The seat is getting hotter for Dolphins' Sparano

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The seat is getting hotter for Dolphins' Sparano

From Comcast SportsNet

DAVIE, Fla. (AP)Linebacker Karlos Dansby says the Miami Dolphins are playing to save coach Tony Sparanos job, which might mean hes doomed.

Sparano began the season on borrowed time, and an 0-3 start has left his status even more shaky. With tough road assignments looming in the next two games against the Chargers and Jets, Sparanos players acknowledged the urgent need for a turnaround.

Were putting him in a tough situation, Dansby said Monday. Weve got to play better. Right now his job is on the line, and weve got to do a better job of defending it for him. Were the only ones who can.

One day after a 17-16 loss Sunday at Cleveland, Sparano talked with reporters for 20 minutes but addressed his job insecurity only briefly.

I dont know anything about that, he said. Im getting ready for the San Diego Chargers.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hasnt commented. Ross embarked on a public courtship with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh after last season, and when talks fizzled, Sparano received an extension through 2013.

But for Sparano to keep his job that long, the Dolphins need to start winning. Among those attending the game in Cleveland was Ross good friend Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs general manager, and his presence might have been a hint the owner is considering changes.

Including last season, Miami has dropped six games in a row. Problems range from penalties, a feeble pass rush and red zone inefficiency to mangled syntax.

Were going to find out what kind of team this team is, quarterback Chad Henne said after the game. He misspoke when he added, I know one thing about these guys: Theyre not going to stop quitting.

Or words to that effect. However, linebacker Kevin Burnett said things could go downhill fast.

At this point its going to be, which road are we going to take? Burnett said Monday. Are we going to take the road of pointing fingers and saying, You, you, you, or, Its the coach? Or are we going to take the road of saying, OK, were going to stick together, get fixed the things we need to get fixed, and find some way to pull out a win.

The defeat at Cleveland was the Dolphins closest game this season, which made it perhaps the toughest loss. Miami dominated all afternoon before folding at the finish.

Colt McCoy completed 10 passes in the first 56 12 minutes, then completed nine during an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Browns their first lead. The Dolphins defense turned soft at the worst possible time.

Thats where I expect some of the closers, some of the big-play players, to make those kind of plays, Sparano said. Ive got to find out who the closers are. I know who some of them should be.

When Miami reached midfield with a chance to pull the game out in the final minute, Henne threw three consecutive incompletions and then an interception.

It was part of a familiar pattern for Henne, who started the game 15 for 17 and went 4 for 12 the rest of the way. His passer rating is a career-best 82.4 but only 48.7 in fourth quarter, when he tends to struggle most.

As is Sparanos custom, he defended the quarterback.

He gave us a chance to win, the coach said.

A more meager contribution came from running back Reggie Bush, who rushed for 24 yards in 11 carries and fumbled twice. Through three games Bush has yet to make the impact anticipated, totaling just 80 yards rushing and 71 receiving.

The other offensive playmaker, Brandon Marshall, has only one touchdown. The Dolphins are scoring 17.6 points a game, almost identical to last year, when Ross complained the offense needed to be more dynamic and exciting.

But the most glaring statistic is zero wins, creating a gloomy mood at the Dolphins complex.

I know the work put in by the coaching staff and this team, Sparano said. My greatest frustration is not seeing them smile. I want to see the guys smile.

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.

However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.

Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.

But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.

“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.

“They make it as bad as possible.”

Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.

“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”

The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.

“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.

“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”

Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.