by Jared Nagle
There is an overwhelming feeling of concern for the Miami Dolphins football team heading into week 1 at Buffalo. Among beat writers, columnists, and the fan base there seems to be a lack of the same optimism for this team that characterized the off-season leading up to training camp. I wrote a post on thephinsider.com about 3 months ago in which I basically broke down the team’s roster and explained how this team had unprecedented depth and how good this team could be (hopefully one or two of you remember it.) Well, since then the shape of this team has changed dramatically. The general feeling for this team is concern and my theory is that the comfort of quality depth is gone.
This team heading into training camp had what appeared to be great depth at nearly every position. Aside from a few pleasant surprises with un-drafted free agents and the emergence of Ikaika Alama-Francis (who I characterized as “a player to watch” 3 months ago ), there has mostly been negative outcomes for this team since the end of July. The team has lost a lot of that apparent “depth” due to injuries and team transactions.
The fact is this team hasn’t lost a single starter to injury in training camp. For example, the Patriots have lost starters G Logan Mankins, T Nick Kaczur, DE Ty Warren, and CB Leigh Bodden since the beginning of camp. But what this team has lost, however, is a slew of talented backups and role players that made fans feel comfortable if and when a starter is lost to injury. Let’s take a look back to last season…
In my mind, the biggest reason the Dolphins failed to make the playoffs a year ago was that they were unable to makeup for the inevitable injuries that every team faces in the NFL. Unlike other playoff caliber teams, the Dolphins were unable to overcome the losses of NT Jason Ferguson and CB Will Allen because they didn’t have players ready to step in and fill their shoes. Of course this team is better for it now with the development of young players like Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and Paul Soliai; but the fact remains that the biggest reason why the defense fell apart last season was for those three players being thrust into key roles.
Back to the present, heading into training camp this team seemingly had the type of depth that is usually only achieved by playoff teams. Aside from QB, RB, LB and S, it appears as though this team is less deep at every other position then they were when training camp started back in July. Let’s go position by position:
Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited that the team found a couple diamonds in the rough in Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace. Also, it is clear to me that the Dolphins are vastly improved at wideout with the addition of Brandon Marshall. Still, the trade of Greg Camarillo left this team without a proven no.4 wide receiver. What happens if Marshall, Davone Bess or Brian Hartline get hurt? Are we really confident that Moore or Wallace can step in and consistently contribute?
I wasn’t even thrilled with the team’s depth behind Anthony Fasano heading into camp. However, after bringing David Martin back to the club I felt much better about it. Between Martin and Joey Haynos it seemed like the team had quality experience behind Fasano. But after Haynos’ season ending injury and Martins surprising release the team is left with just one backup TE, 2009 fifth round pick John Nalbone. I am not saying Nalbone isn’t ready to step in, but it is concerning to me that we are counting on a player who has never played in a single regular season game to play in the two tight end sets. What do we do if Fasano goes down?
When camp started I thought this was perhaps the team’s greatest strength. Obviously we have a great pair of tackles with Long and Carey. Also, we HAD plenty of viable candidates at guard and a good battle at center between Joe Berger and Jake Grove. Though I am satisfied with John Jerry’s ascension into the starting lineup, I have to say nothing else has exactly “gone to plan.” Nate Garner, the team’s most versatile lineman and proven starting guard, has been lost for the season because it seems as though this regime refuses to bring an injured player into the regular season no matter who he is or what he brings. Garner loss is huge because at the very least his loss created a void at backup RT, LG and RG. Donald Thomas, who once had the makings of a really good player in this league, has been waived despite the fact he is a proven commodity as a run blocker. Cory Proctor has also been waived which wouldn’t be a big deal if the team hadn’t already lost Garner and Thomas. And on top of all that, Jake Grove has been injured nearly all preseason with minor injuries that seem to always plague him. Grove is a really good center when healthy, but he is now backing up the inferior Joe Berger. Berger is solid, but Grove is a difference maker.
The team added Pat Mcquiston and a few developmental tackles, but at the end of the day this team is no longer deep along the offensive line. Joe Berger can play the guard spot so I am not panicking about the interior line depth, but I still have reservations as a whole. I felt much better about Richie Incognito as a starter when he had Garner, Thomas and Proctor behind him. Now we need to count on this head case!
I still think that the defensive line is a strength of the team. Randy Starks, Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick should make up a formidable front. Still, with the losses of Phillip Merling to an Achilles tendon injury and Jason Ferguson to retirement, the talent level as a whole is not where it was a couple months ago. As opposed to last year, Tony McDaniel is now the top backup DE, and after that it is just unproven rookies just poached off the waiver wire. I like Paul Soliai, but can he start if need be at NT? I know Ferguson could of after his suspension.
Wasn’t it nice a few months ago when you could say to yourself “I really like Vontae and Sean, and in case one has a sophomore slump, I know Will Allen can be counted on”. Well, that’s all over now that Allen is done for the season. Nickel corner is an important position. Nathan Jones did a very good job at that spot last season and his loss should not be discounted. Either Benny Sapp or Nolan Carrol needs to be able to play this role successfully. Jason Allen is a boundary corner so no matter how much better he has become at CB he is unlikely to help out at nickel. Sapp needs to be the guy and if he’s not Carrol is going to have to grow up awful fast. I am concerned especially with Sean Smith’s struggles in camp.
In total, since the start of camp this team has lost the following players:
None of the above players were likely to start for this team this season. But injuries are going to strike this team, and now they are without many of the top backup players that would have made those injuries much easier to stand. I still have high hopes for this team, and as talented and young as they are, I am now unsure of how deep a team this is right now. Many guys are going to need to grow up quickly again this season. That is a good thing long term, but short term it can land you on the outside looking in at a playoff berth.