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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Training Camp 101: offense is expected to trail defense early on.


Thatís football, and itís especially true when a new system is combined with new positional starters, as many as nine on the Dolphin offense. As such, drawing hard conclusions in early August is a foolís errand and a general waste of time, especially with the first preseason contest yet to come.


Case-in-point: the first depth chart of the season is out, mandated by league rules, but coach Tony Sparano quickly warns that it isnít worth the paper itís printed on. At several positions, players are clearly misplaced, or placed via non-performance criteria (e.g. QBs ranked by seniority).


Yet there are definite signs of things to come, some good, some not. Thus far, two general themes have emerged.


The first is that the team seems very committed to a 3-4 defensive alignment, and they indeed appear to have the players to employ it, especially on the defensive line.


The second is that the Dolphins will have to rely heavily on the ground game and short pass as the primary mode of offensive attack. The strength of the offensive line, and the talent at RB, are biased in this direction.


The 3-4 defensive scheme will indeed work because Jason Ferguson, manning the all-important NT position, is a load while Paul Soliai, who reportedly dropped 30lbs. during the offseason, is now a different player and is thus having a fine camp.


Then thereís Vonnie Holliday, who has surprised by working into the multiple DE/OLB role that Jason Taylor played so well. While itís too early to know if this experiment will work, the 6í5Ē, 285lb. Holliday has, thus far, looked credible.


Meanwhile, rookie DE Kendall Langford has impressed and is getting his chance with the first team defense. Others, such as Randy Starks and Phillip Merling, will be in the rotation. As for Matt Roth, it appears as though his tenure at DE has indeed gone bust. Failing to produce, the former second rounder acquired from the Patrick Surtain trade is now being worked as an OLB. Whether Roth can be effective there is yet to be determined, but it appears as though the Dolphins are now in salvage mode with him.


As for the ground game bias, the Dolphins really donít have a choice. It could be as high as a 65-35 run-pass split once the games start counting. Thatís how bad the passing game has been thus far, and how slim the prospects seem to be for considerable near term improvement.


This pessimism starts with the play of the quarterbacks who, on the whole, have been very disappointing.


How disappointing?


At one point during last weekís scrimmage, Dolphin QBs combined for a 2 for 22 passing effort. Dan Marino, retired now for eight years and in attendance at that scrimmage, was probably the best passer there. Thatís not a good thing.


The WRs, on the whole, havenít helped either. Derek Hagan, a former third round pick, has been the bright spot, making the tough catches and consistently getting downfield. The light seems to have finally come on for him, and thatís encouraging. The others have been so inconsistent that further comment is not valuable.


It seems inevitable that a personnel acquisition of some sort will have to happen. Thereís really no choice when things are so bad that a defense could show an eight man front and probably get away with it.


It would be puzzling if this comes in the form of Terry Glenn or Quincy Carter, simply because neither player is likely to make this team appreciably better. Rather, expect the Dolphins to keep an eye on the waiver wire, or on a trade that has high value, to shore up this very serious weakness.


In closing, there are several other players who are having a good camp thus far and deserve specific mention.


Safety Jason Allen looks to have finally come out of the wilderness. Whether it is the new system or sufficient professional growth, he is playing more instinctively now. The result is a first round safety playing at that level. Itís going to be hard to deny him a starting job.


Brandon Fields is going to be a serious field possession weapon, the best punter theyíve had since Reggie Roby. He is unopposed in camp and figures to stay that way. Heíll be an important part of whatever success the team enjoys this season.


Fullback Boomer Grigsby is blocking and catching very well, and will bring an added dimension to an offense badly in need of it. This looks to have been a good free agent pick up.


Rookie guard Donald Thomas, a sixth round pick, has been lining up as the first team right guard for over a week now and isnít coming out anytime soon. Given the pressing need on the offensive line, this is a welcomed surprise.


"íBig chestí is what I call him. ĎHeavy chestí," said Ferguson. "This guy is strong. That's all I can tell you. His punch is really brutal. He can move (people) and help (center) Samson (Satele) out in the middle.Ē


Echoed Sparano, ďWhen a defensive player says, 'Really heavy,' he doesn't mean heavy in size, he means heavy when he hits you, and when he leans on you and those are good qualities to have in an offensive lineman when they're big and they play big. That was encouraging. It was good to get him out there and let him compete against some of the first team players out there and see how he responds."

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