3 Miami Dolphins It's put-up-or-shut-up time for a team loaded with talent and a ready excuse for every failure

August 31, 2003

One year the Dolphins blamed their late-season fade on intense
early-season practices that took away their legs. So now the
practices are lighter.

For a while they complained about an inconsistent running game.
Then Ricky Williams led the NFL in rushing in 2002, and Miami
still missed the postseason. They can talk about the six games
that their quarterback, Jay Fiedler, sat out last year with a
broken right thumb and how the 2-4 record during that span hurt
them dearly, but the season still came down to the last two
games, against the Vikings and the Patriots. The Dolphins blew a
lead in each game and lost.

"Seems like every year at this time I give you an excuse," middle
linebacker Zach Thomas says. "Then I say what has to be done, and
we do it, and the next year there's a different excuse. But what
they've done this year is pack the team with so much talent that
we won't be able to blow it. We're so loaded that there just
won't be any excuses."

They all know it. They get the feeling they're playing on some
kind of Pro Bowl roster. Las Vegas has made Miami the
short-priced AFC team to reach the Super Bowl, even ahead of last
year's representative, the Raiders. "It'll just be a shame if we
don't make it," tackle Todd Wade says. "This is the most talented
team I'll ever play on."

The front office doesn't get a lot of credit, but the Dolphins
never seem to lose their stars. The key people get signed. In
free agency the imports are always better than the exports. This
year, though, they outdid themselves. A team that had good
personnel is now bursting with it.

Junior Seau, a Pro Bowl player for 12 of his 13 years in San
Diego, is the new weakside linebacker. Thirty-four-year-old
legends come cheap: He cost Miami a late-round draft choice. Seau
plays a spot that has a lot of coverage responsibilities, but
he's coming off a bad ankle sprain last year. "Horrible," he
says. "They shot it with painkiller on Saturday and on Sunday. It
hurt even standing in the huddle." So, can he still get
downfield? "Just watch," he says. And you might even see Seau do
something he did best at USC and early on with the Chargers--line
up as a down lineman in the nickel defense and rush the passer
from the edge. "It's what got me into the NFL," he says.

Strong safety Sammy Knight, 27 years old and a Pro Bowl selection
two years ago, was a terrific free-agent pickup. There isn't a
scar on him. He's not that speedy, but he'll be playing closer to
the line than he was in New Orleans. "This defense allows me to
be more aggressive," he says, "which is delightful."

Almost overlooked was the acquisition of free-agent defensive
tackle Jeff Zgonina, a classic run-stopper, late of the Rams.
Every defense needs one; few have one. "Play the two-gap, stop
the run--I've been doing that my whole career," he says.

The Dolphins also brought in a former Pro Bowl quarterback, Brian
Griese, as Fiedler's backup. Now Griese is sidelined after
injuring his toe in last Friday's preseason game. From the
Redskins they snatched the guy who has been the star of training
camp, wideout Derrius Thompson. He runs disciplined routes and
tears the ball away from defensive backs. "It seems that every
day he's grabbing one that nobody thinks he's going to get,"
center Tim Ruddy says of Thompson.

"I told my guys, 'Believe your eyes,'" offensive coordinator Norv
Turner says. "'You saw him. He is what you're watching.'"

Why did Steve Spurrier let him get away? "I wasn't his type of
guy," Thompson says. "He was looking for something else, for
those little tippy-toe receivers who run 4.4s. I do the dirty
work. You've got to have blue-collar guys in your offense."

Thompson is the possession receiver that Miami has needed and
never had in Oronde Gadsden, who was big and tough enough but
undisciplined on his routes. Thompson's the perfect complement to
downfield receiver Chris Chambers.

Yep, the Dolphins have it all, and if somehow they blow it again
in December or January ... well, they'll just have to open a new
can of excuses. --P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER FRESH FISH The Dolphins plan to use Seau in pass coverage and perhaps even as an edge rusher in the nickel package. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS FIEDLER
COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

In 2000 BRIAN GRIESE made the Pro Bowl with Denver. Two years
later he was run out of town, all the way to Miami, where he was
supposed to provide much-needed depth. When Jay Fiedler was
injured last year, the Dolphins went 2-4 and missed the
playoffs. Now Griese has been slowed by ligament damage to his
left big toe.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"The Dolphins are a team that's very hard to figure. They're as
talented as any club in the league, but they're an emotional
team, and sometimes that emotion works against them. When the
wheels come off, they come off in a hurry.... You hear people say
that they get out-toughed in big games, but I don't think it's
that as much as that they make the wrong decisions. Ricky
Williams is as tough as any back in football. Jason Taylor is as
tough as they come, fighting the double team all game. Zach
Thomas is a tough middle linebacker.... The defense has people
who are among the best in the league. The line never gets
outmanned. Maybe Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison slipped a little
last year, but they're still one of the best sets of corners in
the league.... Junior Seau's going to make some highlight plays,
but I don't think he is what he once was. Overall, though, it's a
good linebacking group.... People say their offensive line and
their quarterbacking could be better. I say the line is O.K. Jay
Fiedler's passes might not always look pretty, but he wins games,
and his team believes in him.... This is the soundest team in the
division."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 HOUSTON
14 at N.Y. Jets
21 BUFFALO
28 Open date

Oct. 5 at N.Y. Giants
12 at Jacksonville
19 NEW ENGLAND
27 AT San Diego (Mon.)

Nov. 2 INDIANAPOLIS
9 at Tennessee
16 BALTIMORE
23 WASHINGTON
27 at Dallas (Thurs.)

Dec. 7 at New England
15 PHILADELPHIA (Mon.)
21 at Buffalo
28 N.Y. JETS

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 15
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .516
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 9-7
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 2/26/15
DEFENSE T5/8/3

COACH: Dave Wannstedt; fourth season with Miami (71-73 in NFL)

RICKY WILLIAMS

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 2 383 1,853 4.8

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
47 363 7.7 17

JAY FIEDLER

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 91 292 179 61.3

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,024 14 9 85.2

ROB KONRAD

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 300 3 2 0.7

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
34 233 6.9 3

CHRIS CHAMBERS

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 117 52 734 3

RANDY MCMICHAEL

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 131 39 485 4

MARK DIXON

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'4" 295 lbs. 13 12

JAMIE NAILS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'6" 330 lbs. 14 14

TIM RUDDY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'3" 295 lbs. 16 16

TODD PERRY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 16

TODD WADE

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'8" 325 lbs. 16 16

DERRIUS THOMPSON [1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 99 53 773 4

DEFENSE

RE JASON TAYLOR 69 tackles 18 1/2 sacks
RT LARRY CHESTER 37 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
LT TIM BOWENS 36 tackles 0 sacks
LE ADEWALE OGUNLEYE 45 tackles 9 1/2 sacks
OLB MORLON GREENWOOD 51 tackles 1 sack
MLB ZACH THOMAS 156 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB JUNIOR SEAU[1] 84 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
CB SAM MADISON 34 tackles 3 int.
SS SAMMY KNIGHT[1] 107 tackles 5 int.
FS BROCK MARION 93 tackles 5 int.
CB PATRICK SURTAIN 58 tackles 6 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K OLINDO MARE 190 42/43 XPS 24/31 FGS 114 PTS.
PR CHARLIE ROGERS[1] 397 26 RET. 5.3 AVG. 0 TDS
KR CHARLIE ROGERS[1] 397 64 RET. 20.0 AVG. 1 TD
P MARK ROYALS 69 PUNTS 40.2 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"They're an emotional team, and sometimes that emotion works
against them."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)