By Brian Miller
The Miami Dolphins are almost half-way to their second consecutive AFC East Division title. Premature? Maybe. Confident? You bet. The Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. Despite their record, you have to face facts, they are losing games that they should win. At least 2 of which were against the only 2 undefeated teams in the NFL. Imagine, the NFL could have zero teams sporting zero losses if not for bad bounces in the second half.
So with the New England Patriots finally in front of the team, the Dolphins will face their biggest challenge of the season, knocking off the front runner in the division. It will be a game that will go a long way in determining this teams chances at repeating. The Phins sit at 3-4 entering week 9, the half-way point of the season so now is as good a time as any to look at the grades on this years rookie class and some names that have really come out of nowhere…and those that have faded away. Here is the mid-season report
The Draft Picks:
Vontae Davis – Is anyone really dissapointed in what the Phins have in Davis? He is exactly what he was billed as. A physical corner who can lay the lumber on an opponent. Davis has played stellar for a rookie defender and has done so against guys like Roddy White, Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Marques Colston, and Braylon Edwards. Hardly an average group. Davis has stepped up and performed more as a veteran than a rook. This week will challenge him more when he faces the Patriots Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Grade: B+ he still needs to work on a few things but so far so very good.
Pat White – White is a victim of numbers. While he has been activated, the Dolphins rarely use him and when they do, they haven’t asked him to much more than hand the ball off or run it up the middle. The Dolphins offense seems to go into a funk when White comes into the game but that should change as he gets more acclimated to the NFL. The problem for White is the game still seems to fast to him. When it slows down, he should be fine. Grade – C: More for the lack of playing time than his actual performance.
Sean Smith – I could sit here and write a bunch of stuff about him, but instead I will just say “see Vontae’ Davis” The Miami Dolphins so far look to have what could be the best young corner duo in the NFL. If they can continue to play at this level. Imagine, they haven’t even begun to reach their potential.
Patrick Turner – Turner is the tall speedy WR that the Dolphins needed entering the draft. The problem was that Turner carried a lot of question marks coming out of USC. So far, Turner is nothing but a question mark. Inactive for all of the 7 games Miami has played, Turner has been unable to work his way into a lineup that fields one of the worst WR corps in the NFL. Grade F: He hasn’t shown enough to warrant anything higher for his draft position.
Brian Hartline – Taken shortly after Turner, Dolphins fans were not thrilled when his name was called. Yet of all the offensive players taken in the 2009 draft, Hartline has shined. Brian has displayed a tough attitude and physicality about him and has shown very soft hands. He has moved from the 4th WR position to the numbe 1 spot when Ted Ginn was benched last week. Hartline however is not a number 1 WR in the truest sense of the position. Still, he has a tremendous upside and will likely be a staple for the Dolphins offense. Grade – B. He needs to be more complete and get more playing time to prove what he really can do. This grade is based on his tenacity and heart. The Dolphins appear to have hit on this one.
John Nalbone – The Dolphins raised some eyebrows with this pick and so far they haven’t been lowered. Nalbone was a standout TE at Monmouth but was inactive all season and then cut and re-signed to the practice squad earlier this week. Grade: D. The Dolphins so far have whiffed on this one but unlike Turners’ situation, Nalbone was never expected to compete for a roll this year. His 53 man status was more for protection from PS poaching.
Chris Clemons – Taken in round 5 late, Chris Clemons was thought of as a steal. Inactive for most of the first half of this season, Clemons has made an impact in his two opportunities. Primarily on special teams play and more recently after the struggles of Gibril Wilson. Clemons looks like he has a future in Miami and could really develop into a premier safety. He is showing some ability. Grade C+: It’s only been two games so there isn’t much tape.
Andrew Gardner – The big tackle has been active all year and has been solid coming into the games to spell starters. He has good footwork and is learning how to play in the NFL and has shown no signs of “wide-eyes”. Meaning the level of the game isn’t getting in the way of his play. Grade B: The grade out is more for his play vs. the round he was taken in. 6.
J.D. Folsom – Folsom was cut before the start of the season and was re-signed to the practice squad. There is no way to grade out a 7th round prospect except to say that he at least impressed enough to make the PS.
Joey Haynos – Yes, I may be a little biased here considering Haynos contributes exclusive content to this site, however, his blocking is vastly improved over last year and the Dolphins are starting to get him involved in the passing game. Joey caught what ended up to be the game winning TD against the Jets.
Paul Soliai – To me this is the biggest surprise of the season. When Soliai spells Jason Ferguson on the D-line, the Dolphins don’t miss a beat. Stellar so far this season, Soliai is the only remaining “Samoan” on the roster and only he and Ted Ginn remain from the Cam Cameron draft of mistakes.
Randy Starks – The Dolphins signed Starks as a free agent last season after he spent his time in Tennesse working behind and in place of Albert Haynesworth. Last year, Starks did little, this year he is contributing. He has 3 sacks on the year and was a major reason for the Dolphins win over the Jets a week ago. He continues to support the run and is developing into a serious pass rushing DT.
Chad Henne – There was nothing to go on when it came to Henne. Yet when Chad Pennington went down, the Dolphins offense got going. Chad Pennington has brought a new element to the team and despite the fact the Dolphins have not relied on his arm specifically, the option is there. Henne still dances a bit too much but he is showing a lot of poise under pressure and his armstrength is something the Phins haven’t had since Dan Marino.
Jason Taylor – Everyone knew Jason’s heart but few thought he had anything left. After a dismal stint in Washington, Taylor has re-invented his play on the field and looks more like he did 5 years ago than an aging veteran in the twilight of his career. Taylor is showing the Dolphins brass that he is ready for another contract.
Gibril Wilson – Wilson was supposed to make the safety position elite. Coupled with the play of Yeremiah Bell, Wilson was supposed to be a pre-free agent steal. Now, fans are seeing why he was passed over by 31 other teams. Often out of position, Wilson is beat often and has shown a tremendous habit of missing tackles. So far, Wilson has been a hinderance instead of a helpful addition.
Ted Ginn – Ginn is in his 3rd year and as a WR he still doesn’t seem to get it. A brilliant speed burst does little when you can’t get off the LOS. Ginn finally made a statement in the KR game when he scored twice, still, he was pulled from those duties earlier in the year and no longer returns punts as well. Fans and the team are still waiting for Ginn to become consistent.
Donald Thomas – Thomas was all the talk and rave of last years pre-season and even the first game before being sidelined with an IR foot injury. Thomas came back from injury but still seems to struggle with protection and in run blocking at times. He isn’t so much a dissappointment for his play as much as what he was expected to be.
A FEW OTHER NAMES
Jason Allen – Allen’s name comes up everytime the word “bust” is mentioned but he has become a special teams playmaker…albeit an expensive one.
Tony McDaniel – A cast off of Jacksonville and almost a camp cut, McDaniel makes the most of his time on the field and looks to have a possible future in front of him if he continues to improve.
Cameron Wake – Heralded out of the CFL Wake has looked good when he is in the game. Unfortunately that isn’t all that often. Wake’s problem is that he plays behind Jason Taylor who is playing exceptional. Wake still has a ways to go match his hype.
Jake Grove – The Dolphins wanted someone more physical than Samson Satele who they traded to the Raiders and they got what they were looking for. Grove is playing exceptionally this season as the Dolphins center.