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2005 NFL Season - Training Camp edition

Old 07-20-05, 04:47 PM
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2005 NFL Season - Training Camp edition

Rookies (R) Veterans (V)

Baltimore
McDaniel College Westminster, Md.
(R)July 31 (V)July 31

Buffalo
St. John Fisher College Pittsford, N.Y.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Cincinnati
Georgetown College Georgetown, Ky.
(R)July 28 (V)July 28

Cleveland
Cleveland Browns Training Facility Berea, Ohio
(R)July 25 (V)July 29

Denver
Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Centre Englewood, Colo.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Houston
Houston Texans Practice Facility Houston, Texas
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Indianapolis
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute, Ind.
(R)July 27 (V)July 27

Jacksonville
ALLTEL Stadium Jacksonville, Fla.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Kansas City
University of Wisconsin-River Falls River Falls, Wis.
(R)July 28 (V)July 28

Miami
Dolphins Training Center Davie, Fla.
(R)July 24 (V)July 24

New England
Gillette Stadium Foxboro, Mass.
(R)July 20 (V)July 28

N.Y. Jets
Hofstra University Hempstead, N.Y.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Oakland
Napa Valley Marriott Napa Valley, Calif.
(R)July 25 (V)July 28

Pittsburgh
Saint Vincent College Latrobe, Pa.
(R)July 31 (V)July 31

San Diego
Chargers Park San Diego, Calif.
(R)July 25 (V)July 28

Tennessee
Baptist Sports Park Nashville, Tenn.
(R)July 28 (V)July 28


Arizona
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, Ariz.
(R)July 31 (V)July 31

Atlanta
Atlanta Falcons Training Facility Flowery Branch, Ga.
(R)July 25 (V)July 25

Carolina
Wofford College Spartanburg, S.C.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Chicago
Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais, Ill.
(R)July 24 (V)July 24

Dallas
Marriott Residence Inn Oxnard, Calif.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Detroit
Detroit Lions Training Facility Allen Park, Mich.
(R)July 25 (V)July 29

Green Bay
St. Norbert College De Pere, Wis.
(R)July 25 (V)July 27

Minnesota
Minnesota State University Mankato, Minn.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

New Orleans
New Orleans Saints Complex Metairie, La.
(R)July 28 (V)July 28

N.Y. Giants
University at Albany Albany, N.Y.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Philadelphia
Lehigh University Bethlehem, Pa.
(R)July 29 (V)Aug. 1

St. Louis
Rams Park St. Louis, Mo.
(R)July 28 (V)July 28

San Francisco
San Francisco 49ers Complex Santa Clara, Calif.
(R)July 29 (V)July 29

Seattle
Eastern Washington University Cheney, Wash.
(R)July 26 (V)July 28

Tampa Bay
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(R)July 28 (V)July 28

Washington
Redskins Park Ashburn, Va.
(R)July 31 (V)July 31
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Old 07-20-05, 05:25 PM
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From the Journal Sentinel

quote:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(July 20, 2005) -- Javon Walker will be a no-show at training camp next week unless the Green Bay Packers agree to give the Pro Bowl receiver a big pay raise or trade him, his agent said.

"The Packers say they aren't going to change their position, so we are leaning that way. We're hoping for a change of heart or a trade," Drew Rosenhaus told The Associated Press.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson did not immediately return a call to the AP for comment.

Rosenhaus said the Packers have refused to negotiate with him ever since he first approached the team this spring to tear up Walker's current contract, which has two years remaining and calls for him to make about $515,000 this season.

"I haven't had very many holdouts in my career, but I've been unable to get the Packers to commit to any discussion of a new deal," Rosenhaus said. "The Packers have refused to negotiate with us. They expect him to play the year out."

Rosenhaus said that won't happen.

"I can't let this player go out on the field and jeopardize his career for that kind of money. I just can't fathom it," he said in an interview with HBO taped on July 15 and scheduled to air next week.

Walker hired Rosenhaus earlier this year after a breakout season in which he caught 89 passes for 1,328 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Walker's holdout threat has drawn the ire of quarterback Brett Favre, who also criticized Rosenhaus for his tactics.

