It's been awhile since my last post, but it is not because of lost faith in Miami. I hope to post more soon about Miami and possible offseason moves.
It's been a rough year for the Dolphins. What started as a promising start after upsetting the Vikingsat the Metrodome quickly turned into a gut-wrenching roller coaster ride for the Dolphin fans. Even after a tough loss to the Jets at home and a complete butt-kicking at the hand of the Patriots, Miami fans always clung to the hope things could improve. All of the hope quickly disappeared after a shutout at home against Chicago, a game I was thankful I didn't have the opportunity to watch. Even then, it wasn't until we lost to Cleveland that some thought we weren't even an average team. Up until this point, fans could claim that Miami beat opponents they were supposed to and were a middle-of-the-pack type of team. After home upsets against Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit, could we really argue that we were really below average? Would we even want to argue that? What a disappointing way to end a season that started with so much hope. Maybe we didn't believe Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross when he thought this team would go to the Super Bowl, but we certainly expected this team to make a run for the postseason.
Certainly there have been some disappointments, but there has been some pleasant surprises too. Let's take a look at how I think each Dolphin performed this year. Maybe this will provide some clues, some glaringly obvious, where Miami should focus much of their offseason attention.
QB Chad Henne - Grade: D, Much higher expectations after teasing Dolphin fans in his rookie campaign. He still had a few moments and much of Miami's blame on offense can't be blamed solely on him. Still, there is no doubt he regressed from an average rookie year.
RB Ronnie Brown - Grade: C-, You might think this is harsh for him because of Miami's well known struggles on the offensive line. Even still, there were times I using those stutter steps too often behind the line. While the coaching staff preaches Brown's vision to find the holes, sometimes he just needs to lower his shoulder and just get what you can. This was disappointing for me personally because I like the talent Brown has and I believe he can be so much better than he's shown.
RB Ricky Williams - Grade: B, Williams gets graded higher because he didn't have the hesitation behind the line. Even when nothing was there, Williams was able to pick up the 1 or 2 yards Brown couldn't. He was more reliable out of the backfield from the midseason on.
FB Lousaka Polite - Grade: C, Still great at picking up the 3rd and shorts, but he too struggled in blocking. Perhaps there were too many defenders in the way and he couldn't decide which one to block? I don't think he needs to be replaced as some will say, but he does need to improve.
LT Jake Long - Grade: A, He was fantastic for much of the year. He had his struggles, but this was while he was dealing with a shoulder injury. Jake Long, with one arm, was still the best lineman on the team. Is that something to be proud of or does that show how bad the line was this year?
LG/C Richie Incognito - Grade: B-, He played better at center than he did at left guard. He is still a viable option at center for next season, but let's not pretend like he had a great season. He gets a slight above average grade here because of his late season performance.
C Joe Berger - Grade: D-, He supposedly beat out Jake Grove for the position, but the thought has been maybe the Dolphins went with the wrong player on here. Berger couldn't block the big NTs Miami faces within the division. He struggled to block most of the men in front of him this year.
RG John Jerry - Grade: C-, He struggled with injuries for parts of the season and looked pretty good at times. He too struggled getting a push in the run game. Miami struggled running to the right and up the middle, both areas where Jerry's blocking is relied upon. Maybe Miami should've ran behind Long much more. For a power running team, Miami found most of their success running outside.
RT Vernon Carey - Grade: D+, He struggled with injuries at well and played with a rookie next to him for much of the season. Regardless, Carey struggled a lot and allowed too many opponents to run around him. He looked too big and too slow out on the field. Perhaps it was his injuries limiting more than we thought, but he was a liability at times.
TE Anthony Fasano - Grade: B+, He is perhaps the most underappreciated Dolphin. Most want an instant upgrade because he doesn't spread the defense and isn't splashy like many of the other TEs in the NFL. Fasano is a solid contributor with his blocking ability and was a reliable target for Chad Henne. Fasano did have the best season of his career in this poor offense. 33 of 39 of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown. Interesting enough for Fasano's critics, he did average 13.5 YPC this season, fifth in the NFL among TEs. Your initial reaction would be that Fasano's YAC must be higher because of this, but this is not true. Of the four TEs in front of Fasano for YPC, all of them have a higher YAC. Fasano ranked 18th in YAC for TEs with at least 20 receptions. A faster TE would be a nice benefit, but this is not an area that needs to be addressed this offseason. If Miami goes into 2011 with Fasano as the starting TE I will not have any hard feelings. Miami must address their backups to Fasano however.
