Dolphins coach Nick Saban said last week's signing of 13-year veteran "Big Daddy" Dan Wilkinson wasn't made because fellow defensive tackle Manny Wright had left the team. But it's fair to wonder whether the Dolphins would have needed to add Wilkinson had Wright lived up to the offseason expectations that surrounded him.
Miami thought Wright was ready to build upon the momentum the 2005 fifth-round supplemental draft pick generated at the end of his rookie season. After crying during a preseason practice when yelled at by Saban, Wright lost weight and showed promise when inserted in three late-season games.
Wright, though, allowed himself to get out of shape again in the offseason and reported to camp overweight. Wright then left the Dolphins after the first week of training camp and asked Saban for his release.
Agent Peter Schaffer said Wright's problems on and off the field are related to clinical depression. Wright has met with Saban and Schaffer said last Tuesday that "we've made a lot of positive steps" in trying to get his client back on the team.
But the next day, Saban strongly indicated reconciliation wasn't immediately in the offing.
Said Saban: "The assumption he is coming back because I met with him is completely wrong ... There's a lot of confidential issues that I'm not going to discuss that need to be resolved. Speculating like that, I just don't think it's fair to anybody."
So now, it's Wilkinson who will push starting interior linemen Keith Traylor and Vonnie Holliday for playing time instead of Wright. Wilkinson, 33, signed a three-year, $6.1 million contract with the Dolphins that included a $500,000 signing bonus and $810,000 base salary for 2006.
For that price, Wilkinson will be a steal if the top overall pick in the 1994 draft continues to play at the same high level he did in Detroit last season.
Wilkinson enjoyed an outstanding debut in last Saturday's 13-10 preseason victory over Detroit. Spelling starting NT Keith Traylor, Wilkinson had three tackles and 1.5 sacks in roughly 10 plays worth of action.
"I can definitely still come in here and dominate the line of scrimmage, no question," said Wilkinson, who listed Green Bay, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Oakland as other teams interested in his services following his May release from Detroit.
"That's always been my strength in my game and that will continue. I'm healthy and I'm strong. When I get on the field, that will carry over."
Known as a top run-stuffer, the addition of Wilkinson could lead to the Dolphins fielding one of the NFL's top short-yardage defenses. The Dolphins can now pair the 340-pound Wilkinson with the 340-pound Traylor as interior tackles.
"With him and (Traylor) in there ... I don't want to offend either one of them, but it's about 700 or 800 pounds of meat you've got sitting in the middle," Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said. "I'm sure Zach's (Thomas) happy. It will help us as a team.
"Dan's a good player. He's still young enough (33) to do what he has done for a long time. We are fortunate to have him."
NOTES--The next time the Dolphins expected to see Junior Seau was five years from now in Canton, Ohio for his imminent Hall of Fame induction.
Instead, Miami will have a face-to-face encounter with Seau later this year after the linebacker ended a four-day retirement by signing with New England.
The Dolphins released Seau during the offseason, ending his three-year tenure with the team. Even though leg and pectoral injuries sidelined him for 17 of 32 games the past two seasons, Seau commanded so much respect in Miami's locker room that teammates voted him the franchise's leadership award winner for the 2003 and 2004 campaigns.
"He was always positive and optimistic and brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm," said Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas, who was a Seau fan while growing up. "He'd get here early in the morning before the rest of us for his workout and film study. He was professional in everything he did.
"That's why he was so great on the field -- because of all the work he did off it."
--The first question DT Dan Wilkinson was asked by Dolphins media after signing was how he acquired the moniker "Big Daddy."
"I can't shake that name," the 6-4, 340-pound Wilkinson said. "I've been carrying that since seventh grade. Most people just call me Dan or Daniel. That's fine with me."
--Thomas was happy to have the chance to spend some time in practice recently working with retired DE/OLB Kevin Greene, who was invited to training camp by Dolphins assistant Dom Capers.