Rosenhaus responded by saying Favre should call him to get all the facts.

"I don't think he'll answer my calls," Favre said this week while playing in a charity pro-am at the US Bank Championship golf tournament in Milwaukee. "Set me straight on what? I've played 14 straight years. I have not held out one time. He has nothing to say to me."

Rosenhaus said he has plenty to say to the three-time MVP.

"I reached out to Brett. If you take issue with our position, call me," Rosenhaus said. "I'm not allowed to call him. But if he calls me, I'll tell him what our status is. I don't think he knows all the facts. I'd love to fill him in."

Favre said he's earned the right to speak his mind and besides, Walker is under contract, "and to me that means he should be here."

Rosenhaus said he would take Favre's call any time.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


I hope Favre calls him.

Also, this is the first time I can recall a trade being mentioned. Sad to see things heating up, but it was inevitable. Obligatory "Fuck Rosenhaus."
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Old 07-29-05, 08:53 AM
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Notes from the Bears camp...

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Here are five observations on the Chicago Bears, based on the July 26-27 practices:

1. Muhsin Muhammad, Cedric Benson and Fred Miller may have been the headline acquisitions during the offseason, but the signing with the biggest impact was strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones. Jones gave the Bears a conditioning and nutritional program that should limit the number of hamstring pulls and groin injuries.

A year ago, the Bears' training camp was a mess. Within the first week of camp, more than a dozen players were being treated for groin or hamstring pulls. Hydration was apparently a problem. Brian Urlacher was hurt in the first hour of the first practice, and fought the injury all season. "I think a lot of times reputation will do a lot for you, and Rusty has a history for his total program," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's big on nutrition. He's been talking about hydration from day one."

The Bears had roughly 17 pulled muscles last season, more than a dozen during training camp. In the past two decades, the teams Jones has worked for have suffered a very low number of pulled muscles or dehydration problems. Camp started with temperatures in the 100s. The only player with a pulled muscle was fullback Marc Edwards, who was signed off the street late last week. There have been no dehydration problems.

2. If cornerback Charles Tillman has a Pro Bowl year, he should consider taking Muhammad with him, if the receiver doesn't make it back. The best battle in camp is watching the two go against each other on passing plays. Muhammad is a big, physical receiver, but Tillman, who is 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, doesn't back down. He often blankets Muhammad as passes come his way.

On a pass play toward the end zone Wednesday morning, Tillman reacted to the ball, tipped it, caught it and raced the length of the field for a 100-yard touchdown. After weaving past quarterback Rex Grossman, Tillman did a flop into the end zone for the score. "I think [Muhammad] is getting me to play better through each practice," Tillman said. "He brings his Pro Bowl moves. I'm just trying to apply what he's telling me on the field and using it to my advantage. One of my goals is to make the Pro Bowl.''

The Bears believe they are three deep in quality cornerbacks with Tillman, Jerry Azumah and Nathan Vasher, who intercepted five passes in a limited backup role as a rookie in 2004.

3. Expect big seasons from linebackers Lance Briggs and Urlacher. Briggs is the surprise. Smith moved him from strong-side to weak-side linebacker last year, and Briggs performed perfectly, handling the demands of the position in his scheme.

The weak-side linebacker, playing on the side in which there is no tight end, has the responsibility of being the tackling machine in the cover two scheme. "When I first got here, I didn't know what type of player Lance was,'' Smith said. "I saw right away this guy can really play at a very high level. In this system, you need a stud middle linebacker and your best athlete has to play the weak-side position.''

Briggs finished with 168 tackles, including 112 solos last season. Smith, meanwhile, is so excited about Urlacher, he is adding more responsibilities for the middle linebacker in the cover two. In this system, the middle linebacker is often asked to drop deep into the middle of the field in zone coverage. No middle linebacker has the range of Urlacher. "We changed up the cover two based on what Brian can do. He has a lot of range. He's 6-4, with a big, tall body. And he's tough. There are a lot of things we can do with him. We are asking him to take over the team.''

