Another swampy spring practice had just ended when the loudest Dolphins cheer of the day could be heard from across the property.
Mark Duper, still the franchise’s receiving yards leader two decades after his retirement, had delivered a spellbinding speech worthy of a pastor.
Duper’s message, according to Joe Philbin: “That you have to earn your keep on the field and you have to perform and you have to do it consistently. Not magical words, but words that guys can appreciate and respond to.”
Those words were among the highlights of the team’s spring training program, which wrapped up Thursday. Philbin used the two-month Organized Team Activities not just to prepare for the coming season, but also to reconnect the current team with many of the franchise’s most famous — and influential — faces.
Jason Taylor and Sam Madison took turns as guest coaches. Dick Anderson, Nick Buoniconti and Nat Moore also addressed the team. Separately, Don Shula, Dan Marino and Bob Griese have invited Ryan Tannehill to dinner.
For a locker room seen lacking in leadership during its scandal-scarred 2013 season, the outreach has brought a blast of credibility.
“They’ve been guys that have been there, done that, been pillars of the South Florida community,” said Moore, the retired wide receiver who runs the team’s alumni association. “It’s not about telling them how to play football. It’s about talking about how to carry themselves like professionals. It’s about life after football. Everything you do will come back to you one way or the other.”
Considering their credentials, the Dolphins players would be smart to listen. The six players invited to camp have played a combined 76 NFL seasons and have five Super Bowl rings.
All but Madison are in the Dolphins Honor Roll. Taylor is a former Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner.
And they haven’t been bashful about speaking in blunt — even challenging — terms.
Defensive tackle Randy Starks was famously unhappy with his one-year franchise tag a year ago. And when he finally hit free agency this past spring, he didn’t get the long-term deal with big guaranteed money he expected. That hasn’t sat well with him.
So when Moore spoke to the team, he made it a point to gently single him out.
“Every day someone is trying to take your job,” Moore told the group. “Ain’t that right, Randy?”
Replied Starks: “Why are you picking on me?”
To which Moore countered: “Am I telling the truth?”
And then Starks conceded, saying, “Yeah, every day someone is trying to take my job.”
Even Taylor — the franchise’s all-time sacks leader — was ultimately replaced. Cameron Wake, who played two years with his mentor, eventually did so, just like Dion Jordan is expected to someday replace Wake.
So was it strange to see his former teammate wearing a coach’s hat?
“He was still kind of the same guy that he was when he was playing, for me at least,” Wake said. “I know a lot of guys that look up to him, he’s got a tremendous wealth of information and wisdom that he can pass on not only to myself, but some of these other guys, younger guys that are coming up in the program. I love having him around, not just in pads, but when he had on his hat and was giving us some of the pointers, too.”
There has been speculation that Taylor might someday have a more formal role on the coaching staff. But not yet, it appears. Philbin gently dismissed the idea of any of his guest speakers becoming full-time coaches. (Madison does regularly appear on the team’s official radio program.)
Rather, Taylor probably will lend a hand whenever asked.
“He’s a real pro,” Philbin said. “He’s just first-class. ... We want our guys to make an impact on Sundays but also in the community. I don't know if there’s been very many guys who have done it better over the last 15, 20 years than Jason Taylor on both fronts.
“It’s all good stuff for our guys to learn from.”