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2006 Team Report: Miami Dolphins

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Daunte Culpepper
Backup(s): Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemmon, Brock Berlin [r], Marcus Vick [r]

Starting QB: When the Dolphins traded for three-time Pro Bowl QB Daunte Culpepper, they set themselves up at the quarterback position for the foreseeable future. Culpepper suffered three torn knee ligaments last season, but has made a nearly miraculous recovery and played in the Dolphins' first preseason game (if only for six plays), getting more action in the second and third games. He will open the season as the Dolphins' starting quarterback. He should immediately boost the production of starting WRs Chris Chambers and Marty Booker, as well as TE Randy McMichael and RB Ronnie Brown. HC Nick Saban improved the Dolphins’ pass protection and has instituted a passing attack that is better than any the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.

Backup QB: The team traded for Joey Harrington to be Culpepper’s backup and, it was thought at the time, to open the season as the team’s starting QB. The trade was mandated by Harrington’s demands after he was given freedom to negotiate with other teams for a trade. Harrington stated that he would only restructure his contract and forego a $4 million roster bonus if he was traded to the Dolphins. Harrington struggled in Detroit to amass either wins or solid passing statistics despite a host of receiving talent. He managed to crack 3000 yards in 2004 and had 19 TDs versus 12 INTs, which are similar numbers to Gus Frerotte’s as the Dolphins’ starter in 2005. Cleo Lemon earned a roster spot with the San Diego Chargers in 2005 and was traded to the Dolphins. He will be relegated to a third quarterback role if he makes the 2006 roster. Brock Berlin was with the Dolphins in 2005 but was cut before the season.

Running Backs

Starter: Ronnie Brown
Backup(s): Travis Minor, Sammy Morris, Ricky Williams (susp)
Fullback(s): Fred Beasley, Darian Barnes

Starting RB: Ronnie Brown heads into his second year after a 2005 season where he showed he can become all the team thought they were getting from their second overall draft pick. Though he was not able to put up mind bending statistics like fellow Auburn draft pick RB Cadillac Williams, that was primarily because he was splitting time with a resurgent Ricky Williams, not because he was unable to do so. He only had 81 carries and 19 targets in the second half of the season and never had more than 15 carries in any of those games. He will certainly average close to 20 carries and should average, as a bare minimum, 3 targets per game.

Backup RBs: Ricky Williams blew his shot to play in the NFL this year, and will not be a factor for the Dolphins in 2006 unless he can be traded. Tough-nosed Sammy Morris, who plays very well on special teams, was re-signed by the Dolphins and will most likely serve as Brown’s immediate backup. Morris showed flashes of being able to handle the starting role in 2004 as he rushed for a 4.0 YPC average behind a line that averaged 3.49 YPC on the year. The team indicated it is prepared to keep Morris as Brown’s primary backup after failing to draft a back in the 2006 draft. The elusive Travis Minor did not touch the ball after the first game of 2005, but he could see a bigger role in 2006 if no veteran backup is signed as he is currently third on the running back depth chart.

Fullback: The Dolphins signed former San Francisco fullback Fred Beasley as an unrestricted free agent. Beasley is a tremendous lead blocker who went to the Pro Bowl in 2004. Not only will Beasley help Brown on the field, but he will provide an excellent locker room presence. As an added bonus to Brown, he is also an Auburn graduate. Beasley will be active in the passing game both as a pass protection blocker and as a receiver. Darian Barnes played under Nick Saban at LSU, and, if the team keeps two fullbacks, he will probably remain with the team.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Chris Chambers, Marty Booker
Backups: Wes Welker (KR/PR), Derek Hagan (r), Devin Aromashodu (r), Kendall Newson, Kelly Campbell, Marcus Vick (r)

Starting WRs: Chris Chambers had a bust-out 2005 season and made the Pro Bowl as he had career highs in targets (166), catches (82), yards (1118), and TDs (11). Given Joey Harrington’s struggles in Detroit, Chambers will be hard pressed to duplicate those numbers. When QB Daunte Culpepper gets into action, however, Chambers should emerge as an elite fantasy receiver before the season is over. Culpepper’s ability to throw the deep pass and Chambers’ ability to get open downfield are likely to combine for some big numbers. Chambers is definitely in the “acquire” column for keeper and dynasty leagues. Across from him, Marty Booker provides a solid veteran presence. He had fewer targets and receptions in 2005 than in 2004, but higher yardage and TD numbers. He also had a career best 17.6 YPC, which is a testament to the Dolphins new “stretch the field” passing game.

