The Miami Dolphins desperately need a linebacker. Lawrence Timmons is a linebacker with a Super Bowl ring from his Pittsburgh days and a couple of sacks of Matt Moore in last January’s playoff game. All is forgiven.
It’s really that simple. Whether we ever get the details on Timmons’ decision to flake out on the Dolphins on the night before their Sept. 17 game at Los Angeles is immaterial. NFL teams need guys built for the NFL and will accommodate them no matter what.
Thus an indefinite suspension is ended without explanation, and a definitely improved defensive unit boards the plane for London and Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
Don’t have to go far to find other examples.
Look to T.J. McDonald. The Dolphins signed him in March with full knowledge that the veteran safety is suspended for the first eight games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Then, when McDonald looked pretty good in practice, the team gave him a newer, better deal. Four years at $24 million, with $10 million guaranteed.
All of that for a guy who has not played one snap for Miami, and who won’t be able to play until the season is half shot. The Dolphins need help in the secondary. McDonald is good enough to have started 53 games for the Rams, with plenty of big hits on his resume. All is forgiven, and on top of that greatness is forecast.
Then there is Ndamukong Suh. In 2015 the Dolphins signed him to what was the biggest contract ever for a defensive player. They did it even though Suh had already racked up more than $250,000 in fines for player-safety violations during his time in Detroit. Dirty play is the simpler way to say it, like stomping on a player while he’s on the ground.
There’s nothing special about Lawrence Timmons or the way the Dolphins are reacting.
Bottom line, a couple of games is as long as the Dolphins believed they could do without him.
Adam Gase came on pretty strong the other day with his description of the Miami Dolphins offense as “garbage.” That’s really coming off the top rope, like Bill Parcells might have done.
There’s a deep well of frustration bubbling up here, and it reminds me of how Gase based his choice of Miami as a head coaching destination on the presence of Ryan Tannehill.
Too many NFL coaches are getting by with whatever they’ve got at quarterback. Sometimes it clicks for a week or two but that’s about it. The Dolphins are going to be dealing with that with Jay Cutler this year.
So just how much garbage are we talking about here, based on one lousy performance against the New York Jets and a low-scoring escape against the Los Angeles Chargers?
Well, the Dolphins are ranked 30th in the league in points (12.5 per game) and 27th in total yards (280.5 per game).
Denver led the league in both categories when Gase was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and Peyton Manning was his quarterback.
The Bears were better, too, in 2015, when Gase was calling plays for Cutler and, in a pinch, Jimmy Clausen. Chicago averaged 20.9 points and 345 yards per game that year.
Then there was the Tim Tebow experience in 2011, with all the sophistication ripped out of the playbook and the Broncos going 8-8 with an offensive style was roundly panned around the league as “unsustainable.” Always confused me that John Elway and his staff could be somehow repulsed by the six-game win streak that Tebow ripped off and eager to rid themselves of the problem, but that’s another story.
The point is that Gase was Denver’s quarterbacks coach back then, and in concert with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy he managed to squeeze 18.7 points per game out of Tebow’s 13 starts, with a couple of playoff games included.
The Dolphins are well below that output now, a level of production that Gase probably figured was the absolute minimum standard for his NFL coaching career, and even more so once he was in complete control of a team.
Not sure how many effective personnel changes are available to him now, but it’s got to get better for Sunday’s London game against the Saints. There are stronger words than garbage. Gase knows them all and he’s not afraid to use them.
He’s been doing it most of the season and still I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of Giancarlo Stanton batting second in the Miami Marlins lineup.
Through Monday’s game he had 57 home runs, the most in the majors, and seems bound for 60 in what remains of the season. Do you know how many 60-homer men have ever batted No. 2 in the lineup during their historic season?
Most often the legendary sluggers have batted in the third spot. If not there, it’s usually cleanup. But second?
Marlins manager Don Mattingly moved Stanton there from the cleanup spot on May 23 in a desperate attempt to shake the offense loose for a team that was off to a 15-28 start. Stanton himself needed some fixing at that point. He was chasing too many bad pitches and striking out way too much in an attempt to turn games around on one mighty swing.
Concentrating more on contact behind leadoff hitter Dee Gordon, Stanton began to drive balls in every direction and many of those times right over the wall. He had 11 homers prior to the switch in what admittedly was just a slice of the season. The other 46 have come from the No. 2 spot, and there’s no reason to change it now.
