Miami Dolphins

Optimism to fuel Miami Dolphins players as training camp opens

If you’re at Dolphins camp Sunday, take a deep breath. That faint, sweet scene on the tip of your nose might be foreign.

It’s called hope.

“Playoffs are a must,” wide receiver Brandon Gibson wrote on Twitter on Friday.

And is the Super Bowl a possibility? “Yessir!!” he responded.

Gibson is new to South Florida, so his unbridled exuberance can be forgiven.

But Brian Hartline has been around since 2009; every season since has been a losing one for the Dolphins.

And yet

“We do have higher expectations going into the season,” Hartline said late last week. “You hear it every year, how every team is optimistic. I think we have reasons to be.

“And the reasons come from the work we put in, seeing it on our practice field and just really being encouraged by our coaching staff and believing in them.”

Big chunks of the fan base — which hasn’t enjoyed a playoff win since Dec. 20, 2000 — are along for the ride.

The first training camp practice of the year begins at 8 a.m. Sunday on the campus of Nova Southeastern University, and although it’s free to attend, all the seats have been spoken for, the Dolphins said Friday. Standing-room-only space should be available for the first of 14 practices fully open to the public.

The Dolphins and the Cowboys — who also open camp this weekend — are getting an early start on the rest of the league because they kick off the preseason with the Hall of Fame Game, which is just two weeks away.

“It was early in the [2012] season, and one of the cut-ups was New Orleans playing Arizona in the Hall of Fame Game, and so I’m thinking to myself, ‘Geez, I know we’ve got 11 draft picks [they ended up with nine], I know we’ve got some free agents on the football team, it might be good for us to get an extra game,’ ” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said in April. “So it was kind of in my mind back in the fall that we could potentially get into that game.”

The extra game means Miami gets an extra full week of practice. Considering more than half of the team’s 90-man unit wasn’t on the Dolphins’ active roster at any point last year, the added repetitions should help.

Among the dozens of story lines to watch:

• What kind of shape — and health — will Dion Jordan report to camp in? The Dolphins’ first-round pick, who signed his rookie contract Saturday, missed most of the spring because of NFL graduation rules. The Dolphins will closely monitor the condition of his shoulder, which needed surgery before they drafted him.

• Can the offense live up to its massive expectations, with Gibson, Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller and Tyson Clabo now in the fold?

• How long will it take the Dolphins’ defense to gel with all the new pieces?

• Will the coverage be better with Brent Grimes leading the secondary?

• And, probably most importantly, can quarterback Ryan Tannehill fulfill the promise of his huge potential?

“We need to improve every day,” Tannehill said last week. “You have to take advantage of every practice, every walk-through. Training camp is a long period of time for us. It’s easy to sit back and let a practice get away from you.

“We have to take advantage of every day.”

Seven weeks from Sunday, the season begins in Cleveland. And after four consecutive years out of the playoffs, the Dolphins plan on playing well into January.

“I think it’s something everybody expects,” said Bob Griese, the Hall of Famer and former Dolphins quarterback. “In this day and age, everybody expects immediate results.

“I think it’s good. The confidence is there. You just have to get out on the field and back it up.”

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