Dolphins not ready to pass on running game
By Michael Cunningham
Aug 2, 2004

DAVIE ( - For two seasons, coach Dave Wannstedt leaned on Ricky Williams as no other NFL coach had ever depended on a single running back.

Williams, who set a league record for carries over two seasons, is gone, but Wannstedt has said the Dolphins' offense would not stray from its nature: a power running game that sets up play-action passes with the occasional deep ball.

But if after sorting out his evolving offense it's clear that passing is what the Dolphins do best, Wannstedt said he's ready to make that commitment, calling such an approach "common sense."

"If we felt like we could throw the ball and that gave us the best chance to score points and beat somebody, there is no question about it," Wannstedt said Sunday. "And I have really been that way since I have been here. There have been games where we have gone in there and thrown the ball 50 times. Not very often, but sometimes.

"It depends on how the game unfolds and, more importantly, what gives the team the best chance to win."

The goal, Wannstedt said, is for the offense to be "balanced," a theme he and his staff have repeated for months.

At this point it's not clear if that means the Dolphins want to throw the ball more often than last season or if they want to avoid passing too much and straying from their run principles.

There is no clear workhorse back on the roster. Wannstedt said his goal is to gain 1,500 yards rushing with a collection of running backs that includes Travis Minor, Sammy Morris and Leonard Henry at the top.

The Dolphins haven't rushed for fewer than 1,500 yards, which is 94 yards per game, since 1999, the year before Wannstedt took over. They rushed for 1,817 last season. A total of 1,500 would have ranked 28th in the league, ahead of only Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

Wannstedt said he would like to have maybe 1,800 or 2,000 yards rushing but called 1,500 with multiple backs a more realistic goal.

"That has really been the Denver [Broncos'] philosophy," he said. "They have a number of yards that they want to rush for every game. At the end of the year they want to look back and say, OK we got this many yards, don't care who did it or how they did it."

At this point it appears the best playmakers are at wide receiver (Chris Chambers and David Boston) and tight end (Randy McMichael).

The Dolphins, though, can't focus on getting them the ball until they name Jay Fiedler or A.J. Feeley their quarterback and determine starters at right guard and right tackle.

Wannstedt said those things aren't clear because the Dolphins are still evaluating personnel.

The plan will come out of that process, though he said he couldn't put a timetable on those decisions.

"I talked about being balanced in run and pass. I think before you get to that point you really need to say What can you do best?" he said. "It is common sense. Who is going to give you a chance to score points, who is going to score points?

While the Dolphins sort that out, they also have a new offensive coordinator, Chris Foerster, trying to get the unit to run smoothly.

There is also a new quarterbacks coach, Marc Trestman, tutoring Fiedler and Feeley on the details of the position.

Foerster, who has never been an offensive coordinator, has had to learn new terminology, work out the staff chemistry and get to know his players, all while coming up with an offensive plan.

Wannstedt said he believes Foerster will be fine since so much of what happens on Sunday is planned in advance. The Dolphins need that to be the case because it's getting late for much more adjustment time.

"The adjustment period [for offense] should have been in minicamp," Feeley said. Right now there is no adjustment period. It is grinding through, going over what we have ... and going forward."

The Dolphins don't know where it will all lead, Wannstedt said. Will they be a running offense? Are they ready to be a passing offense? Can they be the balanced offense that he so badly wants?

Wannstedt said more than once Sunday that he is flexible and would open up the offense if it gives the Dolphins the best advantage. But shades of his defensive background and conservative game-management style came through at times.

He talked about not wanting the offense to do anything crazy because he believes the Dolphins "have a defense that can win games if we are smart and I manage the thing right and pull the whole thing together."

He called kicker Olindo Mare and punter Matt Turk two of the best and said there will be times when it is best to get a few first downs and let Mare try a field goal.

Wannstedt insisted he's willing to let the passing game carry the day, too, if that is the answer to the question that really matters:

"What do we have to do to be better?" Wannstedt said.

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