While things went from bad in 2006 to near-historically bad in 2007 for the Dolphins, history may remember the season of struggles as the jolt the franchise needed to begin its journey back to respectability.
After coach Nick Saban's ignominious retreat to the college ranks following the 2006 season, the Dolphins quickly found renewed hope in Cam Cameron. His reputation promised a consistent run-based offense that would finally support the defense's ability to keep games within reach, and the Dolphins appeared to have sufficient personnel at the skill positions to make Cameron's system work. Lost in the optimism, however, was the fact that all of these pieces would play behind a patchwork offensive line comprised of rookies and mediocre veterans.
Hope vanished quickly as the Dolphins accumulated losses, exposing glaring deficiencies in the run-blocking of the offensive line and a weak pass rush. Injuries also took their toll. Veteran acquisition Trent Green (concussion), Ronnie Brown (torn ACL) and Zach Thomas (concussion) were all lost for the season in October, and Chris Chambers' trade to San Diego before Week 7 seemed to signal an admission of defeat. Cameron, in turn, sealed his fate by losing the trust of his players through poor decision-making and his stubborn refusal to admit rebuilding by playing second-rounder John Beck.
Owner Wayne Huizenga, however, was more than willing to admit the need to retool and, six years removed from a playoff berth and a late-season overtime victory over the Ravens away from going winless, hired the man synonymous with reversing the fortunes of struggling NFL franchises: Bill Parcells. At season's end, the new Vice President of Football Operations promptly fired Cameron and GM Randy Mueller, replacing them with trusted colleagues from his time in Dallas, coach Tony Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland.
As Parcells-led teams always do, the 2008 Dolphins have begun to center their rebuilding efforts around defense and getting bigger along the lines on both sides of the ball through the draft and the acquisition of players familiar to Parcells. After the unceremonious release of the smallish Thomas in February provided the symbolic first step in this direction, many of Miami's offseason acquisitions and six of nine draft choices were offensive or defensive linemen. The remaining picks were skill players, and the Dolphins will spend 2008 evaluating the remnants from the Saban and Cameron eras at those positions, especially quarterback and running back. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, particularly, will have ample opportunity to prove themselves in the run-based offense under Parcells' former Jets coordinator, Dan Henning. Defensively, coordinator Paul Pasqualoni leads a 3-4 that should better utilize Jason Taylor (if he isn't traded) and Joey Porter's pass-rushing abilities.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (1) Jake Long, OT, Michigan
Moves into starting LT role after allowing just three sacks in his last 26 collegiate games.
Jason Ferguson, DT (Cowboys)
Parcells-favored run-stuffer is key component in move to 3-4.
Zach Thomas, LB (Cowboys)
Prolific tackler to be replaced in middle by two players as Dolphins incorporate more 3-4 looks.
Marty Booker, WR (Bears)
Never the receiver for Miami he was his first time around in Chicago.
Lorenzo Booker, RB (Eagles)
Underutilized rookie showed all-purpose talent in limited play (4.5 ypc, 28 catches).
STILL SORTING OUT THE QUARTERBACK QUANDARY
In what has become a recurring theme, the Dolphins enter 2008 unsure of what to expect at quarterback, but unlike recent years, they have opted against the quick fix. Rather, the new staff will spend the year evaluating a relatively young group comprising second-year pro John Beck, journeyman Josh McCown, and 2008 second-rounder Chad Henne. The three will compete openly for the starting job, with Beck - an intelligent player who Cam Cameron was foolish to deprive of experience during the lost 2007 season - currently holding the inside edge, although Henne has the best arm of the lot.
Figuring out the quarterback situation remains tied to developing consistency along the offensive line, and the Dolphins have invested heavily in that area, with RT Vernon Carey and C Samson Satele the only remaining starters from the 2007 opener and No. 1 overall pick Jake Long expected to start at LT.
Entering his fourth pro season, Ronnie Brown has yet to quiet the concerns that have followed him throughout his career. Lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 7 last year, Brown has neither started a full 16-game season nor handled more than the 241 carries he had in 2006. The good news on Brown, however, is that he's an effective back when healthy - he was averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2007 at the time of his injury, while maintaining a 4.4 average for his career.
Though the Dolphins project Brown as the 2008 starter, coach Tony Sparano has announced his plan to split carries between Brown and Ricky Williams. Williams, himself returning from injury on the heels of a season-long suspension in 2006, was an outstanding backup to Brown in 2005 (743 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, six TDs in 12 games) and knows time is running out to reestablish himself as a viable NFL running back. Miami also spent two sixth-round picks on big, Marion Barber-esque runners. Sparano is likely to favor the toughest of the group, so Brown must prove he is healthy to keep his job.
BUILDING AN IDENTITY AT RECEIVER
Tellingly, after Chris Chambers' departure to San Diego before Week 7, it took Marty Booker until Week 13 to surpass Chambers' pre-trade statistics. With Booker gone, the fact that the Dolphins neither pursued a big name nor drafted a receiver shows the new staff is at least willing to give Ted Ginn Jr. a chance to prove himself the explosive starter Cam Cameron hoped he could be, and they have already reduced his return role to enable him to focus on receiving. Ernest Wilford provides a possession complement to Ginn, and Bill Parcells will expect a solid third-year showing from Derek Hagan, who has disappointed thus far. With stability at QB, this could be a well-balanced, dynamic group, but only Ginn has (minimal) value for now.
Rising: Ted Ginn Jr.'s athleticism alone should help him improve upon his rookie campaign (34 catches, 12.4 ypc). If Chad Henne wins the QB battle, Ginn will see plenty of deep balls.
Declining: Jason Taylor earns this tag by default because he's Miami's best player and has the farthest to fall. He'll also turn 34 in 2008 and hasn't started on good terms with the team's new brass.
Sleeper: If Ricky Williams stays out of trouble, the new regime should appreciate his toughness and look his way often.
Supersleeper: Young QBs like to throw to the tight end. Anthony Fasano, who spent his first two years learning under Jason Witten, was acquired for a reason.
Jason Taylor, DE
Trade watch has begun; otherwise, should return to hybrid role that earned him POY in 2006.
Channing Crowder, LB
Proven 100-tackle player should see increased opportunities in Zach Taylor's absence, but sacks still a concern.
Joey Porter, LB
Expectations are low after disappointing 2007, but outside linebacker should return to pass-rushing role in 3-4 looks.