Miami Dolphins 2010 Awards: Bright Spots In a Disappointing Year
After an AFC East title in Tony Sparano's rookie season as head coach in 2008, the Miami Dolphins have turned in consecutive 7-9 records the last two seasons, finishing third in the division both years.
While things started out positively with road wins against the Bills and Vikings in the first two weeks of the season, the Dolphins' quickly struggled to put together consecutive victories and failing almost entirely to win in their home stadium with a 1-7 record in Miami.
Still in the playoff hunt with only a handful of games to play, the Dolphins sandwiched a narrow road win against the Jets in Week 14 with losses to the sub-.500 Browns, Bills and Lions.
The Dolphins capped off things with an embarrassing loss to the New England Patriots in the regular season finale, and an even more embarrassing botched head coaching search that eventually led to the retention of Tony Sparano.
Despite their struggles, the Dolphins did do some good things on the field throughout the season and had some impressive individual performances. No really, they did.
I have watched every painful snap and suffered through every cringe-inducing loss, and found the following highlights for my Miami Dolphins 2011 awards.
Best Free Agent Signing: Karlos Dansby
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When he hit the open market, Karlos Dansby and the Dolphins were a match made in heaven.
Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele had both struggled greatly as the team's starting inside linebackers the season before, and the Dolphins needed a proven playmaker at the position for the first time since Bill Parcells implemented the 3-4 scheme in Miami.
Signed to a five-year, $43 million contract with $22 million guaranteed, Dansby proved to be well worth the money. Immediately becoming the leader of the defensive unit, Dansby brought the Dolphins a more complete inside linebacker than this staff had ever seen.
Not only was Dansby fantastic against the run in 2010, but he also showed off some pass-rushing ability and was basically the only Dolphins' linebacker effective in coverage.
In all, Dansby recorded 95 tackles (second on the team), three sacks, two forced fumbles, and four pass deflections in only 14 games.
Best Game: 33-17 Win at Oakland In Week 12
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Coming off a 16-0 loss to the Chicago Bears and Tyler Thigpen starting at quarterback due to injuries, Chad Henne returned to start for the Dolphins just two weeks removed from a knee injury to guide the Dolphins to a win on the West Coast.
Henne completed 17 of 30 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, while wide receiver Davone Bess led the team with 111 yards in his return to his hometown.
The Dolphins also got one of their better rushing performances of the season, as Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined to rush for 180 yards and a touchdown (by Brown).
While Raiders' speedy receiver Jacoby ford had a monster day with over 100 yards and a touchdown receiving in addition to a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening play, the Dolphins otherwise kept their opponent in check all day.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was intercepted by Dolphins' safeties Yeremiah Bell and Chris Clemons, and the Raiders' running backs were held to a combined one rushing yard. (Ford actually led the team in rushing too, with 13 yards on one carry.)
Best Individual Performance: Cameron Wake's Three Sacks at Green Bay In Week 6
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It took the Dolphins more than four quarters to beat the Packers on the road with an overtime field goal, but they likely wouldn't have even been there if not for the play of linebacker Cameron Wake all game.
Wake notched three tackles on the day, but all were sacks on Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who managed only one passing touchdown on the day despite 33 attempts.
Not only did Wake take Rodgers down three times, but he also continued to harass the quarterback and embarrass the Packers' offensive line for much of the game.
Best Play: Fourth-Down Stand Against The Vikings In Week 2
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Even if you know it's coming, there's no way you can stop Adrian Peterson and the high-priced Vikings' offensive line four times in a row on the goal line, right?
After three straight unsuccessful carries up the middle for Peterson, the Vikings called No. 28 on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line down 14-10 with just over two minutes remaining.
Kendall Langford plowed through the Vikings' offensive line, clearing the way for linebacker Karlos Dansby to make the initial hit and cornerback Vontae Davis to come in for the final kill.
It was a huge, improbable stop that led to a Dolphins' victory on the road in the Metrodome, giving the Dolphins a 2-0 record to begin the season without even playing a home game yet.
Coach of The Year: Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan
When the Dolphins fired defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualone in 2009 after two mediocre seasons, they interviewed a handful of quality candidates before getting rejected by all of them.
Then, suddenly on January 19, they were able to land a coordinator better than anyone else they tried to get.
The Dolphins hired Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who had difficulty getting along with the team's young head coach in Josh McDaniels.
Bringing a handful of success guiding quality defenses a coordinator in Baltimore and a head coach in San Francisco, Nolan made subtle tweaks to the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme.
Despite a 7-9 record, Nolan turned the Dolphins' 22nd-ranked defense from 2009 into the sixth-best unit in the league in terms of yards allowed.
Nolan's secondary, including aging veteran Yeremiah Bell and three second-year players, was able to take the No. 8 spot in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the run defense ranked seventh in the NFL with the addition of linebacker Karlos Dansby and the emergence of nose tackle Paul Soliai, holding opposing running backs to just 3.6 yards per carry.
Left with almost no pass rush after the departure of veterans Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, Nolan helped second-year former CFL star Cameron Wake rank third in the NFL with 14 sacks and earn his first career Pro Bowl selection.
Special Teams Roookie of The Year: Jonathon Amaya and Roberto Wallace
Despite spending the first seven weeks of the regular season on the team's practice squad, undrafted rookie safety Jonathon Amaya proved to be a special teams beast with 15 tackles (13 solo) in just 10 games after being promoted in late October.
