Miami Dolphins special teams look towards improvement

Jan 8, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios (10) returns a punt against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios (10) returns a punt against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2022, when it came to Special Teams, the Miami Dolphins were one of the weakest teams in the NFL. Yet Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman remains in the same position with the team. Why?

Many fans have been asking this question. How could a team that appears to be all-in for 2023 not do something about a special teams coordinator whose unit finished near the bottom in special teams by some measures?

The Dolphins appear to be answering this question, not by their words but by their deeds. According to Alain Poupart of Sports Illustrated, five of the six Dolphins players that played the most special teams snaps in 2022 were Duke Riley, Justin Bethel, Sam Equavoen, Clayton Fejedelem, and Andrew Van Ginkel. All five of these players were free agents following the 2022 season. To this point, only Riley, Bethel, and Van Ginkel have resigned.

The Dolphins’ actions seem to be indicating that they are looking for upgrades to their special team’s personnel. Want more proof? Last year Thomas Morstead was the Dolphins’ punter. While he was better than Michael Palardy had been in 2021, he wasn’t good enough for the Dolphins. The team opted instead to sign Jake Bailey to be the punter in 2023. The hope is that Bailey and other personnel changes will result in improved punt team coverage. Last year the Dolphins were ranked near the bottom in punt coverage.

Bailey, who is 26 years old, was a first-team All-Pro punter in 2020. Last year he suffered a back injury and was eventually released by the Patriots. The Dolphins seem to believe that his back injury issues are behind him.
Interestingly, the Dolphins ranked 32nd in the league in kickoff coverage (according to so there seem to be some serious reasons for concerns.

Along with the signing of Bailey, the Dolphins have also signed Braxton Berrios to be the primary kickoff and punt returner. In 2022, Berrios had significantly better numbers than the Dolphins’ primary returners 2022.

At this point, Jason Sanders is the only Kicker on the roster. However, there are no guarantees that he will not be replaced before the start of the 2023 season. While he had a good finish to the 2022 season he was inconsistent and finished the year making 26 of 32 field goals and 41 of 44 extra points. While those numbers were better than his 2021 numbers, they were not where the Dolphins need him to be.

So far this off-season, the Dolphins have signed David Long and Malik Reed to go along with the signing of Berrios and Bailey as significant additions to the special team’s units. As the off-season continues, we can expect the Dolphins to continue to add players to help upgrade the unit.

While it is apparent that the Dolphins did need to upgrade Special Teams personnel, why are they giving Danny Crossman another year as the special teams’ coordinator? Trying to find information on Assistant NFL coaches, particularly special teams coaches, can be difficult.

What I did find is that Crossman has been an NFL Special Teams Coordinator since 2007. He served in this role for the Carolina Panthers from 2007 to 2009, Detroit Lions from 2010 to 2012, Buffalo Bills from 2013 to 2018, and the Dolphins since 2019.

Ranking NFL Special Teams units are more difficult than ranking offensive and defensive units. It does appear that over Crossman’s coaching career, his units have tended to be considered in the upper half of NFL Special Teams units in most categories.

While there are 11 players on the field for each special team’s play, it’s difficult to evaluate player performance based on stats. Punters, kickers, and returners are easy enough to evaluate but evaluating the other positions is not as easy. How individuals perform on kick and punt return blocking assignments is nearly impossible to quantify into a clear stat.

For example, ranks special teams in 16 separate categories. According to them, the Dolphins ranked 1st in several categories during the 2022 season and no worse than 18th in any of the other categories. Using this matrix it appears that Crossman actually did a very good job given the personnel that he had.

It seems that Special Teams coaching is far more of an art than a science. Crossman has been most successful during his career. Hopefully, he gets the right personnel mix for the 2023 season and once again makes the Dolphins Special Teams units a positive for the team.