Here, with data scrapped together from the voluminous Baseball-Reference.com website, are the batting positions of the players who hit 60 homers in one season, plus Stanton.
Barry Bonds, 73 homers in 2001 – 136 games in the No. 3 spot, 11 games at No. 4
Mark McGwire, 70 homers in 1998 – 152 games in the No. 3 spot
Sammy Sosa, 66 homers in 1998 – 121 games at No. 3, 38 at No. 4
Mark McGwire, 65 homers in 1999 – 150 games in the No. 3 spot
Sammy Sosa, 64 homers in 2001 – 141 games in the No. 3 spot, 19 at No. 4
Sammy Sosa, 63 homers in 1999 – 84 games in the No. 3 spot, 78 at No. 4
Roger Maris, 61 homers in 1961 – 139 at No. 3, 10 at No. 7, 7 at No. 5, 3 at No. 4, 1 at No. 6
Babe Ruth, 60 homers in 1927 – 157 games in the No. 3 spot
Giancarlo Stanton, 57 homers in 2017 – 105 games in the No. 2 spot, 35 at No. 4, 7 at No. 5, 1 at No. 3
Mattingly has been all over the place with his lineup this season but the most commonly used order has been Gordon leading off, Stanton hitting second, Christian Yelich hitting third and Marcell Ozuna batting cleanup.
It hasn’t stopped Stanton from piling up 126 RBI, and Ozuna is right behind at 118.
Hey, Mattingly tried something different and Stanton was willing to give it a shot, with admirable results. Takes some guts to roll something like this out there in the first place because every old-schooler is going to say that it’s crazy.
Whether Derek Jeter agrees once he is approved as the Marlins co-owner or even wants to keep Mattingly as manager, the concept of experimenting with lineups is not new to him. Jeter batted ninth in his major-league debut and showed up just about everywhere else during his career, including leadoff and cleanup.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has batted second in 24 games this season. The majority of his starts have come in the No. 3 spot, with 61 games there, but apparently nothing about this game is written in stone anymore.
The Miami Heat are returning to the Florida Atlantic University gym next week for training camp, which always brings back memories of the team’s first-ever exhibition game there 29 years ago.
Until the night of Oct. 14, 1988, Miami’s NBA expansion franchise had only practiced and played intrasquad scrimmages. It was totally new and exciting when head coach Ron Rothstein actually put on a business suit and brought his guys out to play the Seattle Supersonics with Heat partner Billy Cunningham alternately looking on and signing autographs.
Were you there? Don’t lie. The box score says only about 4,000 people were, and at that time a mere 4 percent of the Heat’s season tickets had been sold to Palm Beach County residents.
That was a long time ago, though, before the Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, before all of South Florida fell in love with the Heat’s championship ways.
Fun to look back, after three NBA titles, to the franchise’s beginnings. What follows here is my column from the night of that exhibition debut, a 116-107 Seattle victory, with apologies to one original Heat player for writing that he “had all the finesse of a front-end loader.”
HEAT UNWRAP AN NBA VISION OF A TEAM DRESSED IN BASICSOct. 14, 1988By Dave George, Post Sports Columnist
Until Friday night, until a fairly full house at Florida Atlantic
University watched a somewhat significant exhibition game against a semi-tough NBA opponent, the MiamiHeat dangled somewhere between fantasy and fact.
Like a papier-mache pinata, the concept of a major league basketball franchise in
our own backyard was beautiful but no one had taken a whack at it yet.
South Florida’s last taste of suspense this sublime was when Christo the
artist promised a masterpiece of floating fabric surrounding a handful of
islands off Biscayne Bay. Would the Heat be similarly fluffy, presented in
pleasing pastels for the discerning Floridian but lacking in substance?
Any fear of that was ended with the first glance at Miami’s shock-troop
entry to the domain of Magic and Isiah and Kareem and Larry Friday. Maybe
storm troops would be a better word, since the NBA’s most mod squad debuted in black uniforms, insufficient to shake the veteran Seattle SuperSonics but a
fashion statement of great note.
The Heat’s new palace in downtown Miami may be pink but the players who
take the first halting steps toward tradition there won’t be. A ghastly green, perhaps, but definitely not pink.
