AFC East: Is Rebuilding Next For Miami?

AFC East Report: The Dolphins were almost ready to give up on Tony Sparano. Even with Sparano returning, change looks inevitable in Miami.

On Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers outgunned Michael Vick in a Packers-Eagles playoff shootout featuring two of the NFL's most mobile quarterbacks. Monday night, it was Cam Newton's turn as the likely first-round draft pick used his rare run-pass skills to lead Auburn to its first national football title in 53 years.

If Dolphins owner Steve Ross truly wants an offense that's both aggressive and exciting, his top football people will take a long look at Newton this April with that 15th overall pick, assuming Newton enters the draft. They will also strongly consider a potential trade for disgruntled Titans quarterback Vince Young.

Sure, Young has plenty of emotional baggage, but he also possesses the exact type of escapability that's always been missing in Chad Henne's game and that increasingly appears necessary to compete against defenses that are only becoming faster, smarter and more violent.

So don't bother asking Dolphins coach Tony Sparano if evaluating Henne became more difficult as his pocket repeatedly
collapsed around him in the final five games. The no-nonsense coach will just give you a shrug and a demand for things to improve.

"It's part of the deal," Sparano said recently. "There's pocket disruption for a lot of these quarterbacks, and they keep the play alive and make plays and do some of those things."

As the season wound down, Sparano commissioned a study by Dolphins video director Bob Hack of all the NFL pass plays this season that gained 30 or more yards. Guess which teams produced the most of these so-called "explosive" connections?

That's right: Rodgers' Packers and Vick's Eagles. Coincidence? Sparano didn't seem to think so.

"Those were the top two teams," he said. "You figure it out."

Sparano sat there and watched every single one of these big plays. Imagine the overwhelming feeling of envy as he watched Greg Jennings, James Jones, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and friends running free in opposing secondarys in a way Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess rarely did.

"It's like Fran Tarkenton running around back there at times," Sparano said, "and all of a sudden a play is made. So, it isn't designed. I mean, no coordinator is sitting there saying, 'Hey, let these 10 guys chase you, and you throw it here.'"

It goes back to the quarterback. Doesn't it always?

"There's a little bit of ability that goes into that and some luck," Sparano said, "and a couple guys playing kind of -- at times it turns into street ball -- together to make a play like that. But that's what our league is about. It's about: Sometimes you've got to make those kind of plays."

Now all the Dolphins have to do is find a quarterback with the escapability needed to make them.

NOTES

--Dolphins owner Steve Ross never spoke Chad Henne's name during a 16 1/2-minute appearance on Monday on the team's flagship radio station. Nor did Ross speak his name during a 40-minute media roundtable on Saturday afternoon.
Could it be that Ross, the ultimate Michigan man, is over his fellow ex-Wolverine?
"I'm not stopping until we overturn every stone and create and bring that (winning product)," Ross said on the show, which was simulcast on 940-AM WINZ. "Lookit, what fans are looking (at): 'What are you going to do with the the quarterback position?' I thought we had - and I still hope we have - I mean, he is our quarterback. But we've got to make sure that position is really fortified or plays better because we're not going to be a better team until you can really have a great quarterback there that can really have success."
Ross made it clear that this year's offseason priority, especially come the April draft, will be on fixing an offense that ranked third-worst in the NFL in scoring this year.
"Last year people were worried about the defense," Ross said. "Now I think the same thing has to be looked at with the offense. We have to correct that. There will be another coordinator in the offense. I told Tony (Sparano) that, to me, I want an aggressive, creative (offense), not playing just to keep it close. A little more unpredictable in opening it up. That's what I think South Florida wants, and that's what this climate demands. That's what the high school players who play here and all the coaches come here for."

--It's sounding more likely the Dolphins won't opt out of early afternoon games in the first half of the season next year.
"We have one great advantage in South Florida as the Miami Dolphins that other teams don't have, and that's the weather in August, September and October," Ross said. "Our players train in that weather. Let's take advantage of it. Let's go with a hurry-up offense. Let's wear 'em down. We've never done that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This isn't the North, where you want to just take it four yards and a cloud of dust, you know? I think I look for a different brand, seeing the Dolphins how fans want to see it and how we win and we're going downfield and the days of Dan Marino, the days we all want to go back to." -- Dolphins owner Steve Ross on what he envisions for his struggling team.


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