Dolphins draft needs: Offensive weaponry, a plan

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer

 (US Presswire)  

Since winning the AFC East in 2008, Miami has been so mediocre (14-18) that owner Stephen M. Ross contemplated a coaching change after last season. I don't blame him. I might've contemplated one, too -- but not while last year's coach was still on the job.

Geez, talk about embarrassing. One minute Ross is courting Jim Harbaugh; the next he signs Tony Sparano to a two-year extension. No wonder this team has no direction. The owner can't figure out who he wants leading it to wherever it's going ... and, barring an upset, I don't think that's forward. Not because there isn't talent here, because there is, but because there's too much ahead of Miami, as in New England and the New York Jets.

Also because the Dolphins have a raft of needs, starting with quarterback, and when you're undecided there, you're usually in trouble. Yeah, I know, new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll believes Chad Henne can be productive, effective, successful, you name it, but I haven't seen it yet, and neither have Miami fans. For that matter, neither has Daboll. He had a front-row seat last season when Henne's fourth-quarter mistakes propelled Cleveland -- where Daboll was the offensive coordinator -- to a last-second upset.

Anyway, it's going to take time, players and patience that owner Stephen Ross may not have to put this club back together. Can it happen? Hey, the only team other than New England to win this division the past eight seasons was the Dolphins. But the Dolphins last year were 2-4 in the division and 1-7 at home -- with their last three losses to Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit, opponents with a combined record of 15-33. Don't say you weren't warned.

QB: Henne had his chance to solidify this position, and he fumbled it. Too many interceptions, too many checkdowns and not enough victories. OK, so it was his first trial as a full-time starter, but he was underwhelming -- especially when the Dolphins needed him most. Forget his 13-14 career record as a starter. That happens to young quarterbacks. Nope, it's his fourth-quarter passer rating that troubles me, with the guy constantly making screwups to fracture his team's chances. I'm serious. Henne's rating was 55.6, ranking him 37th among the league's quarterbacks, and that's not good for someone who checks down as much as this guy. When Ross talks of having a more explosive offense, I wonder how that happens with Chad Henne as his quarterback. My guess: It doesn't. Anyway, backup Tyler Thigpen is talented, but he's unpredictable and strictly a reserve who was surprisingly mediocre when he played last season. Free-agent Chad Pennington, meanwhile, just suffered his fourth major knee injury and is out of the picture. I don't think I need to paint a picture. There's a glaring need at this position, and maybe Henne solves it. But he must be better, much better, than last season.

Five possibilities: Dolphins
Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are free agents. The running game swooned to 30th last season, and there were only eight rushing TDs. Connect the dots.
Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida: The re-signing of Richie Incognito might mean he moves to center, which leaves an opening at guard -- with Pouncey the best in the draft.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami: Dolphins need someone to stretch the field. This is one possibility. Taking him with the 15th pick is too high, but you can find him by trading down.
Torrey Smith, WR, TCU: He's a burner who brings the explosive vertical game that owner Stephen Ross wants, plus he returns kicks. He's raw, but he's fast ... and Dolphins need speed at the position.
Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor: Miami is set at tackle. It's guard where there are issues, and next to Pouncey this is the best one out there. He's not the 15th best player out there, but he won't last beyond the first round.
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RB: The Dolphins currently have two running backs under contract, and, no, they're not Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. They're Lex Hilliard and Kory Sheets, which is why they're in the market for help. I mean, let's be honest: Do you want to go into the season with Hilliard and Sheets as your go-to backs? No need to answer. For years, the Dolphins offense revolved around sound defense and a relentless running game, and don't expect that to change now. The head coach doesn't. "We're going to continue running the ball," Sparano said at last month's owners meetings, "because that's my nature." Well, then, something must change. Last year the Dolphins ran so poorly they dropped to 30th in rushing, with only eight rushing TDs, and that put pressure on a quarterback who didn't handle it well. Brown and Williams are free agents. So is third-down back Patrick Cobb. Color the Dolphins desperate.

