MIAMI DOLPHINS - Pre-Training Camp Report
Bills' archrivals look towards division title.
by Ajitpaul Mangat
Bills Daily Correspondent
July 3, 2002
Regular Season: 11-5 (Wild Card Playoff Team)
Post-Season: 0-1 (Lost To Baltimore Ravens in AFC Wild Card Game)
The Miami Dolphins have been a pillar of success in an NFL landscape where teams seem to crumble and rise every other season. The Dolphins have accumulated a 50-30 (.625) record over the last five years, making the playoffs each season. The playoffs are where the success has ended for the Dolphins as they have been unable to win a 2nd round game in the past five seasons. There is new hope this year as two major changes were made to an offense that ranked 21st in the league; RB Ricky Williams was signed to replace Lamar Smith and Norv Turner was brought in to run the offense. Dolphins fans are hoping these changes will be enough to assist their overburdened defense which ranked 5th in the league. DRAFT:
Grade: B (including trade)
Quarterbacks: Jay Fiedler, like Tom Brady, is a “don’t lose it” QB as opposed to a player like Drew Bledsoe who is a “go for the win” QB. The former type of QB became popular after the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl win in 1999 and many teams have tried to copy it, with varied results. Fiedler fits the role perfectly as he doesn’t make any throw particularly well and is not a scrambling QB but he does do one important thing and that’s win. Fielder has won an impressive 21 games in his last 31, a .677 wining percentage. He has done well in the regular season but the true test of a QB is how well he does in the playoffs and with an impressive supporting cast this may be his best chance to win it all. Behind Fielder are two good quarterbacks Ray Lucas and Cade McNown who will fight it out for the backup job.
Running Backs: The Miami Dolphins thought they had solved a long time problem, finding a starting RB, when Lamar Smith rushed for an impressive 1139 yards in 2000. Smith’s brilliance did not last into 2001 and was not resigned this off-season. Brought in to replace Smith was Ricky Williams a former Heisman Trophy winner and 1st round draft pick. Williams had a break out year last season when he rushed for 1245 yards and in the process proved he could stay healthy for an entire year. If Williams can remain healthy this season, a 1300+ yard and 10+ TD season is possible. Travis Minor will backup Williams and will be used mainly on 3rd downs. FB Rob Konrad was miscast in Chan Gailey’s offense in which he was used strictly for blocking purposes. This should not be a problem with Turner who he likes to use his fullbacks to block and catch the ball which Konrad has shown he can do.
Receivers: The Dolphins do not have one go to guy at the WR position but what they lack in star quality they make up in depth. Last seasons passing game ranked in the bottom half of the league but should improve if Miami’s two best receivers, Chris Chambers and Orande Gadsen, can stay healthy. Cambers had an impressive rookie season catching 48 passes and 883 yards but those should improve with more playing time. James McKnight and Dedric Ward will also see a good amount of playing time in 3 and 4 receiver packages. Turner is a big proponent of using TEs in the passing game which will be an experiment with Jed Weaver and Randy McMichael whose hands are untested in the NFL.
Offensive Line: Like the entire offense, the line was plagued by injury and inconsistency last year. The center position was the most stressed in the off-season by the Dolphins. This would have been a surprise two seasons ago but with Tim Ruddy’s Pro Bowl days behind him the Dolphins attempted to pick up Olin Kreutz (Bears) and when that failed they used their 3rd round pick on Seth McKinney. Also brought in to help was Leon Searcy (Ravens) who should start at right guard, a new position for him. The rest of the line remains the same: LT Brent Smith, LG Mark Dixon and RT Todd Wade. Depth should not be a major concern.
Overall Grade: B
Key Offensive Player(s): Ricky Williams. Williams got the big bucks and now will need to stay healthy and put up numbers similar to last season to earn them. Williams has the ability, help and offensive game plan around him to put up career numbers.
Defensive Line: The Minnesota Vikings raided the Dolphins at the DE position, signing Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell. The Dolphins responded to these losses by signing Rob Burnett (Ravens) who at 35 years of age will be a situational player. Sliding over from the DT position is Daryl Gardener who will start at DE for the first time in his career. Jason Taylor’s numbers declined last season not because of skill but because he faced so many double teams. Taylor still remains one of the premier sack artists and run stuffers at the defensive end position. The DT position will be weakened because of Gardener’s move but a healthy Tim Bowens will help. Larry Chester fills the vacated DT position. Depth is a problem with Jermaine Haley being the lone quality reserve player.
Linebackers: MLB Zach Thomas remains the heart and soul of the defense playing with a drive unmatched in the NFL. Thomas was not able to roam the field like in previous years because blockers were able to get past the line, which hindered Thomas’ play making ability. The level of play at the outside linebacker positions was inconsistent in 2001 because of injuries. Derrick Rodgers and Morlon Greenwood have the potential to be an excellent tandem, with Rodgers being the blitzer and Greenwood the cover man. Tommy Hendricks and Twan Russell are the reserves and if last year repeats itself they could find themselves with a lot of playing time.
Secondary: The Dolphins defense finished first last season in passing yards allowed but will be hard pressed to repeat that feat with the defections of S Brian Walker (Lions) and CB Terry Cousin (Panthers). The key to that ranking for the Dolphins was the play of the best cornerback tandem in the league, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. The problems begin when discussing Jamar Fletcher and rookie Lowe who will start in the nickel and dime packages. Fletcher struggled as the 4th back in his rookie season but with more experience could become a top notch defensive back. Starting at the Safety positions will be FS Brock Marion and SS Arturo Freeman. Marion is the leader of the secondary and will be needed to help Freeman, a first time starter. Freeman has a tendency to go after the big play too much but is still a solid player overall.
Overall Grade: A-
Key Defensive Player(s): Larry Chester, Chester has been given the starting defensive tackle job and with Tim Bowens lining up beside him will face no double teams. Chester will need to take advantage of this situation and help disrupt the running game and take on as many blockers as possible to allow the linebackers to roam freely. SPECIAL TEAMS:
Kicker: K Olindo Mare arguably the best field goal kicker in the NFL today.
Punter: P Mark Royals needs to make fans forget about Matt Turk’s departure.
Kick Returner: Chambers and Marion will handle duties unless someone else emerges.
Punt Returner: WR Jeff Ogden will need to hold onto ball better (3 fumbles) or he could lose his job to Ward.
People in Miami are thinking Super Bowl because of the new additions and a relatively easy schedule (tied for 19th easiest). The key to the Dolphins success will lie in improving the running game, both offensively and defensively. If the Dolphins can do that there is definitely reason for optimism in the land of the Fish. OVERALL GRADE: A-
Projected Record: 10-6 (AFC East Division Champions
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