Tonight is the Dolphins' first preseason game as they travel to Atlanta. Unfortunately, Miami fans, we no longer have a LeBron-sized blankie to help us feel better come November when shit in the South Florida sports world starts to turn south due to that annual rite of passage we've unfortunately come to recognize as the Dolphins yearly Heart-Stomping, Face-Punching, Drano-Gulping Suckfest.
There is no assured Heat Shangri-la to return the childlike glow to our faces, but there are (maybe!) a few things to look forward to this Dolphins season. Here are a few reasons to tune in tonight and give this team a chance:
1. The Offensive Line Is Completely Rebuilt! (Except Most of Them Are Now Injured)
Richie Incognito? GONE. Jonathan Martin? He's on the 49ers now. Tyson Clabo? GLUE FACTORY. Instead, the Dolphins completely revamped last season's historically terrible offensive line, with the exception of alleged douche-nozzle-but-pretty-damn-good-lineman Mike Pouncey. AT LAST! SOME REAL PROTECTION FOR YOUNG TANNEHILL TO MAKE PLAYS DOWNFIELD! NO LONGER WILL OUR INEPT O-LINE EMBARRASS US AGAI -- What? Oh. Pouncey won't be back till possibly midseason, we are starting a questionably drafted rookie at right tackle, our guard positions are being held down by names -- Shelley Smith, Dallas Thomas, and Billy Turner -- that sound like they're straight out of a 1950s movie about street toughs, and we brought back Samson Satele to play center?
Shitsticks. Well, it couldn't be any worse than last year's o-line, which led the league with 58 sacks allowed to go along with Tannehill's 101 knockdowns. Early reports from camp are that the running game is better, and Coach Philbin has vowed to find a starting five early (as opposed to the past few years' Spaghetti-O's approach) and stick with them to allow them time to gel. Still, this is the unit the Dolphins spent the most energy (and money) on in the offseason, so there's reason to hope it will be a strength this season once players return from injury and the unit has time to become more cohesive.
2. Tannehill Is In His Third Season, So Now's the Time to Get His Shit Together
Your Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys, Matt Ryans -- all of these QBs posted impressive year three numbers -- the benchmark by which all QBs are judged. This should be the year when Tannehill puts all of those physical gifts together with a more elevated mental game that eschews overthrowing the ball into the martini of the Weston socialite hanging out on the club level rather than into Mike Wallace's hands for a touchdown. Signs from camp thus far are that Tannehill has been rather up-and-down from practice to practice and the chemistry issues that seemed to plague Wallace and Tannehill last year have continued in this year's training camp (and made worse by Wallace missing time due to a nagging hamstring injury).
However, the hope here is that a new offensive system, renewed running game, one of the better wide receiver groups in the NFL on paper, and perhaps better use of his natural athleticism will reap dividends for Tannehill. GO GET 'EM, TIGER.
3. Major Lazor's Offense Is Here to Blast Butts
Numerous times last season, former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman inspired alternating bouts of confusion/anger/frustration/murderous rage/sympathy/existential malaise/diarrhea because of his avant-garde 1989 offensive philosophy ("Go, Go", anyone?) and once the Dolphins farted their way out of a possible 10-6 season by blowing the last two gimme games, Sherman was ceremoniously roasted in a caja china to make up for the team's overall shortcomings.
The Dolphins have now brought in former Eagles QB coach and Chip Kelly protégé Bill Lazor to run the offense. Although Lazor has never called plays at the NFL level, the Dolphins believe that his uptempo, aggressive style will take advantage of Miami's athleticism at the skill positions. Of course, everyone is super-fucking-hero athletic and fast and strong and all that lovely shit in the NFL, so it won't mean squat unless the Dolphins can keep defenses guessing and put points on the board in a league where the Patriots, Broncos, and Saints do so with impunity. Either way, we'll get to call him MAJOR LAZOR anytime he does something good and SAD-SACK PIECE OF SHIT if he doesn't.
4. Jarvis Landry Might Be Someone We Will Come to Love
When the Dolphins picked Landry in the second round of this year's draft, everyone freaked the fuck out because Landry was viewed as (A) a bit of a "luxury pick" for a team with a lot more holes to fill than receiver and (B) Landry was considered to be a bit on the slow side. Well, Jarvis Landry put all of the computers that people were typing on into his mouth, chewed them up, and crapped out a spaceship for them all to GTFOH with. Players, coaches, media people, homeless guys who talk to Bill Parcells, the CIA, Edward Snowden -- ALL OF THEM -- are raving that Jarvis Landry is the real deal and has been catching everything that comes his way this training camp like a giant Venus flytrap of football-gobbling awesomeness.
Will this translate to the regular season? Let's hope. All signs point to Landry being a pretty big contributor this season. If not, have you met Davone Bess?
5. If Philbin Fucks This Up, We Get to Start All Over Again Next Season WHEEEE!
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Joe Philbin -- a guy who has never been a head coach ANYWHERE before the Dolphins, not college, high school, pee-wee, nada -- seems like a pretty OK feller but at times is in over his head. Whether it's poor clock management in games or poor decision-making or poor NOT REALIZING A VERY BAD AND EMBARRASSING HAZING SCANDAL WAS HAPPENING RIGHT UNDER YOUR NOSE, YA DUMMY, he has not inspired a ton of confidence in the fan base. This is not Bill Walsh or Knute Rockne, folks; it's Joseph Philbin of Springfield, Massachusetts. Everyone knows Philbin and his overall losing record as a head coach and head-scratching meticulousness when it comes to curse words and locker-room floor debris are in the hot seat. This is it for Joe Philbin to the point that even owner Steve Ross (who has famously had Philbin's back time and time again throughout his tenure) has been all DERRRRP NEXT QUESTIONSSSSZ when asked about Philbin's job security failing a playoff appearance.
Furthermore, failure this season would allow new GM Dennis Hickey (who took over for Satan himself, Jeff Ireland) to do the normal thing NFL teams do where the GM picks a head coach he knows and likes to work with instead of this shotgun wedding situation we keep having since the Parcells-Sparano-Ireland-Philbin fiasco began. Hickey can start fresh until we have to fire HIM in a couple of seasons and this starts over again and we go 7-9 forever and WHEEEEEE! But let's hope Philbin is aware of how important this season is and maybe forgets about the candy wrappers on the floor of the locker room and focuses on finding ways to score a lot of points every game. If not, FRESH STARTS FOR EVERYONE AND THAT'S KINDA FUN, RIIIIIIIIGHT??!!
The Dolphins take on the Atlanta Falcons in their first preseason game tonight. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.