|Thursday, March 16|
By Mark Cannizzaro
Special to ESPN.com
The Dolphins without Dan Marino is like New York City without the Empire
State Building, St. Louis without the Arch, L.A. without pretention, Washington, D.C. without the White House, Miami without Madonna and
What will the Dolphins do now?
How bad will it get before it gets better?
Miami doesn't completely realize it right now, but it should brace itself
for a significant post-Marino-era hangover.
With respect to new head coach Dave Wannstedt, who's
enthusiastic about retooling the Dolphins, there are a lot of signs that
point to difficult times for Miami football -- and the fact that there isn't a
championship starting quarterback in sight is only one of the problems,
albeit the most pressing issue.
Here's what the post-Marino-era quarterback situation looks like as the
remaining quarterbacks have just begun (on March 6) their offseason program of learning new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's offense:
There's Damon Huard, who was Marino's backup last season and
performed fairly well despite criticism in Miami that he's not starting material.
There's Jay Fiedler, the Dolphins' "marquee" offseason free agent
signing. Fiedler was Mark Brunell's backup in Jacksonville and saw limited
There's Jim Druckenmiller, who's known better for some off-the-field
legal troubles than he is for throwing the football.
And there's Scott Zolak, a career backup, who wasn't good enough to
beat out then-inexperienced Ray Lucas for the No. 2 job with the Jets last
The early line is this: Huard is considered the heir to Marino and the favorite
to win the job. Fiedler is considered the primary challenger. Druckenmiller
is a very dark darkhorse and Zolak is in no man's land.
Interestingly, the Dolphins signed Fiedler to a contract of similar money to
the two-year, $2.1 million extension Huard signed in December. The message
there: The job is up for grabs.
Who'll seize it from here, no one knows, but it's most likely the Dolphins
will end up using both Huard and Fiedler at different times.
Huard's numbers in 1999 were respectable. He completed 125 of 216 passes
(57.9 percent) for 1,288 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions for a
rating of 79.8.
In games Huard started for Marino in '99, the Dolphins were 4-1, and that
doesn't include a game against New England in which Huard entered the game
trailing 14-0 and Miami came back to win. So really, he was 5-1.
Yet there are doubters everywhere. And everywhere includes inside the
Dolphins' coaching staff. Sample this comment coming from a current Dolphin
assistant coach, who requested anonymity:
"Well, the good news is we've got Damon Huard as the starter. At least he's
a guy that's gotten his feet wet. But, the bad news is Damon Huard is the
One area where Huard must get better if he's to be the starter is in his
release and escape ability. He was sacked 28 times last year compared to
Marino's nine sacks in much more playing time.
|Jay Fiedler will battle Damon Huard to become Dan Marino's successor.|
As for Fiedler, don't tell him Huard is Marino's successor. Fiedler sees
himself as starting material and he believes he's waited long enough.
"I've put myself in this position through years of hard work," Fiedler
said. "I sat out for a couple of years and worked my butt off to get into
this situation. It's starting to pay off right now."
There are many questions with Fiedler, too, though.
After spending 1994 and '95 with Philadelphia, he was waived by the Eagles
and Bengals in '96. The following year, he juggled jobs in the World League
and as a Hofstra University assistant coach.
Now Fiedler has come to grips with the magnitude of trying to replace a
legend in Marino.
"He's one of the greatest quarterbacks," Fiedler said. "When I was growing
up in high school, Dan Marino was THE quarterback in the NFL. The bar has
been set at the position extremely high to the level that is almost
unattainable to anyone.
"Dan Marino's records aren't going to be broken anytime soon. What I want to
do is take this team to a high level, not just the quarterback position."
That figures to be a daunting task because the Dolphins' problems and
question marks aren't merely at quarterback.
Miami's other "marquee" offseason signing was former Buffalo running
back Thurman Thomas, who's been injury-prone and ineffective in his later
years. Thomas is expected to be a third-down back. At starting tailback, New Orleans reject Lamar Smith will compete with
injury-prone J.J. Johnson.
The Dolphins have seemingly let their best tight end, Troy Drayton, go via
They signed Heath Irwin in hopes he'll start at right guard even though the
Patriots got rid of him. They re-signed center Tim Ruddy despite a shaky '99
season. And they signed Brian Walker from Seattle in hopes he'll compete at
strong safety even though the Seahawks didn't want him.
All this and the Dolphins don't even have a first-round pick in next month's
Something most Dolphins fans probably have not pondered is this: Until the
Dolphins land themselves a marquee player with some star power, the stands at
Pro Player Stadium are likely to become more and more vacant.
"Dan has been the identity of this franchise for so long," former Dolphins
receiver Jimmy Cefalo told the Miami Herald. "He's been it. He's been the
Dolphins. It's not going to sink in until the first Sunday when he's not
there. It's not going to be pretty during those tough times.
