3 Miami DOLPHINS

An offense looking for an adrenaline shot has found itself a game-breaker
September 05, 2010

UNLIKE ANOTHER preternaturally talented newcomer to Miami, Brandon Marshall did not decide to take his talents to South Beach. The Dolphins traded for him on April 14, sending a pair of second-round picks to Denver. Still, as he perched his 6' 4", 230-pound frame on a chair in the players' cafeteria after an August training-camp session while his new teammates carbo-loaded at the tables around him, Marshall insisted, earnestly, that he couldn't be more thrilled with where he landed this off-season.

Notoriously troublesome during his four seasons with the Broncos, the 26-year-old wideout said he's happy with the contract extension the Dolphins gave him (four years, $24 million guaranteed) and happy with his new quarterback, the strong-armed Chad Henne. "I wouldn't change my situation for the world," Marshall said. "Chad has command and leadership in the huddle, and every guy on this team respects him. And the things he's able to do with his arm are unbelievable. He makes me say, 'Wow.'"

Even as controversy swirled around him in Denver—he was suspended by the Broncos for nine days last August for what amounted to petulance, and he's had numerous scrapes with the law, including a 2007 guilty plea for driving while impaired—Marshall's production drew wows too. Against the Colts in December, Marshall set an NFL single-game record with 21 receptions. Over the past three years only the Patriots' Wes Welker had more catches than Marshall's 307 or more yards after the catch than Marshall's 1,515. Not even Welker gained more receiving yards after contact than Marshall's 727 in that span.

That last statistic indicates a quality that Henne witnessed firsthand early in camp: Marshall can be a finesse receiver when it's required, but he can also physically dominate opponents, like the safety he once was. (Marshall started seven games at the position as a junior at Central Florida and led the team in tackles that year.) "First practice of training camp, we were in seven-on-seven, and he threw the corner—Sean Smith, who's not a small guy [6'3", 214 pounds]—on his butt," Henne recalls with a grin. "He's wide open for a 25-yard fade, and we score."

In Marshall the Dolphins have added a distinctively skilled hybrid, both a possession receiver and the long-coveted big-play threat that now-jettisoned '07 first-round pick Ted Ginn never became. "When the ball's in the air, we're confident that no matter where he is, he's going to come down with it," says running back Ricky Williams, who first joined the Dolphins in 2002. "We've had good receivers here in the past but not a game-changer like Brandon."

Last season, even in the Broncos' quick-pass system, Marshall had four receptions of 40 or more yards, equaling Miami's output as a team. "We can be a really dynamic offense," says left tackle Jake Long, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.

The Dolphins haven't finished in the NFL's top 10 in total offense since 1995, but Marshall's presence isn't the only reason that streak could end. Henne, a 2008 second-round pick and Long's teammate for seven seasons now (they spent four together at Michigan), was more than a game manager by the end of last season—his first as the starter—when he topped 300 yards in three of four December games. Now he draws nothing but raves from teammates and coaches for his talent, his unflappable nature and his durability. "He can throw," coach Tony Sparano puts it simply, "and throw and throw and throw and throw."

And the Dolphins can run and run and run and run. Last year Williams and Ronnie Brown were the league's fourth most productive rushing tandem, combining for 1,769 yards, even though a fractured foot ended Brown's season in Week 10. The sixth-year back is healthy once more, and he and the 33-year-old Williams could become the seventh pair of teammates to each surpass 1,000 yards rushing—a feat first accomplished by Miami's Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris in 1972.

That season the Dolphins went undefeated and won Super Bowl VII. While a trip to Dallas in February doesn't appear to be within the Dolphins' reach this year, a postseason berth certainly does.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH TONY SPARANO

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 17

QB CHAD HENNE

G 14

ATT 451

COMP 274

PCT 60.8

YARDS 2,878

TD 12

INT 14

RATING 75.2

RB RONNIE BROWN

G 9

ATT 147

YARDS 648

AVG 4.4

REC 14

YARDS 98

AVG 7.0

TTD 8

FB LOUSAKA POLITE

G 16

ATT 37

YARDS 123

AVG 3.3

REC 11

YARDS 51

AVG 4.6

TTD 0

WR BRANDON MARSHALL

G 15

REC 101

YARDS 1,120

TTD 10

WR BRIAN HARTLINE

G 16

REC 31

YARDS 506

TTD 4

TE ANTHONY FASANO

G 14

REC 31

YARDS 339

TTD 2

LT JAKE LONG

G 16

HT 6'7"

