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2002 Offensive Preview
In 2001, the Miami Dolphin offense once again sputtered through another disappointing season and failed to show up in the playoffs. The lack of a running game was never more evident than in the disgusting display the team embarrassed themselves with against the Ravens. An exhausted Miami defense just wasn't able to stop a usually poor Baltimore running game while remaining on the field the entire game.
However, there is reason for optimism for the coming season.
Norv Turner, arguably the game's top offensive mind, is now Miami's offensive coordinator. Combine Turner with newly-acquired stud RB Ricky Williams and superstar receiver Chris Chambers, and we may actually see some explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball.
With Turner and Williams on board, the Dolphins WILL run the ball - make no mistake about it. This will allow the defense to remain fresh both during games and throughout the season, and that in turn should translate to postseason victories.
Question marks still abound throughout the offensive roster, but I think there's enough talent present to field the Dolphins' best offense in years. Here's a look at the players, position by position.
Jay Fielder enters the season with a new 5-year deal (that is actually a 2-year dealů) and a tight hold on the starting QB position. Of course, not all Dolfans are happy about that - including yours truly. I view Fiedler as the weak link on an otherwise strong team, and I fear that if the Dolphins fail to meet their high expectations, Jay will be a big reason. With his weak arm and poor decision-making skills, I cannot see how Fiedler can be successful in a Norv Turner offense that relies on accurate deep passes and deep out patterns. The most disturbing thing about Fiedler may be his poor performances against good teams in big games. It's almost a guarantee that he'll throw a costly INT in a big spot. Sure, Jay is a tough competitor and has plenty of heart and desire. The problem is that he's simply not a very good QB.
Ray Lucas appears destined to be a career back-up. He's got good leadership abilities and a strong arm, but by most accounts he has no touch on his passes and is way too hyper in the pocket to be effective. Ray is a player I really like, but I don't think he'll ever amount to more than a role player.
Undrafted rookie free agent Tim Levcik may be the only QB on the roster with any real upside, and with the departure of the horrendous Cade McNown his position on the team seems solidified. Apparently, Levcik has looked very good in the early work-outs and QB camps. I hear he is a big, strong-armed QB with a good feel for the game. I haven't seen Levcik at all, so I can only go by what I've heard, but he sounds like a player to keep an eye on.
The Dolphins showed that they are serious about running the football and getting to the next level by trading for power RB Ricky Williams in the off-season. Ricky is my ideal RB - a big, strong, tackle-breaking bull of a runner. He's a good receiver and has surprising quickness, and he will no doubt help the Dolphins' short yardage game. Ricky's career stats show that he gets stronger as the game goes on, and if he plays true to form, the Dolphin defense may get a lot of rest this season. Williams just may be the cure for an otherwise anemic offense. He will make everyone around him better - the offensive line, the receivers, and yes, even Fiedler. There are only two questions with Ricky: can he cut down on his fumbles, and can he stay healthy? If the answers to those questions turn out to be "yes", then the Dolphins will likely have a very successful season.
Travis Minor did a lot of good things this past season, and was probably looking forward to an expanded role in this year's offense. However, with the acquisition of Ricky Williams, the reality is that Minor will likely play less than he did in '01. Norv Turner has never really employed a third-down back, and Williams certainly has the skills to be an every-down back. It is very important that Minor make the most of his limited opportunities. He can be a valuable role player on this team. I'd like to see Minor get a chance on the return teams, just to get the ball in his hands.
Former Patriot Robert Edwards is trying to resurrect his career in Miami, and he's the feel-good story of the offseason thus far. He appears to be in good shape and has looked good in the camps this offseason. However, even if Edward makes the team, he doesn't figure to see much action. He will battle for a roster spot with rookie Leonard Henry, who is coming off an outstanding senior season at East Carolina. Henry may have the edge in this competition because he can play special teams.
Personally, I like all of the Dolphin backs and I'd like to carry all four on the roster in case of injury, but that is not likely to happen.
Now that Norv Turner is in charge of the Dolphins' offense, Rob Konrad is in position to have the type of season Dolphin fans have been waiting for since he was drafted out of Syracuse. Konrad has been used primarily as a blocker since joining the Dolphins, and while his skills have improved in that area it is certainly not his strength. Turner's offense has always featured the FB as a key receiving threat, and Konrad should flourish in this system.
Deon Dyer is quickly becoming one of the top lead blockers in the league, and I can't wait to see the one-two punch of Dyer and Williams busting heads and clearing paths.
In 2001, Chris Chambers emerged as the Dolphins best receiver and one of the NFL's most exciting future stars. Averaging a spectacular 18.4 yards per catch, Chris was by far the Dolphins' most explosive offensive weapon. His acrobatic catches will be remembered for a long time. Chambers should excel in the Turner offense, and he has the potential to be the Dolphins' version of Michael Irvin - maybe even better. After suffering a serious ankle injury late in the season that cost him the playoffs, the only question that Chambers needs to answer is his health. If he's healthy, he will no doubt be the best receiver the Dolphins have had since the days of the Marks Brothers.
Oronde Gadsden is still a solid clutch receiver who can make the tough catch and outleap most defenders with ease. He is clearly the # 2 receiver on this team. However, Oronde's arthritic toes a must always be a concern, and you've got to wonder how much longer he can play.
I had high hopes for James McKnight before the '01 season, but despite putting up decent numbers he proved to be a bust. Basically, James is a soft receiver who doesn't like to get hit. His tremendous speed is almost nullified by his poor hands. McKnight is one of those receivers that can make difficult catches but has trouble when the ball is right in his hands. James had some of the worst hands I've ever seen - when he wasn't dropping a pass, he was fumbling the ball. McKnight must step up his game this season, because the Dolphins desperately need him if they are to make a serious championship run.
