DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins will not admit it publicly, but through the first week of camp it is clear the defense is well ahead of the offense. It's also been that way most of the offseason during organized team activities and minicamp open to the media.

[+] EnlargeCortland Finnegan
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThe Dolphins hope offseason acquisitions such as Cortland Finnegan will move their defense into the elite category.
Therefore, unless there is a dramatic turnaround over the next few weeks, the Dolphins will be relying on their veteran defense to carry this team to start the regular season. Miami is implementing a new, up-tempo offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor and currently experiencing growing pains. Yet, Miami’s defense is a group that’s run the same system the past three seasons and returns most of its starters.

Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle says he's fine with the increased expectations.

“Defensively, we like the challenge,” Coyle said. “We like the challenge of having a veteran group of guys that feel that they can be among the league’s top defenses and if we execute we feel we can do that. We’ve got a lot of work to go through to get to that point, but certainly I think our offensive players and our offensive staff are doing a great job of giving us a lot of problems.”

Miami’s defense was difficult to figure out last season. The Dolphins were strong in certain areas, such as opponent scoring, but struggled against the run and defending tight ends and slot receivers over the middle. Miami hopes it addressed those issues.

The Dolphins swapped starters Dannell Ellerbe to outside linebacker and Koa Misi to middle linebacker in hopes of getting more production. New safety Louis Delmas also is expected to add a physical element over the middle of the field, and cornerback Cortland Finnegan is out to prove he still has gas in the tank opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes.

The Dolphins’ offense only averaged 19.8 points per game last season and still won eight games. Lazor was brought in increase scoring, but it might not happen immediately.

Miami's defense has the advantage of continuity that the team hopes pays dividends through all 16 games.

“We’ve got guys that can make plays. We’ve got very good speed on defense. We’ve got a lot of good athletes,” Coyle said. “We’ve got a group of guys that are hungry and I really like the chemistry of these guys. ... I think if we keep building it, we have a chance to do something special.”

Dolphins Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
1:00
PM ET
DAVIE, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Miami Dolphins training camp:
  • After a poor practice on Wednesday, the Dolphins’ offense responded Thursday with a better session. Miami's offense was crisper with fewer drops and no apparent sacks. Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and backup Pat Devlin both made several nice throws in the full-padded practice. Dolphins tight end Charles Clay and receiver Rishard Matthews were two who consistently made plays.
  • However, there was a recurring issue with poor snaps. On Thursday, centers Nate Garner and David Arkin combined for three bad snaps in team drills. The Dolphins have been plagued by bad snaps all camp with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey sidelined with a hip injury. Garner, Arkin and Shelley Smith have all experienced bad snaps in the first week of camp. “In football, you can’t win with the ball on the ground,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “I’m confident we’re going to get it fixed.”
  • On the injury front, receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring), center Sam Brenner (ankle) and receiver Damian Williams (unknown) all sat out practice Thursday. Receiver Matt Hazel and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson were banged up in practice and did not finish.
  • Miami had a good session of one-on-ones between the offensive line and defensive line. The Dolphins' defensive line has mostly won in camp, but the offense showed well on Thursday. Among the one-on-one victories were left tackle Branden Albert over defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan, and first-round pick Ja'Wuan James over defensive end Terrence Fede.
  • The Dolphins will return to the practice field Friday at 8 a.m. ET for their final practice of the week. Miami will hold its annual team scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday at 9:30 am.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Thursday from around the Web:
  • Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel writes Nate Garner is vying to become the Dolphins’ Week 1 center.
Morning take: Garner is Miami’s most versatile offensive lineman and may have to bail the team out again at center. Shelley Smith is struggling so far with bad snaps.
  • John Congemi of the Dolphins’ team site the team writes defensive back Jimmy Wilson’s versatility is a big asset.
Morning take: Wilson is quietly having a good training camp and offseason. Position versatility is important, and Wilson can play a variety of roles.
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes kicker Caleb Sturgis doesn’t have competition on the roster.
Morning take: The Dolphins are putting full confidence in Sturgis, who is entering his second season. Sturgis should improve in Year 2.
  • Jameson Olive of Fox Sports Florida writes Dolphins safety Louis Delmas is adding fun to the team's defense.
Morning take: Delmas has a good attitude and is excited about joining his hometown team this year. Delmas also is playing on a one-year contract and is motivated to have a big season.

Live from Dolphins camp

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
8:00
AM ET
The Miami Dolphins will have their sixth practice of training camp Thursday morning, and ESPN.com's Dolphins blog is here once again at the team's headquarters to take in all the action.

This is perhaps the hardest week of training camp. Miami will have four straight days of practice (Tuesday-Friday) and a team scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. This is when we will find out the mental and physical toughness of some players as they grind out the week.

I will also post a full report from practice later this afternoon. But those who want immediate information can follow my Twitter account @JamesWalkerNFL for live updates from practice.

Larry Johnson case closed in Vegas

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:43
PM ET

LAS VEGAS -- An attorney for former NFL running back Larry Johnson says the player's Las Vegas domestic violence case is now closed after a judge determined he successfully completed community service and counseling requirements.

