By: Jason Sarney
With a fourth straight victory on Sunday on the strength of a 34-31 win against the Cardinals in Arizona, the Dolphins return to Miami fully-grown men. They stepped on their aircraft last week, took a NFC contender to the limits, and a Jason Sanders field goal put the Dolphins ahead for good while the defense took care of the rest.
As the Dolphins re-boarded their plane, they had the no-doubt most enjoyable flight of the season, as a five-hour celebratory trip was likley in the, er, Cards, for this bunch. Does everyone remember the start of Rocky V, when his son welcomed Rocky home from Russia after Rocky IV, having grown from a 10-year old kid to someone preparing for their SATs in weeks as a teen?
What I mean, is that in just a few days, the Dolphins took a flight, played a game, and returned from their battle only to go from Boys, to Men. And this is just the beginning of the road.
The Miami Dolphins are the 2nd youngest team in the NFL on average, as their in-state mates, Jacksonville Jaguars, claim the title of least aged bunch. Yet the maturity and composition of this team is not the sophomoric class fans have come to witness in recent years past. They say a child’s upbringing has a lot to do with parents. Let’s replace parents with coaches, and I need not say anything more on that regard.
The Anatomy of this team is growing, becoming stronger, more nourished, and while entering their own metaphorical teenage years in the middle of the season, they were collectively Bar Mitzvah’d this past weekend.
They became a fully grown AFC and NFL contender…but as any 13-year old, there are still things needed to be worked on, learned and perfected before entering the real world of the NFL Playoff Picture, instead of watching from the outside, and just being “in the hunt.”
The MIND of this team, the most important muscle in the human body, is also the most important cog of an NFL team. It’s head coach. Brian Flores deserves to be the front runner for NFL Coach of the Year. My only reasoning I need to say is the 365 days to look in-between this article and last season at this point of the NFL calendar.
I rest my case.
Poor coaching can hurt, hinder, and potentially destroy talent, however as Flores and his staff are proving, excellent coaching can enhance potential. There is a major net positive to the latter and the league is witnessing it as I type.
The HEART of a team, and person, could be as equally important as the MIND, as people like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Christian Wilkins, Kyle Van Noy and Bobby McCain can tell you, to name a few. Leaders of men, outstanding human beings, and selfless individuals, and these are just a few of the Dolphins who embody these traits.
When a human being has a clear MIND, and a full HEART of passion and pride, there is a DESIRE that comes with it. Ask Zach Sieler who was a 7th rounder and cut player, only to be a waiver claim for Miami in 2019, and now impact player on it’s improving and youthful defensive line.
Ask Nik Needham, and Preston Williams, and Sam Eguavoen and perhaps even Kirk Merritt, who was recently called up and promoted, as well as Salvon Ahmed and Benito Jones and Tyshun Render. All undrafted free agents who did not hear their name called on Draft Day. A dream not fulfilled. Chips on shoulder pads were added to a fire and desire not easily extinguished.
All undrafted. All part of this team. All proving that DESIRE is something that can not be taught. It’s inborn. And general manager, Chris Grier, seems to be on the same page as Flores; selecting, signing, and scooping up players in his image, along with that of his head coach.
Now, we have to look at the physical form of this growing team of young men taking their collective next steps in their progression. The ARM is now of that rookie from Hawaii we all have been waiting for. The 2-0 Tua Tagovailoa, as starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins.
The HANDS are those of a scary and under-appreciated group of targets. DeVante Parker has dropped the stigmas of his past seasons prior to 2019 and hasn’t dropped much of anything else. He is the Dolphins leading WR and on a mission for national recognition. The aforementioned Williams is nursing a foot sprain, although his development is a continual maturation, much like any young person trying to find their sea-legs in their real world. He is becoming a deep-threat, highlight machine, and TD maker.
Mike Gesicki, a tight end in name only, but pass catcher in every way shape or form, is more valuable then just targets and catches. On Williams' TD against Arizona, about three defenders were concerned with Gesicki. And then you have fellow tight ends Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe who may not be done scoring this season.
The LEGS of this team can be explosive with speed-burners like Jakeem Grant, who leads the NFL in punt return yards, as well as runners Myles Gaskin (IR), Matt Breida, and rookies Lynn Bowden and Malcolm Perry. Throw in newly acquired runner, DeAndre Washington, as any coach will tell you, fresh legs is always a beneficial situation in any walk of life.
The Feet of Jason Sanders and Matt Haack are undoubtedly the NFL’s best place-kicker to punter battery. Sanders hasn’t missed a kick since pre-pandemic, and in the middle of a Miami Dolphins record 20 consecutive field goals. Haack has been flawless as a punter, seemingly flipping field position every boot of the ball.
The BODY is a pair of trenches on both offense and defense in the lines. The defensive rushing of free agent edge-rushers Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson has been a gift from above. The pair of sack-masters and edge-setters have had a massive span of games, in which they have combined to sack, strip, and score while showing they are for real, and a dream combo to Miami's Marketing Department.
The offensive line, although not at all developed and still in grade-school it seems, are full of rookies and new Dolphins. However, they have protected the quarterbacks, and are gelling as this is a unit that has just scratched the surface of their potential. Austin Jackson, Solomon Kindley, and Robert Hunt are wise beyond their rookie years. And Ted Karras has been an outstanding leader for this line. Ereck Flowers has shown great play, yet some spotty play, but his leadership and work ethic is essentially like having yet another coach on the line with Karras.
The BACK is very important to a team, as a weak defensive backfield can leave you susceptible to injury. Take it from a guy with a degenerative lower left disc. Although mine does not spin like a CD anymore, the harmonious play of Xavien Howard, Byron Jones and Nik Needham along with the NFL’s youngest player in Noah Igbinoghene, sure are.
And now, the part of a body that is not a physical one, but it’s perhaps the most important. The SOUL. The soul of this team is a culture change that has reverted to the Days of this Franchise’s patriarch and now omnipotent watcher through the opened roof of Hard Rock Stadium.
The SOUL is a man who gave Dolphins Fans everything we treasure to this day. Don Shula was lost to us this past year, only to have his spirit live on within the walls, and around the outside beauty that is Miami Gardens, and the Eden that this Stadium has become. Coach Shula is the SOUL of this team, and his mindset and attitude and spirit live on with Coach Brian Flores, the front office above him, and the Nation of loyal Orange and Aqua PhinManiacs that support this team no matter what.
And like any family, there are positives, negatives, happy times, and tragic moments. Yet, it is not what individuals do after success that defines them. It is what the do after failure. And following what so many national media members have called a loser, or embarrassment or even worse, now most grow themselves, and realize this team of misfits, underappreciated players, and young kids looking to prove themselves, are just getting started.
And for those who haven’t learned yet about this teams growth…. school is about to be in session.
You can follow Jason on Twitter @OrangeAquaman and the PhinManiacs PodCast