Backup WRs: Wes Welker was the team’s primary third receiver in 2005, and he occasionally made some crucial catches, but he is best suited as a return specialist. He will see some game time, especially early in the year while rookie Derek Hagan learns the NFL game. The Dolphins, however, hope that Hagan will step right into the third receiver role. Hagan was considered a late first/early second round prospect, but his stock dropped after a poor Senior Bowl. Teams apparently questioned his hands. That worked out well for the Dolphins as Hagan caught 94 percent of his targets in college. He lacks optimal speed and explosiveness, but he has great hands. With Booker, Hagan, and TE Randy McMichael, the Dolphins have a solid crew of possession receivers to prevent teams from doubling Chambers too often. The other backup receivers are not likely to have a significant impact, though the team signed QB Marcus Vick as an undrafted rookie, and will move him to wide receiver. Vick is a tremendous athlete, and he could fill a “Slash”-like role for the team. If Nick Saban tames Vick’s well publicized off-field issues, he could be a nice playmaker at receiver, special teams, and as an emergency/trick play QB.

Tight Ends

Starters: Randy McMichael
Backups: Justin Peelle, Lorenzo Diamond

Randy McMichael has been a top-10 fantasy tight end for his entire four year career. He vanishes, however, towards the end of each season. He has no touchdowns after week 13 in any season. McMichael is now entrenched as one of the league’s top receiving tight ends. He is extremely difficult to cover as he possesses an ideal combination of size, speed, and athletic ability. His ability to concentrate on the ball results in quite a few acrobatic catches every year. McMichael is a very nice underneath complement to Chambers and Booker downfield. He is probably the primary reason Booker, who never had more than 14 YPC in any season, was able to jump to 17.6 YPC in 2005. Justin Peelle will be as adequate a backup to McMichael as he was for Antonion Gates in San Diego. Lorenzo Diamond is a blocking TE.

Place Kicker

Olindo Mare : After three sub-80% years, and a 2004 spent battling injury, Mare returned to form in 2005. He connected on 83.3% of his FGs, including going 7 of 8 from 40+ yards. Kickoffs have always been one of his strengths, and his 67.0 yard average last year was the highest of his nine year career. Mare is not on the best of terms with the Dolphins’ management. After the 2003 season, the team owner publicly blamed Mare for the Dolphins having missed the playoffs. This year he publicly expressed concern over being asked to take a pay cut. They countered by saying it was a restructuring, and not a pay cut ultimatum. Stay tuned.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Wes Welker; Travis Minor

WR Wes Welker followed up his surprising rookie debut in 2004, when he was the 4th ranked fantasy returner, with a 3rd place finish last year. He handled 61 of the Dolphins 68 kickoff returns last year, averaging 22.6 yards. RB Travis Minor, the team’s leading KR in 2003, serves as a backup (2 returns, 11.0 avg.).

