Changes abound but Miami Dolphins insist they are not rebuilding

A new day. A new football season. A new era in Dolphins history begins in earnest Friday morning when new coach Joe Philbin starts the search for a new direction.

The Dolphins could easily embrace this fresh beginning as a new deal. It could be sold as time to tear down the rotting plaster of recent yesteryears and put up strong concrete walls around which winning can comfortably settle, given enough time and smart decisions.

But no. Not with this coaching change.

The Dolphins today reject the notion that they’re rebuilding. They sneer at the thought that this new dawn is a time to start over even when the won-loss record suggests that’s what they need to do.

Both Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland maintain this is a team merely adding to a solid foundation that’s already laid. The Dolphins see themselves more like the San Francisco 49ers when Jim Harbaugh took over or the Pittsburgh Steelers when Mike Tomlin took over than the Rams that Jeff Fisher is taking over this season.

One supposes they get part of that philosophy from owner Stephen Ross, who many times has insisted to me that last year’s Dolphins were really more talented than their record and needed only minor tweaking to get back in the postseason for the first time since 2008.

So the marching orders within the organization are to make a slight course correction rather than change direction altogether.

This year is absolutely not about rebuilding, everyone associated with the Dolphins insists. It’s more about building upon what is already there.

I have no idea if that’s the right approach or not.

By telling media and fans that the 2012 season is not a rebuilding year, the Dolphins must know they are spreading hope that good things, really good things, are soon coming.

That works great in the locker room because players who feel invincible anyway will believe they’re every bit the equals of seemingly more talented teams such as New England and Green Bay. That is what Philbin probably wants — a team that exudes confidence and optimism and isn’t ready to concede anything, particularly before the first game is played.

But Philbin is brandishing a two-edged sword because in acting as if they must only add to a good thing, the Dolphins are also sending their fans another message. That message is your patience isn’t really needed because last year’s 0-7 start and the losing record made things seem worse than they really were.

The Dolphins are sending the message that different coaches and perhaps an added blue-chipper or two could be the difference between last season’s 6-10 record and a postseason berth this season.

The Dolphins are basically telling their fans they have a chance to do something impressive this year.

The Dolphins, in short, are selling optimism in gobs even when they’re not selling tickets at the same rate.

The irony is that so much about the Dolphins did require change. And, furthermore, so much about these Dolphins is indeed new and wrapped within a promise of grand possibilities.

Think about it:

The defensive scheme is new.

The 3-4 defense that Nick Saban installed in 2005, the one that lasted through two coaching changes, is gone as Miami now fancies itself a hybrid 4-3 team.

Cameron Wake, the team’s best defensive player a year ago, will play a new position.

So will Randy Starks, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Paul Soliai. Other players such as Jared Odrick, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons will use different techniques and handle different assignments while playing familiar positions.

The offense is new, too.

The Dolphins will employ a West Coast system, or at least a variation of it, for the first time in team history. Bill Parcells, whose signature was on everything the Dolphins did from 2008 to 2010, had a historic dislike for the West Coast offense and his pupil Tony Sparano wasn’t really a fan, either.

So that is a drastic departure from recent history.

The offensive line will be brand new at right guard and right tackle. Brandon Marshall is gone and Chad Johnson has arrived — so one dominant ego leaves the wide receiver room and a completely different one arrives.

Even the manner in which the club handles its public relations is going to be different with the Iron Curtain mentality of the past seven years pulled back and a refreshing new embrace of fans and respect for the media now the order of the day.

All these changes, particularly the ones on the field, offer hope that every Sunday’s results will be different. All of this and the coming change at quarterback that will come either this year or next all suggest some necessary rebuilding is in fact under way.

Just don’t expect the Dolphins to say so.


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