|2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE|
Zach Thomas of the Miami Dolphins must pick up where the offense has lost. The departure of key players will make it difficult for the team to improve from last season.
Getty Images/Eliot J. Schechter
Key matchup(s): Non-division road games against 2004 playoff potential teams; Denver, Seattle and Baltimore. Intra-divisional games will be tougher in the 2004 season as the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills improve heading into the new season.
Star Power: DE Jason Taylor, CB Sam Madison, CB Patrick Surtain, MLB Zach Thomas, WR Chris Chambers.
Notable Additions: WR David Boston (trade – San Diego), WR Marty Booker (trade - Chicago), QB A.J. Feeley (trade - Philadelphia), CB Reggie Howard (FA - Carolina), OT Damion McIntosh (FA – San Diego), OT John St. Clair (FA – St. Louis), OG Jeno James (FA – Carolina), S Antuan Edwards (FA – Green Bay).
Notable Subtractions: RB Ricky Williams (retired), WR David Boston (knee surgery, lost for season), DE Adewale Ogunleye (trade - Chicago), S Brock Marion (FA - Detroit).
Offensive Overview: For a team that averaged just over 19 points-per-game last season, losing impact players before the season begins isn't what was on the menu in Miami. The retirement of running back Ricky Williams leaves a huge void in the Miami offense and will definitely impact the offensive philosophy. Williams accounted for 37-percent of the Miami offensive output and over 76-percent of the rushing yards the team gained in the 2003 season. Without an established rusher in the backfield to replace Williams, Miami will not have the confidence nor the ability to pound the football consistently with Travis Minor and Sammy Morris. A. J. Feely was brought into Dolphins camp this off-season to solidify the quarterback position, but incumbent Jay Fielder has slightly been the better candidate as the starter for a Miami offense that struggled mightily throughout the preseason. Fielder was named starter by Head Coach Dave Wannstadt as pre-season came to a close. Losing wide receiver David Boston will hamper an offense which was looking to have the ability to become explosive in the passing game. Recently acquired wide receiver Marty Booker will team well with starter Chris Chambers to provide the Dolphins a formidable starting duo. Due to questions in the running game, tight-end Randy McMichael tends to be in line for a busy season as a dependable receiver in the intermediate passing game and dump-off threat. An offensive line which has been average has been revamped and is expected to be an improved unit in time. With the issues surrounding the Miami offense, the offensive line could prove critical to the early season success of the Dolphins while the team searches for playmakers and an identity.
Defensive Overview: The Dolphins are a team predicated by their defense. To live and die with the defense may be an understatement heading into the 2004 season. Miami's defense in the 2003 yielded just 16.3 points-per-game, third best in the league. Expected to remain stringent against the run, the Dolphins did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 2003. The Dolphins will press more in the 2004 with their cornerbacks to add pressure the opposition. Additions of 2004 draft selection Will Poole and Reggie Howard in the secondary provide the Dolphins the opportunity to match Surtain against the opposition's top receiver or slot receiver in certain defensive sets. Replacing veteran Brock Marion at the free-safety spot has not been an easy task, with Antuan Edwards and Arturo Freeman taking turns filling in alongside starter Sammy Knight at strong-safety. The linebackers are solid, but not spectacular, Zach Thomas is very solid manning down the middle, but questions abound regarding the long-term consistency of an aging weak-side linebacker Junior Seau. Morlon Greenwood is the starter on the strong-side and had shown improved consistency and a better understanding of the defense and his responsibilities heading into the 2004 season. The loss of Ogunleye will hurt the Dolphins heading into the season. With one of their defensive lineman leading the league in sacks in three of the past four seasons, Miami does not have a locked in pass-rushing talent opposite Jason Taylor on the defensive line. Expect Taylor to see increased double-teams due to the lack of a consistent presence at the left defensive end position.
Special Teams Overview: The Dolphins return game is solid with Travis Minor returning kickoffs and Charlie Rogers returning punts. Both are explosive types which should provide Miami with consistent field position in the 2004 season. Punter Matt Turk does not have a booming leg, but has shown the tendency to be consistent with the ability to drop the ball inside the opposition 20-yard line with regularity. Place-kicker Olindo Mare is coming off an average 2003 season where he connected on .759 of his attempts. For a Miami team which figures to struggle putting the ball in the end-zone early in the season, the Dolphins will need a consistent, if not outstanding season from their veteran kicker.
The Dolphins will show progress if.... the team can find consistency on the offensive side of the football. Heading into the 2004 season, Miami enters without a true threat in the backfield, inconsistency along the offensive line and at the quarterback spot. The Dolphins string of 14 consecutive seasons without a losing record could be in jeopardy heading into the 2004 season. With questions remaining at the quarterback, running back, and offensive line positions, Head Coach Dave Wannstedt will either prove to be a coach worthy to keep his job or ultimately become one of the unemployed in South Florida.
|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
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