The message, from owner Stephen Ross to coach Joe Philbin, could not have been any clearer Friday as the Miami Dolphins opened their 47th training camp below a searing summer sun.
“I’m looking to win,” Ross said in no uncertain terms after watching his team practice. “I think we have a great team here and that’s what I’m looking for.”
“He told us it’s time to change,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “Everybody is tired of being mediocre and being OK and running in the middle of the pack. We have the talent. The ownership has shown the effort to give us everything we need. Now it’s on us.”
The so-called experts would disagree. The Dolphins’ over-under for wins is 7 or 7 ½ in several Nevada casinos, and few are predicting a playoff berth for a franchise that has made one postseason appearance in the past decade.
But Ross and his players do not want to hear the word rebuilding. Asked if his team has playoff-caliber talent, Ross said, “I sure hope so.”
Ask Ross his reason for optimism, and he doesn’t mention the Dolphins winning six of their final nine last season after an 0-7 start. Instead, he says this:
“It keeps on becoming a faster and faster game, and this is a much faster team. With the uptempo nature of the offense and what it’s going to be, it’s going to bring a lot of excitement to South Florida and translate into wins. It’s a totally different tone than in the past.
“People can talk the talk, but we’re walking the talk. Come to the games and you’ll see it. Joe Philbin wants to bring back the tradition of being a winning team. You see how organized these practices are. I’m really impressed what he’s doing.”
Of course, it would help if the Dolphins knew who their starting quarterback would be, but that will remain in question for at least 2 1/2 weeks.
Matt Moore got the majority of the work with the first team Friday – including the opening snap of camp – but Philbin said not to read anything into that. David Garrard will get most of the first-team snaps during Saturday’s session, Moore said.
“We’re going to give those guys equal opportunities to play with different players, different offensive linemen,” Philbin said. “We’re going to be fair to a certain degree early on and see how this thing unfolds.”
Garrard was the better quarterback Friday, though hardly perfect. He threw an interception to rookie safety Kelcie McCray, had a potential interception dropped by Gary Guyton and twice underthrew Clyde Gates, who was open on deep routes. But he also made several pinpoint throws, including a 40-yarder to Roberto Wallace and a 25-yard bullet to Chad Johnson.
“He’s very confident,” Ross said. “I think he looks good out there. He adds an awful lot of insurance to the quarterback position. He will compete for the starting job.”
Asked about the possibility of starting, Garrard said: “I think my chances are pretty good. I know I can still play.”
Moore was inconsistent, with his missteps including a fumbled snap and a mindless throw to Anthony Fasano that Koa Misi intercepted and would have returned for a touchdown if the play had been permitted to continue.
Rookie Ryan Tannehill, a heavy underdog in the starting battle, missed the first practice because he hasn’t signed a contract.
Other developments from the first day of camp:
• Johnson, Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess played with the first team when the Dolphins used three-receiver sets. Johnson dropped a pass but looked very good otherwise. Brian Hartline, recovering from an offseason appendectomy, was the fourth receiver.
• Rookie Jonathan Martin opened with the first team at right tackle, with John Jerry at right guard. New addition Eric Steinbach, who has started 124 games for Cincinnati and Cleveland, played with the second team at left guard, behind Richie Incognito.
• The first-team defense, as expected, featured Wake and Jared Odrick at defensive end; Randy Starks and Paul Soliai at defensive tackle; Karlos Dansby (middle), Kevin Burnett and Koa Misi at linebacker; Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons at safety; and Vontae Davis and Sean Smith at cornerback.
• Highlights included Pat Devlin’s touchdown passes to rookie Jeff Fuller (who made several catches) and Marlon Moore; Julius Pruitt snagging a bullet from Garrard and racing downfield; a beautiful lunging catch by Bess over the middle (on a pass from Garrard); a nifty cut by rookie running back Lamar Miller, who flashed great burst; Odrick’s sack of Moore; and noteworthy pass break-ups by Smith, Jimmy Wilson and Vincent Agnew.
But there were also drops (including from Johnson and Charles Clay), fumbles (Moore, Pruitt), poorly thrown passes and other kinks.
“We looked at times like a team that hasn’t practiced the last 4 ½ weeks,” Philbin said.