The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

2008 WAS GREAT, BUT WHERE DO THE FINS GO FROM HERE

With the wonderful 2008 season now one week in the rear view mirror, it’s time to reflect on what steps are needed to take the Fins to the next level. Here’s an educated guess about what the Czarcells’ administration will try to accomplish before training camp this coming July.

1. Try to keep the management and coaching staff together. There’s an old saying: Don’t fight with success. So don’t expect to see any changes made; rather, watch as efforts are made to keep the staff intact. That includes the Czar himself as well as the great management group he surrounded himself with once he got rid of No-Cam-Do and Randy Mueller.

2. Even with next season’s expected return of Justin Smiley, you can bet that an all-out effort will be made to beef up the offensive line. The Fins will be looking for bigger guards and a bigger center. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams need more beef up front if they are to consistently make the inside yardage that they need to make for this team to be more successful. Too often, the interior of the line did not get the offensive push needed to make things happen. So look for changes to be made along the o-line, but not at the tackles unless a cheaper replacement can be found for right tackle Vernon Carey who, as a free agent, may command more dollars than the Fins may be willing to pay to retain his services. This will depend on who they think can be brought in to replace him for fewer bucks, but that is easier said than done. Obviously, Jake Long isn’t going anywhere. At his tender NFL age, he will only get better next year (and beyond).

3. Don’t expect Ted Ginn, Jr., to be the number one receiver next season. His 177-yard effort in the Bills’ game notwithstanding, Ted Ginn has not displayed enough to merit serious long-term consideration as a number one receiver. With two seasons behind him, Ginn can’t hide behind the rookie excuse any longer. He needs to step up and be a real player, but that’s the problem, he doesn’t seem comfortable stepping up. Too often he looks afraid to go over the middle and take a hit. And let’s face it, Czarcells’ would like a bigger player at the wide-out position. So look for the Fins to go after tall wide receivers and don’t be surprised if Ginn becomes trade bait. Maybe No-Cam-Do’s Ravens would be interested (and Czarcells will gladly throw in the Ginn family to sweeten the deal!).

4. Jason Ferguson has done a great job for the Fins, but he is now in his mid-thirties, which is definitely social security age for nose tackles in the NFL. So expect the Fins to go shopping for some big beef to clog up the middle to enable the inside linebackers to make some plays against the run. Czarcells and his staff know that a big run stuffer in the middle is key to a modern-day NFL defense and they will not put all their eggs in Jason Ferguson’s old basket next season. So look for them to show us the beef!

5. Last off-season, Czarcells knew that special teams needed to be seriously upgraded. The horrendous special teams play of 2007 was clearly responsible for that team flirting with an imperfect season. Although Czarcells went straight to the special teams’ aisle of the NFL supermarket last off-season, it appears that he might have picked some of the wrong groceries off that shelf. In 2008, special teams were horrendous until about December. Thus, another big push for special teams’ players will be made this off-season.

6. Czarcells will probably have some linebacking help on his wish list, too. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little more speed at linebacker. It also wouldn’t hurt to have some more playmakers. When Joey Porter is double-teamed, others need to step up. The current cast of others may not be capable of stepping up to the degree needed for this team to get to the next level.

Next season will present a new set of challenges for the Dolphins. First, the weighted schedule will be tougher with the Fins coming off a Division Title as opposed to the schedule that faced them this season coming off a last place finish the season before. Second, for the most part, the Fins fared pretty well in the injury department in 2008. Such luck is important in the NFL (and look no further than the decimated defensive secondary in 2007 for proof of this fact). There’s no telling that 2009 will be as good, so Dolfans will have to hope for some good breaks (maybe “breaks” wasn’t a good choice of words!) in the injury department in 2009. Third, opposing teams will no longer take the Fins lightly. No team will be looking beyond the 2009 Dolphins to their next opponent.

In all likelihood, it will take a better squad to get back to 11-5 next season (see steps 2-6, above). And next season, 11-5 may not even be good enough to make the playoffs. The Patriots will be challenging for the division again and don’t count out either the Jets or the Bills. And this season, 11 wins were not enough for the Patriots to land a wild card spot in the playoffs.

Just remember, the Fins are still only one season removed from 1-15. So be patient. It may take until 2010 or 2011 for the Fins to achieve football heaven!

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