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A Work in Progress
After a huge start, the Dolphins have slowed in the free agent market. But they are not finished by any means. There are still some unanswered questions that the Dolphins must address before the start of the 2002 season. Whether through the draft (which is only a month or so away), or through free agency, there are a few more holes to patch. Here, in order of importance (at least in my opinion) are the concerns still needing to be attended to.
OL - Pencil in Todd Wade as the starter at RT for 2002. But you better have an eraser ready for the other positions, as cuts, free agent signees, draftees, and injuries could change them in the next few months. The Dolphins brought in Olin Kreutz for a visit to Miami and chauffeured him around in a Brink's truck. But the Pro Bowl center chose to remain in Chicago. That being said, Tim Ruddy's job remains safe, for now.
The Dolphins signed former Hurricane Leon Searcy to a one-year deal. Searcy is expected to challenge Todd Perry for the RG position. If healthy, (please note I underlined if), I look for Searcy to beat out Perry, who was never comfortable on the right side. Mark Dixon is a solid player at LG, but his health has become a major concern. Dixon has contemplated retirement, but is currently expected to return. If so, he will start on the left side, where Todd Perry should be his backup in my opinion. As for the LT spot, the Dolphins are counting on Brent Smith and Marcus Spriggs to make full recoveries from last year's season ending injuries. Neither player will dominate, but both should be able to hold their own in the trenches.
If healthy, this group could be a formidable bunch. But health is a question mark. So is depth. The Dolphins released Heath Irwin (finally!) and brought Jamie Nails back in. I liked Nails last season, but obviously the coaching staff did not, at least not enough to keep him around. Still Nails could prove a decent backup. Other than Nails, the only other viable backup at OG is the runner up in the Searcy/Perry battle. (If Searcy can't beat out Perry, then we'll have even more concerns with the RG spot.) Anthony Cesario has shown a spark, but I'm holding judgment until I see more from him. Tim Ruddy's backup, Troy Andrews, has talent. But he is raw and untested. And there is nothing behind Todd Wade on the depth chart but a bunch of question marks.
However, help could be on the way. The Saints have cut offensive lineman Tom Ackerman, whom the Dolphins had a lot of interest in last season. If signed, Ackerman would serve as a backup for both the OC and OG positions. Apparently, Ackerman's agent and Rick Spielman have been in contact since Ackerman's release. It wouldn't surprise me to see another Saint headed this direction once the Fins have cleared some more cap room.
I also tend to believe that Miami will look to the draft to help provide depth, especially since Todd Wade is the only starter who is under 30. There should be plenty of offensive line talent available when Miami finally drafts in the 3rd round. Most fans, myself included, expect Miami to take an offensive lineman with their first selection in the 2002 draft. Texas A&M's Seth McKinney could be one possibility. Miami's Martin Bibla is another.
LB - The Dolphins gave up this year's 2nd round pick to acquire LB Morlon Greenwood. Greenwood struggled quite a bit last season, but his performance improved late in the season. Miami will give him every opportunity to prove he was worth the extra draft pick. Derrick Rogers posted 2 sacks in 2001, his first in 3 years. Rogers isn't a play-maker, but he has experience. At this point, there are more pressing needs than replacing Rogers, so his job is safe for at least another season.
The Dolphins cut Scott Galyon, leaving Twan Russell, Corey Moore, and Tommy Hendricks as backups. Russell is a big contributor on special teams, but was pretty much invisible the rest of the time. Hendricks was adequate at best while filling in for Zach Thomas. As for Corey Moore, he has yet to play a down for Miami.
Miami brought in a few LBs like the Cowboy's Dexter Coakley and the now Houston Texan's Jamie Sharper last season, but did not sign any of them. This season, the Dolphins have not brought in any free agent LBs, and do not appear to be in the market for any at this time. They may use the draft to try and find some depth, or they may wait until June and do some bargain shopping when teams make their veteran cuts. Either way, this group needs depth.
DE - Jason Taylor anchors the RE position, and should have been voted to the Pro Bowl last season in my opinion. There was some concern about his durability before the season began, but he answered his critics and solidified his hold on the right side of the defensive line.
Last season, Pro Bowler Trace Armstrong departed for Oakland, leaving Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell to fill the void. They didn't. Now Kenny Mixon has departed as well. Lorenzo Bromell could be next.
Mixon was not very effective in 2001, and so I don't see his departure as too big a loss. But he has to be replaced. Currently, the Fins are looking at veteran Michael Sinclair. He is on the downside of this career, but could probably be had cheap. My big concern here is his age and health. Sinclair missed some time last season with groin and hamstring problems, and posted only 25 tackles and 2 ½ sacks. However, he does have experience and could provide some veteran leadership.
The Dolphins are still in contact with Bromell, but as of this writing it is not certain that will be back in Miami. Bromell posted only 2 sacks in 2000, but when he started part time last season, he more than tripled that number with 7. I feel that Bromell is on the verge of breaking out and becoming the type of player that Armstrong was; a highly effective pass rusher. Bromell isn't much of a run stuffer, so he'll never be a full time starter. But I'd hate to see us lose a player like Bromell who is just starting to reach his full potential.
Backups David Bowens and Adewale Ogunleye have shown in limited instances that they can come off of the bench and contribute effectively. But I'd want to see some more from them before I'd feel comfortable with them in the line up full time.
Talk of moving Daryl Gardner to the LE spot has excited many Fin fans. Not facing constant double teams at the middle of the line of scrimmage could help save some wear and tear on Gardner's problematic back. I like the idea as well, but I would have other options in place should Gardner's back problems continue to plague him.
Miami took care of one of their biggest voids when they traded for RB Ricky Williams. They also tried to anchor their OL with Pro Bowl center Kruetz, but came up short. The took steps to patch up the run defense by signing DT Larry Chester. So Miami is headed in the right direction. But there is still work to be done if Miami wants to improve on their 11-5 season. GO DOLPHINS!!!