No matter how good or bad a season was, it always seems like us fans all go right to the "needs" of their team as soon as their season comes to an end. This year is no different. And with the way this season ended - with the Dolphins losing their last three games to keep themselves from the postseason - it makes sense to instantly turn our attention to how this team can get better for the 2010 season and beyond.
But I'd like to quickly talk about some of the positives that came out of the '09 season. And note - these aren't all of the positives. But in my opinion, these positives listed below are some of the most important ones.
Henne might just be the answer
Not since the rookie season of "you know who" have the Dolphins had a young quarterback make his first career starts in Miami and play as well as Chad Henne did in 2009. Were there bumps along the way? Of course. But that's just the maturation process of any young quarterback. Anyone remember Peyton Manning's rookie season, for example? Or that of Drew Brees? Most, if not all, young quarterbacks experience some turbulence as they progress. But you have to like what you have seen out of Henne so far.
His arm strength has come as advertised. He's shown the ability to roll out and throw on the run with accuracy. He's stood tough in the pocket even when under pressure. He has started taking control of the huddle and recognizing that he needs to be the leader on the field. He's already engineered three 4th quarter comebacks. And most importantly, there hasn't been one time where the game or the moment has seemed to big for him.
His numbers aren't outstanding by any means. But he did average 214 yards in 13 games as a starter - including three 300+ yard games in his last five. And while he only completed 60.8% of his passes - which itself is not too bad for a first year starter - he completed 67% of his passes in his final four games. His best game, though, probably came back in week 5 on Monday Night Football, throwing for 241 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions en route to a four point win over the Jets.
He has a lot of room for improvement, of course. He still has a tendency of locking onto his primary receiver. He has thrown too many interceptions. And he still needs to get better on making those "touch passes" that present themselves during the course of a game. But still - Henne is well on his way towards becoming the long-term answer at quarterback.
It is worth noting, though, that head coach Tony Sparano did not commit to Henne as the 2010 starter like Sparano did at this time last season with Chad Pennington. Not that Sparano isn't happy with Henne's progress, saying, "I am really pleased with what Chad did, I really am. This guy, he is a pretty curious guy. He likes to get better at the things he is not good at … I really like what I have seen in Chad right now."
The offensive line has a serious stud and some serious depth
Let me start off by saying that outside of a rough opening game, Jake Long was exceptional for most of the season. I still stand by the decision to take the monster left tackle over Matt Ryan a couple years back.
But what was even more impressive this year was just how deep Miami's offensive line suddenly is. Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas both had their ups and down - more ups than downs. But their health and their struggles (at times) gave this staff a chance to see what Nate Garner could do as a starter. He didn't disappoint. Garner was effective for most of the season and even played four different positions along the line at different times. He has spent time at both guard positions, center, and even a few snaps at right tackle when Vernon Carey went down for a series against the Panthers.
Speaking of Carey, Vernon battled through some injuries late in the season that clearly hindered his ability. But he was a beast for about three-fourths of the year - even prompting Peter King to list Carey as his All-Pro pick at right tackle.
Then there's Jake Grove and Joe Berger. Grove proved to be an excellent addition to this team - when he was healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, his tendency to get hurt came back to haunt Grove - suffering a high ankle sprain that limited him for most of the second half of the season. But Berger stepped right in and filled in admirably.
You can't help but be excited for this offensive line - a line that easily rolls seven players deep.
Rookie corners can play
Like any rookie corner, both Vontae Davis and Sean Smith had their ups and downs. But there were more ups than downs for these two - leaving us all with a lot to look forward to as these two progress.
Vontae was the "big play" corner. He led the team with four interceptions - including two picks of Tom Brady while covering Randy Moss. Of course, he also gave up a few big plays - either via penalty or by getting burnt.
Sean Smith, meanwhile, didn't intercept one pass in 2009. But he became the first rookie corner to start every game in franchise history. And he might have just been the better cover corner of the two rookies. He got beat far less than Davis did. And the fact is teams were willing to throw to Will Allen's side (before he got hurt) and to Vontae's side before throwing at Smith. Did Smith wear down and hit the rookie wall? Maybe a little. But I'm going to have more on these two rookie corners either later this week or early next week and you'll see that both of these guys give us reasons to be excited about their futures.
Polite doesn't stay true to his name
If you are a Dolphins fan, then it's impossible for you not to love Lousaka Polite. Not only is he a short yardage monster - converting 17 of 18 3rd or 4th and 2 or fewer yards to go - but the man is just a nasty run blocker. He blew up opposing linebackers with ease this season. Polite is probably the most underrated player on this roster. But his respect from the media is starting to come - including Peter King naming Polite to his All Pro team.
His last name is the exact opposite to how he treated opposing defenders. And I couldn't be happier to have this guy on my team.
Some quality complimentary receivers
I still believe this team needs a true #1 receiver to take this offense to the next level. But one thing that isn't needed is a complimentary receiver. The Dolphins are loaded with them.
Davone Bess is simply one hell of a possession receiver. His 76 receptions in 2009 was tied for the fourth most in team history. And he's among the best 3rd down receivers in the entire league. He had 28 3rd down conversion receptions - 2nd most in the league and just one behind the Giants' Steve Smith.
Greg Camarillo returned from a torn ACL to again show that he's "Mr. Reliable" when it comes to catching the football. His 70% catch percentage ranked Camarillo 5th among all AFC wide receivers. And the man didn't drop a single pass all season long.
Brian Hartline, meanwhile, had a solid rookie season. He led the team in yards per reception with 16.3 and in receiving touchdowns with three. He, too, showed reliable hands. But he also showed some toughness and big play ability.
All three of these guys are excellent complimentary receivers and are the kind of receivers great football teams have and bad football teams never have. Now if the Dolphins can just land that top guy, then they'd have a dangerous receiving corps.
Starks is a revelation
I guess Randy Starks just needed to get adjusted to a 3-4 defense. Because his second season as a Dolphin was just outstanding. You can make the case that he was the defensive MVP of this team.
His seven sacks were second on the team. His five tackles for loss were also second. And his 42 solo tackles placed him sixth on the team - an impressive feat for a 3-4 defensive end. It's rare that you find an end in this kind of defense that has the kind of impact Starks had in 2009. And he just turned 26 last month and should get even better.