Behind Enemy Lines: Jaguars vs Dolphins

JagNation editor-in-chief Charlie Bernstein asks Dolphin Digest publisher Alain Poupart some tough questions about the Jaguars opponent this Sunday, the Miami Dolphins.

1. Many expected the Dolphins to go in the tank when Ronnie Brown was lost for the season, but they've won two of three and are in the thick of the playoff race. Please explain how the ‘Fish are doing it without their Pro Bowl running back.

AP - Those who expected the Dolphins to go in the tank hadn't really followed the team because it was pretty clear to everyone down here that Ricky Williams was more than good enough to keep the running game going. What the Dolphins have lost with Brown gone is depth and flexibility (mainly in the Wildcat), but this is where having two stud running backs has really paid off.

2. The future got started a little early when Chad Pennington went down with another arm injury and Chad Henne was thrust into the starting lineup. Aside from the usual growing pains, how has Henne progressed this season and is he, "the real deal?"

AP - The obligatory Henne question. Is he the real deal? Sure looks that way, even though it's clear he'll need a little time to become a consistent blue-chipper. What he has going for him is a great disposition (great poise, leadership, all the intangibles) and a tremendous arm. What he needs to work is pocket awareness (he holds the ball too long at times) and his touch passes (he missed a couple of open receivers on Sunday because he wasn't able to loft the ball to them). Overall, though, the Dolphins have every reason to feel confident about this guy.

3. The Dolphins receivers seemingly only make national highlights when Ted Ginn is dropping a pass. How have they actually been and is there a need for an overhaul at the position?

AP - The receiving corps has been mediocre and the one getting the most criticism clearly has been Ginn. The problem with him is that he can't make the tough catch and sometimes will drop the easy one. The rest of the receiving corps — excluding rookie Patrick Turner, a third-round pick who hasn't played a down on offense all year — is made up of quality second or third receivers. Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo are both dependable receivers who catch just about everything, but they have no game-breaking ability. Then there's rookie fourth-round pick Brian Hartline, who shows intriguing potential but isn't there yet. There's no need at this point for a total overhaul, but there's a massive, massive need for a true No. 1 wide receiver.

4. Tony Sparano is in year two and we've seen him struggle from time to time with some questionable clock management. It appears as if each of the big three rookie coaches last season- Sparano, Mike Smith and John Harbaugh- are all seeing their teams take a step back this year. Is it the product of a tougher schedule in Miami or is it from not having a veteran quarterback in the fold.

AP - I think it has more to do with the schedule. Other than Buffalo, the Dolphins have only lost to quality teams (Atlanta with both Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, Indy, San Diego, New Orleans and New England) and the big difference in those games has been the offense's inability to produce big plays and the defense's inability to stop them. The truth is the Dolphins are a work in progress in terms of personnel and Sparano and his staff have done a great job at getting the most out of them.

5. After Matt Roth was waived, he went to Cleveland and made a fairly immediate impact. What was the reason for the termination of his contract?

AP - I find it amazing that I get asked this question every week because I personally just don't see Roth as being that significant a player. And the truth is neither did the Dolphins, which is partly why they let him go. It's difficult to believe that his training camp episode (shows up for the start of camp, signs a release saying he's neither sick nor injured, fails the conditioning test, then says he's sick, then his agent goes on television and says he has a groin injury, then he gets checked out and the doctors don't find anything serious, yet he says he's not good enough to practice) had nothing to do with his release, but it's also clear that if the Dolphins thought he was a key player, they wouldn't have let him go. Another factor was the fact that Roth's contract runs out at the end of the season. Put it all together, and you have why Matt Roth was let go. But, like I said, I didn't see it as a particularly big deal.

6. Explain the progress of the Dolphins rookie cornerbacks in Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

AP - Let's put it this way, there's probably not one person who follows the Dolphins on a regular basis who wouldn't tell you those two are going to be tremendous cornerbacks in the NFL. Sure, there have been bumps and bruises along the way, with Davis in particular. He's gotten schooled by Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, but always seems to bounce back. As an example, he's got a pick in both New England games. As for Smith, he hasn't been beaten nearly as much as Davis has, but he's still looking for his first interception and that's surprising considering the ball skills he showed in the preseason. Bottom line, the Dolphins might have another Sam Madison-Patrick Surtain tandem on their hands.

7. The fountain of youth was said to be somewhere near St. Augustine, but it would be hard to convince anyone that has seen Ricky Williams of late that it's not in Miami. What do you make of his resurgence and realistically (we know he said he wanted to retire), how much more gas does he have in the tank?

AP - His resurgence actually isn't surprising given the way he takes care of his body and the way he has always run the ball. Say what you want about Ricky — and many things have been said — he's a hard worker when he's around. He's also one immensely talented running back. He's able to run the way he is at 32 because his body was spared some pounding with his years away from the NFL and also because — as he told in early November — his mind was refreshed when he went on his sabbatical in 2004. I believe he's got a lot left in his tank, but he has said on a couple of occasions that right now the plan is for him to finish out this year and next year and then retire.

8. Pat White has had exactly one more big play than I've had this season up to this point. I know it's early, but can you see him having a productive NFL career?

AP - This is not an answer that's going to make Dolphins fans happy, but I'm afraid I have to say no. In fact, I wish the Dolphins would stop using him this season. The problem with White is that he's got running ability but doesn't have the body to be a running back and he's not a good enough passer to be a quarterback. So, really, it's hard to find a role for him. The Dolphins are really forcing the issue by giving him a snap or two here and there, but more often than not they wind up being wasted plays.

9. With 27 catches in 12 games, Ted Ginn is likely not producing as the Dolphins would have hoped. He's shown flashes, but certainly has questionable hands. Will Ginn ever be a true number one receiver or even a solid starter?

AP - See White, Pat. It would be astonishing, really, if Ginn ever became a top-notch receiver. This being his third year, this was supposed to be the year when his career took off, but instead he has regressed as a wide receiver. The best you can hope to get out of Ginn these days is the occasional long kickoff return — the two touchdowns against the Jets was just crazy the way it came out of nowhere — and he had one of those last Sunday with a 51-yarder. But to rely on him on offense would be a mistake.

10. How has former Jaguar Tony McDaniel fit in with the Dolphins and in your opinion was he worth the nominal trade compensation that was given up?

AP - This actually has turned out to be a great trade for the Dolphins. McDaniel hasn't gotten a ton of playing time, but he's made his presence felt when he's been in there. He was so impressive two weeks at Buffalo, in fact, that Coach Tony Sparano said afterward he needed to find a way to get him on the field more often. McDaniel has seen some time at defensive end in the Dolphins' 3-4 and lately he's been spelling new starting nose tackle Paul Soliai after the injury to Jason Ferguson. Again, a great trade for the Dolphins.

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