| ||Tuesday, September 7|
Pro Football Weekly
|And then there was one.
With the retirement of John Elway, the illustrious QB class of 1983 is down to a lone active member. And as Elway has already done, Miami's Dan Marino is hoping to finally capture about the only prize that has eluded him in 16 NFL seasons -- a Super Bowl ring.
"That's what you're doing this for," Marino said. "That's why you're playing -- to work to have a chance to win a championship. My position on that is no different than anybody else in this locker room. If it's different, then they probably won't be here."
But for the Dolphins to win their first Super Bowl title in 26 years, Marino can't do it alone. He will need a top-notch running game and a speedy wide receiver to help improve what was a mediocre offense in 1998.
Enter rookie Cecil Collins and Tony Martin. Collins, who slipped to the fifth round of April's draft because of off-field problems, has shown first-round talent in the preseason. However, he severely sprained his right ankle in a preseason victory over Detroit, postponing his challenge of Karim Abdul-Jabbar for the starting tailback job for a few weeks.
The Martin situation finally cleared up Aug. 26, when Martin was acquitted of charges of money laundering. The verdict means the Dolphins will not need to swing a trade for a receiver who can stop teams from constantly keying on O.J. McDuffie. In Martin, the Dolphins' offense has a playmaker who can stretch the field.
Defensively, there's no reason to believe the Dolphins can't duplicate last year's success. Miami surrendered a league-low 265 points in 1998 and didn't lose a starter from that unit.
No wonder Jimmy Johnson entered training camp with more confidence than at any time during his first three seasons with the Dolphins.
"I'm excited about it," said Johnson, who almost retired in January before being coaxed back by Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga. "We've got a good football team, and we've got a chance to be a special football team. For that reason, I am having fun, and I am enjoying it."
Let's see if Johnson feels the same way Jan. 31.
Here's a position-by-position look at Miami's roster:
Johnson swears he wouldn't trade his two backup quarterbacks for any other set in the league, but it's fair to wonder how Damon Huard and Craig Erickson would respond if Marino were out for a lengthy period of time. Huard is the backup and shows promise but has played only in mop-up duty in two NFL games. Erickson is still recovering from elbow surgery that forced him to sit out most of the '98 season. He hopes to compensate for reduced arm strength with better decisions and increased movement in the pocket. Grade: B
At this point, 1998 first-round pick John Avery is strictly a third-down back and kick returner. Avery has been unable to effectively carry the ball, so the Dolphins hope to find ways for him to use his quick feet in the open field as a pass catcher.
At fullback, incumbent starter Stanley Pritchett has looked sharp and should keep his job. Second-round pick Rob Konrad needs work on his blocking, but he has shown good pass-catching ability. Bernie Parmalee will probably stick because of his special-teams prowess and ability to play both backfield positions. Grade: B-
OLG Mark Dixon, regarded as the team's best offensive lineman by coach Johnson, has recovered from neck surgery and also might get a look at left tackle. C Tim Ruddy and ORT James Brown are steady players. One of two quality veterans -- Kevin Donnalley or Kevin Gogan -- will start at right guard, though Gogan could be the left guard if Dixon goes to tackle. Grade: B
But in Miami, those four players aren't good enough to beat out starters Jason Taylor, Daryl Gardener, Tim Bowens and Kenny Mixon. Gardener and Bowens are so dominating inside that both should garner serious Pro Bowl consideration this season. Former Vikings' first-round pick Dimitrius Underwood could be icing on the cake. Grade: A+
Weak-side linebacker was a concern entering training camp, but Derrick Rodgers has proved he's ready for a breakout season. This unit's only concern is depth, as Dwight Hollier is the only established backup at any of the three LB positions. Grade: A-
FS Brock Marion was average in 1998, but the Dolphins have enough confidence in him that the position wasn't upgraded via free agency. Hard-hitting Calvin Jackson will start at strong safety, as Shawn Wooden hasn't fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery. Grade: A
Material from Pro Football Weekly.