I also have to single out Roberto Wallace here, despite not being quite as fantastic as Amaya. The undrafted rookie out of San Diego State did an excellent job all season of downing Brandon Fields' punts and racked up eight tackles in 12 games.
Defensive Rookie of The Year: Koa Misi
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Okay, so this selection is a bit by default. Sure, cornerback Nolan Carroll had an interception against the Jets; safety Reshad Jones notched his first NFL sack and interception on back-to-back plays against the Titans.
Top forensic scientists also claim linebacker Austin Spitler did in fact play some special teams. No one can know for sure.
But second-round linebacker Koa Misi was the one Dolphins' rookie to start on defense the entire season, even if it was in part due to lack of other options.
A defensive end at Utah, Misi turned in a solid rookie season at linebacker for the Dolphins with 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 16 games (11 starts), but he did not force a fumble or notch an interception.
Misi wasn't always great at playing the run or dropping back in coverage, but he did have his moments, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Vikings in Week 2.
Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Marlon Moore
While Koa Misi was the default pick for defensive rookie due to lack of options, Moore is REALLY the best of nothing the Dolphins' offensive rookies had to offer in 2010.
Fellow undrafted wideout Roberto Wallace was a standout on special teams but did less than Moore on offense, while guard John Jerry would have been a shoo-in for this pick if he hadn't struggled mightily and gotten benched down the stretch.
Moore ranked ninth on the Dolphins in receptions, behind three wideouts, a tight end, three running backs and fullback Lousaka Polite.
While Davone Bess, circa 2008, he was not, Moore racked up 128 yards and a touchdown on six catches, with his biggest play coming on a 57-yard touchdown grab against the Raiders.
Because he had just six receptions on the year and a long grab against Oakland, Moore did actually finish second on the Dolphins in yards-per-reception at 21.3.
Breakout Player Of The Year: Paul Soliai and Tony McDaniel
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It took him four years to become what Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller envisioned he would be when they drafted him in 2007, but Paul Soliai turned into a full-fledged monster nose tackle in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme in 2010.
With Randy Starks moving back to defensive end due to the loss of rookie Jared Odrick, Soliai was asked to anchor the Dolphins' defensive line and clog the running lanes for the Dolphins' linebackers to make plays.
Soliai did just that, and made a few plays of his own with career highs in tackles (39), sacks (two) and pass deflections (two) in 16 games (14 starts).
Fellow lineman Tony McDaniel also showed a ton of progression in 2010, going from a mediocre reserve lineman in 2009 to a productive starting-caliber player this past season.
Despite earning just one official start in 15 games played, McDaniel rotated in heavily at defensive tackle and defensive end. He finished third among Dolphins' defensive linemen with 36 tackles while adding 2.5 sacks.
Special Teams Player Of The Year: Brandon Fields
Brandon Fields always had a huge leg, but 2010 was the first year he really dominated as one of the NFL's top punters.
Fields finished fourth in the NFL with a 46.2 average on punts, while his 16th-ranked 37.8 net average was more the result of the Dolphins' punt coverage team than anything Fields did wrong.
In addition, Fields landed 31 of his 73 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and it's worth nothing the six NFL punters ahead of him in this category all had more punts than Fields.
Fields' best game came in a close 10-6 win at the New York Jets in Week 14. With the offense doing nothing all day and the game reduced to a field position battle, Fields punted TEN times for 496 yards, or 49.6 yards per punt. His long of the day was a whopping 69 yards.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Cameron Wake
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Was there any other choice?
Wake was an absolutely monster in 2010, providing the Dolphins' only real pass rush while becoming a more complete player than most though he would become on the way to his first Pro Bowl selection.
Not only did Wake constantly harass opposing quarterbacks with 14 sacks, but he also became increasingly good against the run and in coverage as the season wore on.
A star in the CFL, Wake became a complete linebacker for the Dolphins in just his second season in the NFL and his first as a starter.
Offensive Player of The Year: Jake Long
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Once again, not many guys to pick from here. The Dolphins' quarterbacks struggled most of the season (and the receivers did too as a result), while the interior offensive line prevented Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to dominate on the ground as they have in the past.
However, Jake Long was pretty much the best left tackle in the NFL in the first half of 2010, and continued to play at a high level even while playing through a severe shoulder injury suffered in November.
Long allowed just five sacks on the season, though not all were his fault, and routinely kept opposing pass rushers at bay regardless of how skilled they were.
The first overall pick in 2008 earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection in 2010, and it was well-deserved.
Most Valuable Player: Cameron Wake
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The stats tell a lot of the story: 57 tackles, 14 sacks, three forced fumbles. His sack total led the league heading into the final week and ended up ranking third in the NFL in 2010.
As I already said in his Defensive Player of the Year slide, Wake became a complete linebacker this season as he became increasingly good in coverage and against the run in addition to his dominating pass rushing.
Wake was really the only pass-rushing force for the Dolphins' in 2010, as fellow starting outside linebacker Koa Misi totaled only 4.5 sacks and no other player on the team racked up more than three.
The pass rush provided by Wake also helped provide stability to a predominantly young and inexperienced secondary which eventually finished ranked eighth in the NFL.
Finally, Wake was the most valuable player because he had the best nonstop motor and tried harder than anyone else on the team.
At times when a play had busted or the rest of the Dolphins' were missing tackles, Wake routinely chased down ball-carriers from one side of the field to the other and made plays he really had no business even being in on.
In 2010, Wake proved that his success in the CFL was no fluke and that he absolutely has the ability to be one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the game. He's already there in just two years, and he's not done yet.