The Miami Dolphins keep telling me this team-building they are doing now is a process and it will come together and it will lead to a good team. They tell me the offense will be good. They tell me the defense will tackle.
So now you know what I keep hearing from the team.
But, as I write in my column today, life happens. And the process, which the Dolphins see as this unstoppable downhill rolling avalanche, looks more like a herd of pebbles that are losing steam as one pebble breaks off here and another detours over there.
And what is causing the pebbles to lose their momentum?
The Mike Pouncey injury not only affects his position, but suddenly it becomes more important with the ongoing mixing and matching of guards along the line. With Pouncey gone for the line the rest of the preseason, we now can say with certainty the Dolphins offensive line will not find that chemistry everyone says is so vital for OL success before the regular-season begins.
Meanwhile the Dolphins still want Laremy Tunsil to be the starting left guard. (Me, too). But they're not ready to anoint him yet because he's simply not there yet.
And so the line that was supposed to come together by now so it can build that chemistry is not even built.
“It’s always nice to be able to say, ‘Here’s our starting five and let’s roll,' " coach Adam Gase said Sunday. "You just don’t want to put a timetable on it. You’d love for it to be this week and say, ‘This is what it’s going to be.’ But I think the way we are looking right now, it’s going to come up to that first game of the season. You never know, it could change during the season. I’ve been through a few instances of, we were eight games in I think in 2014 and we made a wholesale change – new center, new right guard and new right tackle. You’re going to do what’s best for the team that week."
Make no mistake, any team making wholesale changes on the offensive line during the season does so because something is amiss with the group. It's because something is not up to par. Because something is wrong. And so the coach raising the possibility this happens to this Miami offensive line this year means, at minimum, that something is not exactly right.
I told you how the plans to get Xavien Howard in that starting CB job opposite Byron Maxwell is not exactly taking a direct route to its intended destination. Well, what does that mean?
It means you might have Tony Lippett starting that first game at Seattle.
And with respect to Lippett, he is simply not ready for that. Lippett is a three-year project player who was drafted late after playing as a college wide receiver his final year at Michigan State. He is learning to be a cornerback. He is on course. But that does not make him a starting caliber cornerback right now. Or by September 11, which happens to be opening day.
I've seen troubling things in each of the first two preseason games about Lippett's game. Unless he scrubs those, they will be a stain on the defense in the regular season when weaknesses are amplified. This issue seemed manageable when Howard was the answer. But Howard is a ways off from being the answer -- by the way, as I said numerous times when his injury first popped up.
Then there is the running back position.
Jay Ajayi hasn't gotten great work in the preseason because something has seemingly always gone wrong when he's been in the games. (Not with him, but other guys). And so this preseason Ajayi is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. No biggie, but this is a second-year player who needs to be successful and build on that.
Arian Foster doesn't need to have success to gain confidence. But he needs to play to be ready for the season. And yet the Dolphins are walking that delicate line of giving him enough work to get ready but not so much work as to get him hurt. This because Foster has been injury-prone throughout his career.
Another injury-prone back -- rookie Kenyan Drake -- is going to miss this week of practice and the game Thursday against Atlanta. He has been shut down going on three weeks now because of a hamstring injury. And because it is the second time he has this injury since he joined the Dolphins -- my God, he hasn't even played in a game yet -- the team is being cautious with him so that when he comes back, his chances of running into another setback are slimmer.
I say put him on IR with the designation to come back and move on. That way you can keep someone such as Isaiah Pead, who has performed this training camp and has impressed coaches. Pead, by the way, is an example of something that's gone right for the Dolphins this preseason.
A bust with the St. Louis Rams, out of the league in 2014, Pead is Miami's leading rusher this preseason and even got first-team snaps in the Dallas game. That is a sign, by the way.
Another good sign is he has matured from the guy who didn't always act like a professional early in his career.
"That comes with accountability. Being on time. Doing what you got to do. Not giving any reason for mistakes. Stay on your stuff. You study and everything like that. Stay accountable to the team," Pead said. "It's something you're supposed to do. I had my knucklehead years in the past at one point. You grow up. You learn from it. And go on with life."
Pead has truly embraced this opportunity.
"I'm a Miami Dolphin now," he said. "I have a great opportunity. I appreciate it and love it for coach Gase bringing me in and I'm going to make the best of it and hopefully make him proud and make the team proud."
Pead is definitely a good news story. More not awesome news:
I heard a lot about how far ahead of schedule Cameron Wake is as he continues to come back from the Achilles' tear that ended his 2015 season prematurely. And it is true. Less than a year removed for the injury, Wake is practicing and showing no ill effects.
But he hasn't played. And he might not play this entire preseason now. The decision on his status for Thursday night has not been made. And if he doesn't play Thursday, he's almost definitely not playing in the throw-away final preseason game the following week.
"He hasn’t had a setback," Gase said. "At first, I thought he was going to go [against Dallas last Friday] and then we kept talking about it and seeing where he was at and we felt like it was in our best interest to not have him go that game. We’ll reevaluate this week. It really has to be 100 percent on this to where everybody feels really good. I don’t think he has anything to prove. I think we all know what caliber of player he is. I think the most important thing for us to make sure is, ‘How do we get him to play in 16-plus games?’ That’s got to be our number one goal.”
May I be the bad guy, here?
Wake does have something to prove and everyone knows it. He has been an outstanding player pretty much since the moment he stepped on the field for the Miami Dolphins. But he is 34 years old now. And he's coming back from a catastrophic injury.
So is that "caliber of player he is" still at the same caliber?
Because I know what caliber of player he was. I don't know what caliber of player he is.
The answer can be a resounding yes, he's the same guy, and we're good. But even the Dolphins hedged their bet this offseason by cutting Wake's salary in case he wasn't the same guy.
So he has to show us he's the same player. Show us. Prove it.
That's not a challenge. That's not an insult. That's professional football.