’08 Preview: Dolphins lean heavily on Big D
Some 12 years after his retirement, legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula serves these days as nothing more than a devout fan when it comes to his once-proud franchise. His recent sentiment, however, still serves as the clearest representation of the general opinion echoed by South Floridians these days.
“There’s nowhere to go but up!” Shula says, when asked what he thinks about the current direction of the team.
In the most literal sense, after a historically pathetic 1-15 season, the Dolphins clearly can’t get much worse.
Now, the team is relying on another football legend – Bill Parcells – to regain the pride that Shula once brought to this team. Since Parcells’ arrival as the vice president of football operations, the team has begun a drastic reconstruction unlike any of its other recent attempts at repair.
Parcells hired a new coach (from the Cowboys). He hired a new general manager (from the Cowboys). And he has replaced a bundle of older players with new ones, many of which came from – you guessed it – the Cowboys.
2008 TEAM PREVIEWS
Just as he did during his time in Dallas, Parcells is trying to change the climate of the team’s locker room by bringing in big, tough, disciplined players with the kind of blue-collar leadership the new boss loves.
Miami is bolstering its special teams while rebuilding the lines on both sides of the ball. Still, with questions remaining at quarterback along with a lack of talent at the skill positions, this latest attempt to turn these guppies into big fish won’t be easy – even with a Big Tuna leading the school.
When the Dolphins’ new coaching staff took over, they immediately made sure three words were painted in huge letters on the main wall in the team’s general meeting room: Smart. Tough. Disciplined.
Nowhere in the room, though, does it say anything about finesse, grace or elegance. Nobody should expect as much from the Dolphins’ offense. This instead will be a hard-nosed unit that relies on powerful running backs, brutal fullbacks and a one-play-at-a-time battling mindset in the trenches.
The running backs are likely to be the strength of this team. Miami is likely to utilize that strength as often as possible.
Despite the general belief that Miami will operate in the same 3-4 scheme used by the Cowboys during the current regime’s previous stint in Dallas, Sparano has left open the possibility of running a 4-3.
The decision will likely be based on personnel evaluations during training camp, because most of the team’s talent (like defensive end Jason Taylor) may be more suited to a four-man front. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has a history with both schemes, and it’s clear he’s capable of installing either.
Center Samson Satele: During his rookie season, Satele often earned the praise of longtime offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who believes the second-year player has what it takes to be a mainstay in this league for a very long time.
Satele is a strong, smart blocker with exceptional leverage. He struggled at times last year as a rookie, but that might have been the result of a weak roster around him. Now that Satele will have an improved supporting cast, including No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, he could even be on the verge of emerging as an elite player at his position.
The Dolphins still don’t have the talent to be a playoff contender. But at least they have hope. And optimism. And promise.
That’s certainly more than they had at the end of last season. At that point, all they had was one win.
SN prediction: 3-13, fourth in AFC East.
Jeff Darlington covers the Dolphins for the Miami Herald and Sporting News.