The NFL season is about to begin, which means Jeff Ireland’s job is almost done.
Like all general managers who basically steer their teams from February to September but become little more than observers once the season begins, Ireland is about to hand off the Dolphins to coach Joe Philbin.
It will be Philbin’s ship now.
Ireland is merely along for the ride.
And no one, not even Ireland, is exactly certain if the Dolphins are headed on a pleasant cruise or headlong into a storm.
“It can go either way,” Ireland told me at one point this preseason, “but I think it will go in the right direction.”
I think it will go in a better direction than it has the past four losing seasons. No doubt about that. I think it might lead to a turnaround year.
And although this Dolphins team Ireland pieced together might not yet be ready to displace AFC beast New England because it has trump card Tom Brady, there’s reason to think the Patriots at least will have a fight on their hands.
And to what extent the Dolphins land blows in that fight will determine Ireland’s 2013 success.
So far, it seems the often-criticized general manager has done a good job of preparing the Dolphins for the challenge.
Positive review so far
Simply, there is no one who can argue the Dolphins aren’t already a better team today than they’ve been at any point in the past few years. Philbin believes he has a better team than he had a year ago.
“Yes I do,” he said. “But we’ll find out Sept. 8.”
We don’t have to wait for the regular-season opener to know the team that for so long has lacked speed and dynamic playmakers on the outside has those now.
Mike Wallace will be a success in Miami. He should collect his usual statistics — six to eight touchdowns per year — while also creating situations that make other receivers, namely Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, better.
There is admittedly little proven talent behind those three, but if the trio stays healthy, it would represent the best starting receiver corps in the division. And what division team has a deep receiver corps anyway?
The tight end situation is a potential problem, particularly because the free agent Ireland signed — Dustin Keller — was lost for the season after an ugly tackle weeks ago. But with this potential problem, the Dolphins see a potential solution budding in rookie Dion Sims.
Sims, a fourth-round pick, seems to have “it.”
He’s football smart. He works hard, as evidence by his shedding of 20 pounds since his college days to get down to 260 pounds. And he has better hands than anyone expected.
The entire tight end corps as now constituted is an Ireland project. He drafted all of them. If they have success, it should reflect positively on him. If they flop, well, that’s going to serve as a mirror for him as well.
It can go either way, but the fact it’s not the disaster everyone predicted after losing Keller is encouraging.
Fans criticized Ireland early during training camp for his drafting of high-round selections Dion Jordan and Jamar Taylor. Both rookies were nursing injuries and looking nothing like contributors for this season.
Both are healthy now. And although they have miles to go before they become starters, they are nonetheless on a path in that direction — perhaps by the end of this season.