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It’s all good news for your Miami Dolphins. No one has opted out of the season (as opposed to New England). No coach has tested positive for COVID-19 (see: Philadelphia). And Sunday’s viral transaction scoreboard was tied with long-snapper Blake Ferguson returning from quarantine and guard Ereck Flowers leaving to quarantine.
Monday brought the other difficult part:
They went on the field Monday. Nineteen rookies (11 draft picks). Eleven purchased free agents. New offensive and defensive coordinators. And they played … well, they didn’t play football.
We’re still not there. Not yet. It’s still the conditioning phase, which translates into running around the field with no pads. And as Don Shula once said, “Playing football in no pads is like playing tennis with no racket.”
He then looked at me, knowing his players would read that quote and discount such workdays, and said, “Please don’t write that.” (Thirty years later, the statute of limitations has run out).
This gets to the point of the column: Brian Flores’ biggest challenge this year is getting a team ready to play when no team will be ready. Not by ordinary measure. But not every team counts on this many rookies, brings in this many free agents and needs to introduce a new offensive system under new coaches.
Here we are, the first week of August, and the NFL opener is about five weeks away.* The Dolphins play at what’s left of the Patriots on Sept. 13.* They begin with a virus-wary four of six games on the road.*
(* Pardon the asterisks, but as the CoronaMarlins have shown, the virus doesn’t read a calendar. Who knows where we’ll be virus-wise in a month from now? Then NFL might not need to a bubble with all their built-in issues. They might need to go to the moon — and have the money to go there).
“It is an odd year, it’s a different year,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Monday morning. “But … these are the cards we’ve been dealt. So we’ve got to play this hand. There are going to be some obstacles, but we’ve got to make the best of the situation.
“I think as a coaching staff, we understand that. We have a plan in place. We’ve put a lot of thought into trying to build a competitive team in a short period of time. What that entails, I’m not going to get into right now. But we’ve put a lot of thought into that in really all areas.”
There are some obvious ways to alter plans in this abbreviated time frame. Simplify the playbook. Ride the veterans early. Cross-train players more than usual. Just the roster composition will be more interesting than usual due to potential viral disruptions, because some positions take longer to play within the system than others.
Look what we know, though: The Dolphins might have four new starters on the offensive line — and all five playing new positions (depending where Jesse Davis settles). They other challenge is the rookie class so much was invested in. How quickly can they realistically play?
This is the issue with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa more than his cleared-to-play hip. Mastering an NFL offense takes some time, even for the best. Rookie Dan Marino had the 1983 offseason, was force-fed learning in training camp, had a veteran offense around him and still wasn’t prepared enough repeat all the coach’s play calls in the huddle for his first, midseason start (tight end Bruce Hardy called some).
Sure, every team is dealing with something. New England Patriots had eight players opt out due to the virus, and Tom Brady celebrated his 43rd birthday Monday in Tampa. The Jets traded their best player, safety Jamal Adams, and perhaps their next-best player, linebacker CJ Mosely, opted out of the season. Philadelphia is without its coach.
It’s going to be that kind of August. It could be that kind of season.*
“We are taking it a one-day-at-a-time approach, because things are changing on a daily basis,” Flores said.
Some day soon, they’ll even start practicing in pads.
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