Baseball's no fun from now until September, and we can only watch old NFL highlights on YouTube for so long before we need to start prognosticating on the '06-'07 NFL season. Fall can't come soon enough. In the meantime, here's the 18th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming season, the Miami Dolphins.
TOM'S TAKE: I hate to be one of those "the media hates my team!" whiners, but this is why I hate the media. Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper had injuries of similar magnitude -- both were pretty serious, both would take a lot of work to get ready for Week 1. Except Brees was coming off of his second Pro Bowl season in a row, Culpepper threw 6 touchdowns against 12 interceptions for a 72 quarterback rating in the few games before he tore all three ligaments in his knee. So what do the pundits say about this season? Nothing but questions about Brees' health, but the Dolphins are suddenly the favorite to win the AFC East, and could be in the Super Bowl?
I have trouble believing Culpepper will play up to his past excellence. For one, he was having a miserable time living without Randy Moss before his injury last year. Secondly, he tore three ligaments in his knee less than a year from the start of the regular season. I know medical advancements make recovery from these injuries quicker than recent years, and I've heard the reports about how good he looks in camp, but I still have my doubts. Culpepper needs to move to be successful, and he puts a lot of weight on those knees. By all accounts, he'll be starting in Week 1, but how long will his knee hold up before wear and tear takes its toll?
The Dolphins' offensive line is in flux -- it's the area on the team with the most chance of disruption due to some heated battles. The line has depth but isn't necessarily the most talented unit in the league. Still, the success of an offensive line depends on the scheme, not necessarily the skill. Speaking of skill, the Dolphins offense is set at almost all of the skill positions. They've got a legitimate #1 receiver in Chris Chambers, who is the type of deep threat that could benefit Culpepper's big arm. Tight end Randy McMichael is about as good of a receiving tight end as you could ask for in the NFL. And Ronnie Brown is going to do just fine in his first season with the entire run game on his shoulders. Last year Brown cracked 900 yards while splitting time with Ricky Williams. The easy-going back won't have that concern this year, and should be at least a top 15 rusher.
The defense is aging and has some holes, specifically in the secondary. Jason Taylor and Kevin Carter are bordering on ancient but each has managed to continually contribute from defensive end. The Dolphins will count on Matt Roth to take some battle off of their legs. Likewise, rookie defensive tackle Rodrique Wright will step in and spell the team's starting tackles. This front four will resemble the Colts' in that the Dolphins plan on using upwards of eight players regularly.
After losing Lance Schulters, Sam Madison, and Reggie Howard, the Dolphins' secondary is going to call upon free agents Will Allen and Renaldo Hill to pick up the slack. That's a big dropoff in talent. Players are still jockeying for position on the Dolphins secondary depth chart, but no matter who plays it seems unlikely the secondary -- and defensive unit as a whole -- will play as well as they did last year.
The Dolphins have all the buzz after winning their last six games last year, and they certainly have a lot of pieces in place to be successful, including coach Saban. I think the team overachieved towards the end of last year and have raised the bar on their expectations heading into this season. This isn't necessarily good. The Dolphins are on the right track, but it could take Culpepper all of this year to reacclimate himself to the NFL game. He'll need to play all 16 games at a high level to get the Dolphins into the playoffs. WIth that slim of a margin of error, I'm not willing to bet on it.
KYLE'S TAKE: For someone who lives in NJ, I sure am tired of Miami. The owner of the closest sports bar to us is a huge Miami fan, therefore he gives the big screen and the sound to the Dolphins, so he and all his Maimi fan friends can watch their team. It gives me an unreasonable dislike for Miami, but even considering that, I still like them this year.
Tom4 and I disagree on Miami. More specifically, we disagree on Daunte Culpepper. Miami has been searching for their next good quarterback since Dan Marino. They've tried guys like Jay Fiedler, but that was never gonna work. The question is: Is Culpepper the next big thing in Miami? Tom obviously says no, but I'm going to tell you he's a tad biased. First of all, Culpepper gave his fantasy team a nice kick in the ass last year. Secondly, everyone has been talking about Daunte and not Tom's boy Drew Brees. I'm not as biased and although I'm not 100% convinced that Culpepper is going to be the next good quarterback in Miami, I'd be willing to give him a shot.
Two years ago, Daunte tore it up. But then he lost Randy Moss and had an ugly early season before bowing out with a knee injury. That's an injury that takes a while to heal although people say he's ahead of schedule. Ahead of schedule or not, Daunte needs to play and play like he did before last year. If he can do that, he'll do just fine. Chris Chambers has always been an awesome receiver and will improve if a healthy Culpeppper plays. Second receiver Marty Booker is a different story -- he's had a couple good years in Chicago and has been disappointing ever since. Like Chambers, tight end Randy McMichael is talented and not too well-known to the average football viewer. But year after year, he too continues to put up good numbers and will improve under a healthy Culpepper, if he stays out a legal troubles, a problem in the past.
However, all of this is a moot point if Culpepper isn't healthy. His kind of knee injury is not easy to come back from and Culpepper is at his best when he is as physical as can be. If he's not good to go, Joey Harrington is backing him up. That spells trouble for Miami fans everywhere. Harrington sucks. That's plain and simple. Not even quarterback guru Mike Martz wanted to give him a shot in Detroit. If Culpepper is not up to snuff and Harrington plays, Miami fans will see a season more reminiscent of two years ago instead of last year, when they won their last six games.
They don't have running back Ricky Williams, but they do have Ronnie Brown, who put up impressive numbers last year -- 907 yards while splitting time with Williams. Although they lost a great running back coach in Scott Linehan, Ronnie Brown is still going to be a good running back. He'll need to be to take the load off of Culpepper or Harrington.
Miami has a pretty decent defense to hold the fort if their offense can contribute. They still have guys such as Jason Taylor at defensive end and Zach Thomas at linebacker. First round draft pick, corner Jason Allen, is a slight question mark because he only started the first five games at Tennessee because of an injured hip.
Now, I've said if Culpepper is healthy the Dolphins will be good. But will he be healthy enough? I think he will be. He's had a speedy recovery and Miami's offense line allowed only 26 sacks on Gus Ferrotte last year -- fourth best in the league -- who doesn't have Culpepper's scrambling ability. He's a tough guy who can rebound from a bad year and a bad injury to recover his career. Because of this, I think the Dolphins will take last year's end-of-the-season momentum into this year and they will make the playoffs as the wild card out of the AFC East. Unfortunately, if I were a betting man, I wouldn't put my money down on the Dolphins. One bad sack or bad tackle can take Culpepper out of the season and bring in Harrington to throw it all away. Miami fans every where, even in the sports bar in New Jersey, will be watching the entire season on the edge of their seat, knowing their success lies with one person.