SPECIAL PROBLEM

A lot has been made in recent days of the Dolphins' special teams problems down the stretch, particularly in the last loss at New England. But exactly where does the blame lie?

Radio talk show hosts have been quick to blame the loss of special teams coach Mike Westhoff, who was replaced two offseasons ago by former Bears assistant coach Keith Armstrong.

They point to the Jets' success on special teams this season and the face that the Dolphins had too many penalties and too few big plays in the kicking game.

That's half-true and half-preposterous.

The Jets have had a great year on special teams, but to suggest it's all because of Westhoff wouldn't be accurate. He's indeed a very good special teams coach, but he also had the luxury of working with Chad Morton and Santana Moss, who happen to be two explosive kick returners.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, used Travis Minor as the kickoff returner and Robert Baker and Dedric Ward as the punt returners. There simply is no comparison between the talent level there.

And that's where the Dolphins' special teams shortcomings are most obvious. This team desperately — and we do mean desperately — needs a game-breaking kick returner.

They haven't had one in way, way too long.

What needs to change also is the alarming number of penalties on kick returns. That one falls on Armstrong to a certain degree.

It looks like the Dolphins are going to bring back Mark Royals as their punter, and he needs to give them the long punt when they need it — something he didn't do often enough this past season.

Olindo Mare also needs to rebound from what was a mediocre season for him.

But above anything else, the Dolphins need a kick returner and we don't care when they get him.

That will make all the difference in the world, regardless of who coaches the unit.

Westhoff very well might be a better coach than Armstrong, but the bottom line is it usually comes down to personnel, and the Dolphins came up short on special teams this season.


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