Training camp is opening this week for the Miami Dolphins, and like all fans, I’m very excited to see the team get started. I know fans are always excited because it’s their team, and it’s a fresh start, but the reason I’m even more excited is that this is the most excited I’ve been about this team in a long time. I’m excited because I feel the Dolphins have a chance to make the playoffs and also potentially make a run.

Think about it as a fan when the last time you felt this way about the Dolphins was? I honestly can say for me probably not since the Dan Marino years. At times, we have had some talented teams but always knew the team would fall short due to the coaching staff finding ways to screw things up or the front office not making the proper upgrades to put the team over the top. After Marino retired, the Dolphins had a good young defense led by Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain. However, the Dolphins, with Dave Wannstedt leading the way, never went after a quarterback or made the necessary changes on offense to complement their defense, and it led to some frustrating season and eventually the Dolphins downhill spike. Sure, he brought in Ricky Williams to carry the running game but never went out of his way to bring in a top quarterback, and the defense had a lot of wasted years of good performances. I’ve also seen the Dolphins have brief one-season flings with coaches like Nick Saban, Tony Sparano, and Adam Gase that looked like they would lead the team to prominence only to crash and burn. I’ve seen the clueless coaches like Cam Cameron and Joe Philbin and Gase, where it made you wonder how they even get considered to be the head coach of the Dolphins.

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Then there were years where you knew the season was over before training camp started or ended. When Williams retired from the Dolphins in 2004, it really hurt, and you knew the team was going nowhere. The same can be said in 2017, when quarterback Ryan Tannehill ended up tearing his ACL days into camp and when you lose your team’s starting quarterback, most of the time, your season is over before it started.

That’s about two decades of football right there. A lot of lows with some good moments, but not enough to overcome the bad. The team has had 4 playoff appearances in that time and only 1 playoff victory in 2000; boy, that’s half of my life.

What has me excited about this team is their growth in the last 2-3 years. In 2019, the team decided to go through a rebuilding process and tore up the whole team by getting rid of talented players for draft picks and getting rid of high-priced players that weren’t producing. For years, the Dolphins had spent money in free agency on players but got nothing in return with the performance on the field, and they weren’t drafting players either. However, things changed when the Dolphins decided to build this team through the draft and not just rely on free agency. It was a plan that started at the top with owner Stephen Ross deciding to go in a different direction and promoting Chris Grier to general manager. Grier hired long-time Patriots assistant Brian Flores to be the head coach. The Dolphins, the last 3 years, collected a lot of draft assets and, in the last couple of drafts, had multiple first and second-round draft choices. The team started 0-7 to start the 2019 season and at times looked awful, but things got better, and the Dolphins were able to win 5 of their last 9 games, including a victory of the New England Patriots in the season finale in Foxborough to finish 5-11. Last year the Dolphins got off to a slow start but got stronger as the year progressed and finished 10-6, doubling their win total from a year ago and just missing the playoffs.

The improvement in the win total isn’t the reason I’m excited, but it’s the Dolphins. They are building a good solid young football team, and they are getting better with each game and snap. The Dolphins focused on building their play in the trenches on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball the last two years and look to have a solid group on both sides for the first time in many years. They are still developing and are being coached up well. Flores and his staff have also built one of the best young defenses in the NFL, where last year they forced 29 turnovers and were the reason the Dolphins won a lot of games. The Dolphins also drafted a young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa and played well as a rookie. He did have his struggles and got benched twice, but the hope is with an entire off-season to work on his footwork, strength, and stuff, his game will start to evolve.  This off-season, the Dolphins put a major focus on adding playmakers, especially on offense. The Dolphins added Will Fuller, drafted the most dynamic player in the draft in Jaylen Waddle to compliment DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins added pass rusher Jaelan Phillips and safety Jevon Holland to anchor the back of the Dolphins defense. These young players, I’m excited to see the play and continue to develop.

I like this regime compared to other regimes because they identify each off-season where they need to improve and don’t settle. One of the reasons the Dolphins failed with Wannstedt in the early 2000s was he was so stubborn with his approach of winning with running the football and play good defense. The NFL was changing into a passing league, and he failed to adapt by going out and taking a chance on a quarterback and adding more playmakers on offense. This regime saw they had an average offense at best and needed to add more playmakers on offense to complement their defense. The team also realized they needed to add more pass rushers, so they don’t rely on the blitz, which is why they got the best pass rusher in the draft in Phillips. The team is always looking to improve and not settle.

I’m also impressed with coach Flores and his staff in how they develop players. It was the main reason the team won 10 games last year with the improvement of players like Christian Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel, Nik Needham, Myles Gaskin, and others. I’m excited to see if players like Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Raekwon Davis, and others can make a similar leap in their development if they do watch out. Plus, the rookies like Waddle, Phillips, Holland, and others should contribute to this young football team.

This team was one win away from the playoffs, and it was a tough end of the season getting their ass kicked by the Buffalo Bills, but it can’t diminish what the team accomplished last year. The team won 10 games without a real off-season, and preseason with such a young football team is a credit to coach Flores and his staff. It took a while for me to get over that loss, but with a young football team comes growing pains and tough defeats, and that’s what happens. This team, I feel, is heading in the right direction, and I really feel they can not only make the playoffs but can contend for the division title if they continue to develop the way they have. This team has a good young nucleus of players that could be the core of this team for years to come and a head coach who develops them. They also have a general manager who actually plans to get this franchise back to where they were in their glory years. When is the last time you can say the Dolphins had any of these things? It’s the main reason I’m so excited and can’t see this team play because they are ready to contend.