Behind Enemy Lines: Falcons-Dolphins, Pt. 1

In Part One of a two-part series, Associate Editor Alain Poupart answers twelve questions from's Brian McIntyre about the Miami Dolphins.

McIntyre: A lot of attention gets focused on "The Wildcat" offense, but how often do the Dolphins really intend on using those formations and plays this season?

Alain Poupart: That, clearly, is the $64,000 question. The Dolphins weren't about to reveal anything in the preseason and, in fact, only used the Wildcat in the second preseason game and only rans plays they ran last season. With Pat White now on the roster, it seems obvious the Dolphins will run more pass plays out of the Wildcat this season, which means that we might see more of it. Then again, if the base offense is moving the ball well, there won't be a need for it. A best guess at this point is the Dolphins running about a half-dozen plays out of the Wildcat every game.

McIntyre: Is Ted Ginn poised to have a breakout season?

Poupart: If you believe a lot of folks in Miami, the answer is yes. His coaches and teammates talk about better route running, better knowledge of the offense and the fact that wide receivers often blossom in their third season. But the big negative on Ginn always has been his lack of physicality, and probably nothing has changed in that vein. Ginn's best asset is his straight-away speed, but he doesn't exactly have a quarterback with a rocket arm throwing to him. So I would expect Ginn to make some big plays this season, but certainly not break out the way Roddy White did in Atlanta.

McIntyre: What role will Pat White play in the offense this season, and is he the Dolphins' quarterback of the future or is it Chad Henne?

Poupart: As mentioned in the Wildcat question, the only role White will play in the offense this season will be in that formation. He is the perfect quarterback for the Wildcat because he's a great runner with some passing ability. But his passing ability from the pocket, as we saw in training camp, is marginal at best and it's crazy to think he's the quarterback of the future on this team. That guy, without question is Chad Henne.

McIntyre: How important to the offense is Patrick Cobbs?

Poupart: Cobbs is one of the most versatile players in the league with his ability to run, catch, return kickoffs and cover kicks as well. He's a tremendous asset on offense because he does so many things — and does them all well. That said, as a backup player, he's not as valuable as a Ronnie Brown or Ginn or Anthony Fasano.

McIntyre: With the large financial investments in Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Jake Grove and Vernon Carey, why is the return of Donald Thomas deemed so critical to the offensive line's success?

Poupart: There are two major reasons. One is that Thomas just might be the team's best interior offensive lineman. This guy came out of nowhere as a sixth-round pick last year to earn the starting job and looked like he'd been in the league for several years. He's just got star written all over him. The other reason is that his backup is second-year player Shawn Murphy, the son of longtime Braves star Dale Murphy. While Murphy has made significant progress since last year, when he was inactive for every game as a rookie, he's still nowhere near as good as Thomas, hence the importance of having Thomas back.

McIntyre: What's the state of the Dolphins' run defense?

Poupart: Since the preseason is the only thing we had to use as a gauge, I would say pretty solid overall. The Dolphins had problems in the game at Tampa Bay, but overall did a good job against the run in the preseason. Nose tackle Jason Ferguson is a solid veteran and the other two starting D-linemen, Kendall Langford and Randy Starks, also are pretty good against the run. The key for the run defense is having backup nose tackle Paul Soliai deliver after a couple of years of wildly inconsistent play.

McIntyre: What sort of role will Jason Taylor fill this season?

Poupart: Taylor was signed with the idea he'd be used as a situational player, but that has changed with Matt Roth beginning the season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list. Taylor now is the starting strong-side linebacker, and he has bulked up to handle the rigors of that job, which demand taking on the tight end and playing a big role in run defense. Taylor looked very good in the preseason finale at New Orleans, and he doesn't look to have lost much quickness despite the added bulk.

McIntyre: What steps did the Dolphins take in the off-season to improve their secondary?

Poupart: The Dolphins wanted to get younger and more athletic in the secondary, so they spent a first-round pick on cornerback Vontae Davis, a second-round pick on cornerback Sean Smith and a fifth-round pick on safety Chris Clemons. They also signed former Giants and Raiders starter Gibril Wilson to replace Renaldo Hill at free safety. Smith and Wilson are in the starting lineup, joining veteran corner Will Allen and strong safety Yeremiah Bell.

McIntyre: How viable of a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate is Sean Smith?

Poupart: If the preseason is any indication, Smith definitely would be on any list of candidates. He came to Miami with the reputation as a great cover guy with big-play ability, and that's just what he showed with two interceptions in the preseason, including a spectacular one-handed pick in the end zone at New Orleans. Smith arrived at the University of Utah as a wide receiver and it's obvious he's got great hands. His height (6-3) and long arms also enable him to get his hands on a lot of balls. It wouldn't surprise me to see him get 7-8 picks as a rookie.

McIntyre: Does Joey Porter have another 17.5 sack season in him?

Poupart: Considering Porter's previous career high was 10.5 sacks, I'd have to say it's doubtful he'll put up that kind of number again. Actually, Porter was very, very quiet in the preseason, which might or might not mean anything. It will help him, however, that the Dolphins added pass-rushing help in the offseason in the form of Jason Taylor and two-time CFL defensive MVP Cameron Wake.

McIntyre: What are the keys to the Dolphins successfully defending their AFC East crown?

Poupart: Chad Pennington. It's that simple. For all the things that went right in 2008, the Dolphins wouldn't have come close to winning the division if not for the brilliant performance of Pennington. Because of the way he plays — not flashy, not a big arm — his work often goes unappreciated, but just look at his numbers from last year and you'll see the guy was awesome. The only problem is that Pennington has never stayed healthy for two consecutive years in his career, and if he goes down, it's too much to expect Chad Henne to carry this team to the playoffs.

McIntyre: What's your prediction for Sunday's game?

Poupart: The reflex answer is to say the Falcons will win because they're at home, but I think this will be a very close game. Obviously, the Dolphins will have their issues on defense trying to stop Michael Turner, and I'm not sold on their secondary just yet — even though I love Sean Smith's potential. But I also see the Falcons having problems stopping the Dolphins. So I would expect a rather high-scoring game that comes down to the wire. I'll say, Falcons, 31-28.

Part 2 will run tomorrow. To visit, click here.

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