Everyone always talks about the Dolphins’ offense and if quarterback Chad Henne will have a breakout season, or if Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake can lead the defense in 2011. It’s very seldom that the conversation would turn to the special teams unit and whether or not they can carry their weight next season. It seems like the only time their names get mentioned is if Dan Carpenter misses a field goal or Brandon Fields hits one off the side of his foot! This is a unit that must keep making improvements and adjustments throughout the season if a team–any team–wants to win on a consistent basis. Last season, this unit improved drastically from the middle of the season and it will need to be even better in 2011 if the Dolphins want to achieve their goals. Here are 11 reasons (in no particular order) why the unit will be better in 2011:
- Darren Rizzi: After being named special teams coach after the fourth regular season game in 2010, Rizzi’s unit improved dramatically. He went back to basics and started from scratch, explaining and defining roles to each member of this unit. The experience that was gained last season will not only help in his personnel decisions, but dictate what type of players he’s looking for to make this unit a positive in 2011.
- Clyde Gates: Edmond “Clyde” Gates is known for his speed and that could be a major asset and upgrade to not only the Dolphins offense, but its return game in general. Just the threat of breaking the big play on special teams is exactly what Miami has been searching for and may have found in Gates. One small crease on kick-off return or getting him to the wall on a punt return could be the difference in changing the momentum of a game or putting points on the scoreboard.
- AJ Edds: This is one player that will be a welcome addition to this unit. His ability to run, cover and tackle will benefit all of the coverage teams. He was sorely missed last season while recovering from an injury suffered during training camp.
- Kory Sheets: Although Sheets never made it to the regular season for the Dolphins, he just might be the answer they’re looking for in the return game. Before rupturing his Achilles’ during last year’s training camp, Sheets was penciled in as the starter at the kick-off return position. He had explosive speed and was a good open field runner before the injury, so he just might be back in the spotlight for Miami.
- Kickoff Rule Changes: A big change came this March when the NFL decided to move the kickoff from the 30-yard line up to the 35-yard line. This rule change should help the kickoff coverage teams and become a huge asset for the kickers themselves. It will definitely impact the big play opportunities for the elite returners around the league, but I’m sure it will be an advantage to the teams that play stingy defense! The Dolphins might use this rule to there advantage if the “D” starts consistently at the 20!
- Free Agent Acquisitions: When the league year opens for business, I’m sure that the Dolphins will be looking to upgrade and stockpile plenty of talent that can run and tackle. The positions of linebacker and defensive back should be a popular free agent position for not only Miami, but teams around the league to strengthen this unit. This could be where GM Jeff Ireland and his staff turn a few acorns into future stars!
- The Offense Should be Better: Sometimes the offense can take some of the burden and pressure off of the special teams unit with consistent offensive drives, or getting six points instead of settling for a field goal opportunity. Also, it can be as simple as getting two first downs when your team is backed up inside there own 20 yard line. A new offensive philosophy coupled with more big plays will improve this unit by keeping the offense on the field and not putting the punting or field goal unit in difficult situations.
- Jimmy Wilson: This hard-hitting defensive back is known for not only his play in the defensive backfield, but for screaming down the field on coverage units in college. The seventh rounder will be looking to turn heads and get the attention of Darren Rizzi by making plays early in training camp in order to get his chance to shine in the pre-season. Wilson can bring an attitude and earn a spot on the roster on special teams alone!
- Dan Carpenter: First of all, thank you Dan Carpenter! Dan accounted for 115 points going 30 for 41 for the year. He was money from inside 39 yards hitting 14 of 14 from that distance. Carpenter was a big part of the offensive success early in the season and was clutch in the Green Bay victory going five for five on the road! If he can stay consistent in 2011, it’s just one more weapon to count on for points.
- Brandon Fields: First of all, thank you Brandon Fields! Brandon booming the ball for a 46.2 average and a 37.2 net average was impressive. The performance against the Jets on the road single-handedly keep the Dolphins in the game and never gave his defense a short field to work on! His 31 boots inside the 20-yard line complemented his long of 69 on the season. If this unit can stay away from the blocks (two in 2010), Brandon will consistently tilt the field in Miami’s favor.
- Natural Progression: The Dolphins, like many young teams, used a lot of inexperienced players on special teams last year. Those guys now have a full season under their belt and will only benefit in 2011 from the experiences they had and the lessons they learned in 2010!
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.