So much in limbo, LB Mike Hull’s role on Miami Dolphins’ D is no slam-Dunkin’

Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull (45) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Dec. 11, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull (45) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Dec. 11, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2017.)

LB Mike Hull

Height, weight: 6-0, 233

College: Penn State

Age: 25

Experience: Entering third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: Re-signed as free agent

Contract: Made $525,000 last season, was tendered as an exclusive-rights free agent

Pro Football Focus rank: Unranked

In 2016

Stats: One start, 15 tackles from scrimmage, one interception

Notable moments: Made eight tackles and had one interception in first career start, vs. Arizona.

Straight talk: Just after the Dolphins had finally secured a playoff berth, Cameron Wake was reflecting on some of the reasons this season was unlike any other Dolphins season he’d been a part of.

“How many people know Mike Hull’s name?” Wake said.

Wake wasn’t saying Hull was why the Dolphins made the playoffs, only that Hull and other relative unknowns played a larger role than people thought.

Now some cynics might suggest that Wake was showing a preference to a fellow former Nittany Lion — Hull did have 294 tackles for Penn State — but the respect Hull has is evident when you talk to fellow linebacker Kiko Alonso (“That guy’s a monster”) and coach Adam Gase (“His instincts are off the charts.”)

When injuries to linebackers pressed Hull into his only starting role, he responded by intercepting a Carson Palmer pass on the sixth play of the game to set up a touchdown against Arizona. He made a career-best eight tackles.

Yet despite being a member of a badly underperforming linebacking unit, and despite the accolades, Hull has been unable to nail down a regular role on defense. Instead, his major contribution has come on special teams, where he finished second in the NFL with 18 tackles.

“If you look at the guy, you might not pick him out of the lineup at the Dunkin’ Donuts,” said Darren Rizzi, the Dolphins’ special teams coordinator and assistant head coach. “They might not know he’s an NFL player if he walked in there. But when the guy is on the field, he just makes plays.”

Rather than do a double-take at the remark, Hull seconded it.

“That’s the truth,” Hull said. “I mean, I fit in pretty well. No one really recognizes me and a lot of times that’s a good thing. That’s an accurate statement by him.”

Prospects for 2017

Hull says he loves playing special teams and knew that as an undrafted free agent, that would be his way to get his foot in the door in the NFL.

Whether Hull can squeeze his entire body through that door may be another matter. Remember, the Dolphins finished 30th in the NFL against the run, largely because of ineffectiveness of the linebackers. Alonso is back, but the team also added Pittsburgh’s Lawrence Timmons and drafted Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan.

Hull has been off and on Miami’s roster the past two years but his production on special teams could set him apart from the other young linebackers.

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Everything sounds open-ended for Miami Dolphins linebackers

Kiko Alonso could be inside or outside next season. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

PHOENIX—The Dolphins shelled out serious money to keep Kiko Alonso and bring in Lawrence Timmons, but they haven’t told any of their linebackers what position they’ll be playing in 2017.

That’s partly because they aren’t allowed to talk football with the players until the offseason program begins in mid-April, but it also appears they want to maintain total flexibility.
Continue reading “Everything sounds open-ended for Miami Dolphins linebackers”

Miami Dolphins bringing back four free agents, including two core special teamers

Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Hull intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The Miami Dolphins announced they have tendered four exclusive rights free agents.

Linebacker Mike Hull, cornerback Lafayette Pitts, center Anthony Steen and tight end Thomas Duarte have been offered one-year contracts they are expected to sign.

Exclusive rights free agents don’t have the opportunity to shop their services if offered a deal by their club.

Hull played 16 games with one start and had an interception. Hull was also one of Miami’s best special teamers, finishing second on the team with 18 tackles.

Pitts played in eight games and was a very valuable special teamer. Like Hull, Pitts was signed by Miami as an undrafted free agent and spent time on the practice squad.