WR: Brandon Marshall recently said he's in the best shape of his career because he's not recuperating from injuries this offseason. Great. Now, maybe he can be the threat the Dolphins envisioned when they acquired him from Denver. While Marshall caught over 1,000 yards in passes for the fourth consecutive year, he produced only three touchdowns -- or seven fewer than 2009 -- and, yes, some of that falls on the shoulders of the quarterback. But Marshall is getting paid big bucks to produce big plays, and the big plays were missing. Davone Bess is a consistent No. 2 receiver, but the Dolphins could use a burner at this position to stretch the field and take the heat off Marshall. Brian Hartline is a former champion hurdler who showed downfield ability before getting hurt, while rookie Marlon Moore produced the season's longest catch.

TE: That Miami had enough interest in Jeremy Shockey to bring him in for an audition tells you deep the Dolphins think they are here. They're not. In fact, beyond Anthony Fasano, there's little. Fasano had the best season of his career, but he had to play through chest and hip injuries. Now scroll down to the next level, where the Dolphins have Dedrick Epps, Jeron Mastrud and Mickey Shuler, and you find a grand total of two catches -- both by Shuler -- in an offense where the second receiver typically is a factor.

OL: There's a reason the Dolphins' rushing attack dropped from 4.4 yards a carry in 2009 to 3.7 last season, and part of it is here. In a nutshell, Miami's offensive line wasn't effective. Sparano blames himself for the upheaval that has been a trademark of the interior of the Dolphins line, but there's a reason for the constant rotation: Outside of tackles Jake Long and Vernon Casey, Miami has a lot of bodies here. The club thought enough of journeyman Richie Incognito at left guard that it extended his contract shortly before the end of last season, but Miami might not see him as a guard. It could move him to center, where he played -- and played well -- the 15th game of 2010. That should make Joe Berger nervous. He was a disappointment after replacing Jake Grove at the position. Nate Garner returns to the team after missing all of last season with a broken foot and should push for a starting job. John Jerry and Pat McQuistan split starts, while promising reserve Cory Proctor returns after tearing up his knee.

DL: The Dolphins must think a lot of nose tackle Paul Soliai. They made him their franchise player, which means he draws $12.4 million in pay next season. Miami thinks he's worth the investment, and here's why: After three so-so years, he produced a career season and was a key factor in Miami's seventh-place ranking vs. the run. Basically, Miami thinks he could be one of the best at the position, so it will keep him and reward him. Defensive end Kendall Langford is solid and consistent, while Randy Starks struggled with the move inside from defensive end. Starks was one of the team's stars in 2009; he was anything but last season, with tackles and sacks down significantly. If Miami can re-sign versatile defensive end Tony McDaniel, it should be deep at a position where Jared Odrick and Philip Merling return after having their 2010 seasons shortened by injuries. But McDaniel is likely to leave, knowing that he probably will back up Odrick and Langford.

LB: There were games last season where I swore that outside linebacker Cameron Wake was unblockable. He had a league-best 14 sacks through the first 13 games, then suddenly went into retreat, with none the last three. No matter. Wake is one of the game's best, an all-around player who is a relentless pass rusher off the edge and who was deserving of his Pro Bowl selection. Koa Misi is a nice bookend, with five sacks as a rookie, while inside backers Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder are solid. OK, so Crowder missed the last four games because of injuries, but he's in a contract year, and I'd expect the best from one of the Dolphins' most productive players. Ikaika Alama-Francis was a disappointment, and Tim Dobbins struggled in coverage, but Quentin Moses was adequate as a backup pass rusher to Misi.

DB: It's hard not to like Miami's cornerbacks, and that's a good thing when you play in a division with Tom Brady. Vontae Davis only had one interception, but that's more a testament to the respect opponents have for the guy. They're throwing at him less and less. Sean Smith is solid at the other corner, though he did drop six potential interceptions. It's at safety where the team might have issues, with Yeremiah Bell beginning to wind down and Chris Clemons slowed by a groin injury that bothered him the second half of the season. Nickel back Benny Sapp wasn't more successful with slot receivers here than he was in Minnesota, but he did hold up well vs. the run. Will Allen returns after missing last season with a knee injury, but I'm not sure what he delivers. He's 33, played just six games (including the preseason) since the end of 2008 and wasn't happy about being put on injured reserve last season. But he must believe he has something to demonstrate: He restructured his contract for this season, reducing his base pay from $5.5 million to $1.5 million. Look for him to battle Sapp for the nickel spot.

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