a season it was!
ten game improvement, the AFC East Championship, and a playoff berth. It all
added up to the greatest single season turnaround in NFL history for a team
with just one win the year before. Incredible!!!!
trap here is to believe the Dolphins are close to a championship. The truth is
they are closer. A lot closer. The holes are fewer, the coaching better,
the systems in place. There is no question that this team is headed for bigger
and better things in the not too distant future.
get there, the Dolphin brain trust of Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony
Sparano must fill as many needs as they can. Resting on the laurels of 2008
isn’t on their minds.
one is free agency, and the first rule of free agency is to protect your own
good players. The Dolphins have done that, smartly re-signing RT Vernon Carey,
S Yeremiah Bell, and LB Channing Crowder.
still remains to be seen just how the Dolphins will fill their shopping carts. Who
will actually make it to free agency and who can be affordably signed? Who will
be available to the Dolphins when they go on the clock?
that free agency is underway, here’s my analysis of the current roster by position,
and the areas where I believe the Dolphins are likely to shop for during the
probable 2009 starter
LT Jake Long (starter), RT Vernon Carey (starter)
Openings (2): depth
Comment: Long and
Carey give the Dolphins their best bookend tackles since Richmond Webb and Ron
Heller in the mid-90s. Long made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, an impressive
achievement. Both guys have experience playing on their opposite site, a
tremendously valuable skill that is conducive to roster flexibility. Quality depth
is the big need now, perhaps a veteran via free agency who can play RT and a
younger player to develop.
LG Justin Smiley (starter), RG Donald Thomas (starter)
Openings (3): depth
Comment: Offenses are
built from the inside out, and the Dolphins made huge strides in signing Smiley
from the 49ers and finding Thomas in the 6th round. Thomas was on
injured reserve in 2008 with a foot injury, but the comparisons to Kansas City
Pro Bowler Brian Waters have kept the team’s opinion of him very high. Thomas’s
replacement, Ikechuku Ndukwe, acquitted himself well and stands a decent chance
of making the 2009 roster as does Andy Alleman. Alleman replaced Smiley for
stretch run in December when Smiley was lost for the season (ankle). Rookie
Shawn Murphy just wasn’t ready to play in 2008 and will have to fight hard to
win a job in 2009. Expect the Dolphins to add some new faces in the mix to
upgrade the depth here.
Samson Satele (starter)
Openings (0-1): depth
Comment: Satele, one
of the best offensive rookies in football, suffered the dreaded sophomore jinx
in 2008. It is the opinion of several team watchers that the Dolphins will
definitely look to replace Satele with someone more physical, and that Satele
is destined for Guard or a trade. I’m not buying it. I believe it will be hard
for the Dolphins to sign a free agent that would be an upgrade over Satele. I also
think it is unrealistic to expect a rookie to come in and beat Satele out. It
shouldn’t surprise anyone if Satele bounces back and has a very good 2009 as a
Ronnie Brown (starter), Ricky Williams, Patrick Cobbs
Openings (0-1): depth
Comment: The Dolphins
have one of the best, if not the best, situation at RB in the NFL. Brown
finally made the Pro Bowl, a feat he would have accomplished in 2007 had he not
injured his knee. His comeback was so impressive, he earned the team’s Ed Block
Courage Award. He is unquestionably the best all-around player on the offense. Ricky
Williams showed that he still has the goods, while Patrick Cobbs, good as
always on special teams, forced the coaches to give him offensive snaps. It
will be tough for a young player to come in and beat out any of these veterans.
Openings (0-1): depth
Comment: Polite was a
short yardage conversion machine who repeatedly came up big in critical
situations. Yet I believe the Dolphins could look for another player who is a
better blocker, either to start or add depth.
Chad Pennington (starter), Chad Henne
Openings (1): depth
is the starter and Henne will back him up; that’s the plan going into the
offseason and that’s how I believe it will end up playing out for 2009. John
Beck, a 2007 second rounder, struggled throughout training camp and failed to
impress the brain trust. There have been reports that the Dolphins have been
trying to trade Beck for sometime, though nothing has panned out. Does this
mean Beck is a bust? Not necessarily. It may simply be that the is a poor fit
for Dan Henning’s system, or that his arm just wasn’t up to snuff after a full
offseason of throwing thousands of passes (Beck disclosed to me that he was not
100% going into training camp…look for an interview with him soon here at
Phins.com). I do expect the Dolphins to add another arm or two to the training
camp roster. And I expect Beck to show better this year provided that he is
still a Dolphin when training camp starts.
