UNLIKE ANOTHER preternaturally talented newcomer to Miami, Brandon Marshall did not decide to take his talents to South Beach. The Dolphins traded for him on April 14, sending a pair of second-round picks to Denver. Still, as he perched his 6' 4", 230-pound frame on a chair in the players' cafeteria after an August training-camp session while his new teammates carbo-loaded at the tables around him, Marshall insisted, earnestly, that he couldn't be more thrilled with where he landed this off-season.
Notoriously troublesome during his four seasons with the Broncos, the 26-year-old wideout said he's happy with the contract extension the Dolphins gave him (four years, $24 million guaranteed) and happy with his new quarterback, the strong-armed Chad Henne. "I wouldn't change my situation for the world," Marshall said. "Chad has command and leadership in the huddle, and every guy on this team respects him. And the things he's able to do with his arm are unbelievable. He makes me say, 'Wow.'"
Even as controversy swirled around him in Denver—he was suspended by the Broncos for nine days last August for what amounted to petulance, and he's had numerous scrapes with the law, including a 2007 guilty plea for driving while impaired—Marshall's production drew wows too. Against the Colts in December, Marshall set an NFL single-game record with 21 receptions. Over the past three years only the Patriots' Wes Welker had more catches than Marshall's 307 or more yards after the catch than Marshall's 1,515. Not even Welker gained more receiving yards after contact than Marshall's 727 in that span.
That last statistic indicates a quality that Henne witnessed firsthand early in camp: Marshall can be a finesse receiver when it's required, but he can also physically dominate opponents, like the safety he once was. (Marshall started seven games at the position as a junior at Central Florida and led the team in tackles that year.) "First practice of training camp, we were in seven-on-seven, and he threw the corner—Sean Smith, who's not a small guy [6'3", 214 pounds]—on his butt," Henne recalls with a grin. "He's wide open for a 25-yard fade, and we score."
In Marshall the Dolphins have added a distinctively skilled hybrid, both a possession receiver and the long-coveted big-play threat that now-jettisoned '07 first-round pick Ted Ginn never became. "When the ball's in the air, we're confident that no matter where he is, he's going to come down with it," says running back Ricky Williams, who first joined the Dolphins in 2002. "We've had good receivers here in the past but not a game-changer like Brandon."
Last season, even in the Broncos' quick-pass system, Marshall had four receptions of 40 or more yards, equaling Miami's output as a team. "We can be a really dynamic offense," says left tackle Jake Long, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.
The Dolphins haven't finished in the NFL's top 10 in total offense since 1995, but Marshall's presence isn't the only reason that streak could end. Henne, a 2008 second-round pick and Long's teammate for seven seasons now (they spent four together at Michigan), was more than a game manager by the end of last season—his first as the starter—when he topped 300 yards in three of four December games. Now he draws nothing but raves from teammates and coaches for his talent, his unflappable nature and his durability. "He can throw," coach Tony Sparano puts it simply, "and throw and throw and throw and throw."
And the Dolphins can run and run and run and run. Last year Williams and Ronnie Brown were the league's fourth most productive rushing tandem, combining for 1,769 yards, even though a fractured foot ended Brown's season in Week 10. The sixth-year back is healthy once more, and he and the 33-year-old Williams could become the seventh pair of teammates to each surpass 1,000 yards rushing—a feat first accomplished by Miami's Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris in 1972.
That season the Dolphins went undefeated and won Super Bowl VII. While a trip to Dallas in February doesn't appear to be within the Dolphins' reach this year, a postseason berth certainly does.