The Maturation of Cam

After a 15-17 record his first two seasons, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin enters Year 3 knowing that breaking .500 is paramount to keeping his job. (Alan Diaz/AP)
After a 15-17 record his first two seasons, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin enters Year 3 knowing that breaking .500 is paramount to keeping his job. (Alan Diaz/AP)

Miami Dolphins
Davie, Fla.
A different Joe Philbin

Five minutes into a talk with Miami coach Joe Philbin here at Dolphins camp Friday morning, I hadn’t noticed any nervous tics or 10-year-aging wrinkles from last year’s Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin/Ted Wells season. But this did pique my interest:

“This camp,” Philbin said, “I’m doing every bed check. Every night. I knock on every door.”

How many doors? Sixty. At 10:30 p.m. nightly, Philbin knocks—ranking vets have singles, younger players have roommates—and checks. Some players, like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, are zonked (“I’ve been asleep every time he’s come in the room”), but some, like defensive end Cameron Wake, engage Philbin in a daily Q&A about practice, or a current event. “You guys okay?” Philbin will ask, or “Ready for practice in the morning?” Or “Anything we need to discuss?”

“It’s very welcome,” Wake said.

“That,” said Tannehill, “was a big shock to a lot of guys.”

“I think I’ve been more vigilant,” Philbin told me in his office Friday before the team’s 8 a.m. practice. “I am trying to do a better job communicating with players and staff. Since [the start of the offseason program] April 21, I’ve probably had every player on the team sitting on that couch you’re sitting on right now, and we just talk. About everything. I’ll ask, ‘What do you love most about being a Dolphin?’ Or, ‘Tell me one thing we could do, anything, either on the field or off, that we can do to be better as a team or an organization?’ Or, ‘Tell me one way you think you’ll be a better player this year.’

“Maybe with the players I was a little—I don’t want to say aloof, but maybe not as approachable as I should have been. They looked at this office as the principal’s office. I want them to know they can talk to me anytime, about anything. I want the players to know I have an open-door mentality.”

MIAMI CAMP REPORT: Peter King on the Dolphins’ new way to bond

Philbin’s been called Clueless Joe for not knowing what was going on in his locker room and, in some cases, on the practice field as guard Jonathan Martin was getting hazed into a near-breakdown by a Richie Incognito-led group of tormentors. But the owner, Stephen Ross, didn’t fire him after a disappointing 8-8 season. Disappointing for many reasons. The Incognito scandal, of course. But also the way the team finished. At 8-6 with a shot to earn a wild-card berth, Miami laid two straight eggs, losing by a combined 39-7 to the other Patriot-chasers in the AFC East, the Bills and Jets, to close the season. Philbin (15-17 in two seasons) stayed. His close friend and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was sacrificed to the football-firing gods, with Bill Lazor coming from Philadelphia to install a new downfield-passing offense that will be a challenge to master, particularly with an offensive line of total newbies.

Philbin told me a coach can’t be expected to know everything that goes on away from the facility. “Some of the smoking guns were way back in March, when the players were away,” he said. But he knows he won’t be the coach of this team for long if he doesn’t corral the locker room and build better relationships with players. That’s what this off-season was about, and what this camp is about too.

With the players I was maybe not as approachable as I should have been,” Philbin said. “They looked at this office as the principal’s office. I want them to know they can talk to me anytime, about anything.

But say one thing for Philbin: If he was a terrible coach, with no control of his team, Miami wouldn’t have gone 5-2 in the first seven games after the Martin affair exploded and threatened to rip the team apart. “The general consensus in the media world is that it was much more of an issue, event or distraction than it was among us,” Wake said Friday. “We’re programmed to move on as football players, and that’s pretty much what we did. We played. It was funny kind of hearing months later about it, because it’s like, Oh, you’re still thinking about that? Because we moved on.”

I asked Wake what kind of coach Philbin was to play for and relate to. “He’s probably one of the most interested coaches I’ve had as far as what you think or how you feel about certain things. Some coaches are like, It’s a dictatorship—this is how we’re gonna do things. Take it or leave it. He’s like, Well, we’re thinking about doing this schedule. What do the vets think about it? What would make you feel more prepared for the game or for practice? Having the input from the players to kind of organize or get the logistics to a lot of different things—not only does it actually help us as far as recovery and translating to getting your plays down, it also gives you a different sense of ownership. This is our program. This is our team. All of us are working to keep it together, versus the general standing on top of the steps and barking out orders.”

