Out here in the world everything about the Dolphins seems troubling. They didn’t score enough touchdowns in the exhibition season. They gave up too many touchdowns. They didn’t win any of the exhibition games and that, of course, means they won’t win many when the games actually count.
That season opener against Houston on Sunday?
The perspective is different inside the Dolphins locker room. Truth is while those outside the organization are expecting the worst; the people with the most intimate knowledge of what is going on actually believe good things are on the horizon.
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Anything, they believe, is possible. And they are setting high goals and standards for themselves and the team.
“I want to be a playoff team,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “I’m not going to say we’re going to win the Super Bowl, because you want to take one step at a time. Sure, if we take five steps and go to the Super Bowl, that would be great. But I’m looking at it as we can go to the playoffs. That’s my goal.”
That’s a lofty goal considering the past five weeks have not exactly suggested the Dolphins are a playoff-caliber team. But, to be fair, the team we have been watching the past few weeks is not the same as the one that will be on the field against Houston.
On defense, linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby missed of the most of the exhibition season. The secondary that was at times leaking in exhibitions preseason got two additions during the weekend. And while that doesn’t suggest a totally revamped unit will be on the field Sunday, it does speak to how things might soon look better.
Dansby, for example, is the personification of the opposing views from within versus without.
Outside the Dolphins organization there was talk he was in the doghouse after he spoke out about Chad Johnson’s release. There were whispers he was a trade possibility.
Inside the organization Dansby is considered a team leader and a key cog in the Miami defense. The unit will run through him as it did through Zach Thomas years ago as the Ravens do through Ray Lewis.
And while fans worry if Dansby is overpaid, he’s expecting to show them he’s underestimated.
“This year is going to be my best ever,” he said. “That’s how I look at it. It’ll be my best year ever.
“Everything I’ve been doing since last season, I’ve been building up for this year. I’m in great shape. I’m healthy. All my eggs are in the basket. I’m ready to go.”
When Dansby thinks this season will be his best, he’s taking into account that as the team’s middle linebacker, tackles will practically be funneled to him, playmaking opportunities will come his way at a rate they haven’t before.
So he’s expecting his statistics to reflect the activity.
“Tackles this year? Sky’s the limit this year for me,” he said. “I haven’t told anyone this, but I have tackle numbers in mind.”
“Over that,” he said. “Way over that. I’m thinking 135 to 150. My goal is 150 tackles. The opportunity is there to get that done. Now all I have to do is apply myself and go get it.”
It doesn’t end there. Dansby recognizes the Miami defenses of recent years have lacked game-changing plays in the passing game. No, he’s not going to play cornerback, but he thinks he can vie for interception numbers a cornerback would envy.
“Not one or two but maybe five or seven, man, for real,” he said. “The opportunities will be there. The coverages we’re playing will allow the inside linebackers to make plays, and we just got to fly around, read our keys and go.”
Dansby isn’t the only player with big goals. On offense, Reggie Bush is hoping to lead the NFL in rushing. And in the passing game, while fans wonder if any Miami receiver will make plays, Hartline is thinking the best year of his career might be on the horizon.
“I want to be a 1,000-yard receiver,” he said. “I don’t care how many catches it takes because I think yardage shows production more than catches. I want to get in the end zone. I want to score touchdowns and go over 1,000 yards.”
Hartline is quite bright and understands many fans wonder if the Dolphins will be able to throw the football at all, much less do it with enough proficiency to boast a 1,000-yard receiver.
That’s where his view from the inside is different than those outside the locker room.
“I guess inside looking out I understand where people stand as far as, this day and age with the need to throw the ball, people want a handful of guys that will make plays,” he says. “I understand that. And as far as us having some drops and some not-too-good showings in the preseason, I get it. The fan base is ready to win and there’s all kind of pressures. I get all that.”
But Hartline didn’t play in the preseason while nursing an injury. And Davone Bess only played a total of two quarters. And deep threat Anthony Armstrong joined the team Sunday after being claimed on waivers from Washington. And Bush wasn’t used in the slot at all — a position he is likely to play on many passing downs.
So players expect good things even while some fans don’t know what to expect or, worse, are expecting losses piled atop losses.
“Preseason is one thing but regular season is a whole other animal,” Dansby said. “The speed of the game will pick up across the board. This team will pick it up across the board. I know we’re ready to play some, great stellar defense. That was our goal since Day One. That’s still our goal.”