YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Miami Not Looking Too Bad

October 02, 2005|From Associated Press

MIAMI — For the Miami Dolphins, ugly lapses persist: overthrown open receivers downfield, false-start penalties on consecutive snaps, a botched short field-goal attempt and three missed tackles by the secondary on a single play.

But through three games, the record looks much better. Miami is 2-1 and tied with New England for the AFC East lead.

That's something to savor after last season, the Dolphins' worst since the 1960s, when they lost the first six games and finished an unsightly 4-12.

"It's pretty obvious to me that, when we get it right, we have a chance to be halfway decent," new coach Nick Saban said. "And when we don't get it right, things don't look too pretty out there."

The Dolphins were painful to watch last season, when at times they appeared unable to block, tackle, run, throw or chew gum. Saban's solution was to turn over half the roster and demand a new level of efficiency and toughness.

One celebrated moment during training camp underscored Saban's no-nonsense approach: his scolding of defensive tackle Manuel Wright during practice made the 330-pound rookie cry.

Players praise Saban's efforts to weed out the lack of discipline that helped derail last season.

"Now the guys are approaching practice more seriously, and the intensity is there all the time, not just on game day," tight end Randy McMichael said. "You don't see guys coasting through a week of practice trying to save their bodies for the game."

That's not to say the Dolphins have eliminated mistakes. Their 34 penalties are seven more than they committed in the first three games last year, sorely testing Saban's temper. There have been nine false-start penalties, one more than at the same point in 2004.

Miami was penalized 138 yards last week -- and still beat Carolina 27-24.

"I can't imagine what it would be like if we didn't have those penalties," quarterback Gus Frerotte said. "There would be no telling how we would have played, or what the score would have been, or what our yardage would end up being like."

With the addition of Frerotte and top draft pick Ronnie Brown at running back, the offense has been much improved. The return of 2002 NFL rushing champion Ricky Williams when he completes a four-game drug suspension will mean even more firepower.

The line was a league laughingstock last season, but with a cast of holdovers -- and a new line coach in the widely respected Hudson Houck -- holes are bigger and pass protection is better.

Players rave that new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's play calling is more creative and less conservative than when Dave Wannstedt was head coach.

"We're playing to win games," guard Rex Hadnot said. "We're not playing to preserve a lead."

The defense has given up more points and yards than in the first three games a year ago, and the secondary has become the biggest concern for Saban, a former defensive back. The Dolphins allowed 285 yards and three touchdowns through the air against Carolina, but middle linebacker Zach Thomas found a silver lining.

Los Angeles Times Articles