I’m an optimist. Really, I am.

So when the Dolphins blew the door open in free agency and signed difference-makes like Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy in March, I was excited. And when Flores and company left the 2020 draft with eleven brand-spanking-new players and a handful of intriguing undrafted free-agents, I was excited. And when I first saw Tua in a Dolphins helmet last week, I was excited. Very excited.

Then I had to remind myself — this was a team that just a few months ago finished the season at 5-11.

I know Flores and his rag-tag squad went 5-4 to finish the season, and I know that there truly are many things to look forward to this season. It’s just that there are a few question marks headed into week one indicating that maybe we should temper our expectations, if only slightly. There are plenty of reasons for optimism — perhaps more right now than there have been since the days of Marino — but there are also a few reasons for pause.

If you’re ready to rip my head off or come find me on twitter, bear with me.

I’m also optimistic about the season. Seriously, I wrote about it here. And I meant it. You’ll notice, however, that I talked about why the Dolphins should be better in 2020, not why I expect them to win the Super Bowl, or even make the playoff this year.

I hope I’m wrong, but this is the reality.

For one, this is still an extremely young team. At the end of August last year on the cutdown day to 53-man rosters, the Dolphins were the youngest team in the NFL. Now about a year removed, the vast majority of the team’s new additions came either through the draft or a free-agency spree that featured players primarily in the 26-27 year age-range (Byron Jones, Ereck Flowers, Shaq Lawson, and Jordan Howard, for example, all fit this description). On top of this, veteran players from last year like Reshad Jones, Daniel Kilgore, and even Clive Walford are no longer on the team.

The point is that even after adding a boatload of new players this year, the Dolphins are a very young team — a very new team, with lots of turnover from 2019. All of these fresh faces will take some time to mesh, and time is something that NFL teams don’t have this offseason. Because of all the necessary Covid-19 improvising and scrambling (which the NFL at least hasn’t royally botched like the NCAA), teams will have had only a month’s worth of practices under their belts at the start of week one.

OTA’s, minicamps, a full preseason slate, all gone.

This is all to say that putting out a polished product for week one is a tall task this season for any NFL coach. Now give a second-year head coach this task, even one who appears as solid as Brian Flores? It’s going to be interesting. That could be good or bad, but it’s going to be interesting.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald wrote an article recently pointing out that when cutdown day comes and the Dolphins are down to 53 players, expanded practice squad aside, rookies will make up about twenty percent of the roster.

It’s great to be a young team; it’s exciting to be a young team. But this year of all years, it presents some unique challenges.

“Smart NFL people believe this season’s successful rookies will be the exception and not the norm,” Salguero writes.

What this means for the team should be obvious. There will be growing pains. There will be — how best to say this — rookie mistakes. Even from the veterans on the team, errors may pop up early in the season as they settle into new schemes, surrounded by new personnel, playing under the direction of a new defensive coordinator and a new offensive coordinator.

All of the novelty surrounding this team, all the newness, is refreshing. Fans should enjoy the feeling. Just remember that 2020 was never the endgame for Stephen Ross and his five-tear rebuild plan with Brian Flores. 2021 is the year fans should expect the beginnings of greatness.

This season there are a lot of moving parts. While that doesn’t spell doom for this Dolphins team at the onset of what promises to be a whacky season, it does add some intrigue. In the end much of the season’s outcome will likely come down to coaching.

Luckily, coaching is an area where the Dolphins do seem to be in better hands than they have been in seasons past. Flores’ style of leadership seems rooted in hard-work, humility, and sacrifice. This leadership — so crucial with everything in flux  — is what will cause the Dolphins to sink or swim in 2020.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. We did get Tua, after all.

But temper your expectations, if only until we seem how this team looks week one. It’s up to them to prove their fans right and the national media wrong. And it’s up to Brian Flores to get them ready.