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  Midseason Grades
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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This is what they are. You have to accept it, but you don’t have to like it.


Winless at home and a .500 record is not what we expected from the 2010 Miami Dolphins. This was supposed to be the year that they became a quality playoff team and the excitement was returned to the hometown fans.


Instead these Dolphins have become a dull flop. In fact, they are just one game better than last year’s disappointing 3-5 midseason mark.


Sadly, losses to the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, and the Ravens prove conclusively that the Dolphins are still several drafts away from becoming a playoff regular.


In short, three years of hard work rebuilding this team have yielded only mediocrity.


How can this be? The Dolphins are only two years removed from the AFC East title and an 11-5 record. Have they lost their way?


Yes and no.


Defensively, this year’s group appears to be the best unit fielded in three seasons. They have the best overall talent and are the best coached. It is not a finished product by any means, but it is getting closer….perhaps two to three missing pieces away.


Offensively, big holes remain with the line, quarterback, tight ends, and receivers. This is mainly due to mistakes made in the draft and free agency.


Here are my midseason grades for the 2010 Miami Dolphins:


Offensive Line = B-

The front office decided to gut the interior of the offensive line this past offseason, and the impact of that move has been devastating. Simply put, Joe Berger, Richie Incognito, and John Jerry/Pat McQuistan are not upgrades over Jake Grove, Justin Smiley, and Donald Thomas/Nate Garner. A run game that was once ranked in the top 5 has fallen to 16th, which is one of the two biggest reasons why the Dolphins aren’t finding the endzone. On the other hand, the line has done a tremendous job with pass protection (only 12 sacks yielded, tied for 5th best in the NFL). Jake Long is the best tackle in the game, and he and Vernon Carey are probably the best tandem in the league. The grade here would be much higher if the offense was built around an elite QB. But this team was built to win with ball control offense, and the line isn’t doing what it needs to achieve that objective.


Halfbacks and Fullbacks = B

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams hope to each gain 1,000 yards rushing this season, a team feat that was last accomplished in 1972 (Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris). While both men have solid 4.3-per-carry averages, the low number of attempts and the number of runs longer than 20 yards (two combined) make it unlikely at this point that they will achieve their goal. Patrick Cobbs has been completely invisible on offense this year, which leads me to believe that he is still not fully recovered from his knee injury. FB Lou Polite, the master of the dive play, is still a force in short yardage situations. His blocking is much improved since joining the team in 2008. The Dolphins would do well to utilize this talented bunch more in the passing game.


Wide Receivers = B

Brandon Marshall is everything the Dolphins hoped he would be; an elite weapon that defenses must account for on every play. What gets overlooked is his blocking; he might be the most devastating blocking receiver in team history. Davone Bess continues to remind us of Nat Moore, with his ability to get open in tight spaces; his recent contract extension was well-deserved. Brian Hartline is having a bad season relative to expectations, and seems to suffer at least one glaring breakdown per game. He is not a quality NFL starter at this point, and we can expect the Dolphins to look for an upgrade in the offseason. Yet overall this is a very capable group which would show a lot better with improved QB play and a quality starter opposite Marshall.


Tight Ends = C+

Anthony Fasano is a solid #2 tight end on a proficient passing offense. That being said, he is really among the least of coach Tony Sparano’s problems right now. His blocking is better than ever and he can get open in critical situations. The real issue here is the lack of quality depth behind Fasano. Quick! Can you name the other two tight ends on the Dolphin roster? You get my point. So why was it again that the Dolphins waived David Martin?


