Joe Philbin has tried most everything, really, to reverse the sustained mediocrity that infests the Dolphins. He hired two NAVY seals to serve as the players’ confidantes. He has his players participate in something akin to speed-dating. (More on that later.)
He placed a shield in his locker-room as a symbol of the team’s spirit. He hooks his players up to four devices to test everything from how many yards they’re running in practice every week to how often they wake up and other factoids that are somewhat enlightening but aren’t of much help covering Rob Gronkowski.
He changed offensive coordinators (the wisest move of his tenure) and frequently changes his game management philosophy from aggressive to conservative, and back again, depending on what works and whether he feels, to use his word from the Packers game, “queasy.” He became more communicative with his players. He started allowing music videos to be played at the beginning of team meetings.
But there's one thing Philbin hasn't been able to change: Extracting more from his team in December. Philbin knows it, and that's why even without a playoff berth at stake, Philbin has spoken this week of the importance of winning Sunday to finish with a winning record.
Players deserve more of the blame than coaches for another lost season. And Philbin has made some commedable decisions, including his savvy clock management late in the first half against New England last week.
But there were decisions that left Philbin susceptible to second-guessing this season.
The two that immediately come to mind: Sticking too long with Dallas Thomas at right tackle and going to Jason Fox only after Thomas was injured, and punting on a 4th and 3 from the Packers 40-yard line with 30 seconds left in the first half.
Philbin has tried a bunch of new things at the margins, and give him credit for outside-the-box thinking. Three of the more unusual ones:
### He has embraced sports sciences this season, something that’s important to owner Stephen Ross. He has players urinate before practice three times a week to determine whether they’re sufficiently hydrated.
Twice a week before practice, some players attach a sticky pad to their thumb and forehead to test their omega levels, to “look into their central nervous system, their recovery and levels of fatigue,” Philbin said.
Some players wear monitors to make sure they’re getting enough rest. (It’s not mandatory). Players were GPS devices on their back to track how much they’re running in practice. Yet another device on their chest monitors their heart rate.
This year, for the first time, he made Saturday practices more strenuous than Friday practices, and “guys have enjoyed that,” Cam Wake said.
But they also don’t have a day off between Tuesday and Sunday, unlike past years, and some players aren’t thrilled with that.
### During Miami’s bye week, he had every coach and player gather in the auditorium and spend five minutes talking a teammate or coach, sort of like speed-dating, to try to build camaraderie. Then they got up, moved to another chair, and repeated the exercise at least a dozen times.
Philbin’s instructions, Samson Satele said, were to tell your teammates or coaches “what you like about them and two things to work on. It was weird at first --- I was nervous, but then it was cool. Brian Hartline was honest with me, said I have to be more vocal.”
### After last year’s bullying scandal, he hired two NAVY seals and has kept them around this season. They attend a team meeting each week and make themselves available to players.
“They create an environment where guys will step forward and talk and say something when it needs to be said and not hold back,” Dolphins long snapper and player rep John Denney said. “One is a mixed martial arts fighter, another a psychologist. You can discuss whatever you want with them.”
So has any of this helped?
“There’s so little separation between teams and if you can do something that helps you one percent better, that makes a difference,” guard Daryn Colledge said.
But another prominent player said he’s highly skeptical if any have made any tangible difference.
Philbin's new ideas this season were creative, but more significant is whether he and Dennis Hickey can identify free agents and draft picks who can make this a 10-team win next season.
It starts with rebuilding the interior of the defense line --- which is badly in need of help --- adding a high-quality starting guard and starting cornerback and upgrading at linebacker, among several other necessities.
That evaluation process starts Monday, which is a day that traditionally depresses Philbin.
"This is going to be my 12th season completed in the National Football League and the day that I don’t look forward to the most on the calendar is the day that the players leave the building," he said this week. "I’ve been lucky to be one time to be on an end where it was about as good as it gets [in Green Bay], but it’s still kind of an empty feeling when the players leave the building because the finality of the season is over.
"One of the fun things coaching in the NFL is you can’t dwell on things because things keep rolling and rolling along, but come Monday, when I drive home Monday, there is an empty feeling. I’m usually in a bad mood when I get home, and my wife is not happy. It’s not good.”
As our Joe Goodman reported tonight, the NBA granted the Heat a $2.65 million disabled player's exception to compensate for the loss of Josh McRoberts to a knee injury. It can be used until March 10 on a free agent or trade.
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