by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
The 2005 Miami Dolphins are a team rife with potential excuses.
New coaches, new systems, new players, lost players, lack of experience, lack of talent, too hot, too cold….
Blah, blah, blah.
Save it, Dolphins.
Yes, everyone knows and understands the talent flaws. Everyone understands the time needed to gain experience in new offensive and defensive systems and all the rest of it.
No one cares. The expectations for the 2005 Miami Dolphins are high.
No, not Super Bowl high. Only the biggest homer would dare think such a thing.
People want to see a competitive product, a team that contends for a playoff berth. Another year of 4-12 or even 6-10 isn’t what the fans have in mind.
Surely, there is enough talent on this team to achieve an 8-8 or 9-7 record. There’s just too much ability at the offensive skill positions and across the defensive front seven to settle for less.
We already know that the coaching staff is among the brightest (and well paid) in football.
The salient question here is whether or not the players have enough self-discipline AND WILL to fulfill their potential.
Simply put, each Dolphin must defeat the enemy within if they expect to win.
Those who play golf understand that the game is not about the other players. It’s about one’s own ability to overcome the difficulties of the course with the mental toughness and self-discipline needed to achieve the best possible result. Only when that happens does anything else begin to matter.
And so it will be with these Dolphins. Getting beat physically is a part of the game; it happens to the best of them. Getting beat mentally is simply inexcusable.
Stupid penalties, such as false starts, must be eliminated. Good technique in carrying and protecting the football must become inherent. Knowing assignments and correctly executing those assignments must become a given.
Unfortunately, preseason results were not encouraging. In particular, turnovers, penalties, and poorly executed assignments were major problems that continue to require correction.
The Dolphins ended up last (last!) in the NFL in turnover differential with a -9, the single biggest issue being lost fumbles (10).
Avoiding fumbles is mostly about proper technique in carrying and protecting the football. Avoiding interceptions is directly tied to good decision making by the quarterback.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, kills winning more than turnovers. Last year’s team was a testament to that.
Avoiding penalties is mostly about playing the game under control with self-discipline and awareness.
During the preseason, as in 2004, the Dolphins did not play under control. Particularly glaring were false start penalties by offensive linemen, a self-discipline issue, and pass interference penalties by defensive backs, a technique issue.
All told, the Dolphins averaged 8 flags and 59 yards in lost field position per game this preseason. Both marks put the Dolphins in the bottom half of the NFL.
Remember when Don Shula’s Dolphins were consistently among the least penalized teams in the league?
Look, this is not rocket science. Teams that beat themselves generally lose. Shula knew that. Nick Saban knows it, too. Saban knows these Dolphins don’t figure to be talented enough to have a large margin for error.
Of course, there’s the learning curve. Yes, the coaches are asking a lot of the players. They’re asking them to quickly become proficient in new offensive and defensive systems and techniques.
The preseason revealed that many Dolphins are still on that learning curve. These are the players who will lose their battles when the games start counting. Some of them have already lost their starting jobs.
What about talent? Yes, at some point talent prevails. Even as disciplined as the New England Patriots are, as anonymous as they’d like their players to be, they still have the horses to get it done.
For the Dolphins, there is not an appreciable difference in overall talent between them and the teams that earn wild card berths. Generally speaking, teams that make the cut do it because they make fewer mental mistakes. That’s what makes them good, that culture of discipline and focus.
It’s that culture that Nick Saban looks to create and build on, the foundation of a championship caliber team.
As Jimmy Johnson once observed, going from 4-12 to 9-7 isn’t the hardest part of the comeback road; it’s shaving off those last 3-4 losses.
Let the journey begin.