With the weekend of April 24-25 almost here, we preview the 2004 NFL draft with a series examining the top prospects at each position, how the Dolphins stands at each position and what the Dolphins might do at each position. We continue our series with a look at the specialists.

The top prospects

Not much attention usually is given to specialists around draft time, unless you're dealing with a very unique talent. There is one guy who fits that category — or close to it — this year and that's Iowa placekicker Nate Kaeding. Kaeding is by far the prospect among the kickers and punters, thanks to his accuracy, his range and his kickoff ability. It's not impossible he could be drafted before the end of the second round, even though the third round appears more likely. After Kaeding, it will be a while before another kicking specialist is taken. And there won't be that many taken overall. Among those with a chance to be drafted are kickers Josh Scobee from Louisiana Tech, David Kimball from Penn State, Nick Browne from TCU and Billy Bennett from Georgia. Among the few punters whose name could be called are B.J. Sander from Ohio State, Kyle Larson from Nebraska, Andy Lee from Pittsburgh, Donnie Jones from LSU and Scott Verhalen from tiny East Texas Baptist. But again, probably no more than five or six punters and kickers combined will be drafted. When it comes to return specialists, there are a few prospects to keep in mind, among them Derek Abney, a wide receiver from Kentucky; Wes Welker, a wideout from Texas Tech; Erik Coleman, a safety from Washington State; Jonas Rutledge, a cornerback from SMU; and Luke Powell, a wide receiver from Stanford. There is one guy who could be drafted because of his long-snapping ability, and that's Danny Young from North Carolina State.

The Dolphins situation

The Dolphins special teams were not impressive last season, in many different ways and improvement will be necessary if the Dolphins hope to return to the playoffs. Olindo Mare is back as the placekicker after a difficult season that included those two killer misses in the overtime loss to New England. Veteran punter Matt Turk was re-signed as a free agent after unrestricted free agent Josh Miller would't decide quickly enough on the Dolphins' offer. Long-snapper Ed Perry, who missed all of last year because of a knee injury, also was re-signed. Terrence Wilkins was brought in to try to spark the return game, which faltered last year after free agent Charlie Rogers turned out to be a bust.

What the Dolphins might do

It's clear the Dolphins need a boost in the return game, so it wouldn't be a shocker if they spend a draft pick on a return specialist at some point. But if that happens, it won't be a high pick. As for kickers and punters, the Dolphins might not be opposed to bringing in some quality competition for their two veterans, but unless they had more picks it might be difficult for them to justify spending a draft choice on a kicker who probably wouldn't have much of a chance to make the roster anyway.

Next up: The final analysis.

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