At the mid way point of the 2012 season, the Miami Dolphins have exceeded virtually all the expectations set for them in the preseason yet find themselves where they began; with an even record. Miami is sitting at 4-4, one game out of the AFC East lead and one game back of a playoff spot. It's clear that there is a new sense of optimism in South Florida, the Dolphins are playing meaningful football which is something that eluded them a year ago. While the team as a unit has been a pleasant surprise, invidual players have also emerged as impact performers. Although there were plenty of surprises, several players were large disappointments that may have ultimately cost the team a handful of victories. However, the past is simply that, the past and Miami sits at a solid position in this point of the season, at .500. Before looking forward to a crucial matchup against the Tennesse Titans to get the Dolphins back into the playoff mix, it's time to take a look at which players surpised and disappointed in the first half of the year.
QB Ryan Tannehill
There is absolutely no question about this choice. In the game's Tannehill has played, he already looks like the quarterback the Miami Dolphins have long been searching for. Although the Dolphins offense as a whole stacks up around the same as last year statistically, there is no denying that they are much improved, in large part due to the decision making and skill set of the rookie quarterback. The Miami offense ranks 20th in points per game with 21.2 and 20th in the league in pass yards per game with 220.6. Despite the low totals, Tannehill's abilty to take full control of the no huddle offense as well as not throwing an interception in the past four games, has kept the Dolphins in a position to win every week. Assuming Tannehill stays healthy, he will easily surpass Dan Marino's rookie passing mark of 2,210 yards set in 1983. Through eight games Tannehill has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,762 yards and five touchdowns, very impressive for a player who wasn't even expected to start this year.
WR Brian Hartline
With eight games in the books, Brian Hartline has already set a career high in recieving yards with 662 on 41 receptions. Hartline has embraced the role of the team's top option in the passing game and has developed a strong chemistry with Ryan Tannehill. Underrated throughout his career, Hartline has become a serious threat down the field and his speed is not to be underestimated. The one flaw in Hartline's game is the inability to reach the endzone as he has only recorded one touchdown. Despite the lack of touchdown's, Hartline is on pace to move into second on the Dolphins all time list for recieving yards in a single season. He is projected to finish with 1,324 yards but must emerge as a red zone threat. Outside of Hartline, Davone Bess has been a staple in the slot but a third reciever has yet to make a significant impact.
DE Cameron Wake
All the doubts that Wake's production would only decline after recieving a long term extension in Miami were quickly put to rest as the contract has turned into a bargain from the perspective of the front office. Wake has been a large contributor to the Dolphins run defense which ranks 3rd in the league and is surrendering a mere 83.9 yards on the ground per game. The former CFLer has the 5th most sacks in the NFL with 8 1/2 and his 55 combined quarterback hits and hurries lead the league. For his efforts, Wake was voted AFC defensive player of the month for October.
DT Randy Starks: 3.5 sacks, one interception, 15 quarterback hurries.
C Mike Pouncey: Performing at a pro bowl level and is a key part of the Dolphins interior play.
DE Olivier Vernon: 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a blocked punt touchdown highlight the rookie's early career.
LT Jake Long
The former first overall pick and four time pro bowler has not looked like the same player this season as he did in his first four years in the league. Long has been a bookend on the Dolphins offensive line for years and has been known to turn in one dominating performance after another, however he has not been as effective while protecting his quarterback's blind side this year. He has missed several key blocks throughout the season leading to the defense having a free rusher at Tannehill. Long's struggles have resulted in three sacks for the opposition and have him ranked as the 46th best tackle in the league. His disappointing play will make the Dolphins decsion on Long's fate in free agency all the more difficult.
CB Sean Smith and Nolan Carroll
It's tough to pick out one individual disappointment from the secondary as they have been extremely inconsistent all season. In the first five games, it appeared as though Sean Smith embraced the role of shutdown corner however in his past four games he is allowing an opposing quarterback rating of over 100. Despite only allowing 53 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, he simply could not cover Reggie Wayne in last week's loss and surrendered the game tying touchdown in a loss to Arizona. Starting alongside Smith, Nolan Carroll has played well in stretches but has come crashing back down to earth. Carroll has allowed 437 recieving yards and two touchdowns against No. 2 recieving options. One of the lone bright spots in the Dolphins secondary is Reshad Jones who is rated as the top saftey in the league according to Pro Football Focus. In order for the Dolphins to be contenders down to stretch, the secondary as whole must improve.
Overall, the Miami Dolphins are finally headed in the right direction as an organization and while building for the future is always the goal, the Dolphins are still very much alive this season. A win at home to the Titans could vault Miami right back into a playoff spot and their remaining schedule is one of the more favourable. While there are several areas of need on this team, if they continue to play competitive football and see increased production from a number of players, this team will be tough to beat.