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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Big plays on special teams help Dolphins to surprising start

Miami Dolphins rookie Olivier Vernon is a special teams playmaker, backup defensive end and dance promoter.

Vernon's trying to spread the popularity of the song by South Korean rapper PSY titled "Gangnam Style," which has gone viral on the Internet but remains unknown in certain NFL circles.

"It's a big hit on YouTube," Vernon said. "You should check it out."

PSY's video has drawn over 600 million hits thanks to his rodeo-style moves, but Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was unfamiliar with the dance until Vernon launched into it after scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt in last Sunday's win over the New York Jets.

"I realized I was in the end zone," Vernon said, "and it popped into my head real quick to do a dance."

A succession of big plays on special teams this season has put a skip in the Dolphins' step. Against the Jets, Vernon scored his first NFL touchdown on the blocked punt and deflected a field goal. Miami also recovered an onside kick and returned a kickoff 57 yards to set up a touchdown.

"Any time you get those kind of points in your kicking game, it's hard to lose," said Colts interim coach Bruce Arians, who must deal with Miami's special teams this week.

The surprising Dolphins take a 4-3 record into Sunday's game at Indianapolis even though they rank 23rd in the league in total offense and 22nd in defense, and special teams is a big reason for their success.

They're fourth in net punting, fifth in punt returns, sixth in kickoff returns and 10th in kickoff coverage. Vernon, a third-round draft pick from the University of Miami, plays on every one of those units.

"That's what happens when you're a rookie," he said with a smile. "You can't look at special teams as, 'Dang, I'm not on defense.' You have to look at it like you're helping the team win."

Vernon helped so much against the Jets he was chosen AFC special teams player of the week. But as with offense and defense, success in the kicking game is a collective effort, special teams coach Darren Rizzi said.

"We have a motto: one-11th. That means everybody doing their job," Rizzi said. "In the last couple of years we've made some big plays and that lends credence to what we're doing."

Rizzi took over when the Dolphins fired special teams coordinator John Bonamego a month into the 2010 season after consecutive calamitous performances in the kicking game, including a prime-time loss to New England in which special teams cost Miami 21 points.

"We had gone through some tough times," Rizzi said. "We had too many peaks and valleys. What we've tried to develop is some consistent play."

Special teams were much improved in 2011, and when Philbin took over in January he decided to retain Rizzi, whose animated demeanor contrasts with the head coach's even-keel personality.

"Darren's an enthusiastic coach," Philbin said with a smile. "Sometimes it's like, 'Hey, Rizzi, these guys have to get on the field. You can't rant and rave too long.' But it has been good."

Along with Vernon, standouts on Rizzi's units include Brandon Fields, who leads the NFL with an average of 51.4 yards per punt, and Marcus Thigpen, who ranks second in punt return average (14.3) and eighth in kickoff return average (28.6). Former Pro Bowl long snapper John Denney leads a group of reliable blockers and tacklers.

"We're getting contributions from a lot of different people," Rizzi said.

Philbin has played a role with a couple of daring decisions. A fake punt in Dolphins territory helped them beat the St. Louis Rams three weeks ago, and the early onside kick left the Jets reeling.

"Having a coach who's not afraid to take risks, the players really respond to it," Rizzi said.

Less enthusiastic was Philbin's response to Vernon's "Gangnam Style" celebration, in part because the coach had never heard of the song. Even after a conversation with Vernon, Philbin remains confused about the title.

"I had to ask him, 'Can you say that a little louder and slower so I can understand what that is?'" Philbin said.

"I'm getting used to it."

In fact, he'd be thrilled to see a lot more of it.

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