Steen played in 15 games (despite lower-body injuries), including seven starts at center. Steen had never started a game at center in his football career, and held up capably at times. However, his value may be as a depth guard and emergency center.

Duarte was the only member of this group that was drafted. Duarte, a developmental receiving tight end, played in one game and spent the first eight weeks on the practice squad prior to a promotion to the active squad.

Restricted free agent tight end Dominique Jones and restricted defensive lineman Nick Williams will not be tendered, league sources told the Palm Beach Post.

2017 NFL Draft: Should Miami Dolphins consider charismatic S Jabrill Peppers?

NFL Draft 2017: Former UM DE Al-Quadin Muhammad a fascinating prospect

NFL Draft 2017: Miami Dolphins must land one of these dynamic pass-rushers

2017 Free Agents: Miami Dolphins need one of these safeties

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Von Miller wants football players to consider opponent safety; Can they?

Von Miller wants safer, more considerate football. Is that possible, or is he nuts? (Getty Images)
Von Miller wants safer, more considerate football. Is that possible, or is he nuts? (Getty Images)

DAVIE—It’d be great if there was a safe way to play football, but that doesn’t seem possible. For every bone-cracking hit that becomes a viral video, there are 10 others that hurt almost as much.

However, Broncos star Von Miller envisions a more civil NFL. He said this week he’d like to see players “take care of each other” by avoiding unnecessarily dangerous plays. He compared it to how NBA players are conscious of not taking someone out when they go to the rim.
“You know, guys can go up for a huge dunk, and you see a guy coming in and trying to defend the shot or the dunk, and he eases up a little bit,” Miller told Sports Illustrated. “He takes care of his opponent.”

The question is whether that’s even possible in a sport that’s naturally violent.
Continue reading “Von Miller wants football players to consider opponent safety; Can they?”

The tape don’t lie: Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins, a review

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93), stops Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) during NFL game Sunday December 11, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh stops Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson during a victory Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

The Miami Dolphins are 8-5. Somehow. Despite poor offensive and defensive rankings. Despite injuries to Mike Pouncey and Reshad Jones and now Ryan Tannehill. Despite a lot.

But there are reasons they’re winning, some hidden.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”

So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look. Here are some things I noticed:

  1. Matt Moore is going to put it in play with belief something good will happen. They say he’s a gunslinger. They say he’s got moxie. He says he’s rusty. Whatever. Moore showed on the final drive against Arizona that he’s going to see what he can make happen. He’s not going to play it safe. He’s going to stare in the face of an unblocked blitzer and toss it deep to Kenny Stills, to a spot, when the receiver hasn’t even made a break, with the belief his receiver will find a way to make a play. Head coach Adam Gase says he thinks it will be, well, fun, and well, interesting. And if that’s all right by him, it’s all right by me. Moore has been watching Ryan Tannehill take shots for years and hang in and deliver, so why shouldn’t he? Moore’s got nothing to lose now. The best opportunity of his career. Weapons at running back and receiver. An excellent play-caller. A team on the verge of a playoff position. So why shouldn’t he go for it? He showed Sunday, he will do just that.

