By Omar Kelly Sun Sentinel
There is a fine line between optimism and delusion, and that tightrope is what Miami Dolphins fans have struggled to balance on for quite a few NFL seasons over the past two decades.
Every team gets doused with hope and optimism this time of year, because training camp blooms hope, and Dolphins fans have every right to be excited. Team owner Steve Ross spent nearly $250 million giving last year’s 5-11 team a massive makeover, adding 13 free agents and 11 draft picks.
The sacrifices made last year ensured that nearly half the team will be made up of newcomers, and newcomers bring that new car smell we all love and crave. Players such as Kyle Van Noy, Byron Jones, Shaq Lawson and Tua Tagovailoa represent a fresh start, a rebirth. However, newness does not automatically mean respect.
The adage is that respect is earned, and there is much truth to this in life and sports, especially football. The 2020 Dolphins haven’t earned anybody’s respect yet, and this franchise certainly doesn’t deserve the benefit of doubt considering how the past few restarts have turned out the past two decades. But I’ll admit it. Last year was cute.
The Dolphins started to heat up in the second half of the season, and ultimately won five of the season’s final nine games. But let’s stop pretending the majority of those victories weren’t a byproduct of Ryan Fitzpatrick putting the franchise on his back, and figuratively carrying them to the five wins many tank-centric folks (my hand is raised) feared he would deliver because of his experience and veteran savvy.
And as talented a start as Fitzpatrick has had in past seasons, especially early in his tenure with a new franchise – see his stint with the Bills and Jets for example – we have all seen how this movie ends.
Some call it the “Ryan Fitzpatrick Cycle,” but I feel the “Fitzpatrick Fizzle” is more fitting. The Cliffs Notes version of this 15-year veteran’s career is he’ll start out strong, get the fan base excited after leading the team to a few wins, but then when expectations rise, Fitzpatrick disappoints. He eventually gets replaced.What will make this Dolphins’ ride any different than Fitzpatrick’s Bills and Jets experience? Will it be the reunion between him and Chan Gailey, who served as his play-caller in Buffalo and New York?
Since when was Gailey, a grizzled assistant with head coach experience, a play-calling wizard? And the pair has never qualified for the playoffs. Maybe it’s the respect that Brian Flores earned in his first season coaching a batch of rookies, journeymen and NFL long shots?
Calling one jaw-dropping trick play on special teams, and beating two teams that produced a winning record in 2019 doesn’t make Flores the second coming of Bill Belichick.
Flores still has plenty to learn and prove, and that journey starts with building on the five wins Miami delivered last year, especially now that he has a better arsenal of players from this offseason’s makeover.
Cross your fingers general manager Chris Grier spent Ross’ money and Miami’s 11 draft pick wisely, and that Flores’ coaches - which include eight newcomers - know how to reach the players in this pandemic-shortened offseason.
Otherwise, we’ll be seeing more of the same-old, same-old from the forever 7-9 Dolphins, unless Miami gets lucky somehow.
Lucky enough for DeVante Parker to be healthy for a second straight season, and to see the 2018 version of Albert Wilson.
Blessed enough for an offensive line – which was historically bad in 2019 – to be transformed into a respectable unit because of the addition of two free agents and three draftees.
Fortunate that the two veteran tailbacks – Jordan Howard and Matt Breida – other teams discarded have something to prove and can help Miami build a forceful rushing attack in their pursuit of reception.
Hopeful that a secondary led by Xavien Howard and Jones can serve as the foundation of a good defense. The Dolphins have a long way to go before they earn the nation’s respect, and that journey starts with kickoff on Sept 13 against the New England Patriots.
Plenty of roles must be established, and a ton of progress must be made to build a offense and defense that can deliver wins.
Whatever gives Dolphins fans hope in 2020 better be what produces respect, because that’s the easiest way to turn optimism into optimal performance in this unprecedented season.
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