No team in the division was playing any worse than the Dolphins at the end of the 2006 season. They lost four of their last five and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season — a string of ineptitude unheard of in South Florida.
And the offseason hasn't gone any better. Not only has the team not signed any impact free agents beyond a pair of aging veterans, FB Corey Schlesinger and OLB Joey Porter, but new coach Cam Cameron has dismantled much of the team that existed. He dismissed TE Randy McMichael, QB Joey Harrington, up-and-coming WR Wes Welker, K Olindo Mare, RBs Sammy Morris and Travis Minor, DE Kevin Carter, and starting O-linemen Jeno James, Seth McKinney and Damion McIntosh.
Now we understand if the Dolphins were good enough to lose with those players, they can just as easily lose without them. But most teams have a plan to replace those players, and if the Fins have that plan in place, they aren't sharing it with anyone we know.
While Schlesinger is an excellent blocker and will certainly be a welcome addition in the mind of RB Ronnie Brown, coming off his first 1,000-yard rushing season, he is aging and on the downside of his career. And both will run behind a line that is short three starters from last year's unit. The same can be said for Porter. Though he knows defensive coordinator Dom Capers' system and is an intimidating force as a pass rusher and a tackler, he has lost a step and his big salary could cause friction in the Miami locker room. TE David Martin couldn't wrest the starting job away from an aging, injured, and ineffective Bubba Franks in Green Bay last year, so we have little reason to believe he will showcase the receiving skills that made McMichael a Pro Bowler.
So with more than 10 players gone from the '06 roster and the team unable to draw a top free agent class, look for the Dolphins to address their many needs in the draft. They will need to find impact players who can contribute right away.
The offensive line is clearly the team's top need, particularly at left tackle where the departure of McIntosh has left only the inconsistent L.J. Shelton to man the blind side. The team could move the 2004 first-rounder to his natural position at LT, or could draft a player in the first round, but word is they aren't high on Penn State's big, athletic OT Levi Brown, and they won't have a chance to pick OT Joe Thomas at their current No. 9 spot. Central Michigan's Joe Staley could be an option, but nine is too high for him, so the Fins may be forced to wait until Round 2 to get their man.
Could Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn fall to the ninth spot? There are those who think so. But while Charlie Weis talks about how NFL-ready Quinn is, expect the Dolphins to try and secure a veteran before the draft. Talks are still ongoing on a trade for KC's Trent Green, who has the arm and the pocket savvy to step in and lead Miami back to the winning side of the ledger if Cameron decides that Daunte Culpepper is not the answer or still isn't healthy enough to play. Then again, David Carr's availability is intriguing. Carr is much younger and healthier than Green or Culpepper, and though he hasn't done much winning in Houston, he has excellent physical tools and could benefit from a better O-line and a coach like Cameron who made his name as a hands-on QB coach.
The signing of Chris Liewinski, an eight-year veteran who has made 80 career starts, eases some of the concerns at guard, which is good because there isn't a value at the position until well into the second round. But the team could use some speed at receiver. Chris Chambers has the ability to win jump balls in the vertical passing game, but neither he nor Marty Booker possesses the breakaway speed that will cause defenses to alter their coverage.
There are a few WRs in this draft who can do that, including Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. Though he is raw and has a lot to learn before presenting himself as a polished NFL receiver in terms of route-running and reading coverages, he has blazing speed and can create separation instantly. He is explosive out of his cuts and can make the spectacular grab. Other options later in Day One could be South Carolina's Sidney Rice, another raw prospect with outstanding physical tools and the speed to stretch the field, and Ginn's teammate Anthony Gonzalez, who doesn't have the speed of the other two but has very good hands, will make the tough catch and is an elusive open-field runner.
The defense is pretty well set. The team re-signed DTs Keith Traylor and Vonnie Holliday, Jason Taylor is coming off one of the best seasons of his 10-year career, and DEs Matt Roth and/or David Bowens (who could re-sign with Miami this coming week) are expected to make up for the loss of Carter. Porter gives the Fins a solid starting group in the LB corps, joining with Zach Thomas and Channing Crowder, but it is the secondary that causes Cameron and his staff the most concern.
Depending on where players like Quinn, Cal RB Marshawn Lynch and Miami TE Greg Olsen come off the board, the Dolphins could be in position to pluck Michigan CB Leon Hall or LSU safety LaRon Landry early in the first round. Hall is a big, physical corner who can excel in man coverage or zone.Landry has the instincts and physical skills to play equally well against the run and the pass and can be an immediate starter for a team that gave up nearly 50 plays of 20 yards in 2006.
In Round 2, the team could opt for speedy Arkansas CB Chris Houston or athletic Virginia Tech S Aaron Rouse. CBs Daymeion Hughes of Cal, Marcus McCauley of Fresno State and UNLV's Eric Wright could also be available and can excel in a Cover-2 scheme.
Tuesday: New England Patriots