Joe Philbin won’t meet with all his players until Wednesday and fans won’t see the team on the field until Thursday, but the Dolphins’ coach, refreshed after a vacation in Italy, already knows what his first message to his players will be.
And he has a message for you, the fan, as well.
When he stands in front of his 90 players on Wednesday after they report to camp, Philbin wants to remind them what the goals are this coming season.
“I think a couple of things we want to remind the guys of is why we’re all here. There’s a reason I’m here. There’s a reason the staff is here. There’s a reason they’re here,” Philbin said.
“When I interviewed for the job, I’m going to remind the players that I told [team owner] Steve [Ross] that I want this team to compete for championships. That’s something I want to remind them of. There’s the AFC East championship, there’s the AFC championship and there’s the Super Bowl championship.
“And every decision I make — and I think about a lot of different things, whether it’s scheme, schedule, or in training camp whether we go scrimmage Carolina — all are made with one purpose in mind: Is this going to help us win a championship? That’s the primary message. We are here to win a championship.”
That’s not all.
Philbin has had what he considers to be a good relationship with Miami’s fans. So he wants them excited about their team’s chances in the coming months. He knows the Dolphins have suffered a playoff drought extending back to 2008. He knows the Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game since January 2001.
But he doesn’t want fans abandoning the team.
“Keep the faith,” Philbin said. “Not that I’m out a lot, but the support I’ve had from fans has been just fantastic. So I’d tell them to keep the faith and keep believing. This is a great organization with tremendous ownership, great administration, great coaching and an outstanding group of players. Have some fun this year. We’ve got a world-class facility. Let’s enjoy it. We’ll have some fun together.”
It sounds great, right?
The coach will be talking about championships in his first team meeting, setting the bar as high as any team can set it before even one practice is complete. Philbin is also promising fans that this will be a fun year.
So is that just precamp blather? Is it just wishful thinking from a coach who wants and, indeed, needs a good season to still be the coach next season?
I don’t believe that’s the case.
Philbin is not prone to unfounded optimism. He’s not prone to pessimism, either, by the way. The guy is simply a straight arrow who doesn’t wobble too far north or south regardless of whether the wind is blowing at his back or against him.
If he’s saying fun is coming, let’s expect that.
If he’s talking championships, plural, in private meetings with players, then let’s encourage that conversation rather than diminish it.
There are, after all, reasons to believe the Dolphins can indeed be a championship-caliber team of some sort in 2015. No, I’m not picking them for the Super Bowl or even the AFC championship.
But a division title?
At this point, why not?
The Patriots are the defending champions, but their secondary is an undermanned mystery and the quarterback might miss four games on suspension. The Jets and Bills have been no better than Miami the past decade and have quarterback questions that make any Miami flaw seem small by comparison.
So the Dolphins have as good a chance to win the division as their three rivals.
“We have to be more consistent,” Philbin said. “If you look back to last season, the team that won the Super Bowl we beat once and lost to once. The team that came this close to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl [Green Bay] we lost to with four seconds left in the game.
“We’ve demonstrated an ability to compete with anybody and really beat anybody on any given week. But we haven’t developed the overall consistency of performance week in and week out to be a team that competes for a championship. So consistency is going to be the thing we have to achieve.
“I want us to compete every game like it’s a championship game. With only 16 games, we have to have that mentality to get to where we want to be. Obviously, what we’ve done isn’t good enough, and we have to do better. I see us being a more consistent football team that finishes better.”
There will be challenges. Philbin admits he has concerns about how quickly the new receivers can sync up with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, admits there are concerns about the cornerback position beyond Brent Grimes, admits there are unanswered questions at guard and linebacker.
At the same time, the coach says the defense is greatly improved, and he thinks Tannehill’s growth at quarterback will continue.
“Every year he’s gotten better,” Philbin said, “so my expectation is this year he’ll play better.”
Improvement on 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and a 92.8 rating — Tannehill’s 2014 stat line — would border on elite status, so Philbin’s expectations are quite high.
And yet the coach is not backing away from the idea it will happen. He’s not backing away from anything, really.
“We have a great opportunity,” he said. “I feel better about our organization, top to bottom, than anytime I’ve been here. Let’s get in the boat and start rowing.”