One of my few ongoing frustrations with the Dolphins this year has been the general inability of the special teams to perform to a high standard.
I know special teams is not usually a big draw for readers. I don't expect to break page view or comment section records with this post. But it is important.
It is important enough that Miami spent much of the offseason investing in the improvement of the special teams. Davone Bess made the Dolphins primarily because of what he added on special teams. Reggie Torbor was brought to Miami, in part, because of his special teams ability. Nathan Jones was brought to Miami to play special teams. So were Keith Davis and Boomer Grigsby, though they've been cut. Dan Carpenter was kept and Jay Feely was cut, in part, to improve field position on special teams.
Special teams play is important darnit!
And yet Miami's special teams - how to put this discreetly - suck right now.
The Dolphins rank 32nd in the NFL in opponent's kick return average. They rank 29th out of 32 teams in opponent's punt return average. That means whenever the Dolphins kick off or punt, they are typically getting destroyed by the opposition.
Some proof of that is the 81-yard kickoff return, the 50-yard kickoff return, and the 70-yard punt return the Dolphins have allowed this season.
The story is not much better when the Dolphins receive. The Dolphins rank 31st out of 32 teams on kick returns. Punt returns is a slightly better story as Miami ranks 15th with a 10.5 yard per return average. But even that isn't anything impressive considering the investment and attention the Dolphins put on their special teams.
So what is the problem? On defense (punts and kickoffs) the Dolphins aren't doing a great job with lane discipline. They also get blocked fairly successfully. On offense, or their returns, the Dolphins are sometimes trying to block linebackers and fullbacks from other teams with their defensive backs and wide receivers, meaning Miami's special teams seem generally smaller than most.
And there isn't a whole lot of speed in the back getting the ball, either. Sure, Bess is well-suited for punt returns because he is elusive and quick. But he is not fast. So he is limited on kickoff returns. And why is he on kick returns, you ask, when Ted Ginn Jr. is available?
Why isn't the guy who tied the NCAA record with 8 return TDs returning punts and especially kicks for Miami?
"The difference is you got some big bodies flying down the field with a lot longer head start," coach Tony Sparano said. "So the smaller guys don't always hold up in there as long when they're returning kicks that way and Bess is just built a little bit bigger than Ted."
Translation: The receiver-poor Dolphins don't want to have Ginn broken in two on a kick return because of his thin frame and the relative small size of their people up front.
Despite this, I perceive Sparano is becoming a bit impatient with the lack of productivity on the return teams. I perceive Ginn might get more opportunites on kick returns, at least on a sporadic basis. Of course, I've perceived this for a while and nothing has happened.
"You never know what you'll see back there," Sparano said this week.
I'd like to see Ginn. I'd like to see a reverse on a kick or punt return. I'd like to see a fake punt. I'd like to see some action.
And this week would be a good time to do it. The Dolphins play the Ravens, meaning the Dolphins may struggle to score very often against the NFL's No. 1 defense. Maybe getting a special teams touchdown or, at worst, good field position would help Miami's cause.