Just remember you heard it here early on.
A funny thing happened in the Miami Dolphins' 2012 season. They came out fighting. They surprised. At times the transition curve and the learning curve kicked in, and they looked downright ordinary. At other times, incredibly, however, the team played as if the lessons were already learned and it was extraordinary. Analysts will reconsider what is making the Dolphins tick, but I will bring it to you now.
Perhaps you remember an early lesson from your high school days dealing with probability. Perhaps the teacher said that if he/she had flipped a coin nine times, and it came up tails each time, what is the chances of it coming up tails a tenth time? In case you don't know it, the answer is 50 percent, which would be the same chance regardless of past occurrences. (I bring this up because I believe the analogy of the previous coin flips having no effect on the next coin flip really applies to the next effort for the Dolphin franchise.)
These gurus are beholden to the recent past of the once-storied franchise that has fallen on hard times. Perhaps the franchise is still storied, but the stories are filled with unhappy endings—the kind with profound and deep rooted thematic adversity.
One thing is sure about the new regime: The story will be thematically different. I cannot truly judge them yet as this season is still approaching the track, but I can say the regime is creating a new template and we'll just see how that all plays out.
In one recent article posting Vegas odds, the over/under for Miami Dolphins victories was 7.5. Not exactly an elite number, but actually the number that seems quite high when comparing it to other predictions. Many prognosticators would echo Pro Football Weekly 2012 NFL Preview, which has the Fins winning four games. It is the same magazine that ranked Reggie Bush as the 24th best at the RB position (he was ranked eighth in fantasy scoring).
Well, you get the idea. Them Dolphins, like Rodney Dangerfield, just don't seem to get any respect.
The tide is about to turn and the Dolphins are about to play some heads-up football. This prediction is not so much about the new regime as you might think, although I might say things seem to be looking brighter since Bill Parcells left the equation. The Fins may have had their first successful draft in a while last year. Many fans are, in addition, handing praises for the 2012 effort, approval pending.
The question remains, why do I predict a winning season for my team?
The Dolphins outscored their opponents last year. Six of their 10 losses were by single digits. Many of the faithful feel the team, in losing efforts, outplayed teams like the Browns, the Broncos, the Cowboys and the Giants.
The Dolphin defense ranked fairly high in several categories last year. After stumbling out of the gate, the team finished No. 6 in scoring defense, giving up about 20 points per game. If you look at the final 11 games of the season, the team gave up just under 17 points per game. This pace, over a 16-game season, would have the Dolphins scoring defense exceed all but three teams: the Steelers, Ravens and 49ers. That's good company.
These core guys will be back: Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai, Vontae Davis and Karlos Dansby. Also returning are a handful of players that have upside (they will do more good than harm, let's put it that way), such as Jared Odrick, Randy Starks, Kevin Burnett and—is this the year he puts it together?—Sean Smith. Adding to the mix, the team expects some numbers from the 72nd overall pick Olivier Vernon.
Changing hats, much of the criticism of the potential of the team, pertains to the QB position. I agree this could be a troubling area for the Dolphins. I agree that will be the case if Matt Moore's 87.1 rating last year turns out to be an aberration, and if David Garrard (90.8 and 28 TD's in 2010) is truly not healthy, and—oh yeah, that's right—the QB situation could be a troubling one if, in addition to this, first-rounder Ryan Tannehill isn't ripe.
If you don't realize it, I'm betting that the upside on all three of these gentlemen will provide, at the very least, one good starter.
You know, speaking of Garrard and the price the team lassoed him for, I'm going to give the team some props right now for how free agency was handled.
Yes, you've read about how the team "whiffed" at the free-agency batting cages this year. I'm going to put a different spin on it because the Dolphins were never in the market for Peyton Manning and I truly applaud the team for not overpaying Matt Flynn. Manning is a phenomenal player who is being paid like he is a man 10 years younger than his age. Good luck with that.
The frugal Dolphins did well with a bad monetary hand at the poker table. These players will, at the very least, make the Dolphin depth better than it was in 2011, and at a pretty good price: Legedu Naanee, Jamaal Westerman, Richard Marshall and Tyrell Johnson. Two other names that belong on that list are guys with a decent upside because of how they will fit the system being put into place: Artis Hicks and Steve Slaton.
They released their "star" wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The troubled man just simply wasn't what the Dolphins were expecting. Sure, depending on what highlight reel you look at Marshall is an explosive wideout who could play with the best of them, but off-the-field issues and dropsies polluted the player's resume and perhaps the locker room. Not once, but twice he was traded away by franchises that simply didn't believe in him. Goodbye, funny man.
Much like the defense, the offensive line holds key players that should keep the Dolphins holding their own in the trenches with players like Jake Long and Mike Pouncey. The right tackle position will be a big upgrade whether it be Jonathan Martin or Lydon Murtha that wins the job.
There are two areas of the team that mirror each other somewhat. They are quite unsettled, but not unsettling. This would be the receivers and the secondary. Both areas have a lot of youth and quite a bit of speed, and after names of a few guys who have proven themselves to be of NFL caliber, there are the unproven and the heretofore unspectacular.
Here is where the new regime will be tested and where a couple of gems need to emerge.
For new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle the task will be to mold a secondary out of players who mostly have not reached their potential. Then there is the passing game, where head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman hope an even keel of talent and some fierce competition out of the gate will create cohesion and prosperity.
The Dolphins have emphatically stated they do not need a No. 1 receiver. [This could prove fortuitous by the way, since they don't have one, but I digress....]
Again, let me reiterate, in both areas, that these are fast and young players that will catch on to the new mindset or fade away. What's left standing will be better than the preseason preview. Count on it.
It's not like the Dolphins don't have talent in the passing game. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline have had their moments. Someone from the rest will have to step up and give the opposing defense another name they will have to account for. Throw in the guys from the backfield that can step up in this area (whether it be from their standard position or whether they line up as a wideout) and you begin to see how difficult this team will be to defend—guys like Bush, Lamar Miller and Charles Clay.
Schematically, this will be a difficult and unpredictable offense to defend against.
Sure, there will be some bumps in the road. There will be the New England Patriots, a team whose draft also received some favorable reviews and a team that also landed a gem of a wide receiver in free agency- Brandon Lloyd. They just don't let up. That's what the Dolphins will have to match—to be a team that continues to move forward and not let up. That's the learning curve for the future.
As for now, I speak of the present and a core group of guys who are simply more talented than their critics would have you believe.