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  On Paper: Schedule Tougher, But Dolphins Better
    | Home | News Wire | Roster | Depth Chart | Schedule |  

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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"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 wildcard.


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 overachieving edition.


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 Davis.


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 one.


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”.

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