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The Dolphins have had a very busy offseason thus far. People coming, people going, and rumors galore. It's hard to say what "bargain" players the Dolphins might get in the next month before training camp starts, but here is a review of some of the key moves so far this offseason.
New To The Team
Ricky Williams RB
This is the acquisition that many feel might enable the Dolphins to go to the next level, others feel
that the two draft picks given up to get Williams was too much. Personally I think it was a great acquisition. Williams alone should improve the often stagnant running game and if the offensive line can get healthy and step up, then the naysayers will be saying Miami got him cheaply. For a front office which had obtained a "conservative" label, this is a huge and bold move which really was a no brainer. He may not be considered the top running back in the league, but he is a topnotch runner and a workhorse who seems to get better and stronger as the game goes on. Williams does have a history of injuries and fumbling, but even with those concerns this trade was a must for a team who is suppose to be a power running team without a running game who's window of opportunity is shrinking.
Larry Chester DT
Chester is a relative unknown among most fans but he too was a very solid acquisition by the Dolphins. He will replace Daryl Gardener at DT and play alongside Tim Bowens. Chester is another low gravity and very strong run stuffer. Teaming up with T. Bowens, Chester should keep blockers off of LB Zach Thomas and clog the middle of the line. This is very important to the run defense, as shown by it's collapse late last season. This will also allow Daryl Gardener to move outside to DE, which should put less stress on his back. Chester may not put up huge numbers, but expect solid play from him.
Rob Burnett DE
Burnett is a 12 year veteran with Super Bowl experience and a former Pro Bowler. He had a down year last season (no sacks) and was injured throughout most of the year. He was mainly signed as a veteran backup and passing rush specialist. This is a good move because he is a proven veteran and it is unknown how long Daryl Gardener's back will hold up. Plus it is unknown if Gardener moving to DE will even prosper. He can provide veteran leadership as well and word is he camp to mini camps ready to go. His age is a concern, as well as coming off a horrible year with injuries. The addition of Burnett also takes away snaps from promising youngsters David Bowens and Adewale Ogunley. Those players will have to take advantage of
any playing time they do get, work hard and hopefully learn from a proven veteran. The addition of Burnett could really go either way, a bust or a steal.
Leon Searcy OL
Searcy was once considered among the top offensive tackles in the game, but two years of injuries have made him a forgotten man by many. Searcy comes to Miami ready to prove he can still be a force on the offensive line. He will also move from his accustomed right tackle position and compete with disappointing incumbent Todd Perry at right guard, in which he is favored to win. The experience and leadership he can provide on the offensive line will be priceless. Word is he has worked hard this offseason and looked extremely good in mini camps. Age is a mild concern, but then again he hasn't played in 2 years because of his injuries.
He is a low risk signing which could pay huge dividends for a unit which is under tremendous fire.
Norv Turner Offensive Coordinator
Norv Turner may not be a player but he is one of the most important, if not the most important, addition of the offseason. Turner is considered among the best offensive coaches in the business, that in itself gives this offense hope. Last year he took a Chargers offense that was ranked toward the bottom in 2000 and improved them to 14th in the league. He helped make a
superstar out of Emmit Smith in Dallas, he helped make Stephen Davis a top running back in Washington, and LaDainian Tomlinson had a huge rookie season under Turner last in in San Diego. Do you see a pattern developing here? Everywhere he has gone he has ran the ball and
ran it well. Now he has Ricky Williams to play with and Williams fits his offense perfectly. The only downside is Turner may just be a 1 or 2 year acquisition. He will be a head coach candidate and any success will only feed that frenzy. The Dolphins do have to learn a new offense, but in this day and age of free agency and coach maneuvering, that should go well. Still though, some continuity would be nice for the long haul. Turner and Wannstedt teamed up and won a Super Bowl in Dallas, can they do it again in Miami?
Jay Fiedler QB
The man you either tolerate or hate will be back under center for the Dolphins in 2002. Fiedler signed a 5 year contract, which after options is essentially a 2 year deal. While Fiedler did improve in his 2nd year as a starter, he was still prone to make mistakes. He also showed a lot of heart and fight with five 4th quarter comebacks and a "never give up" attitude. Way too often the success of the offense fell on Jay's shoulders, and that wasn't the plan. Further improvement and less mistakes is a absolute must if the Dolphins are going to fulfill their Super Bowl aspirations in 2002.
