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2010 NFL Team Preview: Miami Dolphins

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 7-9, 4-2
Division finish:3rd AFC East
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards):15th, 17th, 20th, 4th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 25th, 22nd, 24th, 18th

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing:Ricky Williams, 1,126 yards, 11 TD; Ronnie Brown, 648 yards, 8 TD
Passing:Chad Henne, 2,878 yards, 12 TD, 14 INT
Receiving: Davone Bess, 758 yards, 2 TD; Greg Camarillo, 552 yards, 0 TD
Tackles: Yeremiah Bell, 114 total tackles
Sacks:Joey Porter, 9 sacks
Interceptions: Vontae Davis, 4 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook


(* denotes division game)

Key Matchups

September 19th at Minnesota: The Vikings’ defensive front seven matched up against the Dolphins’ incredible running game will be a hard-fought contest, and possibly the best matchup to watch in the entire league this week. Minnesota’s defensive backfield is looking really bad, so the difference-maker in this game will likely be whether Chad Henne gets settled in and comfortable throwing to Brandon Marshall, which would then open up opportunities for the rest of the Dolphins’ receiving corps. If this happens, it will be a nice step forward for Miami’s passing game.

October 17 at Green Bay: Here the Miami Dolphins will face last year’s number one run defense that has actually gotten even better from the shuffling around they’ve done with their front three. The Wildcat will be out in full throttle, and the Packers actually have the defensive skill to slow it down if they execute well enough. The Packers’ secondary is no pushover either, so this game will be a big test for Henne.

December 12 at New York Jets: This late-season game has the potential to be a monumental tipping point in the AFC East race. The Dolphins have a better offense than the Jets do, but the Jets’ defense will neutralize that advantage. This game will probably play out similarly to the Dolphins-Jets matchup on Monday Night Football last year, with the win going to whoever has the ball last.

Key Losses

Joey Porter, LB; Jason Taylor, LB; Jason Ferguson, NT

Key Returning Players

Ronnie Brown, RB; Ricky Williams, RB; Patrick Cobbs, RB; Lousaka Polite, FB

Key Draft Picks

Jared Odrick, DE; Kao Misi, OLB; John Jerry, OG

Key Free Agent Signings

Karlos Dansby, ILB

Key Acquisitions via Trade

Brandon Marshall, WR

Offensive Overview

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of running to the team that brought the single-wing formation into the 21st century. While I could go on for multiple paragraphs about the Wildcat formation (and probably will in an article a little later in the season), I’ll keep it short and simple for the sake of this preview. The Wildcat at its best consisted of Ronnie Brown in the shotgun, with the quarterback lined up at wide receiver to the right (the weak side of this formation) and Ricky Williams lined up in the slot to Brown’s left. Additionally, the play includes an unbalanced offensive line, with three linemen to the left of the center. Williams would go into motion to the right, and when he’s running through the backfield the ball would be snapped and Brown received the snap and can either hand the ball off to Williams, who would run a sweep to the right, or just keep it himself. This completely froze defenses, because making the wrong read on who has the ball could lead to huge gains, so defenses would have to wait a second to see who had the ball before they tried to make a play. Plus, not only did defenses have to be able to stop Williams on the sweep every play, they also had to be able to stop Brown from running up the middle or out of the backfield to the left side of the field. Without there even being a passing threat on this play, defenses were still stretched very thinly. Because of this, there was so much room for receivers and tight ends that Brown was able to occasionally throw the ball and pick up some yards that way as well, adding some more versatility to the formation. Against the Houston Texans in 2008, the Dolphins introduced yet another wrinkle to this formation when Williams, running the sweep, pitched the ball to Chad Pennington, who was out wide on that side of the field, and Pennington tossed it down the field to an uncovered Anthony Fasano for an easy touchdown. At the start of last year, backup running back Patrick Cobbs entered the mix, receiving handoffs and running up the middle and giving defenses yet another option to contain. With the way the Wildcat is designed, a left-handed passer with great speed would be the perfect fit to take snaps from the Wildcat and make it more dangerous through the air, which is why the Dolphins drafted Pat White in the second round of the 2009 draft. However, Cobbs and Brown both suffered season-ending injuries in 2009 and White failed to impress despite being used in a formation that is perfect for his skill set, so the Wildcat was scrapped and White was released. This year, though, expect to see the Dolphins prove that the Wildcat is not dead as some critics say it is. Running from regular formations, the Dolphins are aided by the lead-blocking of Lousaka Polite, one of the best fullbacks in the league today.

Although the Wildcat will still be very important, it will not be as necessary as it was in 2008, when the Dolphins were coming off of a 1-15 season. Quarterback Chad Henne looked like the real deal last year, though he looked the slightest bit overwhelmed towards the very end of the season when three straight losses took them out of playoff contention. Henne displayed great arm strength, good accuracy, and impressive pocket presence after being rushed into action prematurely due to an injury to Chad Pennington. With a full year of preparation as the starter, Henne should be better, especially since the Dolphins obtained Brandon Marshall to make him better. Marshall, the holder of the record for receptions in a single game, is big, physical, and fast. He has the tools to become a superstar in the league, and he and Henne will play very well together. With the trade of Greg Camarillo to the Vikings, receiver Brian Hartline is going to be the number two option, and should benefit from the attention defenses pay to Marshall. Tight end Anthony Fasano was used mostly as a blocker last year, but he is a very good option for Henne to check down to when the rush is closing in on him.

