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  Mid-Season Report Card
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Never in the history of the Miami Dolphins has there been an 0-8 start. Not even in the inaugural 1966 campaign, immortalized by the season-opening kickoff return for a touchdown by RB Joe Auer.


Worse, no Dolphin team has ever endured an 0-11 losing streak. The last time the Dolphins won a game? That would be December 10, 2006, at home against the Patriots with a 21-0 goose egg.


Is it possible that this team could go a year without winning a game?


Sure it is.


Is it possible that this team could actually go 0-16?


Sure it is.


But it says here that they’ll pick at least one opponent off between now and the merciful end to this most wretched of all Dolphin seasons.


It might even happen at the next game, a home contest against the mediocre Buffalo Bills.


Meanwhile, the Dolphins are wrapping up their own internal study as to how and why this season has gone so badly awry. While it is always good to self-reflect, it is altogether odd that the very same people who led the franchise into this mess could be the ones who are doing the analysis.


Objectivity, anyone? Yes there will be, if an outside consultant or two (maybe Ron Wolf or Don Shula) are the ones with the critical eye.


Every midseason I do my best to look at the team with a critical eye. And so, here are my midterm grades for the 2007 Miami Dolphins.


Offensive Line = B


The pleasant surprise of the season is the improved play of the offensive line. It’s not Pro Bowl-caliber play, mind you, but it is winning-caliber football. They were helping Ronnie Brown on his way to a breakout Pro Bowl season before he was lost for the duration. And though they’re yielding an average of two sacks per game, a lot of the blame is due to poor play by QBs Trent Green and Cleo Lemon. Vernon Carey is playing a very credible left tackle, suggesting that the team may have solved their need at the cornerstone position. Rookie center Samson Satele, who predictably got off to a shaky start, is asserting himself more as his confidence builds. Right guard Rex Hadnot looks to be a natural at the position; he and right tackle L.J. Shelton are working well together and enjoying good success each and every week. Left guard Chris Liwienski is holding his own, though I expect that the Dolphins will look for an upgrade at some point.


Halfbacks and Fullbacks = A


Ronnie Brown was on pace to gain 1,600+ yards this season, and to lead the NFL in all-purpose yards, before tearing the ACL in his knee in the Patriots game. What’s really sad is that it happened as he was trying to make a tackle after another bad Cleo Lemon interception. But Brown figures to come back strong next season as he is young, a hard worker, and has an excellent attitude. His back-up, Jesse Chatman, runs hard and will do his best to fill in for Brown. Chatman is a maximum effort guy, which helps him to overcome his shortcomings in talent. Special teamer Patrick Cobbs will be Chatman’s primary back-up for the duration. Rookie Lorenzo Booker continues to wait his turn, though Cam Cameron doesn’t seem at all concerned that Booker has not been able to get on the field yet. Rookie FB Reagan Mauia, a 6th round pick, has a been a physical blocker, though we have yet to see Cameron employ him in the passing offense the way he did with Lorenzo Neal in San Diego.


Wide Receivers = C


Chris Chambers was traded away (Chargers) for a second round pick, a good move by GM Randy Mueller as the underachieving Chambers just never lived up to the big play promise and contract that dogged him. Marty Booker leads the wide receivers on the team in receptions (26) and yards (305). Second year man Derek Hagan (3rd round pick) and rookie Ted Ginn (1st round pick) are the future starters; they’ll have a chance over the remainder of the season to justify the faith, and large investment, the Dolphins have in them. Ginn is leading the team in yards per catch (20.1) and caught his first TD last week on a crisp skinny post. Hagan needs to clean up his act in terms of untimely penalties that kill big plays.


Tight Ends = C


David Martin has done little to quell the doubters in his ability to be a big game tight end (15 catches, 111 yards, 2 TDs). Quite frankly, back-up Justin Peelle has been more impressive as a blocker and receiver (17 receptions, 149 yards, 2 TDs) and hasn’t made the boneheaded mistakes that Randy McMichael was infamous for.


Quarterbacks = D


The disappointment continues at the most important of positions. Cameron says he looks to see if his QBs have the “it” that all the good ones have. Well, Trent Green (5TDs, 7 INTs, 72.1 rating, out for the season with another concussion) has proven that he has lost “it”. And back-up Cleo Lemon (3TDs, 4INTs, 70.0 rating, 9 sacks) doesn’t seem to have “it”. Clearly, it is now time for Cameron to find out if prized rookie John Beck is the future of the franchise. Beck’s work in the preseason was most promising. The Dolphins need to find out if the guy can play before they are faced with offseason personnel decisions, including the NFL Draft.


