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  Mid-Season Report Card - Defense
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OL Key to Success in 2004

Mid-Season Report Card - Defense


by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist


Click Here To Contact Chris


Following up my grades for the offense, here are my mid-season grades for the Dolphin defense. Grades are assigned for most active players as of Week 10 and selected players on injured reserve. Players who have been cut, like Antuan Edwards, are omitted.


Defensive Line


Jason Taylor –Taylor has been the voice of the players during this sorry season, displaying leadership and a “can do” attitude that any coach would appreciate. Leaders like Taylor are part of what’s keeping this team from quitting. On the field, Taylor has had a difficult year as he is fighting through a plethora of physical issues, a gauntlet of frequent double teams, and the frustration of being 1-9. Thus far he has just 4.5 sacks, well off his 2003 pace of 13. Has the absence of Adewale Ogunleye had an adverse effect on his game? Not 100% sure yet. One thing I do know is that Taylor is one tough son of a gun, almost unblockable one-on-one to anyone not named Jonathan Ogden.        



David Bowens – In the past, Bowens was known for his high-energy play on special teams. After spending the entire 2003 season on injured reserve, he finally received his chance to show his wares on defense. Thus far, his tackle numbers are comparable to Ogunleye’s 2002 effort (his first full season as a starter) though his sack numbers are way off of Ogunleye’s 2002 total of 9.5. It appears as though the Dolphins have had somewhat of a fall off at the position, bringing into question GM Rick Spielman’s decision to trade Ogunleye.          GRADE: C+


Larry ChesterChester worked extremely hard this offseason to prime himself for 2004. He lost weight and added quickness. Together with his incredible physical strength, the belief was that Chester was set to dominate 2004 like no other season he has had. Unfortunately for Chester, he blew out his knee after Week 2. Chester’s loss was a devastating blow that the team hasn’t been able to overcome.    GRADE: Incomplete


Tim Bowens – Another terrible season-ending loss for the Dolphins. After trying to fight through two games, it is clear that the team’s dominant physical player has a serious, career-threatening issue with his back. Some have said that Bowens is now contemplating retirement. The rude impact of Timbo’s absence cannot be overstated; he is an irreplaceable talent.      GRADE: Incomplete


Bryan Robinson – A free agent pick up at the start of the season (Chicago), Robinson was forced into a prominent role when Tim Bowens and Larry Chester went down. Robinson has proven to be a decent pick up as he is having his best season since 2001 when he logged 47 tackles, 37 of them solo.  Still, Robinson is not in Timbo’s or Chester’s class as a dominant inside force. Not even close. As such, the run defense has suffered badly.  GRADE: C+


Jeff Zgonina – Talk about stepping up! Zgonina, the team’s senior citizen on the defensive line, is on pace to log his best season ever in both tackles and sacks. Of course, a big reason for this is his increased number of snaps in the absence of Mssrs. Bowens and Chester. Still, Zgonina is doing everything he can, both on and off the field, to try and make a difference. It just hasn’t been enough.  GRADE: C+


Jay Williams – Strictly a role player, Williams’ level of play in 2004 has been pretty consistent with previous seasons. The Dolphins would like to see him express more of his pass rushing ability than he has thus far. Against the run, Williams needs to step it up.         GRADE: C


Dario Romero – Miami’s project player on the defensive line, Romero has gotten marginally better each of the past two seasons and is now getting more reps as a result of the injuries to Timbo and Chester. Romero seems to have some raw pass rushing skill though his power at the point versus the run is still not what the team would like. The jury remains out on this unproven player.   GRADE: C


Overall Grade for Defensive Line: C+





Zach Thomas – Perhaps the team’s ultimate warrior, Thomas is having his finest season as a Dolphin. He is on track to shatter his single season marks for tackles, sacks, and passes defended. The effort is even more impressive given that Zach’s top two bodyguards, Timbo and Chester, are out. What a shame that Zach’s best season is being lost in the muck of a 1-9 record. Extra credit to Zach for mental toughness…the man is amazing to watch.   GRADE: A+


Morlon Greenwood – Greenwood is another player who is having his best season. He is on track to shatter his single season numbers for tackles and passes defended. Too bad that he doesn’t get very many opportunities to blitz the quarterback. After three seasons of teasing, we are finally seeing what this talented player can do.     GRADE: A


Junior Seau – Say “Ow”, Junior. The man was on track to have his best season as a Dolphin and his best since 2000, tracking to over 100 tackles, before suffering a season-ending injury to his pectoral muscle. To those who thought Junior was done, think again. This great player will be back in 2005, count on it. No way he goes out like this.      GRADE: A