Quarterback = D

There is no way to put this kindly: Chad Henne is not getting the job done. His passer rating (78.2) is near the bottom of the NFL, he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, he has only two completions longer than 40 yards, and his approach to throwing the football is easy for defensive backs to diagnose. While his accuracy is in the Top 10, his yards per completion languish in the bottom half of the league. But what is most troubling is his lack of impact on the offense. Henne isn’t a difference-maker at the most important of positions. He doesn’t lead his unit to touchdowns…only one team has fewer than Miami’s 11 TDs (Carolina)…and he doesn’t make the people around him better. He isn’t even comfortable playing out of the shotgun, which is pretty much a fundamental skill in today’s NFL. Is this what Henne is, or is this a sign of growing pains? Whatever the answer, Henne is the other big reason why the Dolphins aren’t scoring touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if Sparano can afford to stay patient with Henne much longer, especially with former league MVP runner-up Chad Pennington ready to go. As for #3 QB Tyler Thigpen, it is a small surprise that the Dolphins haven’t used him to rejuvenate the Wildcat.


Defensive Front Seven = B+

Despite losing NT Jason Ferguson to injury/retirement, this unit continues to post a top 10 performance versus the run. Randy Starks and the much improved Paul Soliai have made us forget about Ferg while also covering for the loss of top rookie starter Jared Odrick (injured reserved), a very impressive accomplishment. Tony McDaniel is also turning in some quality snaps at end and tackle, easing the preseason loss of DE Phillip Merling. At inside linebacker, Karlos Dansby has solidified the middle of the defense together with Channing Crowder; this is a big reason why teams are finding it difficult to run the ball on the Dolphins. Dansby is tied for the team lead in tackles (60). OLB Cameron Wake is turning in a Pro Bowl (and perhaps an All-Pro) season with 8.5 sacks thus far. On the opposite side, rookie Koa Misi and Ike Francis alternate depending on the situation; Misi is better in pass protection while Francis is better at setting the edge versus the run. Misi is second in sacks on the team with 3.5, which is better than expected. The front seven has accounted for all but one of the team’s 21 sacks (T-10th best in the NFL). Good stuff.


Defensive Backs = B-

This unit is the most improved from 2009, going 28th to 13th in the NFL despite losing CB Will Allen for the year. CB Vontae Davis is much improved over last season and is showing signs of becoming a true shutdown corner, though the job opposite him has been unsettled between Jason Allen and Sean Smith. New free safety Chris Clemons is a big upgrade over the departed Gibril Wilson; he is third on the team in tackles. Pro Bowl SS Yeremiah Bell is the enforcer once again, co-leading the team in tackles with 60. Benny Sapp, acquired from the Vikings, has been mostly steady in extra DB roles. This group has had chances to make several game changing plays this season, but unfortunately has been unable to hold onto interceptions.


Special Teams = D

The only reason this grade is not an “F” is kicker Dan Carpenter, who is enjoying another Pro Bowl caliber season hitting clutch field goals. He has only missed three all year, and one of those was blocked. Punter Brandon Fields continues to be average, while the coverage teams have been downright horrendous. Against the Patriots, these units turned in one of the worst performances in NFL history, earning coach John Bonamego his walking papers. But the state of affairs is not just Bonamego’s fault; GM Jeff Ireland did a very poor job providing quality talent for these units, which have cost the Dolphins wins in each of the past three seasons, and Sparano tolerated underachievement on those units by retaining Bonamego.


Coaching = B

The Dolphins have the head coach they need to win a championship. He’s tough, smart, straightforward, focused, surrounds himself with good people, and runs a tight ship. Honestly, the biggest challenge for Sparano this year has been patience with QB Chad Henne. These Dolphins could be 6-2 right now with Pennington running the show, and Sparano knows it. So does offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who is one of the brightest offensive minds in the business. But it is clear that Henning is hog tied right now by Henne and his limitations; the shotgun has been almost purged from the gameday playbook and the Wildcat is seldom practiced in an effort to devote more practice snaps to sharpening the passing game. The issues with the interior of the offensive line have also been problematic. That doesn’t absolve Henning from some strange playcalling at times, though it isn’t the reason the offense isn’t scoring. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has proven to be an upgrade over Paul Pasqualoni; his schemes are fun to watch and are very effective. Alas, if only his defensive backs could finish game changing plays! Bonamego’s departure was long overdue; will Darren Rizzi do better?

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