Example: The players asked Philbin for music during practices, instead of the old white-noise crowd noise that most teams blast when trying to practice communicating in a loud environment. On Friday, the music—a rap/salsa/pop/oldies mixture—played for maybe 70 percent of practice.

Playing behind a new offensive line is one of the challenges facing Ryan Tannehill as he enters his third season. (Alan Diaz/AP)
Playing behind a new offensive line is one of the challenges facing Ryan Tannehill as he enters his third season. (Alan Diaz/AP)

Philbin also relaxed the dress code for walkthrough practices, and he’s thinking about doing a more player-friendly practice schedule, according to Wake.

We’ll see if it works—or if it even matters. As with so many teams in this league, it comes down to the quarterback. The Dolphins need Tannehill to digest the offense and make it work behind a bunch of offensive linemen who’ve known each other for about 15 minutes. Left to right, the five starters will be new faces on opening day. “Huge changes on offense, and I love it,” Tannehill said. “We’re going to be pushing the ball downfield, spreading the ball and spreading the field, sideline to sideline, playing fast.”

Speaking of fast, Tannehill said the learning curve “has to be fast for the line. We haven’t found the five that it’s going to be at this point.”

On Saturday, the Dolphins picked up their former center, smallish Samson Satele, off the street, trying to find depth for the interior line, which has struggled in even the basics. The centers in camp have been adventurous, let’s just say, with something as simple as the shotgun snap. One flew over Tannehill’s head in practice Friday.

So there are other problems here. If Philbin can solve them and win more than he loses, he’ll deserve an extension. If he doesn’t, and Miami has its sixth straight non-winning season, Philbin’s job will be very much in danger. Oh, and Miami plays 2013 playoff teams New England, Kansas City and San Diego in the first five weeks. Study hard, Mr. Tannehill.

* * *

Atlanta Falcons
Flowery Branch, Ga.
I can’t believe what I am seeing.

Every year when I go on my training-camp trip, there are things I see and players in different uniforms and coaches in odd places that I just didn’t expect. In my first 12 stops I was stopped in my tracks only once: when I saw Devin Hester wearing a strange number, 17, and the red jersey of the Atlanta Falcons.

I always figured that Hester, who played eight years for the Chicago Bears, would one day join Butkus, Luckman, Halas, Sayers and so many legendary Monsters of the Midway, guys who played or coached their entire careers in Chicago and went to Canton with the full-throated support of rabid Bears fans. Now, I am not automatically putting Hester in. He’s 31, and he is tied with Deion for most return touchdowns (19) in NFL history. But I’ve learned never to assume anything in Hall voting. Hester’s an electric ball of fire. But that guarantees nothing. I would just say that if a returner from this era gets in, it’s got to be Hester.

I think I’ve done things that have never been done,” Hester said. “I think I’m the best returner who has ever played the game of football.

He may well end up in Canton as the best kick-and-punt returner in history (he’s not there yet, but he’s close), but now he’ll have to have a second act to ensure that. He’ll have to do it in Atlanta, where the return game has stunk and where he has signed a three-year, $9-million contract contract to rejuvenate Falcons special teams (he had a 14.2-yard punt-return average last year, and a 27.6-yard kick-return average, both very good), and to be a field-stretcher as a fourth or fifth receiver for Matt Ryan.

“Are you shocked it came to this?” I asked Hester after practice the other day.

Devin Hester's next kick or punt return for a touchdown will break the all-time NFL record. (Jason Getz/AP)
Devin Hester’s next kick or punt return for a touchdown will break the all-time NFL record. (Jason Getz/AP)

“I am,” he said. “It’s shocking. I still think about it. But I wanted to go somewhere I was wanted. I knew that I was not finished, and Atlanta really wanted me. So even though it feels strange, I’m really happy to be in a place that wants me and that is going to use me.”

It’s understandable that the nine-year vet, a speed player, would be seen as a guy who doesn’t have much left. But if you can stomach paying decent money for a guy who may be only an impact player in the return game, there’s a good chance you’ll get your money’s worth in five or six big plays this year.

“The thing that people don’t understand,” said wide receiver Julio Jones, “is that for us, he’s not just going to be a returner. We’ve seen it out here. He can help us as a receiver, and he is helping us.”

