Behind Enemy Lines: Bears/Dolphins, Part III

In Part III of this exclusive four-part series,'s John M. Crist and's Alain Poupart continue their back-and-forth discussion with five more questions from John to Alain. What do Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas have left in the tank, how good is Channing Crowder, and is it already rebuilding time in Miami? These Q&As and more inside.

John M. Crist, Editor in Chief, How much longer can aging veterans like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas be expected to carry the torch on defense, and are there any young stars on the horizon?

Alain Poupart, Associate Editor, It would seem the answer is a little bit longer for Taylor than Thomas because Taylor is having a Pro Bowl-caliber year with big plays seemingly every week, while Thomas has had a very quiet season with few impact plays. As for young stars on the horizon, linebacker Channing Crowder has a lot of potential and has made a lot of tackles this season, but like Thomas, he hasn't made many big plays. Defensive tackles Fred Evans and Kevin Vickerson have good potential, but they haven't played all year because the Dolphins do have veteran talent along the defensive line.

John Crist: Channing Crowder is a wonderfully talented player, but is his penchant for trouble - both on and off the field - going to prevent him from being all he can be?

Alain Poupart: Crowder got a bad reputation at the University of Florida because he got involved in a couple of regrettable incidents that Coach Saban called the result of "youthful machismo." Since he's been with the Dolphins, Crowder has handled everything in a first-class manner, both on and off the field. So I actually think the question is unfair, but the answer is there is nothing that will prevent Crowder from reaching his full potential. The only question is, just how good is that potential?

John Crist: Olindo Mare has been a very good kicker for a long time, but what appears to be the problem this season because it looks like his accuracy is not the same?

Alain Poupart: As good a kicker as Mare has been through the years, he's always had an issue with the dirt infield at Dolphins Stadium, and that's been part of his problem. Beyond that, he's missed some kicks in tough conditions, but those were kicks that he made when he resided among the elite of NFL kickers.

John Crist: Plainly speaking, based on how strong the Dolphins finished out last year's schedule, were the expectations just way too high for this team coming into 2006?

Alain Poupart: No question about it. But the expectations weren't based solely on last year's finish. They also were based on the belief that Culpepper would be the same Culpepper he was in his best days in Minnesota, an impression everyone got by the way Culpepper moved ahead of schedule in his rehab. There also was no way of aniticipating the offensive line regressing so badly after it had made such progress (again, with marginal talent) late last season. The troubles in the secondary, however, could have been anticipated, although everyone expected some improvement over last year after the additions of Renaldo Hill, Will Allen and first-round pick Jason Allen, improvement that has not materialized in part because the newcomers haven't played that well, and Allen is just now getting onto the field on defense. Still, even though expecting the Dolphins to contend for the Super Bowl was unrealistic, it's also pretty obvious no one could have predicted them to be this bad.

John Crist: Is there any way Saban & Company can get it together and make a push for the playoffs, or does the organization need to start preparing for next season already?

Alain Poupart: If you've seen their games this season, it's pretty clear this team has no shot barring a miraculous recovery of some sorts. This team, sad to say, looks an awful lot like the 2004 Dolphins team that started 1-9 and finished 4-12. I'm not sure it's going to happen, but the Dolphins really should think about getting some of their young players more involved because there's an awful lot of age on defense with guys like Taylor, Thomas, Keith Traylor, Dan Wilkinson, Kevin Carter, and Vonnie Holliday.

Be on the lookout for Part IV of this four-part series as John will answer five more of Alain's questions.

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