Forget about the Miami Dolphins making the playoffs, Karlos Dansby said the goal is to now finish at .500. Well, what else is he going to say? The reality of the season came to a crashing halt, even in a locker room where no one will admit it, when the team lost to Dallas on Thanksgiving day.. The season is over and all that’s left is the show.
With Tony Sparano all but assured of being released following this season, something he alluded to in an interview while discussing the poor performance of Jake Long, he basically said “We or you”. The first time a statement inferred he would not be here next season. While Sparano will likely be gone some players will not and while some players will, many are on the fringe of holding their jobs when a new regime takes over.
Consider this a five week tryout.
No one knows who will be the next Miami Dolphins head coach, whether he will demand his own front office, or what kind of system he will bring in to the organization. For instance, will franchise man Paul Soliai who has been playing much better the last few weeks be needed if the new coach moves away from the 34 defense? Will that coach see the same upside in holding on to guys like John Jerry or one of the myriad of defensive lineman? To put it simply, no one knows. Including the players. Which is why the players no longer should feel motivated play to win for Tony Sparano, they need to play to win for their jobs.
Gone is the whole “team first” charade, when a regime change is facing your future head on, it becomes all about “me”. Sad, but it’s true. Even the coaches are auditioning for their next boss whether that be in Miami or somewhere else.
The Dolphins have held to a philosophy over the years of building a team from the inside out. They started with the interior lines and worked their way out from there. In the process it’s safe to say they found more support players than play makers. Those who tend to let others lead and step up and use their abilities to help set them up in the process.
From the top to the bottom the new coach will need to evaluate the talent he has been given. There are gems that he will get to work with. Matt Moore stands to be a capable bridge QB to a possible incoming rookie. Jake Long despite his troubles this season is a premier left tackle who can perform in every area. Charles Clay is developing into a play making multi-faceted offensive weapon to say nothing about Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush.
Defensively, Jared Odrick is a standout thus far in his first full NFL season. Karlos Dansby could be a pro-bowl LB with the right system, Vontae’ Davis could turn his miscues around, and the defensive line is capable of switching to a 43 defense if need be. There is a core that needs pieces to complete but good coaching and motivation as well as execution can turn a team around and create a winning atmosphere. Something the Dolphins lack.
Over the next five weeks many players will be playing for their jobs and even guys like Dansby are not necessarily safe. Contracts and systems and personal choice all play a pivotal role in the decision making process. But some are more endangered than others.
Paul Solia will command a high contract and if he doesn’t fit the system he will be gone. The last five weeks of this season is an audition for other teams as much as it is for the incoming new coach.
Will Allen, Nolan Carroll, Jimmy Wilson, and even Sean Smith will need to prove their worth as a starter or a depth player that is older like Allen or less experienced like Jimmy Wilson.
With a deep defensive line, will the new regime see fit to keep Phillip Merling despite his inability to make an impact on the field and his trouble off of it? Will Randy Starks provide added depth at DT or move into a starting role or will the new guy try and trade the beneficial multi-position player?
Nine LB’s are currently on the roster and the Dolphins have carried ten at times in the last four seasons. Can a guy like Austin Spitler remain as a special teams player or does he need to show more usefulness in the defensive system?
It gets crazier when you go the offensive side of the ball where JP Losman will be a free agent, questions about Brandon Marshall are often hot topics, Lex Hilliard, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline but especially Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace.
Then of course there is the offensive line where problems range from the TE, especially back-ups Jerod Mastrud and Will Yeats, to the interior where despite the restructured contract of Vernon Carey, a new coach may look at his performance and say forget it.
Only a handful of players are truly safe when and if a new head coach is hired. Everyone else is expendable.
Looking at this roster it should also be pointed out that maybe, this will be the last five weeks in the career of long time Dolphin Jason Taylor? Will he stay on another year if asked? Or will he be shown the door in an unceremonious wave of the hand like Zach Thomas was when the “Trifecta” arrived?
As I said, nothing is guaranteed, right down to Sparano being replaced, but if there is one thing that is for certain, the next five games will be the starting point for some and the end for others. Will they rise to their own occasion or will they simply fade away to be replaced next season? It’s in their hands now, for some, maybe most, it’s all they truly have left to play for.