Joe Philbin welcomes a visitor with a warm smile and firm handshake and for the next 30 minutes enthusiastically talks about his Dolphins with a confidence that belies the coach’s first two seasons in Miami.
Philbin, 15-17 as Miami’s coach, is opening his third training camp Friday with glad tidings and optimism and a belief that things are going to be pretty good in 2014:
“I’m excited about this season, I really am,” Philbin said. “When I took this job, I told [owner] Steve [Ross] that I believe in being a developmental football team that should get better week to week and year to year.”
“Nobody is more disappointed about the ending of last year than I am, but I think when you step back, there was some improvement. It was tangible in the win-loss record. It wasn’t incremental; I’ll give everybody that. But there was improvement, and I expect us to improve again.
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“I said I came here to compete for championships, and we had a chance to get in the tournament last year. We didn’t. But I expect us to be in position again to do that and hopefully be a year more mature and be able to handle things better and be a year smarter and do a better job. Top to bottom on this football team, there’s no place we can’t improve, from coaching to playing. I think we’ll do that. I expect us to be a good football team. I really do.”
The Dolphins weren’t a bad team a season ago. Their 8-8 record actually represented the team’s first non-losing season since 2008. But Dolphins fans want better than a .500 team. Ross is expecting more than a .500 team.
Philbin knows this. And he knows there are skeptics who don’t think he can deliver.
Profootballtalk.com, a highly popular website among NFL fans, coaches, agents, front-office people and, yes, owners, recently ranked all 32 teams. The Dolphins were ranked 31st.
The ranking raised eyebrows within the Dolphins organization. Ross even called Philbin to talk about the matter and see what the coach thinks.
Well, this is what he thinks of whoever set the rankings:
“I don’t think he knows the guys in our locker room or the guys that come to work in this building every single day from top to bottom,” Philbin said.
The coach is making strides to know his players better this year. Communication within the franchise and with fans and media outside the franchise is being emphasized.
Philbin is working at being more transparent. And perhaps that’s one reason he easily acknowledges what he thinks is right about his team and also what needs significant hard work.
The team’s strength?
Playmakers, the coach suggests.
After finishing 26th in scoring a season ago, Philbin says his offense has more wide receiver talent than he has ever had with the Dolphins, and, “I think we have as many running backs that look like they can play in the NFL as any time since I’ve been here.”
Philbin is asking quarterback Ryan Tannehill to continue improving in three areas — decision-making, accuracy and playmaking ability — with the chief of those being the amount of time Tannehill sometimes takes to make his decisions. The Dolphins want faster decisions more consistently.
Philbin mentions guard Dallas Thomas, cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, and running back Mike Gillislee as players who’ve made great strides in the offseason. And he seems excited about moving Koa Misi, who consistently graded out highest among defenders last year, to the middle linebacker spot.
“I think we have a good chance to be good,” he repeats.
But the coach also admits there are worries. And chief among those without a close second is the offensive line — the same problem that plagued the team in 2013.
The Dolphins will field an entirely new offensive line in the early part of this season — a rarity for any NFL team and the first time it has happened in Miami since the 1966 expansion year.
“I mean, come on, we got to block better,” Philbin said. “Look, I know this game is ultra-competitive, but I don’t really believe it’s ultra-complicated. So I don’t believe it’s possible to have a great passing game when you’re [allowing] 58 sacks.”
Philbin says the offensive line issue may take a while to resolve. But he seems confident it will be resolved. Indeed, he seems confident about his 2014 Dolphins.
It’s a good start.