Predicting Team Awards for Miami Dolphins' 2013 Season
The Miami Dolphins have yet to play a single down of meaningful football during the 2013 NFL season. That will not stop fans and media alike from endlessly forecasting the team's potential results. While the validity of these prognostications is debatable, they do provide us an opportunity for a little fun and entertainment at a time when most of us just...can't...wait for the real action to begin.
That said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I thought I would give you some predictions for the Miami Dolphins' team awards banquet to be held in 2014 after the conclusion of the 2013-14 NFL season.
The awards banquet in question does exist. The team handed out the Don Shula Leadership Award, the Dan Marino Most Valuable Player Award and the Nat Moore Community Service Awards for the 2012-13 NFL season to Mike Pouncey, Cameron Wake and Brandon Fields, respectively.
However, I thought I would add some additional awards to your program guide, purely for entertainment purposes. Let's begin.
The Don Shula Leadership Award: Paul Soliai
The Don Shula Leadership Award has an unfortunate recent history. Linebacker Karlos Dansby won the award following the 2011 NFL season, even though he reported to training camp about 20 pounds overweight.
Following the 2012 NFL season, center Mike Pouncey received the honor. Shortly thereafter, he made waves for all the wrong reasons by appearing with his twin brother Maurkice at their joint birthday party wearing custom-made hats in support of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez.
Hopefully, the next recipient of the award might set a better example. There are few better examples on the team than that of defensive tackle Paul Soliai.
Soliai has come a long way in his career with the Miami Dolphins. Along with punter Brandon Fields and long snapper John Denney, Soliai is one of only three players to pre-date general manager Jeff Ireland's tenure with the team.
Drafted in 2007 by then-general manager Randy Mueller, Soliai was an extraordinarily raw recent convert from offensive tackle. He had enormous physical abilities that were on display during a blowout (relative to his weight class) combine performance, but he lacked polish. Perhaps most importantly, he also lacked a work ethic.
Soliai's first couple of years with the team were plagued with weight management issues and questions of dedication. Those gradually began to disappear as he matured.
In a quote recorded by Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel during the 2011 offseason, then-head coach Tony Sparano stated that "body weight was never an issue" for Soliai in the previous season. Kelly's article also cites sources that pointed to a newfound dedication to offseason training and a workout regimen in Utah with fellow Samoan and Polynesian players like Haloti Ngata.
Soliai's play in 2011 and 2012 reflected the maturation in his work ethic. He is now known as the veteran who doles out the team's version rookie hazing in the form of creative hair styles. He likes to share stories with the young players about his experiences battling weight and learning to be a true professional.
And most recently, he even donated a whopping $250,000 to his alma mater out of appreciation for the consideration they gave him coming out of Nu'uuli Vocational-Technical High School in Pago Pago.
The Dan Marino Most Valuable Player Award: Cameron Wake
Defensive end Cameron Wake is, by a margin, the most talented player on the Miami Dolphins roster.
I believe the winner of 2012's Dan Marino MVP Award will join the likes of Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Dan himself, Zach Thomas, O.J. McDuffie and Jason Taylor in winning the award multiple times. His talent truly puts him in the same class with those players.
The Dolphins made Mike Wallace a new-made, new-paid $60 million man this offseason. They also have what they hope is a franchise quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.
But with all due respect to these players, Cameron Wake is the only guy who produces with such consistency and reliability that would lead one to feel comfortable making this type of prediction.
In years past, the concern may have centered around the possibility that opposing offensive lines could key their blocking schemes on him in order to shut him down. The Dolphins may have just done him a favor on that front by drafting talented pass-rusher Dion Jordan third overall in the 2013 NFL draft, in order to keep defenses honest.
The J.R. Tolver Training Camp Hero Award: Chad Bumphis
Here is where we start to deviate from the official awards handed out at the team banquet every year.
This honor is dubious in nature. Sometimes referred to as the "Wide Deceiver' award, this is a fan-originated prize that is handed out to the wide receiver on the team who has low standing with the team, yet seems to draw an unusual amount of fan- and media-based hype based on his performances during training camp.
As you can see, this honor was named after former 2003 fifth-round draft selection J.R. Tolver, who best exemplified the virtues of this award by capturing the attention, hopes and headlines of the Miami Dolphins faithful during training camp and then quickly falling into complete NFL obscurity.
That is not to say that this dubious honor seals the fate of Chad Bumphis. However, as an undrafted free agent who has quickly become a fan favorite to make the final roster and, perhaps, even to take snaps during games, Bumphis qualifies as drawing an unusual amount of attention to himself, despite humble beginnings.
Personally, I believe Bumphis will not only make the 2013 roster, but that he may also even end up as the team's third receiver during some games this year.
I watched Bumphis play in the extremely tough, defensive-minded SEC. He led all receivers there in touchdown catches, and there has not been a higher touchdown catch total in that conference since Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills was playing at Kentucky.
What makes Chad Bumphis different, to me, from past camp heroes is the fact that he has already produced in the preseason games as well as the team's intrasquad scrimmage held the week before the Hall of Fame game.
