Miami Dolphins legends optimistic about future of team

12/16/2012 12:00 AM

12/16/2012 1:44 AM

The Dolphins on Sunday are doing what they do perhaps better than anything, and that is reaching back into a glorious past to honor a time and people that once made the franchise among the most successful in all of team sports.

The club is adding quarterbacks Earl Morrall and Don Strock, defensive tackles Manny Fernandez and Tim Bowens, receiver Nat Moore and defensive lineman and linebacker A.J. Duhe to its so-called Walk of Fame outside Sun Life Stadium.

It is a fine gesture for fine people.

The six played a combined 59 NFL seasons. And in all that time they won two Super Bowls, went to five Super Bowls, and suffered only six combined losing seasons.

Those statistics make me shake my head because today’s Dolphins are all but eliminated from the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and must go undefeated the next three games — including a visit to New England — to avoid a fourth consecutive losing season.

So what do these six men think of the team’s current state?

They are mostly optimistic, but they balance that with a sobering dose of realism that doesn’t put a shine on the recently stained records.

“I hear a lot of times on talk radio or reading [reporters’] articles and you talk of rebuilding,” Duhe said. “Well this team isn’t rebuilding. They’re building because you can only rebuild something that’s been built before. This team hasn’t had a built structure or a state-of-the-art, well-known franchise in a long time.

“This team has been building for several years. I just hope the building blocks are being put in place by coach [Joe] Philbin and an organization that can stand up for a while.”

A major project

That seems to be the hope all around. But the construction project needs major pieces.

“They need a No. 1 receiver,” Bowens said. “We need a tight end. … Certain groups just haven’t got it. Hopefully, they can come up with something. They look very close.”

Fernandez has seen the team play only once, a couple of weeks ago against New England.

“I came away from that game thinking the defense looked pretty damned good,” he said. “I came away from the game thinking they could use some help in the offensive line, the wide receiver position. Those seem to be their biggest needs going away.”

The men seem universally impressed by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the performance of the Miami defense.

“They got a great quarterback,” Bowens said. “He’s a rookie, but he’s shown flashes that he can be great. The defense is solid. The D-line is beyond great. They need a little bit of help in the secondary. There’s a few things they can tweak, and they should be fine.”

Strock played 14 NFL seasons and coached in the pros and college after that. He has seen Tannehill play and met him last week.

“I think he’s athletic,” he said. “He’s got a darn good arm from what I’ve seen, and he’s smart. One of the big plusses is he came here with his head coach from Texas A&M and the learning curve is not as tough as it was for a lot of other people.

“He came in and showed he’s a leader in the huddle. I can see that. He’s got ability. I just met him for the first time, and he’s a little taller than I thought he was. He’s put together very well and if he’s stays healthy, he’s going to have a long and great career.”

Said Moore, who works for the Dolphins as an advisor to CEO Mike Dee: “Defensively, I think this team is playing as good as any team in football.”

Give them a chance

But Moore is apparently hoping the overall team confidence improves to levels he experienced during his career.

“When I look at this football team, I see a young team that is going through what they call growing pains,” Moore said. “You’ve got a first-year coach. You got a new offense, a new defense. They’re at the point where they know what each other can do, but you’re still making the little mistakes.

“Once you get over the hump where you start walking on the field expecting to win … one of the great things when I came in the league was we walked on the field and we didn’t hope we were going to win, we knew we were going to win. At the start of the year, it wasn’t about whether we were going to be in the playoffs. We knew we were going to be in the playoffs.

“I think that’s something that develops once you get that winning attitude, that winning spirit. And this is a young group, just put together, and as they start to grow, you’ll start to see that confidence.”

How long is that going to take?

“Give this franchise a chance. Give Coach Philbin a chance,” Duhe said. “I think we can have a good team in two or three years. Next year is still going to be learning and growing and building — not rebuilding — they’ll still be building.

“In about three years, this franchise will be something I can be proud of and hopefully you [reporters] can be proud of as well.”

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