Punt Returners: Wes Welker; Marty Booker

Wes Welker handled every one of the Dolphins 43 punt returns last year, averaging 9.1 yards. He underwent ankle surgery in late March, with a projected two month recovery period. WR Marty Booker is unlikely to see any action. He has a grand total of zero returns during his seven years in the NFL.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Damion McIntosh, RG Vernon Carey, C Seth McKinney, LG Jeno James, LT L.J. Shelton
Key Backups: G Rex Hadnot, T Wade Smith, T Anthony Alabi, T Joe Toledo (rookie)

The Dolphins offensive line made giant strides last year as the season wore on and the guy who should get the credit for that improvement is coach Hudson Houck who worked his magic with the club. Last year started poorly but this unit improved as the year wore on and at the end of the year there were big holes for the running game to exploit. L.J.Shelton was brought in via free agency and will likely slot in at left tackle. He has never reached the level he was expected to as a 1st round pick but he is an upgrade for the Dolphins. It appears at this time that Damion McIntosh will slide over to the right side of the line but that is still up in the air. McIntosh started all 16 games in 2005 for the first time in his career and gave up only four sacks. Guard Jeno James became a force as the year wore on and will be back as the starting left guard this year. He is a big guy who can really open holes in the running game. Center Seth McKinney missed the final few games last season but had a very productive year and will start once again in 2006. Vernon Carey started fourteen games last year and should slot back into the guard position where he can be a force. Rookie tackle Joe Toledo is a former tight end with excellent athleticism and nice upside. He may develop over time into a first-rate player. This unit has the makings of a strong group in 2006.

Team Defense

While Nick Saban has a defensive background, he jumped at the chance to hire Dom Capers as his defensive coordinator. Capers was one of the best defensive coordinators in the league before becoming head coach of the expansion Panthers and Texans. He’s a proponent of the 3-4 defense, so expect the Dolphins to use that formation even more often in 2006 than they did last year. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas are still playing at an elite level, but they are both at an age when it would be reasonable to expect some decline. Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday demonstrated that they still had some gas left in the tank last year and are both versatile players who fit in well with the hybrid defense that Saban prefers. At LB, Channing Crowder is coming off a promising rookie campaign and should be a fixture in the lineup for years to come. The secondary has been almost completely rebuilt through free agency and the draft with only one returning starter. The overall talent here is not that impressive and an infusion of youth will be needed soon, but this remains a veteran unit who should be well coached and able to maximize their potential for another year or two.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Jason Taylor, LDE Kevin Carter, DT Vonnie Holliday, DT Keith Traylor
Backups: DE David Bowens, DE Matt Roth, DT Jeff Zgonina, DT Dan Wilkinson, DT Kevin Vickerson, DT Rodrique Wright

Starting DL: Coming off a disappointing 2004, there was some concern about how Jason Taylor would fit in the new system last year but he responded with a 12 sack season and set a career high for solo tackles with 52. Despite being somewhat undersized for the DE position, Taylor has been remarkably durable throughout his career and hasn’t missed a single game since 1999. In the Dolphins defense, Taylor plays a position similar to what a rush LB would play in a 3-4, with Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday manning what would be considered the DE spots. Carter has had a mostly successful 11-year career and has 92 career sacks, but he’s currently 32 years old and no longer the pass rusher he used to be. His size makes him a great fit for this defense, however, because he has the strength to hold up against offensive tackles but is still quick enough to get penetration. Vonnie Holliday was signed at a bargain price last year and rewarded the Dolphins with his best season since 2001. He played in all 16 games and finished strong with 4 sacks in his last 6 games. Keith Traylor filled in capably at nose tackle for the Dolphins last year, but he’ll be 37 years old when the season starts and probably won’t be effective if he has to play more than 15-20 snaps per game. They will need another player to emerge at the NT position this year.

Backup DL: After playing an entire season as a starter in 2004, David Bowens put up very similar numbers in 2005 despite a significant reduction in playing time. Playing fewer snaps as a pass rush specialist should keep him well rested. Matt Roth was a 2nd round pick last year who was active for all 16 games and got more playing time as the year progressed. He is a possible replacement for Jason Taylor down the road, but for now he’ll have to compete with David Bowens for more playing time. Jeff Zgonina has been in the league since 1993 and has played on 6 different teams. He’ll be 36 years old this year, but hasn’t missed a game in over four full seasons and can still contribute as part of a DT rotation. To address their lack of depth at NT, the team signed veteran Dan Wilkinson in mid-August. He should push for playing time right away and could take over the starting job. Kevin Vickerson is a tough player taken in the 7th round last year who lost his entire rookie season to a knee injury suffered in the preseason. Rodrique Wright was once a highly regarded player at Texas who fell in the draft due to a disappointing senior season and a shoulder injury.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Channing Crowder, MLB Zach Thomas, SLB Donnie Spragan
Backups: OLB Sedrick Hodge, ILB Derrick Pope, ILB Lester Towns

