Through a week of training camp, a Dolphins pessimist would ask: When is this offense going to get fixed?
The optimist would struggle to remember when the defense has looked better.
The most recent example came late in practice Wednesday, when the Dolphins worked their two-minute drill — full-team offense against full-team defense.
Cameron Wake blew up one play with what would have been a sackhad contact on the quarterback been allowed.
One play later, Cortland Finnegan ended the threat for good with an interception.
“From that perspective, that’s how you want to play [the] two-minute [drill],” coach Joe Philbin said. “You want guys to step up, make plays. It’s a critical period of the game. Conversely, from an offensive standpoint, it’s a disappointing way to end the two-minute drill.”
With a brand new line and a still-foreign system, the offense can expect to struggle, at least during the preseason — and perhaps beyond.
The defense has no excuses. Personnel and scheme are familiar. Money and draft picks have been invested. The Dolphins should play well on that side of the ball — and for the most part, they have.
“This is the deepest group I think we’ve had in all the positions, guys that as you go down the list have proven that they are capable of competing in the NFL,” said Kevin Coyle, entering his third season as Dolphins’ defensive coordinator.
They go four-deep at defensive end (or at least will once Dion Jordan returns from his four-game suspension). They will have a starting-caliber defensive tackle — either Jared Odrick, Randy Starks or Earl Mitchell — coming off the bench.
And they have two high draft picks at cornerback waiting in the wings, in case a veteran either falters or gets injured. The team is so deep at the position that the Dolphins have the luxury of trying out rookie defensive back Walt Aikens, a fourth-round pick, at safety.
Finnegan, signed as a free agent in the offseason, is the perfect example of the team’s potential.
The former All-Pro has worked exclusively with the starters, although Jamar Taylor, now in his second year, has spelled him at times.
Injuries and age sapped Finnegan’s effectiveness during the previous two years. But as he showed Wednesday, he’s still dangerous when healthy.
“I still feel like I can get it done,” Finnegan said. “I just have to prove it.
“I’ve felt great. My condition is not where it needs to be; it’s down. But that’s what these hot days are for. The more days that I’m in, the conditioning is better.”
Coyle demands it. He and defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo have pointedly challenged Finnegan to improve his technique, which the player appreciates.
Starks, likewise, has been pushed by the arrival of Mitchell, a free agent signing from the Texans. Philbin recently told his players that Starks has practiced better during this camp than at any point in the coach’s three seasons in Miami.
Despite a slippage in total yards allowed last year, the Dolphins ranked in the top 10 in defensive scoring for the third consecutive season.
The weak link last year was the run defense, primarily because of an underperforming group of linebackers.
Instead of changing the personnel — which would have been a costly and salary-cap-crippling proposition — the Dolphins changed their lineup. Koa Misi has looked comfortable at middle linebacker, which has allowed Dannell Ellerbe to move to outside linebacker, a more natural position for him.
“I like the way the guys are moving to the football,” Philbin said. “ I’m excited about our defense. I think we’ve been good so far.”
Added Coyle: “Defensively, we like the challenge. We like the challenge of having a veteran group of guys that feel that they can be among the league’s top defenses. And if we execute, we feel we can do that.”