Dedric Ward missed a lot of time with foot injuries, but he proved to be a clutch receiver when he did play. I'd like to see the Dolphins exploit his outstanding speed this season. Dedric has a chance to make big plays in this offense if he remains healthy.
Jeff Ogden has served as the Dolphins fifth receiver the past couple of seasons, but his job may be in jeopardy with the drafting of Sam Simmons out of Northwestern. Ogden, while decent, is about as boring and non-descript a player as you're likely to see. In contrast, Simmons is an energetic spark plug with big-play ability. Simmons has an injury history and is very small, but he was a big-time player in college and his ability to play almost every special teams position should help him land a spot on the final roster.
Jed Weaver is a player I really like, and I've often wondered why the Dolphins didn't utilize him in the passing game more often. This season, Jed should get his chance in the Turner-led offense - an offense which relies heavily on the TE as a receiver.
Weaver will be challenged by rookie Randy McMichael. I'm actually very excited to see McMichael in action. While at Georgia, he excelled in big games and proved to be a solid receiver. I think he's got a chance to have early success in this offense.
Shawn Draper did not see any action last season, and doesn't figure to see much more this year - if he even makes the team. Draper wasn't used much as a receiver in college, but he reportedly has good hands and is a solid blocker.
Ed Perry will return as the long snapper, but doesn't figure to play much - if at all - at TE.
Most people are ready to pencil in Alonzo Mayes as the Dolphins' starting TE. I beg to differ. I think Alonzo's football career will come to an unceremonious end when the Dolphins release him this summer. Despite the fact that Mayes has all the talent in the world, I don't believe he can remain healthy. And after reporting at 313 pounds this offseason, I question his commitment to the game - and his intelligence. A player in his precarious position cannot afford to show up well over 30 pounds overweight, and he should've known that. I'll be more than happy if Alonzo proves me wrong, but I think he's finished.
The Dolphins offensive line was simply embarrassingly horrendous last year, but despite the fact that they haven't made many personnel changes, I think they'll be much improved. Hell, getting rid of the awful Heath Irwin and Spencer Folau automatically makes this unit better!
Like last season, the all-important Left Tackle position remains in poor shape. Brent Smith should win the job, but he's coming off a major knee injury and has never been more than a fill-in starter. I've never been a big Brent Smith fan, but he could be a decent player. He certainly can't do worse than Folau. If Marcus Spriggs completely recovers from his own knee injury, he may give Smith a run for his money.
Left Guard will be in sure hands IF Mark Dixon decides to play and can remain healthy. You'll notice that that is a big IF. Last year's starting Right Guard, the disappointing Todd Perry, will likely back-up Dixon this season. Perry should be much better at his natural Left Guard position than he was on the right side.
Center Tim Ruddy battled through injuries last year and turned in a disappointing season. The Dolphins, while publicly supporting Ruddy, have made it clear that his days in Miami are numbered. The team tried to acquire Olin Kreutz, which surely had to send a message to Ruddy. And draftee Seth McKinney will not remain on the bench for long. He should be the future Dolphins' Center for years to come, and I have a feeling that the future is sooner than Ruddy thinks. Seth can also play Guard. If Ruddy struggles again this season, look for McKinney to get his chance before the end of 2002. Having said that, Ruddy is extremely intelligent and is a consummate professional. I expect him to turn in a solid performance.
Right Guard should be much improved with the acquisition of former Pro Bowler Leon Searcy, whom I expect to easily beat out Perry for the starting job. While it is true that Searcy has not played in two years due to injury, he is healthy now, and if he plays even half as well as he is capable the Dolphins' line will be much improved.
Like Ruddy, Right Tackle Todd Wade struggled through an injury-riddled disappointing 2001 campaign. Wade is healthy now, though, and I see no reason why he won't return to the dominant form he displayed as a rookie. If they remain healthy, Wade and Searcy will combine to form a devastating right side for the Phins.
There should be some interesting battles for back-up OL positions, with Anthony Cesario and Jamie Nails likely having the upper hand. Nails is a very intriguing player. He's a HUGE, strong player with a ton of upside. If he can play up to his potential the Dolphins may have their future Left Guard in Nails. In fact, if he plays well enough this summer, I wouldn't be surprised if Nails makes Perry expendable.
One other thing to keep in mind is the Ricky Williams Factor. Ricky's running style will make this line look better than they actually are. He has the vision to spot the open hole, and he has the power to create his own holes when none exist.
The Dolphins' offense will never be confused with the Rams' juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. However, with the acquisitions of Norv Turner and Ricky Williams this unit has a chance to be a ball-control power offense that can put up points when necessary. Williams and Chambers give the Phins two superstars at key positions, and though the talent around them may not be great, the skills they bring to the table will elevate those around them.
Jay Fiedler, though, may be the key to the Dolphins' offensive success. He doesn't have to be Dan Marino, nor should he be expected to be, but if he can play within himself and limit mistakes he can lead this team to wins. Most importantly, Jay must find a way to play at his best when facing top competition. As we've seen, the ability to beat bottom-dwelling teams means nothing when the playoffs begin. Jay doesn't have to win games by himself, but he must make sure that he doesn't single-handedly lose games with stupid interceptions.
So what does this all mean for the Dolphins? Of course, no one knows for sure at this point, but I've got a real good feeling and I expect the Dolphins to field their best offense in years.