WR Brandon Marshall - Grade: B-, He wasn't spectacular, but he was productive and he did what Miami hopes. Most believe Miami just didn't use Marshall as fans hoped. While he lacked a high number of TEs, Marshall did post 86 receptions and 1,014 yards. These numbers came while missing two games this year. Were fans really expecting 115 catches for 1,600 yards? Marshall had a few moments this season with dumb penalties, but you have to feel that Marshall will be the focus of this offense in the future with Ross' desires to become more aggressive this year.
WR Brian Hartline - Grade: B, He had a solid, but unspectacular year while he was healthy. For those who doubt his contributions to this offense just need to look how Miami's offense regressed after he was lost for the year. He was able to take advantage of the attention Marshall received. He averaged a respectable 14.3 YPC and was more of a threat after the catch than Marshall or Davone Bess. He may challenge Fasano's spot as the most underappreciated Dolphin. Unfortunately, a lot of the blame Hartline gets is not his fault. I suspect many of his critics have resentment for him because of their disappointment Miami passed on drafting Dez Bryant.
WR Davone Bess - Grade: B+, He received a much deserved contract extension this year and is the closest player to be compared to with Wes Welker. He will never be a spectacular player, but he is certainly reliable. I was very happy to see him improve his ball handling. I found myself holding my breath every time he handled a punt return in 2009 because I was concerned he was going to fumble. I was much more comfortable watching punt returns this year. It's a shame I can't say I was comfortable watching us punt the ball, but that's another subject.
LE Kendall Langford - Grade: B+, The defensive end isn't as glamorous in the 3-4 defense as it is in the 4-3, but Langford was solid for Miami. He performed very well and was able to get pressure on the QB. He was an integral piece for Miami's run defense and was an important reason why Miami did so good against the run.
NT Paul Soliai - Grade: B+, Where did this come from? I was very uncomfortable when he first started at NT this year because of poor Miami's run defense was when he had to start for Jason Ferguson. His improvement this year has been a great surprise for this Miami team. This leaves fans to wonder the future for Miami's defensive line. If Miami keeps Soliai, what will they do with Starks? He'd get a higher grade if his late performance after midseason matched the first half of the season. Tony McDaniel, another solid contributor on the defensive line, is another free agent this year and Miami has an abundance of talent on the defensive line.
RE Randy Starks - Grade: B, His numbers did slip from his 2009 season, but he still played well this season. He may have been outperformed by Langford this year, but that shouldn't take away from another solid season from Starks.
LOLB Koa Misi - Grade: C, Misi had a good season for a rookie. Many thought Misi would need a period to adjust to the OLB position in a 3-4 defense, but he was not a liability in this defense. He appeared to be more consistent late in the season, avoiding the "rookie wall" many seem to hit. Miami can use more production at OLB, but like TE, I don't necessarily think Misi needs to be replaced. More depth would be helpful, but Miami will be fine with Misi as their starter.
ILB Channing Crowder - Grade: C, No forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, and no interceptions. It's been the typical season for Crowder. I don't think fans appreciate what Crowder does for the team. Crowder is like CB Will Allen in many ways. He's not flashy and won't make many plays, but he is solid and consistent. He is very good against the run and it is obvious how Miami's run defense takes a hit when he's not in the lineup. While his coverage could be better, I think we've discovered this year that Tim Dobbinsshouldn't be replacing Crowder anytime soon. Crowder gets knocked to an average grade because, just as his typical season, he missed games due to injury.
ILB Karlos Dansby - Grade: A, This is a grade rarely seen for any of the Dolphin players. Dansby is just as consistent as Crowder, but he makes the big plays. Dansby was not only steady against the run, but he was good with the blitz and was able to create turnovers.
