The first play of this Dolphins training camp had a chance to set the tone and send a message to the capacity crowd that trekked to watch 2013s first practice. Mike Wallace, the newly minted deep-threat receiver, was running behind a defender along the right sideline and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the franchises greatest hope for a return to prominence, spotted him and flung the ball downfield.
A chorus of sighs filled the humid morning air.
It wasnt our cleanest day, Tannehill said afterward. We definitely have rust we have to knock off.
None of this means failure for the Dolphins grand offseason plan. That plan of paying Wallace $60 million to join Tannehill and become the big-play combination that has been absent in these parts for a decade is still on track.
But success might take a while, folks. Thats the conclusion to draw after the Dolphins first practice of 2013.
Not only did Tannehill and Wallace fail to connect on that first throw, but the second and third throws also were incomplete. Tannehill was more effective throwing to the familiar Brian Hartline. He was even seemingly more comfortable (and effective) throwing to newcomers Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller.
Anyone who came to this practice expecting lightning bolts from Tannehill to Wallace had to wait until practice was two-thirds over to see the two finally hook up on an out-cut route.
That pass netted about8 yards.
So, yes, this day was more fizzle than fireworks.
But neither Wallace nor Tannehill despised the small beginnings because they recognize one practice will bleed into another and another for the next seven weeks before the Dolphins open in Cleveland on Sept. 8. Tannehill may throw 500 practices passes and Wallace might catch 100 of those before the regular-season opener arrives.
So the duo has some time to get acquainted.
It does take a little bit of time, Tannehill said.
But the Dolphins are hopeful it doesnt take tons of time because football is played on a clock, and it is already ticking. Thats why Wallace, a proven veteran of four NFL seasons, is taking these practices as seriously as when he was a rookie third-round pick in Pittsburgh.
We dont have time for a lot of jokes, he said. We have to be focused out here. When we walk inside we joke a lot, but out here were trying to learn each other right now. I think once we start making some plays well have time to joke, but right now weve got to be a little bit serious and get on the same page.
Once were on the same page, then we can crack some jokes.
The Dolphins chased Wallace in free agency because last seasons offense showed little ability to connect on big pass plays. A typical Dolphins touchdown drive took 12 to 14 plays.
That was like giving birth, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman famously said after one such marathon drive.
Miami was 26th in the NFL in passing yards per game and 22nd in passing yards per play. The team had only three pass plays of 40 yards or more.
Wallace alone had four pass plays spanning 40 yards or more last season in Pittsburgh. And thats the kind of defense-wrecking work the Dolphins hope to see him bring.
We definitely have to have more explosive plays in the passing game, coach Joe Philbin said. No question about it.