As with past
offseasons, the Miami Dolphins have gone through a series of puts and
takes with regards to their roster. First came free agency, next the
draft, then more free agency and, now, some trades.
General Manager Randy Mueller predicted that there would be
significant change this season.
“It has to happen that
way because we’ve got to find the kind of player(s) that Coach
wants to fit into the system”, Mueller said. “This is a
league of change nowadays, where you can forecast that 30% of roster
will change year to year.”
kidding. Since early September, the turnover rate stands at about
watchers would agree that the team is better today, talent-wise, than
it was at the start of last season. I share that view.
However, it is
difficult to judge just how much better these Dolphins are today. One
game? Two? Three? More? None?
On paper, some
of the math is straightforward. Gain Daunte Culpepper, lose Gus
Frerotte (big plus). Gain Joey Harrington, lose Sage Rosenfels (push
at worst). Lose Ricky Williams, gain nothing (big loss).
coaching changes bear scrutiny, with two new coordinators on
board. Normally, such upheaval tends to set team progress back or at
least slow it down. Disruption, though unintended, always comes to
some degree with leadership changes.
While most folks
would agree than Dom Capers is an upgrade over the departed Richard
Smith and Will Muschamp (the team’s balance sheet certainly
will show improvement), is Mike Mularkey as good, or better, than
Culpepper is the team’s first legitimate Pro Bowl caliber
quarterback since you-know-who. Much of the anticipated improvement
rests with him. However, the sobering reality is that it may not be
Culpepper who is on the field come opening day. Instead, it could be
the newly acquired Joey Harrington who gets that nod. Early on, will
it be Harrington who we end up comparing to Gus Frerotte?
Culpepper, the health of his knee the prime question at this time.
The Dolphins remain non-committal on the timetable of his return, an
increasingly disturbing situation. The fact that the Dolphins were
willing to part ways with a conditional draft pick to bring
Harrington to Miami, when waiting another month would have netted him
for free, speaks to a real and increasing sense of urgency that Nick
Saban has in getting the quarterback position covered in the event
that Culpepper cannot play for a period of time.
Keep in mind
that Willis McGahee missed a year’s worth of work before he was
ready to roll. The season opener wouldn’t be a year since
Culpepper went down. What will the Dolphins’ fortunes be if
Harrington must play the first quarter of the season?
Next is the loss
of Ricky Williams, a non-trivial matter. The Dolphins wouldn’t
have had a winning record last year without him. And, as much as we
all like Sammy Morris as a player, he is not even close to Ricky in
terms of talent. Yes, the Dolphins have Ronnie Brown, a very good
player. However, 2006 will be just the second time in his college and
pro career that he will have to single-handedly shoulder the load.
Can he do it?
It is curious
and, perhaps a tad troubling, that Saban bent over backwards to save
Ricky from suspension. On one hand, the Dolphins can use every good
player they can get. On the other hand they do have Brown, a major
financial and talent investment. What’s the worry?
Fullback will be
improved with the acquisition of Fred Beasley. So will the offensive
line, with L.J. Shelton manning Left Tackle and line boss Hudson
Houck getting to work with the others through this critical
offseason. Derek Hagan is a welcomed sight, the first meaningful
investment the Dolphins have made at receiver since Chris Chambers
was drafted (with all due respect to Marty Booker and his fine
skills, he came in a net loss transaction).
improvement rests primarily with the development of young defensive
line help and the renovation of the secondary.
Can Manny Wright
emerge as a full time contributor at DT? Indirect reports out of
Dolphin Camp are not encouraging; Wright is allegedly overweight
again. Kevin Vickerson, a promising DT who spent his rookie season on
injured reserve, must prove he can return to form. Draftee Rodrique
Wright won’t be a factor this season (shoulder surgery). And
Matt Roth, a mystery to many, is no sure bet to pan out at DE. Recall
that the Dolphins used a second round pick on Roth, the very same
pick they acquired in the trade of Patrick Surtain to the Kansas City
Chiefs. Right now, any reasonable person would be hard pressed to say
that the Dolphins are better off with Roth versus Surtain.
secondary, it remains to be seen if the trade of Sam Madison for Will
Allen will be an upgrade. And can a rookie (Jason Allen) outperform a
veteran like Lance Schulters, clearly the best DB the team had last
should get a bit better with Channing Crowder gaining a year of
experience. It is too bad that Junior Seau’s body betrayed him;
when healthy his level of play is tough to match. The Dolphins
haven’t equitably replaced what they lost when Seau went down.
Stir in the
aforementioned changes at both coordinator spots and one can see how
the fortunes of the 2006 Dolphins becomes debatable.
paper, the 2006 Dolphins should be improved. But as last year’s
Dolphins learned, painfully early on, teams are built with cohesion,
chemistry, and talent. When a team turns over 35% of their roster,
with not all of the losses being positive, and new coaching
leadership is brought in, progress becomes very difficult to judge.