After finishing the 2007 season with a record of 1-15, not much was expected of the 2008 Dolphins, yet they surprised everyone by capturing the AFC East title with an 11-5 record. They were bounced from the playoffs after losing in the Wildcard round to Baltimore, but optimism is alive and well in Miami.
Executive VP of football operations Bill Parcells has once again helped transform a losing team into a winning one in short order. The Big Tuna buys the groceries and leaves the cooking to head coach Tony Sparano, who seems to be a top chef in the making. The Dolphins don't have a boatload of top players, but they win by committing to the running game, playing stout defense and winning the battle of attrition in the fourth quarter. They will once again rely on the same key skill players as last season and hope another year's experience will improve their offensive production. Both Parcells and Sparano are big believers that games are won and lost in the trenches, so they draft, sign and start the players who fit their system. They don't bring in players who have their own agenda, instead they seek players who have bought into or will buy into their system.
The 2008 Dolphins definitely caught the rest of the league off-guard with their play coming off such a horrendous 2007 campaign. Deploying the Wildcat offense proved to be more then just a gimmick and ended up being quite productive as well. It was a type of offense that hadn't been seen in the NFL in decades and caught many a team flat-footed. With the drafting of the athletic Pat White, the Dolphins figure to do it again in 2009. Even if the team is just blowing smoke, the mere threat of the formation will force opponents to spend extra practice time devoted to stopping the Wildcat instead of preparing for the base offense the Dolphins normally run.
The AFC East will be a much improved division offensively now and in the future with the return of Tom Brady to the Patriots, the free agent signing of Terrell Owens by the Bills, and the Jets trading up in order to grab franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Dolphins attempted to offset these moves by taking a cornerback in each of the first two rounds of the NFL draft in April and by adding cornerback Eric Green and safety Gibril Wilson via free agency. Whether these moves are enough to offset the additions made by their rivals in the AFC East will go a long way toward deciding whether or not the Dolphins will remain contenders or slide back in the pack
5. (161) John Nalbone, TE, Monmouth (N.J.)
Could see more action on special teams than on offense.
5. (165) Chris Clemons, S, Clemson
Will have to excel on special teams to secure a roster spot.
6. (181) Andrew Gardner, OT, Georgia Tech
Good size and hands, questionable quickness.
7. (214) J. D. Folsom, LB, Weber State
Destined for special teams.
Eric Green, CB (Cardinals)
Lost starting job in 2008, has a lot to prove.
Gibril Wilson, S (Raiders)
Should be thrilled to be rescued from Al Davis land.
Jason Taylor, LB (Redskins)
Back after a year in Washington, with the Dolphins nabbing a second-rounder in the process.
Vonnie Holliday, DE (FA)
Was never much of an IDP but still would provide some pressure on the QB.
John Beck, QB (Ravens)
Never able to gain the trust of Parcells.
Andre Goodman, CB (Broncos)
Solid cover corner who could have helped the Dolphins in 2009.
IS THIS CHAD'S LAST SEASON?
Well, if we're talking about Chad Pennington then the answer is probably yes. The Jets gave the Dolphins a gift last season when they released Pennington, who took over the reins of a team coming off a 1-15 season and led it to the playoffs. He has also given the coaching staff time to get Chad Henne acclimated to the NFL. Pennington is a free agent after this season, and, if he wants to stay, he might have to accept a backup job with the team as the Dolphins want Henne to take over the starting job in 2010. Pennington may not have the arm strength of most quarterbacks, but he keeps his mistakes to a minimum and knows how to manage a game. If he has another productive season, there may still be a club or two that will offer him a starting job.
WHERE WILL THE BIG PLAYS COME FROM?
The Dolphins appear to be bringing back the Wildcat offense in a big way, and it looks like Pat White was drafted just for this reason. Problem is, the NFL has had an entire offseason to decipher how to stop the formation, so the big play possibilities here may be few and far between. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams still provide a strong one-two punch in the backfield, but both have a bit of wear on their tires and aren't the game-breakers they used to be. Chad Pennington has never been expected to throw the ball deep downfield, and Ted Ginn has not become the sort of receiver the Dolphins trust as of yet. Draft picks Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline provide some depth but not much explosiveness. The Dolphins won't be a team that will light up many scoreboards in 2009.
WHICH DOLPHINS' TEAM IS FOR REAL?
The 2007 team finished 1-15, the 2008 team 11-5. Everything seemed to go right for the Dolphins last year. New England lost Tom Brady in Week 1, the Jets and Brett Favre seemed to regress as the year wore on, and the Bills just couldn't put anything together. All three of those teams have improved this offseason with the Patriots back to being a serious threat to reach the Super Bowl, let alone winning the AFC East. The Dolphins will have a tough time repeating their 2008 success unless one of their wideouts, this means you Ted Ginn, can step up and become a big-time playmaker. A key injury here or there, and the Dolphins could be looking at a rough season.
Rising: Anthony Fasano was drafted by Bill Parcells in Dallas, then brought over to Miami via trade in 2008. Chad Pennington doesn't have the arm strength to get the ball deep but loves to hit the intermediate targets.
Declining: Ricky Williamsis not the player he used to be and is nothing more than a RB3 at this point in his career.