On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I
will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Offensive Backs
Current State: What a difference a year makes.
In 2004, Miami’s starting backfield was a shambles. It started with the “retirement”
of Ricky Williams, continued with injuries to starters Travis Minor and Rob
Konrad, and ended with the misguided trade for Lamar Gordon. Various combinations
at halfback and fullback yielded very little success.
In 2005, Nick Saban rebuilt the backfield. He began by convincing Williams
to return to the Dolphins. He then spent a first round pick (2nd
overall) for Ronnie Brown. Some new faces at fullback, first Heath Evans and
then Darian Barnes, made up for the free agent loss of Rob Konrad (he would
The results were extremely positive. Between Brown and Williams (a.k.a. R&R),
Miami rushed for 1,650 yards (4.4 average) and 10 touchdowns.
Brown started the season slowly, creating early concern that the Dolphins
had drafted the wrong Auburn running back (Carnell “Cadillac” Williams being
the other man in question). Given that Cadillac ended up winning the NFL’s
Offensive Rookie of the Year award, such speculation is bound to continue. Nevertheless,
Brown’s performance proved that the Dolphins picked an excellent player in his
own right; a rare combination of size, speed, power, and receiving ability.
Although Cadillac took most of the spotlight last year, it could be Brown who
ends up being the better player over the long term.
As for Ricky, his 2005 return following a mandatory four game suspension
was an all around success. Off the field, Ricky was a model citizen and did
everything the team asked. On the field, a slimmer and faster Williams proved
that he can still carry the rock with the best of them. It is very unfortunate
that Ricky’s latest alleged violation of the league’s substance abuse policy could
result in a one year suspension and, perhaps, the effective end of his career.
While it has been suggested that Williams may not have used an illegal
substance but rather an herbal supplement as part of his holistic medicine, his
fate is still very much in doubt. A recent appeal to the NFL has been heard; a
decision is forthcoming.
Should Williams lose his appeal, Brown would become the exclusive feature
back and the Dolphins would need to identify a back-up. Amongst players
currently on the roster, Travis Minor and the recently re-signed Sammy Morris
would be the leading candidates.
Minor, relegated mostly to special teams last season, would have a tough
time holding up in a full-time role should Brown go down. Minor’s style is that
of a chance-of-pace player, a guy who performs very well in open space. He is
also effective as a receiver out of the backfield, especially in the flats.
Morris, a very good special teams player, saw some light duty at RB with16
attempts for 58 yards (3.6 average) and a 9 yard TD run. He is also versatile
enough to play FB. Players like Morris don’t get a lot of recognition but are
vital to the success of a championship football team. The Dolphins are
fortunate to have him.
Fullback Darian Barnes was strictly used a lead blocker. As such, he didn’t
really get an opportunity to show off his receiving or rushing skills. He will
be challenged by the newly acquired Fred Beasley (49ers) who has been
productive over the years as a receiving threat.
Halfback Kay-Jay Harris, an excellent player at West Virginia University,
will once again have a chance to make the team.
Strengths: Ronnie and Ricky, the best one-two punch in the NFL.
Will there be R&R in 2006?
Weaknesses: None as of this writing. The imminent judgment from the league regarding
Ricky’s fate looms large here.
Offseason Priority: TBD. Obviously, the Dolphins would prefer to know the league’s decision
before the draft. If Ricky is absolved of the failed test, the Dolphins are in
great shape here. If he is suspended for the season, strong consideration must
be given to drafting a back-up to Ronnie Brown. Given that the Dolphins are now
in position to draft the best player available, they can afford to consider
players like DeAngelo Williams, Laurence Maroney, and LenDale White should the
Current State: This is another position where Saban has completely cleaned house. At the
start of last season the three protagonists were A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, and
Sage Rosenfels. All are now elsewhere.
Today, there is only one leading man: Daunte Culpepper. He is set to become
the next great franchise QB in team history, following in the footsteps of Hall
of Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino. What great fortune it was for the Dolphins
to have been able to acquire Culpepper for the relatively cheap price of a
mid-level second round draft pick.
In seven NFL seasons, Culpepper has thrown for over 20,000 yards and 135 TD
passes. His career QB rating of 91.5 easily surpasses Griese’s (77.1) and
Marino’s (86.4). Culpepper has also amassed almost 2,500 rushing yards and is a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
The major questions regarding Culpepper will be how long it will take him
to recover from major knee surgery and, when he does, will he be the same
player he was prior to the injury.
If things go as hoped, Culpepper will prove to be a major piece of the
Other quarterbacks on the roster include the intriguing Cleo Lemon,
acquired in a trade with San Diego for Feeley and a 6th round pick,
and Brock Berlin. Berlin played very well last preseason and is now doing a
stint in NFL Europe with the Hamburg Sea Devils.
Strengths: A franchise-caliber quarterback (Culpepper).
Weaknesses: Lack of a proven back-up. The Dolphins must be prepared for the
possibility that Culpepper won’t be ready to play on opening day (September 7 @
Offseason Priority: High. Even though they have Culpepper, the lack of a proven veteran
presence on the bench who can start and win games when needed is a big risk.
Talks continue with the Lions regarding a trade for Joey Harrington, though
both sides have stalled over the price; the Lions are believed to want a 3rd
round pick while the Dolphins are offering considerably less. The draft may
present an unexpected opportunity to acquire another young QB. Should Vince
Young fall to the Dolphins at #16, will Saban draft him?