Around the AFC East, Week 5: Miami Dolphins

Even if you're the polar opposite of a staunch supporter of the Miami Dolphins - and I'm certainly hopeful that's the case for most everybody here - you have to at least begrudgingly admire Channing Crowder.  There aren't many NFL players that can successfully get under the skin of opposing head coaches, but that's precisely what Crowder did to Jets head coach Rex Ryan - and apparently all he needed were some tattoos.

Crowder has made waves this off-season with his public spitting match with Ryan, via a bored football media landscape, from opposite ends of the east coast.  Yet just prior to the start of the free agent signing period, we were discussing Crowder as a potential name to consider for the outside linebacker spot soon to be vacated by Angelo Crowell in Buffalo.  He was re-signed by Miami, however, to a three-year deal at relatively cheap salary figures.

He won't turn 26 until the end of the 2009 season.  Crowder's Dolphins career has unfolded in much the same way that Bills SS Donte Whitner's has - both are solid young players with lots of experience, but neither has been a big hit in the "big play" department.  Matty I of The Phinsider, however, recently shared his view that Crowder was ready to become a play-making presence for the Dolphins in his fifth season in the league.  Naturally, I had to ask Matty for an explanation.

Crowder has made some waves this off-season, mostly due to his very public verbal feud with Ryan.  You've also mentioned in the past that he hasn't made many game-changing plays in his young pro career, yet Miami re-signed him.  Now you think that Crowder is ready for a break-out season in 2009.  What makes that happen?

Matty I: Excellent question, Brian.  And I’ll apologize ahead of time for my long-winded answer.

You’re absolutely right that I’ve long been a critic of Channing Crowder’s lack of play-making ability.  He’s a solid inside linebacker – but hasn’t proven anything beyond being a solid, unspectacular player.  Those players are good to have, of course.  But the Dolphins need at least one of their two starting inside linebackers – Akin Ayodele is the other – to be a play-maker.  And there’s no chance Ayodele becomes that player.

Many of people have focused on Crowder’s public feud with Rex Ryan – who, by the way, is a complete jackass.  But while everybody is focusing in on what Crowder has said about Ryan, I want to focus on something else he said recently.  For the first time, at least publicly, Crowder himself has pointed out that he needs to make more things happen on the field.  Says Channing, "I can make a lot more impact plays…They gave me the reins. I'm a three-down 'backer.  I'm out there the whole game.  Now it's time for me to step up."

So why is this noteworthy?  If you don’t regularly follow the Dolphins, then you wouldn’t get this.  But this is the first time Crowder has publicly highlighted his faults.  This past off-season, there were rumblings that Crowder was expecting a big pay day.  There was even a report that Channing was heard shouting into the Jets’ locker room prior to their Week 17 game last year, asking if they had a need for an inside linebacker.  In a nut shell, it had always seemed like Channing had a higher opinion of himself than others do.

So Crowder’s willingness to take less money than he expected to remain a Dolphin was a surprise.  But he admitted that he loves Miami and didn’t see any reason to leave a place where he is already happy.  He also said, upon signing his new deal, "Now, I can maximize my talent. It's time for me to become a Pro Bowler."

This new level of maturity for Crowder and new level of commitment to the Dolphins really has me expecting big things for Channing.  That - as well as my "homerism" - just makes me think that he’s now finally ready to take that next step – the one where he goes from a reliable player to a play-maker.

***

I love homers.  Probably because I'm a homer myself.  So I'll leave it at this, and I'll allow the level of optimism, pessimism, and/or perceptive ability in each of you to determine the meaning behind this sentence: I think Crowder has just as good a shot of becoming a consistent playmaker as Whitner does.  Both are young players getting comfortable with schemes, and both are obviously talented.  Clearly, I hope I'm correct on one count and incorrect on another here.

That does it for this week's edition of Around the AFC East.  Many thanks to The Phinsider, Pats Pulpit and Gang Green Nation for dropping knowledge today.

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