Starting LBs: Channing Crowder wound up being one of the bigger steals on draft day as teams were scared off by his injury history and the Dolphins were able to land a first round talent in round 3. He replaced Junior Seau at WLB early in the season and played well there. Crowder is expected to eventually take over at MLB, but Thomas showed no signs of slowing down last year. Despite missing a couple games, Thomas still posted an amazing 107 solo tackles and finished as a top-3 fantasy LB. If he can hold up, the Dolphins will have a nice LB tandem to build their defense around. Junior Seau was moved to SLB last year, but injuries limited him to just 7 games and he will likely retire this offseason. Spragan was an undrafted free agent who emerged with the Broncos in 2003. He’s a smart player but lacks ideal size for the strong side and will have to beat out Sedrick Hodge in training camp.

Backup LBs: The Dolphins signed Sedrick Hodge from the Saints and will let him compete with Spragan for the SLB spot this year. Hodge is bigger and a couple years younger, but he never did much to distinguish himself on some poor Saints defenses. Derrick Pope is a small LB with good speed and toughness who has 5 starts at MLB over his first two years filling in for an injured Zach Thomas. Lester Towns got his start with the Panthers in 2000 and looked very promising for a couple seasons until a series of injuries started to take their toll. He’ll provide some depth inside and contribute on special teams.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Will Allen, CB Travis Daniels, SS Renaldo Hill, FS Jason Allen
Backups: CB Andre Goodman, CB Shirdonya Mitchell, CB Chris Thompson, S Yeremiah Bell, S Travares Tillman, S Deke Cooper, S Norman LeJeune

Starting DBs: The Dolphins completely rebuilt their secondary this year, letting 3 starters leave via free agency. Long-time Dolphin Sam Madison signed with the Giants, and former Giant Will Allen will take his place in Miami. Allen is a good cover corner and a good wrap up tackler, but he can be passive at times and the Giants became increasingly frustrated with his lack of playmaking ability (4 INTs over the last 4 years). A 4th round pick last year, Travis Daniels played under Nick Saban at LSU, and his familiarity with the system helped him to make quick transition to the NFL. Daniels has good size and is at his best in press coverage. Renaldo Hill is a CB who played like a 3rd safety in the Raiders base defense last year that included 5 DBs. Although undersized at just 190 pounds, Hill is a great tackler and is expected to start at strong safety. The Dolphins used their first round pick to bring in Jason Allen from Tennessee. Allen has the size of a safety with the skills of a cornerback, but a series of injuries in college have raised doubts about his durability.

Backup DBs: Andre Goodman spent his first four seasons in Detroit, and although he has starting experience, he is probably a much better fit as a nickel or dime back. Shirdonya Mitchell missed his rookie season with a knee injury but will compete for a roster spot in training camp. Chris Thompson was a former 5th round pick who was forced into action in the playoffs for the Bears last year and was beaten badly by Steve Smith. Yeremiah Bell has been a valuable special teams player for the Dolphins and has shown promise as a safety, but he’ll need to become more consistent to win the starting job. Travares Tillman got a chance to start last year and played better than expected, but he’s still not much more than a depth player at this point with a very small chance to win a starting job. Deke Cooper was signed from Jacksonville, where he spent the past few seasons backing up Donovin Darius. Cooper has good size and matches up well in coverage, but can be overpowered and misses some tackles he should make. Norman LeJeune was a 7th round pick last year who also played under Nick Saban at LSU.

Last modified: 2006-09-03 06:45:47



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