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5 Miami Dolphins In Year One of the post-Marino era, the passing game is as much of a question mark as the defense is a strong suit

Aug. 28, 2000
Aug. 28, 2000

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Aug. 28, 2000

NFL Preview 2000

5 Miami Dolphins In Year One of the post-Marino era, the passing game is as much of a question mark as the defense is a strong suit

Interesting fact about the AFC East: All five head coaches have
defensive backgrounds. Three of the teams, New England, Buffalo
and Miami, have more talent on defense than on offense. Nowhere
is this more evident than in Miami, where Dave Wannstedt
inherits an outfit that could stop people last season but had
trouble finding the end zone. The Dolphins will again be
hard-pressed to put points on the board.

This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue

They used to be a glamour team. Now they're run-of-the-mill,
struggling to find a young quarterback to replace Dan Marino,
struggling to find the kind of identity that number 13 gave them
in his glory years.

"What's different?" says 12th-year defensive end Trace Armstrong.
"We were always a three-Monday-night-games-per-season team. Now
we're down to one."

Damon Huard will get the first shot at directing the offense. He
was the front-runner for the job even before free-agent pickup
Jay Fiedler underwent arthroscopic hip surgery earlier this
month. The good news is that Huard was 4-1 as a starter subbing
for the injured Marino in '99. The bad news is that he was sacked
28 times. Marino would go for the kill. Huard was safety first,
taking a sack rather than gambling--and possibly facing Jimmy
Johnson's wrath on the sideline.

"I guess you could say I was cautious last year," Huard says,
"knowing we had a good defense. Hopefully, I'll take more chances
this season. We have wide receivers who can get deep, and our new
offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, will let us take shots
downfield."

Hiring Gailey to run the offense was an obvious attempt to put
life into an attack that scored fewer points in each of Johnson's
last two years than it had in any of the previous nine. That
performance was due in large part to a passing game that finished
tied for 13th in the league in 1999, the club's lowest ranking in
16 years.

In his four seasons Johnson tried, and failed, to get a running
game going, and no doubt Wannstedt will devote some energy to
succeeding where Johnson could not. But Gailey's M.O. emphasizes
the pass. It was under his tutelage that the Steelers' Kordell
Stewart had his most successful season, in 1997, and it was
Gailey's departure that has been cited as the primary reason for
Stewart's crash.

Gailey, who was fired by Dallas after two seasons as coach--during
which the Cowboys' offense ranked eighth and 16th in the
league--likes to spread the field. He popularized the
five-receiver set in Pittsburgh, and to accommodate him and Huard
the Dolphins have amassed an imposing set of wideouts, each of
whom has started at least 13 games. Holdover Tony Martin is the
long-ball threat. Oronde Gadsden is the 215-pound muscle
receiver. Free-agent signees Bert Emanuel and Leslie Shepherd
were once vital parts of the pass offenses in Atlanta and
Washington, respectively.

But the key to it all is O.J. McDuffie, the guy Marino looked to
during the last few years when he needed a first down. McDuffie
is hurt, and that brings up a nasty chapter in the Johnson era.
Last Nov. 21 the wideout suffered what was originally diagnosed
as a sprained left big toe. He could hardly run, but he played in
four of the last eight games, including two playoff appearances.

"After the season I saw a specialist in North Carolina, and he
diagnosed it as a torn tendon and muscle in the toe," McDuffie
said earlier this month. "I had it operated on to reattach the
tendon. I was at a point where I had trouble walking, but they'd
shoot it up for the games and I'd play. Now? Well, the place
where they did the repair feels O.K., but the rest of the toe is
pretty bad. I'm just hoping it's not a career-ending thing.

"Am I bitter about it? Yeah, I guess so. I'm just hoping it was
an honest mistake by the medical staff."

No one knows when McDuffie will be back, if at all--he had a
second operation on Aug. 14 and is expected to miss at least the
first month of the season--and unless Gadsden can step into his
spot, the offense will be in trouble.

As good as the defense is, it still needs its rest. The last
memory of the 1999 season was the 62-7 playoff loss to the
Jaguars. "People say that we wore down at the end of last year
because Jimmy worked us too hard, that we'd been on the field too
long in some games," Zach Thomas says. "Well, those are good
excuses. One thing Dave Wannstedt has done, though, is made sure
we're rested. Sometimes we've even practiced at night. I feel
really fresh."

The Dolphins have fresh legs, a fresh quarterback and, Miami fans
hope, a freshly minted offense.

