They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
On that note, I would like to thank the incomparable Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star for inspiring me to take the time to grade my team, the Miami Dolphins, in a position by position format. Unlike Whitlock, I don't know if I have enough to say about EVERY Dolphin, but the ones who made an impact will get a grade.
Team overall grade: C+
Not all Dol-fans think they were this good, and it's hard to say they were "almost good" when they fell from 11-5 in '08 to 7-9 this season, but there are a few caveats worth noting when grading this team.
First, Miami went from one of the easiest schedules in 2008 to one of the most brutal in 2009. We faced seven teams who made the playoffs, another four teams who made the playoffs LAST year, plus the Jags and Texans, who were technically in the playoff hunt going into week 17.
More importantly, the Dolphins were ravaged by injuries this year. Whether or not Chad Henne was a downgrade from Chad Pennington is an argument for later, but losing a veteran CB in Will Allen, NT Jason Ferguson, and Wildcat maestro Ronnie Brown were amongst the deal breakers that turned the Dolphins from contenders to late season pretenders.
Players / Coaches Grades
FB Lousaka Polite: A+
Sign of our times number one: Our best player this year was a blocking fullback. Fans always gripe about Pro Bowl snubs, but few are as egregious as the snub of Polite, who played one of the finest seasons at fullback in recent memory.
At times Polite reminded me of Lorenzo Neal in his prime, and there are few higher compliments at this position. Football Outsiders rated Miami's run blocking No. 1 in the league this year, and Polite played a huge part in that, along with converting a ridiculous amount of third/fourth and shorts. Polite gets a 100 percent were it not for the devastating tripping penalty he committed that called back one of Ted Ginn's four good plays this season.
RB Ronnie Brown: A
Ronnie's season was cut tragically short by a freak foot injury against the Bucs, but not before evolving into a truly dynamic dual threat out of the Wildcat. Brown had a great nose for the endzone, running for eight and throwing one more. Brown did lose one fumble, but the most telling stat for me is the fact that the 2009 Dolphin's best skill player was lost to injury mid-season (sign of our times number two.)
DE Randy Starks: A
This might come as a surprise to some, and people who don't watch Miami week in and week out might be saying to themselves "who the hell is Randy Starks?!"
Starks managed to end up fourth on the team in tackles from the 3-4 DE spot, while being tied with Jason Taylor for second on the team with seven sacks. Moreover, Starks was consistent in run support and made big plays, particularly in big moments, registering four of his sacks against division rivals. He was one of the few bright spots for the D this year.
RB Ricky Williams: A-
Hard for me to stay objective here, for I have been in the tank for Ricky since his Texas days, I even wrote a column defending him in the Iowa State Daily after his drug suspension.
However, even a non-fan had to respect what Ricky accomplished this year, carrying the load at the ripe old age of 32, he managed to score a whopping 80 points for Miami this year. He scores higher here were it not for his late season fumble issues, and a costly drop that led to a huge interception against Houston. Ricky is a class act, a genuinely good guy, and Joe Theismann can kiss my ass.
WR Davone Bess: B+
Another sign of our times (third in our depressing list), our best receiver is a second year undrafted guy who is 5-10. Sigh.
Bess is just about everything you want in a slot/third down/possession guy. And there's nothing wrong with that. Unless you need a big play. The fact that Miami is a slot receiver factory, developing all-world Wes Welker, along with Bess (Camarillo and Hartline to be talked about later), tells you all you need to know about Miami's passing attack since Marino retired.
NT Jason Ferguson: B
Most fans don't realize what they have in a 3-4 nose tackle until they lose a good one.
Miami's run defense was staunch and reliable from Week one until losing Big Ferg against Carolina. In his absence, the run defense fell apart, particularly week 16 against Houston when Ki-Jana Carter was signed off the streets and ran all over the Dolphins. Most jarringly, Ferg is 35 years old, and still commands a double team on virtually every play.
Tough to say if he will be back next year, but you can bet his presence was and will be missed on this Miami squad.
P Brandon Fields: B
He's a punter. He did his job well. He's no Shane Lechler.
LB Cameron Wake: B
This might be a little high for a third down specialist and special teamer, but there is no doubt this man brings electricity to the field. He registered five sacks, but was disruptive on more third downs than I can remember, and was the principal cause of the game winning interception against New England in week 13. If he can shore up the rest of his game, he can be a star in the NFL, because his pass rushing skills are hair-raising.
SS Yeremiah Bell: B
The fourth sign of our times: SS Bell led the team in tackles by a wide margin over FS Gibril "The Ghost" Wilson. Sigh. Bell had another solid year, and continues to be slightly better than capable in his role. Blown coverages, a seeming lack of leadership in the secondary, and more blown coverages hurt Bell's grade.
LBs Joey Porter Jason Taylor: B
It is strange to lump these guys together, especially since they led the team in sacks, with nine and seven, respectively.
They also provided virtually all the team's leadership coming down the stretch, with both captains, Pennington and Ferguson, lost to injury. However, they seemed to disappear for long stretches and in important spots, an unsavory trait, which, combined with age that make me wonder if we'll see either of them back next year. I wish JT could see his first Super Bowl, but the chances of that look slimmer by the season.
