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Training camp opens and we're off and running

We're baaaack!

My vacation is over -- although I've been posting on here for a few days despite not getting paid for it. And the Dolphins' vacation is over, with players reporting to camp Saturday and participating in their first training camp practice beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday.

First, let me share my column in The Miami Herald today: It outlines how local Dolphins fans reacted to the offseason spending spree, high draft selection of Dion Jordan, and bigtime hopes that Ryan Tannehill with caution and guarded optimism.

I can say that because I share with you the evidence that proves that caution and also tell you how some things have to go just right for the Dolphins to have the kind of season Miami fans have been wanting for a decade.

It might happen. Might not.

We don't know.

This I know:

The Dolphins today are the second-best team in the AFC East with a chance to be the best if things go their way.

The Jets?

The coach is already on the hot seat. The quarterback is still a turnover machine. The receiver corps has questions. The defense isn't the dominant unit it was four years ago and indeed is lessened by the trade of Darrelle Revis.

The Bills?

They have a rookie NFL head coach in Doug Marrone. (At least he led Syracuse to great things and many championships at the college level. Oh wait, he didn't). Their most likely starting quarterback is Kevin Kolb, who washed out in Arizona after being traded from Philadelphia. Of course, the Bills got better by losing their best offensive lineman Andy Levitre, right? Oh wait. At least their wide receiver corps is really solid after Stevie Johnson, right? Oh wait.

Yeah, the Jets feel like a team at the end of a journey that got off course and unless Rex Ryan is carrying a magic compass, he might be gone after this season. And the Bills, well, they're just starting their journey -- again.

So the AFC East feels like the Patriots and Dolphins. And for now, we should view it in that order because (cliche' alert) to be the best you have to beat the best. And the Dolphins have not beaten the Patriots in a while. Indeed, the last time the teams met in last season's finale, the Patriots won by 28 points.

But ...

Anyone paying attention must admit the Patriots seem lessened. Wide receiver Wes Welker has gone to Denver (in free agency). Tight end Aaron Hernandez has gone to jail (for murder). Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard went to jail (for assaulting a cop) and then was arrested again soon after he got out (on suspicion of DUI).

The Patriots lost or have jettisoned four of their top five pass catchers from the 2012 club. And the fifth of those -- tight end Rob Gronkowski -- added a couple of more surgeries to his growing collection of proceedures during the offseason.

Tom Brady will also be 36 in two weeks.

So to say the Patriots are looking great is probably not wise.

None of that means the Dolphins will win the AFC East, mind you. I am not predicting that. No one has seen even one practice so how can anyone say this is a title team or even a winning team.

But it is fair to say the Dolphins had the best offseason in the AFC East.

They didn't have anyone arrested that we know of.

They didn't lose any appreciable talent outside of Jake Long.

They didn't fire their coach.

They didn't trade their best defensive player.

They did spend a lot of money and trade up in the draft to address significant and obvious needs.

That is a great way to turbocharge the chase for the AFC East title while the rest of the pack is losing spark plugs or seemingly running low on gas.

[BLOG NOTE: I will update this space after practice and interviews around 11 a.m. If you want instant play-by-play and analysis of practice, follow me on twitter because I'll be updating in real time.]