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  Rude Welcome for Young Dolphins
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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LT Jake Long committed one penalty in his last 26 games at the University of Michigan.


In one game as a pro, Long doubled that number. Both penalties wiped out gains and helped kill drives. Missed assignments, some forced, added to Long’s frustration.


“I've just got to correct those (mistakes) and make sure that never happens again”, said Long. “It was frustrating, but I'll learn from it."


Welcome to the NFL, rookie.


Long will be fine, though he wasn’t alone. Overall, the young Dolphins got a rude welcome to the 2008 season. It wasn’t entirely unexpected.


The Jets are a veteran team, heavy with high priced free agents on both sides of the line, and a “go for broke now” focus. They were supposed to win this one, and they dominated the Dolphins on both sides of the line of scrimmage.


It was an accomplishment for Dolphins, and perhaps somewhat of an embarrassment to the Jets, that they were in position to win the game at the end.


Still, it’s the Jets…the hated Jets. No loss to the Dolphins’ top rival is a good one.


“My pride is hurt”, said QB Chad Pennington, the former Jet, as he tapped on his aching heart. “Losing is not fun. We put a lot of hard work into it. True professionals bounce back and continue to fight another day. It’s one thing to have a will to win, but you have to have a heart to lose, which means you have to continue to improve and fight through those things.”


Good words to live by, especially for the younger players.


Still, the naysayers will be quick to look past this and point out that the offense couldn’t muster more that two touchdowns and a paltry 49 yards rushing, and the defense gave up over 100 yards rushing to Thomas Jones, and allowed two Brett Favre TD passes, one of which was a ridiculous desperation heave gathered in by one Chansi Stuckey (who?).


“Too many errors”, lamented coach Tony Sparano. “You don’t win in this league with that many.”


Right. Yet Sparano couldn’t have expected everything to go smoothly first time out. Not by a long shot. And, yes, he’s probably kicking himself over a few things he could have done differently, or better, to help steal the win.


For example, and this is Monday morning quarterbacking, why go for it on 4th and 2 with 9+ minutes to play? With Pennington getting hot, a gimme field goal would have been a good choice that would have left them with a 10 point deficit and plenty of time to make up the rest. As the Dolphins scored a touchdown on their next possession, their final drive would have been for a tying field goal, instead of a must have TD.


The Dolphins’ chances in overtime would have been very good. The Jets were tired and had an injured kicker, all but forcing them to score a touchdown to win. Had the Dolphins won the toss, a red hot Pennington and a good kicker would have given them a clear edge.


Now, many are wondering if the 6-4 Ernest Wilford would have made a difference in the red zone last Sunday. It’s a good, and fair, question. Just remember that he’d have been out there if the coaches felt Wilford had earned it.


Also understand that there was no help for some of what happened against the Jets, stuff that Sparano and his staff will just have to muddle through this season.


Hey, there’s only so much that can be fixed in a year.


The hard part is enduring the pain of this turnaround. Football is an emotional game, and losing isn’t fun. Sparano doesn’t accept losing, and has told his players as much. He expects them to do better.


Up next are the Arizona Cardinals. These are not yesterday’s Cardinals. They have good talent on both sides of the ball, having just defeated the San Francisco 49ers on the road (23-13).


Sparano will watch the film and quickly conclude that some adjustments will be needed.


Will the Dolphins employ more two TE sets to help get the running game rolling, and give Pennington another reliable target to work with? David Martin and Anthony Fasano were effective against the Jets.


Will Ernest Wilford, a gamer, earn his way onto the field, or will the coaches give him the benefit of the doubt?


Will the Dolphins begin to work Ronnie Brown more into the offense, especially on third down? With his hands and speed, he’s a mismatch against linebackers and even extra DBs.


Nothing against Patrick Cobbs, who isn’t chopped liver by any means, but Brown is perhaps the best all-around player on the team. They need him on the field as much as possible.


To that end, one thing that can’t change is an emphasis on the running game, even with the costly season-ending injury to OG Donald Thomas. 17 attempts just isn’t enough, but the execution up front has to get better.


Defensively, the decision to keep safety Chris Crocker as a starter will surely be re-visited. Unfortunately, his reputation as a poor cover safety was all too obvious against the Jets. It won’t get easier against the Cardinals with Mssrs. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald on deck, and old hand Kurt Warner slinging it to them.


Ditto for the run stopping, with one Edgerrin James warming up. The Jets ran successfully on the Dolphins all day, most of it to their right. This is where rookie DE Kendall Langford lines up. While Langford showed some good pass rush ability, the Jets’ veterans took advantage of him on running plays. Not all of it was Langford’s fault, but something will have to change as James is a better runner than Jones.


This we know: Langford will get smarter the more he plays. The Dolphins just hope veterans like CB André Goodman, who was caught peeking by Favre on the 56 yard touchdown he gave up to Jericho Cotchery, will start playing smarter. Goody’s been around too long to be falling for stuff like that.


The Cardinals are decent, but the Jets are better. Let’s see if the Dolphins can even their record up.

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