Attorney Gregory Knapp says he appeared in court on Johnson's behalf Wednesday and provided documents showing that the 34-year-old former Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins star completed his sentence.

Knapp said the athlete volunteered for several nonprofits, including the American Heart Association.

Johnson was arrested in October 2012 at the Bellagio after he was accused of beating and choking his 32-year-old ex-girlfriend.

He was sentenced to probation, 48 hours of community service and six months of counseling after pleading no contest in July 2013 to misdemeanor battery and assault.

Knapp says Johnson lives in Florida.


(Read full post)


Dolphins Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
4:00
PM ET
DAVIE, Fla. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Miami Dolphins training camp:


  • It was another sloppy day for the offense. The Dolphins are experiencing growing pains learning an up-tempo scheme under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. This was one of those sessions where the Dolphins had poor throws, numerous drops and offensive line issues. I counted at least five drops by Miami receivers in what was probably the worst practice by the offense since the opening day of training camp. "I obviously haven’t looked at the film yet, but my instincts tell me that the defense had the upper hand," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin admitted.
  • The center position is starting to become a major concern. For the second day in a row, Shelley Smith had two errant snaps to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The second bad snap was a ground ball that skipped past Tannehill in team drills. Soon after, backup center Nate Garner finished practice on the first team. Miami tried several different combinations in an effort to find the best five on the line. In addition to Garner, rookie guard Billy Turner also worked with the first-team offense at times on Wednesday.
  • The play of the day goes to Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline. Early in team drills Hartline beat cornerback Jamar Taylor deep for a 60-plus yard touchdown reception. Miami’s offense protected Tannehill enough for him to throw a pretty deep ball that Hartline caught in stride. To Taylor’s credit, he responded with an interception of Tannehill and had a couple of tipped passes.
  • The three punt returners Wednesday were receivers Marcus Thigpen, Jarvis Landry and Rantavious Wooten. Thigpen is the incumbent but must compete to keep his job with punt and kick returns.
  • On the injury front, Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace had the day off. He said earlier this week his hamstring was tight. Backup center Sam Brenner, who was carted off the field Tuesday, did not practice but spent time on the sideline watching the offensive line. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip) and running back Knowshon Moreno (knee) continue to be on the physically unable to perform list and worked on the side with a team trainer.

The Dolphins will continue their training camp Thursday at 8 a.m. ET.

Dolphins put credo on T-shirts

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
1:42
PM ET
video

DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins, rocked by a bullying scandal last season, are now wearing T-shirts bearing a credo of togetherness that was coined by the players.

One by one some of the members of the offense and defense removed their shoulder pads Wednesday and changed into the new gray shirt. On the back was a list of 10 sayings bordered by the words "I am a Miami Dolphin" that encompass their approach to the upcoming season.

Among the sayings that bring to mind last year's scandal involving former offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin is this one. "If I see something -- I will say something -- I commit to call it as it is."

Head coach Joe Philbin applauded the gesture made by his players.

"I think the best way to do things is to give them some ownership and let them feel like I'm not coming down from the mountaintop and saying this is a must and this is a mandate," Philbin said. "I thought they did a good job. I thought they gave some consideration and some thought to it and I think it's good. Probably 'I'm a professional,' is one of them I like. But I think I like them all. They're all good, but that one sticks to me. It's kind of all encompassing, entails a lot. 'Team first,' too. Maybe I like team first better. I'm trying to picture the T-shirt."

Considering that Philbin has come up with plenty of his own rules, he joked that some of the players think he has too many and that he's "a little stiff." He had approached a group of veterans during the offseason to emphasize his desire for them to take ownership of the team. The idea for an official credo came naturally.

Defensive end Cameron Wake


(Read full post)


DAVIE, Fla. -- Team bonding is a funny thing in the NFL. There are a hundred different ways it can happen successfully, but there is no textbook way to do it.

For the Miami Dolphins, part of their team-bonding experience this year comes in the form of a T-shirt. The players came up with a series of statements called the "Dolphins credo" that everyone aims to abide by. Among those statements are "I will always place the team first" and "I will never accept defeat." [You can see the full credo in the picture I shot Wednesday after practice.]

[+] EnlargeDolphins T-shirt
James Walker/ESPN.comThe Miami Dolphins came up with a series of statements called the "Dolphins credo" for a team shirt.
It is well-documented that Miami had issues with leadership and locker-room culture last season. The Dolphins have been diligent in improving that area of the team, and head coach Joe Philbin was impressed players took it upon themselves to create this in-house motto.

"I think the best way to do things is to give them some ownership and not let them feel like I'm coming down from the mountaintop and saying, 'This is a must' and 'This is a mandate,'" Philbin explained. "I thought they did a good job. I thought they gave some consideration and some thought to it. I think it's good."

The Dolphins appear to be a more together team this summer. The team is moving on from last season's harassment scandal involving former Dolphins Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Even things like rookie hazing, such as funny haircuts the Dolphins did nearly every year, are a thing of the past.

