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Reassessing Thoughts of the Canes & Fins

October 13th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Reassessing Thoughts of the Hurricanes and Dolphins

Be truthful: How many of you thought the University of Miami Hurricanes football team would contend for a national title this year? Ok, now raise your hands if you thought the Miami Dolphins were worthy of qualifying for a post-season tournament invitation, otherwise known as the Playoffs? I see…So none of you will admit it. No problem, I will be your absolution. Just read on.

Ever hear the saying: “We do what we have to do, so we can do what we want to do”? I forget who said it, but at the time, I remember being impressed. So I wrote it down and stashed it away; perhaps for use in a random blog one day. Well, today is that day.

In order to make the aforementioned saying apropos, let’s consider this: Every football team sets goals for what it wants to accomplish before starting its season. At the time they start practice, scrimmages, and pre-season games, each head coach and attendant staff thinks they know what is right for the team. However, as is invariably the case (in life and in football) it is the ability to make adjustments and reassess earlier doctrines and decisions that ultimately determines success in achieving desired goals.

First case in point – at the college level: The instant UM coaching regime, joined by the gamut of Canes fans, have put their trust in QB Jacory Harris and a defense now experienced with mostly 2nd and 3rd year players, to make a realistic run at a BCS championship bid. Initial observations were that the team had big-play potential built on the prototypical formula underlying the legendary Canes squads of the five-ring-dynasty years: speed and more speed. The offense was thought to be primed to ride the coattails of Harris, who surely by now, had learned from his mistake-prone but promising freshman and sophomore campaigns. Yes indeed, this was going to be the year that restored swagger to the Canes while Sebastian the Ibis stomped in mockery of battered opponents.

After slaying a girls school (no disrespect to FAMU), Jacory and the Canes were thrown into the lion’s den, or the “Horseshoe” as it is known at “The” Ohio State University. There, the UM squad opened with 2 special teams TD’s (kick and punt returns) and actually asserted its dominance on the offensive and defensive fronts for most of 3 quarters. So why did they ultimately lose 36-24? Mistakes and turnovers. Harris was responsible for multiple episodes of the latter, promptly killing promising drives that penetrated deep into enemy territory only to die in the hands of Buckeye defenders. Head coach Randy Shannon when asked after the game if he would change anything about the game plan, answered defiantly “no” and insisted that the offense would learn and improve (not in so many words). So after winning at Pittsburgh by defeating a listless Panthers team coached by ex-Fins coach Dave Wanstedt, who is known by his “don’t take chances so we won’t lose” mentality, and then escaping with a much needed and tough victory at Clemson in “Death Valley”, the 13th ranked Canes came back home after a month on the road to play in-state rivals and 18th ranked FSU. This was surely the game where on Saturday night in prime time before a national TV audience, the Jacory-led green team would regain prominence on the grandest of early-season college football stages vs. the hated but talented Garnet & Gold. And after a nice-looking opening drive that saw QB Harris drive the team into chip-shot FG range, the proverbial roof caved in. All-American standout kicker Bosher missed his kick, and the rest is too painful to recall. But it went something like this: FSU’s offensive line handled Miami’s at will, opening up gaping holes for Noles RB’s, leading to several big plays despite occasional spurts of offense from the home team, lulling fans into thinking a great comeback was in store. Of course it was not to be, and FSU routed Miami 45-17.

