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  Team Shaping Up Mostly as Expected
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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For me, this preseason has been all-too-predictable.

 

We knew the Dolphins would have a potentially explosive offense. We knew there were some issues on defense that needed attention. And we worried about the special teams, an annual ritual in the Tony Sparano era.

 

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Saturday, in a rain-soaked and lightning-delayed affair, the offense began showing off its ample arsenal of weapons. As expected, things are starting to come together now with QB Chad Henne getting into sync with his playmakers. The latest validation was 17 points in a little more than a quarter and a half of work.

 

WR Brandon Marshall showed us a glimpse of what to expect from him, and it was exciting. He is obviously a very difficult one-on-one match-up and a tough guy to get on the ground. But what really caught my eye against Jacksonville was his downfield blocking. Yes there was the highlight reel block on Anthony Fasanoís 55 yard catch and run, where Marshall blocked his man and cleverly took out a second, allowing Fasano to score untouched. But there were a lot of other plays as well where he used his size and strength to unselfishly eliminate his man.

 

For me, this was the best part of his work.

 

Am I exaggerating when I say Marshall is the best blocking WR the Dolphins have had since Paul Warfield? Iím sure yet, but I do know this quality in Marshall is a very good thing for the Dolphins.

 

In the backfield, Ronnie Brown continues to look much better than expected in coming off last seasonís serious foot injury. I liked how he ran with power and quickness against the Jaguars, both as ball carrier and a receiver. And Ricky Williams showed us yet again that he is still a force, even at 33 years of age. I think the Dolphins would be crazy not to bring him back for another season.

 

And then thereís Henne. At the start of preseason, I wrote that he needed to show improvement in his decision making, his footwork, and his touch passing. I was expecting to see positive results with the first two, but was apprehensive about the third. What we can say is that Henne appears to have made some improvement with his touch. A lot of this is from his improved footwork, but itís also an extra micro-second of gathering himself and focusing on delivering the ball with proper fundamentals and with the proper pace. Itís still deliberate, but it is better than what we saw last season.

 

Against the Jaguars, Henne was 11 of 14 but should have been 13 of 14 but for two drops (Marshall, Brian Hartline). It was a very solid effort, not only with the short stuff but in getting the ball into the middle third of the field where his arm gives him a decided advantage. He had 151 yards overall, with 2 touchdowns and no turnovers before Chad Pennington relieved him with about three minutes to play in the half.

 

As for Pennington, he simply reinforced what weíve suspected all along. Firstly, that he still has the goods. Secondly, that he will be Henneís back-up. And thirdly, that he is not going to be traded away.

 

What does this mean for Tyler Thigpen, who played the entire second half and earned a bottle of Advil for all the shots he took?

 

His fate has yet to be determined, as does Pat Whiteís. All I can say right now is that the Dolphins arenít keeping four QBs; this flies in the face of Sparanoís philosophy of maximizing his roster flexibility on gamedays. With all the predictions of doom for White in the air, it would do well for us to consider that Thigpen has trade value to a team in need of quality QB depth. There are several needy teams, and decent QBs always command a premium. So donít be surprised if White stays, whether he deserves to or not.

 

One further word on White: for someone in danger of being cut, he is acting very nonchalant about it; is there more to his story than is known? Stay tuned.

 

As for the ongoing battle for the starting Center job, it was clear to me that Jake Grove outplayed Joe Berger last Saturday. Grove was consistently driving his man off the ball and holding his ground in pass pro. While Berger played well, I felt he had trouble in power situations. Against the likes of Kris Jenkins and Vince Wilfork, he will be a liability. As Iíve said throughout the preseason, a healthy Grove will start on opening day.

 

Defensively, Iím sure Sparano is pleased with the quality of line play thus far. Randy Starks, in particular, has looked good in his new role as a full time Tackle. His quickness really lends itself well to the three technique style he is being asked to play (think Warren Sapp). And Charles Grant adds quality depth in the rotation; his 2nd quarter hit on QB David Garrard forced him from the game.

 

I also think Sparano is very pleased with the situation at safety. Chris Clemons has all but won the job at free safety, and Pro Bowl SS Yeremiah Bell looks as good as ever.

 

Thatís the good news.

 

The concerns begin at linebacker. While inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder are the least of Sparanoís worries, outside linebackers Koa Misi and Cam Wake are another story.

 

Rookie Misi is clearly going through some growing pains; he is still thinking way too much. This is normal for a rookie, and Sparano has decided to put up with it for now. Dolfans should get into a like frame of mind and cut Misi some slack now because heís going to screw up. Expect it.

 

As for Wake, he had a tackle for a loss against Jacksonville but I wasnít impressed with his work against the run. Donít be surprised if Sparano rotates him out when the situation dictates; he still isnít a complete player.

 

Sparano hopes that cornerback isnít going to be another worry, not with the lofty expectations that the team has in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Yet the signs thus far are not good. Whatís worse, Will Allen is out again with a balky knee and hyped rookie Nolan Carroll doesnít seem ready for prime time.

 

Against Jacksonville, Davis played like his feet were stuck in cement before leaving with some sort of abdominal injury. Davis and Smith were roasted alternately by Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas throughout. Sims-Walker is another one of those big receivers that the Dolphin DBs have struggled with in the past; he racked up 64 yards of receptions (long of 35) in just a half of work. Watching him tear up Davis and Smith left an ominous impression on me.

 

One bright spot at CB has been Jason Allen. He has been around the ball throughout camp, and his special teams work has been stellar (one forced fumble against Jacksonville). Undrafted rookie Nate Ness has also played well and consistently.

 

Last, and certainly least, are the special teams.

 

As I mentioned earlier, it is becoming a sad annual ritual watching John Bonamegoís poor coverage teams work. Against the Jaguars, the Dolphins surrendered almost 28 yards per return and allowed another blocked punt. If not for a penalty against Jacksonville for an illegal wedge, negating a 47 yard return, that average would have been much higher.

 

Aside from the obvious need for a fix, it is fair to wonder if Bonamego is the man for the job. This is the third year now that his dogs arenít eating the dog food.

 

Up next is the critical third preseason game at home against the Falcons. Expect the starters to play into the third quarter.

 
     
   
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