Gone is P Matt Haack. The Dolphins signed the former Carolina Panthers punter Michael Palardy instead of re-signing the steady Matt Haack. Palardy has a higher average per punt than Haack at 46.0 compared to the 44.7 Haack had as Dolphins punter. The important guy who is returning is All Pro kicker Jason Sanders. Sanders had a fantastic season converting 36 of 39 FG tries. His kickoffs were nearly always touchbacks. MIchael Palardy has a big leg so we’ll see if we improve our field position with him booming the ball.
Jakeem Grant shared return duties last year with rookies WR Malcolm Perry and DB Noah Igbinoghene. Grant was electric, but you held your breath until he actually cradled the ball when receiving the punt or kickoff. This year I believe Jaylen Waddle will be incorporated into the game and may even make Jakeem Grant expendable. Time will tell on that one. Waddle is so explosive in his own right and I would imagine he’s a lot more sure handed than Grant has been. Still, Jakeem Grant may stick here just because of his electric punt return ability, he averaged 11.4 yards on his punt returns last season. I do believe Waddle will challenge here and Malcolm Perry may also.
Blake Ferguson returns as the long snapper after a fine rookie season. I don’t recall any Ferguson miscues last season so I’ll leave it that he did his job well. The big questions going forward is can Jason Sanders follow up hos All Pro season with another? Who will be the primary return man and if it’s rookie Jaylen Waddle, does Jakeem Grant make the cut? Also, if Jaylen Waddle is the primary return man, do they scale back his work at WR? It’s a lot to ask from a rookie because they have double work, but I would hope Waddle is up to task. Personally, I hope Waddle is part of our return game, I can’t wait to see that. Will new punter Michael Palardy help our field position battle? Haack was unspectacular last season but I thought he did a good job here. Obviously the Dolphins were looking for better and hopefully that’s what we get from Palardy.
The Xavien Howard holdout may affect DB Noah Igbinoghene the most. If he’s the guy that will be counted on to replace Howard, I’d almost guarantee his days as a return man are done for at least this season. He will be working hard to be up to snuff filling some tremendous shoes if the Dolphins can’t work things out with Xavien Howard. This is a huge issue to keep an eye on. You don’t replace 10 INT’s and in general shut down coverage easily and we all saw Iggy struggle last season. I don’t doubt Iggy will be better, but it’s a lot to step in for arguably one of the best corners in the NFL. We’ll see what happens on that front.