K Dan Carpenter: B
He was very consistent most of the year. Wish he would've kicked more touchbacks. His misses against Indy, Houston, and Jacksonville brought me down like Rainy Days and Mondays.
Chad Henne: B-
I said after the Jets game that I might actually, kinda, sorta, believe in this kid. He did enough right to make Dol-fans excited. He made enough mistakes to give us indigestion, and ultimately personified the Dolphin's season...Not quite good enough.
I expect good things from him next season, especially if we can continue our dominant running style and get a playmaker at the receiver slot. Most importantly, he proved against New England, Tennessee, and Houston that if we have to throw the ball, all is not lost, which is a breath of fresh air in Miami.
The O Line: B-
As I mentioned earlier, Football Outsiders have ranked this line as the No. 1 run blocking unit in football (with help from Polite). So why rank them so low? The same unit ranked 18th in pass protection, allowing a very "C" worthy 34 sacks this season.
I appreciated Joe Berger's work in the Carolina game where he played about six different positions in a winning effort, and I can't say enough about how cool it is to have two competent tackles, but this group could've been a lot better.
RB Lex Hilliard: B-
Any time you get anything positive, much less legitimate production from the fourth-string running back, you gotta feel good. Kinda hoping this guy has some trade value, hes a solid player in a loaded backfield.
WRs Greg Camarillo / Brian Hartline: C
The OTHER two slot receivers to compliment our star slot guy (Bess) did about what you would expect for a team with three slot receivers and no big play threat. Camarillo was more dependable, Hartline got in the end zone. I consider Camarillo a disappointment, and might get moved this offseason. Why we drafted Hartline with our personnel is beyond me, but he looked sharp at times this year.
I believe Tony Sporano is a good coach, and I believe Dan Henning is a good coordinator. However ESPN's Greg Garber compiled some damning statistics indicating that Sporano and Co. were 7th worst in the league at preserving timeouts in close games.
Sure, you could blame some of those on Henne, but the kid is practically a rookie, so I place the blame squarely on Sporano for those. Also, there were just too many moments this season where I found myself saying "wow, I HATE that call/challenge/decision!"
Hopefully the little things improve next year.
CBs Sean Smith / Vontae Davis: C
Rookie CBs du jour, these guys had the kind of season you'd expect them to have. They both showed a ton of upside, with Smith looking more the shutdown corner (only one pass interference) and Davis looking like a stud in run support (more tackles than Channing frigging Crowder).
However, they also gave up a ghastly amount of big plays, but thats to be expected when they have to deal with Moss/Welker (twice), T.O. (twice), Andre Johnson, and the Saints, Colts', and Chargers' aerial attacks. They faced a murderers row this year, and came out of it scarred but hardened.
Hopefully the continue to improve into our new Madison/Surtain combo of old.
Tight Ends: D+
Anthony Fasano, Joey Haynos, and Kory Sperry were pretty much just there this year, but then again I would give the same critique to the cheerleaders and Mercury Morris.
I only grade them this high because they were pretty good blocking in the running game. Their combined five TDs are two less than Fasano had last season, which is pretty awful. Fasano lost his groove (and the fans) with two devastating fumbles in Week one, and never recovered. Look for this position to be a priority in the offseason.
Channing Crowder had such a bad year I don't even really remember it. He was supposed to be the young leader and future of this defense, now all signs point to drafting LBs high in April. Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor were sublimely average all year, missing tackles and not making plays. A good defense needs to be good at all three levels, and there's no way Parcells tolerates another campaign like this from the LB corps.
Will Allen, Chad Pennington, Patrick Cobbs: Incomplete.
I suspect Allen and Pennington are done in Miami. Cobbs is wildly underrated in the Wildcat, and the formation lost some of it's sting when he was lost midseason.
Gibril "The Ghost" Wilson: F
What is it about the free safety position? Wilson gave me so many flashbacks to Arturo "The Antichrist" Freeman (yes, that's the nickname I gave him in 2003), I kept expecting the cameras to flash to Dave Wannstedt's bewildered mustache.
There is a running joke in Washington courtesy of Tony Kornheiser: Everything that goes wrong is Adam Archuletta's fault! There is and was comedy in that, but you can't deny the ability of safety play to make or break a defense.
In a year when we needed excellent safety play, we got garbage from the team's second most overpaid player. Missed tackles, dropped picks, blown coverage, you name it, Wilson did it this season. How bad is former first round pick and Wilson's college teammate Jason Allen that he was unable to supplant Wilson in this role?
Ted "Hands" Ginn: F- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYSxJgjjJFc
Admittedly, he probably doesn't get this kind of treatment if he wasn't such a highly touted pick, but if he wasn't such a high pick he probably wouldn't have made the 53-man roster.
Ginn gets 20 percent credit for murdering the Jets this year, scoring his only three touchdowns against our hated rivals. The rest is so brutally bad, I am almost speechless.
He was wildly out performed by fellow Buckeye Hartline, he consistently ran away from tackles, he can't block, and doesn't really look special as a special teamer. All we can hope as Dolphin fans is that the team can flip him and a pick or two to Cleveland for Josh "Crib Death" Cribbs (because he would KILL on the Dolphins).
That's all for this year. I'm stoked about picking 12th in April, and I believe Miami will be buyers in a weird and tumultuous free agent market. Miami is playoff bound next season!