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SI's Andrew Lawrence spends some time talking Dolphins

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Last week Sports Illustrated released their NFL preview issue.  It's filled with a lot of good stuff in general.  But the article about the Dolphins - written by Andrew Lawrence - is of high interest to all of you, I'm sure.  The article talks about a topic that's been beaten to death by the media already - Pat White's possible role in the 'Wildcat' formation.

But I got the opportunity to interview Lawrence to ask him other Dolphin questions as well.  Since he spent some time at camp preparing to write his article, I figured everybody would like to hear his views on the team.  Below are my questions and Andrew's responses.  Enjoy!

In your article for the SI NFL Preview, you write that the Dolphins have "put together a Pat Package in hopes of capitalizing on White's talents." But to this point, we haven't heard anything from Tony Sparano to indicate that the Dolphins are using Pat White in the 'Wildcat' formation. In fact, we've heard the opposite. Sparano has talked about how effective Ronnie Brown has been running the 'Wildcat' and that the team is focusing on getting White comfortable running the base offense. So what exactly do you think this "Pat Package" is? Is it just more of a spread-based offense like he ran at West Virginia or do you think there will be 'Wildcat' elements to it?

All of the above is true. When I spoke to coach Sparano in camp last month, he hit on the same notes: that he first wanted Pat to be well-versed in his job as the Dolphins third quarterback before further burdening him with any Wildcat stuff, and that Ronnie did an excellent job as the formation’s lead triggerman (and, crucially, didn’t turn the ball over). But at the same time, I did see Pat take a couple snaps out of the formation in practice, which suggests that it might only be a matter of time before we see him do the same in a game—particularly if past is prologue. A couple of the local beat guys told me of how Sparano occasionally ran Wildcat plays in practice early in the season, but because they didn’t know exactly what they were looking at at the time, they just dismissed it as the usual ‘trickeration’.

As for what the Pat Package will look like, I’m not sure it will look much different from the way the Wildcat does now other than the fact that there’ll be more shifting out of it. I could easily see a scenario where the Dolphins put him under center in the Wildcat to give the defense one look, then drop into their base offense. The best place to look for clues might be Philly, who will be using Mike Vick much the same way.

In the "spotlight" for the Dolphins, Gibril Wilson is quoted as saying how excited he is to be more of a ball-hawking safety than an in-the-box type safety in Miami's defense. How confident do you think the Dolphins are that Wilson can excel teaming with Yeremiah Bell in the defensive backfield?

Very confident. The Dolphins staff is full of old Dallas guys who speak to the fits that Wilson gave them when he was with the Giants. (Sparano in particular praises the guy effusively.) What’s more, Wilson couldn’t have handled his situation in Oakland more professionally. A lot of splash free agents who sign in Oakland just pocket the money, pack it in and malinger. Certainly Wilson pocketed his dough, but not without giving the Raiders plenty of bang for their buck—133 times over, in fact.

Now that he’s in Miami, he doesn’t have to worry about making every tackle. (Channing and Yeremiah can sweat that.) If Wilson plays anywhere close to the level he did when the Giants won the Super Bowl (and Miami’s pass rush can get some pressure; a little more on that later), I see Sean Smith having the rookie year that Aaron Ross had in 2007. And that worked out pretty well for the Giants.

What is your take on Miami's defense? Would you confidently say you expect to see players other than Joey Porter getting pressure on the quarterback?

Assuming Matt Roth fully recovers from whatever mystery injury or illness that’s plaguing him at the moment, yes. (He says it’s his groin, but methinks it’s the contract that’s nagging him.) And if that doesn’t happen, the team can once again lean on Jason Taylor, whose reacquisition, I think, might be one of the more underreported coups of the offseason. If he can stay healthy, he’ll bring plenty of heat with Joey, Channing and Yeremiah.

What is your impression of Vontae Davis and Sean Smith? Did you get the feeling from the coaching staff that they are confident in the abilities of each?

