Postcard from camp: Dolphins
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
The Dolphins encampment is at Nova Southeastern University, in Davie, Fla., about half an hour from the bright lights of Ft. Lauderdale. There's an outdoor field, which holds the heat very well, and an indoor bubble for hurricane use. The grass of the practice field, and I'm reading from the Dolphins' press book now, without a clue as to what I'm reading, is Tifway 419 Bermuda, and all I can tell you about it is it's hot. At practice the other day my left foot started melting -- until I managed to get a sneaker over it.
The number of QBs competing for the job equals the number of observations I'm required to write in this postcard. So ...
1. Josh McCown, 29, is the one with the experience, if you can call last year as the Oakland Raiders primary starter, experience. "I could tell you things about that year that you wouldn't believe," he says. OK, I'm all ears. Tell me, tell me already! "Got to know you better first," he says. He's an exceedingly nice fellow. Everyone, and that includes the beat writers, is rooting for him to succeed. But the first day I was there, he threw three picks in the muggy afternoon. No, wait a minute -- it was Tuesday afternoon.
2. John Beck. Started four games as a rookie last year. Went 0-4 for the 1-15 Fish. Five third-quarterback games and six DNP's. Has had a slow start in camp. Looks like the No. 3.
3. The third observation, who might be No. 1 by the end of the season, is second-round draft pick Chad Henne, a big arm from Michigan. Sometimes the ball flies on him, and I asked Dolphins' offensive coordinator Dan Henning to please give me a technical critique of the flight of his passes. I can ask the 66-year old Henning questions like that because ... listen to how far back we go. About a century ago I selected him as my All-Met High School quarterback for St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn.
"When he's wild, he's either wild high left or wild low right," Henning said. Noticing my idiot look, he elaborated. "You're serving in tennis. Serving to the ad court, you'll probably be wide low right, and in the deuce court, wild high left, so what we're trying to get him to do is open his body, pretending he's in the deuce court, to get the ball on target." I got so excited with this analogy I tried it myself and served an ashtray through a pane of glass, but the point is young Henne has one of the great quarterback technicians in the game to work with him.
New Face, New Place
An army of them. "I think we really got something done with the draft choices and the new people we brought in," says Bill Parcells, the new Director of Football Operations. Jake Long, the cover boy of the '08 draft, is the obvious keynoter. Plug him in at left tackle and pull the plug a dozen years later. Had a reputation in some circles as a mauler at Michigan, but he actually looks slender at 6-7, 310. "In school I played two years at right tackle, two at left," he says. "I figured they wanted me on the left side here, which is fine with me." The 30 big ones he got up front didn't hurt, either.
Looking at the Schedule
How will they handle the media crush for their season opener? That's right, Brett Favre and the raging NY Jets will be in Dolphin Stadium for game No. 1. The Fish will have a month to prepare for him. Two roadies against Arizona and New England give way to a homer against San Diego. A 2-2 start would get them off on the right track, because shortly thereafter they're at home for five out of six weeks. The easiest part of the season is at the end.
Memorable Image From Camp
Parcells standing in the end zone at practice, by himself, quietly watching the drills, making mental notes, the tumblers clicking. No whistle, no leather lunged, "Dammit Burt, how many times you gonna get knocked on your ass!" Subdued, calculating, the all-seeing eye.
I like the defense, which has a nice influx of youth, but, unfortunately, no Zach Thomas nor Jason Taylor. Seems weird without them.
Rookie head coach Tony Sparano is a pleasant person to be around. Not much ego, which is a blessing, given the last few characters in this place.
Best line I heard was from PR Director Harvey Greene, who worked on Hilary Clinton's campaign. "The team was 1-15; I was 1-16."