"Capers brought him in here to teach the guys on this defensive scheme," Thomas said. "I saw him working with a lot of guys from Matt Roth to all of the defensive ends and edge rushers. He helped out even (linebacker) Donnie Spragan and a few other guys. I listened to him teach and that was impressive. He was second or third in total sacks all-time. You have to respect a guy to come down here and give his time and help out."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can teach them some things. Some things you either have or you don't. Some people are like Zach Thomas who can run through a brick wall, get run over by a truck or whatever else and keep going. Some guys get a hangnail and have to miss two weeks. Some people just aren't made as tough as others." -- Dolphins DE Jason Taylor when asked how veterans can teach young players about NFL longevity.
--As long as Nick Saban is Miami's head coach, any rookie safety who is considering a contract holdout should learn from the plight of 2006 first-round draft pick Jason Allen.
Allen's growing pains continued in the fourth quarter of last Saturday's 13-10 victory over Tampa Bay when he was beaten for a 48-yard touchdown pass by wide receiver Edell Shepherd. Allen, who was part of a reserve secondary that surrendered four touchdown passes of 50-plus yards the previous week against Jacksonville, received an earful from coach Nick Saban after reaching the sideline.
But after the game, Saban took some of the blame for Allen's struggles because of all the responsibilities being heaped upon the rookie. With CBs Eddie Jackson (abdomen) and Michael Lehan (knee) sidelined, the Dolphins have given Allen responsibilities at cornerback as well as safety.
"He is trying to do everything he can do to help this team," Saban said. "The guy practiced like three or four days at corner and went out there and played pretty well except for that (Shepherd) play. I'm sure he will continue to get better."
--S Jack Hunt preserved Miami's 13-10 victory over Tampa Bay by intercepting a Bruce Gradkowski pass late in the fourth quarter. Hunt, though, is unlikely to make the roster because of the depth Miami has at safety.
--S Deke Cooper had his first interception of the preseason when snaring a pass from Tampa Bay backup QB Tim Rattay early in the third quarter of last Saturday's 13-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Cooper, who started 12 games last season in Jacksonville, is expected to land a roster spot as a backup safety.
--RG Tony Pape saw action with the second-team offensive line last week during practice because of injuries to Seth McKinney (neck) and Joe Toledo (knee). A 2004 seventh-round draft pick, Pape worked with the third-team offense against Tampa Bay and committed a false start penalty.
--RB Sammy Morris had a strong performance in last Saturday's 13-10 victory over Tampa Bay, producing 35 yards from scrimmage (32 rushing, three passing) while also scoring on a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Such a performance could help boost confidence that Morris is capable of adequately replacing Ricky Williams as starter Ronnie Brown's backup.
--OLB Channing Crowder served as Miami's second-team middle linebacker in place of Zach Thomas during last Saturday's 13-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Crowder, who started at outside linebacker, finished with three tackles.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Fred Gibson vs. Frank Murphy vs. Marcus Vick vs. Jason Willis vs. Cliff Russell vs. Kelly Campbell for the No. 5 receiver spot -- Campbell was once considered the frontrunner for this spot, but he hasn't played in the past two preseason games because of a quadriceps injury. Saban has said he is anxious to see Campbell return to the field. In his absence, Gibson has made a strong push for the spot with five catches for a team-high 117 yards. But the competition remains too close to call entering the final two preseason games.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Joe Berger seems to have the edge over Wade Smith for one of what will likely be two backup interior offensive line roster slots (RG Joe Toledo is a lock to make the team) ... Darian Barnes is making a strong push to regain his starting fullback role from free-agent acquisition Fred Beasley ... No serious competition has emerged for Wes Welker in his role as Miami's punt/kickoff returner.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DT Dan Wilkinson -- Wilkinson was a one-man wrecking crew against Tampa Bay despite barely practicing with the Dolphins before taking the field.
ROOKIE REPORT: WR Devin Aromashodu (seventh round) seems destined for the developmental squad -- at best -- because of the depth Miami currently has at the position ... DT Fred Evans (seventh) seems a lock to make the roster, but his chances for playing time in 2006 greatly diminished when the Dolphins signed Wilkinson.
INJURY REPORT: Toledo twisted his left knee during last Tuesday's practice and didn't play against Tampa Bay. CB Travis Daniels (ankle), CB Eddie Jackson (abdomen), CB Michael Lehan (knee), G Seth McKinney (neck) and WR Kelly Campbell (quadriceps) were also sidelined. DE Jason Taylor (back) and WR Marty Booker (calf) played after missing the Jacksonville game.