After the embarrassing conclusion to the Dolphins’ season, I figured it was as good of time as any to take a week off from the blog. I did, however, feel obligated to post on the coaching fiasco last week, and over the weekend it was confirmed that Tony Sparano’s contract has been extended through the 2013 season. Hopefully, with that, we can move on from what has been, in my opinion anyway, a blown out of proportion ordeal.
Before we get geared up for offseason mode, though, I thought I would start a little tradition here at Phins Phocus and conduct our first annual awards show. The ideal of looking back at such a disappointing season isn’t very appealing, but there were some fine individual performances from Dolphins this season that deserve recognition.
Most Improved: Brian Hartline, WR
It was really a shame when Brian Hartline got hurt when he did, because he was in the midst of a stellar stretch that saw the second year player out of Ohio State go for over 70 yards receiving in four straight games and over 50 yards receiving in six straight. Brian finished the season with 615 receiving yards in eleven full games, which was good enough for 109 more yards than the full sixteen games he played in as a rookie. Before the injury, though, it was clear that Brian was emerging as a solid number two opposite Brandon Marshall and was beginning to develop into the offense’s only legitimate deep threat. Although Hartline is faster than Marshall and Bess, it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins pursue a number two receiver with elite speed in the offseason to address the offense’s lack of chunk yardage capability. Otherwise, I think they should be content with Brian’s maturation as a solid starter in this league.
Rookie of the Year: Marlon Moore, WR
That speedy receiver that the Dolphins’ offense needs may already be on the roster. Undrafted rookie receiver Marlon Moore showed big-play potential down the stretch of the season, and if he can continue to develop as a route runner and sure up his hands a bit, he could see a significant boost in playing time in 2011. Moore had one of the plays of the year for the Dolphins’ offense when he showcased his speed by tight roping the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown against the Raiders in Week 12. Moore only totaled a mere 128 receiving yards this season, which speaks volumes about how little production the Dolphins’ offense got out of their rookies. John Jerry had a more significant role for much of the year, but struggled too heavily to beat out even the mild productivity of Moore.
12th man: Davone Bess, WR
Technically Bess started eight games this season, but there’s no doubt that he’s at his best when he’s in the slot and not one of the two starting perimeter receivers. Bess saw career highs across the board by reeling in 79 receptions, 820 yards, and five touchdowns. We all knew what kind of player Bess was heading into the season and the type of potential he had to break out being paired with a true number one target like Brandon Marshall. But as the year went on, we finally saw Bess get some well deserved national attention. We also the Dolphins reward Bess by making him the highest paid slot receiver in the league.
Dan Marino Award (MVP): Jake Long, LT
The Dolphins had a pitiful year on the offensive side of the football. There’s no arguing that. But when you think about how much worse things would have been if they didn’t have any sort of stability on the offensive line, which Jake Long brings week in and week out, the offense very well could have been historically bad. We did finally see the human side of Jake this season, though, as Jake struggled at times down the stretch of the season playing with only one healthy shoulder. But even with the shoulder injury, Jake was the one player the Dolphins could count on from their offensive line, as the interior was a mess from the start of the season and Vernon Carey was less productive while being hampered by injuries all year.
Most Improved: Paul Soliai, NT
The progression Paul Soliai made from last season can only be explained as remarkable. A year ago, when Soliai was forced into the starting lineup due to an injury to Jason Ferguson, he looked completely in over his head and was too easily single blocked. As a result, the flood gates opened up on the Dolphins’ run defense and nose tackle instantly became a huge need in the offseason. Jeff Ireland and company chose to address the issue unconventionally by moving Randy Starks inside, a move that showed mix results early on in the year. But when injuries to defensive ends like Phillip Merling and rookie Jared Odrick forced Randy Starks back to end, Paul Soliai was once again thrown back into the fire. Soliai become a force to be reckoned with overnight. It’s no secret why the Dolphins improved so much against the run in the second half of the season. Soliai occupied two blockers more often than not, freeing up the linebackers to fill in running lanes, and occasionally completely disrupted the play almost immediately after the handoff with deep penetration. Soliai’s immergence means that the Dolphins should be set at arguably the most important position in the 3-4 defense for years to come. All that’s left to do is pay the man and get him back under contract.
Rookie of the Year: Koa Misi, OLB
It was somewhat of a surprise when the Dolphins selected Koa Misi early in the second round of the draft, but he looked the part of one of this regime’s hits in his rookie season. He didn’t excel at anything in particular and the stats certainly don’t jump off the page at you, but Misi was solid enough in all aspects of the position to hold down starting duties the entire year. He was somewhat inconsistent as an edge setter, but overall graded out well, and his nonstop motor alone enabled him to contribute some pressure on the quarterback here and there. If there is one complaint about Misi, though, it’s that he’s limited as a pass rusher. In the last few games of the season, teams got away with committing double teams to Cameron Wake too often. The Dolphins needed another pass rusher to step up and take some of the pressure off Wake but nobody answered the call. Maybe Misi will take huge strides as a pass rusher next year, but the Dolphins would still probably be wise to at least shop around for a pass rushing specialist to come in on nickel and dime situations.
12th Man: Tony McDaniel
Not only was McDaniel the most outstanding non-starter for the Dolphins’ defense, he would have probably took home most improved honors as well if it wasn’t for Paul Soliai’s dominance. McDaniel stepped in admirably when Merling and Odrick went down and overall contributed to one of the finer 3-4 defensive end rotations in football, if not the best hands down. He more than doubled his previous career high with 36 tackles and also got to the quarterback 2.5 times. The Dolphins have another big decision on their hands with McDaniel, though, as his contract has also expired. I wouldn’t normally condone letting a player of his caliber walk, but because of how much depth the Dolphins already have at defensive end, they may be better suited to focus more on Paul Soliai’s deal and let McDaniel test the open market.
Zach Thomas Award (MVP): Cameron Wake, OLB
What can be said about this guy that hasn’t been said already? Wake simply exploded on to the scene as one of the league’s premier pass rushers as he led the league in sacks all the way up until the final game of the season. The Dolphins’ desperately needed Wake’s production from a pass rushing standpoint after they let go Joey Porter and Jason Taylor in the offseason. But we all knew Wake had scary potential getting after quarterbacks. Before the season I mentioned several times that I would be extremely disappointed if Wake didn’t record double-digit sacks. But the biggest surprise for me was how well he began to set the edge. There were a couple games early on in the year, especially the New England game on Monday Night, where he looked like a liability against the run. But for whatever reason, things just started clicking for him as the season went on, and by year’s end Wake arguably established himself as one of the most all-around outside linebackers in the entire league. Not only is Wake the Dolphins’ defensive MVP and overall MVP, he could have easily took home the big crown of league DPOY honors if he wouldn’t have been shutout in the final three games of the season. The Dolphins simply wouldn’t be one of the league’s bright young defenses without Cameron Wake.
Special-Teams MVP: Brandon Fields
This appeared to be Dan Carpenter’s award for the taking until he went 0-4 against the Bills and seemingly cost the Dolphins the game. Carpenter still had a very solid season, although we saw way too much of him than any of us would have liked, but Brandon Fields helped the Dolphins win field position battle after field position battle. Fields’ most noteworthy stat was his 46.2 yard average which ranked fourth in the entire league. Let’s also not forget that the Dolphins would have likely finished the year 6-10 if it weren’t for Fields. His performance against the Jets in Week 14 was one of the best performances I have ever seen from a punter, as Fields punted ten times, had a 49.6 yard average, and boomed one punt 69 yards. When you remember that most of those punts were from deep inside Miami territory, there’s no question that Fields was a game-changer that day.