Brian Hartline, swimming in open water, looked into the tooth-filled jaws of a hungry oncoming shark on Monday and loved it.
Well, the Dolphins wide receiver wasnt really in the ocean but instead covered in sweat after a morning football practice. And he wasnt really looking at an oncoming man-eater but rather pondering the ominous start of the Dolphins regular season.
No matter because the effect could be the same.
Hartline was actually talking about Miamis opening five weeks of the regular season. That span includes games against defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore, an Atlanta team that won 13 games and went to the NFC Championship Game, an up-and-coming Indianapolis team that beat Miami last year, and a New Orleans team thats getting its coach and swagger back.
And, amazingly, Hartline was excited about that schedule.
Its awesome, he said. Thats kind of the way you want to go out. If you want to get started and have high expectations to be sharpened right off the bat either with wins or tough losses, however it goes, playing the best of the best of the past year is a great opportunity.
Thats one way to look at it. Heres another:
The Dolphins, a young team urgently trying to find itself during this training camp, are looking like prey compared to their more accomplished and experienced opponents the first month or so of the season.
After the regular-season opener against lowly Cleveland, from Week 2 through Week 5 Miamis opponents boast a 41-24 record based on last years records. That represents a superior .630 winning percentage.
Its a chance to see where were at right away, Hartline continued.
Its also a chance to define the season before the leaves up north are on the ground. That, by the way, can be either good or bad.
If the Dolphins can win three or four of those first five games, there would be little reason to doubt they could compete for a playoff spot the rest of way because the remainder of the schedule doesnt seem nearly as difficult, and the young club is likely to improve as the season goes on.
Suddenly, fans who have been merely cautious about this team would become believers. Suddenly, the idea of breaking a four-year skid of losing seasons would become a real and even attainable possibility.
But if the Dolphins head to their bye weekend on Oct. 13 with a 1-4 or 2-3 record, the final 11 weeks would require heroic work to reach the postseason. Even a winning season might seem remote.
Its huge, Dolphins new starting tight end Dustin Keller said. Just speaking from where I played in previous years [the New York Jets], when you start out behind or have a slow start, coming back is tough duty right there.
The Dolphins might be better suited for the difficult early season schedule if they were a veteran team that had been together a year or two. Frankly, this team would have a better chance against this early schedule next year, after another 12 months of seasoning.
But the Dolphins are not a meat allowed to marinate to just the right flavor. They are admittedly young and mostly new to each other. On offense, the starting running back, starting left tackle, starting right tackle, starting tight end and two of the three starting receivers are new to the team or their positions.