What do Tony Nathan, Andra Franklin, David Overstreet, Lorenzo
Hampton, Troy Stradford, Woody Bennett, Sammie Smith, Mark
Higgs, Bobby Humphrey, Aaron Craver, Terry Kirby, Irving Spikes
and Bernie Parmalee have in common?
1) They have all lined up as Miami's feature back during the last
2) They ain't no Larry Csonka.
Only once in the last 20 seasons has a Miami running back rushed
for 1,000 yards, and not since '87 have the Dolphins averaged as
many as four yards per carry. The team produced a franchise-low
3.1 yards per rush in '97 and just 3.4 yards last year when
Miami ranked 13th in the AFC on the ground. "Everyone knows that
the running game has been this team's downfall for many years,"
says coach Jimmy Johnson. "We're determined to run the football
this season, because you have to run it to have any chance of
winning a championship."
The '98 Dolphins were the worst short-yardage team in the NFL,
converting just 29 of 76 third-down situations when they needed
three yards or fewer. It got so bad that in those circumstances
Miami occasionally worked out of the shotgun. Defenses could
crowd the line of scrimmage because the Dolphins lacked speed at
receiver. Miami thus had only six pass plays of 40 yards or more
all season. Johnson hopes he addressed that problem by signing
free-agent wideout Tony Martin, who on his own had four catches
of 40 yards or longer for the Falcons in '98. Johnson also went
to work on his offensive line, a group that for years has been
bred to pass-block and protect quarterback Dan Marino above all
else. Miami traded for surly three-time Pro Bowl guard Kevin
Gogan and drafted center Grey Ruegame. Of course, Pro Bowl
tackle Richmond Webb's preseason holdout hasn't helped matters.
"We thought we lost some games last year because we couldn't
convert on third-and-short," running backs coach Joel Collier
says. "So this season we changed our philosophy, looking for
more physical guys and some runners who can make something out
of nothing with will, force or power."
The Dolphins conducted their latest search for a dominant
running back with a fishnet approach, beginning in the summer
with 13 candidates, including three of their first four '99
draft picks: Mississippi State's J.J. Johnson, a punishing
runner who led the SEC with 1,383 yards last season; Rob Konrad
from Syracuse, an agile 255-pound fullback who the Dolphins hope
can evolve into a player like Dallas's Daryl (Moose) Johnston;
and Cecil (the Diesel) Collins, clearly the most gifted athlete
of the trio. The fifth-rounder possesses the rare ability to run
over or around a defense. In less than four full games at LSU in
'97, Collins ran 72 times for 596 yards, an 8.3-yard average.
The BLESTO scouting service rated him as the top prospect in the
draft, but he dropped to the 134th pick because his recent past
includes two arrests for breaking into a woman's apartment,
three failed drug tests, two dismissals from college and 27 days
Johnson, who once said he would draft Charles Manson if he ran a
4.4 in the 40, performed his most extensive predraft background
check ever on Collins and liked him enough to give him a chance
even after unsuccessfully attempting to rehabilitate Lawrence
Phillips two seasons ago. On draft day Johnson described Collins
as "a faster Emmitt Smith," but since then he has tried to
downplay Collins's potential, hoping to quell the mounting hype
for a player who rushed for a grand total of 713 yards in
college. "He's a good back," Johnson says. "He doesn't give you
a whole lot to tackle, just shoulder pads, knees and elbows."
Heck, Dolphins fans are so desperate for an exciting running
back that they began chanting "Cecil! Cecil! Cecil!" during an
August scrimmage against Tampa Bay, in which Collins rushed four
times for 22 yards. Ideally, Johnson would like to use incumbent
Karim Abdul-Jabbar or J.J. Johnson early in the year and
gradually integrate Collins into the offense. Collins claims
that he wants to be the Randy Moss of '99. "I want to surprise
people," he says. "Off the field I've made some mistakes, and I
know I have to prove myself. That's fine. Watch me."
Long gone is the Don Shula era, when the Dolphins became
synonymous with stability. Johnson, who arrived in '96 touting a
three-year plan and has won only one playoff game in his three
seasons in Miami, actually retired for one day back in January,
and there is a sense that his time at the helm is short. Marino,
who turns 38 in September and spent the summer hanging out with
such recently retired laggards as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky
and John Elway, is likely to leave with his coach. Then the
Dolphins will really need a running back.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Running a risk Collins, with an enticing mix of power and speed, carries not only Miami's hopes but also a whole lot of baggage.
