With the preseason’s hard lessons in his rearview mirror and the challenge of facing a Super Bowl contender in the first game looming, Joe Philbin began talking like a coach who knows something extraordinary has to happen for his team to actually succeed.
“We’re going to need a fantastic effort down in Houston,” he told players during a team meeting, “and it’s going to be about playing as hard, hard and fast, as you can for 60 minutes against this crew we’re going up against.”
Philbin, preparing for his first NFL regular-season game as a head coach, is still confident he and his staff can match wits with anything other coaches are likely to author over the next 16 Sundays.
But he clearly wasn’t as sure about whether his players could match up as well.
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And so he told reporters games will be won by whoever tackles better, catches the football and blocks better, in short, plays better. The success of this team wouldn’t be about schemes and late-night plotting by a coach.
It would be about talent. It would be about players.
Oh, and several times he also made the point Houston has a ton of talent.
Where Dolphins stand
“Obviously, the Houston Texans are a good football team in all three phases,” he said. “This will give us a tremendous point as to where we are as a program.”
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, it seems fairly certain this game and perhaps in most games this season, the Dolphins will be the team with less talent.
The Dolphins will be the team that is focused on building for the future.
That might not shock you. But it should shock you that it apparently comes as a surprise to some people within the organization.
You’ll remember that given multiple chances to embrace this season as a rebuilding year, Philbin early on was steadfast in dismissing the notion.
You’ll remember that general manager Jeff Ireland has been a staunch defender of his roster, saying that it needs “tweaking and improving here and there,” but that his trust in its quality was not diminished.
And, most recently, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross set the goal for the team this year. He told The Miami Herald he expects his team to make the playoffs.
The only way the Dolphins make the playoffs this season is if rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill plays like second-year quarterback Dan Marino did in 1984 — the year he threw 48 touchdown passes.
The only way this roster doesn’t require ongoing reconstruction that might bleed into multiple drafts is if the product everyone saw in the preseason was just an entire organization playing possum.
Just the facts
The only way the Dolphins aren’t rebuilding is if you look at the facts and then simply ignore them.
• The Dolphins have 11 rookies on the team, three of them starting on offense, including Tannehill. That means 21percent of this team never will have played an NFL regular-season game before Sunday.
• The Dolphins were so bereft of talent in some areas by the end of the preseason that they found it hard to keep enough players at certain positions. The club was so unsatisfied with the sum of the talent on the roster that it put in seven waiver claims for players the day after the roster deadline cut to 53. As it stands now, the club hasn’t found 53 players to fill out the roster so it is going with 52.
• The Dolphins were awarded four players from their seven waiver claims. Those four making the team represent a higher number than the amount of unrestricted veteran free agents who made the team the first week.
The veterans included David Garrard, Chad Johnson, Gary Guyton, Eric Steinbach, Artis Hicks, Tyrell Johnson, Richard Marshall, Jamaal Westerman and Legedu Naanee. Only Naanee and Marshall are on the team now.
Garrard, Chad Johnson, Guyton, Tyrell Johnson and Westerman were cut. Hicks was placed on injured reserve and Steinbach retired.
So, basically, the Dolphins got more production from one day of trolling the other teams’ waiver discards than they got from the weeks of unrestricted free agency in the spring and summer.
And, although receiver Anthony Armstrong leads the list of recent additions who promise some help, it must be said none of the four players was good enough to make their previous teams.
Building for future?
And then there is this:
The Dolphins three weeks ago traded cornerback Vontae Davis in return for a second-round pick and a conditional sixth-round pick next year. Ireland suggested to reporters he could use that second-rounder as “ammunition” to improve the Dolphins this year by adding a veteran receiver.
Ireland obviously decided that immediate upgrade wasn’t the one to make so he kept the pick in his stockpile and is going with a less expensive option instead.
None of this suggests the Dolphins are all in for 2012. It all suggests this is another foundation-laying year, perhaps a long year, ahead.
What will that translate to when it’s all done? As receiver Davone Bess points out, “We don’t have the hardest schedule in the league, so if we get on a roll and just keep rolling, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
For Miami, good shape would be 8-8.
But reality will more likely be 6-10. Again.