Miami needs Marshall’s game, not baggage

Brandon Marshall has hit the 1,000-yards receiving mark three straight seasons.
(US Presswire)

DAVIE, Fla. – Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has put in some impressive work to drop about 60 pounds this offseason, following a regimen of 5:30 a.m. workouts, afternoon walks and more workouts at 10 p.m.

But when it comes to bringing style to the equation, Sparano is your typical football coach. He still does most of his daily news conferences in baggy, long-sleeved shirts and jogging shorts.

Welcome to the dichotomy that is the Dolphins, an organization trying desperately to bring excitement back to their fans after suffering the worst decade in team history. This once-proud organization has had three playoff appearances since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season and those moments were about as raging as the pool at the placid Delano Hotel.

Owner Stephen Ross has pulled out the stops in his two years with the team – primarily away from the field. The latest ventures announced this week were the construction of a nightclub-style area at Sun Life Stadium for game days and the construction of a water park across the street from the stadium. The announcement came the same night the team unveiled its cheerleader swimsuit magazine.

They’re nice ideas, but it’s all meaningless if the product on the field isn’t exciting. In Miami, if you want attention, you better be fabulous.

Just ask the Miami Heat.

Enter star wideout Brandon Marshall(notes), whose career to this point has closely resembled a night of clubbing on South Beach. A lot of glitz, a lot of style and some occasional danger.

Can the workmanlike Sparano, who is guided by the no-frills Bill Parcells, and the rest of this lunch-pail team integrate Marshall into the system? Moreover, can the addition of Marshall help turn quarterback Chad Henne(notes) into the star the Dolphins think he can be? A star they desperately need after 10 years of post-Marino trauma.

“We think Brandon is one of those special receivers who changes everything around him,” Sparano said. “I think his approach to the job is tremendous, I really do. As I said before, this guy prepares like a pro, goes hard in practice all the time.”

Over the past three years, Marshall has averaged 102.3 receptions, 1,236.7 yards and 7.6 touchdowns. While he is not a pure deep threat, he lives up to his nickname “The Beast.” At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Marshall plays like a defensive player.

“His game is about taking it to you,” Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) said. “He wants to be physical on every play. He likes the contact because he wants to get you to back off.”

Said Henne: “My job with him is to get it out quickly and let him do the work. You see how he runs so hard. It doesn’t take much for him to get open and then do something with the ball on his own.”

That’s all good, particularly for a quarterback who is entering his second season as a starter. It’s also promising on a team that has had only three skill-position players make the Pro Bowl over the past 15 years (wide receiver Chris Chambers(notes) and running backs Ronnie Brown(notes) and Ricky Williams have each made it once). Over the previous 13 years, Dolphins receivers and quarterbacks made it 17 times.

For all the optimism, there is a dark reality with Marshall, who has a troubling personal history. Between 2004 and 2009, he’s had a series of arrests for assault, suspicion of domestic violence, driving under the influence of alcohol, battery and disorderly conduct. He plea-bargained the DUI charge, which resulted in a one-game suspension in the 2008 season. The suspicion of domestic violence charge was dropped after he completed anger management counseling. The disorderly conduct and assault charges were eventually dropped.

In 2007, Marshall was at a nightclub in Denver the night teammate Darrent Williams was fatally shot and witnesses said at trial that Marshall amped the situation by trash-talking. Marshall testified that he might have “escalated” the situation with his behavior.

Finally, the 2009 season featured Marshall getting suspended by the Denver Broncos during training camp for conduct detrimental to the team. He finished the season by being benched. Coach Josh McDaniels, who Marshall never got along with, said Marshall had violated team rules.

Brandon Marshall signs autographs at training camp in Davie, Fla.
(AP Photo)

Most people around the NFL aren’t wondering if Marshall will have a problem now that he has been traded to the Dolphins (for two second-round picks) and been given a new contract worth $47.5 million. They wonder when he will have a problem.

This week, for instance, Marshall started punting the ball in frustration after a couple of dropped passes in the exhibition opener and then in practice. Marshall made light of that on Wednesday by jokingly punting the ball before an interview session.

He then flashed a contented grin through a series of 22 questions, 10 of them about his emotions.

“I don’t think it’s a secret; I’m the type of guy where I want to compete and I want to compete at the highest level on a consistent basis,” Marshall said. “When you struggle at times – well, when I struggle at times – I’m not going to be happy, and it’s not going to be a secret, and I will never let it be a secret. When I’m frustrated in practice, I’m going to be frustrated. Now in the game it’s a different story; I think in the game you don’t want to give your opponent that edge so you try to control your emotions.”

Marshall admitted that part of his problems with the Broncos stemmed from the team’s refusal to give him a contract extension.

“This is the first time in four years that I’ve [gone] into a season or a training camp where I was completely happy. Now am I happy every day,” said Marshall, who has been diligent since joining the Dolphins about doing news conferences and community work. He sponsored a youth football camp last month, part of an obvious effort to improve his reputation.

At the same time, Marshall isn’t here to just be a nice guy. He is here to give the Dolphins the No. 1 receiver they’ve desperately needed. He is here to help create an offense that can take the step beyond grind-it-out and join the modern age.

Just make things exciting.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Aug 20, 2010