DAVIE — Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick just three years ago and he’s only 25, but there’s a sense that he’s already running out of time.
The NFL is turbulent, and things change quickly. Anthony was one of the most promising rookies in the league for the Saints, then found himself shipped to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick last year and is fighting for a job this offseason. He’s battling a rookie, among others, for one of Miami’s starting linebacker spots and he knows it’s a critical point in his career.
“Before I can do anything else,” Anthony said, “I have to become a starter.”
That’s a key step toward righting his career, and he’s in a good position to do it.
Anthony said he’s been taking snaps with the first- and second-team defense during Organized Team Activities.
He’s slightly leaner than last year, checking in at 6-foot-3 and somewhere between 235 and 240 pounds (as opposed to 245), but the most important thing is he’s far more familiar the Dolphins’ scheme than when he arrived.
Miami needed a linebacker when Lawrence Timmons deserted the team early last season and found an eager trading partner in the Saints, who had lost interest in Anthony when he wasn’t producing in their new defensive scheme. After opening with 112 tackles, two defensive scores and an all-rookie selection, he started three games in 2016 and was inactive last year while New Orleans looked to deal him.
Anthony played eight games off the bench for the Dolphins and totaled 15 tackles, plus some special teams work. He showed promise at times, but not nearly enough for the organization to exercise a 2019 option on him last month that would have paid him around $9 million.
General manager Chris Grier and vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t explain that decision to Anthony, but they didn’t need to.
“It was kind of what I expected,” he said. “I needed more snaps and there’s a lot that goes into it. But that’s not my job to worry about. My job is going to be to put my best foot forward.”
He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next spring, which heightens the importance of the upcoming season. A good year will put him in position for a long-term deal with Miami or somewhere else. Otherwise, he’ll probably be looking at single-year, prove-it contracts until he shows he’s worth more than that.
One factor working in his favor this season is stability. Having done his best to catch up on the Dolphins’ defense last year, he’s now had a full nine months with the team. He’s been around for all of OTAs and minicamp, plus he’ll work through training camp and the preseason. He had none of those benefits last year.
“The biggest difference is the amount of time I have and the time I’ve spent trying to learn the system and getting myself comfortable with it,” Anthony said.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke sees that as the only barrier to Anthony being a significant contributor. He said last week, “It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up… But he works really hard. He works really, really hard.”
Everything’s more routine for Anthony now, including his living situation. He took up residence in a local hotel for almost a month after being traded to the Dolphins last season, but now he’s settled. That makes life easier.
It helps to have perspective, too. Going from first-round pick to castoff and now trying to climb his way back to the top hasn’t been fun, but he’s learned throughout that journey.
“I think it’s just growth, honestly,” Anthony said. “I think it’s just being in the league, going into my fourth year, understanding the game, how this game is played from the college game and just honing in and packing that information in.”
DAVIE — Jerome Baker’s heard it his whole life. Even when he was dominating youth leagues and high school football, everyone kept telling him he was too small.
And at every turn, he’s quieted those concerns. Ohio State and Florida went to battle trying to recruit him, and his time with the Buckeyes was impressive enough that the Dolphins took him in the third round of the draft with the thought that he could be a long-term answer at linebacker.
They felt good about what he can do at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds with a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, and Baker plans to show people once again that there’s nothing small about the way he plays.
“If you ask anybody that plays against me, they don’t mention my size at all,” he said. “Guys say it, but once I actually play against you, you really don’t even notice how small or big I am. It’s all good.”
Baker’s most appealing attribute is his ability in coverage, which would help the Dolphins shore up a deficiency that hurt them last year. He had 72 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three pass breakups for Ohio State last season.
Miami goes into the season with Raekwon McMillan, another Buckeye, returning at middle linebacker and Kiko Alonso a certain starter on the outside. Baker is competing for role against a group that includes Mike Hull, Chase Allen, Stephone Anthony and seventh-rounder Quentin Poling.
All of the team’s linebackers are taller and bigger than Baker except for Hull (6-foot, 232 pounds) and Poling (6-foot, 235 pounds).
The upcoming season will be a prove-it year for Dolphins linebacker Stephone Anthony.
The former second-round pick will play the final year of his contract and become a free agent after Miami turned down its 2019 option on him. Had the team exercised it, it would have put Anthony in line for a $9.2 million salary next season.
That would have been the highest 2019 cap number for any linebacker currently on the roster.
Anthony, a first-round pick by New Orleans in 2015, will have to fight to secure a starting job this offseason. The Dolphins already have Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso marked down as starters, and the third spot will be up for a competition. Chase Allen (four starts last year), Mike Hull (three) and newly minted third-rounder Jerome Baker all figure to be in the mix with Anthony.
