It’s not even 15 months since the Buffalo Bills embarrassed Adam Gase’s Dolphins in Week-17 of the 2018 regular season. The performance was so lackluster that Gase lost his job and many of the players were criticized for their commitment to winning. At that point, it was clear that mediocrity was not something that could be tolerated any longer.
Last off-season, Stephen Ross, Chris Grier, and Brian Flores made their long-term commitment to rebuild our team to ensure future, and sustained, success. Most of us would agree that the first phases of the rebuild has gone well and the ‘speculate to accumulate’ philosophy should bear fruit. There is, however, another element of the rebuild that isn’t as obvious as what free agency signings, cap space, and draft capital would indicate.
Upgrading the quality of players is one thing, but improving the culture is not as easy.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) March 26, 2020
Leading from the Front
Brian Flores has already proved he is a tough, aggressive, and passionate Head Coach. Flores is hard on his players but is still well respected. Flores has the determination to push for continuous improvement in himself and his players. The coaching staff has shuffled since last year, but I trust Flores to bring in the right coaches and eventually get the right mix on the sidelines. Ryan Fitzpatrick, as an extension of the coaches, is the right man to lead a young team. Fitzmagic will soon have to move over for whichever young signal-caller who has the next shot at being the next franchise quarterback, but we’re in safe hands in the meantime. Christian Wilkins brings leadership to the front-seven of the defense but, the Reshad Jones release means we have lost leadership in the secondary. Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain need to step up.
Picking the Right Players
As a player, talent can only get you so far. However, you do it, or how obvious it sounds, the key to building a winning team is acquiring the right players. We need hungry, young players who are fully committed to the cause. We need leaders that improve the urgency and positivity in the locker room. If I was a GM, I’d put great emphasis on drafting winners. Let’s go after prospects from LSU, Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State. Our players need to love the game and have the will to win that is always evident in all-pros, hall of famers etc. We also need good character guys. Flores doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would tolerate divas or players likely to lose time through suspensions. Part of me was disappointed that we signed so many players in the first phase of free agency. I’d much rather build through the draft, but I do accept that, even with 14 draft picks, it’s impossible to fill all the needs with rookies.
Toughen up in the trenches
The Dolphins have been considered a soft team for many years. Maybe it’s the weather/humidity in South Florida, or the Aqua/Orange uniforms, that gives that impression, but the Fins regularly struggle against power-based opponents. In future, we can’t afford to be outmuscled. Tough players can’t be productive in isolation. Ndamukong Suh was in that mold, but he didn’t get the support from the players around him (mainly because we couldn’t afford to do so with Suh’s contract on the books.) Grier needs to bring in more physicality, especially on the offensive line. I don’t see toughness with the projected offensive line starters; I want to see more controlled nastiness. It must be a major requirement of the Draft to add at least two new, prospective starters on the line who, ideally, fit the mold in strength and smarts. The defensive line needs to have physically fit players who don’t tap out when the going gets tough. We need quality, high-stamina rotation on the defensive line and, thankfully, I don’t think we’re far away from that with the current roster. As Jimmy Johnson used to say…“Fatigue makes cowards of us all”
It’s one thing to toughen up physically, but we also need to toughen up mentally. 2019 saw fewer penalties (92) than in the previous 4 years. Under Adam Gase, we averaged 126 penalties per year. The Fins finished 2019 as the 4th least penalized team. Flores preaches the need to concentrate on the fundamentals. On defense, the Dolphins still missed too many tackles in 2019. Poor tackling is a common theme across the league these days, but half of the battle is to maintain your gap and stick to the play. We need to avoid giving up the big plays. A lot of our culture will be built similarly to what Belichick and the Patriots have built within their organization. It hurts to say, but the Pats are excellent at limiting the big plays and that is because the players ‘just do their job.’
We still may be some way away from challenging the Chiefs and Ravens in the AFC, but Vince Lombardi once said…“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence”