cold January for Dolfans.
really chills the bones of the faithful is the absence yet again from the
2009 was a
train wreck, with NFL MVP runner up Chad Pennington going down early and a
defense that couldn’t stop anyone from hitting them up for big plays. In short,
it was a major comedown from a division championship.
off with real promise, but will end on Sunday with a dull thud. Even a win over
the Pats won’t offer much relief. And yet it would be wrong for us to consider
the season a total loss. That’s why I am pairing my “likes” with my “dislikes”
LIKE: Brandon Marshall. He is everything
the Dolphins hoped for: a big, physical, dominant receiver who cannot be
guarded one-on-one. This man is clearly one of the top five wideouts in the
game today. When he doesn’t have the ball, his blocking skills can make a
difference on any running play. It’s impressive that, even with all the
challenges the passing game has faced, Marshall still has a good shot at
breaking OJ McDuffie’s reception record. He is an amazing talent who will
thrill us for years to come.
DISLIKE: Trading Ted Ginn, Jr. to the 49ers
for a fifth round pick. This proved to be one of worst decisions of the
offseason because it denied the offense of the only offensive weapon they had
to stretch defenses and threaten the deep third of the field. The kick return
game also suffered badly. Ginn’s critics overly focused on his softness,
forgetting the impact he made to defensive schemes even when he didn’t have the
LIKE: Karlos Dansby. This was one of the
best free agent signings of the current regime, a major upgrade. Dansby, a team
captain from the start, immediately solidified the middle of the defense and
earned the respect of players and coaches with his leadership, smart, and
physical play. He will finish second on the team in tackles, which is what you
want from an inside linebacker.
DISLIKE: The overall lack of productivity from
the rookie LB class. The Dolphins spent half their 2010 draft picks on
linebackers and got very little in return. Second rounder Koa Misi, the best of
the lot, has had a modest rookie campaign. The others…Austin Spitler, Chris
McCoy (cut), and AJ Edds (injured reserve, knee)…did almost nothing.
LIKE: Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones, the
Dolphins’ young safeties. Last season we saw Clemons’ range and ball skills,
but we also saw inexperience. This year Clemons took a huge step forward, with
mature play and playmaking ability. But the biggest improvement was his
tackling; he will finish in the top four on the team. Jones, a rookie fifth
round pick, has been coming on strong and possesses huge upside for the future.
He will push for a starting job in 2011.
DISLIKE: How Tony Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland
handled CB Will Allen's knee injury. Instead of being patient with Allen, they
placed him on injured reserve against his wishes so they could have the
services of other bottom roster types who would end up making no meaningful
impact. Soon after being placed on I/R, Allen returned to full health as
expected. The defense sure could have used him this year to defend multiple WR
situations. His loss was shortsighted, stupid, and unnecessary.
LIKE: The improvement that Chad Henne made.
Through all his struggles, he is clearly a better QB this year. Especially
improved was his touch passing and his footwork. To say that Henne “regressed”
is not an accurate statement. I feel he has done enough to encourage the
Dolphins to keep working with him, though he will have competition next season.
DISLIKE: The lack of sufficient improvement by Henne. Especially troublesome was his
decision making and his exasperating penchant for staring down receivers. These
were things he got away with more often than not in 2009. Now that the
opposition has a book on him, those bad habits were exploited and magnified repeatedly
this season. Objectively, we can no longer say that Henne is the Dolphins’ QB
of the future. Expect competition next season for that “next” title. This time,
Henne will have to earn it back.
LIKE: DT Paul Soliai. When the season
began, Randy Starks was pegged as the starting DT. But when rookie DE Jared
Odrick was lost for the season, Starks was moved back outside and Soliai was
called on to fill the DT spot. To his credit, all his hard work during the summer
paid off with the best season of his career. Some feel his play inside was among
the Top 5 at his position. While I can’t say if that’s true, but I do know that
he is a big reason why the Dolphins now possess a championship caliber defense.
DISLIKE: Losing Odrick for the season. He showed
flashes of first round ability before going on I/R. Concerns about his
durability from his days at Penn State have unfortunately been resurrected.
