Dolphins running back Sammy Morris admitted serving a four-game suspension under the NFL's anabolic steroid and related substance policy wasn't easy.
Morris, who participated in his first regular-season practice Wednesday, was barred from team headquarters as part of his punishment. Morris was forced to work out on his own, even donning pads and doing drills by himself in a local park.
Morris said he was so despondent at being suspended for ephedrine, which is on the NFL's banned substance list, that he couldn't watch live football games. Morris then felt even worse after viewing the Dolphins' 1-3 start on DVDs.
"On more than one occasion, I'm picking up (food) for the kids and I'll realize I'm supposed to be at practice right now," said Morris, whose appeal of the suspension was officially rejected at the end of the preseason. "Stuff like that gnawed at me a little bit, but you've got to move forward."
Morris should be set to do that against New England, as he is expected contribute as a backup and on special teams against the Patriots. The Dolphins waived Will Whittacker Saturday to make room on the roster for Morris.
Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper drew praise from Nick Saban for his steadier performance against Houston. But just as encouraging was the mobility and confidence in the pocket Culpepper exhibited for the first time since suffering a major knee injury last October while playing for Minnesota. Culpepper has been relegated to the backup role against the Patriots so Joey Harrington will see his first live action under center for the Dolphins. Harringon will be called upon to manage the game, which, the Dolphins hope he does better than previous backups have.
The Dolphins have to mount an effective running game to keep New England's red-hot pass rush from swarming Harrithe quarterback. Culpepper, the league's most sacked quarterback, has been under constant pressure all season. Harrington will be in an equally precarious situation if the line does not block better and the running game fails to get on track. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has shown a surprising lack of commitment to the run, giving Ronnie Brown just five first-half carries against Houston. If Brown can match the 3.7-yard per-carry rushing average New England has allowed this season, the Dolphins should be able to have some offensive success.
Defensively, Miami's so-so safeties must find a way to stop New England tight ends Ben Watson and Daniel Graham while also providing support against the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense. Corey Dillon and rookie Lawrence Maroney are developing into a devastating duo that is making star quarterback Tom Brady even more effective in the passing game. Defensive end Jason Taylor provided a big play last week with a sack, strip and fumble return but the Dolphins need more turnovers forced from his teammates.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Dolphins MLB Zach Thomas, who leads Miami with 38 tackles, vs. Patriots TEs Ben Watson and Daniel Graham, who have combined for 20 catches for 283 yards in four games: Age (33) might finally be catching up with Thomas, who has struggled at times when matched in pass coverage against opposing tight ends. The Patriots may try to get Thomas isolated against Watson or Graham, who have emerged as the early-season focus of New England's passing offense in light of the departures of wide receivers Deion Branch (Seattle) and David Givens (Tennessee).
Dolphins Gs Damion McIntosh and Jeno James vs. Patriots DTs Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork: Saban said the injuries that have wrecked Miami's right guard position are impacting the entire offensive line. McIntosh, a seven-year NFL veteran, made his first career start at right guard against Houston with mixed results in a two-penalty outing. James may not be completely healthy after missing Wednesday's practice with a swollen knee. James and McIntosh both will need top-notch performances to contain Wilfork and Seymour, who have helped New England hold three of its first four opponents to under 100 yards rushing.
The Dolphins remain relatively unscathed except at the right guard position, where three players (Bennie Anderson, Seth McKinney and Joe Toledo) are on injured reserve. Dante Culpepper has been moved to the backup role for this week to rest his bruised shoulder, so Joey Harrington will get the start, his first for the Dolphins.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Look for the Patriots to continue using a four-man line this week. New England used a lot of 4-3 against both the Jets and Bengals and it paid off with 8 combined sacks in those games. With their depth along the defensive line, using the 4-3 allows the Patriots to get their best players on the field more often.
Jarvis Green had a big game last week, recording 3 of the Patriots' 4 sacks. The Patriots defensive front has a huge advantage over an injury-riddled Dolphins offensive line that's given up an eye-popping 21 sacks in their first four games. New England shouldn't have to blitz much against Miami because they will be able to generate pressure on Daunte Culpepper without sending extra rushers.
Richard Seymour is due for a big game. He will most likely have his way with Dolphins left tackle L.J. Shelton. Miami brought Shelton in this offseason to anchor their line but he's been struggling so far this year. Seymour -- who has been rotating at end and tackle this season -- should see a lot of time on the outside this week where he can take advantage of Miami's weak offensive tackles.
The Dolphins Ronnie Brown is a much more dangerous threat than any running back the Jets have but he's been having trouble finding running lanes because the line can't open holes for him. The Patriots will play both the 3-4 and 4-3 in this game, although expect to see a lot of four-man fronts with Green and Mike Wright rotating in with starters Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork to make it another miserable afternoon for the Dolphins QB.
The Patriots need to hit on some big plays in the passing game. The Dolphins love to blitz and that means their corners are usually one-on-one with the opposing receivers. When a team blitzes as much as Miami does, they can also blow assignments in the secondary. That happened in Week 1 against the Steelers when tight end Heath Miller scored on an 87-yard touchdown reception because of blown coverage. The Patriots have been getting big plays in the running game but they need to start getting the ball down field more through the air to keep defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage to take away the run. With Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson and Ben Watson, New England has the speed to stretch the field and make Miami pay for being overly aggressive on defense. With the way the Patriots are running the football right now, blitzing could turn out to be a dangerous proposition for the Dolphins defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Patriots OT Matt Light vs. Dolphins DE Jason Taylor -- This isn't a great matchup for the Patriots. Taylor has a history of playing well against New England and even though he's getting older, he still has too much speed for Light to handle him all by himself. Look for the Patriots to give Light help with Taylor. Daniel Graham or Ben Watson will get the call to chip Taylor to slow down the pass rush, or it could be a long afternoon for Tom Brady. With the Patriots running more three tight end sets, the Patriots have already schemed against Taylor. Now it's a matter of seeing if the scheme works.
Patriots DL vs. Dolphins OL -- On paper, this looks to be the biggest mismatch of the game. The Miami offensive line has been doing their best impression of a matador this season by letting everyone go untouched to the quarterback. That's not good news against a Patriots front that has 8 sacks in their last three games. If the Miami line doesn't block any better than they have all season up to this point, Ronnie Brown won't have any running room and Joey Harrington will be a sitting duck in the pocket.
Apparently, injuries have no impact on the Patriots. New England showed up to face the Bengals without starting defensive backs Ellis Hobbs and Eugene Wilson, as well as starting right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan. The injuries really seemed to hinder the Patriots as they only won the game by 25 points. Unless Tom Brady gets knowcked out, it looks like the Patriots can overcome any injury. If a team can lose two starting defensive backs the same week their playing one of the most explosive passing attacks in the NFL and still come away with a blowout win, it's difficult to say that any of their current injuries will have a significant impact against a struggling Dolphins squad. The most concerning injury is to cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who has a broken wrist and will miss the Dolphins game. Veteran Chad Scott will get his second straight start against Miami. O'Callaghan was kept out of last week's game with a head injury but he should be ready to go on Sunday. If he isn't, Wesley Britt will get his second career start in his place. Nick Kaczur didn't practice Friday, so it looks like he's going to rest, or be used sparingly.