Ask players what’s the biggest difference with this Dolphins team and you get answers like this:
“The camaraderie is at an all-time high,” Reshad Jones said.
“There’s definitely more chemistry on this team,” Bobby McCain said.
“Everyone being selfless,” Jakeem Grant said. “We’re one big family playing for each other.”
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It’s clear these players like each other more – and feel a much stronger bond – than last year’s group, but it’s also easy to dismiss the importance of all this. (Keep in mind that one player not mentioned in this column didn’t like Mike Pouncey yelling at him. Others not mentioned in this column viewed Ndamukong Suh as me-first and Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry as complainers if they didn’t get the ball enough.)
But does liking each other really matter as far as on-field performance?
Some players insist it does.
“It truly matters,” said the jovial Grant, who gets along with everyone. “Having that brotherhood makes you want to give the most relentless effort that’s possible. If you don’t care about each other, and you mess up on [something], it’s like, ‘Whatever.’
“But now, when someone messes up on a play, they’re upset about it, mad they made a mistake. And that’s how it should be. Once you truly care about each other on each side of the ball on a team, that team will go far. There are selfless players on our team.”
Players say that intangible is one reason they’ve been able to rally from deficits in three of their four wins, why they’re a more resilient bunch.
Here’s one tangible area where that chemistry helps:
McCain and right tackle Ja’Wuan James and others say players on offense are helping players on defense, and vice versa, more than a year ago. If a defensive lineman notices an offensive lineman is moving a certain way on passing plays but another way on running plays, the defensive player tells the offensive player. That happened some before, but more this year, players say.
“Cam [Wake] might say, ‘I saw this here’ or ‘you need to stay more square there,’” James said. “This is the type of thing where you give a tipoff to your opponent. That’s been a big help with us. Normally in camp, it’s offense vs. defense all day, but this year I feel we really came together more and worked together more to make each other [better].”
Wake said defensive players want to keep offensive players “from... getting exploited” and informations “flows not just one side, d-end to d-end. It can go d-end to center to quarterback to hopefully the offensive coordinator and it’ll help everybody.”
And this extends to other positions. After they match up at times in practice, Danny Amendola “helps me and I help him,” McCain said. “I can tell him I knew you were going to do this when I do that. When you have different sides of the ball helping each other like that, you know it’s a close knit team.”
Grant said this exchange of information is now the norm and is something being done “going into every game. That’s been happening a lot because the fact is we truly care about each other. And all we want to see each other succeed. If we have the answers to the test, why not [share] them?”
The better chemistry translates in another way, too.
“I see the defensive guys come by me [during a game],” Adam Gase said, “and if we’re struggling a lot of those guys will be like, ‘We got you. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get it back.’ I see a lot more interaction between the offense and defense throughout a game which is cool to see. I love it.”
But, again, this does really matter?
Yes, James insists, because “that gives you confidence you can do your thing knowing somebody has your back. We don’t get down [emotionally] now. When we’re trailing, we all knew somebody is going to make a play.”
In fact, James made this revelation:
“It’s always been offense vs. defense since I’ve been here, basically two teams versus each other,” James said. “But this year we are playing together and it’s showing on the field. The coaches made it a bigger point this year and everybody is buying into it. I’ve seen a lot of different things since I’ve been here [where] things go south when stuff happens.”
The difference now, James said, is “we all have each’s other backs. No one is pointing fingers.” And players “stay positive” amid adversity.
This is exactly what the Dolphins envisioned when they tried to weed out players who they perceived as me-first and added players who they thought prioritized team success over individual success.
“The accountability for each other is awesome to see,” Gase said. “That locker room is tight and those guys want to win for each other.”
The bond is so strong that group outings among players at specific positions, on both sides of the ball, are now commonplace.
Grant noted the receivers “ate dinner at Danny [Amendola’s] house. We ate dinner at Kenny [Stills’] house. I took guys to the movies and paid for the dinner and drinks after the movies.
“Once you hang out with each other outside the facility, you develop that bond on the field. It’s completely different [now], a totally different feeling knowing that’s my brother and I can trust him 100 percent. It’s a lot more of it than last year.”
Several smart personnel moves, headlined by the signing of Albert Wilson, plus Ryan Tannehill’s play the first three games and some internal growth (from Grant and others) are the biggest reasons for Miami’s 4-2 start.
But don’t scoff at the chemistry stuff, either. Players say it’s real and insist it’s making a difference.
Please click here for my story on Dolphins hero Albert Wilson and how chasing chickens and has helped him become the NFL’s leader in yards after catch. Plus, there’s news in there on injuries and Ryan Tannehill.