Miami Dolphins

New replacement parts in Miami Dolphins’ lineup are an upgrade

Miami Dolphins' Cortland Finnegan, right, returns a fumbled snap for a touchdown past Oakland Raiders' Matt McGloin during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, at Wembley Stadium in London.
Miami Dolphins' Cortland Finnegan, right, returns a fumbled snap for a touchdown past Oakland Raiders' Matt McGloin during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, at Wembley Stadium in London. AP

The Dolphins have played the past two weeks with 11 new starters from a year ago, seven the result of offseason personnel decisions and four the byproduct of injuries or suspensions.

And despite the Dolphins’ pedestrian 2-2 record, this is something they can feel good about: The replacements, for the most part, have performed capably.

The players substituting for injured starters Dannell Ellerbe (Jelani Jenkins) and Mike Pouncey (Samson Satele) have surpassed expectations.

And most of the players who are starting because of offseason personnel choices are performing at levels comparable or better than the players they replaced.

A look at how the new starters have fared compared with the former ones:

▪ Start with the tackle positions. Last season, Bryant McKinnie (10 starts for the Dolphins) allowed seven sacks, Tyson Clabo (15 starts) yielded 11 and Jonathan Martin (seven starts) relinquished seven. That’s 25 sacks permitted by the team’s top three tackles.

So far, left tackle Branden Albert and rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James have relinquished only one sack apiece in 587 combined snaps. No wonder Pro Football Focus ranks Albert second and James 20th among 67 tackles.

By comparison, Martin — now with the San Francisco 49ers — allowed three sacks in 257 snaps entering Sunday. Clabo, incidentally, is a backup for the Texans and McKinnie is out of the league.

What’s more, PFF ranks Albert the fifth-best run blocker among all tackles and James the 10th-best. All of the Dolphins’ tackles graded out poorly as run blockers last season.

▪ The Dolphins’ guard play also has improved. Last season, Richie Incognito allowed six sacks in seven-plus games, and John Jerry yielded five.

This season, left guard Daryn Colledge, 32, said he has been held responsible for only half a sack in the Dolphins’ grading system.

“There are times I feel like 32, times I feel 25,” he said. “Times [my performance] have been good, sometimes bad.”

But Colledge, overall, has been competent. And Dallas Thomas has filled in serviceably for 21/2 games in place of right guard Shelley Smith, who is considered a strong run blocker. Smith, back from a knee injury, has resumed practicing.

As for Miami’s former guards, Incognito remains unemployed and Jerry is a starter for the New York Giants; he hadn’t given up any sacks, entering Sunday, but has a negative grade as a run blocker.

▪ At center, Satele has “done a hell of a job,” Albert said. He hasn’t permitted any sacks and ranks ninth best as a run-blocker among 34 centers, according to PFF’s rankings. Satele will move to the bench with Pouncey expected to return Sunday against Green Bay.

▪ On the defensive side, most of the new starters have performed at a level ranging from decent to excellent.

At the high end: Jenkins, who is ranked first among all 4-3 outside linebackers by PFF. He’s rated second of 31 linebackers against the run, and quarterbacks have a subpar 77.6 passer rating in his coverage area.

Conversely, Ellerbe — who is out for the season with a hip injury — last season was ranked 50th overall among 55 linebackers and third-worst against the run. And whereas Ellerbe had 101 tackles in 15 games last season, Jenkins is on a pace for 152 tackles.

▪ New defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has been solid. Miami gave him a four-year, $16 million contract instead of matching Atlanta’s five-year, $33 million offer for Paul Soliai.

PFF ranks Mitchell eighth among defensive tackles, compared to 19th for Soliai in his first four games with the Falcons. Though Soliai is stout against the run, Mitchell has graded out well in that area, and the Dolphins got younger and cheaper at the position while adding a player they believe has pass-rush skills.

▪ Safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan haven’t so far been dramatic upgrades over the players they replaced, but they have played decently. Stronger tests will come against Green Bay and Chicago the next two weeks.

PFF ranks Delmas 26th of 76 safeties so far this season and 13th against the run. Chris Clemons, who remains unsigned after being cut by Houston in late August, was rated 19th of 86 safeties in 2013 but had a negative grade against the run.

Finnegan, who had a fumble return for a touchdown against Oakland, is rated 27th of 100 cornerbacks, with an 87.8 passer rating in his coverage area.

Meanwhile, the players who split starts opposite Brent Grimes last season are either unemployed (Dimitri Patterson) or non-factors (Nolan Carroll), who entered Sunday having played only 19 snaps for Philadelphia.

▪ Two starters who have been missed: Safety Reshad Jones, back from a four-game suspension, and linebacker Koa Misi, expected back Sunday after missing three games with an ankle injury.

Jimmy Wilson, who filled in for Jones, ranks 18th among 76 safeties, but he has missed five tackles and has a negative grade in run support. With Jones’ return, Wilson will move back to nickel corner.

Jason Trusnik, a valued special teams player who has been filling in for Misi at middle linebacker, graded out well against the run but allowed 9 of 10 passes thrown against him to be caught for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

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