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News » Miami Dolphins Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Miami Dolphins Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Miami Dolphins Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30
The secondary may be depleted unless Bill Parcells opts to re-sign free agent safeties Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill, as well as CB Andre' Goodman. Bell and Goodman had outstanding seasons but are both over 30.

GM Jeff Ireland may allow MLB Channing Crowder to seek greener pastures because he has yet to make a game-changing play in his four-year career, while RT Vernon Carey may be re-upped just because of the scarcity of decent tackles in the free agent market and draft.

Proving that assistant coaches are just as culpable as players, the Dolphins fired offensive line coach Mike Maser, who worked with Tony Sparano in Jacksonville in 2002 before joining him in Miami this season. Sparano, a successful offensive line coach with the Cowboys before Parcells hired him to coach the Dolphins, isn't interested in a dual role.

The Dolphins replaced Maser with Dave DeGuglielmo, who spent five years as an assistant line coach with the Giants.

Although RB Ronnie Brown earned his first Pro Bowl berth, the Dolphins struggled to run between the tackles when in the base offense. They were ranked a respectable 11th in rushing (118.6 yards per game), but most of those yards came when running out of the Wildcat with Brown taking the direct shotgun snap from center. The Dolphins averaged 6.1 yards per rush out of the Wildcat, and 4.2 yards-per-carry overall.

Maser also worked with offensive coordinator Dan Henning when both were with the Panthers from 2003-06.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Chad Pennington. Backups -- Chad Henne, John Beck.

Pennington was supposed to be a stopgap until Henne was ready to take over. Instead, without much of a receiving corps or a consistent offensive line, Pennington was a master technician and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He set career marks in yards (3,653) and completions (321) while finishing with a 97.4 passer rating, second highest in Dolphins history. He will remain the starter for at least another season. Henne mopped up in a Game 2 loss to Arizona and displayed maturity, poise and marksmanship in leading an 87-yard TD drive. One more year of watching Pennington's leadership skills and off-field preparation will do wonders for Henne when he takes over in 2010. Beck was inactive all season and is still on the team because the Dolphins were unable to get anything for him. His class and intelligence should eventually net Miami a fourth- to fifth-round draft pick.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Ronnie Brown, FB Lousaka Polite. Backups -- RB Ricky Williams, RB Patrick Cobbs.

Although Brown proved he was fully recovered from his torn ACL and made his first Pro Bowl, his numbers were down (916 yards on 4.3 ypc with a career-high 10 TDs) because he shared the backfield with Williams (659 yards and four TDs) as well as cameo appearances by Cobbs. Brown had three 100-yard plus games, and Williams had one. Williams seemed to lack the burst he displayed in preseason and at 31 might've lost a step, but he excelled as a pass catcher with 29 catches for 219 yards. Miami went over the 100-yard rushing mark eight times, and over 200 twice. None of the backs was consistently effective running between the tackles. That was partly due to injuries to guards Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas, and the inexperience of rookie LT Jake Long, G Ike Ndukwe and late-season insertion G Andy Alleman. However, the trendy Wildcat formation did confuse defenses and it was flawlessly run by Brown, who took the shotgun snap before running, throwing or handing off to Williams. Miami scored eight touchdowns out of the formation, including six on the ground while averaging 6.1 ypc compared to 4.2 ypc run out of the base offense. Cobbs was especially effective in the Wildcat, as a lead blocker, runner and receiver. He had 19 catches for 275 yards and two TDs, as well as 88 rushing yards on 7.5 ypc with another score. Polite, signed off the street on Oct. 15, became a first-down machine in short-yardage situations, converting 11 of 12 third- or fourth-and-1 attempts (includes 2 of 2 in the playoff loss to Baltimore). Six of those first-down plunges led to TDs. All are expected back next season.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Anthony Fasano. Backups -- David Martin, Joey Haynos.

Fasano emerged from the long shadow cast by Cowboys Pro Bowl TE Jason Witten in his first two seasons as he blossomed into a dependable receiver and improving blocker. With Miami favoring the double-TE set, Fasano, Martin and the rookie Haynos combined to catch 11 TDs, tied for most in club history. Fasano set career highs with 34 catches for 454 yards and a team-leading seven touchdown receptions, while Martin erased his long-time label as being inconsistent by making 31 catches for a career-high 450 yards and three TDs. Their blocking skills have room for improvement, but all three displayed great hands, as two of the three tight ends had TD catches in the same game three times this season. Haynos, who was signed off the Packers' practice squad in September, had a 19-yard TD against the 49ers to become the first Dolphin to record a TD on his first catch since Oronde Gadsden did it in 1998. Fasano is a Pro Bowler in the making.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Greg Camarillo. Backups -- Davone Bess, Brandon London, Ernest Wilford. Injured reserve -- Camarillo.

