- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

Cam Cameron, Miami’s new coach, has been down this road before.

As a 33-year-old rookie assistant in Washington in 1994, Cameron helped send many multi-Super Bowl-winning veterans packing after one down year and changed 13 starters. As a first-time offensive coordinator in 2002, Cameron was involved in San Diego, seven years removed from its last winning season, replacing half its starters.

So it was no surprise that Cameron has cleaned house — at least on offense — with the Dolphins having missed the playoffs a franchise-record five years running. Quarterback Joey Harrington, tight end Randy McMichael, left tackle Damion McIntosh and guard Jeno James are all gone, as are defensive end Kevin Carter and nine reserves. Kicker Olindo Mare is also on his way out following the signing of Jay Feely.

“The first thing you have to do is get the locker room the way you want it,” said Cameron, who relied heavily on advice from general manager Randy Mueller, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and offensive assistants Mike Mularkey and Hudson Houck, all holdovers. “The defense was the strength of our team, so we haven’t made many changes there. When you’re 29th in scoring, changes are going to be made on offense.”

At the same time, Cameron believes the Dolphins — who pounded NFC champion Chicago in November and shut out AFC finalist New England in December — are closer to winning than were those Redskins or the Chargers.

“In San Diego in 2004, we had the first pick in the draft, and all the coaches were in the last years of our contracts,” Cameron recalled. “Three winning seasons later, we had the best record in the league. That goes to show that what can happen if you build your team through the draft. We’re further along here than we were in San Diego three years ago, no question. This is not a rebuilding situation.”

A big question for Cameron is 30-year-old quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who completed a fine five-year run as Minnesota’s starter with a dazzling 2004 season but was injured and/or ineffective the past two years. Culpepper should be healthy for next month’s minicamp, although there’s still talk that Miami might trade for Kansas City’s aging Trent Green, whom Cameron tutored in Washington in 1995 and 1996.

“Daunte has done great things in this league,” Cameron said. “We all know the presence that he has and how he can take over a game.”

Cameron played for Bobby Knight, played and coached for fellow Hall of Famer Bo Schembechler and worked for perpetual winner Marty Schottenheimer, but his biggest influence is probably his stepfather, Tom Harp, who coached at Indiana State, Cornell and Duke.

“When your mom marries a football coach when you’re 13, there’s no way anyone can impact me like my stepfather just because of the day-to-day interaction,” Cameron said. “This is the greatest business in the world because of the kind of people you can interact with.”

One of those people is Bill Belichick, whose Patriots have won the past four AFC East titles. Their fathers coached together at Navy.

“I have tremendous respect for Bill,” Cameron said. “They’ve set the mark in this division … and we have to keep that in mind.”

Four of a kind — While Peyton Manning, the top pick in the 1998 draft, was the Super Bowl MVP seven weeks ago, the four players who followed him in going first overall have had a rough offseason. Tim Couch (1999) remains out of football, presumably for good. Courtney Brown (2000) was cut by Denver. Michael Vick (2001) was questioned by airport police about a substance in a water bottle. And now David Carr (2002) apparently has lost his starting job in Houston to newly acquired quarterback Matt Schaub, Vick’s ex-backup.

Same old, same old — Atlanta’s Rich McKay has been a general manager for all but the first year of the salary cap, so he didn’t join in the hullabaloo over the record contracts handed out during the start of this year’s free agent signing period.

“I see the same thing I see every time,” McKay said. “We’re all initially shocked by the market. The first 10 days, everybody says ‘Wow’ about the size of the contracts. But when the cap goes up as much as it has the last two years, it’s really not that unexpected.”

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