Dolphins want fast start for a change

The Miami Dolphins know exactly how long they have until the

opening game, thanks to coach Tony Sparano’s new countdown clock

hanging in the locker room.

This year, when the season starts, Sparano wants his team ready

for a change.

”It has been a point of emphasis,” safety Yeremiah Bell said.

”It’s in the locker room for everybody to see.”

The Dolphins started 0-3 last year and 0-2 in 2008. Otherwise,

their record the past two seasons is 18-11.

Miami has lost four openers in a row and will try to end that

streak Sept. 12 at Buffalo.

”You can’t just stand in front of the players and say, ‘Look,

we’re going to have a fast start against the Buffalo Bills,”’

Sparano said. ”There’s more to it than that. It’s about how we

practice, it’s about being prepared and feeling like your team is

fresh enough and efficient enough as you approach that first

game.”

After last season, Sparano looked at every aspect of the

offseason and training camp routine, and the third-year coach made

changes he thought would improve the chances of playing well early.

Among the issues deliberated: how much time to give players off

during the winter, how often to wear pads in training camp, when to

hold practice inside or out, and how to divvy up snaps.

With the regimen tweaked, Sparano believes his team is fresher

as the season approaches, yet also in better condition.

”My first year here we could barely get through some of these

practices,” Sparano said. ”They’re starting to finish them at a

much better pace.”

One challenge during two-a-days was to strike a balance between

practicing in sweltering summer sunshine or in the team’s

air-conditioned indoor bubble, where the artificial surface can

take a toll.

”When I take the players inside, they don’t really love being

inside all the time because of that surface on their body,”

Sparano said. ”But when you take them outside, they don’t really

love being outside because of heat.”

For years, South Florida’s steamy weather gave the Dolphins a

substantial early-season home-field advantage, but that hasn’t been

the case in recent years. Since 2006 they’re 2-10 in September.

Being acclimated to the subtropical heat won’t be a big factor

this year, because the Dolphins’ first two home games are at night.

Their first daytime game at home isn’t until Oct. 24.

So to start fast, the Dolphins must focus on simply playing

well. One goal will be limiting typical early-season mistakes.

”When you have lax communications and mental errors early in

the season, it causes a lot of problems,” Bell said. ”You put in

a knucklehead play here and there, and it sets you back.”

The Dolphins know that from recent experience. They dug a hole

last year by losing their first three games and never recovered,

finishing 7-9.

Quarterback Chad Pennington started those first three games

before a shoulder injury ended his season. He remembers the mood

around the team then and said winning early is much better.

”It builds confidence, a little bit of synergy and a sense of

accomplishment to where you can go forward and not live in a world

of negativity,” Pennington said.

Hence, the clock. Sparano came up with the idea last spring to

create a sense of urgency.

”It kind of reminds me of college,” said quarterback Chad

Henne, a former Michigan star. ”I know Ohio State has a clock

counting down to Michigan every year.

”It’s great. It just reminds us that it’s not getting further

away, it’s getting closer.”