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4 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Sept. 05, 2011
Sept. 05, 2011

Table of Contents
Sept. 5, 2011

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
NFL PREVIEW
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
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4 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Reggie Bush has been there, done that—but never this

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 2011 issue

Since he slashed his way into the national spotlight in 2003 as an 18-year-old USC freshman, Reggie Bush has been a central figure on a BCS champion and a peripheral figure on a Super Bowl champion. He was popularly believed to have been drafted way too low at No. 2, then popularly believed to have been drafted way too high at No. 2. He has been a Heisman Trophy winner. He has been a Heisman Trophy forfeiter. He has been the boyfriend of Kim Kardashian.

One thing Bush has never been during the last eight turbulent years is an every-down—or even a most-downs—running back, but that is the Dolphins' plan for him now. They acquired the 26-year-old from the Saints in July for the liquidation price of a backup safety and an undisclosed draft pick. Their intention is to put an end to his jack-of-all-trades days and make him the primary replacement for the tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Bush led the league with three punt return TDs in 2008, but his name does not appear anywhere on Miami's punt-returning depth chart. "He became a little bit of a sprinkle player in New Orleans, a situational guy, you put him in to suit your needs," says Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. "I think in Reggie's mind, and in ours, he can be more than that."

Bush's role was reduced to seasoning in New Orleans for several reasons. First, there were other talented backs there, such as Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas. Also, Bush, relatively slight for a running back at 6 feet and 203 pounds, proved susceptible to breaking down. He has missed a quarter of the NFL games in which he might have played, including half of last season, due to injuries to his ankle, knee and leg. And he hasn't been particularly explosive as a rusher, gaining 4.0 yards per carry. His receptions have also declined every year, from 88 as a rookie to 34 in 2010.

Still, Miami's hope is that Bush's health holds up and that his production will improve with regular carries, which might relieve him of an all-or-nothing urge when he finds the ball in his hands. "It's an opportunity for me to kind of prove a lot of the doubters wrong, that I can be that every-down back, or everything else that people may doubt about me," Bush says. "The answer's going to come pretty fast." Bush's new teammates believe he will. "He's got that burst, that x factor, that playmaking ability," says linebacker Cameron Wake. "You think you've got him bottled up, and all of a sudden he's out of there."

"He obviously has critics, people who don't think he can run the ball inside the tackles," says quarterback Chad Henne. "I think he's going to prove that he can."

Henne, three seasons and 27 starts into his career, knows of critics. At camp fans greeted him with chants of We want Orton!—a reference to Kyle Orton, who was trade bait in Denver at the time. It should be noted that in Orton's first three seasons in which he got on the field, as a Bear, he threw 30 touchdowns to Henne's 27, had 27 interceptions to Henne's 33, completed 55.3% of his passes to Henne's 61.1% and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt to Henne's 6.6. "The quarterback is the most critiqued player out there," says Henne. "It doesn't get to me. But at the same time you obviously want the support of your fans in your hometown."

Henne had better make significant improvement, as did Orton in his third full season, because he and Bush are the clear swing factors on a team whose fortunes are difficult to fathom. Miami's defense is largely lacking in star power, though franchise sacks leader Jason Taylor returns after a year with the Jets. Still, the unit should again be a quiet strength, as it was last season, when it ranked sixth overall. If Henne and Bush make good on their promise, the Dolphins could, even in a tough division, challenge for a wild-card spot.

If, however, Sparano is forced to turn to Matt Moore (a 55.6 passer rating with the Panthers last year) and Daniel Thomas (a bulky second-round running back out of Kansas State), the result should be closer to that of 2007, when the Dolphins were a Week 15 overtime victory from going winless. Then Bush, Henne and Sparano, too, might not get another opportunity to put things together, at least not in Miami.

