This is the time of year NFL teams are supposed to come together. Then life happens and suddenly the schedules and game plans and expectations teams compose as meticulously as a symphony can become discordant and all sorts of improvised.
And that is what’s threatening the Miami Dolphins now.
Instead of coming together by the Sept. 11 season opener at Seattle, this team is working overtime to make sure things don’t come apart.
The news Sunday that center Mike Pouncey will miss the remainder of the preseason and possibly the opener at Seattle — because of a hip injury — is only the latest snag to the Dolphins’ plans.
Pouncey injured his left hip in Friday night’s preseason game at Dallas. So coach Adam Gase said the team is shutting him down for the remaining two preseason games in hopes he will be recovered by that Sept. 11 opener.
But there is simply no certainty Pouncey will be ready to play that day.
“I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but, I mean, there’s a possibility,” Gase said when asked about the possibility Pouncey could miss the Seattle game. “He could if things change for us or if we get some kind of diagnosis where they tell us it’s going to be a longer period of time than what we originally thought. It could happen.”
Anything can happen because Pouncey has had multiple hip injuries of which this is only the latest. He had right-hip surgery in January to shave bone matter from the hip that was causing him discomfort.
And as the current injury is to the left hip, some within the organization are taking solace that Pouncey hasn’t sustained a setback to a recently surgically repaired body part.
But the problem is Pouncey did indeed have surgery on that left hip in 2014. And that injury and surgery forced Pouncey to miss all of the 2014 training camp and the first four regular season games.
Pouncey missed so much time that year that by the time he regained his playing form, the team moved him from his customary center spot and to a right-guard spot the player tried to embrace but definitely didn’t love.
That’s how fast things change when a player misses time. Pouncey was a Pro Bowl center when he stepped out. He was no longer even a center when he came back.
I’m not saying Pouncey is going to be on a similar track this season. The Dolphins have no plans to move him, and surgery isn’t necessarily in the offing — for now.
But an NFL season stops for no one, and teams have to adapt or get left behind.
So the move now for the Dolphins is to replace Pouncey with Anthony Steen.
You’ve heard of Anthony Steen, right?
He has played in zero NFL regular-season games. He is a first-year player who was not drafted after playing for Nick Saban at Alabama. He has bounced on and off Arizona’s roster and practice squad. He was signed by the Dolphins as a free agent in January.
“Right now, that’s where we’re at, at that position,” Gase said. “He’s worked his way in there, and it was one of those things where you get in the spring, it’s hard to tell sometimes who your guys are. You’re giving everybody a shot, and he’s come out there in training camp and really caught our eye a little bit, as far as doing everything right.”
None of this would be worrisome if the Dolphins handling just this one issue. But the Dolphins are actually juggling enough issues as to make them something of an interesting act.
On defense, a player they expected would definitely be a starter in the season opener just practiced for the first time Sunday.
The team welcomed cornerback Xavien Howard back to practice for the first time since training camp began. He missed the past three weeks while rehabilitating a knee injury that required surgery.
Howard was impressing coaches in the offseason camps. He was flashing skills that made him the team’s second-round draft pick. There was confidence Howard was going to be a major contributor early this season.
That confidence has evaporated now.
Howard is obviously still a huge part of Miami’s future plans. He definitely has the look of a starter some day. But not today.
And possibly not for a little because Howard said he’s missing Thursday’s preseason game, and his status for the season opener is still unsettled.
“It’s going to take a second for him to get back into the flow of things,” Gase said. “When we start having him go against wide receivers, he’s going to have to get that feel back. It’s been since the spring, and that’s a lot of time that has gone by. Hopefully, we can get him in a game before we hit the regular season.
“We just don’t know yet. We have to see how his body feels. We have to see how his legs feel. We have to see how his movement skills are. There’s a lot of little check marks we have to make before we throw him into a game.”
This is not a crisis issue. Howard eventually will be ready to contribute if not start, the team hopes. In that regard, he falls into the same category as the ongoing shuffling along the offensive line that continues because one clear and obvious set of starters have not stepped forward.
It falls into the same category as Cameron Wake’s return from last year’s Achilles tendon injury. The Dolphins are being careful with Wake, who is practicing but hasn’t played in the preseason and might not play Thursday, either. The idea is to have him ready down the road rather than right now.
But all the lesser issues Gase and his coaching staff are managing, combined with the Pouncey news, paint a picture.
The Dolphins are a portrait of a team trying to come together. They are also a team that is nowhere near together yet.