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Dolphins' deja vu

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CANTON, Ohio – When Nick Saban was asked Monday night if there had been any new revelations about his Miami Dolphins after a 27-24 loss to the Bears in the Hall of Fame game, he paused. Then he stared at his podium for a few seconds, finally rubbing his hand over his face.

Maybe he was collecting his thoughts. Or making a mental list. Whatever he was doing, he gave off the vibe of a frustrated parent who had learned his eldest child had dented the family car.

The preseason opener for both teams exposed some of Miami's dings – imperfections that Saban already knew were there. The real problem was that the first quarter (i.e., the really important 15 minutes) punctuated a reality that can only be fully grasped away from the practice field: The 2005 Miami Dolphins are probably going to suffer many of the same problems as the 2004 Miami Dolphins.

Stop Saban if you've heard this one before:

"It's disappointing that we weren't able to run the ball a little bit better," he said. "They played a lot of eight-man fronts and dared us to throw it, and we did. … We didn't create the positive down-and-distance situations that we would like to by running the ball. We're going to have to have a lot more balance in our offense to be successful offensively down the road."

For all the talk about the defense's age, the return of Ricky Williams and the uncertainty at quarterback, it wasn't hard to see that the offensive line may once again be the component that makes or breaks the Dolphins. If Monday's first quarter and early second-quarter action was any indication, there's plenty of work to do.

  • Against the Bears' formidable front seven, the offensive line appeared to have noticeable backward momentum on running plays – something that typically indicates the line didn't play physically enough to get a push. Miami's top two running backs on Monday's depth chart, Lamar Gordon and Williams, combined for seven yards on eight carries.
  • While the passing game was strong, the tackle spots still look shaky. Second-year man Vernon Carey had all kinds of problems with Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who bowled through him at one point and forced A.J. Feeley to step up into the pocket – where Feeley was obliterated by Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher. Feeley was knocked out of the game (and one of his shoes) on the play. On the next snap, Carey committed a false start penalty, backing Miami to its 2-yard line.

On the other side of the line, free-agent pickup Stockar McDougle's mistakes weren't quite as bad, but he failed to see blitzing cornerback Nathan Vasher twice when he could have at least gotten a hand on the pursuer to slow his momentum. Both times, Vasher made it to the quarterback unobstructed, disrupting a pair of passing plays.

  • The line still doesn't appear to be set, as shuffling continued with Rex Hadnot starting at center over Seth McKinney. John St. Clair unexpectedly started at right guard, and there's no guarantee that more changes won't continue to come after Monday's struggles.

Saban mostly bit his lip when it came to the line, and he said at one point that he preferred to see the film before he made any judgments about breakdowns. But he clearly wasn't happy with the way the offense performed, even with a good passing performance by Gus Frerotte (11 of 17 for 143 yards and one touchdown), who engineered an encouraging 12-play drive that ate over five minutes and ended in a 26-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Gilmore.

Even that play had an element of luck. Frerotte admitted after the game that he was trying to throw the ball to a tight end, but the ball slipped from his hand and ended up with Gilmore at the goal line.

Considering their plight last season, the Dolphins will take whatever lucky bounces they can get. Still, they can't afford to hope for such good fortune with the offensive line. With new line coach Hudson Houck getting paid a staggering salary – reportedly $800,000 a year – to shore things up, Miami's line is facing plenty of pressure. It's hard to argue that Houck isn't worth every penny after seeing what he did with an average offensive line in San Diego last season, but that group was pristine compared to the tattered line he has inherited with the Dolphins.

Miami's offensive line may have been the worst in the NFL last season, possibly even more feeble than the Giants' maligned unit. The group allowed the second-most sacks in Dolphins history (52), paved the way for a paltry 3.5 yards per rush and generally undermined the offense last season. While Miami's lackluster group of running backs didn't help, the return of Williams and the drafting of Ronnie Brown won't matter if they have no holes to run through.

And while the problems against Chicago could be passed off as chemistry issues because of the shuffling of Hadnot, McKinney and St. Clair, that was a notion dispelled in the locker room.

"We all practice. We're all in the same meeting rooms," St. Clair said, insisting chemistry shouldn't be a problem. "We all know what's going on. … We'll just have to look at the film and see what went wrong."

It's only one preseason game, but you get the feeling you've heard this problem before.

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