OK, so now you’re saying. Thanks for giving us a history-to-date of the Canes’ short-lived expectations and failures. What now? What can they do to save the season? What do they have to do, so they can do what they want to do? The answer is both simple and complex, but the real question you should be asking is: “How do they improve so that next year they have a better chance to achieve success in seriously competing for a BCS title? It all starts with the premise of admitting that relying on Jacory Harris’ big-play ability is not the answer. So what is? I hearken back to the glory days of Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinnie Testaverde, Gino Torretta, Steve Walsh and Ken Dorsey. Common denominator: smart play led by stable run-attack. Harris cannot be the key because he is clearly mistake-prone and relies too much on the deep play to get the offense moving. Not enough emphasis is placed on the prowess of the run-attack which is formidable but underrated, as led by the 4-headed monster of Berry-Miller-James-Cooper.This attack must be simplified to a 2-headed deal with Berry and Cooper leading the pack. If you consider that the great teams of Canes past were anchored by the likes of E.James, F.Gore, C.Portis, and W.McGahee, they rarely shared the spotlight and needed to get into a groove to spark the offense. This is not to say that WR speed led by play-makers Hankerson, Byrd, Benjamin and A.Johnson should be shunned. Rather, it is the play-action pass to these speed-merchants that will work as did in the glory days of Irvin, A.Johnson, S.Moss (both brothers) and R.Wayne. The run game serves a dual purpose: It wears down the defense and keeps our own defense fresh. There is much to be said for this theory when viewing the progressive deterioration of the Canes’ front 7 after the offense went 3-and-out on multiple occasions against the Noles. A more firm commitment to a simplified but stable run game brings confidence to an offense that is in need of stability. Moreover, stability is the key to an offense sans a decision-maker that can be trusted to lead a methodical attack. In the absence of the run-game as the focus of the offensive scheme, and until a new QB is found with the qualities inherent in smart decision-makers, frustration will reign amidst the peaks and valleys of success and failure, despite having one of the best offensive coordinators in the nation calling the shots in Mr. Whipple. In short, the Canes have to commit to a run-game featuring their best runner as a mechanism to keep play-action passes fresh, and conversely force less reliance on the pass-game to open the run. This will allow the defense to remain fresher, keep the games against marquis opponents closer, and permit coaching to be less of a factor down the stretch of tight games. Because ultimately, UM wants to restore national luster to its program.

So now we move on to the pro ranks and the enigma which is the Miami Dolphins. Unlike the Coral Gables-based college squad, the Fins’ problems may be largely solved this season. While a 2-loss mark usually spells destruction for national success at the tier below, this is not so for those teams attempting to gain entry into the NFL Playoffs, where anything can happen for those who come in hot and saucy. The pre-season blueprint for the aqua & orange seemed simple enough: On offense, emphasize the run-game with Ronnie and Ricky and use Chad Henne’s arm to hit big plays downfield with newly acquired game-breaker B.Marshall. On defense, utilize athletic draft choices Koa Misi and J.Oderick to put pressure on QBs, and cause havoc with C.Wake coming off the edge from the DE slot. The thinking was (and maybe still is) Henne is our young-gun of the future, who is still somewhat of a work-in-progress, but he could use this experience to develop, certainly having more upside than his predecessor Chad Pennington (who is 2 years removed from commandeering an 11-5 division winner).