Added the other top Atlanta wideout, Roddy White: “What Devin is going to do for us is exercise the field.” Exercise the field? “Make the defense cover every corner of the field,” White explained.

Hester knows that his role primarily is to be the kick- and punt-returner, and whatever happens in the passing game happens. I was more interested in his future.

“If you don’t play another snap, are you a Hall of Famer?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I think I am. I think I’ve done enough. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done stat-wise. I think I’ve done things that have never been done. I think I’m the best returner who has ever played the game of football. But if I don’t get [into the Hall of Fame], it wouldn’t be disappointing to me. I know, the guys I played against know. The rest is out of my hands.”

I’m a voter. I think Hester, in this era of football, has been a singular returner. In an era of such great athletes who have played this game, I think Hester has a superb case.

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183 comments
Fballguy
Fballguy

Speaking of the HOF...What's with the Charles Haley love fest?  What makes his HOF credentials so great? 


Kevin Greene doesn't get nearly the love and his accomplishments dwarf Haley's.  Their careers virtually over lap, both retiring in 99.  Greene was a rookie in 1985 and Haley 1986.  Both are 5 time Pro Bowlers and 2 time first team all pros.  The big difference...Greene was good longer.  Green had 10 seasons of double digit sacks.  Haley 6.  Green had 14 or more sacks in a season five times.  Haley?  Once.  


By the time Haley turned 32, he was a shell of his former self, not having more than 3 sacks in a season for the rest of his career. Greene had 12 sacks his final season at the age of 37 and 15 the season before that.  He had double digit sacks in each of his final 4 seasons....and nearly his final 8 seasons except for 1995 when he only had 9.


Haley was lucky to play on really good teams.  Why does that make him more HOF worthy.  Don't get it at all. 

Fballguy
Fballguy

Devin Hester is a great return man.  One of the best of all time if not the best.  But, I think he's going to have to wait quite a while for the Hall call.  I can think of many more deserving players still on the outside looking in. 

Fballguy
Fballguy

One last thing on Hard Knocks.  Poor Ryan Schraeder #73 of the Falcons.  He unloaded a flurry of punches to the head of #45 Jacques Smith and Smith barely noticed.  I haven't seen such a vicious attack since Ruth Buzzi purse whacked Arte Johnson on Laugh In.

Fballguy
Fballguy

Could they have picked a more boring team for Hard Knocks than the Falcons?  Episode 1 seemed more stiff and rehearsed than any other.  Almost like people were given a script to follow.  If it's any indication of what's to come, this season is not going to be one of the best.  I didn't sense much reality. 

Fballguy
Fballguy

If you read between the lines, you'll notice Peter isn't fawning all over Newton in his story like he usually does for players he really is impressed with.  The matter of fact tone speaks volumes to me.  Or maybe Peter just thinks Newton is still the pouty baby we saw in the press conferences and wants to be as non-offensive as possible here.  Either way...I don't come away too impressed.

Whodunittt
Whodunittt

How can Scam Newton possibly be characterized as mature when his photo shows him donning woman's panties on his head.

BillPetrello
BillPetrello

Peter, I went right to the comment section to say: "I'm done reading your articles."  From your support of Ray Rice to your crazy rant about the Redskins, I am done.  Heck there are better blogs from men AND women about their reactions to football...Bye.

ianlinross
ianlinross

Maybe Cam Newton can present at next year's rookie symposium?

Step One: ditch the entourage.

McBeef88
McBeef88

The Maturation of Cam. Really Peter? The "blanch" part of your Tweet was what was immature, as it did not let Cam's words speak for themselves. Reporting on your private meeting with Cam in the first place and, worse yet, referencing the discussion in your column as "The Maturation of Cam" is as bad as your tweet. Your paternalistic commentaries are fine (I enjoy your approach to reporting), but it pains me to see you sensationalize. And you are not owning up to any of this. I lost a lot of respect for you here Peter. 

dr_morris
dr_morris

Regarding No 7: Jonathan Baldwin had zero chance of making the 49ers this season and by releasing him early in camp, perhaps they were giving him an opportunity to catch on with another club. L'Damian Washington is just another warm body to suit up in the preseason games with zero chance of making the club as well. 

dawnsblood
dawnsblood

No thanks. If more room can be found in the Hall each year then it should be filled with players and coaches. Put more folks in that made a difference on game day. Not folks that made a difference on the bottom line. 


