As a Miami Dolphins fan of three-plus decades, perhaps, I am being optimistic. After all, the season hasn’t even started yet, and hope is in the air. Everyone has the same fighting chance in September, right?
Maybe, I have adapted to prepare myself to be pleasantly surprised. New, fresh faces always mean new beginnings. When we see a new start, it leads to optimism to start. After all, we can’t go anywhere but up from here, right?
Conceivably, my three-plus decades of being a Miami Dolphins fan will pay off, and this will be the start of a new rise to prominence.
Or, maybe perhaps, I have spent the last 19 years of PDM (Post-Dan Marino) life watching the take side steps to be contenders when they really weren’t, and ignore what really should have been done several times– a hard rebuild. I feel true hope for this team going forward.
Yes, my expectations coming into 2019 are low, and I fully expect the worst. However, there’s an old saying– if you’re not in, you’re out. Miami has been right in the middle for long enough. Both new General Manager Chris Grier and Head Coach Brian Flores decided they were no longer playing the “stick a band-aid on a broken bone, time to get it repaired.”
What’s to come
Before I get into the crux of what to watch for this year, and what could give you hope now, let’s recap what to pay attention to for the future.
1) Four picks in each of the first two rounds in 2020 and 2021. Ten TOTAL draft picks in 2020
* Acquired the two additional firsts and a 2021 second from Houston in the Laremy Tunsil trade.
* Acquired New Orleans’ 2020 second-rounder and the 62nd pick in 2019 (flipped to Arizona for Josh Rosen) for the 48th pick.
– I am sure I don’t need to tell you, the formula to winning is drafting wisely. The more draft capital you have, the merrier. Miami hit the jackpot for the next two seasons.
2) $120 million in cap space in 2020.
– Yes, friends. That’s a LOT of money to spend. Look at what the Browns have managed to do with their cap money. They also still have room to spare. Miami very well could take that blueprint and run with it. Remember, the Browns had to bottom out with one win in two seasons before they finally started their upward swing.
3) A young core on defense that, on paper, looks the part.
More on them in a moment.
Pretty impressive, right?
Patience is a virtue
Pretty impressive, right? For those of you who want immediate gratification, I know the first words that are running through your mind… “who cares.” I get it. I truly do.
I’ve been as long-suffering as many of you. I was a young pup when Marino went to his only Super Bowl, and remember the drubbing they endured by Joe Montana and the 49ers.
Enduring the close misses to Buffalo in the 1990s was as painful as the final scene of Old Yeller.
Don Shula’s last seasons weren’t much better. I drank until I vomited during Dan’s last game.
Life post-DM hasn’t exactly been pleasant. Anytime the words Cam Cameron or Ted Ginn come up, I get unexplained itches and hives.
Yes, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, however. In fact, there may be a reason to watch this year. reasons that might bring a smile.
What to watch in 2019
Let’s get right to the goodies for this year.
Yes, it’s going to be a difficult year. While Grier and Flores will both insist this isn’t a tank year, realistically speaking, even coming in, the Dolphins were facing another 6-10 season. Undoubtedly, the trades of Tunsil and Kenny Stills, followed up by the Kiko Alonso deal solidified that this is a full rebuild.
While I advise keeping your expectations realistic, here are the list of things to potentially be optimistic about for this year.
1) Young studs in the secondary
– Since being selected 38th overall by the Dolphins in 2018, Xavien Howard has gone on to establish himself as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. In the last two seasons, the 26-year-old has a passer rating (passes/touchdowns allowed his direction) below 75, 11 interceptions, and 25 passes defended. This ranks him among the league leaders at the CB position.
Luckily for Dolphins fans, Howard will be around a while longer, as Miami re-signed him to a five-year extension in May that will make him the highest-paid CB in NFL history.
Howard isn’t the only stud in the secondary to keep an eye on going forward. 2018 first-round steal Minkah Fitzpatrick proved to be just as good as advertised in his rookie campaign, notching 80 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defended, and a pick-six. His versatility to play anywhere on the field was a valued addition, and teams also grew very weary of throwing his direction as the season wore on. Just imagine what a defensive mind like Flores will do with him, and as he progresses. Two Pro Bowl shutdown players in the secondary are in the cards.