At the scrimmage, he caught two balls for 41 yards. During the Hall of Fame game, he caught five balls for 85 yards. Despite, according to Pro Football Focus, only playing a total of 11 pass snaps in the two proceeding preseason games, Bumphis still caught two more balls for 26 yards.
He currently ranks No. 8 among all NFL wide receivers in receiving yardage for the preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks No. 1 among wide receivers in number of broken tackles after the catch and No. 3 in number of yards gained after contact.
More important than the production itself is how he earned the production. He's shown a consistent comfort with the physicality of the game.
On a fourth down against the Dallas Cowboys, he was nailed by two defenders immediately after catching the football, but he still held on and only came inches shy of converting the first down. Also in that game, he had an impressive run after catch where he broke tackles and looped around them in order to convert the first down. He produced a 45-yard catch and run during that game.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he caught a short three-yard pass that was equally impressive in its own way. On 3rd-and-2, he threw the ball too high necessitating that Bumphis jump in order to secure it. This gave the defender extra time to bear down on Bumphis in an attempt to tackle him shy of the sticks.
Bumphis quickly planted his feet upon landing, pivoted and lunged forward for the extra yard, breaking through contact to convert the first down. These are the kinds of small details regarding physical efforts that win games.
On one play that nearly ended in an interception to corner Micah Hyde, I felt that the quarterback should have recognized the corner's deep leverage and thrown the back-shoulder throw instead of an outside fade. The outside fade gave the corner (who had a few steps on Bumphis) every advantage in coming down with the interception.
Yet, replays show that while the ball was in the air, Bumphis used his hands subtly and doggedly to try and scrape for every inch of position he could in trying to make the interception. It was because of that fight that Hyde was not able to come down with the football with his feet in bounds.
Hopefully by this time next year, Chad Bumphis will get to look back on his Tolver Award like others who actually proved worthy of the hype, such as Davone Bess.
The Zach Thomas Rookie of the Year Award: Will Davis
I have named this award after Zach Thomas because he actually managed to win the team's official Dan Marino Most Valuable Player Award as a true rookie following the 1996 NFL season. Of course, Bob Griese and Dan Marino himself also won the Most Valuable Player Award as rookies, but Marino already has an award named after him, and Griese was the fourth overall pick in his draft.
I cannot think of any player who better epitomizes the rookie of the year honor than the unheralded former fifth-round rookie who beat the veteran Jack Del Rio for the starting middle linebacker position and won the team's Most Valuable Player award.
If Will Davis played the wide receiver position and had gone lower than the third round in the 2013 NFL draft, he would be a strong candidate for the Tolver Award. As things stand, you could almost wonder if he's caught more balls during training camp 11-on-11 drills than some of the receivers on the team.
During one practice, he intercepted the football three times. As stated by Joe Philbin in a quote printed by Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Davis actually "had his hands on the ball eight times" in that practice.
The reports of training camp interceptions did not stop there, of course. According to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Will Davis' interception count during training camp may even be into the "double digits."
This may be one reason the team surprisingly released starting corner Richard Marshall, as I wrote about here. The release could very well open the door for significant playing time as a rookie, and if he proves to be as much of a ball hawk during games as he was in practices (not to mention his interception during the Jaguars preseason game), then he has a great shot at this honor.
Many fans will be upset that I did not hand the honor to third overall pick Dion Jordan. There are some issues that prevent me from anointing Jordan as a rookie.
For one, he is still not healthy. He is currently rehabbing the shoulder upon which he had surgery during the offseason. Second, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the coaches recently admitted that Jordan had not been able to participate in enough practice snaps to realistically compete with Olivier Vernon to be the starting defensive end opposite Cameron Wake.
This will relegate Jordan to part-time pass-rusher status. It is indeed possible to produce an excessive amount of sacks in this role, as rookie Aldon Smith did for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. However, Aldon's accomplishment was rare, and I believe it is unfair to expect that much from Dion as a rookie.
When all is said and done, I believe we could end up looking at Will Davis' contribution as a rookie and giving him the nod over Dion Jordan for the Zach Thomas Award.
The Chad Pennington Newcomer of the Year Award: Brent Grimes
There can be little doubt that in the Miami Dolphins' recent history, Chad Pennington defines the concept of a "Newcomer of the Year." This award could technically go to a rookie, but is more likely to go to the veteran offseason addition that stands out most during the season.
In this case, corner Brent Grimes wins the award, despite stiff competition owing to a raucous offseason directed by general manager Jeff Ireland. Other candidates for the award include linebackers Phil Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo and, of course, wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Sadly, tight end Dustin Keller might have also been in the running for this award, had his knee not been crushed during the team's third preseason game against the Houston Texans.
During free agency, the Dolphins took a chance on the player I had graded as the most talented corner in the free-agent class, when healthy. The caveat was a big one: He tore his Achilles tendon at the beginning of the 2012 season.
Since training camp began, Grimes has turned the most heads among the new additions. He helped keep the hype train rolling by making a very impressive jump on the football for an interception against the Texans.
I believe this gamble is going to pay off, and the award will put the exclamation point on a high-quality, free-agent signing by general manager Jeff Ireland.