Predictions of past seasons have been anything but reliable for Dolphins
Think for a moment, on the edge of another Dolphins training camp, about lessons learned. Not quarterback lessons or coaching lessons or lessons on how to block the zone blitz.
Lessons of August. Maybe they've finally taken root around Dolphins fans. For one the few times in an uneven couple of decades the atmosphere around this team begins without hype or hate, without the extremes of playoffs being hawked or the fear they're a bridge so far.
Listen. Do you hear the sound around this team? It's as welcome at today's start as the smacking of pads. It's the noise of moderation. No one but the fringe element shouts about a guaranteed playoff run. Nor do too many expect a doomsday slide from last year due to the NFL's toughest schedule, as if that's a known commodity in this league.
No one insists it's a certainty, the continued incline of last year's 11-5 surprise. Nor does anyone focus solely on the unusual array of questions for a team just off the playoffs: Who's the No. 1 receiver? Can Joey Porter repeat last year, Chad Pennington stay healthy again?
Maybe, finally, the lesson of Augusts past has taken hold. It's a lesson mainly about the NFL being the most unpredictable of sports leagues. Ask playoff-less New England last year. Or Super Bowl runner-up Arizona.
The crushed-gravel voice of reason that defines the Dolphins hopes comes from coach Tony Sparano, who noted half of the 2007 playoff teams didn't repeat in 2008. He looked it up.
"I've talked to the team about that,"
Such rationality doesn't fuel the engine of talk radio or fill the air of cable television. It certainly doesn't around the Dolphins, where a summer tradition involves going out on the often wrong limb about this team.
You don't have to go back across the full two decades of false belief to how the start of training camp meant a thought of Dan Marino's arm overcoming all or 19 first-round picks meaning greatness or Jimmy Johnson's arrival spelling excellence or his bugle call to,
"do something special." This history lesson needs scant history. Just consider the past three seasons. Look at a respected oracle like Sports Illustrated that in many ways served as a mirror of the August moods.
2006. In Nick Saban's second year, the magazine went to the optimistic extreme of putting the Dolphins in the Super Bowl (I picked them for the playoffs):
"The offseason trade for Daunte Culpepper gives the Dolphins their best quarterback since Dan Marino. It will be the springboard to undreamed-of success. ... The Dolphins have the momentum of six straight wins at the end of last season. Half their schedule is against teams that drafted in the top 10 ..."
2007. In predicting a rebuilding year, the magazine said,
"Though 37, [ Trent] Green should produce in a system he knows well ..."
2008. SI's preview:
"It will be slow work, pumping life into last year's sluggish team."
It all makes sense looking back that Culpepper was a bust, Green even worse and last year marked the return of the Dolphins in the playoffs.
It's still a three-year plan, this rebuilding job Bill Parcells inherited, and anyone who doesn't believe that just has to look at the quarterback position. No one will know if the plan works fully until the quarterback of the future, Chad Henne, plays in that future. And Pennington played too well last year for the future to be today.
All anyone knows for certain is the trinity of Parcells, Sparano and General Manager Jeff Ireland has earned your trust. The short-proof proof wasn't the roster upgrades or the innovative Wildcat. Try Jason Taylor.
Last offseason, the biggest headline was the handling and trading of Taylor to Washington for a second-round pick. Today, Taylor returns for the start of Dolphins camp, humbled and no doubt motivated. So does draft pick Pat White.
Better? The Dolphins' roster is that. What that means come January can't be seen from August, as so many past Augusts have shown. For once, it seems fans understand this, too.
No one knows where this season is going right now. Especially anyone who proclaims they do.
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