ROLB Cameron Wake - Grade: A, I'd be crucified by giving him anything less. He was the pass rusher Miami fans hoped he would be. He made Joey Porter look like a fool with the comments he made before his departure last season. What really gets Wake this grade was his impressive ability against the run this season. He was much stronger in the run defense than most expected. It's a shame he's already 29.
CB Vontae Davis - Grade:B+, He was a big reason for improvement in the secondary. While he only had 1 interception, he was much more consistent covering his man and limited the big plays. He still has room to improve, but he has shown he is the future #1 CB for this defense.
CB Sean Smith - Grade: B, It was a rough start for Smith this year. He lost his job to Jason Allen and then was finally able to regain it back. He then lost playing time again when Miami signed Al Harris. Many thought Smith was the better of the two between he and Davis and he has shown flashes of that. His grade would be much better if he was able to hang on to a few potential interceptions. Smith was able to rebound and play well at the outside CB position.
FS Chris Clemons - Grade: B, Most will probably remember his performance this season for the interception that wasn't, but Clemons put any safety concerns to rest. He performed admirably in his first year as a starter. He showed the range and tackling ability that made fans forget about Miami's failure to lure Antrel Rolle or Ryan Clark to Miami. His name wasn't mentioned much during the games, but for a safety that can be a good sign. He also showed ability blitzing the quarterback, registering 1.5 sacks on the year. He can improve his grade by holding on to a few more interceptions next year.
SS Yeremiah Bell - Grade: C+, He totaled 101 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season, continuing his steady performance against the run and his newly discovered ability to blitz. While he did have 1 interception on the year, he has been somewhat a liability in coverage. He just doesn't have the range and acceleration like Clemons to provide solid pass protection.
K Dan Carpenter - Grade: B-, He was 28 of 24 up until week 15, making 82% of his kicks and being considered for a spot in the Pro Bowl. A horrible 0-4 outing against Buffalo was part of his 2-7 slump in the final 3 weeks, leaving many to wonder what the heck happened to our franchise kicker. If those types of performances occurred earlier in the season before Miami's season was in the dumps, his grade certainly would've been lower.
P Brandon Fields - Grade: A+, He averaged 46.2 yards per punt and had only 4 touchbacks. He may have been the first punter in a long while to actually be the star of the game and possibly a reason why his team won with his performance against the Jets in week 14. He should be in the Pro Bowl.
LS Ryan Denney - Grade: A, He gets an honorable 'A' because he is the only special teams player besides Fields that didn't screw up. Good job, Denney. In all seriousness, he's a very reliable long snapper. You won't hear a long snapper's name until they screw up. When was the last time you heard Denney's name? Exactly.
OC Dan Henning - Grade: F, Miami goes out and gets Brandon Marshall in the offense, indicating to everyone that Miami is ready to open up their offense with promising second year starter Chad Henne. Instead, the offense only became more conservative and run oriented, even after it became painstakingly obvious the running game was not nearly effective as it used to be. He ran an offense that was among the most frustrating in the NFL. With Marshall and Bess at WR and the R&R express, everyone expected much more from this offense. In the end, Miami had a QB that got worse and a disappointing offensive line. While not every fault on the offense belongs to Henning, he played a major role in Miami's disappointing offense. Coordinators live and die by the performance of their respective offense. Because of that, Henning is now unemployed/retired, however you prefer to look at it.
DC Mike Nolan - Grade: A, He took over a young defense coming off a disappointing season and turned them into a top 10 defense in his first year. He's done more for this defense than anyone expected. The biggest benefit for Tony Sparano staying in Miami is ensuring Mike Nolan stays as Miami's defensive coordinator. With the way he turns around defensive units, I don't think it will be long before Nolan finds himself another opportunity to be a head coach.
HC Tony Sparano - Grade: D, Henning may have controlled the offense, but Sparano runs the entire team. Instead of making the effort to fix the offense, Sparano instead publicly defended Henning as his coordinator. Many will be cheering for Sparano now that he has been dragged through an embarrassing fiasco, but he will have a tough road ahead. It's been publicly debated whether or not if Sparano lost control of this team. When a player, Ricky Williams in this instance, comes out publicly with the comments he did, it is a strong indication that Sparano has lost at least part of the locker room. Sparano will have to regain the trust of both the locker room and the front office in 2011 or he will surely be gone after next season.