Safety Shawn Wooden spent four years as a Dolphin and then a year
with the Bears. Now he's back, with a fresh take on his old club.
"The whole success of our defense revolves around our line,"
Wooden said in camp last month, "and the whole success of the
line is dictated by our tackles, Tim Bowens and Daryl Gardener.
"What's the difference I see? Daryl and Tim have lifted their
games to new heights."
They have been named to but one Pro Bowl between them--Bowens in
'98. Sacks lead to votes because the selectors look at stats.
"One sack in a game means one play," says Gardener, the
slimmest-looking and quickest 310-pounder around. "How about what
you're doing the rest of the time, how you're playing the run,
how you're freeing up teammates to get sacks?"
"Pro Bowl?" says Bowens, a 325-pound rock against the double
team. "Sure, I've thought about it. For Daryl. If he makes it,
then I've done my job. A big part of it is making the guys next
to you better."
Defenses thrive on the two big guys in the middle. The Saints got
good last year when Norman Hand joined La'Roi Glover inside.
Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland set the tone for the stout Bucs
defense, and where would Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis be
without those two 340-pound monsters, Tony Siragusa and Sam
Adams, to keep blockers off him?
Dolphins guard Mark Dixon tips his hat to the NFL's highly
publicized tackle tandems, but there's no doubt in his mind that
the two he faces in practice every day form the best duo in
football. "Daryl's had back problems," Dixon says, "but when he's
right, he's the best I've ever played against, certainly the best
against the run. Tim Bowens? I don't think he can be moved
"They'd basically been first- and second-down players until last
year. Then the coaches decided to keep them on the field all the
time. On the base downs they gave up their bodies and tied up two
blockers. On third down they got a tremendous push on the pocket,
so our outside rushers, Trace Armstrong and Jason Taylor, got
their sacks because there was no place for the quarterback to
step up, nowhere for him to hide."
Armstrong and Taylor finished one-two in the AFC in sacks. The
secondary, aided by the relentless force up front, played an
aggressive, pressing style, and the Dolphins finished with an
NFL-high 28 interceptions. Having a terrific pair of cover
corners, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, didn't hurt. Middle
linebacker Zach Thomas is also skilled in coverage.
Where did things go wrong? Injuries. Gardener had back surgery
and missed six games. Thomas limped along with a severely
sprained right ankle, missing five games and playing with
painkilling cortisone shots in another two. The Dolphins still
ended up as AFC East champs and for the third straight year made
it to the second round of the postseason.
"What we need is that first-round bye," Thomas says. "We wore
down by the end of the season, and for three years in a row we
flopped in the second playoff game. But our coach, Dave
Wannstedt, is aware of that. He's been easing up at times in
Armstrong is gone, having signed a free-agent deal with the
Raiders, but 10 of 11 starters return on defense. (Outside
linebacker Robert Jones was a salary-cap casualty.) That's where
the big-money contracts are; seven starters are signed through at
least 2003. The defense got a breather last year when the running
game came alive, thanks to Saints castoff Lamar Smith, who ran
for a career-high 1,139 yards.
With the running game in good hands, all eyes will be on
quarterback Jay Fiedler. The right-handed Fiedler took some heat
last season for the six interceptions he threw in the playoffs,
but he was gutting it out with a torn rotator cuff in his left
shoulder plus nerve damage in his neck, which affected his
throwing. He also had missed practically the whole preseason
while recuperating from hip surgery.
"Right now it's a totally different feeling," Fiedler says. "I'm
healthy. I've had a complete training camp. Last year I was
thinking about getting well. Some of the throws I made
then...well, I wouldn't make them now. I wasn't getting out of
the pocket enough when I had to. All those are excuses, though,
and now there aren't any."
