There were two interesting stories in Wednesday's Sun-Sentinel that I wanted to highlight today to gauge your reaction.
The first was from Omar Kelly, who writes that the "lack of leadership hurt" this team in 2009 - particularly late in the season. Kelly points out how three of the four elected captains were on the defensive side of the ball. Chad Pennington, who was lost for the season back in week three, was the lone offensive captain. Jason Ferguson was also lost for the year in the middle of the season.
That left only Joey Porter and Jason Taylor was the captains. Both are obviously on the defensive side of the ball. And both were getting worn down late in the season in terms of being the vocal leaders of the team, according to Kelly and his sources:
According to two team sources, the weight placed on Taylor's and Porter's shoulders became too much for them at times, especially when it came to dealing with the offensive players.
"That was the side of the team that had a big void," one source said.
The loss of Ronnie Brown also played into this situation. While Brown is relatively quiet off the field, he's always firing up his teammates and the fans on the field. And even Ronnie could tell that this offense lacked emotion - even though he wasn't even on the sidelines after going down with his foot injury. Writes Kelly:
According to Brown, it became apparent the Dolphins lacked enthusiasm at times, and Brown insinuated that the hunger the team showed in 2008, when the Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5 and won the AFC East, wasn't always noticeable.
But Omar's coworker, Ethan Skolnick, doesn't buy this idea. Ethan writes:
Good story by Omar today, citing two players who said that the Dolphins' lack of locker room leadership was a contributing factor in the team's late-season slide.
Even so, I'm having a hard time buying the concept. It sounds like an excuse.
Like Skolnick, I'm not sure I'm buying this idea. My initial reaction after reading Omar's piece - before even seeing Ethan's piece - was that this was nothing more than an excuse. Sure, leadership is an important factor. But if you need a "leader" to emphasize how important the last three games of the season are or to fire up the offense late in the year when you're right in the thick of a playoff chase, then you have more issues than just leadership.
Since Dan Marino, really, have the Dolphins really even had a vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball? Other than Chad Pennington, I'd argue that they really haven't. Jay Fiedler was well respected by his teammates. But he did more of the "leading by example" than anything else. His toughness and heart was unquestioned - despite his overall lack of physical ability. But was he really a leader? I don't know.
In 2002 and 2003, Ricky Williams was the best offensive player on the team. But he's very quiet and soft spoken. In fact, he even admitted after this season that he wishes he would have responded to Tony Sparano's challenge to him of becoming more of a leader. But that's just not Ricky's personality. And there's nothing we can do about that.
The fact of the matter is that most NFL teams don't have great leaders on offense - outside of the quarterback. You have loud-mouthed running backs and receivers, of course. But that doesn't mean they're leaders. And while the offensive line is a critical unit on any offense, it's rare that a leader arises from those big guys up front.
Think about it. Great offenses really only have one leader - the quarterback. But it's just too early to expect Chad Henne to be the vocal leader on offense. When he was unexpectedly thrown into the starter's role, he had more things to worry about than being a vocal leader. However, he has shown the occasional early stages of becoming a leader. He even gave an emotional halftime speech late in the season to fire up his teammates. But until he accomplishes more on the field, there's only so much he can do. After all, leadership is earned.
But this is where you all come in. Like I said, I'm just not buying this idea that a lack of leadership late in the season played a factor in the Dolphins' collapse. But am I being naive? Do you think this theory actually holds some water? And if so, where will this offensive leadership come from in 2010?