Miami started the season 2-0, dominating the Bills at Orchard Park much more than the score indicated, but not entirely clicking on offense against a sub-par defensive unit. “A win-is-a-win, whether ugly or not”, was the ad-nauseum slogan post-victory. The team traveled to Minnesota as decided underdogs against the incumbent NFC-runner up. Aside from flashes of run-game brilliance, the offense mostly sputtered and relied on untimely mistakes from the all-time interception leader, B.Favre, including a fumble recovery in the Vikes’ end zone to secure a much-hyped win. Enter the hated NY Jets with its overweight, brash and outspoken head coach Rex Ryan, whose profanity-laden epithets on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” were ringing in Finfan ears as the Sunday Night battle kicked off. After falling into a 14-0 hole, the locals showed much moxie in actually taking the lead for all of 2 minutes, and then giving it back for good. QB Henne on the surface passed for good yardage and found big-play Marshall for a much-needed TD and again late to set up a potential tying score. But that’s where the offense bogged down, became predictable, and Henne failed to demonstrate the decision-making skills which separate champions from pretenders (or career backups). 4 downs from inside the 15-yard line proved fruitless as time and again, he failed to look off a defender or simply made an ill-advised pass. Give the Jets defense much credit, but hold back on the great promise expected from our young gunslinger. So there we sat at 2-1 with a chance for redemption, again at home, again in prime time, as T.Brady and the Patriots, with a vulnerable defense, presented a marquis challenge on Monday Night Football, just 2 nights after the Canes’ debacle in the same venue. Miami found a novel way to lose. Never in the history of the NFL had a team allowed a blocked-FG-return TD, a kickoff-return-TD, and both a pass and run TD in the same game, not to mention a punt block setting up an additional score for the second consecutive week – until our beloved Dolphins did that night against the Pats. But under the surface of the obvious special teams breakdowns, a more disturbing set of events reared its ugly head: Bad decision-making by QB Henne. After a first drive where Henne looked in Pro Bowl form, he single-handedly killed 2 drives by making bad decisions while telegraphing interceptions into tight coverage. His final gaffe came in the third quarter on a pick-6 that sealed the Fins’ fate. This has always been the knock on Henne: Strong arm but makes too many untimely mistakes because he doesn’t read defenses, fails to check down to open players or quite simply, makes bone-headed decisions. But all is not lost, for it is early in the season, and there is a long-term solution in the immediate horizon.

Simply put, what the Dolphins have to do so they can do what they want to do is bring back Chad Pennington at QB to start for the balance of this season, and draft or trade for a free agent which is known for good decision-making, and with perhaps a considerably stronger arm than Pennington (although arm strength is overrated). Many will say, this is a step back because our franchise is built on the young stud from Michigan who has the arm to get Marshall the ball. Please…There have been several instances throughout pro football history where a team thought they had the right guy, and then went in a different direction for the better (Bledsoe-Brady; Bledsoe-Romo; V.Young-Collins for a season; Carr-Schaub; Banks-Dilfer (SB-winning QB); Leinart-Warner; and most recently, Kolb-Vick (we’ll see)). I’m sure there’s a few missing from this list. The point is that the best laid plans…well, you get the picture. For this season, CP gives the Fins the best chance to win and reach the postseason, where anything is possible. He makes better decisions on the field, has a strong-enough arm to get his play-makers the ball, and is known for not losing games, which is arguably what Henne has done several times in his short career. At 2-2 the Dolphins are still in a position to win the division or qualify as a Wild Card and much will depend on how the offense performs against pressure defenses that force quick decisions. CP is the prototypical quick-decision maker. He now has a yards-after-catch demon in Marshall who can take short to intermediate, timely throws to the house. The Fins need him to put them in a position to win the game with a solid run-attack and staunch defense. This is what Miami has to do so they can do what they want to do – reach the playoffs this year. I am firmly convinced that Chad Henne is a solid backup to his mentor. This is a matter of opinion based on seeing a lot of football, and while others may have differing opinions, I presume there is a short-leash coming out of the bye week, with an eye towards change. It is time for the Dolphins’ regime to reassess its thoughts and make in-season adjustments to save a franchise from mediocrity. Dare to be great is all I ask.

That’s all for now.

by: Eric Miller – Sports / Fantasy Football Contributor
Follow Eric Miller on Twitter @footballnutsy

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Tags: Eric Miller · Sports

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 joey michelena // Oct 14, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Eric, regarding your comments on the Canes and Dolphins, i offer the following:

