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1 Miami Dolphins

Sept. 04, 2006
Sept. 04, 2006

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Sept. 4, 2006

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1 Miami Dolphins

The starting lineup makes this club the AFC team to beat! (It's a different story if stars like Daunte Culpepper go down)

THE BELIEF Theoff-season trade for Daunte Culpepper gives the Dolphins their best quarterbacksince Dan Marino. It will be the springboard to undreamed-of success.

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2006 issue Original Layout

THE REALITY Whocan argue? The only thing is, Miami is thin. It's a team of stars, and if oneor more of them go down--that could be disastrous.

Let's start withCulpepper, who came from the Vikings for a second-round draft choice, almost agift. A Dolphins official says their study of the quarterback before the dealwas "extensive, extensive, extensive." The first concern was how hisright knee would hold up. Last year he tore three ligaments, and it's almostunprecedented for a player to come back from that kind of injury in under ayear. "I never felt pain like that in my life," Culpepper says. "Itfelt like my leg was broken in half." Thanks to renowned orthopedist Dr.James Andrews, Culpepper started the first preseason game, on Aug. 12.

And what of hisgame? After 2004, one of the finest seasons a QB ever had, the bottom fell outfor Culpepper even before the injury. He was hesitant, unsure of himself. Hethrew into coverage. He repeated mistakes. "I looked at film, and I couldsee one thing after another," Culpepper says. "Things never felt right.We lost our coordinator, our center and Randy Moss, our leading receiver.Everything started going bad [in '05], and it just got out of control."

Behind Culpepper,former Lions starter Joey Harrington hasn't had a particularly noteworthy camp.Ronnie Brown must carry the running game while Ricky Williams is off serving aone-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. After ChrisChambers, there's no deep threat among the receivers.

And then there'sthe offensive line. Oversized, sluggish--that's been the rap. But in 2005,under the tutelage of Hudson Houck, one of the best coaches in the business, itshowed some life. "The other day I tackled Ronnie a little too hard, and alittle bit of a fight broke out," middle linebacker Zach Thomas says."Three linemen jumped me. They've got an attitude now." That's thanksto Houck, who always favored those big, area-blocking linemen he had clearingthe way for Emmitt Smith in Dallas. "He tells us we're in a heavyweightfight," says center Rex Hadnot. "He says the big guy will wear thesmaller guy down. That's what we want to do--wear 'em down, break theirwill."

You can find allsorts of hints that this could be a really big year in Miami. The Dolphins havethe momentum of six straight wins at the end of last season. Half theirschedule is against teams that drafted in the top 10. Thomas and Jason Taylorare still the focal figures of a defense that's carried the team since Marinoleft. And offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who did exotic things inPittsburgh with his combination wideout-quarterback, Antwaan Randle El, hasfound another one in Marcus Vick, the free-agent quarterback who was bouncedout of Virginia Tech for on- and off-the-field misbehavior. Vick has had aremarkable camp as a receiver. He looks as if he'd played the position all hislife. Just another plus for a team that could have a ton of them.

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

7 at Pittsburgh(T)

17 BUFFALO

24 TENNESSEE

OCTOBER

1 at Houston

8 at NewEngland

15 at N.Y.Jets

22 GREEN BAY

29 Bye

NOVEMBER

5 at Chicago

12 KANSASCITY

19 MINNESOTA

23 at Detroit(T)

DECEMBER

3JACKSONVILLE

10 NEWENGLAND

17 at Buffalo

25 N.Y. JETS(M)

31 atIndianapolis

(M) Monday (T)Thursday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank 27

Opponents' 2005winning percentage .469

Games againstplayoff teams 6

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE DOLPHINS

> The thingto guard against, the thing the Dolphins can least afford to happen, is gettingtoo ambitious with Daunte Culpepper, pushing him too hard too soon. Then theirseason could go poof.

> Theoffensive line will be better than people think. Left guard Jeno James is anunderrated player.

> The bestoff-season move after signing Culpepper was hiring Mike Mularkey as offensivecoordinator. His down-the-field approach fits Culpepper's style perfectly.

> I can'tunderstand why they picked up Bennie Anderson at right guard. He flunked out oftwo systems [Buffalo and Baltimore] and showed up out of shape at camp.

> The bigchallenge will be finding a strongside backer to work with Zach Thomas andChanning Crowder.

They've got a serious deep threat in Chris Chambers. He'll be the guy they'llall be talking about this season.

BREAKOUTPLAYER

ChanningCrowder

LINEBACKER

He's big. The6'2" Crowder's program weight is 245, but he says he can carry 260 withoutany problem. He only has one NFL season under his belt, but he made it count,flying all over the field, hitting like a sledge hammer. Zach Thomas, who playsnext to Crowder, says, "The sky's the limit." So does everybody else.Crowder left Florida after two years; with the Gators he got into what areeuphemistically called off-the-field issues. "Fights," Crowder says,"but no guns. At 260 pounds I could grab 'em and wrestle."

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH NICK SABAN(9-7 in NFL), second season with Miami

OFFENSE

CHRIS CHAMBERS
POS WR
REC 82
YARDS  1,118
TD 11

RONNIE BROWN
POS RB
RUSH 207
YARDS 907
TD 4

DAUNTE CULPEPPER-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS QB
ATT 216
COMP 139
PCT 64.4
YARDS 1,564
TD 6
INT 12
RATING 72.0

FRED BEASLEY --NEW ACQUISITION
POS FB
RUSH 0
YARDS 0
TD 0

MARTY BOOKER
POS WR
REC 39
YARDS 868
TD 3

VERNON CAREY
POS RT
HT 6'5"
WT 325
G 16

BENNIE ANDERSON-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS RG
HT 6'5"
WT 345
G 16

REX HADNOT
POS C
HT 6'2"
WT 323
G 16

JENO JAMES
POS LG
HT 6'3"
WT 315
G 16

L.J. SHELTON --NEW ACQUISITION
POS LT
HT 6'6"
WT 335
G 16

RANDYMCMICHAEL
POS TE
REC 60
YARDS 582
TD 5

OLINDO MARE
POS K
FG 25-30
POINTS 108

DEFENSE

CHANNINGCROWDER
POS WLB
TACKLES 84
SACKS 0
INT 0

KEVIN CARTER
POS LE
TACKLES 52
SACKS 6

KEITH TRAYLOR
POS NT
TACKLES 31
SACKS 2

VONNIEHOLLIDAY
POS DT
TACKLES 51
SACKS 5

JASON TAYLOR
POS RE
TACKLES 74
SACKS 12

DONNIE SPRAGAN
POS SLB
TACKLES 53
SACKS 1
INT 1

TRAVIS DANIELS
POS CB
TACKLES 61
INT 1

JASON ALLEN (R)-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS FS
TACKLES 35
SACKS 1
INT 0

ZACH THOMAS
POS MLB
TACKLES 158
SACKS 2
INT 1

RENALDO HILL --NEW ACQUISITION
POS SS
TACKLES 89
SACKS 0
INT 1

WILL D. ALLEN --NEW ACQUISITION
POS CB
TACKLES 72
INT 0

DONNIE JONES
POS P
PUNTS 88
AVG 43.5

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)

2005 RECORD 9-7NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 12/16/14 DEFENSE 17/20/18

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PHOTODAVID WALBERG (CULPEPPER) BOLDFRONT
Culpepper takes control behind an offensive line that's gotten bigger, meanerand more driven.
PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERCHAMBERSPHOTODAVID PODWIKA/WIREIMAGE.COMPHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZTWO PHOTOS