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Miami Dolphins recovery good, slow starts bad

The Dolphins have changed and that is a good thing, a thing that deserves some notice and some praise. This team of late is more full of life, particularly early in games. The offense attacks and does the unconventional, like a Wildcat flea-flicker against Washington. The defense blitzes, flies around and celebrates.

There is simply more life to this team early in games and lately it is carrying over into full-fledged results we didn't see early this year. Those results, by the way, are called victories.

And those victories have come with the starting quarterback on the shelf and his backup in the games. They've come with the full knowledge that there will be no playoffs in 2011 and folks are getting canned at the end of the year.

The flat lines have definitely jumped. The Dolphins live in 2011.

You have to applaud that.

And that leads me to the next logical question: Why did it take so long?

Can you imagine if the Dolphins were playing like this when the season began in September instead of waiting until November to wake up?

They probably would have beaten Cleveland. And Denver. They are better than both those teams and yet wasted opportunities and basically seemed to be going through the motions against those team to the point of being upset by them.

If only this team had found itself earlier. They might be staring at 4-5 and in the hunt instead of 2-7 and out of it.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

The truth is this Dolphins team is no different from every Miami team under the current administration in that it stunk early in the season. Simply, they weren't ready to win and didn't win early on.

And that cost them and left them lamenting what might have been once the alarm clock finally sounded.

Consider that since the Parcells-Ireland-Sparano administration took over, the Dolphins have a 3-9 record in September in four seasons. They have a 6-9 record in October in four season. And when November hits, stuff finally clicks and they're a very competitive 18-12 through the end of the season.

Let that marinate, for a second.

This organization, as currently constructed, is good enough to figure things out, and keep players interested, and keep working hard in the face of adversity to salvage its reputation with wins once the leaves start to change colors.

But they're simply not very good at getting ready for the start of the season.

The Dolphins this year suffered their second winless September in three years -- they were 0-3 this year and 0-3 in 2009.

Even in 2008, when they eventually won the AFC East, they started out 1-2. (Remember when that was unacceptable and such a huge surprise that the desperate coaching staff installed a brand new and unconventional wing to the offense called Wildcat?).

Anyway, this year's typical slow start might be blamed on the lockout and the fact the offense is brand new and blah, blah, blah. Except that Miami started slow in 2008 and 2009 and the 4-3 start in 2010 wasn't exactly awe-inspiring either, although outstanding by comparison.

The lockout also doesn't explain how the defense, which didn't really graduate any seniors, was terrible early in the season despite playing a familiar system with familiar personnel under familiar coaches.

The Dolphins, folks, are simply a slow-starting team -- lockout or not. The record speaks for itself.

Now, that can be overcome when the streak that typically starts in November and lasts throught the remainder of the season is defined by an 8-1 record as it was in 2008. That type of recovery saves seasons.

But that kind streak is simply hard to do in today's NFL. No one should bank on that to save a season.

So why do the Dolphins get off to such frustratingly slow starts?

This year the question must be asked how well conditioned was this team? Karlos Dansby told me after Sunday's victory over Washington that he weighed 270 pounds when he reported to camp? Was that typical of other players?

I know John Jerry wasn't ready to compete when camp started -- that's why he was running third team after starting much of last year. I know Vernon Carey struggled early in camp -- and that earned him a paycut and move from guard to tackle. I know Jake Long wasn't healthy, which has nothing to do with his weight but still affected his conditioning and play early on this season.

So there's that.

And then there's the idea that this coaching staff takes a good while to figure out its players. It is only recently that Reggie Bush has been settled into a niche he's comfortable with and effective in. It's just recently that these guys figured out Kevin Burnett would be better off not calling the plays for the defense.

(Story I'm told: During the San Diego game, Burnett calls a defense. The Chargers shred the Dolphins on the play. Afterward, players in the huddle are chattering about the call and Burnett tells them he didn't call that play even though many of them heard it and went with it.)

Karlos Dansby now calls the plays up front full-time.

One cannot blame early-season injuries on Miami's recent uptick even though cornerback Vontae Davis and running back Daniel Thomas have lately been more healthy and ready to contribute. Why do I dismiss those injuries as excuses?

Because everyone else in the NFL suffers injuries! It is an unacceptable rationalization to say, we have injured players so we stink.

The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl last year with 15 players -- including seven starters -- on injured reserve. They won it starting Erik Walden at OLB after the Dolphins cut Walden (nice decision, by the way).

So I am at a loss. Why the constant early struggles? Why does it take so long for this team to roll, to reach potential?

I remember Don Shula's teams typically played great early in the season. For decades, the Dolphins had the NFL's best record in September and October. That carried on through Dave Wannstedt. (Unfortunately, Wannstedt's teams wilted in December and beyond, but that's another story.)

Yet, even late swoons seem better than having zero chance to play meaningful games in December because you failed to sprint off the line when the gun sounded and everyone else started running.

Frustrating? You bet.

I could more readily accept a team that is simply overmatched from the start of the season until the end than a team that is consistently slow in starting but teases by meeting its potential later in the year -- after it's clearly too late to really matter.

[Video reminder: If you want to discuss this or any Dolphins topic with me, you can call me. My radio show, Armando and the Amigo streams live video every Monday thru Friday right here at The Herald website. You may call in toll free from anywhere in the United States at 1-888.640-9385.]