2005 preview: Dolphins

2005 preview: Dolphins
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
July 29, 2005

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
AFC East predictions
   1. New England
   2. N.Y. Jets
   3. Buffalo
   4. Miami
Miami Dolphins
Head coach: Nick Saban, first season
2004 record: 4-12
2004 rankings: Offense, 29th (275.3 yards/game); Defense, eighth (305.9 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: Third
From SportingNews.com: AFC East overview

It's not a stretch to label 2004 as one of the most disastrous seasons in franchise history. Beyond the Ricky Williams saga, the Dolphins simply collapsed under the weight of age and failed expectations.

The offensive line was atrocious, the backfield was a mess and A.J. Feeley didn't pan out as the next Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Delhomme. Even the defense, which had been so dependable for so long, began to show its age as the season wore on and injuries mounted.

Basically, it was a horrendous chapter the Dolphins would like to bury now that Dave Wannstedt is no longer the coach.

OFFENSE

No portion of the team is in more desperate need of an overhaul than the offense, where a two-season facelift has just begun. Frankly, this unit will have to be coached up tremendously by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and offensive line coach Hudson Houck.

It may begin and end with the line. Left tackle may be turned over to the untested Vernon Carey and right tackle will be in the hands of free-agent signee Stockar McDougle, who was erratic during his time in Detroit. If Houck can get the same results he produced with an average unit in San Diego, the skill positions are good enough to keep Miami competitive.

It may take a while to figure out the platooning of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, but the receiving trio of Marty Booker, Chris Chambers and tight end Randy McMichael will give Gus Frerotte or Feeley plenty of options. So long as coach Nick Saban can settle on a starting quarterback and then keep him upright, that is.

DEFENSE

Defensive coordinator Richard Smith will be hard-pressed to keep Miami among the league's top-10 defenses, now that cornerback Patrick Surtain and safety Sammy Knight are playing in Kansas City. Sam Madison is still starting at the other cornerback spot, but he's not the upper-tier cornerback he used to be.

Linebacker Junior Seau is on the downside of his career, and cornerback Will Poole, who was expected to start opposite Madison, suffered a knee injury in the offseason. Poole's slot will now likely fall to Reggie Howard or Mario Edwards.

Miami's defense will also be learning some of Saban's 3-4 scheme, which he plans to employ about 15 to 20 percent of the time. Whatever the alignment, Saban aims to maximize defensive end Jason Taylor, whether he's playing with his hand on the ground or occasionally being deployed as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Olindo Mare and punter Matt Turk are average, and the coverage units need to add speed. Returner Wesley Welker is a serviceable player, but Saban may turn to cornerback Travis Daniels to spark the return game. Like every other unit, this one is still being sorted out, and it will likely see massive personnel turnover the next two seasons as Saban retools every aspect of the team.

PREDICTION

The Dolphins will finish 5-11 and fourth in the AFC East.

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Jul 29, 2005 12:41 pm, EDT

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