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  Size Matters
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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 I don’t like to get overly absorbed with who-beat-who and who-pancaked-who in early training camp sessions. After 30 seasons of following these things, I’ve found that drawing hard conclusions in early August is a fool’s errand; in other words, a general waste of time.


This is especially true with Tony Sparano’s players. As we learned last season, things are not always what they initially seem. The depth chart will change often, casting those currently running with the first team to the third team and vice versa, all the while moving players from comfortable tasks to uncomfortable ones to challenge their mental grasp of the game. Sparano clearly loves to create adversity for his players; he does this to get a better feel for who he can trust in live game situations.


This is a reason why I prefer to look for broad themes and general observations early on. The guys who can play generally tend to identify themselves over time.


Let’s start with size. We’ve heard a lot about how Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Sparano like big players. Last year we began to see evidence of this, headlined by OT Jake Long and DEs Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford.


This training camp, we are reminded not to think just about the offensive and defensive fronts. Yes, both areas are indeed bigger. Instead, think about the wide receiver and tight end positions. Collectively, this may be the tallest corps of pass receivers in team history.


Before adding rookie Patrick Turner (6-5) in the draft, the Dolphins had stockpiled Brandon London (6-4), Anthony Fasano (6-4), Ernest Wilford (6-4), and Joey Haynos (6-8). David Martin (6-4) was already on the roster.


Why all the height? Match-ups, people. Match-ups!


Do you know who the tallest projected starter at defensive back in the AFC East is, outside of the Dolphin roster? It’s Jets safety Kerry Rhodes (6-3, 214). No other projected starter checks in at better than 6-1. The others will be giving up 4-6 inches to these Dolphin pass catchers on every snap.


As Scotty of Star Trek fame might say, “Ye cannot change the laws of physics”.


Let me put this in more practical, football terms. Post and corner pass routes, for example, are run at angles that give receivers a decided advantage when a pass is thrown to the inside (post route) or outside (corner route) shoulder. The bigger the height differential between receiver and defender, the bigger the advantage. Now, factor in a hyper-accurate quarterback like Chad Pennington, and you get a sense of what Dan Marino meant when he said there’s no defense against the perfect pass.


If opposing defenses try to double up to counter the height issue to one side or the other, quick and/or fast guys like Ted Ginn, Greg Camarillo, and Davone Bess will get open and can do damage.


Judging by the personnel combos we’ve seen thus far in the OTAs and early in camp, the Dolphins are planning to put this size advantage to more extensive use.


Said Sparano, “This big receiver thing right now is kind of all over the place in this league…some big, physical guys out there that can really run. >From our end, we have a couple of these big receivers with (Patrick) Turner, (Brandon) London and even (Brian) Hartline is a little bit of a bigger guy.”


“You have to be cautious of big receivers”, Sparano continued. “Are they all guys that do the same thing? But one of the things I do like is that this team needs to improve in the red (zone). I think the big receivers in the red (zone) are going to be critical.”


“Another area where this team needs to improve on, offensively, is third down conversions”, Sparano noted. “I think when you have big people out there that can body up some third down plays, do some of those things, that is going to help you. So I see a need for big receivers; bigger, physical guys.” 


Note that Parcells and friends have been liberally pouring out the growth tonic in the secondary as well. Before their arrival, the tallest DB on the team was Jason Allen (6-1). Now? Every starter except CB Will Allen could be 6-0 or better. And the tallest, 6-3 CB Sean Smith, is as big as the Jets’ Rhodes (a safety).


In the past, a guy like Randy Moss (6-4) was a huge red zone mismatch against the Dolphins…one-on-one, or in creating seams for others. Let’s see if that continues this year.


“Everyone is looking for the same thing we were looking for in the draft…big corners”, explained Sparano. “So you are starting to see big, physical corners against small receivers. That isn’t a square deal all the time either. So you want the bigger guys to be able to help you out”.


Progression is next: How did guys progress from Year One to Year Two, and from Year Two to Year Three from a physical and mental perspective? I tend to pay a lot of attention to these players early in camp.


This is a reason why I find the Shawn Murphy situation so interesting. Sparano claims that the starting right guard job is his to lose, which to me is the shocker of camp thus far. Why is Sparano so bullish on Murphy?


“I have seen a lot of improvement from Murphy”, said Sparano. “I thought in the spring…if you said to me give me two to three players that probably improved the most in the spring, I think Murphy was one of those two to three players. I was impressed with what he did in the spring. Impressed as you could be with what a lineman does in helmets and T-shirts”.


Whether Murphy can fend off Donald Thomas remains to be seen. Then again, Thomas is another one of those Year One to Year Two guys.


QB Chad Henne is another one of these growth players. There no question that he is much more comfortable with the playbook and in reading defenses. He’s much smoother and confident in what he is doing, and his physical conditioning looks to be improved as well. The Dolphins are right; this is a guy clearly on the upswing. The next step for him is to translate it from the practice field into a preseason game.


That being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pennington looks to be improved as well. He has full command of the Dolphin playbook now. Just as importantly, however, was that he enjoyed a full and healthy offseason of physical training. It’s only the second time in his career that he has done so, and it was huge.


“It is nice being healthy and feeling normal”, said Pennington. “Not having to come into the training room and going through all the rehab things. I can train with the people I love training with as far as a trainer back home and all different people (and) being able to access the guys in the strength and conditioning program as well as our training staff. Not (having to) do the simple basic stuff of shoulder rehab. I can get into the meat and potatoes of it where I can make some big time strides”.


That’s Pennington-speak for ‘I’m bigger and stronger than I was last year’.


Pennington may very well be in the prime of his career, right now, and he’ll be surrounded by players who are more confident than ever. Could this be his best season ever?


Maybe. He has a chance.


As in most years, special teams will be a good area of interest early on as hungry players try to do anything they can to make the roster. Last season, this was the most disappointing area on the team. Will the coverage teams be improved? I wish I knew. To my untrained eye, there was little evidence in the OTAs that the mindset (or talent) is improved in any way. We’ll see how they do in the scrimmages and preseason games.


Finally, I give you three names:

Ronnie Brown (6-0, 230).

Ricky Williams (5-11, 230).

Lousaka Polite (6-0, 245).


Numbers are one thing, seeing them is quite another. These three look to be in the best shape of their lives. I feel sorry for the people who will have to tackle them.


Well, not really.

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