expectations…that’s the buzz on the street as the Miami Dolphins prepare to
begin Year Two of the Nick Saban era.
very reasonable goal for the 2006 Dolphins would be a playoff berth. However,
many questions must be positively answered for the Dolphins to reach the
postseason. On the eve of Training Camp, here are my Top 10:
Who will be the starting quarterback on Opening Day?
it has been most encouraging to see Daunte Culpepper run around, throw deep
passes, and even dive on fumbles, we must remember that those moments were not
under full-speed, full-contact conditions. For Culpepper to open the season, he
must prove his ability to protect himself when the no-contact jersey comes off
in a game situation. Though Culpepper’s arm is very good, it’s his ability to move
around with the football that makes him extra-dangerous. If Culpepper cannot
convince Saban that he is 100% fit by the end of August, it will likely be Joey
Harrington who gets the nod. Given Harrington’s uneven career to date, one
wonders what the team’s fortunes will be if he must play the first quarter of
Can Ronnie Brown carry the load?
Ricky Williams suspended yet again for violating the NFL’s drug policy, this
time for the entire season, the time has come for Ronnie Brown to be the man. This
is what the Dolphins drafted him to do. However, keep in mind that 2006 will be just the second time in his combined college
and pro career that he will have to single-handedly shoulder the load. Last
year, Brown’s conditioning and quick grasp of the offense suffered due to his
lengthy contract holdout. This year he is in much better shape and has a year’s
worth of experience under his belt. The time has come for him to earn his $20
million. Can he do it?
Will Jason Allen be a difference-maker in 2006?
H. Wayne Huizenga made it a point this offseason to announce his personal commitment
in ensuring that the Dolphins get their top picks signed and in camp on-time. As
of this writing, Allen remains unsigned as the July 29 start of camp rapidly
approaches. Considering the state of the Dolphin secondary, particularly at
Safety, it is imperative that the talented Allen be on the field working on Day
1. It would be dangerous for the Dolphins to start an unprepared rookie at free
safety. Even if Allen is in camp from Day 1, he has a huge job ahead of him. Will
he be ready?
Do the Dolphins have enough talent at wide receiver?
Chambers (Pro Bowl) and Marty Booker are two solid starters, no question. But
who will emerge to fill the third and fourth receiver slots? As a receiver, Wes
Welker is limited but did well in spots last year and likely will again,
provided he can stay healthy. Overall, Welker is a pure football player plain
and simple. However, the rest of the roster is an assortment of unproven
rookies (e.g. Derek Hagan and Devin Aromashodu) and obscure free agents (e.g.
Kelly Campbell). This brings into real question the team’s ability to field
dangerous multiple receiver formations when the need arises. Do the Dolphins have
enough talent to create multiple mismatches in long yardage situations? Do they
have enough quality depth in the event of an injury?
5) Will Vernon
Carey finally prove himself as a Dolphin?
taking him in the first round of the 2004 draft, the Dolphins have struggled to
keep Carey on the field. He’s played at both tackle spots and also seen some
work at guard. Nothing seems to stick. Carey has the
size and physical ability needed to play at a high level. What Carey hasn’t
consistently shown is the solid technique and, some say, the desire to be
amongst the best. Hopefully another offseason of work with line boss
extraordinaire Hudson Houck will help Carey take his game to the next level.
Without question, 2006 will be an important season for Carey’s career. Will he finally
6) Will the
hiring of two new coordinators help or hurt the team’s progress?
Disruption, to a certain degree, always comes with
leadership changes. After all, change by its very nature is a disruptive event.
This year the Dolphins have two new coordinators in Mike Mularkey (offense) and
Dom Capers (defense). Most folks would agree than Dom Capers is an upgrade over
the departed Richard Smith and Will Muschamp. Capers shares Saban’s defensive
philosophy and will simply look to build on last year’s success. Will he be
able to? The story is a bit different on offense where Mularkey must adapt to
the “Dolphin system”, not the system he brought from Pittsburgh
via Buffalo. A South Florida native, Mularkey’s a bright guy and shouldn’t
have a problem adapting. That being said, expect him to make some of his own tweaks
here and there to suit his philosophy. In his last stint as offensive
Mularkey was widely praised for his creativity. That praise fell away somewhat
during his time in Buffalo.
It will be interesting to see how he works out.
7) Are the
young defensive linemen ready to play?
Roth, Kevin Vickerson, and Manny Wright will be counted on to make a
contribution in 2006. Roth and Wright accumulated a year’s worth of experience
while Vickerson kept time on injured reserve (knee). Roth had somewhat of a
disappointing rookie campaign, leading some to question whether the Dolphins
got the short end of it in the Patrick Surtain two-step (the second rounder the
Dolphins received from Kansas City was then used on Roth). By all accounts Roth
worked hard this offseason to improve. Will he? As for Wright, there were some
early offseason reports suggesting that he was overweight again. Which Manny
Wright will show up at the start of training camp, the player we saw against Buffalo or the overweight
player we saw this time last year? Pressing Wright will be Vickerson, who looks
to return to the promising player we saw last preseason before he was injured.
In the meantime, Saban might hedge his bet by signing veteran Dan Wilkinson.
8) Can L.J.
Shelton be trusted to keep Culpepper clean?
Tackle has been a serious weakness since the retirement of Mark Dixon. This
offseason the Dolphins finally signed someone with reasonably good credentials
to do the job, that being Shelton.
He had a mixed run in Cleveland,
which is partly why the Browns let him go. Note this as teams do not allow top
notch left tackles to hit free agency. That being said, the x-factor here is
Houck and his uncanny ability to improve the play of his charges. Shelton is a key player to
keep an eye on as camp progresses as the Dolphins now have a franchise-caliber QB
(Culpepper) to protect and, as such, have much to lose if he gets injured.
9) Who will it
be at CB?
the departure of the great Sam Madison (NY Giants), the Dolphins face
uncertainty for the first time in a great while at CB. Remember how easy it was
to take comfort in the knowledge that Madison and Surtain had the defense’s
back? Today, the competition on both sides is wide open. Three players figure
to have an edge over the field: Will Allen, Travis Daniels, and Will Poole. Who
will emerge and, more importantly, can they get the job done?
Marcus Vick make the team?
was shocked that the Dolphins brought Vick in for a look and was doubly shocked
when they signed him to a contract. Why? I agree there’s no questioning Vick’s
ability; it’s his attitude and character that are wanting. I won’t recite
Vick’s list of transgressions during his time at Virginia Tech as I believe he
needs to move forward. Quite frankly, it is time for Marcus Vick to decide how
the rest of his life is going to go regardless if he makes it Miami or elsewhere. If he does make it in Miami, it will likely be in a “slash” role similar to the
one that Kordell Stewart played during Mularkey’s time in Pittsburgh. If he can pull it off, Vick will
add an interesting new dimension to the Dolphin offense.