Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2009 Position Grades: Special Teams

Seemingly one of the easiest areas to grade, special teams is perhaps the hardest.

To really capture every aspect, you'd have to grade field goal and extra point kicking, punting, long snapping, kick and punt returning, kick and punt coverage, and kick and punt blocking.

I'm not going to go that in-depth with it, particularly because some of those things are really hard to quantify.

I will however single out some of the Dolphins' best and worst performers on special teams this season.

These are my individual and overall grades for the Miami Dolphins' special teams in 2009:

John Denney: A

How do you grade a long snapper? He didn't botch any snaps, and the Dolphins' placekicker and punter both had very good seasons. Bravo, John Denney.

Brandon Fields: A-

Fields has always had a great leg, but he finally put it all together in 2009, setting career highs in punting average (46.3), net average (39.8), and punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line (25).

Consistently one of the better punters in the NFL this year, Fields ranked seventh in punting average, 10th in net average, and 12th in punts downed inside the 20. Had his coverage teams been better, his rankings would have been even higher.

Dan Carpenter: B

The Dolphins didn't hand anything to Carpenter entering his second season with the Dolphins, bringing in Connor Barth during training camp to push him for his job.

Carpenter held on, however, and rewarded the Dolphins with an extremely productive season. Carpenter converted on 25 of 28 field goal attempts, with his 89.3 percentage ranking fourth in the conference and seventh in the NFL.

Where Carpenter did struggle a bit was on kickoffs, where he ranked 20th in the NFL in kickoff average and 17th in touchbacks.

Although the Oakland Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski probably should have replaced Nate Kaeding in the 2010 Pro Bowl over Carpenter, there's no denying the Dolphins' kicker had a fine year in his second pro season.

Ted Ginn, Jr.: B

Despite his propensity to run out of bounds and avoid contact as a returner, Ginn still posted a 24.9 average despite poor blocking most of the season.

Ginn received a lot of flack from Dolphins fans in 2009, much of it deserved. He tied for the NFL lead in drops and really regressed in his third NFL season as a receiver.

That being said, Ginn did make his mark on special teams, at times in a huge way. His two kickoff returns of over 100 yards against the New York Jets in Week 8 set an NFL record, and was pretty much the only reason the Dolphins won the game, as the offense did absolutely nothing.

Davone Bess: F

To be quite frank, there was simply nothing good about Bess' punt returning in 2009. He averaged a measly 7.5 yards per return, muffed a number of punts, and provided absolutely no threat the the coverage team.

Bess might be a fine possession receiver, but he's not a home run threat as a returner and doesn't strike fear into the hearts of anyone on special teams.

The Best in Coverage

Some of the standouts on special teams include cornerback Nathan Jones, who led the team in special teams tackles with 16, and former 2006 first-round pick Jason Allen (14). Also excelling in the department were Lex Hilliard (13 stops), Tyrone Culver (nine) and Cameron Wake (nine).

Overall Position Grade: B

The Dolphins' special teams was a bit two-faced in 2009, with good performances by the placekicker, punter, and kickoff returner.

John Bonamego's unit did have its struggles as well, as Carpenter's kickoffs were sub-par, Davone Bess was absolutely horrible returning punts, and the kickoff and punt-return coverage has been poor for a few years now.

All in all, however, the Dolphins' were able to rely on their key special teams players throughout the season, and the unit can even take large credit for a few of Miami's seven wins.

How would you grade the Dolphins' special teams in 2009? Share your thoughts on the forum here!