4. At split end, it's deja Bears. For years, the Bears have drafted big, athletic prospects who are physically impressive. Productivity -- that's another question. On the other side of Muhammad, the Bears have some interesting options.

The best guess is Bernard Berrian beats out Justin Gage and Mark Bradley, the team's second-round pick this year. It's the best competition in camp. Berrian is 6-1, 180 pounds and has the best quickness off the line of scrimmage. Gage is 6-4, 212 pounds and has been working with coaches on getting off the jam coverage at the line of scrimmage. Bradley may have the most potential of them all, but he's raw at 6-1, 200 pounds in his first season. "We're not sure who it's going to be at split end,'' Smith said. "We just know we have some good choices. We are going to let them fight it out.''

5. The Bears gave up on corkscrew-type kicker Paul Edinger and signed veteran Doug Brien, an interesting decision in going from a young kicker to a 33-year-old veteran. Brien missed two late field goals in the Jets' playoff loss to the Steelers, and ended up losing his job to Mike Nugent, the Jets' second-round pick. Brien had to suffer the disappointment of seeing depressed teammates, particularly Curtis Martin, staring at him in the locker room after the game. Jets management supported him until they could replace him.

The Bears were glad to give him a second chance. He's a career 81.1 percent field-goal kicker, who has played for six teams. In the past nine seasons, only once did he fall below 80 percent for field goals. "The reason we signed him was for his accuracy,'' Smith said. "For all kickers, you have to have short memories. He missed some key kicks but he made a lot. There is a reason why he is still playing in this league at this high level.''

Edinger was 26-for-38 in 2003 and 15-for-24 on field goals last season. "We thought we needed to make more kicks,'' Smith said. "We missed some key kicks last year and we had to get better.''
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Old 07-29-05, 09:05 AM
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Notes from the Falcons camp...

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Here are five observations on the Atlanta Falcons, based on the July 25 afternoon practice:

1.The good news is that quarterback Michael Vick plays with such passion that every foible, as head coach Jim Mora pointed out, is frustrating to the NFL's most electrifying performer. That means the game means something to him personally. The bad news on Monday afternoon? That Vick, at least in the passing game, had so many legitimate sources of frustration.

"He's a perfectionist," Mora said. "He wants everything he does to be perfect." In the first on-field session of camp, Vick didn't even approach mediocre, let alone perfection. Yeah, it was the first practice, the first workout in months in pads, and the transition from throwing a ball in shorts and a T-shirt to being totally padded up is always a dramatic step. It takes time, just from a practical standpoint, to reach a comfort zone in pads. So it's a bit unfair to judge Vick's progress at the outset of Year 2 in the Falcons' bastardization of the West Coast offense, on one 2-hour session on a sweltering afternoon.

But the point of making training camp observations is to allow readers to see practice through ESPN.com's eyes. And these eyes saw a lot of poor throws. Vick was, in a word, brutal at times. And that might not even accurately describe his afternoon. He was too high. He was too low. He was long and he was short. Vick looked anything but ready to ratchet up his completion percentage to the levels that typically accompany a West Coast-style passing design. His body language belied his frustration. At one point, tight end and favorite target Alge Crumpler, following one particularly scattershot effort, returned to the huddle and placed his arm around Vick's shoulders.

But even more disappointing than his performance in throwing the ball was Vick's slipshod footwork on too many occasions. Hard to imagine, we agree, for a player so agile and nifty, but the guy looked like he had two left feet at times. Vick still tries, or at least he did Monday, to do too much just with his arm. You generate velocity and even accuracy, from the feet up. But Vick rarely squared up, didn't get his feet set, had too many skewed release points. There is also a kind of "jump" in Vick's drop-and-plant, one that, mechanically, forces him to divert his eyes.

Here's hoping that, as Vick strives to move forward as a passer, Monday's first impressions are not lasting ones.

2. They might never admit it publicly, but the Atlanta offensive coaches have all but decided the starting wide receivers will be rookie first-rounder Roddy White and second-year veteran Michael Jenkins, a first-round choice in 2004. What about Peerless Price, you say? Already mentally penciled in by the staff as the No. 3 wideout, probably working from the slot. Assuming, that is, he makes the roster. Which is not yet a given.