The Dolphins acquired him in exchange for a fifth-round pick in September and played him off the bench in eight games.
“I think we got a good first look at him,” coach Adam Gase said in March. “I thought he did a great job in practice. The times that we got him into games, he did a lot of good things. We’re just going to kind of see how it plays out. I don’t want to promise anything to anybody. I think we’re just going to … Competition is going to be a good thing for us.”
Anthony, 25, was a PFWA all-rookie selection in 2015 before falling out of favor with the Saints. He had 15 tackles last year and goes into the upcoming season with a $1.5 million cap number.
Ndamukong Suh, who knows something about defense, got a lesson on the subject on a whole different level.
Suh is one of five Dolphins who just visited the troops at Camp Bondsteel, an installation located near Kosovo.
Suh and the team posted a short video on social media Monday showing Chase Allen, MarQueis Gray, Mike Hull, Eric Smith and Suh mingling with soldiers during another of the NFL’s tours in which players visit with personnel, sign autographs and learn about their duties.
“Can I get a picture?” one soldier asks Smith, who replies, “Yes, ma’am. You don’t even have to ask.”
The camp is a 955-acre facility built in 1999 and named after James Bondsteel, a decorated Army staff sergeant in the Vietnam War.
DAVIE–The Dolphins waived linebacker Rey Maualuga after he was arrested this morning.
Miami-Dade County lists the charge as battery, which was first reported by Pro Football Talk. The police file on his arrest had him booked at 12:46 p.m. today and has his bond at $1,500.
Per the police report, the victim alleged that Maualuga grabbed him by the throat and shoved him after refusing to pay the remaining $40 on his bar tab at Club E11even at 8:22 this morning. Club security immediately called Miami police.
Maualuga was then escorted out of the club and detained. When the victim identified him to the officer as his alleged assailant, he was arrested and taken to jail.
The Dolphins hold walk-throughs on Saturdays before the team moves into a hotel for the evening. Players were expected to arrive at the facility this morning around 9 a.m.
Maualuga had been a starter this season after Miami signed him in training camp to shore up a depleted linebacker corps. He had 23 tackles in six games and filled in occasionally at fullback. He was one of the most popular personalities in the locker room with his new teammates and had a good relationship with defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who was his position coach in Cincinnati.
When three linebackers were needed, Miami started Maualuga in the middle with Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons alongside him. That role had previously been filed by Mike Hull, who was demoted to backup when Maualuga got himself in shape to play.
Because of how often the Dolphins were in nickel defense, Maualuga had four games in which he played fewer than 45 percent of the snaps. He was on the field for 31 plays (40.3 percent) against Carolina on Monday.
The Dolphins waived Maualuga at 3 p.m., creating an open roster spot in advance of Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay. Letting him go left the team with five linebackers. Miami originally signed him to replace second-round pick Raekwon McMillan, who tore his ACL in the opening preseason game.
The Dolphins filled Maualuga’s spot by promoting practice squad running back De’Veon Smith to the active roster. Smith is an undrafted rookie from Michigan who has been with the team since April. He rushed for 846 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
Practice squad linebacker Neville Hewitt, who played all 16 games and had five starts for Miami last season, is a candidate to be signed if Miami determines it needs help at the position.
Maualuga has had off-field trouble dating back to his time at Southern California, where he was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge for getting into a fight in 2005 and entered Alcoholics Anonymous as part of his court settlement. He was also arrested for DUI in Kentucky in 2010 while playing for the Bengals.
His latest incident continues a frustrating run of bad behavior for the Dolphins this year. They suspended Lawrence Timmons after he deserted the team the day before the season opener, and offensive line coach Chris Foerster was forced to resign after a video surfaced showing him snorting a white powder.
DAVIE—The Dolphins have yet to unleash powerful safety T.J. McDonald on the world, but his teammates know exactly the kind of weapon that will finally be in play.
McDonald has served his eight-game suspension and will return Monday at Carolina, almost certainly as a starter, and he gives Miami a menacing presence lurking in the secondary.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s a very smart, fierce, (expletive) hard-hitting person that you would want on your side of the ball,” linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “I’m just excited to have him back. He’ll intensify the defense that much more with his presence in the lineup.”
While they waited for him, the Dolphins played Nate Allen. That ended when Allen suffered a season-ending injury, leaving Michael Thomas and undrafted rookie Maurice Smith to fill the safety spot next to Reshad Jones.
McDonald, who played his first four seasons with the Rams, signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins in the offseason and turned that into a four-year extension by impressing them on the practice field. Including this season, he’s under contract for $25.4 million through 2021.
