Some of you were surprised to see that the average vote of the PFT staff placed the Dolphins at No. 31 on the preseason power rankings. That group included Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
As explained by Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Ross was sufficiently concerned about the placement to pick up the phone and call coach Joe Philbin, who apparently said something along the lines of, “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“I don’t think he knows the guys in our looker room or the guys that come to work in this building every single day from top to bottom,” Philbin said to Salguero, with the “he” actually being the “we” who voted on the best to worst franchises entering the 2014 season.
While Philbin can get plenty of mileage in the locker room out of the lack of perceived respect inherent to the ranking, he actually should be glad that expectations are so low. The lower the expectations, the easier it is for a coach to exceed them and, in turn, to remain the coach.
While reasonable minds may differ on whether the Dolphins currently sit below every NFL team not located in Oakland, there’s plenty of reason to think the Dolphins won’t take a step forward from last year’s 8-8 finish, which was punctuated by a pair of losses in winnable games. The organization showed serious signs of dysfunction in the early portion of the offseason, via multiple reports creating the impression that G.M. Jeff Ireland lost a power struggle with V.P. of football administration Dawn Aponte, who had reportedly aligned with Philbin after Ireland reportedly tried to get Aponte fired. The perception that no one wanted to succeed Ireland as the team’s G.M. bolstered the sense that things aren’t going so well in South Florida.
Then there’s the aftermath of the Jonathan Martin situation, with Richie Incognito gone but Mike Pouncey still there, showing signs that he really hasn’t learned anything from the experience and that he blames the controversy on the media. The Dolphins looked the other way on Pouncey because Pouncey is one of the best centers in the league. And of course he’s now out through at least the middle of the season after hip surgery.
When the Dolphins finished 27th in yardage and 26th points and allowed 58 sacks, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman took the fall. Which means that his former pupil at Texas A&M, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, has to learn and adapt to a new offense. Which may or may not work out.
Receiver Mike Wallace was a malcontent last year, his first after signing a big-money deal to jump from Pittsburgh to South Florida. The offensive line is a work in progress at best, especially with Pouncey out. And the defense, which finished in the bottom quarter of the league in points allowed but near the top 10 for yardage surrendered, has a long way to go before it can win games without much support from the offense.
So with no teams other than the Raiders standing out as having deep and profound deficiencies, it made sense to put the Dolphins behind the likes of the Titans, Jaguars (who should have been higher than 29, in my own assessment), the Bills, the Vikings, and the Buccaneers. Ultimately, that’s the task for anyone who disagrees with the Dolphins at No. 31: Point out a team other than the Raiders that is currently in worse overall shape.
Again, that’s good news for Philbin. It gives him a way to get his players to affix a chip to their shoulders, and it gives him cover in the event the Dolphins don’t make it to the playoffs this year. If they do — or even if they get close but don’t qualify — Philbin will have overcome major talent and organizational challenges that hopefully the organization led ultimately by Ross will be able to appreciate and reward.