New men in the middle

Stopping the run was a major strength for the Dolphins in 2003, and a big reason was the play of defensive tackles Larry Chester and Tim Bowens. But injuries took care of both players this year and now the Dolphins have to count on Jeff Zgonina and Bryan Robinson to pick up the slack.

Chester started only two games before he went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Sunday night loss at Cincinnati, and Bowens joined him on injured reserve this week after his troublesome back flared up against last Sunday in the victory over the Rams.

Robinson and Zgonina already have gotten the bulk of the playing time this season, and the Dolphins run defense isn't nearly as good statistically as it was last season.

Of course, opponents have racked up some yardage because they have focused on the ground game while they waited for the Dolphins offense to self-destruct. But it's also a fact that opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per rushing attempt this season, up from 3.3 yards in 2003.

Clearly, you can't lose two big run stuffers like Chester and Bowens without feeling some effect.

It's interesting to note that there were some observers who suggested the Dolphins should have considered drafting a defensive tackle last April to protect against an injury and also given Bowens' age.

And wouldn't Vince Wilfork look good in a Dolphins uniform just about now? The Dolphins could have had him in the first round, but Wilfork instead is in New England playing well, while Dolphins first-round pick Vernon Carey is a backup.

As for Robinson and Zgonina, they are two solid defensive linemen with a lot of experience and they have helped the Dolphins completely collapse up front after the losses of Chester and Bowens.

The Dolphins also have Dario Romero at defensive tackle, so they have weathered the storm at that spot as well as could be expected.

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