--P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES BOMBS AWAY Huard vows to put the ball in the air more often, which should help him cut down on his un-Marino-like sack total.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO

SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 SEATTLE
10 at Minnesota
17 BALTIMORE
24 NEW ENGLAND

Oct. 1 at Cincinnati
8 BUFFALO
15 Open date
23 at N.Y. Jets (Mon.)
29 GREEN BAY

Nov. 5 at Detroit
12 at San Diego
19 N.Y. JETS
26 at Indianapolis

Dec. 3 at Buffalo
10 TAMPA BAY
17 INDIANAPOLIS
24 at New England

FAST FACTS

1999 Record 9-7 (3rd in AFC East)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 22/13(tie)/20; defense 8/5/5

2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 2
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .570
Games against playoff teams: 8

PLAYER TO WATCH

On July 20 Miami signed defensive tackle Daryl Gardener to the
biggest contract it had ever given a lineman--a seven-year,
$49.5 million extension. He'd been a decent player, never
missing a game in four years with the club, but now he seems
ready for bigger things. "At 27 he's coming into his prime,"
coach Dave Wannstedt says, "and we think he's on the verge of
greatness." Gardener, at 6'6", 317 pounds, and Tim Bowens, at
6'4", 320, form the second-biggest, and one of the most feared,
tackle tandems in the league. In the past, one of the pair was
usually taken out on passing downs. Now they'll be on the field
for every play. "Sure, I'm thinking Pro Bowl," Gardener says. "I
might sound overconfident, but I've just got a feeling that this
is my year."

PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Dave Wannstedt
First season with Dolphins (40-56 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Damon Huard 100 216 att. 125 comp. 57.9% 1,288 yds.
8 TDs 4 int. 79.8 rtg.

RB J.J. Johnson 97 164 att. 558 yds. 3.4 avg. 15 rec.
100 yds. 6.7 avg. 4 TDs

RB Lamar Smith[1]159 60 att. 205 yds. 3.4 avg. 20 rec.
151 yds. 7.6 avg. 1 TD

FB Rob Konrad 165 9 att. 16 yds. 1.8 avg. 34 rec.
251 yds. 7.4 avg. 1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

[PVR*]

WR Tony Martin 88 67 rec. 1,037 yds. 5 TDs
WR O.J. McDuffie 163 43 rec. 516 yds. 2 TDs
WR Oronde Gadsden 128 48 rec. 803 yds. 6 TDs
TE Hunter Goodwin 301 8 rec. 55 yds. 0 TDs
K Olindo Mare 124 27/27 XPs 39/46 FGs 144 pts.
PR Ben Kelly (R)[1] 343 28 ret. 5.9 avg. 0 TDs
KR Ben Kelly (R)[1] 343 19 ret. 28.8 avg. 2 TDs

LT Richmond Webb 6'6" 315 lbs. 15 games 14 starts
LG Mark Dixon 6'4" 300 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
C Tim Ruddy 6'3" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Kevin Donnalley 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 games 9 starts
RT Todd Wade (R)[1] 6'8" 319 lbs. 11 games 11 starts

Defense

LE Kenny Mixon 10 tackles 0 sacks
LT Tim Bowens 34 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
RT Daryl Gardener 51 tackles 5 sacks
RE Jason Taylor 45 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
OLB Robert Jones 83 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Zach Thomas 132 tackles 1 int.
OLB Derrick Rodgers 38 tackles 1 int.
CB Patrick Surtain 44 tackles 2 int.
SS Brian Walker 14 tackles 1 int.
FS Brock Marion 86 tackles 2 int.
CB Sam Madison 45 tackles 7 int.
P Matt Turk[1] 62 punts 41.4 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)

THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Dolphins

"What were they under Jimmy Johnson? A middle-of-the-pack playoff
team, that's it. He was going to give them a running game, but
they're still looking for it. They haven't had a Pro Bowl runner
in years. The offensive line has been terribly overrated, and
it's still in a state of flux. All those guys moving in and out.
You need to find a unit and stick with it, and Richmond Webb,
their keynote player, is 33 and playing on bad knees.... The
obvious question mark is Damon Huard replacing Dan Marino. I like
Huard. He's bright. He knows things. How this will translate to
the field, with no running game and no tight end or possession
receiver--unless O.J. McDuffie makes a miraculous recovery--remains
to be seen.... Defensively they'll be sound under Dave
Wannstedt, but they expect an awful lot from Zach Thomas. He
covers receivers and chases down ballcarriers all over the field,
but if he starts wearing down and the line doesn't keep blockers
off him, then you get what happened in the playoff blowout
against Jacksonville last year."