Of course, the Dolphins’ offensive line is so good, the pass rush will very rarely close in on Henne though. Left tackle Jake Long continually shows that the Dolphins made the right choice when the Dolphins selected him with the number one pick in the 2008 draft, as he is rarely ever beaten. Right tackle Vernon Carey does a great job of forcing defenders so far around the pocket that they can’t make a play on the quarterback. This might be a problem for quarterbacks who have poor pocket presence and drop back too far. However, Henne has the poise to step up in the pocket, so Carey’s style of play is perfect for the quarterback. Rookie right guard John Jerry played tackle in college, but has done an excellent job converting to guard. He plays with an insane amount of ferocity, and defenders will have a tough time getting past him. Left guard Richie Incognito tends to draw a lot of penalties and often needs help with his blocking assignment, but the Dolphins’ talent everywhere else along the line allows them to give him the help he needs without leaving anyone unblocked elsewhere along the line. Center Jake Groves was cut, so Joe Berger will be the starter. According to head coach Tony Sparano, Berger is more physical and consistent, so this is a good move for the Dolphins.

Defensive Overview

The Dolphins are looking to rebound from an abysmal year of defense, when they allowed an average of 349 yards per game, more than they’ve allowed any year since 1989. The front seven of this defense has seen a lot of change this offseason. Nose tackle Jason Ferguson is gone, and in his place the Dolphins have slid defensive end Randy Starks into the nose tackle spot. Starks played defensive tackle for the Titans, but due to his size is going to be more of a quickly-attacking nose tackle than a big occupier of space. In this respect, he’ll be more like the Cowboys’ Jay Ratliff than anyone else. Rookie Jared Odrick is going to start immediately at defensive end even though he played in a 4-3 defense in college. Phillip Merling plays with a good combination of speed and strength, and will start opposite of Odrick. Kendall Langford played great against the run at DE in his 2008 rookie season, but he regressed a bit last year and will no longer start for the Dolphins, though he will be rotated into the game from time to time.

At linebacker, Cameron Wake is set to start in his second year in the NFL. He was a great pass rusher last year, but now that he’s a starter the Candian Football League star has to prove himself in pass coverage and in run support. Rookie Kao Misi is set to start at the other outside linebacker position, and he is very similar to Wake in his athletic abilities and playing style. Together, they bring explosiveness to a pass rush that was missing burst from the outside linebacker position last year. On the inside of the linebacking corps will be free-agent signee Karlos Dansby, who absolutely flies to the ball-carrier and makes huge plays in both run and pass defense. Next to him on the inside will be Channing Crowder, who is solid but not spectacular.

The defensive backfield of this team is very young, especially at cornerback. Free safety Chris Clemons gets to the ball-carrier quickly and is a very low tackler who goes for the legs. While this is usually a good thing whenever he makes a tackle, it can be bad because that style of tackling can sometimes lead to a missed tackle. Strong safety Yeremiah Bell is a pretty good open-field tackler, and he brings energy and veteran leadership to the defensive backfield. At cornerback the Dolphins are fielding second-year pro Vontae Davis, who was drafted in the first round in 2009 but didn’t get a lot of playing time last year. Sean Smith was set to start opposite of him, but instead the Dolphins chose to give the starting job to Jason Allen, a safety/corner hybrid with great athleticism.

Special Teams Overview

Kickoff coverage was a bright spot, ranking 12th-best in average kick return yards allowed despite ranking only 24th in kickoff distance. Their punt coverage unit wasn’t as impressive. The Dolphins ranked an impressive 6th in average punt distance, but only 16th in average punt return distance allowed.

Kicker Dan Carpenter was good last year, making 25 of 28 field goal attempts. He’s entering his third year in the NFL, and has played well in his previous two years.

Clifton Smith will look to return kicks and punts this year. He averaged 29.1 yards per kick return last year, and 10.1 per punt return. Rookie Nolan Carroll was looking like the Dolphins wanted to have him as the primary kickoff returner, but he only averaged 22.8 yards per kickoff return in the preseason, so Smith should win the job.

Head Coach:Tony Sparano

Sparano’s Dolphins have a winning record of 18-15, and a lot of this is due to the coaching they receive. Scouts and writers often comment on how well the Dolphins execute their plays, and this doesn’t get quite as much recognition as it deserves. The NFL is filled with great athletes, so one player’s slip-up in execution of his play assignment usually makes the man lined up across from him look very good. Because the Dolphins execute so flawlessly, it eliminates these types of plays and allows the Dolphins to win 2 or 3 games per year against team that have more athletic talent than they do.

Top 2011 Free Agents

Lousaka Polite, FB; Chad Pennington, QB; Ricky Williams, RB

Season Prediction

3rd AFC South

The Dolphins play a pretty tough schedule, so this prediction isn’t a knock on their abilities at all. If the Dolphins can come out of their brutal four-week stretch after the season opener with a 3-2 record or better, it’ll be an impressive feat and they may have an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs. The addition of Brandon Marshall does a great job of rounding out their offense, but they still have some retooling left to do on defense. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.

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