– Speaking of draft steals, I could not have been more ecstatic when Clemson stud Defensive End Christian Wilkins fell into their laps at #13 in the 2019 NFL Draft (there’s something about the number 13.. can’t quite put my finger on it).
If you ever wanted a player that is going to change the culture of an organization on and off the field, Wilkins is one who will. Not only was he a team leader on the greatest teams in Clemson history, but this is a player who does everything you could ever ask of a player on the field.
I can’t say Wilkins won’t ever lead the league in sacks or tackles. Yet what I WILL say is, I envision him being a jack of all trades who does everything right. Every team needs a player like that, especially one who is used to winning big and will settle for no less.
Normally, I don’t the “safe bet” label, but Wilkins, like I gave Fitzpatrick the year prior, is it. I am calling him a lock for a Pro Bowl. I see him making everyone around him better, and the Dolphins defense will benefit immensely.
New coach, new hope
– Yes, we’ve heard this same song before. We have a new bright mind, who did big things as a coordinator, who was going to come in and fix all the ills. For some of them, we even saw temporary results. Yet, there’s something that seems different about Flores that I didn’t see in the others.
First, his work in New England was exceptional. This isn’t a coach who benefited from settings. The difference in defenses under Matt Patricia in 2017 and Flores in 2018 was night and day.
Flores is also a coach who not only demands accountability on and off the field from his players and coaches, but he takes it himself. We saw other coaches either be too passive with accountability (Joe Philbin and Tony Sparano, God rest his soul) or pass the buck (Adam Gase). Seeing Flores take accountability for his own shortcomings during the pre-season was a sign that this coach GETS it.
Flores also made a very wise move on the offensive side of the staff, bringing in both Chad O’Shea to give him the familiar voice from New England, and Jim Caldwell, a former NFL head coach who once coached a team to a Super Bowl. He isn’t just surrounding himself with yes men. He’s surrounding himself with the right people.
Yes, I know, many feel the team is allegedly tanking for Alabama’s Tua Tugaviloa. I know he’s the latest “can’t miss” prospect to hit the draft, and looking at what he’s done in Tuscaloosa, it’s certainly easy to see why. He’s not your typical Nick Saban passer. Yet, before putting down money on your custom “Tua” jersey, the answer under center very well may right underneath your eyes.
The tale of the tape isn’t always right
However, once upon a time, not that long ago, there was another QB who took the college landscape by storm.
This QB was the top passer of his high school class. He had all the tools you wanted in a passer and had that IT factor so many look for. That QB was selected top ten in the draft not long ago, by a team who traded up to get him.
That quarterback? Josh Rosen.
Why to give him a chance
I realize we have seen more than our fair share of QB bomb out of the league despite having the same it factor Rosen has. However, I refuse to believe one year in a dumpster fire situation tells close to the entire story.
Point blank, from the jump in Arizona, Rosen was put in a situation to fail. In 2018, the Cardinals used 13 different offensive linemen. Their ability pass blocking graded out as the worst in the NFL by a wide margin, and one of the worst in recent memory.
The Cardinals also cycled through two offensive coordinators, with one looking completely lost (Mike McCoy) and the other learning on the fly (Byron Leftwich). They also had a first-year head coach that was also out of his element.
While the Dolphins situation isn’t optimal either, I also think it’s far better than the one he left behind. I also think, even with Tunsil gone, the offensive line as a whole has some players who could prove to be better than expected.
Plus, Rosen will have a major point to prove. I expect him to take a big step forward this year and show why he was called “the Rosen One.”
As you can see, there are several reasons to keep your eyes on Dolphins games this year.
Watching Flores take baby steps as a head coach is going to be enjoyable.
Watching him work with a young offense with budding stars and seeing them take that next step will be a hell of a reason to watch
Keeping an eye on Rosen’s development and hoping he has the Brett Favre chip and sticks it to the Cardinals will be another.
Hoping the offensive line with three young blockers becomes better than expected will be a weekly story. Julian Davenport did finish last season with an 82 percent pass-block-win ratio. Jesse Davis was as steady as they come. Michael Dieter faced elite pass rushers in college and did very well for himself. Perhaps the sum is bigger than the parts.
If all else fails? There’s always the draft picks and tons of cap space to look forward to! Plus, think of the bright sight here. At least, it’s not the Raiders.
Baltimore @ Miami Dolphins
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