In the midst of all this negativity surrounding our team after a poor preseason, I decided to step back and take a look at the team as a whole, and try to figure out why we could be anything but excited about this Dolphins squad. As it turns out, I can't find a reason to feel nervous about our guys going into the season. Poor preseason play is nothing new in this league, and preseason football is NEVER a precursor to Regular Season success/failure. I only need to give you two examples: 2008 Detroit Lions, Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. The '08 Lions went 4-0 in the preseason, they looked like a promising young team. They averaged 20 points a game, gave up an average of 8. Didn't give up more than 10 points in any of the 4 games, twice going an entire game without giving up a TD. 16 Regular Season losses later, they are in the history books as one of the worst teams of all-time. Yay preseason! The Colts, historically, struggle in the preseason, then win 12+ games in the regular season, always being one of the last undefeated teams in the league to fall. The only constant on this squad is Manning. Year in and year out, they replace OL, RB's, WR's, and defenders, fail to look like a professional football team in the preseason, then win regular season games with ease. Once again, yay preseason! So, yeah, the Dolphins have not looked good in the exhibition part of the NFL season, but anyone who thinks that is going to carry over into the regular season doesn't know their history.
With that rant out of the way, on to our 2010 Dolphins, with 7 Reasons to be excited about this team.
- Chad Henne. Leading off our 7 reasons, is Number 7. Face it, the guy can play. Stop looking at preseason games, and go back to last season. Pay attention to the Jets game in (ohbytheway) his 2nd career start, against (ohbytheway) the top ranked defense in the league. He was a ho-hum 20-26, for 241 yards (9.3 YPA, a ridiculous number) and 2 TD's, with no picks. Or the New England game in week 12, when he went 29-52 (!!) for 335, 2 TD's, 1 INT, and a 4th quarter comeback victory. This is the guy we are worried about? People think he can't play? We can be concerned about his touch on some passes, or WR's dropping his Super Mario Brothers Fireballs, but as he proved last year, he can win games with very little help on the offense, and now (ohbytheway) we gave him quite a bit of help.
- Brandon Marshall. Speaking of Henne's help, here we have one of the top 5 WR's in the league (read that again). A guy who caught 100 balls for over 1,000 yards from fastball-flinging Jay Cutler, twice, then turned around and caught 100 balls (including an NFL record 21 in a game) for over 1,000 yards from pop-up-chucking Kyle Orton. So he drops passes in the preseason. TO has made a habit of dropping passes in the regular season, and yet he's still going to the HOF on the first ballot. Why? Because he catches (and scores, for that matter) far more than he doesn't. Marshall is the same way. Maybe he drops 5 or 6 passes this season. Are we really going to remember that if he catches 90 and scores 12 times? Of course not. He's the real deal, one of the very best at what he does in the NFL, and he's going to crazy good this season.
- A Young, Mean, Offensive (pun intended) Line. Jake Long, John Jerry, Jake Grove, Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Joe Berger, Donald Thomas... 5 of those 7 will be starting. 7 of those 7 are big, mean, road-graters. I'm going to disregard the preseason, and go back once again to last season (also, keep in mind, we have upgraded the guard positions long-term, as well as in the short-term in my opinion). 4.4 yards per carry, 22 TD's. Add John Jerry (touted in every pre-draft scouting report as a mauling run-blocker) and Richie Incognito (another mauler with an unmatched mean streak) and we have absolutely upgraded the two weakest positions on last year's above-average run-blocking OL.
- Karlos Dansby. Oh, how soon we forget. "Our LB's suck! We need a playmaking ILB! We can never be an elite defense without good LB's!" Insert Karlos Dansby. The top FA prize on defense, a top 3-4 ILB, and a serious playmaker. Compare his career stats (10 INT's, 11 FF's, 1 FR, 2 TD's in a 6 year career) to the first 6 years of Ray Lewis' career (12 INT's, 3 FF's, 5 FR's, 0 TD's) and you see what kind of ballhawk this guy is as a LB. And yet I haven't seen any buzz surrounding him at all leading up to the season. This guy will be to our defense what Marshall is to our offense. Wait until the zone blitzes and exotic coverages show their faces (more on that in a minute) and Dansby can get his eyes and hands on a flustered QB's errant pass. The short-middle of the field is not going to be a friendly spot for opposing offenses.
- Mike Nolan. Took a Denver defense previously ranked 22nd, with a bunch of new pieces, and turned them into a top-10 defense. With all the speedy toys we gave him on our defense (Clemons, Wake, Misi, Dansby, etc), he's going to look like a kid let loose in a Toys R Us when he's calling the defense. 7-man Blitz? Sure, we have 2 good man-to-man corners and FS with great speed. Drop into an umbrella Cover 3 or 4? OK, we have Cameron Wake, a guy who could probably put pressure on the QB as the only man rushing. Zone Blitz? Works for me, Koa Misi can drop into the flats, as can Randy Starks (our NT), so the QB will have no idea where these guys are going to end up once the ball is snapped. And with Yeremiah Bell patrolling between the hashmarks, we have pro-bowl quality veteran leadership to keep all the moving pieces in the right place.
- Depth. 7 starting-quality Offensive Linemen. 2 (maybe 3) starting-quality QB's. 2 (maybe 3) starting quality RB's. 5 young, talented WR's. 145 starting-caliber D-Linemen. 3 starting-caliber CB's (Will Allen included, unless his injury is more serious than previously thought, and then Sapp could be good enough to hold down a spot for a few weeks). Special Teamers all over the place. The lines especially are deep, and we all know how injuries to either Line can completely derail a season. We have guys that can step in and play without us losing much (if anything) from that position. Yes, we are young, but young players are more durable, and the ideal situation for any NFL team is being young and deep, with veterans in the right places.
- Stability. We've had the same front office pieces for the last 3 years. They have implemented their plan, and we aren't starting another rebuild, we aren't trying to fit pieces from a previous regime in, and we aren't trying to change a philosophy or update new coaches into a new philosophy. Same head coach going into Year 3 (and the best way to become a great coach? Experience.). Same offensive coordinator, which is extremely important for a young QB. We also have a very stable coaching staff, which leads to great continuity and a "Many people, one mind" type of approach. Here's a list of current Dolphins coaches that have been here during Sparano's 3 year tenure: Sparano himself, Todd Bowles (asst. Head Coach, Secondary Coach), Dan Henning (Offensive Coordinator), John Bonamego (Special Teams Coordinator), David Lee (QB's), James Saxon (RB's), Karl Dorrell (WR's), Kacy Rodgers (DL), Evan Marcus and Dave Puloka (Strength and Conditioning). With a new Defensive Coordinator, we still only changed 1 defensive assistant, and our entire offensive staff from 2009 is still intact (O-Line Coach Dave DeGuglielmo was hired before the 2009 season). Instead of having to implement new parts to the coaching staff, they are able to hit the ground running full sprint to start the offseason workouts and get the new pieces on the roster on board and prepared.
There you go. Step off the ledge. We have quite a bit to look forward to with this team, and we can throw IF's around all day long about the things that could go wrong... just know that we have 7 HUGE reasons to be excited and positive about this Dolphins squad, and none of them are very likely at all to fail. This is a team bound for the playoffs, poised to challenge for the division crown, and ready to make a run at 11+ wins.