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Fiedler could regain starting job against Redskins

By Michael Cunningham

Staff Writer

Posted November 18 2003

DAVIE -- At the same time he said quarterback Brian Griese's accuracy gives the Dolphins an advantage, coach Dave Wannstedt indicated Jay Fiedler could regain his starting job this week.

Wannstedt said he would wait until Wednesday to decide on the quarterback, meaning Fiedler, recovering from a sprained knee, will be considered if he's fit. Trainer Kevin O'Neill said Fiedler "is a little improved" from last week but still hasn't worked full speed since suffering the injury Oct. 19.

The offense has struggled with both quarterbacks, but Wannstedt was encouraged that Griese at least had some chances to make big plays against a tough Baltimore defense in the 9-6 victory Sunday.

Griese, who benefited from both solid protection and a respectable running game for the first time in three games, missed on a few deep passes to open receivers. But Wannstedt said Griese "will make the throws nine times out of 10" if given time, and that he still is developing timing with the receivers.

If the running game and the protection continue to improve, then the Dolphins would have "a very accurate passer" behind center with Griese, Wannstedt said. So should they stick with Griese even if Fiedler is healthy?

"We have no choice at this point," Wannstedt said, repeating his contention that until Fiedler can play, there's no use discussing the scenario.

Fiedler eventually will be ready, and then Wannstedt will no longer be able to avoid making a choice. After four starts by Griese and six by Fiedler, there doesn't seem to be a clear one.

Their production is similar. Griese has averaged 170 yards passing per game with a 54.4 percent completion rate to Fiedler's 185 yards and 56.9 percent. Griese has four touchdown passes and four interceptions to Fiedler's six touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Griese's accuracy has been off at times, never more than during his 13-for-32 day against the Ravens. He missed some deep throws and threw an interception to Ravens safety Ed Reed on a pass Wannstedt said he shouldn't have made.

Then again, Griese's best throw of the game Sunday, a pretty touch pass to Randy McMichael inside the Baltimore 10-yard line, was dropped. Kendall Newson also dropped a long one, his third drop in two games.

Fiedler is more mobile than Griese, who has been sacked 10 times with four fumbles lost and isn't as effective throwing on the move. Fiedler has been sacked just eight times and lost two fumbles despite attempting 50 more passes than Griese.

Of course, the protection for Fiedler generally has been better than for Griese, which is the reason his relative lack of mobility became an issue in the first place. And while Griese's accuracy tailed off against the Ravens, his passing against the Chargers and Colts was better than what Fiedler has shown this season.

So it seems the quarterback choice, like the rest of the Dolphins' offensive problems, isn't easy to figure.

The Dolphins' No. 1 offense hasn't scored a touchdown since the third quarter of the Colts game, a stretch of nine quarters. Ricky Williams had 105 yards rushing against the Ravens, topping 100 yards for the first time in seven games, but he needed 36 carries to do it -- an average of 2.9 yards per carry.

Wannstedt said the Dolphins' 41 rushing plays were due to the ball-control, field-position game they were playing against the Ravens and isn't the blueprint to win most weeks.

The Dolphins did run the ball when they had to, and they tried throwing long more than usual even if they didn't execute.

That's not much, especially 10 games into a season of championship expectations. But after the Dolphins struggled badly against the Titans, it was enough for Wannstedt to say the offense gained some of the confidence it desperately needs.

"The main thing is the running game and we didn't give up any sacks," Wannstedt said. "When the guys come in and watch the film they will see that paid off. We had some chances to make some plays down the field because of having confidence.

"We didn't get it done, but they can at least watch the tape and we can say, `Good job. We had time, we stepped up [in the pocket], we will make that throw next time.' We couldn't say that last week."

The lack of production in the receiver spot opposite Chris Chambers has stymied both quarterbacks.

Derrius Thompson, signed in the offseason effectively as a replacement for Oronde Gadsden, now is sharing snaps with Newson, signed off the practice squad.

The other options are rookie fifth-round pick J.R. Tolver, who has been inactive for one game, and veteran James McKnight, who has been used mostly as the third receiver.

"It's a little bit unsettling, and you don't like that at any point in the season, particularly this point," Wannstedt said of the position. "I think you still have to constantly evaluate it every week and see if you can make improvement and make sure that you're playing the guys that give you the best chance to win."

At quarterback, there doesn't seem to be a clear choice for Wannstedt whenever he has to make it.

Michael Cunningham can be reached at mcunningham@sun-sentinel.com.

Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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