The regular season is, finally, almost here. To help get us started, we turn to old friend (emphasis on old) Armando Salguero, the long-time Dolphins writer for the Miami Herald. Nobody is more plugged in to the team than Armando, so his take on the AFC East rival is valued.
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1. Ricky and Ronnie have been replaced by Reggie (Bush) and The Rookie (Daniel Thomas). How effective do you think they'll be?
Salguero: The Dolphins think they have speed in the backfield that they've lacked for a couple of years as Ricky Williams aged and Ronnie Brown recovered from knee and foot injuries. So they are faster. But unless Thomas shows a yet unseen ability to plow a path between the tackles, the new duo will not be as good as Ricky and Ronnie were on that front. Thomas, by the way, is nursing a hamstring injury and admits he was at one point this preseason told by coaches to stop "tippy-toeing" on inside runs. One thing that must be said is the checkdown passes that used to yield maybe 5 or 6 yards in the past might now go for 8-10 yards based on the new backfield speed.
2. Who is the one Dolphins player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Monday?
Salguero: Well, with the exception of those morons Dennis and Callahan at WEEI, Patriots fans are pretty sophisticated and aware of the opposition. Having said that, the Dolphins added rookie receiver Clyde Gates for the purpose of adding speed on the outside and also on special teams. With New England's new deep secondary, one might expect the Dolphins to call at least a couple of deep passes to Gates to try to take the top off the New England defense. His kickoff returns should also be interesting to watch.
3. What's the biggest weakness on the Dolphins' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Salguero: The Miami offensive line, particularly the right side where RT Marc Colombo and RG Vernon Carey play, did not have a great preseason. Colombo is a Cowboys discard. Carey was forced to take a pay cut and moved from right tackle. If the Pats truly intend to attack on defense as has been discussed, attacking the right side of the line would be a place they'd probably like to get after.
4. What's the biggest weakness on the Dolphins' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
Salguero: Miami has a very good defense. It's hard to say they have an obvious strategic or physical weakness. The unit's weakness has been in failing to come up with game-changing plays. They haven't had a bunch of strip sacks. They've struggled to hold on to interceptions, (Cornerback Sean Smith dropped seven picks in his hands last season). I guess that's a long-winded way of saying I can't pick out a glaring hole in the Miami defense.
5. Finally, Dolphins win on Monday if....
Salguero: ... Brady goes down. I'm not talking goes down as in gets hurt. I'm talking he goes down as in everytime he passes, he gets hit. I'm saying everytime he throws, the Dolphins hurry him, torment him, make him feel uncomfortable, make him wonder where the next hit is coming from, make him unsure about his protection. If Tom Brady becomes human, if he doesn't play well, suddenly the Patriots don't look like a Superteam anymore. They become beatable. Sort of.
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Thanks to Armando for taking the time to do this. We used to knock heads on the Dolphins beat when I was with the Palm Beach Post, but he was also tremendously helpful to me as a young reporter.