The Dolphins offensive line is in a state of transition with left tackle Wade Smith, who is entering just his second season in the league, possibly being the only returning starter. Smith lacks lower-body strength and will probably never be a great run blocker, but he has improved his skills and has a chance to develop into an excellent pass blocker. Rookie Vernon Carey, who played at the University of Miami, has been lining up at right tackle but might move to right guard, where Greg Jerman and Taylor Whitley are competing, if he cannot take the starting tackle job from John St.Clair. If Carey does supplant the veteran, St. Clair could be thrown into the competition at right guard.
Former Panther Jeno James, who did an excellent job of opening holes for Steven Davis last year, was signed during the off-season and should be an immediate upgrade. He will line up next to center Seth McKinney, who isnt particularly dominating, but he plays with a mean streak and rarely makes mistakes.
Miami probably has the most devastating duo at defensive end in the NFL in Jason Taylor and Adewale Ogunleye, assuming the Dolphins and Ogunleye can come to some sort of agreement to end his current holdout. Taylor has very good speed, causes a lot of disruption in the backfield, and he plays the run surprisingly well for a guy his size. Ogunleye is more of a bull rusher, but he has the speed and pass rushing ability to take some of attention away from Taylor. David Bowens, who has the potential to develop into a situational pass rusher, could be pressed into duty if Ogunleyes holdout extends into the season.
At defensive tackle, the Dolphins have a pair of big bodies in Tim Bowens and Larry Chester who bottle up the middle of the line allowing the linebacking crew to roam free. However, neither presents much of a threat up the field. Bowens has been hampered by injuries and is on the downside of his career, but both he and Chester should have strong seasons. Jeff Zgonina will likely see a lot of time in the rotation, and he gives them a solid backup, but he is 34-years old and there is little quality depth behind him.
This veteran linebacking corps benefits tremendously from a line that devours blockers, so they are free to run sideline to sideline. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas is an instinctive player who is quick to read and react. Hes tough against the run, and he possesses good range and takes great angles in pursuit. Seventh-round draft pick Derrick Pope, who is an excellent tackler with good speed, is penciled in as his backup.
Junior Seau continues to play well on the weak side despite being on the backside of his career. He still has great range and he reads plays well, rarely taking a false step. Morlin Greenwood holds the starting job on the strong side right now, but coaches are hoping last years second-round draft pick Eddie Moore can push him for playing time. The youngster has tremendous range, but he is recovering from a fractured foot and durability is a bit of a concern.
Miami is still pretty strong on the outside with veterans Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison starting at the corners. Surtain is among the best cover corners in the league and he has excellent ball skills, picking off seven passes in 2003. Madison may have lost a step, but he plays with great technique and fundamentals, and his years of experience help make up for his declining skills. Free Agent pickup Reggie Howard is a nice addition at the nickel position, and rookie fourth rounder Will Poole will likely come into the game in dime situations.
Hard-hitting Sammy Knight will start again at strong safety. Hes best playing near the line, but he lacks speed and coverage skills. Arturo Freeman is inconsistent at the free safety position, and coaches are hoping former Packer Antuan Edwards will compete with him for the starting job. Overall, the secondary appears to be strong and deep at the corners, but the safeties are a bit of a concern.
Losing their feature running back along with their No. 1 and 3 wide receivers, and lacking a true franchise QB does not bode well for the Dolphins in 2004. Neither Fiedler nor Feeley appear capable of carrying this offense on their shoulders, and Minors style of running does not really fit what this team likes to do. Major struggles on offense are likely this year, and although their defense should keep them in games, anything more than an eight-win season is probably asking too much.