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News » Miami Dolphins Inside Slant 2008-08-28


Miami Dolphins Inside Slant 2008-08-28


Miami Dolphins Inside Slant 2008-08-28
When training camp opened, the Dolphins didn't have a proven quarterback; they had one running back coming off knee surgery and another with six carries in the past three seasons who was one strike (or puff) away from another suspension; the premier defender was dancing in Hollywood instead of working out in Davie; and a coach whose named sounded like a certain TV mafia don who didn't look at his questioners in the face or while wearing dark sunglasses inside or outside.


But they did have Bill Parcells, the czar of transforming moribund franchises into playoff contenders within two years of taking the reins, watching every practice, needling every player and evaluating everyone on the field as well as those still on the market.

"I'm trying to serve as a guidance counselor, help put the structure in place that allows the Dolphins to go forward. This is Tony's program," Parcells said, referring to first-year coach Tony Sparano.

By the final exhibition game, Parcells' hand-picked rookie coach became at ease with the media, and the Dolphins had a seasoned, cerebral quarterback in Chad Pennington who brings leadership to a young offense while mentoring the quarterback of the future in Chad Henne. Pennington was in camp less than a week, but instantly upgraded the receivers with his accurate passes.

In his first two starts against Jacksonville and Kansas City, Pennington directed scoring dives on five of his eight series, going 16 of 21 for 149 yards with one touchdown and no picks. He even scrambled for 31 yards on three totes.

"He's got a swagger with him," outside linebacker Joey Porter said of Pennington. "The first day he was out there he was hitting a lot of good passes and the offense had a little more swagger with them."

They gained 287 rushing yards in dominant exhibitions wins over Jacksonville and Kansas City, as Ricky Williams displayed his 2002 NFL rushing championship form. It appears Ricky, at 31, will be the featured back until Ronnie Brown fully recovers from knee surgery. Trusting Ricky hasn't always worked out for the Fins, but he seems focused, especially being in the last year of his contract.

"I like the fact that I have an opportunity to be the best at what I do, and that's what my motivation is. That's what drives me. I'm just starting to realize that," said Williams, whose 1,853 rushing yards led the league in 2002.

"That's why I'm out here still playing. That's why I'm doing this thing. That's why I push myself. I don't feel comfortable not striving to be the best. Not that I'm always going to be the best.

"It at least has to be a dream, something I can get a glimpse of."

With offensive coordinator Dan Henning employing his double tight-end, inside-the-tackles power running attack, and No. 1 overall pick left tackle Jake Long paving the way, the Dolphins will be able to be more effective on play-action. But don't expect Pennington to suddenly have Brett Favre-like arm strength. This will be well-time, short passing attack, with plenty of dump-offs to backs and tight ends.

The key to the defensive turnaround (32nd in run defense) will be the health of nose tackle Jason Ferguson (triceps), strong safety Yeremiah Bell (Achilles) and Porter (back). If Porter can return to his Pro Bowl form, middle linebacker Channing Crowder can fulfill his potential now that his mentor, Zach Thomas, is in Dallas, and rookie defensive ends Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford continue to break down the pocket this can be a much improved unit.

"We lost our respect last year. Let's be honest with ourselves. 1-15, nobody respects you," Crowder said. "Even talking to guys like L.J. (Larry Johnson) and Tony (Gonzalez), they see that we're turning it around."

However, at least 12 new starters on a roster loaded with 22 rookies will take time to jell. Now they have to face two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks at least four times a year in Brett Favre and Tom Brady, so it won't be easy.

A 7-9 season is within reach and a vast improvement over last year's mess. Remember, Parcells isn't the only master of turnarounds. Henning did it in Carolina and with Parcells on the Jets.

"I realize Rome wasn't built in a day and this football team isn't going to be built in a day or a week or even a year," Pennington said. "That doesn't mean we can't win games, so what you focus on is not beating yourself."

COACHING: Tony Sparano, first year, (0-0).

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 1-15 (last in AFC East).

PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record of 7-9 (3rd in AFC East).



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

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John Denney Name: John Denney
#92
Position: DE
Age: 29
Experience: 4 years
College: Brigham Young
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