The Miami Dolphins are about to end their spring workouts in the coming weeks. There is a lot of positive buzz and optimism with the new head coach Mike McDaniel. It’s normal when a team changes head coaches for there to be a lot of positive vibes, but in the case of the Dolphins, it looks pretty different. The players seem to be looser and more relaxed on the field and in expressing themselves.
If there was one criticism about former head coach Brian Flores, it’s that he ran a tight ship and had players on edge. Now that’s a good thing because he had a very disciplined team, but sometimes that can wear on a team, and this team seems to be welcoming that change. Teams usually go the opposite way in hiring a head coach going from a disciplinarian coach to a more laid-back player’s coach. The Dolphins have done this before, going from Nick Saban to Cam Cameron and Tony Sparano to Joe Philbin.
The other excitement about McDaniel is he has an offensive background. Now he has never called the offensive plays before, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be successful. John Harbaugh and Andy Reid weren’t coordinators before they became head coaches. McDaniel comes from the Mike & Kyle Shannahan tree, so expect many zone blocking schemes. This is a good thing for this offense because, under Flores, the Dolphins went through 3 different offensive coordinators and four offensive line coaches. There was no continuity or consistency, and it probably was a reason the young players on offense struggled.
It will be big for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa having a structure that fits his head coach. The same goes for the offensive line because the Dolphins invested heavily in the draft on the offensive line, and its produced some poor results on the field. However, with a new zone-blocking scheme, maybe it gets the most out of the offensive line? The Dolphins also reloaded at the wide receiver position, bringing Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson to go with Jaylen Waddle. He also brought in new running backs in Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds, and Sony Michel. The skill-position has more speed on offense and should produce points and big plays as long as Tagovailoa can play better.
The Dolphins’ defense was the backbone of the team’s turnaround last year after starting 1-7. The Dolphins also retained defensive coordinator Josh Boyer and most of the defensive staff and players. With the same cast returning on defense, there should be no reason this defense can be even better than a year ago.
As much optimism and buzz as there is around the team, it still has to win games once the season starts and put the pads on. Right now, they are in shorts and t-shirts, and anyone can look good in those. The real season begins once training camp starts and they put the pads on. The reality is that we won’t know how these players will perform until then. The other thing is that McDaniel is a first-time head coach, and we don’t know how he will lead a locker room, especially when the team loses a couple of games, and how they will respond. How he responds to adversity when it happens will tell me a lot.
The reality of this season is it will fall on how Tagovailoa performs, especially with his new supporting cast. The Dolphins spent a lot of money and traded away draft picks to surround him with better players, and it’s up to him now to perform as he is out of excuses.
I also have concerns about the defense because they played well last year, but they struggled against better offenses, like the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans. The defense was playing well off of a weak schedule. This year they will play the Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Green Bay Packers, so hopefully, they will be up for the challenge. The other thing is there was a question about who was running the defense? Some felt Flores took over the defensive play-calling in the second half of the season, which sparked the turnaround. It’s a big year for Boyer if that’s the case because if they don’t play well, then next year it might be the defensive coaching staff and personnel that gets an overhaul, but I doubt it comes to that.
Every team should have excitement this time of the year because the season is around the corner, and it’s a clean slate for every team. The question now becomes how it will translate once training camp and the season starts. I’m optimistic about this season with the new additions on offense and the new staff. Still, as a Dolphins fan, I’ve been down this road with Adam Gase, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Joe Philbin, and Brian Flores, only to come away disappointed. I’m encouraged by the structure of the offense, and the staff has a good reputation for developing players and teaching them, but I have to see it on the field before I’m convinced. Maybe I’m a traumatized fan from the past two decades after Dan Marino retired, where we have been mediocre at best. Time to put up and shut up and show it on the field.
The team will be better and yet, it may not so much show out so much in the record. Some very tough games and a brutal west coast trip are in store. They could go just 10-7 and yet improve in most facets of their game vs a year ago. While most would say that the key is Tua, and yes, he is, I believe the major key is the new coach. All the rah-rah and good feeling of his personality won’t matter one shhhhh if he gets smacked in the mouth at the outset goes like 1-5 or something…can happen.
Then what ? Flores was a toughie and maybe not the most popular, but he made adjustments and turned the season around to mean something in the final games, even though the team came up short. Not many coaches could have achieved that. Could a newbie like McDaniels right a ship in troubled waters ? No one knows and we won’t know until it happens, and in the NFL, it will.