Small Fish In a Big Pond: Previewing the 2010 Miami Dolphins

David CarterCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 15:  Quarterback Chad Henne #7 and running back Ronnie Brown #23 of the Miami Dolphins celebrate after a long run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Land Shark Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Buccaneers 25-23.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

So it’s the third go-around for the Miami Dolphins and their little three-headed no-so-scary monster. The three heads belong to Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano. After a ten-game turnaround in 2008, the Dolphins answered 2009 with a season that wasn’t as successful. With the up-and-coming New York Jets and the always-successful New England Patriots in the division, I’d be surprised if they finished higher than third in 2010. If they want to make some noise this year in the AFC, they need to learn how to put more into their passing offense and how to stop the pass.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning and quarterbacks coach David Lee did a nice job last season at molding Chad Henne into a legit starting quarterback. Now with Brandon Marshall as the main piece in the Dolphins offense, things might go a little bit smoother for Henne. The Dolphins can also get advice on how to handle Marshall from new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who replaces Paul Pasqualoni and should bring more of an attacking style.

When Chad Pennington tore up his shoulder in Week 3 last season, Chad Henne took over and went 7-6 the rest of the way, even while getting hardly any support from his defense and playing with pedestrian complementary players. Chad Henne does have lots of positives and a few negatives to his game. He’s got the size, arm and confidence to be a legit quality NFL quarterback. He also a few negative issues to his game such as pocket awareness and touch.

Chad Pennington decided to take the number 3 role this season and become more of a mentor to Henne and backup QBs Pat White and Tyler Thigpen. Thigpen has proven that he can play well in the NFL, while Pat White has yet to have that opportunity. He looked overmatched as a rookie, even in specially designed Wildcat packages.

Running backs
There really isn’t an issue with the RB situation or the depth chart. The Dolphins look like they will continue to use the two-man system with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. But a key question is if Ronnie Brown can stay healthy for once. He’s very physical, and versatile. But he did miss the final seven games of 2009 with a fractured foot. This came two years after missing the final nine games with a knee injury. He’s the only man on the roster who can run the Wildcat plays to full effect, and he takes the burden off his close friend Ricky Williams.

I’m not so sure if Ricky can be counted on during a 16-game season. While Brown was on the shelf, Ricky ripped off four 100-yard rushing performances in the first five games but was not as effective down the stretch. His workloard consisted of 241 carries, which was more than he’d had the previous three seasons combined and his most since 2003. If Patrick Cobbs returns from his knee injury, he could take some of the load off Williams’ back. He’s a guy I’ve been wanting to see more of because he can catch well, run from scrimmage, and return kicks. Fullback Lousaka Polite is automatic as a short-yardage rusher and has greatly improved his blocking.

Wide Receivers
I’m expecting the Dolphins' passing yardage number to increase a little more in 2010. There is one reason for this. HINT: It starts with Brandon and end with Marshall. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with about 90 catches this season, if he stays healthy and consistent. Oh, and he has to keep his cool off the field as well. But overall, the Dolphins front office did a great job at picking up this guy if they want to improve on the passing game. The Dolphins only scored six touchdowns by their four primary receivers in 2009. Brandon Marshall has averaged 7.7 touchdowns and 109 catches over the past three seasons. He’s not a burner, but he definitely is a premium possession receiver and will make Chad Henne look a little better. His presence should also allow other wideouts to fit into their roles a little bit more comfortably.

Brian Hartline showed promise as a rookie with his terrific route running and occasionally broke out on big plays. Greg Camarillo returns another year removed. He’s one of the more reliable receivers in the league, considering he didn’t drop a single pass last season. Devone Bess remains crafty in the slot. All they really need is a speedster and a dynamic tight end. They no longer have a speedy guy going down the field now that they decided to let go of Ted Ginn Jr. But at tight end the teams hopes Anthony Fasano bounces back from a disappointing year to help Marshall and Bess work the middle of the field.

Offensive Linemen
The O-line starts with Jake Long, a decent run-blocker who has demonstrated that he can adjust enough to handle the speed rushers. The organization and fans shouldn’t worry about him. The other two positions are also set. Jake Grove performed well at center, and he returns along with right tackle Vernon Carey, who’s been bothered by knee and back issues. But a changing of the guards seems to be coming. Justin Smiley got hurt and didn’t finish either of his Dolphins seasons and now is with the Jaguars.

Now, Nate Garner will get a shot at left guard. He’s shown remarkable versatility, playing tackle, guard and center in a single game. Another potential left guard is Donald Thomas. The right guard spot should be going to the interesting Richie Incognito, who’s known for his more dirty play and causes a few penalties here and there. But apparently Coach Sparano likes the guy so he should be in the lineup if he stays consistent.

Defensive Linemen
Randy Starks is the most consistent guy in this bunch, considering he was practically the only one who didn’t crumble during the 2009 season. You also have Jason Ferguson and his issues as well as Paul Soliai and his issue what doctors call “a little bit of a weight problem.”

With Randy Starks most likely being shifted to the inside, that leaves three younger players that will have a chance to make a name for themselves on the outside. These guys include Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford who both have made little sparks but not enough impact plays. If Merling doesn’t improve his work ethic, Jared Odrick could end seeing more playing time at his expense.

Channing Crowder returns with more help inside. The Dolphins replaced Akin Ayodele with former Cardinals standout Karlos Dansby, spending lavishly to do so. Dansby has shown during his days in Arizona that he can make the big plays. Cameron Wake comes into the NFL from the Canadian Football League where he won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Other players worth mentioning include Quentin Moses and Charlie Anderson who haven’t really proved much to this point.

Even though the Dolphins didn’t intend to start rookie cornerbacks in 2009, that’s exactly what happened thanks to Will Allen’s knee injury that forced Vontae Davis into the lineup with Sean Smith. Davis is known to be very spectacular at times. He also loves to talk a little trash and is a hard hitter. Then there’s Sean Smith who’s very tall, and uses his feet well but isn’t the toughest guy in the world. If ether show signs of inconsistency, the Dolphins could turn it back over to Allen.

Yeremiah Bell saw his perseverance result in his first Pro Bowl appearance, even if he didn’t have his best overall season. But at the end of the day, he is a very good playmaker. The loss of Gibril Wilson gives Chris Clemons, the very smart Tyrone Culver and rookie Reshad Jones to compete for the spot.

Special Teams
The kicking game doesn’t seem to be a problem at all. Dan Carpenter has grown to be one of the more consistent and one of my favorite kickers in the NFL. He only missed three field goals last year. Punter Brandon Fields was much more efficient than earlier in his career, forcing opponents to start 25 times inside the 20-yard line.

The return game still need some tweaking. With Ted Ginn Jr. gone to San Francisco, the Dolphins don’t have a potential game-breaker at either spot. Davone Bess, who handles punt returns, can make defenders miss but isn’t much of a breakaway guy. This might be where Pat White can put his speed to use.

Final Thoughts
Ever since the Parcells, Ireland and Sparano took over the Miami Dolphins, only 12 players from that original roster remain (so far). And only half of those guys could have a chance to start. They have a nice QB and big, physical players at pretty much every position. But it won’t be a championship team until Chad Henne takes the necessary steps from being a good quarterback to a great one. This could take a while, if at all. Finishing in 2nd place in the AFC East would be surprising to me in 2010.

FINAL PREDICTION: 3rd in AFC East Division, Misses Playoffs


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