    First, the Canes. I disagree with your premise that many didn`t feel as though the “U” were
    ready to compete for a BCS title. I, for one,looked forward to this year with hopes that the Canes would be IN the title game. Due to the very fruitful recruiting class they had the prior 2 years vis-a-vis the other top schools in Florida and the rest of the nation. The season thus far had been encapsulated by a motionless head coach who often uses double negatives and fails to conjugate verbs properly. Randy`s coaching style is akin to a 99 year old Alzheimer patient at the local nursing home. I guess he was had on the cheap. When, if you recall, Rick Leach was
    available, Donna Shalayla balked at his services at the more affordable ex-Norland High grad.
    So, yes, the Canes have more talent than any team in the nation but it isn`t being channeled properly. Jacory, with good protection, is a lolly-pop passer, much like Danny Wuerfell was at UF.
    His zip on passes is non-existent and his ability to run, curtailed by his diminutive form. All told,the Canes have been a disgrace up to this point. I have never seen an FSU team dominate a UM team like we witnessed a week ago. Unless of course, now, it`s acceptable…..but only if the Canes want to seperate itself from the gangsta-thug image they portrayed under the JJ/Erickson era. In closing, the canes will win out with a cupcake schedule remaining and play a mediocre team in a mediocre bowl game, and all of the critics will be silenced because the status-quo has been met, not exceeded for a once rich franchise;the “U”.

  • 2 joey michelena // Oct 14, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Eric, now on to the PHINS……..

    I firmly believe the Dolphins are much better than you give credit. At the QB position, Henne is as good as Sanchez and Flacco;of couse without the weapons. Marshall, at WR is clearly the game

  • 3 joey michelena // Oct 14, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Marshall is the game`s best and Jake is a goliath at guard. So, much like the canes, the Phins need a Cowher-like guy to run things. As far as Chad Pennington replacing Henne……I say, that would be going severely backwards. Lest you forget the playoff game during the 11-5 season 2 years ago? When Pennington was made to look ridiculous against the Raven D. Do you want to witness that again ? At the very least, Henne gives you a legitamite NFL arm with growth potential. Whereas Chad P. is a glorified version of Jay Fiedler on the roof. By no means am i saying that CP can`t win for the Phins….Heck, he can probably win a couple for the Bills. He manages the game well but never will give you a chance to get passed the first round of the playoffs. Eric, i ask you, how many more 3 yard outs to Devonn Bess do you want to see and how many 2 yard dump-offs to ronnie Brown can you endure. Watching the Dolphins offense
    gives me hope one day that I can be an offensive coordinator. Dinking and Dunking, no creativity, and you want Chad back ? C`mon Man !! You can`t be serious !!

  • 4 Eric // Oct 15, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Oh wise Jai-Alai man: I never said expectations were short on Canes; on contrary, many thought their failures to date were surprisingly disappointing. As for Fins, why does everyone short-change the older Chad based on painful memories of a playoff game where his best wr option was Ginny pig? Give him Marshall n Best and watch us score 10 points more per game while cutting down on gifts to opposing Ds.

  • 5 Eric // Oct 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I meant Bess of course.

  • 6 joey michelena // Oct 15, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Mr. Miller, that “ginny pig,” of whom you speak,
    will become an all-pro under coach Singletary. And, if you recall, Ginn single handedly beat the future super bowl champion-Jets, with 2 kick returns for Td`s.
    Never forget coach Cameron`s lingering words
    at the Dolphin post draft party, and i quote…..
    “ted Ginn is a miami dolphin, today the miami dolphins drafted the Ted Ginn family.”

    Ginn was underutilized and miscoached, hence the need for a new, competent regime. Not a man who wears table cloths and sun glasses when it`s pitch dark outside. Oh, and the Tuna, well, he`s been spotted at victorias secret checking out the latest bras.

    Now, the picks:

    ravens 20 pats 10- randy, where are you??
    dolphins 23 pack 17- b. marshal 12-179yds.
    gators 34 miss. st.3- will run for 275 yds.
    canes 54 duke 3- jacory throws 4 tds
    iowa 21 mich. 13- iowa total off >500 yds
    ohio st. 22 wisc 21- last second fg wins it….

  • 7 Eric // Oct 16, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Hey Joey-Mich, could u be my long-lost buddy Greg: pawn to King-Bishop 4?

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