By Lori Chase - Staff Columnist
Published: September 11th, 2010
DOLPHINS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)
The Chan Gailey era in Buffalo officially begins with a visit from one of his former teams. The Miami offense added Brandon Marshall in the offseason, and also got Ronnie Brown back from last year’s season-ending injury. But will the revamped defense be good enough to fuel a playoff run?
OFFENSE (#17 total yardage, #4 rushing, #20 passing, #15 scoring):
2010 was supposed to be the season Chad Henne took the reins of the Miami offense, but those plans were accelerated when Chad Pennington suffered yet another season-ending injury in Week 3. While the young quarterback suffered some growing pains in his first extended action, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and finishing the year with a 75.2 passer rating, he did manage to compile a 7-6 record as a starter. Pennington and Tyler Thigpen are back, but it’s Henne’s team now.
Despite his big game against a gimpy Terrence McGee a couple of years ago, Ted Ginn never lived up to his lofty draft status. The ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft was traded to San Francisco this spring, ending his three-year career in Miami with just 128 catches and five receiving touchdowns.
General manager Jeff Ireland knew the Dolphins needed help at the position, and an opportunity arrived when Denver began shopping troubled wideout Brandon Marshall. When healthy and motivated, the 6-4, 230-pound Marshall is an elite talent the likes of which Miami fans haven’t seen in a long time. Brian Hartline, who led the team with three touchdown catches in his rookie season, starts on the other side, with Davone Bess and Marlon Moore making last year’s other starter, Greg Camarillo, expendable. Starting tight end Anthony Fasano should also benefit from the added attention paid to Marshall.
But for all the talk about their big move at receiver, Ricky and Ronnie remain the focus of the offense. The 33-year-old Williams showed few signs of slowing down last year, averaging 4.7 yards per carry as he rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns. Brown returns from a second stint on I.R.
The Miami line is the opposite of Buffalo’s: set at tackle with Jake Long and Vernon Carey (Long’s been limited in practice, but is expected to play), but unsettled up the middle. One season into his five-year, $29.5 million contract, Jake Grove was released this week after losing a competition with Joe Berger for the job at center. Third-round pick John Jerry and old friend Richie Incognito are the guards. Will they be able to open holes and protect Henne? We’ll see.
DEFENSE (#22 total yardage, #18 rushing, #24 passing, #t25 scoring):
New coordinator Mike Nolan has a rebuilding job on his hands. Nose tackle Jason Ferguson retired rather than try to return at midseason from an eight-game suspension, and end Phillip Merling is on injured reserve with a torn Achilles’ tendon. That leaves Randy Starks and Paul Soliai on the nose, and first-round pick Jared Odrick joining holdover Kendall Langford at end.
The linebacking corps saw massive upheaval during the offseason. (Of course, two of its former members, Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele, are now on the Bills roster.) Headliners Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are gone, with Ikaika Alama-Francis and Cameron Wake slated to take over at outside linebacker. The Fins made a big splash by signing free agent Karlos Dansby from the Cardinals to start on the inside; sounds like Channing Crowder won’t dress for the game, leaving the other spot to special-teamer Tim Dobbins and undrafted free agent Micah Johnson if recently-signed Bobby Carpenter isn’t ready to go.
As usual, there isn’t much depth in the secondary, where Jason Allen has moved ahead of Sean Smith on the depth chart to start at cornerback opposite Vontae Davis. Veteran Yeremiah Bell is the strong safety, with second-year man Chris Clemons earning his third career start at free.
Dan Carpenter converted 25 of 28 field goal attempts last year, an 89.3 percentage good enough to rank fourth-best in team history. Punter Brandon Fields was even better, toying with the 40.0-yard next average for most of the season before finishing the year at 39.8.
The team signed former Buccaneers Pro Bowler Clifton Smith, who ended the 2009 season on injured reserve after suffering two concussions in as many months, to compete for return duties with holdovers Hartline and Bess.
The Dolphins are a three-point road favorite, not surprising when one considers that most of the national media is already slotting the Bills into the No. 1 overall draft pick next April. (Interestingly, the guys who actually cover the team are a little more optimistic than that, with most in the five- or six-win range.)
But this is the week where everyone’s undefeated, and while the Bills should have plenty of tape on Miami’s offense, the Dolphins don’t have that luxury with Gailey’s gameplan. Will that help deny the Fish their first victory at the Ralph since 2003? Combined with a rowdy home crowd, it just might.