Monday, July 21, 2008

My 2008 Dolphins Outlook

As most of you know by now the Miami Dolphins have traded DE/OLB Jason Taylor to the Washington Redskins for 2 draft picks (a 2009 2nd rounder and a 2010 6th rounder). This trade was a necessity for both sides. The Redskins lost 2 DEs during training camp practices yesterday. The defensive line was already a weak spot on the Redskins defense and losing a leader like Phillip Daniels to an ACL tear is hard to handle. To add insult to injury, reserve DE Alex Buzbee ruptured an Achilles and was lost for the season as well. Washington already has Erasmus James on the PUP list. Acquiring a veteran to team with Andre Carter became a huge need in just a few hours. Why not get one of the best in the league?

From a Dolphins stand point the trade was a necessity as well. Letting Taylor go is hard to do, since he was a Miami cornerstone and the lone bright spot on the roster; he was a known commodity. His presence on the field was matched only by his presence off the field. His immense amount of charity work in and around the south Florida area can not be overlooked. However, he had become a distraction of sorts with his ambiguous statements of whether or not he would report to training camp and how long he believed he'd continue to play football. The Dolphins have been trying to rid themselves of Hollywood Taylor since late-March. Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano could have taken what was offered around draft time - a measly 3rd rounder - or wait it out. The latter won and it turns out for the best. Casual people who recognize the name "Jason Taylor" will think that Miami was robbed. The die hard football fans will know this is not the case. Not a single team would have offered a 1st round pick for a DE who will be 34 this fall and may only want to play 1 or 2 more years. This trade works out incredibly well for both sides. The Redskins get a big name and proven player that could wreak havoc in a strong NFC East in 2008. The Dolphins rid themselves of someone who had become a pain and more of a drama queen than the person and player that gave Miami 11 strong seasons. The Dolphins grabbed 2 more picks to help the rebuilding process that should catapult them to competitor status by 2010.

OK so now, what do I think will happen for the Miami Dolphins this year? Well I am glad you asked!

The 2008 Dolphins will be better. I guarantee that. It would be hard for them to become much worse, right? The odds of having back-to-back 1 win seasons is extremely small. It has happened only once since 1970 - the 1972 & 1973 HoustonOilers won 1 of 14 games - and never since the NFL instituted a 16 game schedule in 1978. With the new "trifecta" in Miami - Parcells, Ireland, Sparano - things are in rebuilding mode for the 3rd time in 4 years. Yuck. But this installment of Dolphins rebuilding feels right. We have the right men in place to lay the foundation; that's what Parcells does. He has been building the trenches for a return to respectability in 2009 or 2010. This season is not supposed to be a giant renaissance, where the Dolphins win 10 games and are a force in January. No, this is when the new regime finds out who can cut it, who has the smarts, and who is tough. Winning 7-9 games this years would be wonderful when compared to the pathetic 2007 season. Newsflash: it probably won't happen.

The Dolphins are on the right path. Finally the football management has a plan not only for this season but for 3 years in the future. They see the potential. However it takes a few years for it to bloom. The Dolphins are very young along the offensive line. There will be at least 1 rookie starter - 2008 #1 overall pick Jake long at LT - and possibly another at guard (Shawn Murphy or Donald Thomas). Center Samson Satele is only entering his 2nd season. There is promise here but it will take at least this season and possibly 2009 for them to mature and gel as a unit.

The running back position is a bit of question, too. Ronnie Brown looked phenomenal early last year but an ACL injury is nothing to take lightly. Can he return to form and challenge Marshall Faulk's record of total yards in a season? Will Ricky Williams become the back he was in 2002 and 2003? If both rebound to their old form the Dolphins have possibly the best 1, 2 punch in the entire league. If not the power running game will suffer mightily.

Perhaps the weakest position on offense is WR. Ted Ginn was brought in for his speed but is still rather raw. He is a dynamic returner but now will be the undisputed #1 receiver. He has to learn fast and show huge strides this year. Falling in behind him will be free agent signee Ernest Wilford, who will be the possession/red zone target. He is big, strong, and has the best hands on the team. The third WR will most likley be Derek Hagan, who has shown some flashes but also drops a lot of passes. The unit is young and has potential. However they have not proved that they can handle the pressure.

Everyone knows about the problems Miami has had at QB this millennium. The position has become a black hole after the departure of DanMarino. There is a 3-way battle for the job entering training camp. Josh McCown vs John Beck vs Chad Henne. Who comes out on top? "Experts" say Josh McCown will start for a few games. A lot of fans believe it will be John Beck. I say Chad Henne. No matter who starts they have to erase the memories of futility from Cleo Lemon and Beck last season. We are not expecting a Peyton Manning or Tom Bracy performance; just something that keeps us in games. Someone that can make all the throws and avoid mistakes. Teams should always be looking for the next Trent Dilfer rather than the next Dan Marino. Dilfer kept his teams in games; Marino won games himself. It is much easier to find and assemble a team around a Dilfer than it is to with a Marino (or Manning or Brady). A stud QB doesn't come around every decade. Serviceable ones do. Can McCown, Beck, or Henne fill those kind of shoes? Hopefully.

The Dolphins defense went from being one of the best in 2006 to one of the worst in 2007. They couldn't stop the run at all. New acquisition Jason Ferguson will fill the giant void at nose tackle as the Dolphins institute a base 3-4 defense. Vonnie Holliday and Matt Roth will start a the defensive end spots but rookies Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford should see some time, as will free agent signee Randy Starks. Starks is capable of playing NT as well. The line should be improved from last year and there is plenty of depth.

The linebacker corps will look drastically different on opening day this year. First, the team will now use 4 linebackers instead of 3. Zach Thomas - the heart and sole of the team for 12 years - is now gone. Jason Taylor, expected to be a rush OLB this season like in 2006, is gone as well. Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele will most likely start inside with Joey Porter and Charlie Anderson performing on the outside. Reggie Torbor and Quentin Moses will fight for spots as well and will fit into the rotation. The loss of Thomas and Taylor however definitely means this unit is not what it would have been with them.

The secondary is a bit underrated, actually. This may surprise many people. They were average against the pass last year but were able to do this despite a ridiculous amount of injuries to the safeties. Yeremiah Bell and Jason Allen look to be the starters deep with Will Allen and Michael Lehan on the corners. Andre Goodman should be the nickelback. These definitely aren't locks though. Chris Crocker, Keith Davis, and Renaldo Hill will push Bell and J. Allen for sure. There are no standouts here but W. Allen is very underrated and is a competent #1.

After breaking down the positions I have to come to the conclusion that Miami should finish at 5-11, give or take a win. They will not finish as the worst team in the league but picking in the Top 10 during the 2009 draft is probable. If Jason Taylor were still here he may have been able to guarantee us a 6-10 or 7-9 finish. The loss of his production can't be undervalued. A 5-11 record would be an improvement over 2007 and shows that this once proud franchise is on its way back.

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