The Dolphins’ neon names (Cam Wake, Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry) have received plenty of warranted credit for Miami’s turnaround. So have many of their prominent teammates, from Branden Albert to Jay Ajayi to Ryan Tannehill.
But what under-the-radar Dolphins - players who aren’t household names outside of South Florida (or, in some cases, outside of their own households) - also deserve special credit?
We posed that unsung-hero question to a bunch of Dolphins players, and three names were mentioned most:
• Running back Damien Williams.
Linebacker Spencer Paysinger said he’s the epitome of a player who holds himself accountable: “I can’t remember a time I’ve seen him drop a pass.”
Said safety Isa-Abdul Quddus: “He has this toughness about him, almost has a defensive mentality. He catches, he runs, he blocks. He really does a lot for us.”
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen put it this way: “He won't get the credit for what kind of year he's really had. It's been magnificent.”
• Defensive end Andre Branch.
“This game is based on energy,” cornerback Byron Maxwell said. “When people are down, you feed off of Andre’s energy. And it’s positive energy.”
Safety Michael Thomas put it this way: “Since he and Cam [Wake] became starters, Andre has brought a whole different identity to this team. He brings this type of energy, this hunger. He wants us hyped. He wants us dancing and celebrating after plays. He brings a culture here.”
• Linebacker Mike Hull, who has been terrific on special teams.
“A great example of what this team needs,” defensive tackle Earl Mitchell said. “If you saw him on the street, you would count him out. You give him an opportunity and he takes advantage of it.”
As long-snapper John Denney said: “He’s more productive than anyone on special teams on our team.”
Others who received mentions:
• Abdul-Quddus, who’s out for the rest of the season (neck) and will be missed.
Teammates credited him for helping hold the secondary together in the wake of Reshad Jones’ season-ending injury.
“He has made our secondary go,” Maxwell said. “He’s very calm back there, very smart.” As Paysinger said, Abdul-Quddus “tells players what to look for or where they’re supposed to be.”
• Receiver Kenny Stills, who has eight touchdowns.
Make no mistake, Jarvis Landry said: “Having him to stretch the field,” with his speed, has been invaluable to this offense.
Said Thomas: “You talk about a game-changing deep threat, and it’s not just plays, but critical plays in the game that he has made. That’s a player that needs to be getting league-wide recognition, not just locally.”
He has been leading “the league in special teams tackles and plays well [when] thrown into different positions,” Abdul-Quddus said.
He will have a major role on defense on Sunday, with Abdul-Quddus out.
“He's a smart player,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “Michael played his best game of the year, in my opinion, on Saturday. So I think Michael will play well.”
• Cornerback Tony Lippett.
“Young guy who just keeps making plays,” guard Jermon Bushrod said.
Pro Football Focus says he has allowed a 5.4 passer rating on deep balls, second-lowest among all NFL quarterbacks.
“He’s playing a position new to him [guard] and has really done a good job,” Mitchell said. “And he has really helped Laremy Tunsil. It has made communication easier because Jermon has so many years on him.”
• Though nobody mentioned them, I would add safety Walt Aikens (several huge special teams plays), tight end Dion Sims (blossomed in Jordan Cameron’s absence) and tight end MarQueis Gray, an obscure March 31 signing who has 14 catches for 174 yards and got a new two-year deal last week.
Kudos to Aikens, by the way, for embracing special teams work despite not playing a single snap on defense all year. Every week, he watches opponent’s tape to try to find special teams vulnerabilities.
“We let [special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi] know when he sees something,” Aikens said. “I take a lot of pride in this. It feels great to know other teams have to account for you.”
Also credit linebacker Neville Hewitt:
“He's played really well,” Joseph said. “I can't name a game where Neville hadn't been productive, even last week.”
A WORD FROM BRADY
With New England visiting Sunday, keep in mind that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a 6-8 record against the Dolphins in Miami. He’s 13-1 in home games against the Dolphins.
“Well, I think we haven't played very well, so that's been the biggest problem, just our ability to play two good halves of football," Brady told Patriots writers on Friday about games in South Florida, after practicing for a second straight day despite dealing with a thigh injury. "We didn't do it last year; we didn't do it the year before. It's a tough place to play for one reason or another.
“I don't think it's the weather, I don't think it's [the temptation of] Miami Beach or anything like that. I think the Dolphins have always challenged us and especially down there, so it'll be good to go get a win in a tough place."
Brady won’t have receiver Danny Amendola (ankle), and emerging rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell is doubtful.
So the Patriots expect their top three receivers Sunday to be Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd (the former first-round pick claimed off waivers from Arizona).