the NFL Scouting Combine in progress this week, Free Agency beginning next
week, and the NFL Draft two months away, now is a good time to dissect the
offense, the Dolphins currently have only 4-5 starters that figure to be a part
of a championship foundation. This is a sobering indication of the amount of
work that Head Coach Cam Cameron and GM Randy Mueller have in getting this unit
the news is considerably better with 8 starters in place. Once again, the
defense figures to be the strength of the team and is good enough right now to
take the Dolphins deep into the playoffs.
22 starters plus a kicker and punter, the Dolphins have at best 15 (63%) of
their first string talent in place. Overall, it is safe to presume that about half
of the roster is Super Bowl ready. Again, most of the work is clearly on the
offensive side of the ball.
do the Dolphins have and what do they need to reach Super Bowl XLII? Hereís my
take on this paramount question.
RT Vernon Carey (starter)
Openings (2-3): LT, overall depth
Comment: 2006 was the
year that Carey finally flashed the talent that has been expected of this first
round pick. Today, the pressing matter is on the other side of the line at the
premier left tackle spot. The Dolphins arenít likely to get much relief via
free agency. And unless they reach for Levi Brown with their 9th
overall selection (top ranked Joe Thomas figures to be long gone), donít be
surprised if Damion McIntosh is resigned to retain his job by default. While it
is possible that L.J. Shelton will return to left tackle, his impressive work
at guard, as well as the lack of quality depth there, may preclude such a move.
Third year man Anthony Alabi will be someone to watch.
RG L.J. Shelton (starter)
Openings (3-4): Possibly both starting jobs if Shelton returns to LT, overall depth
Comment: Offenses are
built from the inside out and the Dolphins are in desperate need here. Aside
no other Guard really distinguished himself in any way last season. Jeno James (estimated
$4 million cap number) may be retained to play left guard but, on the whole,
his work as a Dolphin has been very ordinary and his salary may no longer be
palatable. If Shelton
returns to left tackle, the Dolphins will likely look to free agency for a
replacement or two, or Rex Hadnot could return to playing Guard. Joe Toledo
will get a long look. Overall, 2007 doesnít appear to be a great year for
college offensive guard talent.
Rex Hadnot (starter)
Openings (0-1): Depth
Comment: If Hadnot
stays at Center, he and Seth McKinney may fight it out for the starting job. McKinney, fresh off of
injured reserve, is an experienced starter but carries a considerable cap
number (estimated to be $4 million). With so many other pressing needs, it may
be that McKinney
returns to his old job and the Dolphins slide Hadnot back to Guard. McKinney did play some
Guard early in his career but was altogether unimpressive in the effort. If the
Dolphins decide to cut McKinney,
a new face is likely to join the mix.
Ronnie Brown (starter), Ricky Williams, Sammy Morris
Openings (0-1): depth
Comment: No other
team will have a better situation at RB than the Dolphins will, provided that
Cameron welcomes Williams back to the team. Ronnie and Ricky will be key focal
points in Cameronís offensive system, both playing the role that LaDainian
Tomlinson does for the Chargers. It would be surprising if the Dolphins do not re-sign
Morris; he is a key special teams contributor. Travis Minor has also been
valuable on special teams but could get caught in a numbers game, although
re-signing him is not out of the question.
Openings (1-2): starter, depth
Barnes is unsigned. While Barnes possesses the blocking skills that Cameron
looks for in a FB, he has not been tried as a runner or receiver. This may be a
moot point given the depth at RB and the ability of Morris to play FB. If the
Dolphins do re-sign Barnes and Morris, it is unlikely they will do anything
further. Keep an eye on Kyle Eckel, a talented 245lb exclusive rights free
agent who has a real chance to win a job.
Comment: It may be
that, when training camp opens, this corps of players looks decidedly
different. This is Miamiís
#1 need position. If Culpepper can regain his health and mobility, expect him
to be under center on opening day. If he cannot fully re-gain his health in
time, all bets are off. The Dolphins are likely to draft a young prospect to
add to the mix, and speculation is high that it will be Notre Dameís Brady
Quinn if he is available. It will be interesting to see what the Dolphins
decide to do with Joey Harrington; he may be too expensive under his current
contract. Lemon (unsigned, restricted free agent) is a Cameron favorite and
will almost certainly be retained.
Openings (3-4): starters, depth
Chris Chambers and Marty Booker will account for an estimated $11 million in
cap space in 2007, an exorbitant amount for two average players. Chambers in
particular has been a disappointment, having yet to display the consistent
playmaking ability the Dolphins were hoping for when they signed him to his
current deal. Booker led the Dolphins in receiving yards and, once again, in
average yards per catch. It is very easy to see how both men could retain their
jobs in 2007, yet just as easy to see how they could be demoted, traded, or
even released. Whatever Cameron and Mueller decide, one thing is crystal clear:
the Dolphins must (must!) acquire a #1 receiver with gamebreaking ability if
they are to win a championship. Aside from quarterback, no other priority on
offense is higher. Welker is a restricted free agent that the Dolphins will
tender; it would be unexpected if another team signs him away. Second year
players Derek Hagan and Marcus Vick will be intriguing. It will be tough for
the Dolphins to pass on OhioStateís Ted Ginn, Jr. if
he is available.
