Miami Dolphins  

 

Sparano's stubborn nature could hamper Dolphins' progress

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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Tony Sparano has never done smooth or slick very well. His football coaching roots run a straight line to the offensive line.

Sparano's philosophy for success is for his big guys up front to clear as much room as they possibly can for the running backs. Pound it on the ground. Throw it when necessary.

And in case anyone had forgotten as much, earlier in March the Miami Dolphins' coach made a point of offering the following reminder at the NFL Annual Meeting: "We're going to continue to run the football because that's my nature. That might not be popular with everybody, but that's what I like to do. So we're going to continue to run the football."

On one hand, you can't help but admire Sparano's brutal honesty. He freely admits his bias toward the running game. As head coach, he has the authority to make it the focus of the Dolphins' scheme, and he fully intends to do so as long as the job belongs to him.

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On the other hand, you could easily conclude that Sparano is shoving that authority in the collective face of those who don't agree with it. And he is quick to acknowledge that his approach "might not be popular with everybody."

No one could intelligently argue against the soundness of having a solid rushing attack, something the Dolphins lacked with the NFL's 21st-ranked ground game last season. But its greatest value in today's NFL is as a complement to the pass. Anyone who would oppose the idea of a run-first offensive mentality is merely acknowledging the simple fact that the NFL is a pass-first league.

And that's where Sparano's insistence that the Dolphins will keep running because it's his "nature" could be a bit troubling to their fan base.

Teams that pass more than they run have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl, because that's what all but one of the last 12 winners of the Lombardi Trophy have in common. The latest example is the Green Bay Packers. Their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, threw the ball 39 times on the way to becoming the MVP of Super Bowl XLV.

Not that there is any magic in the sheer total of pass attempts. Throwing often won't assure you of winning if you don't have a good quarterback and at least a couple of playmaking receivers. There is reason to wonder if the Dolphins will ever see anything more than mediocrity from Chad Henne, even though they have surrounded him with a fairly strong receiving corps. Their pass offense wasn't a whole lot more effective than their running game, ranking 16th in the league.

But that doesn't mean they have to abandon the notion of moving the ball effectively through the air. Many close observers of the Dolphins and analysts around the league believe they should select a quarterback in the draft, and perhaps even with their first-round choice (15th overall). That would be a departure for a team that has made a habit of looking for quarterbacks no higher than the second round.

New Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll made the most out of Peyton Hillis' power running when he had the same post with the Browns last season. He also had a hand in some of the significant strides Colt McCoy made as a rookie passer in 2010. Sparano would be wise to trust him to let it loose offensively every now and then, although much of that is going to depend on whether Henne can again show the strides that came to a screeching halt last season and/or the Dolphins find quarterback help in the draft or by some other means.

Another drawback to Sparano's desire to lean heavily on the run is that he doesn't appear to have the talent to make it work. Neither Ronnie Brown nor Ricky Williams has a contract, and indications are they won't be re-signed, even after the NFL begins doing business with its players again. That leaves Lex Hilliard and Kory Sheets as the only running back answers, although the team isn't even pretending that the position is in solid hands. Sparano doesn't hesitate to acknowledge the Dolphins are "going to have to" address running back in the draft or free agency.

However, regardless of who they add to their backfield, the more pressing question is how they will utilize their playbook.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has talked about the NFL's business model being "broken" and needing to be repaired in the settlement of the current labor squabble. It could be argued that Ross' own business model for his team, which is to sell excitement and glitzy entertainment at each game, also is in need of some fixing. The Dolphins aren't a very exciting team to watch as it is, and a grind-it-out offense doesn't figure to help Ross' cause all that much.

Even if there was some flirtation with changing coaches, the owner believed in Sparano enough to give him a two-year contract extension. By sticking with a coach who is the opposite of slick and smooth and who believes that you run your way to victories, Ross must accept what comes with the package.

Yet, if Sparano has visions of remaining a head coach beyond his current deal, he needs to embrace what it takes to win championships in the NFL. He needs his team to throw more than it runs.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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