The Falcons' brain trust never quite knows where to place culpability for the failure of Price to develop into a bona fide "lead" wideout. Sometimes the team suggests that part of the blame should fall on Vick, who has little confidence in Price, and who simply gave up trying to get him the ball in some 2004 outings. Other times, the Falcons allow that Price, who the team praised during the offseason for an improved work ethic, really is the culprit. But the bottom line on Price is a dismal one: The Falcons surrendered a first-round pick to get him in a 2003 trade with Buffalo, paid him a signing bonus of $10 million, and have doled out $12.5 million in two years to a guy who has produced just six touchdowns.

At least on the opening day of practice, it didn't appear that Price and Vick made any better connection during the offseason than they did in 2004. Of course, one of the dangers in starting White (who, as of Wednesday morning, had not yet signed his rookie contract) and Jenkins is that the two are so young and inexperienced. If the Falcons follow through with their plans, it would mean having two starting wideouts with a total of seven career regular-season catches. And, maybe it's just us, but Jenkins does not play nearly as fast as his stop-watch speed. The former Ohio State standout is a tough kid, and played well on special teams a year ago, but he struggles to get a good release at times.

Mora noted that the receiver spot will be competitive, with veterans Dez White and Brian Finneran in the mix, and it should be. But the Falcons seem to have, for now, five guys capable of playing, but no one who has yet demonstrated that he can make big plays.

Two kids to watch: Kendrick Mosley and Romby Bryant, both tall, angular guys with nice inside separation. One of them could play his way onto the roster if he excels on special teams during the preseason.

3. The second position Mora cited as being ultra-competitive is safety. But one has to wonder: Is it competitive because of the overall quality at the position, or because Atlanta just has a collection of very ordinary players there? The guess is that it's the latter. Certainly the safety with the most potential is Bryan Scott, a third-year pro with physical skills and plenty of smarts. The Falcons are getting a break in that Scott, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery and wasn't expected to participate in on-field drills until well into camp, is already on the field, albeit in a limited basis. The team has made a smart move in allowing him to get reps in all the non-contact drills. He might not play, or even hit anyone, until late in the preseason. But the work Scott is doing now will pay off once the season begins.

At this point, the other starter figures to be veteran Keion Carpenter, a wily, sage player, who missed all of 2004 with a knee injury. He seems to provide leadership to the unit, and his 12 career interceptions certainly make Carpenter the most proven playmaker in the safety bunch, but he largely relies more on savvy than on physical prowess. And that seems to be the common thread among the assemblage at the position. There are enough veterans who have lined up and played -- Carpenter, Scott, Ronnie Heard, Rich Coady and Kevin McCadam -- but there's not a really special player in the lot.

Sure, safety is a position whose importance tends to be diminished. But if you don't have at least one player who can provide some flexibility, who can occasionally go into the slot and cover, that shortcoming is often exposed. The Falcons should be steady enough at the position, particularly if Scott is fully recovered when the season starts, but it's not a position from which they figure to get much more than just steady play. The position produced but one interception in 2004.

4. Looking for the Falcons' strength on defense? It is the overall speed and quickness of the unit, especially at linebacker. In fact, Atlanta added two key veterans in Ed Hartwell (middle) and Ike Reese (strongside) at the linebacker position, and it was obvious even from the first practice that it should really be a standout area.
Keep an eye on second-year veteran Demorrio Williams, who is battling Reese for the starting strongside spot and might be in the lead early in camp. The former Nebraska star flashed legitimate pass-rush skills playing mostly in "nickel" situations as a rookie, and is a very impressive athlete. Williams runs well, is very flexible, and plays tougher than his physique indicates. Nothing against Reese, who brings great leadership skills and is terrific special teams contributor, but he isn't nearly the athlete Williams appears to be. The two will probably both get a lot of playing time but, if the Falcons want a difference-maker, Williams could be it. On Monday, his quickness off the edge was obvious, and he has the potential to be disruptive.

