Perfect timing

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

More Dolphins: Observations from Davie, Fla.

DAVIE, Fla. – Quarterback Daunte Culpepper has a way of bending time the way most people bend their knee. Be it the time it takes to recover from a triple-ligament tear in his right knee to the time it normally takes to run a play, Culpepper can seemingly go faster or slower depending on his need.

Culpepper opened the first day of the Miami Dolphins' training camp by continuing his quick recovery from the alphabet-soup injury (torn MCL, PCL and ACL) that ended his 2005 season on Oct. 30. He planted effectively. He ran decently. He did just about everything well nearly nine months after an injury/surgery that generally takes 10 to 12 months to heal.

No, Culpepper wasn't perfect and observers debated this stage of his comeback with terms like "80 percent" and "methodical." Still, compared to where Culpepper was during a mini-camp in June, the progress was obvious.

His performance Saturday also fueled the Dolphins' hope that their new franchise quarterback could be ready to play in the exhibition season, which would help speed the progress and timing of the offense. That's all vital stuff for a Miami team wishing to make the playoffs in what appears to be a loaded AFC.

Neither Culpepper nor coach Nick Saban would attach a timetable to Culpepper's return, but the talk was all positive.

"I've done a lot of different tests, and I'm definitely about 85, 90 percent from my right leg to my left leg," Culpepper said of the recent comparison tests. "That's a good indication of how strong I'm getting, and I think that as long as I continue to work, it's going to continue to get stronger and stronger."

"We're encouraged by the progress that he's made, and I think that's a tribute to him, the work that he's done and the attitude that he has in overcoming and rehabbing his injury," Saban said. "We were surprised at the progress that he had made [when the Dolphins traded for him], but we did have several medical meetings with Dr. (James) Andrews, who did the surgery, and felt pretty good about the result, and with his attitude, how he could overcome it. So, it's all been a pleasant surprise for us, and we are happy about it."

More importantly, the improved health may allow Culpepper to get back to his slightly unorthodox way of playing quarterback. Between his unusual size (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and running ability, Culpepper has this tendency to take more time on a play than normal quarterbacks.

"We want him to execute the plays with the timing we're trying to build for the whole offense," Saban said. "At the same time, we don't want to take away his ability to buy a little extra time in the pocket with his legs by scrambling or by using his size to heave one downfield or take off and run. He can make a lot of big plays that way."

That's true, but it's still a bit unorthodox.

There is a rule of thumb in football scouting about how to judge whether a quarterback knows what he's doing in practice. As soon as the ball is snapped, count to three. The ball should be thrown. If it's less, that's fine.

If it's more, there's a problem.

That's because, in the NFL, the quarterback generally doesn't have more time than that to execute a play. In most games, when you get to four, the quarterback gets blown up by some defensive player.

Even with great scramblers, be it Roger Staubach, Steve Young or Michael Vick, the lesson that coaches preach is to get rid of the ball in practice on time. But Saban's approach is slightly different because he has a completely different quarterback. At least when Culpepper is healthy.

Such as the time in 2002 when Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor tried to tackle Culpepper from behind on a critical fourth-down run in a late-season game. Culpepper made Taylor look like a little brother playing horsey, carrying Taylor as he got the first down.

Or the time during practice Saturday when Culpepper looked over the defense, hesitated for an extra beat and then threw a pretty 30-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Chambers down the left sideline.

"I thought Gus (Frerotte) had a big arm, but Daunte's is bigger," said Chambers, admiringly comparing last year's starter to Culpepper. "Daunte can bring it."

Culpepper showed off the other end of his skills with a nice scramble on a play a little later. There was no hitting on the play, but it was still a decent move.

"I'm just going to play the way I play and let myself be a natural quarterback and do what I do," Culpepper said. "I'm not really concerned about it. There's really no pain. They made me wear this brace. It wasn't my decision, but I think it's the best decision now that I think about it. I still want to protect myself and protect my knee."

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