“ The enemy of great is good. ”
— Jimmy Johnson, circa 1997.
Jimmy Johnson uttered those words when he recognized his Dolphins were merely a solid team and were likely to remain that way unless a lighting-bolt event completely changed the dynamic and direction of the franchise.
That bolt could have been the maturing of Damon Huard into a superstar, or the synching of a good defense into an all-time great unit. That bolt might have also been a total one-year collapse that would have rewarded Johnson with the top pick in every round of the following year’s draft — a perch he used early during his time with the Dallas Cowboys to build a Super Bowl dynasty.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
But that bolt never struck the Dolphins.
Johnson’s teams were perennially mediocre to good — 8-8 in 1996, 10-6 one year and 9-7 a couple of times. Johnson’s Dolphins were never truly great but also never terrible enough to use a draft as a launch pad to greatness.
And that leads me to today’s Dolphins.
They have been perennially mediocre for half a decade.
They’ve been hovering in the 6-10, 7-9 or 8-8 orbit for so long they seem to have taken up residence in that NFL middle-class neighborhood.
Mediocre is what they are.
And unless something radical happens this year, it will be what they continue to be:
Talented enough to be mediocre.
But not great.
And not so terrible that we can hope for an influx of top-of-the-draft talent to make them great in the future.
So where does that leave you, the Dolphins fan who spends money on the Sunday Ticket or buys seats at Sun Life Stadium or generally is emotionally invested in this team?
Hoping for great, of course.
And if that doesn’t happen, you should hope for a total collapse.
It sounds unorthodox, but it’s actually quite logical.
If the Dolphins are once again mediocre in 2014, the team will once again not be contending for a championship. The team will once again not be in position to pick early in next year’s draft. The team might once again keep intact the same cast of coaches, administrators and players while hoping for a tiny sliver of improvement next year.
And you know that sliver will never come next year because it didn’t come last year, or the year before, or the year before, or the year before.
Mediocrity is a treadmill. And the Dolphins desperately need to get off.
Unfortunately, mediocrity is exactly what I see when I look at these Dolphins.
Oh, they have talented players and strengths in certain areas. If they didn’t have those, they wouldn’t be good enough to be competitive in most games and win about 50 percent of the time.
The Miami defensive line and wide receiver corps, for example, are very good. The New England Patriots, winners of the AFC East 10 of the past 11 years, would feel upgraded with Miami’s receivers and defensive linemen.
But the Dolphins also have lingering questions, as well.
The offensive line is once again a sore spot, particularly at the three interior positions. The center spot will get better once Mike Pouncey returns in late September or October but early in the season this line is unsettled.
The secondary is worrisome to me because Jimmy Wilson, a good player when he is used part-time as the nickel corner, is being thrust to starting safety because Reshad Jones is suspended for four games.
And that forces the Dolphins to push second-year player Jamar Taylor onto the field with little experience to replace Wilson in the nickel package.
So, suddenly a good situation in the secondary turns questionable because a part-time player is playing full time out of position, and an inexperienced reserve is playing part time.
The linebacker corps is a concern because it was not good last year and shuffling the same three guys to different positions has the feel of a bold offseason experiment but not a great regular-season solution.
These issues, plus uncertainty in the running game and the run defense suggest mediocre results to me.
There is, of course, the possibility that bolt might strike the franchise. There is, of course, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, if he takes a giant leap in his development and plays every bit as well as any other elite NFL quarterback.
If Tannehill does that, the Dolphins will score a ton of points. And suddenly the holes that seem magnified by early season suspensions and injuries will become less important.
Yes, a great quarterback can turn a mediocre team into a very good and even great team.
If Tannehill can be that guy, the Dolphins can be every bit the challenger of the Patriots that fans pray they can be.
Barring that bolt, the Dolphins will probably still be mediocre and perhaps even 9-7 good.
But not great.