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  10 Questions Going into Training Camp
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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In the NFL, really sports in general, weíve seen time and again how bad teams can become winners, even champions, almost overnight. The 2008 Boston Celtics did it, going from rock bottom to NBA Champions in just one year.

 

While the 2008 Miami Dolphins didnít win the Super Bowl, they did accomplish the most amazing single season turnaround in NFL history for a one win team. Finishing a remarkable11-5, they captured the AFC East crown and qualified for the playoffs.

 

With the sole exception of the Pittsburgh Steelers, could any team possibly feel better about last season than the Dolphins?

 

So much has been accomplished in the two offseasons under Parcellsí leadership: new talent, new coaching, and a new culture of winning. Consider, that, not counting Jason Taylor, only twenty players remain from the roster that was inherited from the Cam Cameron regime.

 

That, folks, is what we call Ďmoving some earthí.

 

So does this mean that the turnaround is complete, that the Dolphins are ready to appear in Super Bowl XLIV at LandShark Stadium, to become the only team to host a Super Bowl in their own house?

 

Realistically, the answer is ďnoĒ. Much work still remains for this team to take that difficult next step.

 

Then again, it wasnít that long ago that people were conceding that a six win 2008 would be a huge success. This is why I am not in the business of making predictions on final records and such.

 

Therefore, here are my top 10 questions (in no particular order) as the Dolphins get ready for training camp:

 

1) Can the rookie corners get the job done?

It is asking a lot, an awful lot, of a rookie cornerback to guard Randy Moss, perhaps the best wide receiver in football, twice a season. He leads a murderersí row within the division that includes Lee Evans, Wes Welker, Terrell Owens, and Jerricho Cotchery. Outside the division, guys like Reggie Wayne, Michael Jenkins, Marques Colston, Steve Smith, and Andre Johnson will also get a chance to match up. No other rookie corner in the NFL will draw a more difficult slate of receivers to guard. So how well will Vontae Davis and Sean Smith hold up against the NFLís best? Will the Dolphins be forced to trade for a veteran CB if the rookies arenít ready to step up? This situation might very well be the key to the teamís fortunes in 2009.

 

2) How will the Dolphins use Joey Porter and Jason Taylor?

It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins decide to use Taylor and Porter. In Nick Sabanís 3-4 defense, Taylor often shifted to weakside linebacker where he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. After Taylor was traded to Washington, Porter shifted over and enjoyed a Pro Bowl year after struggling the previous season on the strongside. The Redskins tried Taylor at SLB, but with similarly disappointing results. So the idea of lining both players up at the OLB positions simultaneously may not be the best approach. This is why I expect Taylor to be used primarily on passing downs and in other situational roles, as an extra DE or a LB where he could blitz or drop off in coverage. This will also serve to save his 35 year old legs, especially for the December playoff run.

 

3) Is Jake Grove an upgrade over Samson Satele at Center?

The Dolphins took a risk in signing Grove in free agency and trading Satele away to the Raiders for a sixth round pick. Over five NFL seasons, Grove has started all 16 games just once. Does this mean that heís injury prone, or just lacking in proper conditioning? We donít know. Is Grove a better player than Satele? The Dolphins think so. One thing is clear: by essentially giving Satele away to the Raiders, the Dolphins lost a good insurance policy at Center and Guard. Something, and it isnít altogether clear to me what it is, convinced Parcells and friends to unload Satele at a deep discount.

 

4) What can be expected from Donald Thomas?

Thomas, slated as the starter at RG, is still recovering from a torn pectoral muscle and may not be 100% for the start of training camp. He missed all of his rookie season with a left foot injury, and doubts have crept up as to whether or not the guy is injury prone. Can Thomas be counted on to stay on the field in 2009? Will the promised he has shown on the practice field and in preseason games translate to the regular season?

 

5) Will the coverage teams be improved?

Coverage teams were the biggest disappointment on last yearís team, ranked among the worst in the NFL all season long; this after a considerable investment via free agency to upgrade them. They cost the team one win (Houston) and almost another (Denver). Some of the blame belongs to Dan Carpenter, who struggled with distance and directional consistency with his kickoffs all season long. Somewhat surprisingly, the Dolphins donít appear to be overly concerned; Carpenter and P Brandon Fields are unopposed heading into training camp. The addition of rookies Brian Hartline and Chris Clemons might help.

 

6) Can NT Jason Ferguson hold up for another season?

Ferguson will turn 35 during the season, but heís still capable of playing at a high level. He takes good care of his body and, as a result, has been extremely durable. So whatís the worry? Simply put, the lack of quality depth behind him should something happen. The fall off from Ferguson to second stringer Paul Soliai and other candidates is considerable. Without Ferguson, the Dolphins will have a much tougher time stopping the run. This is why Ferguson may be the most important player the Dolphins have outside of QB Chad Pennington.

 

7) What should the Dolphins expect from WR Ted Ginn, Jr.?

When I asked this question this time last year, the answer was ďImprovement, a lot of itĒ. This they got. Will more be forthcoming in 2009? Last season, Ginnís physical conditioning and route running were markedly better, as was his ability to beat the jam. Overall, you could see that Ginn wasnít thinking nearly as much as he had in 2007, and was thus able to better express his considerable athletic ability. WR coach Karl Dorrell has clearly made some excellent progress with him. Yes, Ginnís absence on kick return teams was a shocker, and all indications are that this will be the case again in 2009. Am I the only one who finds this very strange? Isnít it in the Dolphinsí best interest to have a player with Ginnís considerable talents handling the ball as much as possible? Dolphin great Nat Moore predicts a breakout season for Ginn. Letís see if heís right.

 

8) When will the Wildcat become the WildPat?

Thereís no question that Pat White oozes talent. But what we saw in the OTAs was a rookie quarterback struggling to adapt to the pro game. It could take longer than the start of the season for White to be ready to take command of the Wildcat full time. White may very well be a good one, but my sense is that Dolfans will need to be patient. Meanwhile, offensive coaches Dan Henning and David Lee will look to use White in other ways as his QB skills evolve.

 

9) How effective will Greg Camarillo be in 2009?

Season-ending knee injuries tend to affect a player well into the following season. Camarillo tore the ACL in his left knee very late in the year (November 23), and probably wonít be 100% by the time training camp starts. Yes, he, his agent, and the team will say that he is fine, but the reality of such an injury is that there is always some lingering physical encumbrance and mental hesitation for some period of time after the playerís return. The Dolphins sure could use a healthy Camarillo if they are to return to the playoffs. Itís not clear right now, based on what weíve seen during the offseason, if he is truly back to the level he was at before he was injured.

 

10) Is the team good enough to repeat as divisional champs?

The Dolphins appear to have improved the talent on the roster. But did they gain ground or just hold serve vis-ŗ-vis the schedule? Is it possible that they actually lost ground? We just donít know yet. Much, as always, will depend on the relative strength of their divisional rivals. The return of Tom Brady from injury gives the Patriots a huge boost, as does the signing of RB Fred Taylor and the emergence of rookie LB Jerod Mayo. The signing of WR Terrell Owens was a game changer for the Bills. The Jets may have added via subtraction when Brett Favre retired and rookie Mark Sanchez took the helm; new coach Rex Ryan will energize their defense. Do the Dolphins have enough talent to overcome these challenges? Will new innovations to the Wildcat continue to keep opponents off balance?

 

We shall soon see.

 
 
     
   
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