Special teams may not be a third of a football game as some say — but don’t ignore its ability to turn the tides of a game.
The Miami Dolphins chose to add seven coaches this offseason and kept special teams coordinator Danny Crossman even though the unit struggled at times and even graded No. 32 in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
“So for me, it never really crossed my mind, and that just comes as a result of daily evaluations of all coaching involved in the building,” Mike McDaniel said on March 28. “I think that the Miami Dolphins fanbase, the players and Danny and myself would all agree that the desired results, we have more to achieve; but if I would have determined that that was solely his – if I thought that we couldn’t get to where we need to get to go with Danny Crossman, I would have made a move. I definitely didn’t feel that way and that just comes as a result of daily investment into the coaching staff and what he brings to the table.”
General manager Chris Grier and the rest of Miami’s front office pounced on the ability to bolster the special teams unit just days into free agency by signing Braxton Berrios, formerly of the New York Jets, and ex-New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey.
Raheem Mostert was the primary kick returner for the Dolphins last year and averaged 20 yards per return on 25 attempts. Berrios, a First-Team All-Pro kick returner in 2021, averaged 23 yards per return with a long of 42, compared to a long of 31 for Mostert.
Mostert was also the team’s primary running back last season. Berrios simplifies things considering Mostert is on track to be the team’s lead back in 2023.
Additionally, Berrios will be returning punts, too. He averaged roughly 11 yards per punt return. Cedrick Wilson returned 17 punts in 2022 — after returning just 12 of them in the three previous years combined — and averaged 10 yards per return.
Jake Bailey, who played college football at Stanford, spent four years with the New England Patriots and was a 2020 First-Team All-Pro. Bailey was released by the Patriots following the 2022 season, despite signing a four-year deal with the team that year. He was reportedly suspended due to disagreements with the team about when he could officially return from injured reserve, according to the punter’s representation.
Bailey missed the final eight games after logging the second-worst punting average in the league (35.3). With an offseason to get healthy, the Dolphins hope Bailey can return to form and look like the player who averaged 47 yards per punt in 2021 — the same distance Thomas Morstead averaged with the Atlanta Falcons. In Miami, Morstead’s net yards per punt dropped to 41.
Miami’s recent additions should move the needle when looking to turn the page on last year’s struggles — especially if Jason Sanders maintains the momentum of making eight-straight kicks to close the 2022 season.