HOW'S O-LINE LOOKING NOW?

Remember training camp when there was so much concern about the offensive line because there were too many question marks? Or late in the preseason when injuries sidelined both Brent Smith and Leon Searcy? Remember the major question mark stuck on the offensive line, with some people even suggesting it would hold the offense back?

The offensive line, so far in the 2002 season has been anything but a question mark. An exclamation point is more like it.

Ricky Williams has gotten a big share of the credit for the Dolphins' strong offensive start, and deservedly so, but he also has benefited from some run blocking the likes of which haven't been seen in Miami for a while.

The pass protection also has been good, allowing only one sack in the first two games. Of course, part of that reason is the running game slowing down the pass rush, but at some point you also have to give credit to the guys up front.

Simply put, the Dolphins offensive line right now is a strength.

And it's not just me saying it. Everybody has noticed it. Former Vikings All-Pro wide receiver Cris Carter was in town this week to do a feature on Williams for HBO's "Inside the NFL" and he talked to reporters before heading out.

When discussing the Dolphins' 2-0 start, he made it a point to mention the offensive line.

"The guys up front are not getting a lot of publicity," Carter said, "but they're dominating up front."

Dominating! When is the last time you heard anyone say that about the Dolphins offensive line? Mid-1980s maybe, when Dwight Stephenson was the best center in the league and he anchored a line that kept pass rushers away from Dan Marino even though everyone knew he was passing on almost every down.

This year's unit, even without Searcy and Smith, has been getting the job done because all five five guys are solid.

Right tackle Todd Wade is playing more like he did as a rookie after slumping a little bit in his second season. Right guard Todd Perry is playing very well after a disappointing 2001 season. Center Tim Ruddy is playing again like the way he did in 2000 when he went to the Pro Bowl. Left guard Jamie Nails has been great in the running game, with highlight material as he pulls to lead Williams, and left tackle Mark Dixon has made a smooth transition from left guard (yes, we know he got beat for a sack against the Colts, but it happens to everybody).

The bottom on the offensive line is that this group has panned out even beyond Coach Dave Wannstedt's wildest dreams and is as responsible as any unit for the Dolphins' 2-0 start.

"I think there is a sense of confidence with the offensive line," he said. "We have a long way to go, but two weeks into it we are (among the league leaders) in rushing and protecting our quarterback pretty good. That's something to feel good about around here."


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