    moorecardinals
    Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore will play without regard for his ribs, as the great ones do.
  2. Center Anthony Steen must get better. Fast. Because it doesn’t seem like center Mike Pouncey is getting better any time fast, already ruled out for a game at the Jets on Saturday night. Steen is not an experienced center. And Sunday, he struggled with snaps. And struggled with wet conditions against the Cardinals. Early in the game, there was a center-quarterback exchange issue that led to a fumble at Arizona’s 2-yard line. In the second quarter, Steen was beaten by a defensive tackle and Tannehill was sacked. The play was negated by a defensive holding. In the third quarter, holding by Steen negated a touchdown run by Jay Ajayi. Also in the third quarter, a bad shotgun snap was high and wide and bobbled by Tannehill. Then in the fourth quarter, Steen had a false start on a 4th-and-1 at the Arizona 36 that left Gase exasperated. Steen isn’t healthy. He wasn’t expected to be anything more than a depth player. But the Dolphins are leaning on him. And he must hold up better. tannehillsnaparizona
  3. Jarvis Landry must get paid by this franchise because he is its offensive heartbeat. Whatever it takes, Landry must get his, ideally this offseason. Because while Ajayi may be the engine of the Dolphins’ offense, Landry is the high-octane gasoline. Without Landry, they go nowhere. In the second quarter, Landry leaped over a defender on a 17-yard punt return, once again displaying his athleticism and fearlessness. Landry wants to return these punts, despite his star status, and because he is so trusted, he’s going to get the trusted opportunities with playoffs on the line. At the start of the third quarter, another indication of why Gase constantly says he must keep Landry engaged from start to finish (and Ajayi must get more carries, as well). Pure determination. Relentless effort. On a 3rd-and-7, Landry catches the ball at Miami’s 30 and is three yards short of the marker. But he breaks away from one tackler, spins around and then breaks away from yet another defender, who is wrapped around his back, before breaking away for 71 yards. An incredible play. The type of play that leads a casual observer to understand what a special caliber of talent Landry is.

    landrytacklescardinals
    It appears the man in red is going to tackle Jarvis Landry. But as is so often the case… psyche.
  4. Ndamukong Suh is nasty and mean and unforgiving and that’s good. Suh just don’t give a damn. Well, he does care about destroying opposing centers and guards and sometimes tackles. And tossing quarterbacks to the ground. And throwing running backs to the ground like ragdolls. And talking trash to the guard he just embarrased (as he did on Sunday). Suh often walks around the Dolphins’ locker room exuding a dismissive attitude. And he plays on Sundays like he’s pissed. And that part’s OK. That’s good, actually. I mean, from a football perspective, his nastiness is a positive trait. In the second quarter on Sunday, Suh mauled a right guard and tossed talented David Johnson in a way that makes one believe the aqua and orange men can play tough and angry and physical. So if Suh needs to convince himself the world is out to get him, whatever. He should, still, be celebrated for his ability to destroy opposing linemen.

    suhtacklearizona
    Sometimes, Ndamukong Suh is unapproachable, surly and dismissive. On that field, that’s all good.
  5. Walt Aikens — that’s A-I-K-E-N-S — had a hell of a game on special teams. It’s not often that the downing of a punt can be celebrated like a Cameron Wake sack or Ndamukong Suh tackle for loss, but this one by Aikens in the fourth quarter was an awesome display of athleticism and reflexes. Aikens downs the ball at the opposing 1-yard line, and his arm is fully extended as the ball is quickly drifting away from him. A real thing of beauty. Of course, shortly thereafter, Aikens picked up a Jordan Phillips blocked extra point and scooted down the left sideline for a critical 2-point score. Aikens, Michael Thomas, Mike Hull, Neville Hewitt, Spencer Paysinger, MarQuies Gray, Kenyan Drake, Lafayette Pitts and more, this is a heck of a special teams unit. Miami’s special teams hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been an overall net-plus this season. And Aikens is one of the main reasons why.