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA
Sept. 13 at Denver (Mon.)
26 Open date
Oct. 4 BUFFALO (Mon.)
10 at Indianapolis
17 at New England
31 at Oakland
Nov. 7 TENNESSEE
14 at Buffalo
21 NEW ENGLAND
25 at Dallas (Thurs.)
Dec. 5 INDIANAPOLIS
12 at N.Y. Jets
19 SAN DIEGO
27 N.Y. JETS (Mon.)
Jan. 2 at Washington
1998 Record 10-6 (2nd in AFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 24/10/16; defense 6/6/3
1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 14 Opponents' 1998 winning
percentage: .512 Games against playoff teams: 9
IN SEARCH OF GROUND SUPPORT
Why did the Dolphins select three running backs--J.J. Johnson,
Rob Konrad and Cecil Collins--in the 1999 NFL draft? Here's one
reason: In each of the past 15 seasons (with Dan Marino at the
controls) Miami has ranked higher in the NFL in passing yardage
than it has in rushing yardage--and there has not been a year in
which the rankings were even close. That's the longest such
streak in NFL history.
1984 '85 '86 '87 '88 '89 '90 '91 '92 '93 '94 '95 '96 '97 '98
Dolphins' NFL rank in passing
1 2 1 1 1 3 4 3 2 1 2 4 11 2 10
Dolphins' NFL rank in rushing
16 18 25 23 28 27 22 25 24 25 13 21 19 29 24
PLAYER TO WATCH
All you need to know about Sam Madison's self-confidence is that
Keyshawn Johnson, author of Just Give Me the Damn Ball!, says of
the third-year cornerback, "He talks too much." Unlike most
trash-talkers, however, Madison does not woof after a big play.
He prefers to talk before, compelling himself to back up his
words, like the time before last year's playoff victory over
Buffalo when Madison said, "We're going to get Flutie on the
ground and stuff Flutie Flakes down his throat." Madison credits
his breakthrough season in '98 to Miami's shift from passive
pass defense to one-on-one "press" coverage, which better suits
his aggressive nature. Madison finished tied for second in the
NFL, with eight interceptions; led Miami in passes defensed,
with 23; and helped stuff the run with 44 tackles. Madison's
picks were even more impressive because he was beaten so rarely
that many opponents all but stopped throwing in his direction.
Coach Jimmy Johnson says simply, "Sam is giving me the best
cornerback play I've ever had."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Fourth season with Dolphins (71-57 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Dan Marino 27
537 att. 310 comp. 57.7% 3,497 yds. 23 TDs 15 int. 80.0 rtg.
RB Cecil Collins (R) 134
28 att. 117 yds. 4.2 avg. 0 rec. 0 yds. no avg. 1 TD
RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar 179
270 att. 960 yds. 3.6 avg. 21 rec. 102 yds. 4.9 avg. 6 TDs
FB Rob Konrad (R) 274
93 att. 417 yds. 4.5 avg. 20 rec. 196 yds. 9.8 avg. 9 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Tony Martin 41 66 rec. 1,181 yds. 6 TDs
WR O.J. McDuffie 69 90 rec. 1,050 yds. 7 TDs
WR Oronde Gadsden 211 48 rec. 713 yds. 7 TDs
TE Troy Drayton 234 30 rec. 334 yds. 3 TDs
K Olindo Mare 140 33/34 XPs 22/27 FGs 99 pts.
PR Terrell Buckley 360 29 ret. 12.2 avg. 0 TDs
KR John Avery 300 43 ret. 25.2 avg. 0 TDs
LT Richmond Webb 6'6" 303 lbs. 9 games 9 starts
LG Mark Dixon 6'3" 300 lbs. 11 games 10 starts
C Tim Ruddy 6'3" 290 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Kevin Gogan 6'7" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT James Brown 6'6" 329 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Kenny Mixon 35 tackles 2 sacks
LT Tim Bowens 30 tackles 0 sacks
RT Daryl Gardener 39 tackles 1 sack
RE Jason Taylor 52 tackles 9 sacks
OLB Robert Jones 78 tackles 5 sacks
MLB Zach Thomas 137 tackles 3 int.
OLB Derrick Rodgers 47 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
CB Terrell Buckley 51 tackles 8 int.
SS Shawn Wooden 10 tackles 0 int.
FS Brock Marion 98 tackles 0 int.
CB Sam Madison 44 tackles 8 int.
P B. Bartholomew (R) 58 punts 40.3 avg.
New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)