I’m in Davie, Fla., at the Dolphins’ training facility, just off the campus of Nova Southeastern University. There’s a first here for a Joe Philbin team: music. As so many teams are doing (I credit Pete Carroll for it), the Dolphins have added tunes to the 8 a.m. workout. Tunes of all sorts, from salsa to rap to “Baba O’Riley.” (How nice! Playing music for me!) It’s one of Philbin’s nods to being more communicative and player-responsive. The heat is toasty but not oppressive here on Friday morning: 83, with heavy humidity. Welcome to south Florida in August.
One vivid memory from watching practice
Two players this offense needs dearly—center Mike Pouncey, the best offensive lineman of a totally new group; and wily running back Knowshon Moreno, coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his career—ran in the end zone with a trainer during practice. Pouncey is out till October, at least, recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Moreno walks around with ice packs attached to both aching knees. They alternated in a drill, tethered to a resistance band around their waist that the trainer held behind them. The Pouncey loss hurts more. Without him for maybe half the season, a Miami offense screaming for continuity will have different starters at each of the five positions from last year. (It’s no wonder they just re-signed seven-year veteran center Samson Satele, a second-round pick of the Dolphins in 2007 who spent the past five years in Oakland and Indianapolis.) And Miami ranked 26th in the league in rushing last year. Who knows when they’ll have Moreno, and how much he’ll play?
How this team can go 12–4
Well, one thing is for sure: the Dolphins can’t get swept by Buffalo, which happened last year. But two things have to happen. First, third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has to adjust to a new offense orchestrated by rookie coordinator Bill Lazor, and he has to do it behind a new offensive line. Second, so much depends on the health and welfare of four key players—the aforementioned Pouncey (especially) and Moreno on offense, and safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Cortland Finnegan on defense. Delmas broke down consistently for Detroit, which is why he’s no longer there. If Pouncey can play the last nine or 10 games at his usual high level, and if Tannehill catches on quickly, and if the defensive question marks can stay upright, Miami will contend in December. Lots of ifs there, folks.
How this team can go 4–12
Tannehill, for most of 2013, seemed to be on the upswing; at least he was until a dismal two-game finish (Bills/Jets 39, Dolphins 7, an incredible blot on the Incognito/Martin season, and Tannehill completed 45% of his throws with three picks in those games). Now, he’s going to have to excel in this new offense needing more time from his line because the Lazor offense emphasizes more downfield throws than the offense of the fired Mike Sherman did. So if the offense suffers a total breakdown, the win-loss record could too.
Now, from fantasyland …
1. Because of Knowshon Moreno’s balky knees, Lamar Miller might get more chances than the 200-ish he would have had with a healthy Moreno in the house. So Miller jumps from a job-share to something more. I’m guessing 250 carries.
2. “Watch Charles Clay,’’ GM Dennis Hickey told me. During practice, I did. And Tannehill, despite marching orders to look downfield, looked for Clay a lot. That’s one practice now. But Tannehill won’t forget the sure-handed Clay.
3. Mike Wallace and a deeper passing game. What’s not to like in fantasy football? Regardless of the record, Wallace should have a 10-touchdown season.
How I project the lineup, with competitive spots in bold:
|WR||Brian Hartline||LE||Cameron Wake|
|LT||Branden Albert||DT||Randy Starks / Earl Mitchell|
|LG||Dallas Thomas||DT||Jared Odrick|
|C||Mike Pouncey / Billy Turner / Samson Satele
|RG||Shelley Smith||OLB||Dannell Ellerbe|
|RT||Ju’Wuan James||MLB||Koa Misi|
|TE||Charles Clay||OLB||Philip Wheeler|
||Mike Wallace||CB||Brent Grimes|
||Brandon Gibson / Jarvis Landry||CB||Cortland Finnegan|
|QB||Ryan Tannehill||Nickel||Jamar Taylor / Will Davis|
|RB||Lamar Miller / Knowshon Moreno||SS||Reshad Jones|
|FB||Daniel Thomas||FS||Louis Delmas|
|K||Caleb Sturgis||P||Brandon Fields|
Best new player in camp
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry. After a couple of practices, backup quarterback Matt Moore approached GM Dennis Hickey and told him: “This guy’s got the best hands I’ve seen.” Landry, from LSU, is challenging touchdown-maker Brandon Gibson for playing time in the slot, but he can also play outside. Look for offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to find a role for Landry both inside and outside. Great note in the Miami Herald on Landry the other day—after the July 27 practice, he stayed afterward in the heat and humidity to catch balls fired out of the JUGS machine. Sixty balls, sixty catches. Not revolutionary, just interesting.
Strong opinion that I may regret by November
Brent Grimes will follow one terrific season with a second, and he will get All-Pro votes. That’s All-Pro, not Pro Bowl, meaning some will think he was one of the best two corners in the league in 2014. His cover ability, plus his nasty streak and his don’t-back-down attitude, serve him well.
Something I’ve never seen before
The biggest cold tub in NFL history. The Dolphins installed it this offseason to assist in post-practice player recovery. It’s 40 feet long by 22 feet wide, and four feet deep. How many can it fit comfortably? I don’t know. A team?
What I thought when I walked out of camp
There are weapons on offense that I like a lot at receiver and tight end. There is a top five pass rusher in Cameron Wake. There’s a good secondary. There’s a promising quarterback. But I thought: I wouldn’t want to be counting on getting off to a fast start with New England, Kansas City and Green Bay on the slate in the first five games, especially with an offense adjusting to five new starters on the offensive line and a new offense that will need to keep Ryan Tannehill upright longer than last year. I can’t see Miami passing the Patriots this year. I can see them being in a dogfight with the Jets and Bills for second in the AFC East, which all three of those teams have been doing for about 342 years now.