WT 317

LG RICHIE INCOGNITO

G 12

HT 6'3"

WT 330

C JOE BERGER

G 16

HT 6'5"

WT 315

RG JOHN JERRY (R)

G 13

HT 6'5"

WT 328

RT VERNON CAREY

G 16

HT 6'5"

WT 340

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 22

DE KENDALL LANGFORD

G 16

TACKLES 43

SACKS 2½

INT 0

NT RANDY STARKS

G 16

TACKLES 56

SACKS 7

INT 0

DE JARED ODRICK (R)

G 13

TACKLES 43

SACKS 7

INT 0

LB KOA MISI (R)

G 12

TACKLES 71

SACKS 5

INT 0

LB CHANNING CROWDER

G 13

TACKLES 52

SACKS 1

INT 1

LB KARLOS DANSBY

G 16

TACKLES 109

SACKS 1

INT 1

LB CAMERON WAKE

G 14

TACKLES 23

SACKS 5½

INT 0

CB VONTAE DAVIS

G 16

TACKLES 51

SACKS 0

INT 4

FS CHRIS CLEMONS

G 11

TACKLES 13

SACKS 0

INT 0

SS YEREMIAH BELL

G 16

TACKLES 114

SACKS 1½

INT 3

CB SEAN SMITH

G 16

TACKLES 39

SACKS 0

INT 0

SPECIAL TEAMS

P BRANDON FIELDS

PUNTS 75

AVG 46.3

NET 39.8

K DAN CARPENTER

FG 25--28

XP 37--38

POINTS 112

PR DAVONE BESS

RET 28

AVG 7.5

TD 0

KR PATRICK COBBS

RET 16

AVG 22.6

TD 0

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 7--9

September

12 at Buffalo

19 at Minnesota

26 N.Y. Jets

October

4 New England (M)

10 BYE

17 at Green Bay

24 Pittsburgh

31 at Cincinnati

November

7 at Baltimore

14 Tennessee

18 Chicago (T)

28 at Oakland

December

5 Cleveland

12 at N.Y. Jets

19 Buffalo

26 Detroit

January

2 at New England

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: T16

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .500

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 8

ANALYSIS

Six of Miami's first eight are against 2009 playoff teams, and while the season's second half looks easier, cold-weather dates against the Jets and the Pats loom. The Dolphins don't play a day game at home until Week 7, so they shouldn't have to endure intolerably hot afternoons, but they get a short week for a Thursday-night matchup against the Bears in Week 11. At least they're home the Sunday before.

SPOTLIGHT

Karlos Dansby, Linebacker

THE TRADE for wideout Brandon Marshall was the biggest news of the Dolphins' off-season, but their main focus was clear: revamping a 3--4 defense that ranked 25th in points allowed last year and was the central reason why the team regressed from 11--5 and AFC East champions to 7--9 and also-rans. By the time executive vice president Bill Parcells used eight of his nine draft picks on defenders—including first-round end Jared Odrick out of Penn State and second-round linebacker Koa Misi out of Utah, two of six probable defensive starters who are 24 or younger—he had already brought in a veteran to lead them. The hulking (6'4", 250 pounds) Karlos Dansby, Arizona's leading tackler since his rookie year in 2004, became a Dolphin on March 5, the first day of 2010 free agency. The five-year, $43 million contract the Dolphins dangled, at the time the largest ever for an inside linebacker, surely expedited Dansby's decision, but even more alluring, Dansby insists, was the opportunity to be the centerpiece of a young and rising unit. "It's an organization that's on the turn, and I wanted to be part of a winner," he says. "S---, we rollin' right now."

Dansby, 28, represents a significant upgrade over last year's starter, the departed Akin Ayodele, who had neither a sack nor an interception in 2009 and whose 71 tackles were not even in the top 50 among linebackers. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano repeatedly called Dansby the most impressive player in training camp this year. "This guy gets his hand on the football constantly," says Sparano. "Sometimes when he's out there, he looks like he's 12 feet tall."

PHOTOBILL FRAKESHOT BRAND Marshall has blown away the Fins with his blend of physicality and finesse. PHOTORICHARD C. LEWIS/ICON SMI

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