No squad with Pat Cummings in the paint,
moving with all the finesse of a front-end loader, could ever be so. No coach whose last official sideline bark came in the NBA Finals ever would allow it.
“I’m sort of pleased but not satisfied,” Heat coach Ron Rothstein said
of the 116-107 loss his junior achievers suffered in their first dry run
toward the apocalyptic Nov. 5 season opener. “It’s going to be a long, drawn- out process but I hope people appreciate how hard the guys played.”
Appreciate it? These folks ate it up, howling like Lakers fans with $50
Forum seats. In truth this was only the FAU gym, a distant little dot on the
map for the fans who have invested the most in the belief that Artis Gilmore
and Art Deco both belong in Dade County.
Heat Managing Partner Lewis Schaffel estimated Friday that only 4 percent of the team’s season tickets have been bought by Palm Beach County residents, one percentage point ahead of the number sold to New York City residents. Those 4 percent were in the gym when the game started at 7:30 but by 8:15 the faithful had arrived, filling all but the far corners of the stands.
Joining them there were Stu Inman, Miami’s director of player personnel,
and Billy Cunningham, former NBA star and one of three partners in the
franchise. They scattered themselves in the bare spots of the bleachers to
watch the game, doing everything physically possible to complete the crowd and thus present the most pleasing face possible for this first date.
They needn’t have worried. The Heat may be only tepid today but there is
steam in the furnace. Let’s get crazy here, in honor of the moment. Miami
won’t win just a dozen games in its opening season. The Heat will win 14. No, make it 15.
Why fight the feeling when it feels so good?
The possibilities are endless. Consider for a moment that the Heat went
through the entire opening game with just two basic offensive sets, signaled
by various point guards with a shout of “fist” and “thumb up.” That leaves
four fingers completely unexplored, and that’s using just one hand.
Consider also that Rony Seikaly sat the bench for this one. Sure, every
center in the NBA won’t melt in his shadow like Dwayne Schintzius did but
they’ll have more trouble with him than Seattle’s big men did Friday with
And chew for a moment on the fact that this fresh mixture of mice and men actually led at halftime, 55-54. The Sonics walked to the locker room in
confusion over this exhibition aberration, rationalizing to themselves, “It’s not the Heat, it’s the humidity.”
There even was a point midway through the third quarter when Miami led by 11 points, cause for celebration even in a practice game. Exuberance was in
the air, rivaling the gush of a public address announcer who earlier had
introduced Tony Karasek to the crowd as a member of the Heat.
Karasek was cut on Wednesday.
The 21-4 run that the Sonics used to reinstate the natural order of the
universe quieted the crowd only for a moment. And it never stopped the Heat
from hustling. Chief among the survivors was rookie Kevin Edwards, who
established himself on opening night as the talent on a team that had
difficulty even getting the ball across half court against Seattle’s full-
Still, how could you hate them? On they went, racing up and down the court like fireflies. A flash of brilliance here, a dark spot there. Sure, it’ll take time but now that the Dolphins are playing like veterans again, there is room for a pack of rookie renegades.
This may work out after all.
Florida has released its 2018 football schedule and the look will be comforting to Gator fans who didn’t get much out of that clunker against Michigan three weeks ago.
Next season it will be Charleston Southern, Kentucky and Jim McElwain’s old team Colorado State to get things started, and all at the Swamp. If there are suspended players for any of those, they won’t be badly missed. In theory, there will be no freshman quarterback leading an undeveloped offense, either, though it remains to be seen if Feleipe Franks can keep his job that long.
The LSU and South Carolina games later in the season are in Gainesville. There’s a bye week, as always, before the Georgia game. Even better, Mississippi State is on the second SEC West opponent on the schedule and not Alabama or Auburn.
Florida State isn’t going anywhere, of course, and that game is in Tallahassee, but you can’t have everything. There is a real opportunity here for McElwain to have a great fourth season at Florida if he can only get through his third without going nuts.
That final-play touchdown bomb of 63-yards against Tennessee left McElwain all but speechless. He was the winner, 26-20, and there’s nothing better than that in a rivalry game, yet the coach couldn’t summon up much elation for CBS’ on-field interviewer.
