There were 11 people in the Dolphins photo when Ndamukong Suh signed his contract. And none of them was named Joe Philbin. After playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” the press finally spotted Philbin in the room. Philbin was in the audience and, as Dan Hanzus at NFL.com put it, “probably next to some schlub columnist who calls for his firing on a weekly basis. It’s just a matter of time before Joe’s desk is in the basement.”
This is the life of Joe Philbin, the Rodney Dangerfield of pro football. What kind of job Philbin is doing in Miami depends upon who you ask. This debate between veteran Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly and Chris Perkins at the Sun-Sentinel is typical. Kelly argues that the Dolphins consistently play below their talent level with Philbin as head coach while Perkins claims that he believes that this isn’t true and the Dolphins play exactly to their talent level, though they never overachieve.
This is how you know that you are the NFL coaching fraternity’s version of a JAG. Your critics argue that you suck while your defenders passionately object by claiming that you are mediocre.
Joe Philbin is on a seat that is beyond hot. It’s scorching, perhaps the hottest in the NFL. Ownership spent lavishly in the offseason on Suh and there are signs that they are about to spend more on guard Evan Mathis. Even given that, the weakest link on the team is the offensive line, the unit that is supposed to be former offensive line coach Philbin’s specialty. Not a good look.
It is against this back drop that the Dolphins visit Soldier Field on Thursday. It’s fairly clear that the Dolphins are all in and the indications are that Philbin’s going to have to at least make the playoffs or he’s out. If the team underperforms significantly, even in a preseason game, there will be howls from the fan base led by members of the press like Kelly.
Miami Rookies to Keep an Eye On
The Miami draft class is led by wide receiver DeVante Parker, chosen 14th overall out of Louisville. Parker has his flaws but his most important attribute is that he’s a legitimate vertical threat because he can create late separation with his good top-end speed, length, body control and leaping ability. The Dolphins have been heavily criticized for their poor deep passing game and Parker is being counted on to help improve on that weakness this year.
Unfortunately Parker is currently out with an injured foot. He had surgery last year to put a screw in and he had to have that screw replaced in June. Two weeks ago, Philbin sounded fairly confident that Parker would be ready to play in the regular-season opener, saying he just didn’t know if the rookie would be available for 30 snaps or maybe 60 snaps. That is probably still the case but he hasn’t sounded so sure that Parker will be fully recovered in his more recent comments.
The Dolphins second round pick was defensive tackle Jordan Phillips out of Oklahoma. He is a massive, wide-bodied nose tackle prospect that might have been a good fit for the Bears had things fallen that way. He moves well but he was unreliable at Oklahoma in terms of his on-field effort, particularly on passing plays. But he’s definitely got the potential to help the Dolphins defend the run, something they had their share of problems doing, especially late in the year. Phillips will fit in well with the Dolphins but his effort will be worth keeping an eye on Thursday night.
The Dolphins fourth round pick was offensive guard Jamil Douglas from Arizona State. Douglas reportedly struggles with speed-to-power off the edge and his below-average arm length raises concerns about his ability to prevent NFL speed rushers from turning the corner. That makes him a poor tackle prospect but a good fit for the Dolphins at guard. He has the frame, size and enough foot speed to provide depth there in a zone-heavy scheme. Douglas is currently in a competition with Dallas Thomas. Thomas is currently slightly ahead and no one is comfortable with the situation. Douglas will bear watching.
The Dolphins also took runningback Jay Ajayi in the fifth round. Ajayi is a big back from Boise State who reportedly has good overall vision, patience and agility. He is also a natural pass-catcher.
Ajayi came to the Dolphins in the last draft with the promise of being a physical, hard-knocking, capable pass protector who offers a bigger alternative to what the Dolphins have on the roster. Unfortunately reports out of camp have indicated that this has not been the case. He also reportedly needs to work on his blitz pick up. Ajayi has no been practicing with a hamstring injury and we may not see him Thursday night.
Also drafted in the fifth round, Tony Lippett, a wide receiver out of Michigan State, is long and tall and was supposed to have had good ball skills. He’s on the leaner side so he was known to get pushed around at times. Lippett has reportedly looked good in camp and he may be a surprise on the field this year. Both Bears and Dolphins fans will be looking forward to getting a good look at him Thursday.
One last prospect worth keeping an eye on is fifth rounder, Bobby McCain, a cornerback from Memphis. McCain reportedly lacks ideal length and doesn’t have great overall range and long speed. However, he has been making a name for himself so far in camp and Dolphin fans and media members have been extremely impressed and it will be interesting to see what he can do.