Jeff Ireland was extremely high on both guys when I spoke to him, saying that he felt each was ready to play. Nevertheless I still got the sense that Davis was the guy who had the better shot at starting on Week 1 and Smith was more of a project. Shows what I know; the exact opposite has happened! Then again, given how many big wideouts roam the AFC East, the move hardly surprises. I haven’t seen enough of the 6-foot-3 Smith to know how he would hold up against the Mosses and Owenses of the world — though, that one-handed pick he had against New Orleans was certainly something to behold — but I expect he and Davis will take their share of lumps, as all rookies do.

The Dolphins have invested a ton of money into their offensive line. What is your take on the starting unit? Do you think the Dolphins will be able to get a rushing attack going through their base offense?

I like the unit a lot. The only question mark they had going into the season was at that right guard spot, and they seem to have resolved that by plugging Donald Thomas in there. The guy I expect to take another huge leap this year (perhaps not surprisingly) is Jake Long. When I visited with him in camp, he talked a lot how he’s working to be more fluid in his execution. The guy he thinks does this best is Walter Jones. "He just glides and makes it look real easy," Long said of the Seahawks tackle. If Long can pull off an even passable imitation Jones, look for a lot of gaping holes on the left side of the line this season. (Also, Dolphins fans should not put too much stock in the two times he whiffed on blocks in preseason games; it is preseason, after all.)

This is Ted Ginn Jr.'s third season in the league - a year when many young receivers mature and break out. What is your take on Ginn? Do you think he finally steps up consistently in 2009? And what do you think Miami's coaching staff feels about Teddy?

Teddy’s a weird dude. Two years ago, when I was trying to interview him for a first person piece for the magazine, ‘Where’s Teddy?’ was an oft-played parlor game of the Dolphins PR staff. Apparently it wasn’t uncommon for him to go missing for stretches at a time before someone would find him asleep in a pitch dark meeting room or something. And when he finally did turn up he wasn’t in much mood to talk.

Still, can’t blame him for that ho-hum rookie season; after Trent Green went down, that whole team was a disappointment. But once Teddy was matched with a capable passer — and Chad Pennington is certainly that — you started to see flashes of the player who was so dominant at Ohio State. I suspect he’ll take another step in his third year and he and Pennington get tighter. By all accounts, Teddy had the best camp of any Dolphin. Will he be ‘Randy Moss good’? Likely not. But he’ll be better than ‘Chris Chambers good’, so take comfort in that.

What is your impression of Chad Henne and how he's developing? And what kind of future do you think Henne might have as a future starter for the Dolphins?

Henne’s another strange case for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of his coming out of college. Always thought that despite his considerable arm strength — and he made plenty of NFL-type throws at Michigan — that his delivery was Leftwich slow. Still, he’s certainly showed great resolve over the last couple weeks, bouncing back from that horrific outing in Tampa with a solid effort in New Orleans. Not sure if he’s ready to take the reins from Pennington quite yet. Pennington may not have Henne’s arm strength, but he has everything else: the footwork, the accuracy — the lot. But that’s not to say Henne can’t get there with another year of hard work and studious clipboard holding. Let’s table this discussion until the’10 offseason.

If you had to pick one player from the Dolphins who is currently flying under the radar in the eyes of most fans but will really break out in 2009, who would that player be?

I loved what I saw out of Brian Hartline. Not the fastest guy, but he knows how to get open and catch the ball and secure it right away.

What is your personal prediction for the Miami Dolphins in 2009? What might be their best-case scenario and their worst-case scenario? And if you had to bet on it, what would you say their '09 record will be?

Best case: they go a Wildcard 10-6 and lose in the first round. Worst case: they go 6-10 — but that would be because their schedule proves too tough. But by no means would it be a reflection on the guys calling the shots. I’ve visited my share of teams over the year, and you can always tell the ones that are well managed. The Pittsburghs, the Indianapolises—they all have a certain vibe to them, a certain something that reassures you that there’s one guy in charge, the philosophy is clear and everyone’s on the same page. I definitely get that vibe from the Dolphins. Doubt they’ll make it to the big game this season, but I suspect it won’t be long before they do.


A big thanks to Andrew for taking some time out of his busy day to share his thoughts.  It seems as though Lawrence was pretty fair and objective - and that he came away from his trip to Miami with more positive thoughts than negative.

What do you think about all this?