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  10 Questions Going into Training Camp
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Great expectations…that’s the buzz on the street as the Miami Dolphins prepare to begin Year Two of the Nick Saban era.


A 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:


1) Who will be the starting quarterback on Opening Day?


While 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 the season.


2) Can Ronnie Brown carry the load?

With 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?


3) Will Jason Allen be a difference-maker in 2006?

Owner 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?


4) Do the Dolphins have enough talent at wide receiver?

Chris 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?

Since 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 break out?


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 coordinator (Pittsburgh), 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?

Matt 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?

Left 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?

With 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?


10) Will Marcus Vick make the team?

I 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.




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