by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
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Ever watch one of Nick Sabanís press conferences?
Iíve watched (and attended) most of them. The first thing that usually strikes me is that Saban is there out of obligation, not desire; an unpleasant chore to be tended to. Mostly polite, though sometimes testy and usually vague, Saban will fulfill his commitment and then gladly depart.
His approach is very understandable. In his opinion, anything he says publicly could be used to harm the teamís competitive chances.
As such, it is usually up to the fans and media to draw their own conclusions as to how good, or bad, the 2006 Miami Dolphins will be.
The first preseason game against the Jaguars will strip the veil away for the first time.
Obviously, preseason games are meaningless in terms of won/loss records and final score. However, they are incredibly valuable in terms of evaluating talent and judging the sum of the parts of a football team.
Training camp sessions are not as revealing. Thatís because the practices are conducted under controlled conditions.
Donít get me wrong; I am a big fan of Sabanís training methods. I donít believe Iíve seen a training camp more dedicated to teaching. Every square yard of the field is committed to a specific learning activity, all of which are conducted at a brisk pace by coaches who are actively engaged with their players.
Mistakes are quickly identified and corrected. Little is wasted. I like that.
One cannot help believe that the Dolphins will, overall, be better as a result.
Now, in order for the Dolphins to learn what they must about their players, live game conditions are needed. There are still many questions to be answered.
Will Daunte Culpepper be ready for Opening Day on September
7? Maybe I am just being a skeptic, but I am not ready to get overly excited
about his progress just yet. We need to see how he holds up under full speed,
live contact conditions. Thatís the next major step for him. As such, I think
Saban is correct in starting him against
Indeed, what weíve seen thus far is most encouraging. Still, thereís a ways to go yet before the Steelers game.
Can Ronnie Brown carry the full load at RB? Everything weíve seen thus far tells us that he is ready to accept the challenge. Clearly, heís a better player this year. His comfort level is higher and his conditioning is superior. Itís his time to step up and get the job done.
Will Jason Allen make a big difference in 2006? Right now, I have a hard time being positive about his chances in this regard. He is badly behind in all respects due to his ten day holdout. While I think itís great that he worked out in the sun and watched voiced-over DVDs, thatís not football conditioning and itís not in-house teaching. In reality, this talented player has a ton of work to do to be productive in 2006.
Yes I do believe the Dolphins will start Allen, mostly out of need. But I canít help but think that Bill Cowher has already drawn a big red target around the free safety spot on the Dolphin defense, whether Allen starts or not.
Do the Dolphins have enough talent at WR? The signs thus far are positive. Chris Chambers and Marty Booker are locked in as the starters and are having a good camp, as is slot man Wes Welker. Also positive are the early returns from rookies Derek Hagan and Marcus Vick; the next step for them is to man up in a game and make some plays.
We must also factor in TE Randy McMichael to the receiving equation, having earned some lofty praise recently from Saban (who is generally economical in such matters).
Are L.J. Shelton and Vernon Carey capable? Is Joe Toledo the man to get the job done at RG? Itís just too hard to tell at this point, though it is always impressive watching line boss Hudson Houck teach. The preseason games will be incredibly important to the entire offensive line.
The same goes for the young defensive linemen. Saban says that DE Matt Roth is improved; we need to see it on the field. At DT, Kevin Vickerson continues to plug away as does the surprising Fred Evans; both are hard-working.
An out-of-shape Manny Wright is now on a personal leave of absence (depression). It is tough right now to see how he can make a positive return to the team, though I suppose it is not out of the question.
The veteran defensive linemen look as good as ever, though Jason Taylorís balky back is a new issue, hopefully non-lingering. Letís wish good health to all of them.
The secondary still makes me nervous. In addition to
Allenís tardiness and Will Pooleís injury setback, the lack of quality depth is
troubling. I get the feeling that Saban and Dom Capers will be using plenty of
smoke and mirrors this year to cover the flaws. For
By simple I mean that the looks they will show will be pretty generic. Overall, donít expect a game plan for this first contest. The idea is to execute basics as a team against an opponent.
After two weeks of facing their own, getting after another colored jersey is a welcomed event for the players, coaches, and fans alike.