Hartwell, whose move to the Falcons allows him to escape the shadow of Ray Lewis in Baltimore, is an impressive inside linebacker. His legs look like redwoods and he moved even better than we thought he could Monday, including in reverse. He'll provide an attitude, and a vocal presence as well, to the defense.

The standout of the unit, of course, remains perennial Pro Bowl performer Keith Brooking, who isn't always spectacular, but is always solid and around the ball. A couple draft choices, Jordan Beck (No. 3) in the middle and Michael Boley (No. 5a) on the outside, further bolster this very deep unit.

5. The Falcons led the NFL in sacks in 2004 but, watching their defensive line Monday, you kind of wonder how they did it. And you can't help but question, especially with injured right end Brady Smith currently sidelined, if Atlanta has enough bodies and size to hold up against the run upfront.
Make no mistake, this is a very active unit, and its collective quickness and uncanny knack for getting off blocks is a hallmark. But the unit is small, which is what the Atlanta coaches prefer, and suddenly not particularly deep. Smith recently underwent neck surgery (the scar that runs down his back is long and ugly) and, in a worst-case scenario, could miss the first month of the campaign. There is zero experience, after standout left end Patrick Kerney, at the position.

"Under" tackle Rod Coleman is a superb interior pass rusher, one of the best in the NFL, and his importance to the Falcons was demonstrated last year, when he missed four games with injuries. But Coleman recently had a off-field incident that could put him under the league's scrutiny and potentially bring sanctions under the personal conduct policy. If he misses any time, Atlanta will suffer because it has no one like him. There are, in fact, very few tackles in the league as active as Coleman.

The Falcons are counting on two kids, second-year pro Chad Lavalais (five starts as a rookie) and second-round pick Jonathan Babineaux, to log a lot of snaps playing next to Coleman.

It's a group whose sum might be better than its individual parts, but the lack of depth on the line should be a concern, at least until Smith returns. Line coach Bill Johnson loves to rotate a lot of players, but he may run out of bodies.
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Old 07-29-05, 10:42 AM
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Notes from the Dolphin camp...

DAVIE, Fla. -- Here are five observations on the Miami Dolphins, based on the July 26-27 practices:

1. Against our better judgment, and because we know the hot-button topic is the guy with the dreadlocks and not the coach with the dreaded stare, we'll address first the prodigal tailback instead of the man who will really determine the direction of the Miami Dolphins' future. Truth be told, maybe it's better to get the topic of Ricky Williams out of the way first, in case he lapses back into reefer madness and bolts again. Our guess is Nick Saban, even now that he knows the enormity of the task in front of him, isn't about to run off to a third-world country. He may retreat into Georgia's mountains, but not some lean-to in say, Nepal.

So here's the straight talk on a guy who hasn't always been able to walk the straight line: Grudgingly, we concede that Williams actually looks pretty good. He isn't back up to his normal playing weight of 225-230 pounds yet, has not taken a really tough lick and hasn't been asked to run with power. But there is little doubt the guy, at least in the first few days of camp, exudes raw talent. He is quick, has not lost the great vision that all successful backs must have, and doesn't seem to be toting around nearly as much rust as most pundits had expected after his year spent trying to discover himself.

Williams was never the classic "downhill" runner, but he did deliver a lot of power, and whether he can do that again following his self-imposed exile remains to be seen. Just a few days into his reincarnation, though, it's not blowing smoke (pun intended) to concede that, yeah, he looks like an NFL player. He seems a little more fluid now, caught the ball well in the first two days, showed some willingness to block, and didn't make mental errors.

But Williams doesn't like being overworked -- just ask the man he helped get fired, former Miami coach Dave Wannstedt, how many times His Weirdness asked to be taken out of the third-down package because he felt he was playing too many snaps -- and the Saban camp is all about work and discipline. So stay tuned on that front. Time will tell just how much his coaches and teammates -- and trust us, skeptics remain in both those groups -- come to trust him.