Ginn showed flashes of his collegiate game-breaking speed, but mostly on two end-around TD jaunts. He still has trouble creating separation downfield but did finish with 56 catches for 790 yards and two TDs. It doesn't help Ginn that while Pennington is the most accurate passer in NFL history, the deep ball isn't his forte. Ginn showed a disturbing tendency to look for the sideline instead of hard-earned yards after the catch. Overall, this unit overachieved with three receivers finishing with 50 or more catches. Camarillo turned into a dependable possession receiver with great hands and intelligent route-running, and he was leading the team with 55 catches for 613 yards before tearing his ACL against the Patriots in Game 11. A week earlier the Dolphins signed him to a three-year contract extension. He is expected back by training camp. Bess, an undrafted rookie out of Hawaii, was the gem of the year for the new regime, as he turned into a young Wes Welker clone in the slot with 54 catches for 554 yards. He was the third most prolific rookie receiver in the NFL behind Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson -- who were both second-round picks. Bess also was a dependable punt returner, averaging 11 yards per return. Conversely, Wilford was this regime's only true free-agent bust. The former Jaguars veteran couldn't get on the field, finishing with just three catches for 25 yards while being inactive in 10 games, including the playoff loss in which the Dolphins were down to just two receivers when Bess briefly left the game with a thumb injury. Expect the Dolphins to take a $6 million hit and waive Wilford in the offseason. London, a tall athletic receiver whom Bill Parcells loves, received more playing time as the season progressed (three catches for 30 yards) and seems on the verge of realizing his potential. He's also a valuable special teams contributor and should emerge next season after two years of tutelage with the Giants and Dolphins. WR Derek Hagan was surprisingly cut on Nov. 5 and eventually signed with the Giants. This position must be addressed in the draft.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jake Long, LG Justin Smiley, C Samson Satele, RG Donald Thomas, RT Vernon Carey. Backups -- C Al Johnson, G Ike Ndukwe, G Andy Alleman, G Shawn Murphy, T Brandon Frye, T Nate Garner. Injured reserve -- Thomas, Smiley.

Despite season-ending injuries to Thomas (in Game 1) and Smiley (Game 12), this unit provided Pennington with solid pass protection as he was sacked just 24 times. That was partly due to clever play-calling by offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who called for short drops, quick passes and the Wildcat, which often was run with an unbalanced line. That took some pressure off Long, but he displayed quick feet in shifting to the right side on several of those 'Cats. Long, the overall No. 1 pick, looks like the real deal despite a few rookie mistakes along the way. Carey made a seamless transition from the left to right side and is one of the Dolphins' five key free agents that they need to make a decision on. Carey, a Miami native, may give the team a hometown discount, but not too much. He could command a $10 million-per-year deal because of the scarcity of talent at the position. The running game was aided by the Wildcat because Brown had more time and room to pick a crack after receiving the shotgun snap several yards behind center. The loss of Thomas in the season opener was costly as neither Ndukwe or Alleman provided the push in the running game that Thomas showed in the preseason. Smiley was the most consistent and experienced lineman in the group, so when he went down in the Rams game, the running game went with him. He is expected to make a full recovery from leg, ankle and shoulder surgery. Satele seemed better suited at guard when he pulled during the Wildcat or when Johnson took some snaps at center in the latter stages of the season. Sparano loves Johnson's football IQ, and Satele had a tendency to get overpowered by the mammoth nose tackles in the AFC East. Only Long, Smiley and Thomas are safe on this unit, with Miami expected to continue to build from the inside out in the April draft.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Kendall Langford, DRE Vonnie Holliday, NT Jason Ferguson. Backups -- DLE Randy Starks, DRE Phillip Merling, NT Paul Soliai, DE Rod Wright, DE Lionel Dotson.

Langford and Merling infused youth, speed and power into a unit that improved its run defense from 32nd to 10th in the NFL. However, the Dolphins did allow opponents to go over 100 rushing yards in 10 of 17 games, and other than Joey Porter, they created very little pressure in the pocket. Merling seemed to hit the rookie wall midway through the season, but Langford blossomed and capped off his rookie year by picking off Brett Favre for a key pick-six in Miami's AFC East-clinching victory over the Jets. Holliday, 33, provided his usual leadership on and off the field, and while his sack numbers were down, he was a pillar of strength at the point of attack in running situations. His hefty $5.75 million cap number could hasten his departure; however, Miami has plenty of cap room. Ferguson, who will be 35 next season, was brought in for his work ethic and locker room presence, as well as for his ability to anchor the 3-4. He had a career-low 22 tackles, but without him the run defense would've suffered. Starks was stellar in the D-line rotation in passing situations with three sacks and his first career pick. Soliai's maturity and work ethic remain a question mark with his two separate one-game suspensions for disciplinary reasons this season, but he played his best ball during the stretch run. Dotson remains a project, and Wright was inactive for most of the season. No doubt, the Dolphins will look to add another young nose tackle and pass-rushing defensive end in the offseason.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Matt Roth, MLB Channing Crowder, ILB Akin Ayodele, WLB Joey Porter. Backups -- SLB Quentin Moses, Erik Walden, WLB Charlie Anderson, ILB Reggie Torbor, William Crenshaw, Derek Smith.

