Ten games into the 2005 season, the Miami Dolphins were 3-7 and looked like a team with marginal talent. However, to their credit they somehow rallied and put together six victories in a row to finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record. There is now rampant optimism in the Dolphins' camp and some believe they are poised to replace the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. Are the Dolphins that good or are we overrating them as we head into training camp? It all starts with head coach Nick Saban, who has total control of this organization in both coaching and personnel and is not afraid to make tough calls. Much like his friend, Bill Belichick in New England, Saban makes decisions based on facts and not emotions. He knows exactly what he needs to build this team and nothing will make him waver from what he thinks is right. How many coaches have enough job security and confidence to hire two ex-head coaches as coordinators? Mike Mularkey (Buffalo) will run the offense and Dom Capers (Carolina and Houston) will run the defense. In typical Saban fashion, however, both the offensive and defensive schemes are already in place. Instead of forcing the players to adjust to a new system, Mularkey and Capers will have to make adjustments. Offensively, success revolves around the health of new quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He is coming off a devastating knee injury, but the medical reports out of South Florida are positive. He is participating in throwing drills and his mobility and movement are way ahead of schedule. There is quiet optimism that Culpepper will be ready to play on opening day. If that's the case, which Culpepper will we see? Will it be the one who threw only six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions before his injury a year ago, or the player who threw 39 TDs in 2004? If we get the latter, the Dolphins will be off and running. The offense will be balanced, with a strong run game led by Ronnie Brown. However, they will take more vertical shots in the passing game to stretch the field and soften up defenses. Doug Murray/WireImage.com Nick Saban has built a strong nucleus and created a winning culture in Miami. The Dolphins were 18th in the NFL in 2005 in average gain per pass play and would like to improve on that, especially with Culpepper's gifted deep arm. Another tweak to the passing game might be more roll-outs and bootlegs to pressure the perimeter of opposing defenses. A year ago that was a non-factor as part of the playbook because of quarterback Gus Frerotte's limited mobility. Both Culpepper and backup Joey Harrington are agile and will add another element to the offense. Culpepper has decent weapons to which to throw, but there is an alarming lack of depth at wide receiver. After Chris Chambers and Marty Booker, the Dolphins do not have a legitimate No. 3 or No. 4 threat. As a result, tight end Randy McMichael might have to assume a bigger role, although there is hope that rookie wideout Derek Hagan will develop quickly. As good as the running game can be, Miami's coaching staff has to be concerned about depth. Brown gained 907 yards as a rookie, but he ran the ball only 207 times. Although he's added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and seems motivated to be a workhorse, you cannot expect Brown to carry the ball 300 times. With Ricky Williams now playing in Canada as a result of his one-year suspension, the Dolphins must find someone in training camp capable of giving Brown a rest. Miami's offensive line, a huge success story in 2005, returns intact. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck took a group of no-names and turned it into a very respectable unit. This group cut its sacks allowed total from 53 in 2004 to 26 in 2005 and helped the run game improve from 3.2 yards per carry in 2004 to 4.3 in 2005. The addition of blocking fullback Fred Beasley from San Francisco was more good news for Miami's skill-position players. The biggest challenge for Miami's offensive coaching staff will be improving red-zone efficiency. In 2005, the Dolphins were 26th in red-zone touchdowns, converting only 21 of 52 opportunities. Mularkey is known as a creative play-caller who loves trick plays, which should make the Dolphins fun to watch in the red zone. Defensively, the Dolphins were rock solid last season in the front seven, but the secondary was another story. Saban is a secondary coach by trade and employs a very complicated scheme with a combination of coverages, but his personnel wouldn't allow him to integrate those schemes. A year ago, the lack of speed in the secondary made it difficult to play tight man-to-man coverages and blitz because Miami's defensive backs could not be trusted on an island. Miami was 20th in the NFL in 2005 in passing yards allowed per game despite the fact that it produced 49 sacks up front, which tied for second in the league. To Sabans' credit, he has given his secondary a complete makeover. Gone are defensive backs Sam Madison, Reggie Howard, Tebucky Jones and Lance Schulters. The new arrivals are Will Allen, Andre' Goodman, Renaldo Hill, Deke Cooper, and rookie first-round pick Jason Allen. This new group has more speed, versatility and playmaking possibilities and should be able to handle Saban's multiple schemes. Up front, the Dolphins quietly are implementing a lot of 3-4 alignments. Even when they are in a 4-3 front, they tend to line up the big Keith Traylor at nose tackle. Speaking of Traylor, he is a big key to this defense. When he is right, he is an unmovable object and can neutralize the inside run. However, he is aging, gets nicked a lot, wears down and recently was arrested with a DUI charge. There is virtually no depth behind him and if Traylor struggles, this interior run defense could suffer. There is good depth in the rest of this defensive line, along with the versatility to play difficult fronts. Jason Taylor is coming off a 12-sack season and can line up at right defensive end in the 4-3 or at right outside linebacker in the 3-4, although even when he is at linebacker he usually pass rushes with his hands in the dirt. Left defensive end Kevin Carter can play on the edge in both fronts and can move easily inside to defensive tackle in pass-rush situations. This is a perfect example of a defensive front with a lot of interchangeable parts. Although Capers has the title of special assistant to the head coach, his real job is to make this Miami defense even more productive and unpredictable. He is a defensive guru with great experience in the 3-4 defense and will add some unusual blitzes and new looks out of the varied fronts to confuse opposing offenses. So how good will the 2006 Dolphins be? In my opinion, they will win the AFC East if Culpepper is healthy. They do have the challenge of adjusting to two new coaches (Mularkey and Capers), they must survive depth issues at running back and linebacker, and a totally revamped secondary must jell quickly. However, when you look at this division, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets have new coaches and a lot of personnel questions, while the Patriots did little in the offseason to improve. Miami has a favorable schedule, with no tiring West Coast trips and has only one cold weather game (at Buffalo on Dec. 17). The Dolphins' other cold weather trips, to New England, N.Y. Jets and Chicago, all come before the bad weather hits the East. With Saban in charge, there are no gray areas in this organization. Players know what is expected of them and they either live up to those expectations or they are gone. Saban preaches conditioning in the sweltering summer Miami heat and the Dolphins test for body fat, muscle mass, and they even conduct hydration tests with all of their players. As a result, this team will be in great physical shape in September and October and should get off to a quick start. The AFC East race likely will come down to the Pats and Dolphins and I predict both finish with 10-6 records. Miami will win the division because of tie-breakers, while New England will make the playoffs as a wild card. A lot of people think the Dolphins are still a year away from being a legitimate playoff contender. I think they are ready now. This will become a model organization that a lot of teams will try to copy.