At the beginning of his workweek, Dan Campbell knew something was amiss.
The morale in the Dolphins’ locker room was noticeably low — an understandable development after yet another loss (to the Jets), and yet another coaching change (Bill Lazor out, Zac Taylor in).
“It was a bit of a fight early in the week,” Campbell said.
Spirits improved as the week progressed, and his team was, by and large, back to its old self by Friday. Campbell made it a point to pick his players up. He expects a strong effort Sunday against the Ravens.
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Still, some issues won’t be solved by the passage of time or a motivational speech. Some issues are fixed only by a change in scenery.
After yet another lost season in Miami, some Dolphins players are looking for an exit strategy.
Some are pending free agents ready for a change. Others are young players who often come to work frustrated.
Context is important here. That happens every year with every team, particularly those that lose. Rishard Matthews demanded a trade in May; he’s now one of the team’s most productive players.
And these disillusioned Dolphins probably don’t make up a majority. But they’re strong enough in number to be significant.
There is not just one reason that they want out.
But the team’s long-running struggles play a big role. So does a lack of faith in a long-term plan. And history suggests they’re right; the Dolphins have made the playoffs just once since 2001.
The Dolphins’ personnel department has had three different bosses in three years. A prominent rookie said this week that he was stunned that a franchise would fire its head coach a month into the season, as the Dolphins did with Joe Philbin.
Another young player, Jay Ajayi, said: “It’s kind of like, I’d rather experience it now in my first year than have it happen later on in my career. Hopefully, it’s for the better.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is really just do your job.”
If there is a reason for hope, it’s Campbell. Dolphins players want him back in 2016 and haven’t been shy about it. In the locker room following a recent loss, Mike Pouncey forcefully told the team it needs to step it up to make that a reality.
Ajayi, for one, seemed optimistic about the future. And that might be the majority view.
“It’s been a rough year for us, but it’s the nature of the business,” safety Reshad Jones said. “You’ve just got to stay the course.”
Jones added that he “definitely” believes that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
For now, Campbell’s focus is on keeping this team intact. It’s his No. 1 job.
“When you’ve been in this league long enough, I’ve been on the winning side and I’ve been on the losing side,” he said. “The important thing is you stay consistent to what you do. You keep believing in what you believe in, and you keep pushing forward. You go to work and you clean up the things you need to clean up, the little details. That’s the difference in winning and losing, the small details.”
But as Pouncey said, too many more losses and Campbell will be gone. That means more change, the only constant since Don Shula retired.
That change won’t be limited to the coaching staff, as Campbell pointed out Friday. Players who want out might have the decision made for them.
“If you’re still not producing, however you want to look at it, at some point, they’re going to start looking in that room, and looking at the guys on the field,” Campbell said. “At the end of it, we’re all going to be evaluated.”
▪ In dire need of depth on the defensive line, the Dolphins on Saturday elevated Jordan Williams from their practice squad. They cut tight end Brandon Williams to make room.