2 Miami Dolphins
Team Page | Schedule | Depth chart | 2000 Stats
It's stuffy in South Florida, with run stoppers Tim Bowens and Daryl
By Paul Zimmerman
Safety Shawn Wooden spent four years as a Dolphin and then a year with the Bears. Now he's back, with a fresh take on his old club. "The whole success of our defense revolves around our line," Wooden said in camp last month, "and the whole success of the line is dictated by our tackles, Tim Bowens and Daryl Gardener.
"What's the difference I see? Daryl and Tim have lifted their games to new heights."
They have been named to but one Pro Bowl between them -- Bowens in '98. Sacks lead to votes because the selectors look at stats. "One sack in a game means one play," says Gardener, the slimmest-looking and quickest 310-pounder around. "How about what you're doing the rest of the time, how you're playing the run, how you're freeing up teammates to get sacks?"
"Pro Bowl?" says Bowens, a 325-pound rock against the double team. "Sure, I've thought about it. For Daryl. If he makes it, then I've done my job. A big part of it is making the guys next to you better."
Defenses thrive on the two big guys in the middle. The Saints got good last year when Norman Hand joined La'Roi Glover inside. Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland set the tone for the stout Bucs defense, and where would Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis be without those two 340-pound monsters, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, to keep blockers off him?
Dolphins guard Mark Dixon tips his hat to the NFL's highly publicized tackle tandems, but there's no doubt in his mind that the two he faces in practice every day form the best duo in football. "Daryl's had back problems," Dixon says, "but when he's right, he's the best I've ever played against, certainly the best against the run. Tim Bowens? I don't think he can be moved backward.
"They'd basically been first- and second-down players until last year. Then the coaches decided to keep them on the field all the time. On the base downs they gave up their bodies and tied up two blockers. On third down they got a tremendous push on the pocket, so our outside rushers, Trace Armstrong and Jason Taylor, got their sacks because there was no place for the quarterback to step up, nowhere for him to hide."
Armstrong and Taylor finished one-two in the AFC in sacks. The secondary, aided by the relentless force up front, played an aggressive, pressing style, and the Dolphins finished with an NFL-high 28 interceptions. Having a terrific pair of cover corners, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, didn't hurt. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas is also skilled in coverage.
Where did things go wrong? Injuries. Gardener had back surgery and missed six games. Thomas limped along with a severely sprained right ankle, missing five games and playing with painkilling cortisone shots in another two. The Dolphins still ended up as AFC East champs and for the third straight year made it to the second round of the postseason.
"What we need is that first-round bye," Thomas says. "We wore down by the end of the season, and for three years in a row we flopped in the second playoff game. But our coach, Dave Wannstedt, is aware of that. He's been easing up at times in camp."
Armstrong is gone, having signed a free-agent deal with the Raiders, but 10 of 11 starters return on defense. (Outside linebacker Robert Jones was a salary-cap casualty.) That's where the big-money contracts are; seven starters are signed through at least 2003. The defense got a breather last year when the running game came alive, thanks to Saints castoff Lamar Smith, who ran for a career-high 1,139 yards.
With the running game in good hands, all eyes will be on quarterback Jay Fiedler. The right-handed Fiedler took some heat last season for the six interceptions he threw in the playoffs, but he was gutting it out with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder plus nerve damage in his neck, which affected his throwing. He also had missed practically the whole preseason while recuperating from hip surgery.
"Right now it's a totally different feeling," Fiedler says. "I'm healthy. I've had a complete training camp. Last year I was thinking about getting well. Some of the throws I made then ... well, I wouldn't make them now. I wasn't getting out of the pocket enough when I had to. All those are excuses, though, and now there aren't any."
"That's the key, staying healthy," says Gardener, who spent the off-season working with a back rehab specialist. "We have the talent. It's just a matter of getting our people on the field every week."
Maybe then Gardener will finally get the recognition he deserves.
Issue date: September 3, 2001