Seven months ago the Miami Dolphins were a joke. A comedy of errors as Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross searched for a new head coach. There was the input of Carl Petersen, the helicopter landing on the practice field, and of course the rumors of being turned down by both Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher. Ultimately, in the days after Joe Philbin was named head coach, many still believed the Dolphins had yet again made a mistake.
As free agency approached the common opinion was that the Dolphins would land Peyton Manning. After all, he owns a home in Southbeach. The frenzy of a media caravan and helicopter chase as Manning landed in Miami after his release from the Colts only added to the certainty that Manning would be the next QB for the Dolphins. That of course failed. It took Dan Marino to get the Dolphins an interview, then came and went Matt Flynn and Alex Smith, then came David Garrard. Naturally, fans and the media alike once again questioned, judged, and laughed at the Miami Dolphins.
Even the days leading up to the draft were filled with rumored turmoil. Stephen Ross ordered Jeff Ireland to draft Ryan Tannehill. Ireland didn’t want Tannehill. Philbin didn’t want Tannehill. Shermand Didn’t want Tannehill. Everyone wanted Tannehill. So when the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill, making him the first number one QB selection since Dan Marino, naturally, it was because of Stephen Ross.
When it was announced that the Dolphins wee going to be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the media laughed. Fans were disgusted with the perceived “celebrity” attention that Stephen Ross longs for. It was a horrible mistake. The Dolphins were just too boring, losers, with a bunch of players no one wants to see. And of course Chad Johnson was only brought in to give HBOHK some bite.
So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? Well, everything actually.
HBOHK is widely receiving positive reviews, outside of the Miami Dolphins fan base. It held well against the Olympics with episode 1. It has exposed Joe Philbin to the same Dolphins detractors that are now saying the Dolphins got it right. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports said, after watching last night’s HBOHK episode two, “The Dolphins made the right choice”, in regards to hiring Philbin.
Joe Philbin has taken control of the organization. Not just the team. The entire image of the team. He is molding it into his own self-image. A team first mentality that forces players to work together to get better as a whole instead of allowing players to be individual distractions. He isn’t giving free rides to anyone, veterans or rookies. The Joe Philbin that was widely panned as a second or third option to hire is now being regarded as “the best choice” to turn this around.
In his hip pocket is the QB that equally is receiving the raves. Nationally, locally, and throughout the litany of fans. Ryan Tannehill has done more for this teams fans, in the short weeks since the opening of training camp, than any QB since the other first round selected player in 1983. His play on the practice field and in the first pre-season game has given fans more hope than ever before. For once, the Dolphins are not relying on retread QB for their future. Fans want him to start now, the media believes that he should start now, local Dolphins beat writers are calling for him to start pre-season week 2 and 3 and opening week 1.
On camera, Tannehill comes off as engaging, smart, articulate, and more importantly a leader. His coaches are buying into him, the fans are buying into him, the media is buying in to him. But the more important piece of that puzzle are the players. They too seem to be buying stock in Ryan Tannehill.
With hope comes higher expectations. Evidenced by the poor performances of PS1, Miami fans faced the reality that this team is in fact rebuilding to some degree. There is a lack of playmakers at the WR position that thinned with the release of Chad Johnson. A move that is hailed as the right one but nonetheless moves a veteran off the offense. The Dolphins don’t appear to be showing an interest in trading for another WR. So while the prospect of Ryan Tannehill starting and suddenly leading this team out of the muck it’s been mired in for over a decade comes with caution.
For all the positive perception coming out of Miami in the media, the fans won’t be so equally positive if and when the team fails to win games. Joe Philbin will still be seen as the right choice by the media who will focus their opinions on the lack of veteran talent around him as the reason for the teams lack of success. Conversely, Tannehill will receive the same pass as well as he learns the ropes.
When the dime finally does drop however, the reality is that the media do not buy tickets to games, the fans do. If the team isn’t winning, there will be no free passes to either Philbin or Tannehill. Not now and surely not in the future. For all the build up we are seeing now as a result of the HBOHK episodes and the written words from the media who are seeing him play, it’s only natural to get hyped and excited about the upcoming season.
Lost however is that this season, while not a wash, is still going to be an uphill climb. Expecting a season like the Steelers had under Ben Roethlisberger in his rookie season is asking too much. While the offensive system may work with Tannehill as the QB, it’s too much to assume that it will immediately translate to success. There are going to bumps along the way. Tannehill is going to throw interceptions and the offense is going to fail to move the ball at times. It’s all part of the growing pains and the process of change.
From what I have seen of Ryan Tannehill, his leadership is the biggest quality. He has tremendous arm strength and it’s hard to argue the fact that he looks ready and likely a better choice at this point that Matt Moore. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the upcoming season as I am sure most fans are as well. The last time fans of the Miami Dolphins watched a rookie QB blossom before the eyes was mid-way through the 1993 season. A whole generation of fans have grown up since then, seeing nothing come close to that.
Joe Philbin will approach this season leaning on his offensive coordinator who has been successful as an NFL head coach. That is a valuable asset. Yet like Tannehill, Philbin will have his share of growing pains as well. Missed opportunities, bad time outs, coaching mistakes, and so on. Some may cost the team a win, other may get them a win.
“Perception is reality” Mike Sherman said last night in HBOHK2, and the perception surrounding Ryan Tannehill and Joe Philbin is that they may be able to turn this around now, rather than later. That may be a little too much to expect. Expectations are high, and it’s a great thing to see, but it should be slightly more tempered.
Reality is a kick in the face and the reality here is that the Dolphins have a rookie QB closing in on starting the season and rookie head coach who is going to make that call. What a wild ride this is going to be.