Jimmy Johnson and Dan Marino spent time together on the Miami Dolphins sideline Thursday night and, unless I’ve missed it, that’s the first time the former coach and legendary quarterback shared a sideline at this Miami Gardens stadium since 1999.
That’s right, it has been 20 years since that final Marino and Johnson season.
It has been 20 years since the professional relationship that was so promising at the beginning, often rocky throughout, and ultimately unsuccessful, broke up and sent the Dolphins into our current desert experience.
And it’s thick irony that the first time these two giants reunited on the same sideline was in a game the Dolphins were about to play the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because it was that long-ago 62-7 loss to Jacksonville that sent each of them into retirement.
And what have we seen since?
Yeah, not going to get into that dubious history here.
(I’m writing a book that comes out in 2020 and that will be mostly about the franchise’s glory years and championship moments but will include some of the tough times as well. So pick it up!)
But for our purposes now, it’s better to look ahead.
I don’t mean looking ahead to the 2020 draft. That would be too easy. That’s low-hanging fruit — telling you this Dolphins team is going to stink so badly in 2019 it’ll feel like 62-7 a full 16 times this year.
I’m not going to do that now.
Instead I point you to areas you should monitor about your team this coming season to see if that first-round quarterback selection next spring — which will absolutely happen — will add to some good news already on this team.
Let’s go through some of the good-new possibilities:
I really like the way linebacker Jerome Baker has developed this training camp. He’s bigger. He’s just as fast.
And he seems to be a blooming leader.
That was him calling the defensive plays for the second game in a row against the Jaguars.
I recognize there are doubts Eric Rowe can be a good starting cornerback on the other side of Xavien Howard. I understand quarterbacks will pick on him instead of tempting fate versus Howard.
But Rowe has been good when he’s been healthy this training camp. He was good this game, with four tackles and an interception in the first half. And, yes, he was flagged for a pass interference. But I can live with a Dolphins boundary cornerback being aggressive.
It beats the alternative, which is playing soft, or as we’ve seen in recent years, not being in the picture at all when the receiver catches the football.
The statistics from Thursday night’s nationally televised game will tell you the offense was terrible in the first half against Jacksonville’s starting defense. And I’m not going to argue those facts are a mirage.
But I see continued development from Miami’s two young guards, Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun. The Jaguars, who are going to again have one of the NFL’s most fierce pass rushes this season, got plenty of pressure on Fitzpatrick in the first half.
But that came primarily from rookie Josh Allen on the outside. It was Miami’s tackles that struggled this game.
And it was a game that Laremy Tunsil did not play.
The young guards and veteran center Daniel Kilgore did just fine.
And this is where I tell you, this is not an attempt to put lipstick on that proverbial pig. None of this should suggest to you the Dolphins look like a good team right now.
Quite the opposite is probably true.
There are holes everywhere. And this promises to be a season short on wins.
But uninteresting? I think this team will be interesting.
It’ll be interesting to see how coach Brian Flores, who has never had a losing season in the 15 years he has been in the NFL, handles losing this year.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Josh Rosen, who will get his chance to start games regardless of whether he starts the first one or not, can rise from simply wanting to learn how to play to actually playing well more often than not.
It’ll be interesting to see whether veterans such as Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Kenyan Drake and others handle the hard coaching Flores is known to employ when that tough approach doesn’t always reward them with success.
And it’ll be interesting to see if Miami’s constant churning of the roster, taking fliers on players who have failed to meet expectations elsewhere, can pay a dividend here.
Such roster engineering usually doesn’t work. But the Dolphins have invested time and resources on players such as Rosen, Jordan Mills, Clive Walford, Rowe and Robert Nkemdiche, with the hope some will pay off.
Of that group I have very little hope for Nkemdiche, a former first-round draft pick in Arizona, who is currently on the physically unable to perform list for Miami.
Nkemdiche was cut from the Cardinals after some run-ins with the law and his inability to stay healthy and in shape. When he was cut by Arizona, a source said he weighed 325 pounds. He’s supposed to be at about 295 to 300.
After two weeks in South Florida, I watched Nkemdiche trying to run gassers across the field before Thursday’s game. He could barely get across the 53 1/3-yard field once, and never was able to complete the trip back to his starting point.
This one doesn’t look good. So I’ll say it:
Watching those gassers was painful. It was a 62-7 performance for conditioning.
Did I mention Jerome Baker is looking good?