Ted Ginn, Jr. (starter), Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, Brandon London
Openings (1): starter
Comment: Ginn made
solid strides as a starting wide receiver, doing much better versus the press
and in his routes. As his comfort level increased, we began seeing the
playmaker in him come out. The opposition noticed too, and began doubling him
on a regular basis. Yet the Dolphins still struggled at times to hit the big
play, and they clearly need another stud, another difference maker, another receiver
to threaten the deep third of the field and force teams away from overly
focusing on the running game. Camarillo, Bess,
and London each
have their strong points as possession men, but none command the respect of
defenses in a way that meets the above need. Could free agent Laveranues Coles
be the answer? I’m sure Pennington would agree. Bess was a terrific find,
hauling in the second-most passes for an undrafted rookie (Wayne Chrebet is the
Anthony Fasano (starter)
Openings (2): depth
Comment: Fasano had a
breakout year in his first season as a Dolphin, solid in the run game and
surprisingly good as a receiver. David Martin was much better in his second
season as a Dolphin but really doesn’t fit what Henning is looking for as a
blocker. Martin suffered through repetitive concussions that must be giving the
front office some doubts. Look for several new faces in an effort to upgrade
Jason Ferguson (starter)
Openings (3): depth
Comment: Ferguson, a defensive
team captain, was another solid free agent pick up, giving the defense
credibility against the run. Second year player Paul Soliai, talented but
immature, was his back-up (though the Dolphins officially list him as a DE).
Will Soliai stick in 2009? The Dolphins will definitely be looking to add some
young talent here, both for depth and for a future starter to replace the 34
year old Ferguson
after 2009 or 2010. Upgrading this position will likely rank near the top of
the Dolphins’ “to do” list this offseason.
Vonnie Holliday (starter), Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Phillip Merling
Openings (1-2): depth
Comment: Holliday, also
a defensive team captain, is a sitting duck, cap-wise, on the books. Sparano
has a high opinion of him, however, and could persuade Parcells and Ireland to
simply renegotiate his deal or leave him alone entirely. Starks’ flexibility up
front gave defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni many options in deploying
looks and blitzes. Merling and Langford were the best rookie defensive line
picks since Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell. The competition here for the final
two spots should be among the fiercest in training camp.
Channing Crowder (starter), Joey Porter (starter), Akin Ayodele, Matt Roth, Cameron
Openings (3): starter, depth
Comment: The LB corps
went through a dramatic makeover in 2008. With the re-signing of free agent
Crowder, and Porter’s Pro Bowl season, there will be much more to build on in
2008. Ayodele will be challenged for his starting job as will Roth, who is a
liability in pass coverage but very effective on the blitz versus smaller tight
ends and backs. It will be interesting to see how Wade, the best OLB/DE
prospect in the CFL, will do versus NFL talent; his workout was quite
impressive. Look for the Dolphins to bring in a challenger for Ayodele’s job,
as well as candidates to further upgrade special teams.
Will Allen (starter)
Openings (3-4): starter, depth
Comment: This is the
biggest need area on the team as Will Allen is the only CB on the roster who is
certain to return as of this writing. The Dolphins would like Andre Goodman
back, but he is limited and will receive a lot of interest in free agency.
Jason Allen, who was coming on somewhat before injuring his hand, is not
certain to make the 2009 squad. Overall, CB could be the area of the team that
sees the biggest turnover. Could ex-Dolphin Patrick Surtain return?
Yeremiah Bell (starter), Renaldo Hill, Gibril Wilson
Openings (2-3): depth
Comment: Bell is indispensible, a
terrific player who can play LB or run with a WR. It was important that the
Dolphins not let him get away, and they didn’t. Wilson should give the team quality depth,
and the solid Hill is a favorite of the front office who figures to return.
Hill or Wilson figure to earn the starting FS job. More quality depth is needed
here to shore up special teams.
K Dan Carpenter (starter), P Brandon Fields (starter), LS John Denney (starter)
Openings (0): none
was mostly solid as a rookie on field goals and extra points, but his kickoffs
were not consistent. He will need to work hard to correct this problem. Fields
improved his sophomore season, with the flaws in his fundamentals not as
glaring. Both kickers will return in 2009. Denney was once again consistent,
but ended the regular season badly with two botched snaps against the Jets that
cost the Dolphins a TD.