MIDSEASON GRADES

The offensive line and the defensive line were considered by many the two biggest question marks for the Dolphins heading into the 2002 season. But has it really panned out that way?

We examine the work of every position group in the first half of the season.

QUARTERBACKS

Jay Fiedler was having a terrific season — we don't care what anybody says — before he was injured. He was playing smart, making nice throws and avoiding bad mistakes (except for the fourth quarter at Kansas City). Ray Lucas has not gotten it done as the backup, even though he was much better against Green Bay than against Buffalo. Sage Rosenfels only made a brief appearance.

Grade: C+ (Fiedler was having a B+ type of season.

RUNNING BACKS

Even though his numbers have dropped considerably the last few weeks, Ricky Williams has been solid throughout the season. Rob Konrad also has played well, although his fumble at Green Bay really hurt. Robert Edwards has made some nice plays as the third-down back, but he frankly doesn't look like he has the quickness to be an every-down back anymore.

Grade: B

RECEIVERS

This has been a somewhat disappointing areas, with a fairly significant number of dropped passes and very few big plays. Chris Chambers hasn't made the quantum leap so many expected of him, although he still has the look of a future star. Oronde Gadsden made a couple of great catches before getting injured. Dedric Ward hasn't been as good as last year, and James McKnight has all but disappeared from the offense. Cris Carter had a rough debut, although he will be a good addition.

Grade: C

OFFENSIVE LINE

This group started off great, but has been playing mediocre football lately. How much of that is due to the absence of Mark Dixon is the big mystery. The truth is nobody has played all that great in recent weeks, from Jamie Nails on down. This group absolutely must improve soon or the offense will continue to struggle.

Grade: C+ (started off as an A-

DEFENSIVE LINE

So much for this group being a weak line. It actually might have been the most consistent group on the team. The pass rush, with the exception of the games at Kansas City and Green Bay, has been good. The run defense has been much better than last year, and the middle of the defensive line has been stout thanks to the play of Tim Bowens and Larry Chester. The biggest key, of course, has been the play of Jason Taylor, who is headed to the Pro Bowl.

Grade: B+

LINEBACKERS

Because of the scheme, the Dolphins linebackers seldom are put in position to make a lot of big plays, but Derrick Rodgers was able to get something done along those lines in the victory at Indianapolis. Morlon Greenwood doesn't get nearly as much playing time because of the nickel and dime packages, but he showed improvement (albeit marginal) in the first half of the season. That brings us to Zach Thomas, who was always active and didn't seem to make as many big plays as he normally does.

Grade: C+

SECONDARY

Let's say it right now, Patrick Surtain clearly has become the best defensive back on the team. He was simply outstanding in the first half of the season, and his absence was obviously noticeable in the loss at Kansas City. Sam Madison also played well, although he got burned perhaps more often than he usually does. Arturo Freeman did not have a great first half of the season at strong safety, with particularly bad games at Kansas City and Green Bay. Brock Marion started off very well but has been very quiet the last few weeks. Jamar Fletcher took a lot of criticism early on, but he has played much better lately. As for the other backups, the Dolphins have gotten solid contributions from the likes of Shawn Wooden, Scott McGarrahan and Trent Gamble.

Grade: B-

SPECIAL TEAMS

The good: Olindo Mare made the clutch kick at Denver, Travis Minor has been very consistent as the kickoff returner, Dedric Wards has done a good job on punt returns, and the coverage teams have been very good. The bad: Mare has missed a few kicks, Albert Johnson was very tentative as the punt and kickoff returner before he got injured, and Mark Royals' punting has been a tad inconsistent. Overall, a very solid job by this group.

Grade: B


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