In short, people that made the game exciting not people that made the NFL rich.

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

This is the problem with Peter King's reportage---when he made his snide little presumptuous commentary 3 years ago, he missed out on the fact that in order to truly be a sporting icon, YOU HAVE TO BE A GREAT PLAYER. No one has ever been a credible & lasting sporting icon who was 1)a crap player 2)out of the league because he was a crap player. King's hypothesis that wanting to be an icon was a bad thing was *ludicrous*. I'm beginning to think King & his "NFL higher-up" cronies have all the deep-thinking ability of a snail.

ptsportsfrisco
ptsportsfrisco

Why is it okay for black players to care and support, SPECIFICALLY, black kids?

Then tell me, if a white player said the same thing about SPECIFICALLY supporting white kids, is that equal in terms of racist?



MichaelHeck
MichaelHeck

I struggle with judging a book by its cover…Joe Philbin….I'm rarely inspired by his words and even less by his coaching. If he, somehow, succeeds this year and receives an extension I will still be surprised. Then again, my confidence in Mr. Ross ran its course long ago. While I appreciate Philbin's renewed attention to his players, I think he is a fish out of water. 


I look forward to him reading a spirited response off a card in the locker room after a victory. Oh, those aren't his words, they are Dawn Aponte's! 

MargoLane77
MargoLane77

RE: Politico; MMQB Articles we didn't read: "The Maturation of Cam"

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Almost everyone experiences a "maturation" process and Camster's no exception. A "coming of age?" That's not for everyone.


Kaep Krusader led 49ers offense in two big playoff wins versus talented GB squads, building his reputation largely on run skill. But in his biggest games, SB47 & NFCT'14, when called on to apply his judgment capabilities & passer proficiency, he fired blanks. Until Newton, w/ Rivera's input, matures in the pocket and cuts back on scamper (NFCD'14 v SF: 10 runs (54y), 16-25 (1-2), L 23-10), he won't learn the skills necessary to rise to elite level and lead his teams to victory in the most challenging of circumstances where his feet cannot do the talking (See; Wilson). Pro QB 301.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

plus i wish all these teams would get over spy-gate, hey philly, the reason why you lost was of mcnabb and reid especially on that final drive when they were taking too much time

6marK6
6marK6

Carolina should be dangerous this year. Wow, a quarterback other than Johnny Mazniel getting attention on SI, what is up?

Ciscos
Ciscos

I'm waiting to see how mature Cam is going to be after that first game when the impact of not having any receivers is going to be painfully obvious.

drudown
drudown

@Whodunittt


Another voice heard from the closet Bigot (pun intended) minority in the melting pot of America, whining, it seems, over African-Americans in every imaginable manner (see, e.g., "Tiger not being completely truthful about his affairs tends to 'open the door' on PED use") but never once criticizing our ELECTED OFFICIALS in Congress that have HARMED the People by deliberate inaction under the auspices of (drumroll, please) trying to "obstruct" the progress of the first African-American President. If I thought these faux persons online were any "realer" than the "paid for" partisan charade in D.C., I would touch upon race in America. But here it is just Dark Money polluting the Media, our Free Speech, access to the Courts and system of governance. But please. "Scam" Newton is what we should care about, huh?

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@ptsportsfrisco It was a fair question and thoughtful response by "blynder." Such an exchange is not the norm today on the cmt-lines. I haven't been given authority as such, but I'm gonna' do it anyway. You both, jointly, get the #1 slot in today's 'Comment Power Rankings.' Peace.

blynder
blynder

@ptsportsfrisco

Because as a general rule, white kids are not struggling, don't have the historical oppression (you know like Jim Crow Laws and such) and our Black and Latino youth grow up with less prospects than white youth.  That is not about individuals (everybody loves the Harlem to Harvard story) but using broad strokes, looking at how large groups of people are doing in comparison to one another. It's also important to talk about the difference between race and class - sometimes they get mixed up.  If we were talking about pure numbers - there are more poor whites than other races; but in terms of relationship to the percentage of the specific population, the percentages are skewed.  


Hope that clarifies.

Wombat
Wombat

@Occam's_Shaving_Cream It's a local version of chili... very finely ground meat, different spices, (heard there's even chocolate and cinnamon in it), and it's intended for use on hot dogs or over spaghetti. It's definitely an acquired taste.

