Before the start of the 2006 season, many analysts circled Miami as the team to beat in the American Football Conference. Fast forward to week six and it's obvious the Dolphins aren't living up to such expectations.
Now with their Pro Bowl quarterback on the bench, most people are writing the Dolphins off until 2007. One person who isn't taking Miami for granted is Jets head coach Eric Mangini. He knows what is in store for this Sunday's battle at the Meadowlands, and it all starts at the top.
"I know the kind of coach Nick is and how he does such a good job of putting his guys in a position to succeed," Mangini said of talented Miami leader Nick Saban. "I have nothing but respect for him and the things that he's done, not only at the Dolphins, but everywhere he's been."
When the Jets host the last place Dolphins in Sunday's AFC East match-up, quarterback Joey Harrington will be on the hot seat for the second week in a row. On Monday, head coach Nick Saban announced that Daunte Culpepper, the prized quarterback who was traded to Miami with high hopes, a ton of talent, but an injured knee, will be sidelined again. Saban said Culpepper's knee has not been re-injured, but it simply has to improve.
"The guy's going to practice, he has no deficiency in strength," Saban said of Culpepper. "He has no injury to his knee, but it's an explosive-movement that might be able to help him regain the quick burst type movements that we feel is something that we need to continue to improve on."
The reasoning behind the quarterback switch was strictly due to the physical restraints of Culpepper's knee, not the lack of team success. That being said, Harrington may be just an interim starter or he could hold onto the job for some time if the Dolphins start winning.
Fortunately for Saban, Harrington comes off the bench with credentials that most backups don't offer. The fifth-year quarterback from Oregon has started in 56 career games - 55 of which came during his first four seasons as a member of the Detroit Lions.
"We'll evaluate it on a week-to-week basis,'' Saban said. "This week, we're going to plan to play like we did last week. We're going to work with Daunte, improve his movement, give him some reps in practice, and get Joey ready to play in the game. Now, does that make him the starter? I guess that makes him the starter."
Prior to week five, Culpepper was sacked an eye-popping 21 times, pushing the offense back a total of 150 yards in just four games. Harrington was sacked just once in Miami's 20-10 loss to the Patriots in New England, and Saban thinks that Harrington's ability to get rid of the ball faster will improve his offense's otherwise lackluster production.
"One of the things that is a strength of Joey's is quick decision-making, getting the ball out quickly and taking advantage of what the people are giving our team right now," said Saban. "I think that's something that we need."
If it were up to Culpepper, the eighth-year veteran would be playing. Last week, there was reportedly a heated argument between Culpepper and Saban at the Dolphins' Friday practice. In Monday's press conference, Saban said the exchange was simply a result of Culpepper's competitiveness.
"I understand that and I respect it," Saban said. "I would be a lot more concerned if the guy said, 'Great, I don't care. Let me go down to South Beach and see what's going on down there.' I would be real concerned then.
"Daunte was never disrespectful to me," added Saban. "If I confronted him on the field, I think that's family business. I really do. I don't think that's anybody else's business. I think that's what coaches and players do. You guys have watched practice in camp or whatever, and I have done that to other players. It's not an issue."
Saban is very open about his relationships with his players, especially Culpepper, whom he has an extraordinary amount of respect for. Despite the lingering knee injury, Culpepper, just 29-years old, already has three Pro Bowl appearances and a bright future ahead of him.
"This is a long-range relationship that we have to have, and we don't want to get the guy physically in a situation right now where we put anything in the future in jeopardy relative to his physical ability to play," said Saban. "We believe in him. We love him. We're just trying to do the right thing."