The Miami Dolphins did not start the season with high expectations. There was a new coach. There were questions about quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It was believed that the team was, at best, a .500 team. Well, what a nice surprise.
Below, WLRN chats with Adam Beasley, who covers the Dolphins for the Miami Herald.
I want to know what did you really expect from this team and how would you rate the season as a whole?
Well, I predicted 8-8 in our preseason preview section and I thought that was being ambitious. I thought I was doing the Dolphins a favor because I really thought it could be another 6-10 team. You look at the roster and there are some serious holes, and to be truthful those holes still exist. They didn't change. What changed was that the Dolphins made plays at the end of games that they hadn't in years past. I think the stat was they won on five game-winning touchdowns five different ways. They were clutch this year, they really were. They made the plays they had to at the end of games. The question is, is that sustainable? Can you have such a lopsided discrepancy in first downs, in yards, and points they were outscored this season and continue to win games? The numbers geeks say no. I mean they would say that this was an anomaly; variance would be what they would call it. And at some point the Dolphins will regress to the mean. The good news for the Dolphins is this: They have an entire off-season to get better. They have a lot of cap space to work with. They have pretty much all their draft picks from last year so they'll have a lot of ammunition to go and attack this off-season. The question is: What will Mike Tannenbaum [the executive vice president for football operations] do with all those assets?
What was it though that turned the team around, because by Week 5 they had only one victory? They looked terrible. Everything looked terrible and then all of a sudden they started winning and then they got into the playoffs.
Well the short answer is that Adam Gase is a really good football coach. He was pushing the right buttons so to speak. And I think the first domino to fall--to mix my metaphors--was when he cut three offensive linemen two days after that Titans debacle. Change the lineup around and it serves two purposes: One, it got bad players off the roster, which is always a good thing, and to put the rest of his team on notice, this is unacceptable. I think they got the message.
I want to go back to [the playoff] game against the Steelers. Quarterback Matt Moore took a really nasty hit to the head. It looked like he was going to be out. The league's got concussion protocols, but Moore was back out on the field immediately and I'm just curious, what happened on the sidelines and could the team face any backlash from the league?
Well yeah they're [the NFL] going to look into it. The NFL, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have both launched independent inquiries into whether or not the Dolphins followed the concussion protocol. Obviously this is a hot button issue in the NFL. The prevalence of CTE among former players and obviously the awful ends of their lives that comes about from this terrible disease has really motivated the league and certainly the concussion lawsuit has played a role too. But it certainly motivated the league to take this seriously. From an outsider's standpoint you saw that hit and it was vicious. But you will absolutely be fined for that hit. Matt Moore is laid flat on his back for two three minutes. He said he was kind of looking for his teeth after that hit. You thought he had a concussion and then boom he's back in the game after just missing one snap from the time he took the hit to the time he returned to the field was something like four or five minutes. You thought something can't be right. This is a playoff game. Were they rushing this guy back into action? The Dolphins insist that is not the case. They insist that he went through both their team neurological exam and the NFL or the independent consultant that is on all NFL sidelines. He was cleared to play. We've since spoken to Matt Moore's representative. His agent said he has suffered no concussion symptoms and he trusts the process. He believes the Dolphins did right by his client. We'll soon find out if the league feels the same.
You mentioned the draft and the Dolphins have a lot of money to play with but mentioned maybe a couple of positions where the Dolphins really need a lot of help and who they might go after.
Well, I would say take a dart board and put all the positions of the defense and throw on a blindfold and throw the dart and you'd help the team. Aside from defensive tackle they could use help pretty much everywhere. I think they believe they're OK at corner, but it certainly takes more depth. And defensive tackle, defensive end and the entire linebacker corps could use an upgrade. So you're going to see the Dolphins be very aggressive both in free agency and in the draft try to improve that defense.
Dolphin fans have been disappointed for years. Without making any predictions, has this team turned the corner? Is it a team that we could feel good about again, that is going to be competitive again?
Couple of things; one, you should feel good because the coach is in place. This is a guy that, from top to bottom, the organization, from [Dolphins owner] Steve Ross to the last guy on the roster, all believes in him, all believe he's the guy to get them to the ultimate goal, which is the Super Bowl. However you need talent to do that. And as I mentioned there is a deficiency and it might take a bit and they might regress in the standings in 2017. They could go 7-9 or 8-8 and be a better team just because they didn't get the breaks they got this year. But long term they're building this franchise the right way. I would say in two if not three years this is the team that will consistently compete for the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl.