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Dolphins QB Lemon to make first NFL start

DAVIE, Fla. (Dec. 27, 2006) -- It's a week of breakthroughs for quarterback Cleo Lemon, who threw his first career touchdown pass and now looks forward to his first NFL start.

The third-year pro will replace Joey Harrington in the Miami Dolphins' lineup Dec. 31 against Indianapolis, coach Nick Saban said.

"It's important for us to see where this guy is," Saban said. "I think he deserves the opportunity."

Lemon came off the bench in the past two games. He replaced Harrington at halftime of a Dec. 25 loss to the New York Jets, and the Dolphins' streak of seven quarters without a point ended when Lemon threw for a score in the fourth period.

He finished 11-for-16 for 104 yards.

"Once he got his sea legs under him, he seemed to do a pretty good job," Saban said. "It's a little bit different being a starting pitcher and being a reliever. Cleo needs to start."

With the Dolphins (6-9) out of the playoff race heading into their finale, Lemon will get a chance to spark an offense that has struggled much of the year.

"This is the point I've been grinding for my whole career -- to get this first start," he said. "Hopefully I can go out and be successful."

The timing of the promotion means Lemon will match up against Peyton Manning. The game is important for the AFC South champion Colts (11-4), still in the running for a first-round bye in the playoffs.

"Peyton Manning is a great player," Lemon said. "I'm not in his league. But at the same time I know I have a job to do, and that's to lead this offense."

Daunte Culpepper started the first four games before the Dolphins decided he needed more time to recover from reconstructive knee surgery. Harrington threw 12 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions and went 5-6 as a starter.

Ending his first season in Miami after four rocky years in Detroit, Harrington had no objections to the demotion.

"That's Coach's decision, and I'm going to respect it," Harrington said. "Obviously there are a lot of things that go into the decision, and I understand that. It's not something that is going to break me."

Undrafted after playing at Arkansas State, Lemon spent time with Baltimore and San Diego before joining the Dolphins in 2005. He'll be a restricted free agent this offseason.

The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2006, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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