"I don't understand how you can put somebody in front
of us. We won the championship. We were AFC East champions. We're the champions
until proven otherwise." – Dolphins OLB Joey Porter
Joey Porter has a
point to make. People have already written off his Dolphins after one “lucky”
season. He thinks this is wrong.
This so-called write-off,
fresh on the heels of the biggest turnaround in NFL history, is mostly supported
by a very difficult schedule. No way, the gurus say, can the Dolphins run that
gauntlet and repeat as AFC East champs or even qualify for the playoffs as a
The naysayers have a
sound case. It is, after all, league’s most difficult schedule on paper
(combined .594 winning percentage). And, in all fairness, the Dolphins caught
more than their share of breaks in 2008; it is unrealistic to expect they’ll be
as fortunate this time around.
Yet the pundits are
forgetting one important point: the ’09 Dolphins won’t be the same team,
talent-wise, as the ’08 Dolphins. Keep in mind, the predictions of doom came down
before the 2009 NFL Draft, before the re-signing of Jason Taylor, before the recent slate of OTAs (Off-Season
Training Activities), and before the new
enhancements to the already innovative Wildcat.
Taken all together,
Porter’s point doesn’t seem as preposterous anymore. Yes, on paper the schedule
is tougher. But, on paper, the Dolphins appear to be improved from last year’s
Through the draft and
free agency, the Dolphins believe they have upgraded themselves. I won’t list
every single addition here, but suffice it to say that the biggest needs on the
roster were emphatically addressed.
At the top of the
list was the secondary, where the Dolphins helped themselves immensely. As in
2008, they were able to get the best player in the draft to address one of
their biggest needs: in 2008, it was LT Jake Long, and in 2009 it was CB Vontae
The Dolphins also
believe they have upgraded the offensive line with the signing of Jake Grove
(Raiders), and at DE/OLB with the reacquisition of Jason Taylor. Even at WR,
the early returns on third rounder Patrick Turner are encouraging.
The great thing about
offseason minicamps and OTAs as far as the fans are concerned is that it gives
you something of an early peek under the hood. And what we’ve seen this far, as
preliminary as it is, seems to bode well for the team’s fortunes.
If prior years have
taught us anything, it’s that the seeds of success are planted now, during
offseason conditioning and OTAs. Cam Cameron’s lone Dolphin season was really
wrecked over the summer, while last season’s incredible turnaround was born
during those same summer months.
The difference, of
course, is talent and leadership. The Dolphins have an increasing abundance of
both. Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano deserve a good deal of the
credit for this latest and, we hope, the next greatest chapter in team history.
Yet we must keep
reminding ourselves that everything we’ve seen thus far in the offseason is
strictly on paper. Who knows if the latest wildcat additions will amount to
anything? Who knows if Grove will really prove an upgrade over the departed
Samson Satele? Who knows if Taylor
can still bring it the way we have to come to expect from him? Who knows if the
injury bug will really stay at bay?
Then again, who knows
if the Dolphins’ schedule will really turn out to be as murderous as it is
purported to be?
The answer is, no
Every team faces
these questions at this time of the year, and the Dolphins are no different.
You control what you can, things like picking good players, offseason
conditioning, and revisions to the playbook that keep the opponents guessing.
This is what good teams do.
From where I sit, a
few things are already evident as we come into the warm summer months:
- The Dolphin roster overall is much
better than it was this time last year. This team, if healthy, is going to
win their share of games.
- All of the team’s quarterbacks are
known, talented, and will enjoy a full offseason. This usually translates
into improved productivity.
- Ronnie Brown is completely out of
rehab mode. Now he is in performance mode, and you get the sense that he
is going to have a monstrous year.
- Pat White oozes talent, but I’m
not convinced he will be ready to assume the starting role as the Wildcat
QB when the season kicks off.
- Nat Moore is right about Ted Ginn.
Watching Ginn during the OTAs, he has the look of a guy who is ready to make
a name for himself as a bonafide professional wide receiver.
- The growth of the young
cornerbacks, first rounder Davis and second rounder Sean Smith, might be
the keys to the whole season. The division is loaded with top flight, Pro
Bowl caliber receivers. How these two rookies handle themselves could be
the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
- Donald Thomas’s inability to stay
healthy and on the field is very troubling. He might be the single biggest
question mark on the roster right now.
- The Dolphins are VERY comfortable
with their kickers. When was the last time both incumbents came to camp
unchallenged, even in a token way?
Players report for
training camp in one month. That’s when the paper will turn into reality. For
now, heed Joey Porter’s words: they’re “the champions until proven otherwise”.