As a ninth-year veteran who has yet to experience a winning NFL season, Richie Incognito views offseason hype with the same eye-rolling dismissive demeanor that most voters reserve for politicians vowing to end the gridlock in Washington.
While it seems as though virtually every other member of the Miami Dolphins' organization has conspicuously talked up the team's 2013 prospects over the past two months, the Pro Bowl guard prefers an approach more consistent with his surname.
"Yeah, I have noticed that everyone's looking through rosy-colored glasses," Incognito says. "It's a combination of things: We got more talent. We have our starting quarterback set. Our coaches and coordinators are back for another year. And we've got a good foundation here, and we work our asses off.
"But you know what? I definitely need to see it on the field before [talking about it]. I get it from my friends: 'How are you gonna do this year?' It's real easy to say in May, 'Hey, we're gonna win the Super Bowl.' But until you get to training camp and put on the pads and fight through injuries and tough losses and define yourself as a team, you really don't know how good you are."
In other words, though Incognito appreciates the excitement, he's not ready to call the Dolphins "great," as center Mike Pouncey did earlier this month while suggesting that Miami could unseat perennial AFC East champion New England.
Another Miami lineman, newly signed tackle Tyson Clabo, believes the Dolphins can "make some noise", while general manager Jeff Ireland has proclaimed that the Dolphins are better "because we've made some great moves to get younger, faster, more explosive, more physical."
The high-profile free-agent signing of former Pittsburgh Steelers speedster Mike Wallace inspired fellow wideout Brian Hartline to insist that the Dolphins have the best group of receivers in their division.
Wallace, in turn, heaped high praise upon second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, comparing him to Ben Roethlisberger and saying "it won't take long for Ryan to be one of the great quarterbacks." Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who coached Tannehill at Texas A&M, declared that "this young man will be the most improved quarterback in the National Football League from year one to year two this year — I promise you that."
The bravado is so pronounced that on Wednesday, when linebacker Koa Misi told the Miami Herald that the Dolphins' defense "can be great", his teammates probably nicknamed him "Debbie Downer."
Never mind that the Dolphins, who are coming off a 7-9 campaign, haven't had a winning season since 2008. Despite the departures of veterans like tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush and linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, the presence of so many intriguing newcomers on the team's roster (Wallace, Clabo, tight end Dustin Keller, wideout Brandon Gibson, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and cornerback Brent Grimes) clearly has the rank and file fired up.
Incognito, coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance (he replaced the Ravens' Marshal Yanda, who was busy preparing for Super Bowl XLVII), has a different perspective. With several locker-room leaders now playing elsewhere, he knows he'll be counted on by second-year coach Joe Philbin to be a steadying, inspirational presence.
Given Incognito's reputation for dirty play and the temper-related issues that led to his 2009 release by the St. Louis Rams, the notion of him assuming a leadership role might be shocking to some. In South Florida, however, he's been as nasty as he wants to be without alienating his employer.
"It's an exciting thing," Incognito says. "This is my fourth season with the Dolphins, and [this role] is something I've grown into and become comfortable with. I realize my strengths and weaknesses. What I bring is a tough mentality and a physical style of play and a strong work ethic.
"I lead by example. I'm not gonna give a rah-rah speech. As far as my reputation, I think it's one of those things where you love to have me on your team and hate to play against me. Everyone here embraces that. I made my fair share of mistakes in St. Louis. I was a knucklehead, no doubt about it. But it's life — you live and learn."
Given that perspective, it's not surprising that Incognito will refrain from emulating another Pro Bowl lineman for a struggling franchise, Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil, who took out a newspaper ad in the Charlotte Observer last July predicting a Super Bowl victory. Kalil suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in early October, and Carolina went 7-9.
"No question, I am not doing that," Incognito says of Kalil's infamous ad buy. "You save that for when you win and you want to thank everybody."
Yet as he joins his teammates this week in organized team activities (OTAs), Incognito is not immune to the enthusiasm emanating from all quarters of the Dolphins' training facility. After the uncertainty Miami endured a year ago in the wake of Tony Sparano's firing and Philbin's arrival, along with an offseason quarterback competition that played out clumsily on Hard Knocks, Incognito believes the optimism is warranted — even if he'd rather not enunciate it so boldly.
"It's kind of a change of pace around here," he says. "We've seen dark days. We've seen our share of losing. Getting these new guys in, it builds excitement. We might not have won a lot of games the last few years, but this is the hardest-working group of guys I've ever been around.
"We've been through some really tough times and suffered a lot of tough losses. But we're just putting our heads down and preparing to be great."
Uh oh — it seems even Incognito can't resist a little rosy offseason hyperbole. After all, if the Dolphins are as great come December as they think they are in May, they'll truly be a sight to behold.
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