Truth is, both head coaches, McElwain and Tennessee’s Butch Jones, had reason to be shaken after that one. The Gators had a 10-point lead late in the game and needed a miracle to avoid overtime. The Volunteers forfeited too many vital points with missed field goals and the wacky decision to pass on first-and-goal in the third quarter rather than pounding away with running back John Kelly two or even three times. That scoring chance eventually was snuffed by a third-down interception.
Might as well get to the final play, though, because that’s all anybody saw on the national highlights and all that anybody will remember. How did Tennessee let any Florida receiver get behind the secondary? Here is what Vols defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had to say on Tuesday, and we give him credit here for beginning his comments by taking responsibility for the defensive formation there and giving Jones whatever protection he could.
“Florida has an outstanding kicker,” Shoop said of Eddy Pineiro. “The guy can kick 55- and 60-yard field goals. We thought they were going to play for getting the ball in that 35-40 yard area and kick a long field goal.
“We had four (defenders) over three (receivers) to the three-receiver side and we had three (defenders) over two (receivers) to the back side. If you actually watch the play, Feleipe Franks went to his first key and it’s there. We took away the play that they ran, which is the irony of the whole thing, really.
“And so he looked at (option) 1, looked at 2, looked at 3, started to run and, oddly, I feely like if it had been the second or third quarter of the game, he’s have just run. But then he said, ‘Wait, I can’t run. I’ve gotta do something.’ And somehow, someway he made eye contact with (Tyrie) Cleveland. You actually see Cleveland point and him point and he just was kind of falling backwards and I sort of wish (linebacker) Quart’e Sapp would’ve been a little more explosive and knocked the dog crap out of him right there, but he didn’t and he just threw a dime and the player got behind our player and it was a disastrous ending.
“I feel bad for our players. I feel bad for the people in this (Tennessee athletic) building and I feel bad for our fans because I would’ve liked to see that one go to overtime. I think that would’ve been a hell of a game.”
At a time like this, with Lawrence Timmons suspended indefinitely and the Miami Dolphins scrambling to fill out their linebacker corps with unheralded players, it pays to know who is running that beleaguered position group.
The answer is Frank Bush, and he’s a good one, though we really haven’t gotten to know him very well. Adam Gase’s policy, similar to that of many other NFL head coaches, is to put strict limits on the media availability of assistant coaches below the coordinator pay grade.
The first thing to know is that Bush has really been around. The Dolphins added him in January to fill the role of Matt Burke, who was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Bush was a defensive coordinator, too, with the Houston Texans in 2009 and 2010, but has spent the bulk of his 26 years in the league as a linebackers coach.
The best of it was a back-to-back Super Bowl championship run with the Denver Broncos in 1997 and 1998. As linebackers coach, Bush worked with Bill Romanowski, a volatile Pro Bowler who was only three years his junior, with both in their 30’s. Mike Shanahan was the Broncos’ head coach.
The biggest disappointment surely was being fired as Texans’ defensive coordinator following the 2010 season. Houston dropped from 9-7 to 6-10 that year and the defensive unit was among the league’s worst statistically as Bush and senior assistant Ray Rhodes, a future NFL head coach, were overcome by injury problems.
Through the years Bush has coached with the Oilers and the Texans in Houston, and with the Broncos, Cardinals, Titans and Rams. He started 11 games for the Oilers as a rookie linebacker in 1985 but his career was cut short by a spinal condition that made it too dangerous to continue. He never left the game, moving into a college scouting position with the Oilers for five seasons and then into coaching.
Bush, 54, is known for his positive attitude and the motivational messages he e-mails each day under the heading of “TKG BIG,” or Think Big.
“People always think I’m going to to be living the dream,” Bush said last year in a feature article written by the Rams communications staff. “If you’re doing what you want to do or doing the things that take you to where you want to go, you’re actually living the dream. The dream is to get there.”
This is the kind of guy that Gase needs to be working on his linebacker problem right now because the dream of having Timmons and rookie Raekwon McMillan (out for the season) as the dependable foundations for that unit is long past. Chase Allen, an undrafted rookie, started last Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, and Bush surely had a lot to do with keeping him on the team’s final 53-man roster for the regular season when Neville Hewitt was placed on the waived/injured list.
Mike Hull is another undrafted player who started for the Dolphins last week and played every defensive snap. In a rare interview opportunity early in training camp, Bush had this to say about the former Penn State star.