Roth made a smooth transition from defensive end to outside backer where he was instrumental in sealing the perimeter with 53 tackles, while adding a career-high five sacks, however, his pass coverage is still a work in progress. Crowder needed to prove he could be a playmaking MIKE instead of a system backer. While he was always there to clean up the mess with a career-high 114 tackles, he only caused one fumble and still has no picks in four seasons. His balky knees, which hindered his play down the stretch, is a perfect excuse for the Dolphins to allow the former Gator to test the free-agent market while they shop for a replacement. Ayodele has never missed a game in his seven seasons and he provided excellent run support with 74 tackles, while adding two interceptions. Torbor was a special teams stalwart with 11 tackles, and filled in admirably in the base 3-4 with six more tackles. However, nothing compared to the resurgence of the trash-talking Porter, who quieted his detractors with a career-high 17.5 sacks, the most in the AFC, to earn his fourth trip to Hawaii, but first since 2005. Porter, who also forced four fumbles and made several game-deciding plays, needs help from the other side to truly raise his game another notch. After a slow start Anderson showed flashes of being that guy with two of his 2.5 sacks in the final month, however, he's still raw.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Andre' Goodman, LCB Will Allen, SS Yeremiah Bell, FS Renaldo Hill. Backups -- CB Jason Allen, CB Nate Jones, CB Joey Thomas, S Tyrone Culver, S Courtney Bryan.

After a shaky start in the season-opening losses to the Jets and Cardinals, this unit went from a team weakness to a strength by season's end, with Goodman supplying Pro Bowl-like, lockdown man-to-man coverage in the final 10 games of the season. He finished with a career-high five picks and 19 pass breakups, to basically force Miami to re-sign him even though he turns 31 in the summer. Will Allen was off to an All-Pro start as teams were picking on Goodman, but then defensive coordinators switched their strategy mainly because Allen was nursing knee and groin injuries in the second half of the season. However, he displayed his toughness and finished with three picks -- his most since his rookie season in 2001 -- and 15 pass breakups. Allen is also a sure-handed tackler (50). Jones took over the nickel duties from Jason Allen, who suffered a setback when he broke his hand in Game 11. Jones, another Parcells-Sparano Dallas holdover, aced his added responsibilities with three sacks and an interception in the final quarter of the season. Culver showed off some playmaking skills in his limited time on the field, but Thomas disappointed when he was given an opportunity against the Patriots. Bryan was brought back to bolster special teams. Bell proved that when healthy he's a ball-hawking, game-breaking Pro Bowler, as he led the team with 120 tackles to go with 10 pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He should be tagged to prove he could remain healthy for another season or re-signed to a three-year deal. When Hill took back his starting job from a cut Chris Crocker early in the season, the communication in the back end was solved and those 25-yards-plus pass plays that were an epidemic early on slowed to a halt during Miami's nine of 10 victory run to close the season. Hill added 74 tackles and three picks. Bell, Hill and Goodman are all unrestricted free agents and in their early 30s, so decisions need to be made, and young corners need to be added via the draft.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters -- K Dan Carpenter, P Brandon Fields, LS John Denney, KR Patrick Cobbs, PR Davone Bess. Backups -- KR Ted Ginn Jr., KR Bess, PR Ginn.

Parcells and Ireland shockingly cut veteran Jay Feely in the preseason, although the kicker was coming off one of the most accurate field-goal seasons of all time. They went with an undrafted rookie from Montana, and the move paid dividends as Carpenter at one point drilled 14 consecutive field goals. His directional kickoff skills helped cut down the long runbacks that had plagued this unit in the first half of the season. Still, he only had one 50-yard kick and just seven touchbacks. Miami was ranked 30th in opponent's field position. Ginn was replaced by a more effective Cobbs in the final month of the season. Fields became very consistent, especially with his ability to place 24 punts inside the 20. Bess was a slippery punt returner, rarely going down on the first hit, as he averaged 11 yards a return. The tackling on kick coverage units picked up, thanks to players such as Jason Allen, Brandon London, Nate Jones and Cobbs. For a while it seemed as if special teams coach John Bonamego's job security was at risk but he plugged up the leaks on the fly.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 30, 2009

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Paul Soliai Name: Paul Soliai
Position: DT
Age: 24
Experience: 2 years
College: Utah
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