AFC East: Solomon Wilcots
Steve Tasker and Qadry Ismail told Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane that Marshall's injury seemed rather fishy to them. Marshall left the Week 11 game against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter. He has missed the past two games and is questionable for Sunday's rematch with the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.
That wasn't the first time respected former players questioned Marshall's conditioning. NFL Network analysts Sterling Sharpe, Solomon Wilcots and Mike Mayock were critical of Marshall's laziness in the waning moments of a Week 3 home loss to the Jets.
Ismail suggested Marshall was quitting on the Dolphins. Ismail, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, made a mental note of Marshall being worked on by trainers before the Bears game.
"It was like, 'I'm glad he's taking care of his body. It puts him in a better position to win,' " Ismail said. "But after that it caught me off guard to see him get hurt. And it's been surprising to me that it's taken him this long to come back from it. When guys do things differently, like he does, they normally come back a lot faster than that.
"I'll be curious to see how motivated he plays [Sunday against the Jets]. In other words, I'm not expecting too much."
Marshall's season has been a serious disappointment. The Dolphins made him the NFL's highest-paid receiver after acquiring him from the Denver Broncos for two second-round draft picks.
He has decent reception numbers but just one touchdown catch. In his past two games he has been flagged for chucking a ball into the stands and for throwing one at former Broncos teammate Jay Cutler on the Bears' sideline.
Marshall claimed he was keeping his lack of production in perspective.
"The great players around the league want to be put in position to help the team," Marshall said Thursday. "But sometimes, like Coach [Tony] Sparano taught me and is trying to teach me still, some days it's a shot glass and some days it's a wheel barrow.
"You got to understand that, and you just got to try to be mentally tough, and it's a struggle when you're used to catching a bunch of balls or being so involved. But we got to do what's best for the team and hopefully get a couple wins here and have some things fall into place for us and get in that postseason."
The AFC East is well represented, with three of their four experts backing up Sports Illustrated's declaration that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had an MVP first half.
MVP: Tom Brady
Offensive player: Tom Brady
Defensive player: Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson
Head coach: Steve Spagnuolo
Rookie: Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh
Team: Patriots and Giants
MVP: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady
Offensive player: Peyton Manning
Defensive player: James Harrison
Head coach: Bill Belichick
Rookie: Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh
Team: No choice, but says Patriots, Ravens, Steelers and Jets are best four teams in the NFL.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Offensive player: Philip Rivers
Defensive player: Clay Matthews
Head coach: Todd Haley
Rookie: Sam Bradford
MVP: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers
Head coach: Todd Haley
Rookie: Ndamukong Suh
Marshall loves being known as "The Beast," a persona developed over three straight seasons of 100-plus catches. He has dubbed the section that overlooks the players' tunnel in Sun Life Stadium's west end zone "Beast Alley" and expends considerable energy exhorting fans to reach full froth with him.
"He's a high-anxiety, high-energy guy," Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "You ought to see him before the game. He's like a caged tiger. I mean, literally like a caged tiger."
Rather than throw raw meat at Marshall, the Dolphins have been flinging tanned cowhide in his direction. At any point from opening kickoff until the game clock expires, he's hungry.
In one of the NFL's bigger offseason moves, the Dolphins acquired Marshall to unlock all sorts of new offensive possibilities.
After a relatively tame first two games, the Dolphins finally unleashed their manimal last week, and there's no reason to think he'll be subdued Monday night against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
"The guy is a monster," Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrence McGee said before he faced Marshall on opening day. "He's one of the best receivers in the league, so you've definitely got to expect they're going to throw him the ball. That's what they brought him there for."
Marshall showed in Week 3 why the Dolphins traded a pair of second-round draft choices to the Denver Broncos and then signed him to a beastly four-year, $47.5 million extension.
With quarterback Chad Henne throwing for a career-high 363 yards, Marshall had 10 catches for 166 yards and his first Dolphins touchdown in a home loss to the New York Jets. The yardage tied for the second most of Marshall's career.
Marshall also ran twice for 3 yards and made his first Wildcat cameos. Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown tried to throw deep to him once.
"He's definitely a go-to player for them," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall. "They get the ball to him in a lot of different situations.
"He's big. He's like a tight end. He's huge for a receiver. He can go up and get the ball. He's a strong runner with the ball in his hands and good after the catch. He's got good speed, good quickness, good receiving skills. He's a tough guy to match up against."
The best way to negate The Beast might be when he tuckers himself out.
One of the hot topics in South Florida the past week was Marshall's energy level against the Jets in the sweltering heat. Henning revealed Marshall was so drained in the first half Sunday night that he went to the locker room early to receive intravenous fluids.
NFL Network analysts Sterling Sharpe, Solomon Wilcots and Mike Mayock faulted Marshall's lack of effort on the final set of downs with the Dolphins desperate for a touchdown. Marshall got them to the Jets' 11-yard line with a 30-yard catch and run but then disappeared over the next four downs.
"He's on the field, and he's wound up really tight before the game," Henning said. "So we're working on that, to try to get him to be patient and utilize all that energy in the game and not expend it too soon."
Said Marshall: "I'm just so passionate, and I guess when we get on that football field a lot of emotions come out, and I just turn into a different person. I think that's what helps me be successful in my young career."
It might be tough to get Marshall settled down for the Patriots because their secondary likely is causing him to drool.
For the Denver Broncos last year, Marshall had eight receptions for 64 yards and both touchdowns in a 20-17 overtime victory over the Patriots, whose secondary was more stable then compared to now.
The Patriots' pass defense has been lenient so far and chaotic in terms of personnel. Veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden and safety Brandon McGowan were placed on injured reserve, ending their seasons before they began. Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather lost his starting job in Week 2. Cornerback Darius Butler lost his last week.
Belichick said limiting Marshall's infamous yards after the catch is "a top priority."
The Patriots' defense has allowed an NFL-high seven touchdown passes. It has surrendered at least two in each game. Quarterbacks have completed 69.4 percent of their attempts, are averaging 260.3 yards and have a 101.3 passer rating against New England.
You can expect Marshall's appetite to be voracious, whether it's Henne throwing the ball or even Brown.
"Oh, absolutely," Marshall said. "I want the ball every play. What receiver doesn't?"
Nobody else is qualified, apparently.
Marshall responded Thursday by essentially saying the analysts are not qualified to scrutinize him.
"Those guys are players, former players," Marshall said. "They never coached. So they need to continue to do what they do best and stop worrying about other things that they don't know anything about."
Marshall later added: "What those guys are saying, that's just them trying to sound good and sound like they know what they're talking about. ... I don't honestly think those guys were elite players, including Sterling Sharpe. I got to turn on the film and see what he was able to do. I know he's done some good things, but from my understanding he's not a Hall of Fame guy."
Marshall had 10 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown Sunday night.
"The guy played probably 60-something plays the other night," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said, "and if I remember correctly with about four plays left in the game caught one and ran it down. So he looked OK to me then."
Mayock used the Telestrator to point out a seeming lack of effort on the final set of downs after Marshall made a 30-yard catch and run. I selected that play as the AFC East's decisive moment because Jets safety Brodney Pool might have saved the game with his tackle at the Jets' 11-yard line.
Chad Henne threw an incomplete pass to Marshall on first down, scrambled because of coverage on second down, dumped to Ronnie Brown for 5 yards on third down and ended the game with an interception.
Mayock said Marshall was jogging and didn't step up "in money time" throughout that sequence. Wilcots said "a playmaker, a true gamer has to be in great condition to be able to close out games."
"Brandon, you have to give us more," Sharpe said. "Bill Parcells has a great saying that I stole, working with him in TV: 'Don't complain. Don't explain.' You are the guy down in South Florida. If they're going to throw the ball, you are the first option. What Mike just showed us, I'm going to give you a pass on that. That was one game this year. You're getting used to the Florida heat.
"Brandon Marshall, from now on, you, my friend, are going to have to bring it."
Mayock and Wilcots are former NFL safeties. Sharpe was an All-Pro three times and a Pro Bowler five times in seven NFL seasons.
Sharpe likely would have been a Hall of Famer had a neck injury not forced him to retire at 29 amid concerns of paralysis or possibly death because of loose vertebrae. Sharpe left as the Green Bay Packers' all-time receiving leader.
Marshall would be fortunate to have a career that successful and blessed to retire on his terms rather than be forced to leave the game because of a serious injury.
Marshall hasn't been selected for an All-Pro team yet, but he could make a few if he stays healthy. He also could be a Hall of Famer someday -- and thereby become certified to render an opinion on another receiver.
But can Henne be a franchise quarterback?
Solomon Wilcots: "If you're going to be a franchise quarterback in the National Football League, you've got to bring your team back and win games in the fourth quarter. ... Chad Henne has shown some of the things you want to see. He's got a wonderful arm in terms of arm strength. He has great accuracy. But the ability to bring your team back and win games in the fourth quarter, the ingredients are there with time to bake the cake."
Rod Woodson: "The definition of a franchise quarterback is that he has to be able to take the team on his shoulders late in the game, a la Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. Knowing that they have the football late in the game, the defense is in trouble. I think Peyton Manning has his Ph.D. in franchise quarterbacking. Chad Henne is in pre-K right now. He's learning how to get there, but he has all the ingredients like Solly said."
Muhsin Muhammad: "That's a prestigious honor to hold, to not be just the starter, but the franchise? You have to put in a lot of work, years after years after years to get that reputation. He's got all the tools, but can he put the team on his shoulders? It's yet to be seen."
For the New England Patriots, he listed outside linebacker, receiver and defensive end as the primary areas to address. Lumped into the "other needs" category, was offensive line.
At least two analysts think the O-line should be a priority in New England.
Boston Herald reporter Karen Guregian wrote a thought-provoking article that takes a look at what would appear to be a strong unit. The Patriots surrendered only 18 sacks in 2009, third fewest in the NFL. In addition to accomplished veterans Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen, they have young tackle Sebastian Vollmer ready in the wings.
For NFL Network and CBS Sports commentator Solomon Wilcots and SI.com columnist Ross Tucker, that's not good enough.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is known for holding onto the ball until the last possible moment to give his receivers a chance to separate. He absorbs dozens of unofficial hits each season.
"The offensive line has to be a concern because everything you do has to start with protecting Tom Brady," Wilcots told Guregian. "You can't get Tom Brady beat up like Tom Brady was beat up this year. He had a year in '08 where he got knocked out. He had a year in '09 where he got banged up. That's how you chip away at their [offensive] fundamentals. That's how you chip away at their timing. That's how your quarterbacks age."Tucker noted in Guregian's article that right tackle Nick Kaczur was a weakness, and right guard Stephen Neal, center Koppen and left tackle Light are in decline.