Miami loved what it saw from him in the offseason program and preseason, which was the last time he was allowed to practice or play. During his suspension, McDonald trained, went to meetings and studied film to stay up to date. He was not permitted to practice with the team until now.
Still, his teammates have seen enough to know he’s a significant asset.
“Man, I’m excited about T.J. coming back,” Ndamukong Suh said. “He’s gonna have fresh legs, so he should be running all over the field and having fun. He’s an elite DB that has the ability to play in the box, as well as in coverage.
“I think in preseason and really in camp when I had a chance to be on the field with him at the same time, he just finds the ball and makes plays. I’m excited for him to come out there and be able to do that.”
McDonald has not officially been added to the roster, but will be before Monday’s game. The Dolphins are at the 53-man limit and will need to cut someone to make room for him.
The defense could use a boost after the last three weeks. During that stretch, which included losses to the Ravens and Raiders, Miami allowed 95 points and 946 yards. Over the first five games, the defense gave up an average of 16.8 points and 295.4 yards.
The Dolphins have been particularly bad in pass coverage and are coming off a game in which Derek Carr completed 21 of 30 passes for 300 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Dolphins rank 31st in opponent completion percentage (69.9), 22nd in yards per attempt (7.5) and 14th in passing yards per game (221). They have the third-fewest interceptions (three) in the NFL.
Adding McDonald to the mix can only help.
“Tenacious football player, big hitter, smart,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “Great guy to be around. Having him in the locker room and being around him, he’s a great leader. He’s willing to take guys to the next level with him, which is cool to see.”
DAVIE—On the list of interesting things to do at Dolphins headquarters, a locker room chat with Rey Maualuga ranks at or near the top.
Maualuga has become a favorite among the media for his candor and humor, and he’s been doing well on the field, too. Here’s a conversation with him following today’s practice:
Does it finally feel normal being here after all those years in Cincinnati?
“I still hate this heat. I still don’t like the sun. Anytime we get to practice in the bubble, that’s a plus for me. I have yet to experience the 100-plus-degree practice outside. Back in Cincinnati, it’s 60s right now. It’s just gonna stay what, 80s or 90s here?”
Yeah, for most of it.
“I’m gonna enjoy it.”
But does it feel normal being on the Dolphins? Is it weird seeing yourself in that jersey?
“It is weird to be with a team for a long time (then change), but I remember seeing Miami on Hard Knocks a couple years ago and to see how crazy it would actually be to play out here. (Shoot), things happen for a reason. I wouldn’t say it’s weird to be here, but for the past month and a half I’ve gotten to sleep and wake up and be here early in the morning. So this is work for me for the next couple months. So to answer your question, yeah, I’m kinda adjusted to it. But I don’t think it’s weird to be in a different uniform. I’m just glad to be here. It’s the same game.”
Do teammates tell you that you’ll get used to the heat?
“I still see some people complaining about it. It’s weird to say I hate to sweat. I mean, everybody hates to sweat, but then you start cramping and hallucinating and it takes all the energy out of you. They say, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta rehydrate.’ Well, if you keep drinking you’re gonna end up throwing up. But for the most part, man, there are hundreds of people that would kill to be in your shoes right now and I’m over here complaining about the heat. I’ve just gotta enjoy it. It doesn’t last forever.”
You must’ve played in the opposite extreme in the AFC North, though.
“It would be hot during camp and then the first four weeks, but then it would mellow out to the 50s or 60s.”
No, I’m talking about the sub-zero games. That’s the tradeoff when you play up north.
“Oh. It’s frustrating. It’s horrible. We didn’t have a bubble. We were the only team that didn’t have a bubble, so rain, shine, sleet, snow, we’d (expletive) practice inside our stadium. It was basically on concrete with the turf being frozen.”
What’s worse out of sub-zero temperatures or the hot and humid conditions here?
“Wherever I’m employed, that’s where I prefer to play.”
Wherever the paychecks are coming from?
“Wherever the paychecks are coming.”
You looked good running at tight end on scout team today.
“I’m trying to harp in Coach’s ear to put me in at fullback.”
“Yeah, let’s see what happens.”
Which one of you guys runs the best routes? Mike Hull looked OK at slot receiver.
“See, these guys have young feet, young legs. They can run for days. These legs right here have been through a lot.”
DAVIE—The NFL is a league of contingency plans, and while the Dolphins haven’t worried much about the long snapper position during John Denney’s 13 years with the team, they do have a backup plan.
