Dolphins see plenty to build on at opening of training camp
DAVIE, Fla. — The ball snapped by Shelley Smith never quite got all the way into Ryan Tannehill’s hands and then fell to the turf.
For many reasons, it wasn’t exactly an exemplary way for the Miami Dolphins to start the first 11-on-11 portion of their opening 2014 training camp session, but the muffed exchange didn’t by any means put a damper on what is always a great day for players and management.
"It’s fun to be a part of camp on Day 1," Tannehill said.
"This is a big and exciting day for all of us in the organization. There’s been a lot of work leading towards this day and cumulative effort," general manager Dennis Hickey said.
"It was exciting to finally get back to what I call my ‘real world,’ " said Jarvis Landry, who is experiencing his first NFL camp.
Even the fans braving a heat index of over 100 degrees appeared to be enjoying themselves, cheering loudly when Mike Wallace caught a rare well-thrown deep ball from Tannehill and managing a "Let’s Go Dolphins" chant at one point.
Whether those folk will still be as optimistic after a few weeks of the upcoming season is another story, but for now the new Bill Lazor offense and a defense that has the chance to be among the elite units in the league is enough to remain positive about.
The real concern at the moment is how the absence of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey will affect things. During a half-hour warm-up session in the practice bubble, Smith took the first-team snaps in Pouncey’s place and remained at that spot when the squad emerged into the heat.
"I’ve been preparing to hop in there if need be. You have to ready for anything to happen," said Smith, who said he’s taken practice reps at center but has never played there in a game.
"I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win. It’s just going to take some time and it’s a work in progress. We have a really good group of guys and coaches. We’re ready to step up and fulfill our potential."
Somewhat surprisingly, to Smith’s left on the first unit filled with new starters was Daryn Colledge, a 32-year-old free agent who was picked up when the news about Pouncey’s hip surgery was confirmed. Many expected Colledge to initially just provide some depth on the offensive line.
"I promise I’m gonna fight for that spot," said Colledge, an Alaska native who was tutored by head coach Joe Philbin while in Green Bay. "I had opportunities to sign earlier than this, but I’m looking towards the end of my career so I wanted to be in the right situation, somewhere I thought I could play, start and compete. This team has a great defense and has a chance to compete in this division."
Colledge shouldn’t get too comfortable though, as Philbin said after the 2-hour, 15-minute session that the offensive line is far from set.
"I will tell you that we’re going to be looking at a number of combinations," Philbin said. "This is practice No. 1, and this is the way that we wanted to look at it today, we’ll take a look at the film and go from there. But we will be moving some guys around, and taking a look at guys and how they respond."
On that defense, Cortland Finnegan, another free-agent acquisition, started across from No. 1 cornerback Brent Grimes in drills. The veteran shouldn’t get too comfortable there though, as he will surely face stiff competition from the likes of young up-and-comers Jamar Taylor and Will Davis over the next few weeks.
The focus on Friday, however, was the new offense, which is based on motion, quick-release passes, and from what we saw in this opening practice, plenty of screens out of the right hand of Tannehill, who knows already what it’s going to take to master this new system.
"This offense is pure timing, throwing to spots," Tannehill said. "Over time, we’re going to build the trust that the wide receiver is going to be there and I’m going to put it in the right spot.
"Today wasn’t our best practice, but we had some good things. There’s stuff to build of off and start progressing quickly. Now it’s just time to go play."
And the third-year quarterback wasn’t shy about expressing his expectations regarding how far into the season he feels the Dolphins will play.
"We want to play deep into January and February. Our goal is to go out, win the division and then play the playoffs from there."