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Ask and Ye Shall Receive
“If the Dolphins are going to be a championship contender they have to be their arch rival and nemesis, the New York Jets.” Well they have done that, mark it off the list. “If the Dolphins are going to be a championship contender they must beat another contender on the road.” After last week’s thrilling win in Denver, they have accomplished that feat as well, mark it off the list.
Ok, on second thought don’t mark anything off the list. The Dolphins still have to play the Jets and have some very tough road games ahead. But yes Dolphin fans, even though there is plenty of things left on the Championship To Do list, this team is a legitimate contender. Ok, it’s only October and we all have been through this before, but even if heartbreak is once again in our future this team thus far has given us plenty of reasons to remain hopeful. This team still has much to overcome; including the dreaded “December Swoon” and only time will tell what will happen with this team. But this Sunday they will again be tested in ways only championship teams can overcome.
This Sunday, Drew Bledsoe leads the explosive Buffalo Bills into Pro Player Stadium for yet another AFC East showdown. While any division game is a test in itself, the Dolphins will be further tested being without their starting quarterback and possibly both starting wide receivers. Ray Lucas takes over at quarterback, and while it may not be right to call him a proven starter with only 9 career starts, he has proven he can get the job done in the past and has all the confidence of his teammates and coaches. If Orande Gadsden and Chris Chambers can’t go, the starting receiving jobs fall on Dedric Ward and James McKnight. The good news here is that both of these guys have been starters in their careers and are proven players. The only totally unproven player in the bunch will be 3rd WR Robert Baker, whom we’ve all seen make plays, not just one that counts.
Ask and ye shall receive, and I hope it means literally for some as well as figuratively. All four of these players have been working hard and waiting patiently for this opportunity to prove themselves, and if the Dolphins want to win on Sunday they will need to do just that. Lucas, who has been the ultimate team player, wants to show that he can start in the NFL. He was 6-3 as a starter for the Jets in 1999, so he does have some experience. Personally, I like everything there is about Ray Lucas, ok excluding the 5 yard laser passes. But Lucas is full of enthusiasm and is a team first type of player. While he wants to play well for himself, his first thought is to play well for the team and keep the winning ways going. His enthusiastic, in your face personality will be a drastic change from Jay Fiedler's more laid back, cool and collective style, but could be just what the team needs right now to continue its winning ways. Lucas looked terrific in preseason and training camp, where he got the majority of snaps which could really pay dividends now.
Dedric Ward and James McKnight have both been waiting for this opportunity as well. McKnight was a starter last year, but fell to 4th on the depth chart this year. While he made some big plays, he also missed some very easy plays. This is McKnight’s chance to get back in good graces with fans and earn more playing time from the coaches. Ward, who was signed last off season, has battled a foot injury. Despite that he went from 4th to 3rd in the depth chart. Ward was Mr. Clutch last season, making big catch after big catch in the most opportune times. While McKnight’s miscues turned some fans against him, Ward’s clutch play made him many fans. Both of these guys have made some plays so far this season, both in very limited time with the new offense.
Robert Baker has earned this opportunity as much as anyone in my opinion. Year in and year out Baker comes to Dolphin camp, does well, only to get visited by the Turk, included this year. Through that he has continued to work hard and come back to try again, he does not give up. Most people in his position would have given up a couple of years ago, but his perseverance has finally paid off. Because of this, he has earned the respect of a lot of Dolphin fans, whom will be pulling for him for all this just as much as because he is on the Dolphins.
Another mark of a championship team is overcoming adversity, which includes injuries. So far this season the Dolphins have done well with this. Marcus Spriggs has filled in admirably for Mark Dixon the past two weeks and Jamar Fletcher, despite some troubles, hung in there while Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain missed some time. Now it’s time for Ray Lucas, Dedric Ward, James McKnight, and Robert Baker to take their turn. Football is truly a team game and the roles on the team for these 4 men have just changed dramatically. The game against the Bills doesn’t ride solely on these four, and neither does the season. The Dolphins must still run the ball successfully and play defense, but the success and failures of these four will go a long way in the success and failure of the Dolphins. They accepted their roles, they continued to work hard waiting for their opportunity, and it has arrived.