Philbin himself has made it a point to be more communicative and accessible to his players. This is part of the growing process for the third-year head coach, who continues to learn after going 15-17 his first two seasons in Miami.

"Believe it or not, some guys believe I have too many rules or I'm a little stiff. I don't know why and where anyone would get that from," said Philbin, who prompted laughter from the media. "But in all honesty, the great teams I've been around as a coach and been a part of, the players really take control of it. I have locker-room policies, weight-room policies, dining-room policies, player-lounge policies, travel. It gets old."

In the end, what matters most is what happens during game days. But the Dolphins hope bonding experiences like these during training can help them get over the hump and end a five-year playoff drought.

Morning take: Center questions

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
11:30
AM ET
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Wednesday from around the Web:
  • Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post reports the Dolphins still have questions at center.
Morning take: Injuries are eating away at this position. Pro Bowl starter Mike Pouncey (hip) is out at least four games and backup Sam Brenner was injured in practice on Tuesday. Miami might have to look for outside options.
  • Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald writes the Dolphins are excited about their new offense.
Morning take: First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has infused energy and tempo. Many of the concepts make sense for Miami, but it mostly comes down to execution.
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald writes talent is more important than scheme.
Morning take: There is a lot of truth to this statement. The Dolphins have talent in a lot of areas, but will have to overcome some of their weaknesses.
  • Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel wonders if receiver Damian Williams can unseat veterans.
Morning take: Williams is having a good training camp. He could prove to be a good signing for quality depth behind starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline.

Dolphins' Landry makes strong impression

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
10:00
AM ET
video 
ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker says second-round pick Jarvis Landry is coming on strong in training camp, bolstering what is already a deep group of wide receivers.

Live from Dolphins camp

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:30
AM ET
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins will have their fifth practice of training camp Wednesday, and ESPN.com’s Dolphins page is here once again at the team’s headquarters to take in all the action.

Miami went full pads on Tuesday for another physical session. Wednesday will be a lighter day as the team starts to prepare for its annual scrimmage Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.

I also will post a full report from practice later this afternoon. But those who want immediate information can follow my Twitter account @JamesWalkerNFL for live updates from practice.

It should be another fun morning in South Florida.
video

What should you expect from Knowshon Moreno now that he's in Miami?

Dolphins Camp Report: Day 4

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
3:30
PM ET
DAVIE, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Miami Dolphins training camp:
  • On Tuesday the big story was first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who spoke with the media for the first time in training camp. Lazor comes from the Chip Kelly school of offense and is implementing a fast-paced scheme that saw a lot of success in Philadelphia last season. Lazor is confident that his group will make major strides in 2014. "It’s my job to show them they can go faster," Lazor said. "It’s my job to take them to places that maybe they didn’t think they could go. Anytime you do that with a player, you see their eyes kind of widen."
  • The Dolphins may have some pending center issues on the horizon. With Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey (hip) out for approximately four to eight weeks, there have been some hiccups filling the position early in camp. Shelley Smith has moved from guard to center. But for the second time in four practices, Smith had trouble with the snap. “It’s definitely a concern, but I’m also confident we will clean it up and get it addressed,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “Ball security is the No. 1 thing we talk about every night in training camp.” Also, backup center Sam Brenner was injured Tuesday with an unknown ailment. Nate Garner took over as the No. 2 center.
  • Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan continues to have a strong training camp. Jordan had the play of the day on Sunday with a pick-six off quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Jordan flashed again Tuesday with at least one would-be sack in team drills. The bad news is Jordan is suspended for four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Jordan will play in the preseason but won’t be available until October.
  • Miami worked mostly on red zone drills. This is an area where the Dolphins must be better. The offense performed better than it did at the start of training camp, which is a good sign. Miami settled for a lot of field goals last year and averaged just 19.8 points per game.
  • After going full pads on Sunday and Tuesday, the Dolphins will take the field again on Wednesday without pads. Miami is building up in practice to Saturday’s team scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium.
Training camp is a time for optimism around the NFL. Every team believes it has a legitimate shot at the playoffs -- and some teams even believe they are Super Bowl bound.

SportsNation

What is Miami's biggest reason for optimism?

  •  
    61%
  •  
    28%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,197)

The Miami Dolphins, coming off an 8-8 season, have reason to believe they can end their five-year playoff drought. But what is the biggest reason for optimism?

Is it first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor? The Dolphins hired Lazor to jumpstart Miami’s 27th-ranked offense from a year ago. Lazor is speeding up the tempo and adding new concepts to Miami’s offense. The Dolphins only averaged 19.8 points per game last season.

What about starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill? He is 15-17 as a starter but has shown flashes throughout the past two seasons. Many quarterbacks make the leap in their third season. Will Tannehill do the same?

Finally, could it be Miami's offseason additions? The Dolphins signed free-agent left tackle Branden Albert, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and cornerback Cortland Finnegan, in addition to draft picks such as right tackle Ja’Waun James and receiver Jarvis Landry. Will these pieces get the Dolphins over the hump?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on Miami’s biggest reason for optimism. You can share your thoughts below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider