Dolphins
Dolphins Roundup 8/31/04
By The Source
Aug 30, 2004

Compiled from a variety of sources throughout the day

- What traditionally is a game of rest for the regulars should carry quite a bit more importance for the Dolphins on Friday at New Orleans.

The Dolphins' exhibition finale not only could be the last test between quarterbacks Jay Fiedler and A.J. Feeley, but a number of other positions could be up for grabs.

For example:

Running back Sammy Morris is expected to get more playing time Friday with an eye toward starting him in case Travis Minor continues to struggle. The coaches continue to be frustrated with Minor, and a trade, waiver pickup or signing of a released back nearly is a certainty.

Wide receiver Derrius Thompson, who put on a good performance in Tampa Bay, will be battling Antonio Freeman for the No. 3 receiver spot. Coach Dave Wannstedt said Thompson has been impressive and Marty Booker would work at slot receiver in practice so the Dolphins could bring in Thompson for three-receiver sets.

Offensive tackle Damion McIntosh returned to practice and made it through the entire session as the coaches measure whether he will be ready to play Friday and perhaps compete with Wade Smith for the starting left tackle job. In addition, Wannstedt said the team is working John St. Clair at left tackle in case he must be shifted there.

`DOWN THE MIDDLE'

Of course, the focus is on quarterback.

One member of the team said Fiedler and Feeley split the snaps with the first unit ''right down the middle'' Monday, giving no hint of who might start Friday or, more important, in the opener Sept. 12 against Tennessee.

Monday marked the first day of mostly closed practices. Reporters were allowed to watch only the first few minutes of practice to see who was practicing.

Although Wannstedt is not hinting which way he is leaning, a number of players indicated they believe Feeley has nudged ahead of Fiedler.

''Before camp, I would have been leaning toward Jay,'' a veteran player said. ``Right now, it's pretty even, which probably tells you something about how A.J. is doing.''

Said another player: ``It's not that Jay has done anything wrong, but you look at A.J. and he can make all the throws.''

That might count for something considering the Dolphins are having so many problems running the ball.

Although Wannstedt downplayed it Monday, there are some people in the organization who believe Morris could be a short-term solution at running back. However, Morris said after the game Saturday he needs more carries to get the rust off his game.

STRIKING A BALANCE

Wannstedt said he knows Morris needs more work, but there is a delicate balance to be struck.

''He needs work, but it's that fine line, gray area of him needing work and us needing him healthy,'' said Wannstedt, who added Morris' work on special teams will have to be curtailed.

General manager Rick Spielman has told several agents he plans to wait as long as possible to make a move on a running back so as not to overpay for a player who might only be on the team for a year.

The Dolphins have no interest in trading a third-round pick to Cleveland for running back James Jackson. Rather, the answer could be a player from the Dolphins' recent past. New Orleans is expected to release backup running back Lamar Smith after the game against the Dolphins on Friday.

Smith, who was with the Dolphins in 2000 and 2001, is the kind of power back who would fit well into the Dolphins' system. The Dolphins also could be interested in players such as Verron Haynes or Dante Brown of Pittsburgh.

The Dolphins have talked about bringing in Skip Hicks, but have made no plans.

- John St. Clair wasn't supposed to be the Dolphins' right tackle on opening day.

Not after they had signed free-agent veteran Damion McIntosh to a six-year, $20 million deal in March to take the place of four-year starter Todd Wade, who bolted for the Texans and $30 million.

Not when a month later the team drafted University of Miami right tackle Vernon Carey in the first round and also gave up a fourth-round pick to get him.

And not when St. Clair, who as a first-time starter at right tackle in 2002 was nicknamed Turnstile by St. Louis Rams fans for his role on a porous line that allowed 46 sacks, fifth most in the NFL.

Despite the best-laid schemes of (offensive line coach Tony) Wise and men, St. Clair has beaten the odds.

Barring roster additions or unpleasant surprises in Friday's exhibition finale against the Saints, St. Clair will be the right tackle against the Titans on Sept. 12.

After a four-year nomadic existence in St. Louis, where St. Clair backed up six positions on the line -- even tight end, where he caught an 18-yard pass last season -- the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder has found a home on the Dolphins right side.

"He's wanted here and we put him in one position," Wise said. "We're a more offensive line-friendly offense [than St. Louis]. We're going to run the ball and throw quick passes. We don't want to expose our guys, so it's a different system, and he fits in very well."

St. Clair, an anthropology major at Virginia and an All-America center, wasn't interested in human behavior when fans and certain media outlets targeted him as one of the scapegoats for the 2001 Super Bowl losers' crashing to 7-9 in 2002.

"I tried not to listen to them," said St. Clair, 27. "I'm my own worst critic. I watch film and take notes of every mistake I make so I try not to do it again.

"I was the youngest player on a line with Pro Bowl guys. I keep [criticism] in the back of my head and use that as motivation. It's made me a stronger man."

In his third NFL game that season, a sore-hipped St. Clair was highlighted on the Telestrator of Monday Night Football analyst John Madden for getting beat repeatedly by a fierce Buccaneer pass rush.

In Week 12, Fox-TV announcer Cris Collinsworth ripped St. Clair for being part of a unit that allowed the Eagles to sack Kurt Warner eight times in a key 10-3 loss (on Dec. 1, 2002).

"You have the MVP of the NFL [in Warner] and you have to have somebody better than that playing right tackle," Collinsworth said.

What Collinsworth omitted was that Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace left the game with a hamstring injury, forcing St. Clair to shift to the left side for the first time. Or that Andy King went from the practice squad to right tackle, where he was abused by N.D. Kalu on four of the sacks.

"The bad part of the NFL is when bad things happen, the media picks up on it and will drive it right down your throat," said Dolphins defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina, St. Clair's teammate from 2000-02. "John was a young kid just starting to play a position he never played before. He was thrown to the wolves, and the wolves got him a little bit.

"He's more mature now and doesn't allow stuff to get in his head like he did in St. Louis."

The overhauled line has produced a paltry running attack thus far, but coach Dave Wannstedt singled out St. Clair as its most consistent performer.

"[The Rams] moved him around every week because he's so smart and is such a good athlete," Wannstedt said. "He saw this as a real opportunity. He's mature and took advantage of it."

St. Clair realizes that one missed speed rush and his home at right tackle could soon be occupied by an improving Carey or a healthy McIntosh.

"I don't care if you're a starter for years, you've always got something to prove," St. Clair said.

- Eight linebackers may just be enough.

While the Dolphins usually carry six, coach Dave Wannstedt said Monday that he might keep an additional two linebackers on the 53-man roster.

Such a decision would stem from the unit's depth and the impact that reserve linebackers can make on special teams.

"We might keep them all and eliminate a couple of spots [at other positions]," Wannstedt said.

"The third or fourth guys in a lot of spots on our team have traditionally been special teams guys. It doesn't make any difference in my mind. We could put a kid on the practice squad [at another position] and have him ready to go."

The overflow at linebacker is largely from the selection of four in the past two drafts while keeping starters Zach Thomas, Junior Seau and Morlon Greenwood.

Eddie Moore, Derrick Pope and Tony Bua appear set as the top backups. Corey Jenkins and Brendon Ayanbadejo also have proved worthy of sticking with the team.

Jenkins, a 2003 sixth-round draft pick, continues to grow more comfortable at linebacker after playing quarterback for South Carolina.

Ayanbadejo has a team-high three solo special-teams tackles and was a core player on the units in 2003.

Injuries to two backup safeties expected to play key special teams roles could give the Dolphins the luxury of keeping a seventh linebacker. Chris Akins was placed on injured reserve with a serious knee injury earlier, while Shawn Wooden remains on the active/physically unable to perform list because of a bulging disc in his back.

Eight linebackers might be ambitious, as the Dolphins would have to sacrifice depth at a position like tight end or fullback.

Jenkins said he won't be concerned about his future with the Dolphins entering Friday's exhibition finale at New Orleans.

"At one time I was really worried about it," Jenkins said. "I was like, Man, we've got all this depth! I was feeling like the odd man out. But I think everybody in this locker room goes through that because every year is a competition, which is wonderful because it's going to bring out the best in you.

"Even last year, I was thinking, How am I going to make the team? There's nothing you can do about it. You can't decide whether you're going to be here."

- The Miami Dolphins today activated tackle Damion McIntosh off the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list. McIntosh, who was signed by the Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent on March 16, 2004, to a six-year contract, had been on the list since the opening of training camp.

"How much he will be able to do, we'll just have to wait and see," Dolphins Head Coach Dave Wannstedt said. There is a possibility he could play this weekend. If things go well and he feels good, since he is cleared to play, I can see sticking him in and letting him play 15 to 20 plays. That's a possibility."

The Dolphins also released five players on Monday. DE Josh Mallard, CB Kelvin Millhouse, DT Jerome Stevens and TE Hart Turner were waived, while kick returner Terrence Wilkins had his contract terminated.

The Dolphins active roster now stands at 79 players. The team must get down to 74 players by 12:00 p.m.on Tuesday, August 31.

Wannstedt said that running back Travis Minor will start the Dolphins preseason finale at New Orleans on Friday night, and that Sammy Morris will see limited action. Leonard Henry could also see his first game action of the preseason.

"In just talking to Sammy, it has been such a long time since he has carried the ball much," Wannstedt said. "We are in the fine-line area of him needing work while at the same time we need him to be healthy. He'll get some playing time, but it will be somewhat limited."

- Wannstedt hopes McIntosh can appear in 15 to 20 plays as a backup left tackle against New Orleans. Henry said he still might not be ready to play after getting injured early in preseason.

- Although he has rushed for only 26 yards on 19 carries, Travis Minor will start at tailback against the Saints.

- Wannstedt wants to experiment with a three-receiver set of Chris Chambers, Derrius Thompson and Marty Booker that puts Booker in the slot.

- The Dolphins have to make five moves by 4 p.m. today to pare the active roster to 74. The team is expected to make injury-related transactions involving wide receiver David Boston (knee), wide receiver/defensive back Bobby Sippio (knee) and guard Eric Wilson (knee).

- For the first time since Wannstedt became coach in 2000, the Dolphins have closed practices to the media two weeks before the opener.

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