Defensive Line = F


What a mess. It is shocking and sad to see the dramatic decline of what was once the team’s strong point just a year ago. Injuries (Vonnie Holliday), lack of quality depth, a questionable change in scheme by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, underperforming players (Matt Roth), age (Keith Traylor), and veterans trying to do too much (Jason Taylor) are all to blame for the problems. Through 8 games the defense is giving up 160.5 yards per game on the ground (31st in the NFL), with only 10 sacks (27th in the NFL). And to think this used to be the tip of the spear of the #4 overall defense just one year ago. What a disaster.


Linebackers = C


Collectively speaking, the linebacking corps is having a bad year. If not for the gutsy play of the great Zach Thomas, once again on pace for a 100+ tackle season despite missing two games (concussion, whiplash), this group would have earned an “F”. OLB Channing Crowder, who has fewer tackles than safety Cameron Worrell, is constantly and inexplicably out of position and being manhandled against the run. His opposite number, Joey Porter, has done little to justify the monster contract the Dolphins gave him. Back-ups Derrick Pope, Edmond Miles, and Donnie Spragan have all seen time on defense due to injuries to starters. The futility against run and the lack of sacks is equally shared by this bunch.


Defensive Backs = F


Season ending injuries to starting safeties Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill have been devastating. But the poor performance by the corners has been equally as damaging, especially on third downs where the Dolphins are ranked dead last with a 50% failure rate. Worrell, pressed into service as a major contributor at safety, simply cannot play and should be used exclusively on special teams. Expect the newly signed Lance Schulters to take over for Worrell by the next game. Jason Allen, the 2006 first rounder, now has his chance to avoid the “bust” tag many have already given him. His first outing at safety against the Giants was decent, suggesting he may be a better game player than a practice player. Only time will tell. Travares Tillman has been injured and rookie Courtney Bryan has seen snaps mostly out of desperation. At CB, Will Allen hasn’t played anywhere near to his abilities, but neither has Travis Daniels; both are having a surprisingly bad year. Michael Lehan has been inconsistent, though he is not blessed with an abundance of talent to begin with. Andre Goodman, who cannot be 100% healthy, must play perfect technique to be effective. Only the Saints have fewer interceptions than the Dolphins do (4). Given the emphasis the Dolphins placed in the preseason on generating turnovers, the performance here is extremely disappointing.


Specialists = B


Rookie punter Brandon Fields has improved his consistency since the start of the season, but has a disappointing 43.7 yard average given the strength of his leg. Donnie Jones, last year’s punter now with the Rams, leads the league with a gaudy 50.3 yard average and has a monstrous 80 yarder to his credit. In almost every way, Jones has proven himself superior to Fields. Perhaps Fields will improve, but the early returns suggest that Mueller blundered in letting Jones get away for just a 7th round pick. On the other hand, the trade of kicker Olindo Mare to the Saints and the signing of Jay Feely was a very smart move. Feely has missed only one kick thus far (13 of 14), while Mare has missed 4 of 8. On kickoffs, Mare has only two more touchbacks (7) than does Feely (5). Long snapper John Denney continues to be very solid in his delivery of the ball and in his blocking.



Coaching = D


Cam Cameron has had a nightmare of a start as an NFL head coach. He was counting on a solid defense and a reasonably productive offense to challenge for a playoff berth. Now he is reduced to trying to win a single game. His decision to forego a tying field goal attempt at Houston continues to loom as his worst game management decision thus far, but there have been many other head-scratchers along the way. Still, the offense is improved and scoring more than 20 points per game, which is significantly better than last year’s 16.2 average and more than good enough to have this team playing .500 ball if not for the collapse of the defense. Cameron will get a pass this season, but the hot seat awaits if he cannot win games. The best way for him to do that is to start playing John Beck on offense, and to become more involved with the defensive game planning. Dom Capers probably won’t appreciate being supervised as closely, but he has done nothing this year to suggest that Cameron should do otherwise. Quite frankly, we’ve seen too much of Capers’ brilliance over the years to know that this has simply been a sub-par coaching effort on his part. He must do better if he wants to justify the extravagant contact the Dolphins gave him this offseason. Special teams coach Keith Armstrong has taken a lot of heat from the fans for the poor coverage teams, but it says here that Mueller is the one who should get the blame for failing to hire decent cover guys. Armstrong knows how to coach, but not even Don Shula can make chicken soup from chicken feathers.

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