Written by Luis Sung | Twitter: @FLSportDebater
A few years back, the Miami Dolphins specials teams unit was a force to be reckoned with, the punter was considered one of the best - if not the best - in the entire league and the kicker could connect from distances previously though unimaginable.
On top of all that, the kick and punt return coverage was something that no returner wanted any part of, because if you tried getting too far, you would most likely get rocked moments later.
All of a sudden, that's no longer the case.
For the past few weeks, with the exception of one game, the Dolphins special teams has at times looked rather abysmal from all angles. The coverage on punts and kicks in particular has shown the most obvious signs of regression, as they even allowed CJ Spiller of the Buffalo Bills to not only return a kickoff for a touchdown, but to do it with such a large running lane that all he had to do was run in a straight line.
That isn't even mentioning the returns versus Kansas City, where the special teams unit again proved to be a weakness on the team. Despite all that however, head coach Joe Philbin has faith in the players on the unit.
“I think we’ve got a good group of guys. I like the group that we have. We have to do better. Riz (Darren Rizzi) and Marwan (Maalouf) and I watched it yesterday morning, early in the morning, and obviously I watched it on the plane." Philbin said. "It wasn’t our best performance, for sure. I can’t say that it was on special teams the other day, but I think a lot of the things were correctable."
Philbin hasn't pointed out anything in specific that needed to be fixed regarding special teams, stating instead that it's a case of a little bit of everything.
“It’s been a little, not unlike offense or defense, it’s been various things at various times." Philbin explained, "Sometimes it’s been on our coverage units. At times, it’s been we haven’t gotten off the block well. At times, it’s been we haven’t tackled well. At times, it’s been the location of the kick maybe hasn’t been great. At times, our protection, like a quarterback, it’s sometimes doesn’t throw it as accurately. Sometimes our protection hasn’t been as good for our punter or our kicker."
Speaking of the punter and the kicker, they too have been struggling recently. While Sturgis has been having issues ever since the game against the Baltimore Ravens in his rookie year, Fields has been - up to this point - a candidate for a Pro Bowl spot every year, but now he's been struggling severely.
“I think a lot of the things that we mentioned. Early on we got the punt blocked in Buffalo. He just hasn’t looked as comfortable quite yet back there, as he has in the two years that I’ve been here, the previous two years." Philbin explained. "I’m confident he’ll work his way through it and he’ll get back to being the outstanding punter that we all know. For his standards, it’s not quite what we’re used to. I think he would acknowledge that, but I’m very, very confident that he’ll get back to that soon.”
As for Sturgis, his issues have been more glaring since, unlike Fields, Sturgis is responsible for actually putting points on the board, and every time he's missed so far this season, it seems to have come at the most inopportune time.
But looking at his totals, they don't seem quite so bad. So far this season, Sturgis has hit on 11 out of 14 of his field goal attempts, but nevertheless, people are getting impatient with the former Florida Gator.
"I like the way he’s been kicking the ball. We told him today, we were in the team meeting today and we said we’ve got to make those field goals. We kind of went through that sequence (in Chicago) where we took a sack and knocked ourselves back, and made the field goal more difficult." Philbin said. "That being said, I said to him right there in the whole team meeting, we’ve got to make those field goals. He knows that and I suspect that he will work at it and he’ll get better at it."
Philbin fully expects every aspect of special teams to get better, and that's understandable considering special teams coach Darren Rizzi is one of the best in the business at what he does. But he needs help to pull it off. Hopefully the return of Dion Jordan will allow Rizzi to take some better players and plug them into special teams, and that might be what turns the tables on this season's special teams woes.
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