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  Fuzzy Picture Coming Into Focus
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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The 2005 Miami Dolphins have been something of a paradox, especially on offense.



Players praise the disciplined nature of training camp, yet stumble, bumble, and fumble through the latest exhibition game.


The team appears blessed with very good receivers, yet is handicapped by very mediocre passers.


There is great depth a running back, but no stability in front of them on the offensive line.


Things seem to be coming together more smoothly on defense, though questions remain as to the execution of the new system in games that count, as well as who will be the heir apparent to Patrick Surtain.


With a practice game record of 0-3, it is obvious that these Dolphins need more work.


However, time is running out.


How much longer will it be before we get a solid handle on just how good (or, how bad) these Dolphins will be?


The next exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should pretty much answer the question.


This will be the game where the coaches actually install a plan to win the game. This means that what we see on Saturday is what we can pretty much expect out of this team for 2005.


As head coach Nick Saban often says, “It is what it is”.


That quarterback and the offensive line remain unsettled is of paramount concern right now. Certainly, the Dolphins don’t want a repeat of last year’s debacle at both positions.


The Dolphins will reportedly go into the Bucs game with a new look on the line. Left tackle Vernon Carey returns to his college position at right tackle. Last year’s primary starter at left tackle, Damion McIntosh, will get his job back. Stockar McDougle will sit.


This likely signals the end of the Carey experiment at left tackle, at least for 2005. Perhaps this is for the best as Carey now lines up at the position he was originally drafted to fill.


As for McIntosh, this is his second loop with line boss Hudson Houck. Against the Steelers, McIntosh’s good athletic ability came through and helped him to play well. That, as well as Houck’s familiarity with McIntosh’s game from their Charger days, likely prompted the move.


The other open question on the line is at center. Seth McKinney has been having a somewhat disappointing camp. Are the Dolphins better off starting Rex Hadnot at center, with either Frank Middleton or John St. Clair lining up at right guard?


It would have been best for these questions to have been settled by now. Unfortunately, the musical chairs confirm that the Dolphins have 2-3 good linemen, a bunch of mediocre ones, and some that flat cannot play.


Not surprisingly, the results on the field have reflected this.


If the current lineup of McIntosh, left guard Jeno James, McKinney, right guard Hadnot, and Carey can acquit themselves reasonably well, expect the Dolphins to suck it up and move forward with them.


Similarly, the situation at quarterback requires finalization. Is there any other Dolphin question that begs an answer more?


Gus Frerotte continues to work with the first team, prompting suggestions that he may have locked up the job. Still, Saban maintains that the competition continues.


I won’t pretend to read Saban’s mind here. He’s the boss and only his vote counts. However, it seems common-sensical (to me, anyway) that, if Frerotte and A.J. Feeley end up relatively close, the nod should go to Feeley.


Here’s why:


1) Feeley has the physical skills to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s his inexperience, particularly with his decision-making, that hurts him. The only way to possibly fix this is to play him.


2) The Dolphins invested a second round pick in Feeley as the future QB. Yeah, I know it wasn’t on Saban’s watch but a significant investment was still made. The Dolphins should require a return on this investment.


3) Frerotte “is what he is”: a 33 year old player of limited means whose talents have since topped out. He will not get better. He has no upside. He is not the future in Miami.


As such, it doesn’t seem correct for a team in a rebuilding mode to play a 33 year old veteran quarterback unless that veteran is clearly superior to his competition.


Frerotte hasn’t been, at least not yet.


As for the defense, Saban would undoubtedly like to sharpen the edge of the blade between now and opening day.


With regards to the starters, the only really open question remaining is at left cornerback where Travis Daniels and Reggie Howard continue to slug it out for the rights to the job.


Cited by Saban as one of the players on defense who’s made the most improvement in camp, it seems that a healthy (key word) Daniels would likely get the job. Still, it would be entirely plausible for Howard to get the nod. Remember that Howard was a starter during his time with the Carolina Panthers and did a solid job for them during their Super Bowl run in 2003.


As for the non-starters, Saban and the defensive coaches have been able to get an excellent read on them. Given what they know now, they could probably finalize the defensive roster.


Further, they can rationalize other key elements such as line rotations, situational substitutions, and defensive packages that the existing talent is best suited for.


How good this defense will be remains to be proven. For now it appears that this unit is capable of delivering playoff-caliber work, something the Dolphins must have in order to be competitive.


As it was last season, the real fate of this team rests with the offense. Whether or not they are up to job will be determined soon enough. 




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