This came up when Denney was dealing with a minor injury: It turns out linebacker Mike Hull would go in for him if there was ever an issue. He picked up the rather obscure skill in his senior season at Penn State with an eye on helping his long-term football future and has kept it up since coming to the Dolphins as an undrafted rookie in 2015.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I might start long snapping to add value for the next level,’ so I started practicing and picked it up and never looked back,” he said. “I just asked guys that I was around for little tips and pointers and just started fine tuning my skills. I’m nowhere near as good as John Denney, but I think if I was called upon, I’d be good enough to get it back there for sure.”
It’s a more difficult skill to master than some people might realize. High school players can get major college scholarships just for doing that, and guys like Denney have hauled in serious money as pros. It’s a crucial role, too, as it can make a punt or field goal attempt go haywire if it’s not done right.
Hull stays sharp with it at all times. He works on long snapping twice a week with assistant coach Marwan Maalouf after practice, taking about 15 reps. He’s never done it in a game at any level, but he wouldn’t have any hesitation.
“I don’t know about calm, but I think I’d be able to get it back there and do my job and do what I’m supposed to do for the team, for sure,” he said. “I feel confident enough that I could get it done.”
DAVIE—One of the most interesting things to watch with the Dolphins in Sunday’s home game against Tennessee will be the unleashing of Rey Maualuga.
There’s been a ton of buildup for this. Maualuga signed in mid-August and has yet to take the field for any game, preseason or regular season, for a variety of reasons. They held him out originally because he was out of shape. The Bengals released him after last season and he spent all year waiting for someone to call, so he wasn’t in any offseason workouts or Organized Team Activities.
His weight is a compelling topic because he’s much heavier than many linebackers in today’s NFL—Kiko Alonso, for example, is 25 pounds lighter—but that’s the weight that works for him. Part of what’s made Maualuga a good player the past eight years is that he can move well at that size and power through offensive linemen.
He was likely over 270 pounds when the Dolphins signed him. Now he’s listed at 258.
Maualuga got in playing condition heading into what would’ve been the Week 1 game against Tampa Bay, but injured his hamstring in practice. That kept him out against the Chargers, Jets and Saints. This week looks it’ll be his debut, and he said he’s been working with the starters in preparation for the Tennessee game.
As he gets ready to finally hit the field for the Dolphins, here’s a conversation with Maualuga about playing heavy and restarting his career with Miami:
You had to lose weight, but you wouldn’t want to lose too much weight. What exactly is the middle ground for you? “I’ve played with this and been this size, whether it’s low 260s or high 260s. I’ve been that size my whole playing career, and I think that’s where I’m more effective coming down. I’m mostly known for stopping the run and taking on big guys. In my nature, you’ve gotta be that big to be effective in the middle.
“They’ve been very cool about it. They haven’t really been on my ass about, ‘Well, this is the weight we want you to be’ every week. As long as you can move, as long as you’re looking good on film, as long as you’re running around and it’s not stopping you from doing the things they’re asking of you, there’s really no point in trying to be a number that people think is good enough to be a middle linebacker.”
What was the big drop? What’s the highest and lowest you’ve been since you got here?
“I stand on there and tell them not to tell me the weight. I don’t want to know. I care how I look. But you feel good, you look good in the mirror and you run good and you feel alright, then they give you a number and you’re like, ‘What the (expletive)? Where is it?’ It (messes) up your whole day. You’re doing all this conditioning and extra (stuff) and cutting back what you eat, and then that number just (messes) you up.”
What’s a food you’ve given up?
“I blame my daughter because she always wants a Happy Meal. That’s all her.”
So you’d be going and getting a nice healthy salad or something, but your five-year-old daughter drags you to McDonald’s against your will?
“Pretty much. I’m always trying to eat something healthy. I had a chef for a little bit in Cincinnati, and she says, ‘No, I don’t want to eat that, Daddy.’ So, you know, McDonald’s is right down the street and I just want to be nice to my daughter. Then when I get there I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna get something,’ but then you look at the menu and you’re like, ‘(Shoot), alright, that fish filet don’t look too bad.’ I don’t know.”
What else did you cut out?
“You know us Polynesians, we love rice. That’s what I had to cut out as well, all that starch. All these processed foods that lazy people get at the grocery store and then throw in microwave. Those things you think are gonna be healthy like Lean Pockets and all that (stuff), it ain’t. All that (stuff) is convenient.”
Have you started eating any new foods?
“Nah. I used to blame my daughter, but now I try to blame genetics. You never see a skinny Samoan or Polynesian guy. Well, other than Troy. Troy Polamalu. He’s the exception. It’s like big bones. I don’t know.”
It says you’re 258 now. Do you feel like yourself at that weight?