“In this league, as you know, it’s next man up and you’re one snap away,” Bush said on Aug. 4. “Mike’s just done a good job of learning all three (linebacker) positions, being there on call when we need him, but also making plays on the football field.
“He’s a smart kid who knows how to retain information and it’s not too big for him. We do put a lot on him in the sense of asking him to know all three positions. We’ve got to be smart about that, but he does a good job right now of being able to handle that.”
From the start it has been up to Bush to be handle all the personnel problems and changing situations that are thrown at him as Dolphins linebackers coach. So far, so good, but man are they stretching him thin.
Indicative of the trust Gase has in Bush is the title of assistant head coach the Dolphins have given him. It’s based on the experience he gained working under the following head coaches – Shanahan, Jeff Fisher, Jack Pardee, Dennis Green, Gary Kubiak and Mike Munchak.
So the NFL goes on without the Miami Dolphins this weekend.
It all begins tonight with Kansas City at New England, which provides a handy 7:30 p.m. deadline for getting those houses boarded up and bringing out a football feast of all the food that will spoil without electricity.
Seems like nothing ever gets down without a hard deadline, right?
Am I disappointed that the Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be playing Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium? Sure, but that’s so far down the list of priorities right now that it’s almost silly.
The Dolphins have already deflated their practice bubble at the practice facility in Davie, folks, and removed everything from the 100 and 300 levels of the stadium that wasn’t bolted down. Tables, chairs, portable vendor carts. Everything.
They’re not thinking football. They’re being smart, and we should be, too.
The storm will pass, though, and fans will begin to blame the rescheduling of the Bucs game for the November bye week as the reason that Miami isn’t having a great season. Oh, and you can be sure there will be grumbling from fans whose power and cable or satellite service get disrupted on Sunday when Irma comes calling and the rest of the NFL schedule goes unwatched around here.
Too bad. Life is not a fantasy and it’s does not revolve around fantasy leaguers.
Just to get ahead of the argument, though, when the sports-talk debate centers around the disadvantage Miami is under for losing the cushion of the bye week, here’s the common sense of it.
The Dolphins will have injuries all season, no matter what, just like every other team. They lost Ryan Tannehill before the first preseason game was played. They lost Raekwon McMillan and Tony Lippett, a couple of vital defenders, before this opening weekend of the regular season. There is no way to plan your way out of problems like this. They will come no matter what the schedule says and coach Adam Gase will have to deal with them when they do.
As it is, with Miami 0-0 and on hold until Sept. 17, there is lesser optimism that the team will challenge the Patriots for the division title or scramble to another wild-card playoff spot. That’s because of the injuries that already have happened, and it would be the same basic outlook even if Miami had gotten the chance to beat the Bucs on Sunday and jump to a 1-0 start.
Meanwhile, remember that the NFL didn’t always allow for a bye week in the 16-game schedule. That started in 1990.
There was a perfect Dolphins season 18 years prior to that, and a sturdy team that played 16 consecutive games in the process. Fourteen regular-season games, two playoff games and than a “bye” before the Super Bowl win that wrapped up a historic 17-0 run.
Bob Griese missed games to injury along the way, and so did others, but Miami proved itself to be the best team in the league just the same.
On Tuesday, before the NFL announced Miami vs. Tampa Bay would be rescheduled from the season opener to Nov. 19, Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry gave an honest answer to a question about the importance of the bye week.
“I think the stretch after our bye week is probably one of the toughest – if you want to be real about it – probably the toughest in the NFL,” Landry said. “That bye week will give us an opportunity to kind of get some guys healthy. In this NFL, in the league, you’re going to get banged up week in, week out. For us, that bye week, it comes at an appropriate time. For us, to keep it there would be huge.”
The post-Nov. 19 schedule truly is a bear, with games against Denver and Kansas City and, of course, two games with New England in the space of three weeks.
Give Landry credit, though, for following up that bye-week assessment with the kind of tough response that is needed in tough situations.
“I would play today if we could,” Landry said on Tuesday. ‘Obviously, again, that’s up to the team, the NFL, both organizations. If it is moved and we’ve got to play 16 weeks in a row, it’s something that we’ve got to do. We’re going to embrace the process, embrace the challenge and we’re going to make it happen.”
Schedules don’t make great seasons, in other words. Great talent combined with great coaching and great chemistry, that’s the only combination that ever works.