A month ago, when we visited with Jason Taylor at mini-camp, the Dolphins' star defensive end insisted what he wanted most when Williams reported was to be able to look into the tailback's eyes and see the same kind of commitment he expects from all his teammates. So has Taylor seen it yet? "Not yet, but I don't need to see it right now," Williams said. "I need to see it in September or October, or whenever it is that he plays. We've talked. He knows where I'm coming from, and I guess I understand, maybe, a little bit more about his situation. We'll see. For now, I guess we're cool." It won't be until Oct. 16 at Tampa Bay that Williams, who must serve four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, can get in a game that actually counts.

Ricky Williams rushed for 1,372 yards and nine TDs in 2003.
One thing that is still the same about Williams is he's definitely different. The guy walks everywhere without shoes. Around the complex. In the dining room. In the team hotel. The way the league has bent over backwards to let him come back, you half-expect Paul Tagliabue to issue a ban against spikes, just so Williams can go barefootin' on the field as well. Maybe Williams prefers to go sans shoes so that he has a really easy target, assuming he decides to shoot himself in the foot again.

One guy who has pretty good feet, even with cleats on, is Lamar Gordon, who looks like the best among a very deep running back corps at this point. The fourth-year veteran, acquired from St. Louis last year in a trade when the Dolphins tried to spackle the dike after Williams' abrupt departure, is a very, very solid back. Too bad an injury scuttled Gordon's 2004 season and limited him to only three games, because he might have allowed Miami to slam the door on Williams' face this spring when he asked to return. Gordon has deceptive power, and a little glide to him, and is bigger and stouter than he initially appears.

There's all kinds of speculation the Dolphins will trade Williams once he gets into shape and they showcase him in the preseason games. The bet here is the Dolphins will get more inquiries (possibly from Jacksonville) about Gordon.

2. OK, now on to the guy whose return to the NFL, as far as the Miami franchise is concerned, is far more significant than Williams' comeback. We're glad we visited the Dolphins, and huddled with Saban during their June mini-camp. Why? Because we were a month ahead of our national media buddies in figuring out just how good a coach Saban is going to be at the NFL level. Everyone else seemed genuinely surprised at the discipline, detail and design of the camp practices. But they shouldn't have been. This is, after all, how Saban runs things. There's a very palpable clockwork precision to his practices, a reason for everything, and every segment is seen as an excuse to do some old-fashioned teaching. Which is, Saban learned a long time ago, the essence of coaching.

Remember, Saban isn't just some college coach moving into the NFL ranks. The guy worked in the league as a defensive coordinator and he knows the ropes. He ran the Michigan State and LSU programs like NFL teams that just happened to be operating at the college level. If the devil is in the details, then Saban is Lucifer incarnate. Every drill starts right on time. There is no wasted effort. "You're never standing around just watching, getting bored, and with your attention wandering out there while the sun beats down on you," cornerback Sam Madison said. "There is a reason for everything he does."

This is not the most talented team around. But in the first couple days, it was anything but a sloppy team, that's for sure. There were not the kind of false-start and short-attention span penalties you typically expect from a bad team. Not a lot of botched plays or turnovers. Make no mistake, as we indicated in June, the guy can coach. And coach he does. Saban spends oodles of time working with the secondary, his old area of expertise, and he's not just a passive observer. He is hands-on all the way.

Hard to say how many victories this will translate to, but Saban definitely isn't allowing himself the luxury of buying into the notion it will take three seasons to fix what ails the Dolphins, and the guess here is that his presence and approach will make his team markedly more competitive than most pundits feel it can be in 2005.

3. About that $800,000 per year that Saban is reportedly paying offensive line coach Hudson Houck? The investment was worth every cent. Houck suggested in June that he is not a miracle worker. And maybe he isn't. But he's doing a damned fine imitation.

Quick, we dare you, name one starter on the Miami offensive line. Unless you are a died-in-wool Dolphins fan, you probably can't. Here's the kicker: By the end of the season, you might not be able to identify one, either. But by that time, too, the Miami line will be a pretty good one, if early camp results are any indicator. There remains plenty of work to be done, and we'd be lying if we tried to pretend there weren't some rough spots during the practices we saw, but Houck is again well into the process of transforming a pile of chicken feathers into something approximating chicken salad.