LIKE: TE Anthony Fasano. He rebounded from
a very pedestrian 2009 to have his best all-around season as a pro. The
Dolphins justly rewarded him with a two year contract extension worth almost $8
million. This is the kind of progress the team needs from all of their young
DISLIKE: The lack of quality depth behind
Fasano, which crippled the team’s two TE formation and limited the offense all
year. Inexplicable and indefensible moves by Ireland and Sparano, especially
the release of David Martin, were solely to blame.
LIKE: Jake Long and Vernon Carey. These two will go down as the
greatest pair of tackles in team history. Long has a chance to be regarded
among the best ever at his position. Yeah, he’s that good.
DISLIKE: Sparano’s game of musical chairs at
the guard and center position during the preseason, brought on by a poor
assessment of the talent he had. The continuity of the offensive line and the
offense as a whole suffered from this major blunder. Long was hurt as a direct
result of Sparano’s decision to play his starters well into the final preseason
game. The season ending loss of Nate Garner to injury didn’t help matters, but
Sparano and Ireland just didn’t manage this group well.
LIKE: Special teams coach Darren Rizzi. He
inherited one of the worst squads in NFL history when Sparano fired John
Bonamego midseason, and Rizzi turned them into a group that could be counted on
to help win games. That’s a lot more than anyone could have expected.
DISLIKE: Sparano apparently allowing his
friendship with Bonamego to cloud his judgment. Bonamego just wasn’t getting it
done in his two plus seasons with the Dolphins, and the lackluster performance
cost the team games. Why did it take so long for Sparano to make a change?
LIKE: Offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Many
jumped all over him for a perceived lack of creativity with his playcalling. I
wish more people would stop to think that much of his decision making was
predicated by the limitations he was dealing with across the interior of his
offensive line, at quarterback, and across the offense as a whole with an
overall lack of speed. This is a guy who knows his business as well as anyone
in the game. If he does retire, the Dolphins will be poorer for it.
DISLIKE: The job Ireland did in stocking the
offense with the talent needed to compete. A lot of the problems started with
Henne, but that doesn’t absolve Ireland. He and his staff have to do better.
LIKE: OLB Cameron Wake. What a great story
he became this year, growing up from a one-dimensional situation player out of
the CFL to become an every down difference maker and newly minted Pro Bowler.
Wake is another key piece of the championship puzzle. Ireland and his staff
deserve enormous credit for scouting and signing Wake, as do Sparano and his
defensive coaches for helping Wake to develop his abilities.
DISLIKE: Allowing Jason Taylor to leave via
free agency to the rival NY Jets. The greatest defender in Miami Dolphins
history, still capable of situational impact, was flatly told he was unwanted
by Bill Parcells. JT deserved better than that. He deserved to end his career
with the only team he loves.
LIKE: CB Vontae Davis. He emerged in his
second season to become a legitimate shutdown corner, one of those cornerstone
pieces a team needs to win a championship. The current regime hit it big when
they got Davis with the 25th overall selection.
DISLIKE: The entire handling of the Pat White
situation. It was a mistake for the Dolphins to draft him in the second round.
It was a mistake for QB coach David Lee to change his mechanics and prohibit
him from using gloves. It was distasteful watching the media assault him on an
almost daily basis. In the end, it is just a waste when a player with his
credentials goes bust as badly as he did.
LIKE: Tony Sparano. Yes, he’s made
mistakes. Big ones. But so did Don Shula and every other man who has coached in
the NFL. Sparano’s an outstanding motivator, communicator, and football man, a
no-nonsense leader who has worked hard to rebuild the winning culture in Miami.
The job is far from finished but he deserves more time to complete it.
DISLIKE: The real possibility that new owner
Stephen Ross will clean house at the end of the season. Ross wants an exciting
team, run by people he trusts to deliver. Ross inherited Parcells, Ireland, and
Sparano and probably wouldn’t have hired any of them because their football
philosophy doesn’t mesh with his ideas of what an exciting football team looks
like. While I am not suggesting that Ross doesn’t trust Ireland and Sparano, the
Dolphins were one of the most boring teams in the league this season and that
must have galled Ross. The danger here is when an owner who knows nothing about
football starts to meddle. The results are almost always bad, and I fear this
is ominously close to where Ross may be headed.