Sparano Enters: The Dolphins on Track?

by Chris Nelson on January 20, 2008 @ 07:17:27 PDT

 


Coming off a dismal 1-15 season - the worst in the franchise's 42-year history - the Miami Dolphins have named their third different head coach in three seasons. Tony Sparano - an assistant under various titles for the Dallas Cowboys since 2003 - takes the reins under the team's new Executive Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells and new general manager Jeff Ireland as the Dolphins look to get out of the NFL's cellar.

Background

Sparano, 46, joins the Dolphins with over two decades of college and pro coaching experience. After graduating from the University of New Haven in 1982, where he was also the starting center, Sparano served as the offensive line coach at his alma mater from 1984 to 1987. He then served in the same capacity for Boston University for one season, followed by a return to New Haven as offensive coordinator. After running the team's offense from 1989 to 1993, Sparano spent the next five seasons as the team's head coach.

In 1999, Sparano made the leap to the NFL coaching ranks as offensive quality control coach for the Cleveland Browns. He held the role for two seasons, after which time he served as tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins in 2001 and then the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2002.

Sparano joined Parcells' staff with the Cowboys in 2003 and held multiple titles as an assistant through 2007. He was the Cowboys tight ends coach from 2003 to 2004, offensive line coach/running game coordinator in 2005, assistant head coach/offensive line coach/running game coordinator in 2006 and assistant head coach/offensive line coach in 2007 under new head coach Wade Phillips.

Time for a Change

Not only was change enticing after a horrendous season, it become vital after head coach Cam Cameron lost the whole team by season's end. Reports of the locker room chaos were revealed after Cameron's departure, painting a more disastrous picture than the team's record could do alone. Cameron was too strict at times, kicking veteran defensive tackle Keith Traylor off the team to the chagrin of veterans like linebacker Zach Thomas and defensive end Jason Taylor. He was too soft at others, reportedly letting linebacker Joey Porter berate him in front of the entire team for three minutes without so much of a word in defense. By the end, change was not a possibility - it was a necessity.

Sparano appears in some ways to be the anti-Cameron - a hard-nosed, no-nonsense kind of coach who commands the respect of the players and respects them as well. While there is always optimism after a team makes changes coming off a bad experience, the reality is that things really can't get much worse anyway.

Run, Run, Run

Cameron called the offensive plays himself in 2007 with horrendous results, though given the success he had calling plays with the San Diego Chargers the previous season that may have been more a result of lack of talent and extensive injuries than the lack of a true offensive coordinator. In fact, a similar strategy remains a possibility during Sparano's first season, depending on whether or not an adequate candidate can be found.

With the Dolphins' instability at quarterback coupled with Sparano's history as a former offensive lineman, offensive line coach and running game coordinator, expect a heavy emphasis on the running game for the Dolphins in 2008. The team's run blocking was far better than its pass protection in 2007, and the Dolphins are deep at the running back position. Halfback Ronnie Brown (knee) was on his way to a Pro Bowl season before tearing his ACL but should return to full health, and running back Ricky Williams (chest) remains to give the Dolphins possibly one of the best two-headed rushing attacks in the NFL. Additionally, rookie tailback Lorenzo Booker showed his versatility with a 4.5 rushing average and 28 receptions - all of which came in the team's final five games.

On defense, an even stronger push to the 3-4 is likely with Parcells and Ireland building the roster. The Dolphins have attempted to move toward the 3-4 ever since former head coach Nick Saban took over in 2005, but they have lacked the personnel to run it as their base defense. They have the outside linebackers for the scheme in Taylor and Porter, but lack the bulk on the defensive line. In addition, Thomas, while a constant force for the Dolphins for over a decade, has had problems with injuries and is undersized for the 3-4 scheme.

Fantasy Impact

As already discussed, the lack of a reliable quarterback could mean an emphasis on the run for the Dolphins offense in 2008. As long as he gets help up front, Brown should continue to progress and will likely be Miami's top fantasy option. Williams should also be worth a roster spot, given that Brown is coming off an injury and Sparano has a history with a two-back system.

While there's little to get excited about in the passing game, second-year wideout Ted Ginn Jr. is probably the most viable fantasy option at receiver. Ginn caught 34 passes for 420 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie despite working with three different quarterbacks - none of whom performed particularly well.

For individual defensive player (IDP) leagues, there are a few possible fantasy options. The Dolphins didn't always use Porter in the best way in 2007, but he picked it up in the second half of the season with 4.5 sacks and two interceptions after Week 10. Taylor can seemingly always be counted on for double-digit sacks plus some forced fumbles and interceptions. Thomas is still a tackling machine when healthy, while third-year linebacker Channing Crowder recorded 78 tackles in just 11 games.

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About Chris Nelson

Chris Nelson is a college student at Georgia State University currently majoring in journalism. Chris has been playing fantasy baseball and football for nearly a decade. He one day hopes to be a beat writer for the Miami Dolphins while eventually reaching the pinnacle of sports journalism, that being the ability to write about coffee, traveling, kids softball and whatever else he wants, all the while being paid good money by a national publication to do it. He has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.

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