Openings (3): starter, depth
Comment: As an
offensive playmaking threat, Randy McMichael has been a bust. He has not lived
up to the lucrative contract that the Dolphins gave him (with an estimated $5.4
million cap number in 2007). Depending on what Cameron and Mueller decide, he
could remain as the starter, play a reserve role, be traded away, or even cut.
If Cameron is looking for an Antonio Gates encore, heíll have to go shopping.
Depth-wise, the Dolphins have some decent options.
Vonnie Holliday (starter)
Openings (2-3): depth
Comment: Holliday was
recently re-signed, a wise move as Holliday was a likely early free agent
target. Keith ďTruckĒ Traylor (37) could also be re-signed but his inability to
last a full season is a problem. Traylorís asking price will likely determine
his future as a Dolphin. Jeff Zgonina is another free agent who has age (36)
working against him; he could get caught up in a surging youth movement with
the promising Fred Evans and Kevin Vickerson (exclusive rights free agent) waiting
in the wings. Add in Manny Wright if he can get himself mentally right. But the
best of the young bunch may be Rodrique Wright, whom the Dolphins stole in the
7th round of last yearís draft as teams were concerned about a
shoulder injury. Wright spent the season on IR to address the problem which,
hopefully, is now resolved. At Texas,
his combination of size and speed made him one of the top defensive tackles in
the college game. Watch this guy. Also, watch the draft as Michiganís
Alan Branch could be on the board when Miami
picks. If the top offensive prospects are taken in the first eight picks, could
the Dolphins go the value route and select the dominant Branch?
Jason Taylor (starter), Kevin Carter (starter), Matt Roth,
Openings (2): depth
Comment: Taylor, the
greatest defender in team history, is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. He
is the consummate warrior. Roth has finally started showing signs that he can
play, though he still has a ways to go to justify the Patrick Surtain trade.
Carter is a definite keeper but his estimated $6.48 million cap number
vis-ŗ-vis his production is somewhat troubling. David Bowens, a solid special
teamer as well as a decent pass rusher (5 sacks), is unsigned. The Dolphins
would like to keep him but only at the right price. It will be interesting to
see what the Dolphins will do if one of the top DE prospects, Clemsonís Gaines
Adams or Arkansasís
Jamaal Anderson, slides to them.
Zach Thomas (starter), Derrick Pope
Openings (0): none
Comment: Perhaps the
only sticking point in declaring Thomas the greatest LB in team history would
be that Nick Buoniconti is in the Hall of Fame. If Thomas is ever elected, the
argument is over. Pope has proven that he can get the job done when called
upon. With Channing Crowderís ability to move inside when the defense shows 3-4
alignments, the Dolphins are in excellent shape at ILB.
Channing Crowder (starter)
Openings (3): none
Comment: Crowder, the
starter at weak side OLB, had a terrific second season with 104 tackles (second-best
on the team). Donnie Spragan, the strong side starter, is a free agent who may
not be retained. The Dolphins could really use a talented pass rushing OLB to
complement Jason Taylor when he moves to OLB in 3-4 alignments. FSUís Lawrence
Timmons is a terrific talent that would fit the bill, though drafting him 9th
overall would be too high.
Will Allen (starter), Travis Daniels, Andre Goodman
Openings (2): starter, depth
Comment: Will Allen
proved to be a better fit for the 3-4 than was Sam Madison. Daniels was never
really 100% during the season and will look to break out in 2007. Goodman
played better as the season progressed, although one wonders about his true
upside. This group did a poor job of creating turnovers (only 2 interceptions
amongst them) and really suffered from a lack of quality depth when injuries
struck. Michael Lehan and Eddie Jackson (free agents) may not return. The
Dolphins could really use an elite shutdown corner to handle divisional Dolphin
killers like Laveranues Coles and Lee Evans. Overall, this is not a good year
to draft an elite CB. If Buffaloís
Nate Clements makes it to unrestricted free agency, will the Dolphins make a
play for him?
Renaldo Hill (starter), Yeremiah Bell (starter), Jason Allen
Openings (1-2): depth
Comment: Hill and Bell (restricted free
agent) should enter training camp as the starters, with 2006 first round pick
Jason Allen pushing to unseat one of them. Jason Allen was late to sign and, as
such, his rookie season was a total loss; he must do better next season to
prove himself worthy. Travares Tillman is unsigned and is not likely to be
brought back. LSUís LaRon Landry should be available when the Dolphins pick.
While it would be surprising for them to draft a safety in the first round in
consecutive seasons, the Dolphins could go with Landry if the coaches are of
the mindset that Jason Allen is better off as a cornerback.
K Olindo Mare (starter), P Donnie Jones (starter), LS John Denney (starter)
Openings (0): none
Comment: Mare had a
tough season with his FG accuracy overall, though he made 25 of 30 from under
50 yards (83.3%). His leg is still plenty strong (#1 in NFL in touchbacks).
Jones is a restricted free agent who is likely to be retained at the right
price. Denney has made people forget about the loss of Ed Perry.