    aikensarizona
    Miami Dolphins safety Walt Aikens says, “Stop, ball.” And it does.
  6. EXTRA POINTS. It appeared that a two-week suspension for Jason Jones was actually more timely than untimely as he played with speed and enthusiasm, drilling Carson Palmer as he threw to help create an interception by Bacarri Rambo… Let’s have some more Jay Ajayi, yes, but also please more Kenyan Drake and always, always, more Damien Williams. Miami’s three running backs create one of the most talented, versatile stables in the NFL… Mike Hull showed outstanding effort, as expected, in his first start at middle linebacker. On Arizona’s first drive, he snagged an interception. A few times, it did seem Hull’s lack of size was exposed. On one play in the second quarter, a giant Cardinals’ offensive lineman seemed to eclipse him and lock him up as he tried desperately to shed a block and help corral David Johnson. But later, when Hull was being moved back from the line of scrimmage, he still found a way to help finish off Johnson by never giving up on the play. Good and bad day for Hull… Andre Branch is going to get paid by somebody this offseason. Somebody is going to have to decide how much of Branch’s emergence is opportunity (which he is spectacularly capitalizing on) and how much is the, you know, contract-season motivation… Cameron Wake “DallasThomasBillyTurner’d” the Cardinals’ tackle Ulrick John (not John Ulrick) who, I assume, had a few tough bouts with Wake in past Dolphins’ practices. Wake, the 34-year-old phenom, put John (not Ulrick) on skates throughout a third-quarter bull rush. It was so bad I thought Adam Gase might cut him after the game.
    wakejohnarizona
    This is what Cameron Wake does to people. Including a guy named Ulrick John. (Not John Ulrick).
    branchstriparizona
    Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch had 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 pass defended Sunday.

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Hamstring, not thumb, bigger concern for Miami Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso

Linebacker Kiko Alonso (47) tackles Ravens running back Terrance West. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Linebacker Kiko Alonso (47) tackles Ravens running back Terrance West. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Maybe it says something about his pain tolerance.

Maybe it says something about how serious his hamstring issue is.

But for whatever reason, Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso has a bigger concern with his sore hamstring than his right thumb, which was surgically repaired Monday.

“The thumb is what it is as far as playing with a cast,” coach Adam Gase said Wednesday, momentarily downplaying that and pointing to the hamstring issue. “That’s the one part that’s a little up in the air for us right now. We just want to make sure that he is as close to — he’s not going to be 100 percent — but as close to being healthy as he can be by game time.”

Alonso did not practice Wednesday but rode a stationary bike. He’s by far the Dolphins’ leading tackler and would be missed Sunday when Miami faces the Arizona Cardinals and running back David Johnson, who’s third in the NFL with 1,005 yards.

If Alonso is to play with the thumb in a cast, his tackling ability would be affected, Gase said.

“The good thing is he’s not in a club, so he can at least kind of grab,” Gase said, contrasting the situation to when linebacker Jelani Jenkins tried to play with a hand completely covered. “With him having fingers exposed, at least he has a chance when he tackles. He can grab cloth.”

If Alonso cannot go, he would be replaced by second-year man Mike Hull, who made four tackles off the bench against Baltimore last Sunday. It was a career high for Hull, who is tied for the NFL lead with 15 tackles on special teams but has been sparingly used on defense.

“I don’t like at it as added pressure,” Hull said. “This is what we’re paid to do. This is why I’m here right now, for this opportunity, to make the most of it and to prove I belong.”

He may not have to prove much to Gase, who praised Hull’s play off the bench against the Ravens.

“He showed up for sure,” Gase said. “That was something that was obvious probably to anybody that was watching the game. His instincts are off the charts. You see how quickly he reacts compared to everybody else. For whatever reason he has that ability. Everybody’s going one way, he’s going the other way, and he’s usually right. You just watch him play, it’s very impressive.”

Johnson is 6-feet-1, 224 pounds and averages 4.4 yards per carry. He has rushed for 11 touchdowns but also ranks second on the Cardinals with 64 receptions for 704 yards and four more TDs. He leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Hull said. “He’s one of the best backs right now in the NFL, so we’ve got to do a good job shutting him down. It’s going to start up front with the front seven.”

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Should these Dolphins stay or go in 2016? (Linebackers)

The Dolphins have major decisions to make with impending free agents and players who might be too costly to keep. Here’s a look at every player who finished the season on the 53-man roster (or injured reserve or the suspension list) with beat writer Andrew Abramson’s prediction for whether or not he will remain on the team in 2016.

You get to make your predictions, too!

Vote: Should these Miami Dolphins stay or should they go in 2016?

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