Training camp began in earnest Thursday morning for the Miami Dolphins and, go ahead and celebrate, because they won the day.
The Dolphins looked solid on the field.
The players said all the right things after practice, including talk of winning, and then making the playoffs.
Coach Joe Philbin continued an upbeat and almost uncharacteristic approach of setting goals and “destinations” for his team that included winning the AFC East, the conference title and Super Bowl.
Owner Stephen Ross, meanwhile, presented a logical and cogent message without stepping on any landmines.
It was all good. No one embarrassed themselves. Everyone was on message. One could not help but feel good about this team when the day was over.
And I suppose it sounds cynical to applaud a performance for its lack of pratfalls or missteps. But this is not cynicism. This is genuine admiration even as I exhale.
You see, in my experience with this team, starting strong right out of the gate is worthy and notable.
Remember, this is the franchise that has gotten off to some rocky starts in its time.
One year Ricky Williams quit a couple of days before training camp began and then players said with straight faces losing their best player wouldn’t affect their season. It did.
One year Nick Saban made Manny Wright cry the first day of practice.
One year Cam Cameron insulted Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas at the same time by scolding them about where their families should be sitting during the first practice.
One year the team forbade Mike Pouncey from publicly apologizing for wearing a “Free Hernandez” cap at a party during the offseason — a decision that would upset the center, who later felt the need to apologize anyway.
Last year, Bullygate and questions about the touchy scandal had still not fully faded when training camp began.
But Thursday was mostly quiet. The biggest controversy stirred this first day happened when Ross noted the Miami Heat is not the same team without LeBron James. Yeah, considering he once said Chad Henne could become the next Dan Marino, this was barely a cloud on the radar trained to pick up huge storms.
Ross spoke, in salty terms, of being impatient with his team’s perpetual 8-8 records, which is a good thing if you ask me. He avoided putting direct pressure on Philbin by refusing to say the team must make the playoffs for the coach to survive beyond this season. But the owner didn’t let the coach entirely off the hook either, saying everyone’s expectation is to be in the playoffs.
Ross walked the line with the expertise of a Flying Wallenda.
The most impressive person in front of the microphone, however, was newly minted defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He comes to Miami with the reputation of being something of an enigma:
Great player on the field, offside calls and quarterback stomps aside.
Mystery off the field, missing offseason programs and not really blending in with some teammates in Detroit.
But that curious portrait is not the picture I got from Suh. He is the highest-paid and most accomplished player on the team, but he spoke of being deferential to Cameron Wake when he signed.
“Once I knew I was coming down here, I reached out to him, understanding this is his defensive line and I’m coming to be a part of it,” Suh said. “I just want to understand my role, how I can help, how I can help him make more plays and get more sacks. I want to see him be successful, I want to be successful myself as a player. Communication is key.”
Philbin said Suh, answering a challenge from executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, has taken younger players such as rookie Jordan Phillips under his tutelage.
“He encouraged Jordan Phillips to come out and train with him,” Philbin said. “That’s an example of leadership — of taking a young player, showing him obviously from a physical standpoint and a professionalism standpoint, a preparation standpoint, some of the things that he’s done to get himself ready.”
Suh was also among the loudest voices in a chorus of players saying failure this season is unacceptable.
“8-8 is not acceptable, and for me, if we’re not in the playoffs and not competing for championships, it’s a failure of a season,” he said.
That message from Miami defensive players has not been new in the past. But this year, offensive players who enjoyed an atypically good first practice, also echoed that sentiment.
“No excuses, we’re finding a way to get it done and be confident about it,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “And that’s a little bit different than times past, starting with the head men — coach Philbin, Mr. Ross — just the confidence this organization has, we’re doing everything we can to find and edge and win.”
None of this guarantees success, of course. A good start doesn’t promise a great finish.
But for the Dolphins a good start is a good sign.
DOLPHINS TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
▪ Friday, July 31, 8 a.m.
▪ Saturday, Aug. 1, 8 a.m.
▪ Sunday, Aug. 2, 8 a.m.
▪ Tuesday, Aug. 4, 8 a.m.
▪ Wednesday, Aug. 5, 8 a.m.
▪ Thursday, Aug. 6, 8 a.m.
▪ Friday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m. (at FIU Stadium)
▪ Sunday, Aug. 9, 3 p.m.
▪ Monday, Aug. 10, 12:30 p.m.
▪ Tuesday, Aug. 11, 8 a.m.
▪ Saturday, Aug. 15, 1:15 p.m. (Finatics Season Ticket Members only)
▪ Sunday, Aug. 16, 8 a.m.
▪ Monday, Aug. 17, 8 a.m.
Note: All practices will be held at Doctors Hospital Training Facility in Davie except Aug. 7.
Call 954-452-7004 for more information.