This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Natalie Jay
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Last year, for the first time since well before Dan Marino's retirement, Miami was a trendy Super Bowl pick. At the very least, 2006 was to be the Nick Saban Era Dolphins' coming-out party. The lynchpin of these expectations was trade acquisition Daunte Culpepper,
who was coming off a gruesome, multi-ligament knee injury suffered in 2005. A healthy
Culpepper stood to upgrade a Dolphins' squad that had rattled off six straight victories
to close out the 2005 campaign behind then-quarterback, Gus Frerotte. Rushed back too
soon, however, Culpepper was never right physically. His lack of mobility led to him being
sacked in waves, exposing the team's patchwork offensive line and prompting a switch to
beleaguered ex-Lion, Joey Harrington. After a 6-10 finish, Saban bolted back to the safety
of the college ranks.
Enter new head coach Cam Cameron,
who brings with him an undeniable track
record of success in developing offensive
talent that predates his tenure in San Diego.
He also brings a new offense based on speed
and a power running game, with heavy
doses of motion and passes to the tight end.
With Chris Chambers and first-round draft
pick Ted Ginn Jr. leading a speedy receiving
corps and the team having acquired
blocking fullback Cory Schlesinger to pave
the way for Ronnie Brown and Lorenzo
Booker, the Dolphins have the personnel
at the skill positions to make this system
Given ongoing attempts to move on
without Culpepper, quarterback represents
an uncertainty for Miami rather than the
potential strength it was going into 2006, and another overhaul of the offensive line only
heightens the doubt. Nonetheless, Cameron, who will call the plays in place of last season's
offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (now coaching the tight ends), will remain committed
to the run in a way that the 2006 squad, usually playing from behind, never could be. This
should alleviate some of the pressure regardless of the quarterback's identity.
On the other side of the ball, Dom Capers returns for his second season as defensive
coordinator. >The Saban-coached secondary's knack for giving up the big play aside, last
season's Dolphins' defense, anchored by an award-winning effort from Jason Taylor, was
just good enough to keep most games within reach for the struggling offense; the acquisition
of Joey Porter only strengthens what was already a healthy, if aging, pass rush.
Although the atmosphere of upheaval Saban left in his wake has resulted in understandably
low expectations for the upcoming season, the 2007 Dolphins, armed with a solid
defense and a new offensive scheme suited to their personnel, have a realistic shot at
improving upon last year's disappointment. Just how much they improve will depend on
finding the stability at quarterback that eluded them in 2006.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (9) Ted Ginn, Jr., WR, Ohio State
Dolphins reached for the speedster, but he
provides legitimate deep threat.
2. (40) John Beck, QB, BYU
Accurate, mobile passer will have chance to
start before season's end.
2. (60) Samson Satele, G, Hawaii
Provides immediate help at either guard spot.
3. (71) Lorenzo Booker, RB, Florida State
Quick, all-purpose back will provide nice
change of pace behind Ronnie Brown.
4. (108) Paul Soliai, DT, Utah
Will compete to back up aging Keith Traylor.
6. (181) Reagan Mauia, FB, Hawaii
Converted nose guard still a work in progress.
6 (199) Drew Mormino, C, C. Michigan
Provides depth along the interior.
7. (219) Kelvin Smith, LB, Syracuse
Will help on special teams.
7. (225) Brandon Fields, P, Michigan St.
Will compete to replace Donnie Jones.
7. (238) Abraham Wright, DE, Colorado
Projects as outside LB in 3-4; could back up
1. Joey Porter, LB (Steelers)
Gives the Dolphins a legitimate pass rush
opposite Jason Taylor.
2. Jay Feely, K (Buccaneers)
Not a premier kicker, but should best Olindo
Mare's career-low 2006.
3. David Martin, TE (Packers)
Projected as a field-stretcher, but must avoid
injuries and drops.
1. Randy McMichael, TE (Rams)
Franchise leader at position won't be easily
2. Wes Welker, WR/KR (Patriots)
Developed into nice player, but Ginn should be
a suitable replacement.
3. Olindo Mare, K (Saints)
Rarely perfect from any range.
1. SORTING OUT THE QUARTERBACK QUANDARY
With Cam Cameron's new offensive philosophy has come a potential QB overhaul.
Eleven-game starter Joey Harrington was unceremoniously released and GM Randy
Mueller has spent the bulk of the offseason following Cameron's accession trying to
acquire Trent Green from the Chiefs. That quest betrays the organization's desire to
rid itself of Culpepper, too. Regardless of any veteran presence on the roster, however,
Cameron and Mueller thought highly enough of second-round draft choice John Beck
to pass on Brady Quinn and hope the 25-year-old BYU product will be mature enough
to start before season's end.
The fact that Cameron's system relies on a versatile running back rather than a gunslinging
quarterback bodes well for the undetermined Dolphins' signal-caller. If the
offensive line – still in flux after a season of poor play and injury-induced upheaval
– can't help Cory Schlesinger open holes for the running game, however, this effect
will be diminished.
2. CAN Ronnie Brown SILENCE THE CRITICS?
Many in the media have begun to mention Ronnie Brown, the second overall pick in
the 2005 draft, as a possible bust. Despite a decent 4.3 yards per carry average, he has
compiled just nine touchdowns in two years and has yet to prove durable enough to take
on 300 carries or start a full 16-game season. After acquiring a top-notch lead blocker
in Schlesinger, the Dolphins expect first-tier production from Brown in his third pro
season, although the presence of the versatile Lorenzo Booker could keep him from
shouldering as big a load as he was anticipated to receive last year. Ricky Williams
(743 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 6 TDs in 2005) is seeking reinstatement following a
stint in the CFL during his year-long drug suspension, but his future as a Dolphin is
cloudy at best.
3. GIVE A WARM WELCOME TO "THE ENTIRE GINN FAMILY"
By every account but the Dolphins', drafting wideout Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth pick
was an enormous reach, especially with Quinn still on the board. Amidst rampant booing,
coach Cameron defended the pick by, among other things, claiming to have drafted
"the entire Ginn family," with whom he has long been familiar. Possible contributions
by his immediate family aside, Ginn is still not recovered from a sprained left foot suffered
in the Fiesta Bowl and will have to overcome the pressure of an angry fan base and
constant comparisons with Quinn. If he can do that, his explosive playmaking ability
will make him an asset as a return man and a downfield threat, although his ceiling may
be no higher than a No. 2 wideout.
Rising: Linebacker Channing
Crowder will build on his first full season
as a starter, in which he recorded 103 total
tackles and his first career sack.
Falling:Marty Booker led the
team in receiving yardage in 2006 because
Culpepper and Harrington were unable to find
Chris Chambers downfield. Don't expect a
repeat, no matter who's at the helm.
Sleeper: Cameron typically likes to go
to his big tight ends. At 6-4, 265, David
Martin fits the bill.
Supersleeper: If Ronnie Brown gets hurt,
Lorenzo Booker provides the multi-dimensional
capabilities Cameron likes in his RBs.
1. Jason Taylor, DE
Count on Defensive Player of the Year for
another season of double-digit sacks and
more than his fair share of forced fumbles.
Article first appeared 6/14/07