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NFL Guru


August 28, 2009 6:00 PM

Slow As Lightning?

Just when you think you've seen it all in this business, something happens to remind you that you haven't.

As a veteran sportswriter closing in on two decades of covering every sport imaginable, I have sat through my share of long rain delays in baseball and weather delays in high school football, soccer and even swimming. But last night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa was a first for me in terms of seeing an NFL game (albeit preseason) stopped in the middle due to lightning.

Two years ago in Pittsburgh when the winless Dolphins were taking on the Steelers in a Monday Night Football game destined to set a new ratings low, the start of the game was postponed due to weather. All that did was make a very painful game from a spectator standpoint last even longer (Pittsburgh won the mudfest on one of the worst fields ever, 3-0). But in that instance the players never left the locker room until it was clear to play, unlike last night when with 10:11 remaining in the first half of another sloppy game the referee ordered everyone off the field with the Bucs leading 6-0.

So as all of the scribes bantered back and forth on the phone with their editors back at the newspaper about how this game would now end after every conceivable print deadline, the national television crew from FOX got creative and treated it almost like an intermission between periods of a hockey game. Pam Oliver kept busy by doing interviews with Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, Falcons quarterback Byron Leftwich and running back Cadillac Williams in the tunnel just like they do during NHL games.

One other benefit of the delay was being able to see how Michael Vick did in his debut for the Eagles. And in a perfect snapshot of today's reactionary society, apparently some Eagles fans already are saying Vick looks better than McNabb, which is absurd! The guy has been out of football for two years, so while his physical skills and athleticism are still there, you can't miss that much time and simply pick up where you left off. It'll be just one of many interesting story lines to follow this season.

Sticking with the Bucs-Dolphins game I will close with these observations:

1. Tampa Bay threw the ball better that anticipated considering they were without three of their regular wide receivers (Michael Clayton, Dexter Jackson and Antonio Bryant), but the Bucs' bread and butter still has to be their running game. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham can be a pretty imposing backfield duo as each broke long runs last night against a Miami defense that had done well against the run the previous two weeks.

2. Dolphins second-year quarterback Chad Henne no doubt has one of the strongest arms around, but he still needs time to develop some of the other necessary skills that come with being an NFL QB, which is why Sparano loves the fact the he has Chad Pennington there to mentor Henne. Pennington made two big-league plays on Miami's lone touchdown drive, connecting with rookie receiver Brian Hartline on a 54-yard pass that he threw on the run rolling to his right and then hitting tight end Anthony Fasano in the left corner of the end zone right before taking a vicious hit after he rolled right and then spun back to his left. Later in the second half, after Henne completed a 52-yard pass to Greg Camarillo, he threw an ill-advised pass on 3rd-and-7 from the Bucs' 10 while under pressure that was picked off by defensive tackle Chris Bradwill and returned 19 yards. He also was sacked four times as he looked a little unsure about whether not to get the rid of the ball, but his poise was good and he has credited Pennington with teaching him more about football last year than he had learned his entire life. Henne will be fine with more grooming behind Pennington.

3. Hartline is making a serious case for being just another prime example of this Dolphins regime seeing something in the draft that others didn't and hitting on a fourth-round pick. When Hartline chose to leave Ohio State early and declare himself eligible for the draft there were plenty of critics calling him crazy and predicting that he would not get drafted. Now he has moved up the depth chart and quite possibly could be the starting receiver opposite Ted Ginn, Jr. on opening day.

4. Kendall Langford continues to validate his third-round draft status last year coming out of a small school in Hampton University as he was a disruptive force last night. His sack of Leftwich and forced fumble as the Bucs were primed to put it in the end zone from Miami's 5-yard line was a momentum changer and he was in the backfield numerous times from his defensive end position in the 3-4 run by the Dolphins. This young man began his pro career with a sack of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Brett Favre in the 2008 season opener and doesn't appear to be slowing down.

5. You will be hard pressed to find an NFL coaching staff better at making half-time adjustments -- or in this case, lightning delay adjustments -- and between game adjustments than Miami's. Sparano, offensive coordinator Dan Henning and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni proved it last season when they pulled out the "Wildcat" against New England and in Kansas City when they bucked conventional wisdom in cold and icy conditions by opening up the passing game in a 38-31 win that kept their playoffs hopes alive.

All right. That's all I got for now, but stay tuned as the picture around the league begins to clear up with the regular season less than two weeks away.

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