Work in Sports
Question marks remain across the board
The Miami Dolphins, who will have a new quarterback for the first time in 18 years after the retirement of Dan Marino, open their 2000 training camp at Nova University in Davie, Fla., on July 18 [rookies; veterans report July 21]. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Dolphins this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) The obvious. I mean can we really envision a Dolphins attack without Dan Marino? It's only been 18 years. David Woodley throwing to Duriel Harris and Jimmy Cefalo, remember?
2.) You know something? The Dolphins made the Super Bowl that strike-shortened season, which was 1982. And they averaged 149.3 yards rushing per game, which was 14.9 more than they had in the most prolific year in the Marino era. Are you starting to pick up a trend here? Which leads us to...
3.) ...Jimmy Johnson always talked about establishing a running game, but it never happened. Now, with Damon Huard and Jay Fiedler as his QBs, will Dave Wannstedt come into camp with the firm idea that the Dolphins will be a running team, period? Case closed.
4.) If the answer to the previous question is yes, then who will the yardage-makers be? James Johnson? New Orleans import Lamar Smith? Perhaps Thurman Thomas, if there are still some giddyups left in his 34-year-old legs?
5.) Will Matt Turk, punting in the balmy Florida sunshine, become the first booter to record a net of over 40 yards? This isn't as obscure as it seems, since field position and defense play a big part in the Wannstedt operation.
The Dolphins can make the playoffs if ... Dave Wannstedt is a better coach, motivator and locker-room fence-mender than his predecessor, Jimmy Johnson; and if offensive coordinator Chan Gailey can make an occasionally anemic offense productive. Gailey will have to do so without an established quarterback or running back and with a crowded but well-above-average group of receivers.
Pivotal games: Sept. 24 vs. New England, Oct. 8 vs. Buffalo. Miami plays only two AFC East opponents before its Week 7 bye, the Patriots and Bills. Those teams represent Miami's biggest rivals and the Dolphins' best chance to make a statement within the division. P.S. from the scheduling department: Miami plays eight games in 2000 against teams that went 8-8 last season, and its schedule is considered the second toughest in the NFL. If the Dolphins can't make up ground against the mediocre, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.
On the hot seat: Sam Madison signs the biggest contract in team history before one of the franchise's most unsettled training camps. The cornerback will average about $7.7 million per year through 2007 and at the end of that term, a trust set up in the contract could be worth $20 million. If the Dolphins go into anything resembling the tailspin of 1999, Madison's price tag at corner makes him a bigger target than Wannstedt, the quarterback or Gailey.
Up-and-comers: It's hard to imagine a 28-year-old up-and-comer, but up-and-coming Jay Fiedler is. The Ivy League's all-time touchdown passes leader, now with his fifth NFL team, is competing with Damon Huard for the starting quarterback position. Fiedler drew better reviews -- from anonymous teammates -- than Huard in early mini-camps but is most likely listed at No. 2. A younger player will fill the right tackle spot, left vacant since James Brown was released. Brent Smith, who has started 11 games in his three-year career with the Dolphins, is the frontrunner and top draft pick (in the second round) Todd Wade applied some pressure in mini-camp.