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 21

QB CHAD HENNE

ATT 490

COMP 301

PCT 61.4

YARDS 3,301

YD/ATT 6.74

TD 15

INT 19

RATING 75.4

RB REGGIE BUSH

ATT 36

YARDS 150

REC 34

TTD 1

FB LOUSAKA POLITE

ATT 26

YARDS 62

REC 12

TTD 1

WR BRANDON MARSHALL

REC 86

YARDS 1,014

AVG 11.8

TTD 3

WR BRIAN HARTLINE

REC 43

YARDS 615

AVG 14.3

TTD 1

TE ANTHONY FASANO

REC 39

YARDS 528

AVG 13.5

TTD 4

LT JAKE LONG

G 16

SACKS 6

HOLD 4

FALSE 4

LG RICHIE INCOGNITO

G 16

SACKS 5

HOLD 1

FALSE 2

C MIKE POUNCEY (R)

G 12

STARTS 12

RG VERNON CAREY

G 12

SACKS 4

HOLD 3

FALSE 3

RT MARC COLOMBO

G 15

SACKS 9½

HOLD 1

FALSE 5

RB DANIEL THOMAS (R)

ATT 298

YARDS 1,615

REC 27

TTD 19

WR DAVONE BESS

REC 79

YARDS 820

AVG 10.4

TTD 5

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 6

DE KENDALL LANGFORD

TACKLES 47

SACKS 3

INT 0

NT PAUL SOLIAI

TACKLES 39

SACKS 2

INT 0

DE RANDY STARKS

TACKLES 30

SACKS 3

INT 0

LB KOA MISI

TACKLES 41

SACKS 4½

INT 0

LB KEVIN BURNETT

TACKLES 95

SACKS 6

INT 2

LB KARLOS DANSBY

TACKLES 95

SACKS 3

INT 0

LB CAMERON WAKE

TACKLES 57

SACKS 14

INT 0

CB VONTAE DAVIS

TACKLES 51

SACKS 0

INT 1

SS YEREMIAH BELL

TACKLES 101

SACKS 1½

INT 1

FS CHRIS CLEMONS

TACKLES 60

SACKS 1½

INT 1

CB SEAN SMITH

TACKLES 50

SACKS 0

INT 1

LB JASON TAYLOR

TACKLES 36

SACKS 5

INT 0

SPECIALISTS

K DAN CARPENTER

FG 30

FGA 41

XP 25

PTS 115

P BRANDON FIELDS

PUNTS 73

GROSS 46.2

NET 37.8

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics: New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 7--9

September

12 New England (Mon)

18 Houston

25 at Cleveland

October

2 at San Diego

9 BYE

17 at N.Y. Jets (Mon)

23 Denver

30 at N.Y. Giants

November

6 at Kansas City

13 Washington

20 Buffalo

24 at Dallas (Thu)

December

4 Oakland

11 Philadelphia

18 at Buffalo

24 at New England (Sat)

January

1 N.Y. Jets

COACH: TONY SPARANO

AGE: 49

FOURTH SEASON WITH THE DOLPHINS (25--23)

In January, owner Stephen Ross attempted to woo Jim Harbaugh, and then apologized to Sparano with a two-year extension. Sparano's position remains tenuous, and in part to shed his conservative rep, he hired a new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, who will carve greater roles for such previously underused big-play threats as wideout Brandon Marshall.

SPOTLIGHT

PAUL SOLIAI, Nosetackle

The 6'4", 355-pound Soliai has started just 19 games during his four-year career, 14 of them last season, but he made them count: Miami applied its franchise tag to him, making Soliai the unlikely answer to the trivia question, Who is the highest-paid defender in Dolphins history? The former Utah standout will earn $12.5 million this year, 22 times more than last season. "Obviously the way that we've made the commitment to Paul tells you what it is we think about him," says coach Tony Sparano. "In our [3--4] defense it's hard to find those types of players. It's hard to find Vince Wilfork. When you do, you've got to keep them."

"Those types of players" are large, nimble nosetackles who can form a solid eye around which the rest of the 3--4 alignment swirls, a role whose lack of glamour belies its pay grade. "I still consider myself an underdog," says Soliai, 27, who struggled with his weight for his first several years in the league. "My main job is to stop the run, take on two blockers, let my linebackers get through and make plays." That's a lot of main jobs, but each is crucial to a quality unit that lost only one starter from last season. "I'm shaking his hand every time I get in the backfield," says linebacker Cameron Wake, who finished third in the NFL with 14 sacks last season, due in part to Soliai's ability to keep would-be blockers occupied.

PHOTOMICHAEL BUSH/UPI/LANDOV (SPARANO)PHOTOBOB ROSATO (BUSH)INSIDE JOB Bush has done most of his damage on special teams and catching balls out of the backfield; this year he is being counted on to go between the tackles.PHOTOTOM DIPACE (SOLIAI)