This NFL season is a sprint to prepare for and a marathon to run.
All the teams, without exception, had to hurry and prepare for this season once the lockout was settled and training camps opened. They had to get their players in, get their players in shape, get their players back into a routine, and get their players ready to succeed.
Some did it. Some didn't.
The teams that had a proven system and veterans for those systems were at an advantage. And the teams that were installing a new culture or new players or new schemes or all three, were woefully behind.
That is a truth.
The Dolphins were among the teams that were not fully established going into the season. You're hearing that a lot around South Florida now. Miami was installing a new offense with a new offensive coordinator. The Dolphins had a new starting running back and a new starting center and the starting quarterback was establishing himself in the new scheme.
All that is true. And all that was made more difficult for Miami when starting quarterback Chad Henne, who had learned OC Brian Daboll's offense in February, went down the first week of October and inexperienced backup Matt Moore was thrust into the job.
This is a guy who didn’t have an offseason with us, he didn’t have anything," coach Tony Sparano said of Moore. "The first time he heard it was Day One training camp. To be honest with you, it wasn’t even day one training camp because he couldn’t practice for a few days so he was behind. He got a chance to jump in there when he can rep wise. Right now he’s getting all the work and he feels a lot more comfortable I think out there."
A theme this week at training camp (among some media, not the team) is that the Dolphins, fresh off their first victory of the year versus Kansas City, are finally starting to have success because they are finally starting to get in synch one with another. Players are knowing their roles better, coaches are knowing players better, everyone is just now past the meet-and-greet stage.
The Dolphins have found a comfort level.
“Yeah, no doubt, and that just comes with reps and experience and sitting with (Offensive Coordinator Brian) Daboll and (Quarterbacks Coach Karl) Dorrell and really getting a feel what they’re thinking in every situation," Moore said. "Throwing unlimited balls to all the guys, and just getting those game reps. Being in the huddle with the offensive line and looking at those guys in crucial situations and coming up short with those guys, you just learn a lot and you get a feel for the people in the huddle and they get a feel for me, and so its constantly a work in progress. I sound probably totally different from last week, let’s face it, we won and I’m just kind of excited and just ready to move forward."
This media-driven theme suggests because the Dolphins are finally feeling more at-home with one another, they are prepared to plow ahead toward coming success.
But I've got questions about this common thinking.
First, the Dolphins truly were at a disadvantage against teams that made no significant changes from a season ago. That is legitimate. But the team was in the very same proverbial boat as all the other teams with new coordinators and new schemes and new players -- particularly new quarterbacks. They were in even better shape than teams that came into 2011 with new head coaches because those men were establish brand new cultures as well as schemes.
So one must assume the Dolphins wouldn't be behind those teams if they're on the same get-to-know-you scale. And yet, from a production standpoint, they are behind every single one.
The Carolina Panthers brought in an entirely new coaching staff and a rookie quarterback and they've scored 49 more points than Miami this season. Tennessee has a new head coach, new offensive system, new starting quarterback and their running back held out all of training camp so he has been learning the offense on the fly during the season. They've scored nine more points than Miami.
Denver? New coach, new offense, a quarterback change to Tim Tebow. And they've outscored Miami and beat Miami. Minnesota and Oakland have new coaches and new quarterbacks, too. And they've scored more than Miami.
San Francisco brought in a new coaching staff who installed a new system. And they're 7-1.
So I guess I'm rejecting the notion that the Dolphins were operating under a significant disadvantage compared to everyone else and that makes their record or lack of production understandable or excusable.
And I'm seriously annoyed that this talk somehow leaks over to the defensive side. You must remember that this defense that is lately playing much better is operating under the same system and same coordinator and set of coaches that ran it last year. All but two of the positions at the start of this season were manned by the same players who were starting last year -- and the two that weren't, with Kevin Burnett at one ILB and Reshad Jones at FS, were changes made on purpose as upgrades over last year.
Yet we recognize that the defense got off to a very, very, very slow start.
What's the excuse there?
Look, I am expectant that Miami can continue to play better as the season progresses, barring an onslaught of significant injuries. On offense particularly, this team is a work in progress. Players are finding their niche. And coaches, as Reggie Bush said Wednesday, are also hitting their stride.
"I think Dabolls’ play-calling has been a little better so he’s improving in that area," Bush said. "And then for us we’re improving in executing the play that he’s calling. Like I said, we’re all in this collectively. It’s not just the players, it’s the coaches too."
But to suggest it was patently impossible for Miami to be doing better coming out of the chute because the deck was stacked against them isn't right. That is clear based on the fact that after Sunday's victory over Kansas City, several players talked among themselves and wondered aloud why they couldn't have started playing better earlier.
“Sure, yeah absolutely you kind of think that way," Moore said. "Watching the tape, it’s a block here, it’s a throw, it’s a route, we weren’t as sharp. We just didn’t execute as well. I think guys, the longer we're in this thing the better were getting."