"It's been pretty encouraging," Saban conceded. "I think we've got maybe seven guys there who can line up and play." Houck is famous for salvage jobs and the one he's undertaken this summer -- turning last year's first-rounder, Vernon Carey, into more than just another misguided pick by deposed general manager Rick Spielman -- is certainly daunting. But Carey has the temperament, it seems, to be a good player and could be the starter at left tackle. Free-agent addition Stockar McDougle, a former Detroit starter, seems to have reduced the mental errors that plagued him during his Lions tenure.

Let's face it, given the question mark at the quarterback position, the Dolphins figure to run the ball a lot in 2005. And they should, since that seems to be a strength, which means the offensive line will get a chance to fire off the ball and do some old-fashioned road grading. Truth be told, the unit didn't exactly carve out gaping holes in the early workouts. But there is progress nearly every time on the field, and Houck, whether he wants the miracle worker mantle or not, looks to be fashioning a respectable unit.

4. Not since 1997 has the Miami defense ranked statistically outside of the league's top 10 units. In the past seven seasons, in fact, the defense's average ranking was No. 6, and the unit was in the top five in four of those campaigns. To hold to that standard, though, the Miami defense is going to have to get a big season out of a group of veterans who are beginning to show some age. The six highest-profile players on the defense -- Madison, linemen Taylor, Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday, and linebackers Zach Thomas and Junior Seau -- average 31.7 years of age and 5.7 seasons of NFL tenure.

It doesn't seem possible, but the defense's most critical player, Taylor, will turn 31 before the regular season opens. Not an age when you want to have to learn a new position, but Taylor, who has always lined up at right end, will be a hybrid-type guy in '05, as the coaches move him around to try to create mismatches and give him even more sack opportunities. Taylor looked excellent in the dual role in mini-camp, but the staff didn't unleash him much the first two days of camp, and he suddenly seemed a bit more wary about the switch than he did a month ago.

None of this is to suggest the Dolphins' old-timers can't summon solid outings in 2005. If they don't, this team will be in deep trouble. But Saban understands his best defensive players are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings, and Miami has to begin to develop younger players to soon take over. Toward that end, two rookies, cornerback Travis Daniels and linebacker Channing Crowder, stuck out in the early practices.

Daniels, a fourth-round pick, seems a lock to start at the corner spot vacated by Patrick Surtain, who was traded to Kansas City. That's in part because, as a former LSU star, he knows the defense better than anyone else. And although he doesn't have great stopwatch speed, Daniels is usually around the ball and has an uncanny ability to create big plays. Crowder has been working at two linebackers spots (middle and strong-side), and Saban has to get him onto the field, even if it means taking snaps away from Seau. If Crowder's creaky knees can hold up, he'll be a player.

In general, it will be interesting to see if the Miami defense can play up to the lofty standards it has established in the last seven seasons. And interesting, as well, to see if young players get increased playing time, to prepare them for the future if the season goes south early on. With such a suspect group of tackles, the Dolphins might really struggle to stop the run, an area in which they statistically ranked next-to-last in the NFL in '04.

5. The alleged quarterback "competition" between journeyman Gus Frerotte and A.J. Feeley is a sham. (Actually, it's a shame, too, that this is the best the Dolphins can do at the position, but so be it.) It makes for good copy, and manufactures an interest level, but it will be a monumental upset if Frerotte isn't the opening day starter.

For one thing, he simply has a better grasp of the Scott Linehan design, having played for the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. For another, he's just better. Not great, just better, and far less mistake-prone. That will mean a lot to Saban, who abhors turnovers, and is going to try to keep games close by running the ball and playing tight defense. Saban swears he hasn't made up his mind on the quarterbacks, that both will get a shot to win the job in preseason, that he doesn't want to cheat his team out of having the best guy on the field. But the best guy, it says here (and, we're betting, they're probably saying it in the coaches' evaluation sessions), is Frerotte. Word is coaches regularly groan when they watch the daily video of some of Feeley's efforts.
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