By Abraham Gutierrez
Although it seems like a distant memory after back-to-back losses, the Dolphins got the 2013 campaign off to the franchise’s best start in over a decade at a perfect 3-0. After opening things up on the road with wins over Cleveland and Indianapolis, Miami treated the home crowd to a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Atlanta on September 22 at Sun Life Stadium.
However, there’s been trouble in paradise since then, as Joe Philbin and company got a bit of a reality check from two of the league’s upper-echelon squads. With great coaches and talented players that know how to execute, the Saints and Ravens exposed Miami’s weaknesses, sending the Fins into the bye sporting the first losing streak of the year.
Fortunately, an NFL season resembles a marathon and not a sprint, chess rather than checkers, and thus, there’s time before impatient Dolphins fans start looking for the panic button. Having that said, numbers don’t lie and despite the recent woes, this team has plenty of reasons to smile five games in.
Quarterback – Ryan Tannehill: While the former Texas A&M Aggie isn’t exactly setting the world on fire in his second year as a pro, he’s certainly not to blame. Considering that Miami could be 0-5 if it weren’t for his play-making ability, Tannehill is a stud regardless of his numbers. Despite the lack of protection from his O-line, he’s completed 114 of his 182 pass attempts (63 percent) for 1,383 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions for a quarterback rating of 85.5.
Wide Receiver – Brian Hartline: The more things change, the more they stay the same for this former Buckeye. Despite the new additions, Hartline leads the team with 25 receptions for 332 yards (13.3 avg.), which includes a long of 34 yards and two scores.
Wide Receiver – Brandon Gibson: Despite the fact that he’s still looking for his first TD of the season, the ex-Ram has been a valued addition to the receiving corps. After five games, he’s been Tannehill’s second most reliable option with 24 catches for 282 yards (12 avg.) and a long pass reception of 46 yards.
Tight End – Charles Clay: Clay has given Tannehill a nice option down the middle after losing Dustin Keller to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. Clay has recorded 23 grabs for 297 yards (13 avg.), highlighted by a 67-yarder, and has reached “paydirt” twice in his third year out of Tulsa.
Running Back – Lamar Miller: As strange as it sounds, 211 yards on 50 carries and two scores are incredible numbers, considering the team’s O-line, or lack thereof. It’s not hard to imagine the type of production that this former, Miami Killian H.S./UM local product would provide this team with half-decent blocking up-front.
Wide Receiver – Mike Wallace: While his situation is similar to Tannehill’s, when there’s that many zeros on a player’s contract, production is expected. The former Steeler is not only fourth in (team) receptions, but also has a tight end in front of him on that list, which makes him a dud (22 catches, 281 yards, TD).
The entire offensive line should be in this category including: (RT) Tyson Clabo, (G) Nate Garner, (G) John Jerry, (G) Richie Incognito, (C) Mike Pouncey, (T) Jonathan Martin and (T) Will Yeatman.
O-Line: According to the latest power rankings at NFL.com, Miami’s offensive line ranks dead last (32nd) in the league. They’ve not only allowed the most sacks in the NFL (24), but only six teams have had their signal-callers take more hits than Tannehill.
Defensive End – Cameron Wake: Despite knee issues, the fifth-year man out of Penn State is still tied for the team-lead for most sacks (2.5). Through five games, Wake has also recorded five tackles and has been one of the main reasons for Miami’s early success.
Defensive End – Olivier Vernon: Just five games into his second year as a pro, this former Cane is one sack away from matching his totals from a year ago (3.5). He’s currently tied with Wake for the lead in that department, to go along with his 12 tackles (9 solo).
Defensive End – Derrick Shelby: Despite not being a starter, the second-year man out of Utah is building quite a reputation in this league, especially on opposing teams’ backfields. With 12 tackles (9 solo) 2.0 sacks and two forced-fumbles, Shelby is definitely a stud (and deserves a profile picture on the team’s site at NFL.com).
Linebacker – Philip Wheeler: This former Raider has had no problem shedding the Silver and Black and substituting it for aqua and orange. Wheeler is second on the team with 35 tackles, out of which 28 were solo (7 assists) and even owns a ½ sack.
Linebacker – Dannell Ellerbe: The team leader in tackles, Ellerbe also ranks in the NFL’s top 20 in that department (14). Through five games as a Fin, the former Raven has recorded 40 tackles (26 solo) and has two fumble recoveries.
Safety – Reshad Jones: Currently third on the team with 31 tackles (27 solo), the fourth-year man out of Georgia became a stud the moment he picked off Joe Flacco in Week 5 and returned it for a 25-yard pick-six.
Cornerback – Dimitri Patterson: After getting off to a great start, recording two interceptions in his first game of the season, this Miami native has been sidelined for four weeks with a groin injury. While his case is more of a misfortune rather than a “dud,” it certainly belongs in this category. Although he’s only played one game, Patterson is tied for the team-lead in INTS (2), to go along with two tackles and three passes defended.
Safety – Kelcie McCray: After failing to record a single stat through four games, Miami waived the Arkansas State product following the loss in New Orleans. According to reports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed him off waivers.
Safety – Don Jones: In five games, the rookie out of Arkansas State has managed just four tackles. Other than having a forced fumble to his name, the former seventh round pick is a dud, playing his part in Miami’s defense being ranked 25th in the league versus the pass.
Special Teams Studs
Kicker – Caleb Sturgis: Despite missing what would have been a game-tying, 57-yard field goal versus Baltimore, the former fifth-round pick out of Florida is already among the best kickers in the league. With five games under his belt, the 24 year old from St. Augustine, Florida owns the third longest field goal this season (54 yards) and has made 10 of 11 attempts (90.9 percent). Sturgis is 3-for-3 between 30-39, 4-for-4 between 40-49 and 2-for-3 from 50-plus (yards), which also ranks fifth best in the National Football League. Because of his contributions, Miami’s kicking game is tied for eighth in the NFL.
Punter – Brandon Fields: The leg-strength this seven-year vet possesses is truly something to behold. He is basically a kicker trapped in a lineman’s body. The 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound Michigan State product is averaging 50.6 yards-per-punt (25), which is the highest total of his NFL career, and number one in the National Football League. Fields has the ability to boom it halfway down the field flat-footed and his longest kick this season was a 66-yard bomb that’s tied for fourth in the NFL. But the former seventh-round pick isn’t all power, as he comes into the bye week with 9 kicks inside the 20, tied for eighth-place in the league.
No Special Teams Duds
For more Dolphins news and updates, visit Dolphins Central.
Abe Gutierrez is a criminal justice admin whose love for sports led him to become a writer and editor. His expertise makes him a valued addition to Examiner.com and its partners. His work can be found on Examiner.com. .