by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
With slightly more than half of the season thankfully behind us, here are my mid-season grades for the 2005 Miami Dolphins.
Offensive Line = B
Without a doubt, this unit has been the pleasant surprise of this football team. Last season, the quality of play was absolutely pathetic. This year, they have improved each and every week and are now a pretty good run blocking unit. The pass blocking has also been greatly improved. Two reasons for this: hard work and the coaching of legendary line boss Hudson Houck. If you want a sign that the Dolphins are headed in the right direction, look no further than this bunch. Remember, an effective offensive line is the most important piece of a championship team.
Halfbacks and Fullbacks = A-
Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are the best players on offense, with Brown proving why he was worth the second overall pick and Williams flashing his all-Pro form again. It is disappointing that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is underutilizing these two special players. Travis Minor and Sammy Morris have shined on special teams. No comment on fullback play as Darian Barnes recently joined the team in replacement of the released Heath Evans.
Wide Receivers = C
Chambers has been a royal disappointment this season, failing to take advantage
of the opportunities and faith that Linehan has extended to him. He simply
doesn’t play to his talent and truly deserves his “decent” tag. He certainly
doesn’t deserve the rich contract that the Dolphins gave him last year. Marty
Booker is not the player he was in
Tight Ends = C
It is a mystery as to why Randy McMichael deserved his new $18 million contract, quite possibly the worst decision Nick Saban has made as Head Dolphin. McMichael seems to disappear at times in games and has a bad habit of canceling out the good plays he makes with equally bad ones. Lorenzo Diamond, full of promise in the preseason, has gone invisible. While the blocking has been solid, the Dolphins are getting very little from this group of players with regards to production in the passing game.
Quarterbacks = C
Frerotte isn’t Dan Marino and he isn’t supposed to be. His job is to keep the
Dolphins from playing themselves out of games and give the team a chance to win
in the fourth quarter. With few exceptions, he has served this purpose well. While
I’m sure Linehan believes otherwise, Gus won’t win games with his arm though he
will keep the Dolphins from committing the fatal mistakes that his predecessors
(A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler) regularly did. Hopefully the
Defensive Line = B-
A dominant inside force, Keith Traylor has come up big (literally and figuratively) at Tackle and is my pick thus far as the team’s MVP. Vonnie Holliday has played reasonably well as has Kevin Carter and Jeff Zgonina. And, of course, there’s the warrior and future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor who just flat loves to compete. Rookie Matt Roth works hard but has largely been invisible as has David Bowens. Manuel Wright and Kevin Vickerson will be interesting players to watch in training camp next season.
Linebackers = B
The ultimate competitor, Zach Thomas continues to tackle and tackle and tackle. The Dolphins would be perennial Super Bowl champs if every player approached the game the way Zach does. Junior Seau, crippled with injury for most of this season, may be in his last NFL campaign. Donnie Spragan has been steady at OLB while rookie Channing Crowder is showing signs that he will eventually evolve into a terrific defender; his upside is considerable.
Defensive Backs = D
trade of Patrick Surtain and the unfortunate injury to Will Poole took a team
strength and made it a weakness that opponents have exploited almost at will.
Safeties Travares Tillman and Tebucky Jones, two high profile free agent
signees, have largely been disappointments; Jones is on IR. Lance Schulters,
however, has proven to be a good pick-up; his game-saving interception against
Specialists = B
Jones leads the NFL in net punting average, though he needs to work on improving
his consistency with ball striking. Olindo Mare is 14 of 17 on FG tries and is
#3 in the league in average kickoff distance. He kicked a game-winning FG versus
Coaching = C
This grade is against on-field performance, which is really only part of the story as most of the ongoing work to get this team turned around happens behind the scenes. Saban has taken firm hold of this team and really does have the entire organization moving in the right direction, cleaning up the big mess that Dave Wannstedt and Spielman made. Right now, getting the team to play with confidence is as big a challenge as finding better players. The defensive staff deserves a lot of credit for teaching and implementing a new system that is still a work in progress. Offensively, Linehan has done a poor job with the talent he has to work with in that he has failed to effectively utilize and emphasize Williams and Brown in his gameplanning and playcalling. Given the salary that the Dolphins are paying him, and his reputation as an offensive strategist, he and his staff should be doing much better work. Houck is the exception as he has worked wonders with a beleaguered unit; he is the star of the coaching staff.