No time for gradual progress, as in feeling satisfied about 9-7, about ALMOST being a wild-card team.
This combines to create a climate that might be unfair but deserved all at once. This is the New Reality. And it heaps the greatest pressure on these four men:
• 1. Owner Stephen Ross, mainly because he’s the boss of the three that follow, but not entirely. Ross begins his sixth season of ownership. The training wheels are off. His missteps are past — such as that former infatuation with orange carpets and celebrity part owners. Ross must begin to prove, with playoff success, that he has the acumen and vision to compete at the top with major owners such as the Patriots’ Robert Kraft.
• 2. General manager Jeff Ireland, of course. This is his sixth Dolphins season and third out from under the departed wing of Bill Parcells and flying on his own with personnel decisions. It was Ireland who drafted quarterback Ryan Tannehill, spent big on free-agent receiver Mike Wallace, gambled Jonathan Martin was good enough at left tackle, made the big linebacker switch to Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, and traded up to draft pass rusher Dion Jordan, among other moves. It’s payoff time, and only playoff success will chase away the many Ireland doubters who remain.
• 3. Coach Joe Philbin. He isn’t the rookie head coach he was last year. Hasn’t had the Hard Knocks distraction.
Doesn’t have the excuse of a raw QB. If Philbin is the bright NFL mind the club thinks he is, time to start showing it on the bottom line.
4. Tannehill. He’ll forever be compared to Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson because they shared the same draft class. Miami doesn’t need Tannehill to be those guys or Dan Marino or a superstar, though. They need him to be really good, and really soon. The rookie curve is over. He has a top receiver in Wallace. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman says Tannehill will be the most improved QB in the league. Let’s see it. Right now, if you wouldn’t mind.
(I could easily have added Wallace at No. 5. Spending $60 million to get him from Pittsburgh suggested they see him as a star, a game-breaker. But I don’t see the pressure being on Wallace as much as it is on Ireland, who signed him, or Tannehill, who is supposed to make huge strides largely because of him.
All of these things must coalesce and now and end up in the playoffs.
Miami was 7-9 last season, with four of the losses by a combined 14 points. Philbin called Miami’s training camp “very, very productive,” which, for him is illuminating. Joe is the opposite of outspoken Rex Ryan, but, whether he publicly assures the playoffs or not (and he hasn’t), he’d better know that anything less is a failure.
This is far from a perfect team. It does not feel like a contender yet because too many questions linger.
The major pieces look in place, though.
The Dolphins have a now-experienced owner, an established GM, a coach they really like, and a young quarterback they invested with a high first-round pick.
So, no more excuses.
Time for a sudden gust to blow all the accumulated dust and rust off the accomplishments of this franchise and thrill a new generation of fans.
The first step? Playoffs. Now.