Derrick Pope – Watch this guy…he could be the next great Dolphin MLB in the fine tradition of Buoniconti, Offerdahl, and Thomas. Until now, he has been limited to special teams duty. Thomas’s hamstring injury, which will put him out for 2-3 weeks, gives Pope a chance to play and learn. Someone needs to send Alabama coach Mike Shula a big “thank you” for recommending Pope to the Dolphins. A pretty good “get” for a seventh rounder.    GRADE: B


Tony Bua – A rookie who plays without regard for his body, this kamikaze acts like every down is his last. We all remember that killer shot he dealt out against the Rams where he took out two guys on one hit, getting top billing on ESPN’s “All Jacked Up” segment. Bua is the best LB the team has had as a special teams regular since Larry Izzo.      GRADE: B


Eddie Moore – Moore has bounced back nicely from a serious foot injury that washed out his rookie season. He made his first start last week against the Seahawks, where he registered a solid 9 tackles, 7 solo. Like all of the Dolphin LBs, Moore can run and hit. Once he gets the mental aspects of the game down, he will have the opportunity to prove his worth as a former second round selection. This is a player to watch closely as the season plays out.    GRADE: B


Brendon AyanbadejoStrictly a special teams performer, Ayanbadejo is solid but unspectacular special teamer who registers about a tackle a game. He knows his role on the team and performs it to the best of his ability.      GRADE: B


Overall Grade for Linebackers: B+



Defensive Backs


Arturo Freeman – Freeman is an enigma. Every season we read about the potential this player brings to the safety position. Yet Freeman hasn’t been able to stake a permanent hold on a job since Brock Marion left. The reason is simple: inconsistent play, particularly against good tight ends like Kansas City’s Tony Gonzalez and Indy’s Marcus Pollard. Freeman must become a more physical presence if he wants to be regarded as one of the league’s best. Interim coach Jim Bates wants to see more of what Freeman can do and will play him for the balance of the season. However, Freeman should be cognizant of the fact that he is being evaluated as part of the future of this team. The man is at a career crossroad right now.  GRADE: C+


Sammy Knight – Knight is another player who is being watched closely by the team. His numbers (tackles, sacks, interceptions) have taken a slow but steady dive since his final season in New Orleans (2002). While still well respected throughout the league, Knight could be playing a lot better. Could this be Knight’s final season as a Dolphin? Hard to say just yet. Just don’t let the team’s overall pass defense ranking (7) fool you into thinking that Knight is untouchable.    GRADE: B


Patrick SurtainSurtain is a stud, plain and simple. He is the finest CB to ever wear a Dolphin uniform, one of the Top 3 in the game today. We’ve seen him more active in blitz packages than in the past and his tackles numbers are way up; he’ll likely have somewhere between 70-80 at season’s end (which is A LOT for a CB). He is currently tied for third in the NFL with 3 picks. Another player having a tremendous year, all for naught.    GRADE: A+


Sam Madison – Madison has bounced back from a couple of sub-par seasons (for Sam, that is) to return to the form that people have become accustomed to. While teams still prefer to test Madison over Surtain, Madison has the ability to make people pay for going his way too often. Some wondered how Madison would react to having his contract re-worked this past offseason. To his credit, he  has responded positively.   GRADE: B


Reggie Howard – A free agent acquisition from the Carolina Panthers, Howard lines up as the team’s nickel back. He brings solid cover skills and awareness to the table, though his consistency is something that could be improved.  His numbers are down from his final two seasons as a Panther. Perhaps this is due to being in a new defensive system. Yet to register his first pick as a Dolphin, Howard’s overall numbers thus far are average (for him).    GRADE: C+


Will PoolePoole showed early on why he was a fourth round steal; excellent cover skills, toughness, good speed, and a solid nose for the ball. In a league where a team can never have enough good cover men, Poole’s skills are a good fit for what the Dolphins expect from their corners. This is a guy who will just continue to get better as he grasps the mental nuances of the pro game. For now, he is a situational defender and a special teamer.     GRADE: C+


Jimmy WyrickWyrick must be dizzy from the number of times he has been signed and cut. He adds decent depth and plays hard on special teams, a reliable contributor.   GRADE: C+


Yeremiah Bell – This young player quickly caught the eye of the coaches with his speed, football instincts, and hitting ability. Team insiders are convinced that Bell can be a special player in the Dolphin scheme if given a chance. Bates seems willing to give Bell that chance.  For now, he’s another situational defender and a special teamer with a good chance to show the coaches more.     GRADE: C+



Overall Grade for Defensive Backs: B


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