PLAYERS ON THE SPOT

The Dolphins will have four new starters in the lineup for Thursday night's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. Some of those changes could have an effect on how the Dolphins shape up for the 2002 regular season.

With Mark Dixon being rested as he continues to recover from last year's leg injury, Jamie Nails will get the start at left guard.

Defensive tackle Larry Chester is trying to bounce back from the same injury Dixon suffered last year, and he also will be rested, with his place in the starting lineup being taken by Jermaine Haley.

At left defensive end, Adewale Ogunleye was rewarded for his four-sack performance against Tampa Bay with the start against New Orleans.

And finally, Marcus Spriggs will get the chance to start at left offensive tackle as he continues his battle with Brent Smith for the starting job.

Let's examine the meaning of the four starting changes.

• Let's start with Nails.

Get used to seeing him in the starting lineup because he probably will wind up there. Nails has been the Dolphins' best offensive lineman in training camp and there is simply no denying him a starting job.

The question will be where Nails starts. He could start at left guard or he could start at right guard, where he started 16 games for the Bills in 2000.

The guess here is that Nails winds up starting at right guard, with Dixon holding on the starting job at left guard. That would make Todd Perry and Leon Searcy the two backups at guard.

• Next, Haley. There isn't much to read into here. He's starting because Chester is hurt. The one thing to be said, however, is that Haley is picked up his game this summer and that can only be good news when it comes to the depth at defensive tackle.

• Coach Dave Wannstedt was quick to point out that Ogunleye didn't just appear on Monday night, that he has been having a great camp. Now, Ogunleye gets to play against the opponent's first-stringers.

If he has a good outing, there may be no dislodging him from the starting lineup. It's that simple. Ogunleye has put himself in the middle of the battle for the starting left DE job with David Bowens and Jay Williams, and furthermore he has taken the lead.

• Finally, we turn to Spriggs.

The Dolphins appear set on going with either Spriggs or Smith as the starting left tackle this year, primarily because there is no other viable option on the roster (forget about Mark Dixon moving there; he has been battling injuries, he's not in favor of the move, plus he has never played tackle in the NFL).

The truth is that neither Smith nor Spriggs has done anything to distinguish himself this summer. Smith did a decent job in the practices against Tennessee, but he wasn't particularly impressive in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay.

This job clearly is there for the taking for Spriggs, and he could take the lead in that battle with a good performance against New Orleans.


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