Dolphins' patchwork line does job

Injuries to guards, center force personnel shuffle

November 17, 2003|By Michael Cunningham | Michael Cunningham,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

MIAMI - In a speech Saturday night, left guard Jamie Nails urged the Miami Dolphins to be confident, but then the offensive line slowly started falling apart yesterday against the Ravens.

Injuries to Nails, right guard Todd Perry and center Tim Ruddy tested the Dolphins' shaky depth along the line. With the game in doubt late, the line looked like this: rookie Wade Smith, who had rough outings in the previous two games, at left tackle; Billy Yates and Greg Jerman, who had never played an offensive snap, at the guards; Seth McKinney, a backup, at center; and Todd Wade, the only veteran, at right tackle.

But the hodgepodge group held together long enough for the Dolphins to secure a 9-6 overtime victory at Pro Player Stadium, and it wasn't just luck. The Dolphins had sort of prepared for this.

Yates already had split snaps with Nails. Smith said Wade had some unspecified problem with his eyes during the week, so Jerman, a tackle, practiced some at right guard. McKinney already had started a game for Ruddy.

"It kind of worked out," Smith said. "You never can predict that both guards get hurt in the game, but it worked out."

Nails went down with a left ankle injury near the start of the second half, and Perry followed him to the sideline with a hurt right elbow in the fourth quarter. Ruddy didn't play because of a sore left knee, so McKinney got his first start since the New York Giants game Oct. 5.

Williams gained 45 yards on 11 carries behind the makeshift line, including 8 yards in three carries to get Olindo Mare a bit closer for his game-winning 43-yard field goal.

"Hey, that is what they are here for," Nails said of the reserve linemen. "You have got to have confidence in those guys to step in when the old guys get hurt, and they have got to earn their keep."

Confidence was the theme of Nails' speech to the offense on Saturday. He usually doesn't have much to say until Sunday, when he often is vocal in the huddle.

But with the Dolphins struggling for much of the season on offense, Nails said he had some things "on my mind and [in] my heart," so, after a conversation with Smith on Thursday, Nails decided to speak up in front of teammates and coaches.

"He stepped up and spoke from the heart," Perry said. "It meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to the guys."

Nails said he didn't yell, and he didn't punch or throw anything.

"Basically I was just saying we have to be more confident," Nails said. "Guys were kind of questioning what was going on. I just said, `Hey, forget the questions, forget everything, just play football. [Do] whatever we have to do to win.' "

That's what the Dolphins had to do in a gritty game against the Ravens, who entered the game allowing the fewest yards in the AFC. The Dolphins didn't really solve their various problems on offense, but they made just enough plays to earn the victory.

Williams finished with 105 yards on 36 carries, his first game of 100 yards or more since he had 153 against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 21.

Quarterback Brian Griese took a significant number of hits after passing but wasn't sacked for the first time in four starts.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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