"This is just going to be the beginning of the retirement of Dan Marino. You
will not see the fallout until that stadium is empty two years from now if
they don't find a star to try and take some of his aura."
the good news is we've got Damon Huard as the starter. At least he's a guy that's gotten
his feet wet. But, the bad news is Damon Huard is the starter. ”
||— Dolphins assistant coach
Kim Bokamper, another former teammate of Marino's, had a similar analysis
for the Miami Herald: "This has been a team that has been blessed with some
star-studded, marquee people in Don Shula, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Paul
Warfield and then Dan Marino comes on the scene.
"Not to take anything away from Dave Wannstedt, but certainly he doesn't
carry the marquee impact that those guys do. Dan Marino steps down and really
this is a team without a lot of flash. It's almost like you look at them and
maybe you say they've become the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia
Eagles and the Chicago Bears -- just another one of the group."
The method to Jets' madness over Keyshawn
There were those who wondered aloud whether Bill Parcells, Al Groh and the
rest of Jets management were annoyed that the Baltimore Ravens went so public
with their dealings regarding Keyshawn Johnson.
To the contrary, the Ravens played perfectly into the Jets' hands when team
owner Art Modell and coach Brian Billick were so candid about their talks
with the Jets.
They simply conveyed the Jets' message to Johnson and his agent, Jerome
Stanley, that they were "serious" about dealing the receiver ... even if
The bottom line is this: The Jets are, indeed, concerned about whether they'll
be able to re-sign Johnson, who has two years remaining on his six-year, $15
million deal. And they are concerned about Stanley holding Johnson out of
training camp, as he's threatened.
But, according to highly-placed Jets' sources, the Jets are not going to
renegotiate Johnson's contract. They have a long-standing policy of not
redoing contracts with more than a year remaining.
The Jets front office source said teams that do that risk becoming the 49ers
-- with no salary cap room and not a lot of talent.
After what appeared to be a flurry of activity with Parcells talking to the
Ravens about trading Johnson for Baltimore's No. 5 overall draft pick, things
have become so quiet that it's now annoyed the Ravens, who want Johnson and
are waiting for permission to speak to Stanley to see if Johnson is signable.
"We can't make New York progress with this any faster," Billick said. "At
this point, we're going to move along and do the things that are right for
our organization with regard to other players. If that puts us in a position
where it precludes a deal of that magnitude, then we've reached it.
"The bottom line is, we're kind of moving on. We'll proceed as though
this doesn't exist right now."
Asked specifically if he believes the Jets were angered by Billick's public
comments on the trade, Billick said, "If this irritates somebody in New York,
deal with it. Because I'm talking about the Baltimore Ravens and what's in
the best interests for this organization."
At this point, several teams, including Baltimore, Washington and Tampa
Bay, have had conversations with the Jets regarding Johnson. If the Jets are
going to part with Johnson, which isn't a good idea almost regardless of
what the deal is, they want to then get themselves into that top three
drafting position to get Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown.
Is Cleveland's Clark playing cat-and-mouse with No. 1 pick?
Cleveland Browns director of football operations Dwight Clark has been at
his coy best of late while toying with whom to select with the No. 1 overall
Meanwhile, the teams picking below the Browns are being driven crazy with
Since before the NFL Scouting Combine, Clark was talking up Florida State
receiver Peter Warrick. Browns quarterback Tim Couch, too, was lobbying for
Warrick in an effort to jump-start Cleveland's dormant offense.
Lately, however, Clark has been chirping about Penn State linebacker LaVar
Arrington -- undoubtedly worrying the Redskins, who pick second and third and
have just about been designing plays for Arrington.
"For a long time, it was Peter, Peter, Peter," Clark said. "Now it's, 'Maybe we should look at these other guys; they're pretty damn good.' "
This is when Clark compared Arrington to Lawrence Taylor.
It could be pre-draft hype and smoke with Clark perhaps trying to drive up
the price of a trade for the first overall pick. The Redskins want Arrington
badly, and the Jets have spoken to Cleveland about trading up to the No. 1
spot, presumably to pick Arrington or teammate, Courtney Brown.
||For a long time, it
was Peter, Peter, Peter. Now it's, 'Maybe we should look at these other guys; they're
pretty damn good.' ”
||— Dwight Clark
"Coach Parcells is very sly, and he plays this cat-and-mouse game
better than anybody," Clark said. "So if he's saying Courtney Brown,
you have no idea. He could be saying Courtney Brown to throw everybody
off, or it could be true. Who knows?
"I personally think he wants LaVar Arrington, because LaVar Arrington
is Lawrence Taylor."
Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post writes an AFC notebook for ESPN.com that appears every other Thursday.