"That's the key, staying healthy," says Gardener, who spent the
off-season working with a back rehab specialist. "We have the
talent. It's just a matter of getting our people on the field
Maybe then Gardener will finally get the recognition he
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN The heart and soul of the Dolphins' vaunted defense, Thomas virtually always goes flat out to the ball.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO FIEDLER
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Dolphins
"The obvious question involves Jay Fiedler. It's a big year for
him.... The Dolphins have surrounded Fiedler with decent skill
people, assuming that Lamar Smith wasn't a fluke last year.... I
like Mark Dixon on the offensive line, but the rest of the guys
up front are just O.K.... Their rookie wideout, Chris Chambers,
really showed me something on that first kickoff return in the
preseason game against the Bucs. Wow, what a burst. He just shot
through there. They've got themselves a real serious weapon
there.... Defensively, they're solid across the board. Sam
Madison had a bit of an off year, but he was playing on a bad
ankle.... One thing that bothers me about them is the chemistry.
There's a lot of grumbling internally. Their right guard, Kevin
Donnalley, fit in with their running game, but they let him go
to Carolina and replaced him with Todd Perry, one of Dave
Wannstedt's guys when he was the coach in Chicago. Last year
they brought in Heath Irwin to play guard and paid him a lot of
money because their line coach, Paul Boudreau, had had him in
New England. He didn't play much. Then they let Boudreau go.
They lost their best special-teamer, Larry Izzo, a guy who was
loved and respected on the team, and they got rid of Mike
Westhoff, a highly regarded special teams coach, to make room
for Keith Armstrong, another Wannstedt guy from Chicago. Coaches
and personnel directors just don't pay enough attention to
Sept. 9 at Tennessee
30 at St. Louis
Oct. 7 NEW ENGLAND
14 at N.Y. Jets
21 Open date
28 at Seattle
Nov. 4 CAROLINA
11 at Indianapolis
18 N.Y. JETS
25 at Buffalo
Dec. 2 DENVER
10 INDIANAPOLIS (Mon.)
16 at San Francisco
22 at New England (Sat.)
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 5 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .520
Games against playoff teams: 6
with 2000 statistics
COACH: Dave Wannstedt; second season with Miami (51-61 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 11-5 (first in AFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 14/27/26; defense 14/5/6
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Jay Fiedler 94 357 att. 204 comp. 57.1% 2,402 yds.
14 TDs 14 int. 74.5 rtg.
RB Lamar Smith 57 309 att. 1,139 yds. 3.7 avg. 31 rec.
201 yds. 6.5 avg. 16 TDs
RB J.J. Johnson 227 50 att. 168 yds. 3.4 avg. 10 rec.
61 yds. 6.1 avg. 1 TD
FB Rob Konrad 311 15 att. 39 yds. 2.6 avg. 14 rec.
83 yds. 5.9 avg. 0 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR James McKnight[N] 128 52 rec. 926 yds. 2 TDs
WR Oronde Gadsden 144 56 rec. 786 yds. 6 TDs
WR Chris Chambers (R)[N]160 52 rec. 813 yds. 5 TDs
TE Hunter Goodwin 321 6 rec. 36 yds. 1 TD
K Olindo Mare 180 33/34 XPs 28/31 FGs 117 pts.
PR Jeff Ogden 287 19 ret. 17.0 avg. 1 TD
KR Chris Chambers (R)[N]160 no kickoff returns in 2000
LT Marcus Spriggs[N] 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 11 starts
LG Mark Dixon 6'4" 300 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
C Tim Ruddy 6'3" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Todd Perry[N] 6'5" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Todd Wade 6'8" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Kenny Mixon 43 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
LT Tim Bowens 40 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RT Daryl Gardener 49 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RE Jason Taylor 66 tackles 14 1/2 sacks
OLB Twan Russell 18 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Zach Thomas 99 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
OLB Derrick Rodgers 88 tackles 1/2 sack
CB Patrick Surtain 52 tackles 5 int.
SS Brian Walker 94 tackles 7 int.
FS Brock Marion 96 tackles 5 int.
CB Sam Madison 37 tackles 5 int.
P Matt Turk 92 punts 42.1 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"One thing that bothers me is the chemistry. There's a lot of