“I feel great. They’re not pressuring me to do anything out of the ordinary. I’m worrying about drying myself out, and that can lead to strains and pulls. They just tell me to be me. Be you, do what you’re asked and don’t go crazy on eating. It might be hard to sit here and listen to me say that I don’t, but I don’t.
“You and I could eat something and—You could lose 10 pounds just eating that (stuff) and I’ll (expletive) gain three pounds. It’s weird. My digestive system, I can’t explain it.”
I’m not sure about the science behind what you’re saying.
“You’ve never heard someone say they could eat something but still lose weight?”
How exactly would that work?
“No? I get that (stuff) all the time. We weigh in every Thursday and I’m like, ‘Oh (shoot), I’ve gotta eat light tonight’ the night before, but Mike Hull on the other hand, he’ll be like, ‘Oh (expletive), I can eat whatever the (expletive) I want’ because he’ll wake up the next morning and be down five pounds. I’m not saying you could eat a (expletive) footlong and lose weight; I’m just saying some people break it down quicker.”
Have you ever have to cut weight before?
“I’ve had to.”
Was it difficult changing teams and moving to Miami this late in your career?
“It’s not hard. (Defensive coordinator Matt) Burke was in Cincinnati. The only thing I had to adjust to was heat.”
“I’ve been blessed a couple days practicing outside it’s been either raining or overcast or a nice little breezed, as opposed to what guys are saying about, ‘You haven’t experienced the 100-plus-degree heat during camp.’ Thank God I wasn’t here for that. I’d have had to reevaluate my decision.”
It never really cools down here, though.
“Right. But in Cincinnati, it was all four seasons. But now it’s more like 90-degree weather.”
What was it like the first time you tried to practice in it? How’d it go?
“Well the first time I (expletive) came out in that was at the airport. I was standing there sweating.”
But what about your first actual workout, given the conditions and your conditioning not being right?
“It wasn’t too bad. I’ve carried this weight for my career, so I guess some people can carry it better than others. When coaches see a number, they can say, ‘Well, Rey’s this (weight), but I don’t think the other linebackers could be that and perform the way Rey can perform.’”
You’re a little bit of an anomaly in that sense.
“Right. If I dropped down too much in weight, I might not be as effective.”
The weight is part of what’s made you good, probably.
“Right, yeah. So trying to tell me to—But I get what they’re saying. The evolution is that linebackers have changed due to it being a throwing league. Now all the linebackers are much smaller, in the 230s or 220s. The (Luke) Kuechlys and Kiko and (expletive) Timmons is about 240.”
Alonso is about the same size as Reshad Jones.
“Yeah. Would he be able to carry 260? Probably not. Everyone is different. I’ve felt comfortable with how I’ve weighed.”
So your conditioning is good now? You can get through a whole practice with no issues?
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everything’s fine. But the older you get, the more you’ve gotta take care of your body. I’ve gotta get in the cold tub, the hot tub, massages, (stuff) I’ve never done before. It was usually (expletive) when we’re done with practice, just go home.”
And maybe stop by McDonald’s.
“No, that was the off days. Occasionally (his daughter) would beg me to get out of the house to go do that. I’m not saying every time she wanted to go get a Happy Meal I’d get something, but if I hadn’t eaten at the time, I would get a little.”
What’s you going crazy at McDonald’s?
“I don’t go crazy at McDonald’s. It might sound gross, but a fish filet would be my choice.”
On the scale of McDonald’s food, that’s somewhat reasonable.
“Well, I mean, it’s probably not real fish. It’s probably fake.”
Still better for you than a Big Mac, I think.
“Oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when I order, I don’t think about the calorie count and all that. I just get it.”
“I think all of us have talked to him and tried to rally around him and be there for him,” Hull said. “We just let him know that no matter what he needs, just let us know and we’ll help him out.”
Hull said Timmons looked like Timmons in practice.
“He’s back to his normal self, from what I can see,” Hull said. “He seems like he’s ready to get back with the team and play.”
How the linebackers will line up Sunday remains to be seen. Hull said the linebackers are moving around, playing “a little bit more of everything,” as coaches tinker.
Free agent Chase Allen was an emergency starter against the Chargers, but the Dolphins started only Hull and Alonso against the Jets, preferring to go with five defensive backs.
Timmons made 952 total tackles in his 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers before joining the Dolphins for this season as a free agent.
“He’s an explosive player,” Hull said. “He can make big plays. Great pass rusher. I mean, he can do it all. You saw what he did in Pittsburgh the last 10 years, so I think he can still be that player. Hopefully we get it this week. It’d be great.”