Mike26
Mike26

@KeysSteven Wilson is much more of a game manager with a strong running game and good defense than Kaep/Newton are - especially Newton, who's always had few weapons and until last year, an average defense.

09nikman09
09nikman09

@KeysSteven you're 100% correct. I think if Cam gains more experience in a pro-style system (Shula is phasing out the read option), he can adopt a Luck/Big Ben style of play.


The game vs 49ers, Cam had to run so much because of the lack of offensive talent. Pass protection and run blocking/run game were simply shut down that game. Smith got hurt, and the WRs couldn't gain separation once they doubled Olsen in the 2nd half. Cam actually passed well, going off the eye test, in the 1st half.

blynder
blynder

@KeysSteven

Well P.Manning's skill set didn't fare well against the Seahawks defense last year either! :)  And to be fair, C.Kaeperneck (may have spelled that wrong) was about 6 to 8 inches from winning that game with a pocket pass.  

number18
number18

@Ciscos Don't worry--LiL pete will give you an excuse to use.

Jake_Stevens23
Jake_Stevens23

You know we ranked 29th in passing last year, right? Our new receivers don't have to replace much, and they're a better overall group anyways. If anything our passing will improve quite a bit. Our only glaring weakness is at LT.

Montana-mountainman
Montana-mountainman

@ProfessorGriff @ptsportsfrisco why are you labelling him an "angry white guy" he is asking a legitimate question. There are plenty of poor children in rural areas where are I live that attend underfunded schools and participate in underfunded football programs, who happen to be predominantly white.

Mike26
Mike26

@KeysSteven  You're correct, but nothing could possibly come ahead of MLJ's words - everything he says astounds and educates.  But blynder's is certainly well-done too.  

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@KeysSteven @ptsportsfrisco  It wasn't an entirely fair question.  What it was is the kind of question that can only be asked by someone who lives in a bubble and hasn't bothered to educate himself about the history and culture of this country.


Turning a blind eye to reality is never a good idea.  Is it unkind to point that out?  Maybe so, but that's just too bad.

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

@Mike26 @KeysSteven Kaep has a pretty good defense as well. I think wilson is much more than a game manager. He makes plays when they are needed to be made. And he played the entire season without his number 1 WR and half the year without his number 2.  Its not like the seahawks are loaded with weapons in the passing game.

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@blynder @KeysSteven Yes, Kaep did come awful close "in his biggest games." Credit where credit's due. And it was Peyton's third SB, among other accolades. A good comparison, career time-line wise, might be Colin vs. pocket passer like A. Dalton. I wouldn't be surprised if 51% chose CK if given the choice. You can guess who I'd tab, in fact, you could book it.

blynder
blynder

@Jake_Stevens23

Blind side?  That's a big weakness, the good thing for C.Newton is his running ability - I wonder how that will impact his "further maturation" as I think he needs to further develop his pocket passing & decision making (only comes with experience right?) and if he's looking over that shoulder...

67raiders
67raiders

@MoeLarryAndJesus @KeysSteven @ptsportsfrisco  Not everyone who IS aware of the history and culture of this country believes that racism flows only one way. The point is totally true that if a white guy set up a "poor white kids" program, it would be ostracized. MLKJr, longed for the day people would be recognized for the content of their character, not skin color. Seems to me he would resent focus on helping blacks because they are black. Period. Hold a camp for or donate to kids in poor neighborhoods, cities, cow-towns the bayou, or elsewhere, but LOSE the racist focus. Poor, as rich and talent and character is COLOR BLIND.


By the MLJ, thanks for turning what was intended to steer the commentary towards civility into an insult-throwing affair. Stay classy. But I do agree, turning a blind eye towards reality is never a good idea. Just ironic that you posted it.


And just to be fair... I don't think that Cam Newton said he's specifically into helping black kids, thought it said "under-resourced". Too lazy to go back to look, and it's the principle that matters anyways!

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

@67raiders @MoeLarryAndJesus @KeysSteven @ptsportsfrisco Newton just said he wanted to help kids like him. He never mentioned race. But if people can and are hurt specifically because there race in cases like the drug war why cant someone help because of their race? MLK's words go both ways. We are not in a time when people are judged exclusively for their character. Lets not pretend we are.

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