That grade may be high to a lot of people, but here is why I grade his resigning the way I do. First of all, the timing. The Dolphins avoided an offseason circus by signing him early, ridding all the silly Troy Aikman to Miami rumors. While I found Aikman enticing, I couldn't rid the images of him lying on the field in the first preseason game with a concussion, out for life. Odds are Aikman wasn't coming to South Florida anyway, even though he has recently said he was interested. I think Fiedler was coming back regardless, so signing him early and slamming the door on the Aikman rumors was a positive thing, the Dolphins didn't need that distraction. Signing Fiedler also enabled him to get right to work learning the new Dolphins offense. Even saving a month may be huge once the season starts. Second, signing Fiedler quickly should give Jay a huge boost of confidence. This shows the coaches and front office believe in him. While Jay doesn't appear to be one who lacks confidence in himself, this type of boost can't be underestimated. And finally, there wasn't really any of available QB's who would have been a sure fire upgrade. Sure there was a few interesting prospects, but none that would be for sure. That goes back to having some continuity.
Tim Bowens DT
Between dealing with injuries and losing his DT mate Daryl Gardener, Big Tim had an off year last season. Still, Bowens has been an anchor to the defensive line since he came into the league. If the Dolphins had let him go, there is no doubt he would have been considered the top DT available. Bowens is still a very good player and capable of dominating the line of scrimmage. Losing him would have been a huge hit to this defense. I see no reason that Tim shouldn't be back to his normal self, so look for him to rebound this year alongside new teammate Larry Chester and have a very solid season.
Brock Marion S
For the 2nd straight year Brock Marion was a free agent. For the 2nd straight year Marion wasn't considered a priority signing by the Dolphins. For the 2nd straight year Marion came back to Miami. Zach Thomas aside, Marion may have been the defensive MVP. He is the leader of the secondary, which is home to arguably the top cornerback tandem in the NFL, where he calls the coverage audibles. He has become a team leader and just makes the plays. Maybe I'm too much of a Brock Marion fan, but like Bowens losing Marion would have been a huge hit.
Key Players Who Left
Kenny Mixon DE, Lorenzo Bromell DE, Brian Walker S, Lamar Smith RB, Terry Cousin CB, Hunter Goodwin TE
Four starters and our nickel back. The only player not included in that first sentence is Lorenzo Bromell and he's probably the best player of the bunch. Bromell is a young player with lots of potential, the problem is we've been saying that for a few years now. He plays with lots of energy but has of yet to find consistency. I think the Dolphins wanted to resign Bromell but he priced himself out of Miami's range. Mixon had been the starter at DE and was solid if not spectacular. He was a good run stuffer but a not so good pass rusher. He tried losing weight last season to improve his quickness, but still failed to create a pass rush while the lost weight affected his run defense. Left DE will be a highly watched position in Dolphin camp this year. If anything I feel even if Gardener fails as a pass rusher he will be a worse just as good as Mixon at DE with his run defense. Ironically both players signed with Minnesota and should help bolster their defensive line.
Walker came out of nowhere and played very well for the Dolphins. He earned a higher priced contract, one of which Miami couldn't afford. With Marion being a free agent as well, both couldn't be signed. Anturo Freeman, though not as good at defending the run as Walker, has been patiently waiting and working and should fill in nicely.
Lamar Smith will always be remembered fondly by most Dolphin fans just for that playoff game against the Colts, but last year he clearly lost a step. One can put a lot of blame on the inconsistent and injured riddled offensive line, and I can't argue that. But Smith didn't run with the same aggressiveness as he did in 2000. Early season fumbles and defenses stacking the line also contributed to his poor play. So for the 2nd time in Smith's career, he will be replaced by Ricky Williams. As far as I hated to see Smith go, Williams is a huge upgrade.
Terry Cousin had a great season for the Dolphins as a nickel cornerback. With opposing quarterbacks trying to avoid stud corners Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, they picked on Cousin and he more than held his own. With first round pick Jamar Fletcher ready to step up, Cousin went to Carolina. There he was able to get a very deserving nice contract and a starting job, he would have got neither had he stayed in Miami.
Goodwin, who was the starter at TE, was a strong blocker but below average receiver. Unlike Chan Gailey's offense, in the new offense the TE's focus more on receiving than blocking. He was salary cap casualty who no longer fit with the Dolphins scheme.
Really tough to grade but if Gardener and Burnett work out at DE and Fletcher players well in the nickel slot, then this grade will be higher.