As Michael Egnew walked through the Miami Dolphins locker room after Monday’s practice, the rookie tight end paused and took a quick look at a large white rectangular board in the center of the room.
This is where the Dolphins update their weekly leaguewide ranking in 14 special teams categories, from gross and net punting and punt return averages to the same type of data for kickoff and kickoff returns. Even touchbacks and punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard-line are listed along with field goal percentage for the Dolphins and their opponents.
Egnew, the third-rounder out of Missouri who has yet to be active for a single game this year, probably won’t get on the field until he starts to excel at special teams, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman suggested at his weekly availability Monday.
No individual names are on that big board, which was the brainchild of special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, but the message it sends is unmistakable.
Special teams matter just as much here as they do with the Jets, where coordinator Mike Westhoff has long reached legendary status, going back to his Dolphins days.
When I asked Dolphins coach Joe Philbin whose job it was to update that board, he said it was “probably Rizzi.”
“Do we have to get on him?” he said. “You guys not happy?”
Told the board had been properly updated -- which, come to think of it, I"m not sure it has -- Philbin laughed and said, “That’s good.”
Then he expounded on the reason it even exists, which it never did under Tony Sparano, even after Rizzi took over for John Bonamego early in the 2010 season.
“[Rizzi] likes it,” Philbin said. “I want the coordinators to do what they’re comfortable with. I was a coordinator once. I tell the position coaches, ‘You’re the head coach of your position.’ I tell the other guys, ‘You’re the head coach of your unit.’ So if you feel that’s going to help those guys play better, I’m all for it. As long as it doesn’t contradict the overall theme of the program, I’m fine with it.”
Jimmy Wilson leads Dolphins special teamers with four tackles, but it’s probably not a real good sign punter Brandon Fields is tied for second with three.
Asked who besides Jon Amaya (three tackles) has shown himself to be a playmaker on special teams, Philbin mentinoed Jason Trusnik (three solo tackles), Austin Spitler, rookie third-rounder Olivier Vernon and Nolan Carroll.
He also cited the long-serving group of Fields, Dan Carpenter and John Denney for their strong work.
“We’ve got a lot of guys,” Philbin said. “I think our special teams have overall … the direction of that and the production of that in six weeks has been good. Certainly haven’t been perfect, but I think there’s a lot of guys. I’m probably forgetting some off the top of my head. I think the specialists do a great job. Excelllent work ethic, all three of those guys. Very professional. Like what they’ve done.”
But will it be enough to outshine the Jets' special teams units -- including ex-Dolphin stuntman Lex Hilliard and, of course, Tim Tebow -- this Sunday at the Meadowlands?