protect Drew Brees this season.

Nick Underhill of the Baton Rouge Advocate reports that Jones has been released as the team starts the process of paring the roster down to 53 players.

With Lorig’s status for the regular season still up in the air as he continues to battle his injury, the Saints opted to go with Austin Johnson over Jones at fullback. It’s a somewhat surprising development because Johnson entered the NFL as a linebacker in 2012.

Johnson had played fullback during his first two years at the University of Tennessee, but tried and failed to make the Ravens on defense. The Saints signed him last year, moved him back to offense and he spent the year on the practice squad.

Jones has played 10 seasons in the NFL, nine with the Jaguars and the 2013 campaign with the Texans, so his experience may be appealing to teams looking for a different fullback.

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Rams cut 17 players, but none of them were Michael Sam

Michael Sam AP

Michael Sam became the reality show of the NFL Draft weekend, as the nation waited to see if someone would draft an openly gay player.

It appears draft weekend could turn out the same way.

According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today, the Rams have cut 17 players today, but none of them were Sam.

Among the cuts were defensive linemen Kourtnei Brown and Deantre Harlan, along with sixth-round quarterback Garrett Gilbert and seventh-round tackle Mitchell Van Dyk.

That would move them to 58, with five cuts to go to the limit.

And the world will be watching to see if Sam makes history.

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