Miami Dolphins 2004 Season Preview
(Sports Network) - It has been a long, hot summer for Dave Wannstedt.
The Miami Dolphins' head coach, already under fire for failing to lead his team to the postseason the past two years, has dealt with misfortune of biblical proportions since late July.
Running back Ricky Williams, fresh off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, abruptly announced his retirement at the age of 27.
Wideout David Boston, an offseason pickup from the Chargers who was supposed to enhance the Dolphins' aerial attack, was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Second-year pro Kendall Newson, one of the players vying to take Boston's place, suffered a torn achilles and followed Boston to the sideline.
Important races at quarterback and on the right side of the offensive line failed to crystallize early in camp, as the team had hoped.
A defense suddenly expected to carry the team began camp without top sack man Adewale Ogunleye (contract holdout) and tackler Zach Thomas (offseason knee surgery).
As the odds of Miami extending its streak of 15 seasons without a losing record get longer and longer, the seat beneath Dave Wannstedt, much like the south Florida summer, grows hotter and hotter.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2004 edition of the Miami Dolphins, with a personnel evaluation as well as a schedule analysis and prognosis included therein:
2003 RECORD: 10-6 (2nd, AFC East)
COACH (RECORD): Dave Wannstedt (41-23 in four seasons with Miami, 81-79 overall)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Chris Chambers, WR (64 receptions, 11 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Zach Thomas, LB (152 tackles, 3 INT)
QB: Jay Fiedler's (2138 passing yards, 11 TD, 13 INT) reign as the starting quarterback in Miami could be over after four seasons, following the Dolphins' acquisition of former Eagles backup A.J. Feeley (1011 passing yards, 6 TD, 5 INT in Philadelphia) in the offseason. Feeley has far less experience than Fiedler, but looked good in leading Philadelphia to a 4-1 record in his starts last year. Sage Rosenfels threw a touchdown pass in mop-up time against Tennessee last season, and represents an above-average No. 3 signal-caller.
RB: The major question revolves around who will succeed Williams, and Travis Minor (193 yards, 1 TD) should fill that role barring anything unforeseen. Minor is not a power back like Williams, but is shifty and will be given a chance. Sammy Morris (14 receptions in Buffalo) is a free agent pickup and represents more of a power option than Minor. Fullback Rob Konrad (16 receptions) started 12 games a year ago and should continue to fill that role, especially since Morris will be getting time as the primary running back.
WR/TE: The acquisition of Boston was proof positive that the team was unsatisfied with the development of Derrius Thompson (26 receptions), but Boston's injury means Thompson will get another chance to work opposite the talented Chambers. After those two, it looks like Miami will go with two players that have never caught an NFL pass - Sam Simmons and Ronald Bellamy - along with one - Antonio Freeman (14 receptions with Green Bay) - that used to catch a lot of passes a long, long time ago. Tight end Randy McMichael (49 receptions, 2 TD) will be counted on for a big year, and Donald Lee (7 receptions, 1 TD) is a more than capable backup.
OL: This unit has been overhauled, and whether the changes will be for the better is a point of contention. Tackle Wade Smith is the holdover, and will be joined by guard Jeno James (formerly of Carolina) on the left side. The rest of the line has a makeshift look. Seth McKinney started three games last year and will take over at center. Taylor Whitley, who played in only one game last season, will compete for starting right guard duties with first-round draft pick Vernon Carey (Miami (FL)). John St. Clair, a backup with the Rams last season, had the early edge over Greg Jerman, a one-game starter with Miami in 2003, for the right tackle job.
DL: If Ogunleye (62 tackles, 15 sacks) ends his contract holdout as expected, he and Jason Taylor (57 tackles, 13 sacks) will form the top pass rushing combo in the NFL. Until Ogunleye reports, veteran David Bowens will fill his position. The interior is weaker, though Tim Bowens (26 tackles, 2 sacks) and Larry Chester (38 tackles) each have a wealth of experience. Jeff Zgonina (39 tackles, 3 sacks) is the best backup option on the interior.
LB: With Thomas in the middle and Junior Seau (96 tackles, 3 sacks) on the weak side, the Dolphins still feature some linebackers who can make plays. This unit will be a strength unless Thomas fails to recover from surgery or the 35-year-old Seau begins to show some wear. Strong side backer Morlon Greenwood (75 tackles) is the no-name player in this corps, but looks set as a starter. Second-year man Eddie Moore (Tennessee) and seventh-round draft pick Derrick Pope (Alabama) will be among those adding depth.
DB: The Dolphins cut loose safety Brock Marion and cornerback Terrell Buckley, leaving cornerback Patrick Surtain (53 tackles, 7 INT) as the lone standout on the secondary. The inconsistent Sam Madison (50 tackles, 3 INT) will line up at the other corner unless someone like former Panthers starter Reggie Howard (62 tackles, 2 INT) can beat him out. Strong safety Sammy Knight (96 tackles, 3 INT) should also return to his starting role, while Antuan Edwards (51 tackles with the Packers) and Arturo Freeman (28 tackles) will attempt to fill the free safety void. Draft picks Will Poole (USC) and Tony Bua (Arkansas) could be contributors sooner than expected.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Olindo Mare (22-29 FG) and punter Matt Turk (38.7 avg.) are the least of Miami's concerns in the preseason, but the team could use a reliable return man. Terrence Wilkins (3.6 punt return avg., 23.3 kickoff return avg. with the Colts) was brought in from Indianapolis for help, but he is past his prime and might not be the answer.
SCHEDULE: Miami should know whether it has a prayer after a four-game season- opening stretch that includes home games with Tennessee (9/12), Pittsburgh (9/26) and the Jets (10/3). Trips to New England (10/10), Seattle (11/21), Denver (12/12) and Baltimore (1/2) could all be difficult, but home tilts with Arizona (11/7), Buffalo (12/5), and Cleveland (12/26) should offer a bit of a break.
PROGNOSIS: The situation appears bleak in Miami. Even before Williams bolted and Boston got hurt, Wannstedt had serious questions to answer at quarterback and on the line of an offense that was 24th in the NFL a season ago. Without Williams and Boston, that rank could slip even lower. A defense that carried the club to 10 wins last season simply can't be counted on to do the same, especially when the offense's troubles will be keeping it on the field a lot. If Miami finishes .500 or better, Wannstedt will have worked a miracle, and he should be able to keep his job another year.
By Tony Moss
Aug 18, 2004
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