"I don't think Tony or myself would have taken our jobs with Bill if that were the case," Ireland said. "We both know the vast experience that Bill has and that he has very strong opinions, but that doesn't mean he is always right. We have checks and balances and communication between the three of us. We question each other. Sometimes Bill locks his jaw. Sometimes I lock my jaw in personnel. Sometimes Tony locks his jaw in coaching. But we listen to each other and make decisions in our areas. Bill has told us, 'you guys do your jobs, you do the personnel, Tony does the coaching, and think of me as a guidance counselor.' It has created fantastic checks and balances for us all."
In the hiz-ouse!
It is a three-headed approach that has proved to be a striking monster.
Last season the Dolphins became only the second team in league history to win 10 more games than it did the previous year. It became the only team in league history to vault from a 1-15 season to an 11-5 record and a divisional championship. And they won it, no less, on the road in a dramatic regular-season-ending victory over the Jets.
So, what's the encore?
I see a team practicing here that looks younger, deeper, faster. A coach who is a remarkable teacher and communicator. A very organized, detail-oriented staff and approach. Players who like to work.
A better team with an uphill climb to snatch better results in the amped AFC East and the overall elite AFC. It is a season where the Dolphins enter the hunted.
Young and bold: Sparano said this Dolphins trio of leadership has seen "52 players come and go" since they arrived. This roster has been in perpetual motion, though much less this year than last a season ago. Ireland believes in developing young players and getting them on the field. The Dolphins did it last year and they will push that even more this year, unafraid to give prime roles to fresh faces.
In Chad they trust: The Dolphins still cannot believe their fortune with Chad Pennington, how the Jets a year ago ran for Favre while Pennington was left twisting and found a new home in Miami. I cannot tell you how many times I heard Thursday … "and, of course, Chad just appeared for us …" or "what a big piece for us when Chad walked through the door here." Pennington is still eager to learn, eager to lead, still accurate as a passer and demanding of his peers. He is a winning quarterback.
Henning still fooling 'em: It's the 30th season of NFL coaching for Dan Henning but only his second in Miami as offensive coordinator. He slapped the "Wildcat" attack on the league last year and who knows what he has up his sleeve this time around? Whatever it is, it will be sound, it will be effectively taught and it will put the Dolphins in better position to win. Henning respects the command and leadership of Sparano.
Henning said: "We have a blueprint from the head coach, a philosophy, a desire. We will go a certain direction with the offense and try and fill that desire in personnel, in organization and in decisions. We got close at the end of last year. We got certain people here and Pennington really helped us out. We have a hard-nosed guy as our coach. He likes to take shots and throw it deep. But he loves for his team to be physical. He wants it to be tough. He goes to great lengths in its weightlifting and conditioning. It's going to be a tough team."
The Dolphins look committed to finding a way for second-round pick Pat White to play this season. The rookie has been the source of much consternation over whether he will be moved from quarterback to receiver. I expect that he will have a play or two where he winds up a receiver. But Sparano emphasized that White will not only play quarterback this year but also have a "Pat Package."
Here is how Sparano described it: He said that coaches are finding that it will be difficult to get White in command of the entire offense by the season-opener. But the goal is to have White ready to play in Week 1 at Atlanta on Sept. 13. Thus, the Dolphins are charting the plays he knows well, executes well, shows a flair for conducting, and those plays will be his package. Sparano said when he was offensive line coach with Dallas, the Cowboys did this for quarterback Tony Romo early in his career.
Two players made your eyes widen.
No. 31 is Sean Smith. He is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, a really big cornerback. He is a second-round pick from Utah. Hey, the Dolphins play against Randy Moss twice a year. Toss in T.O., too. You see a matchup pick here? This young player is developing quickly. He wants it. He looks capable of making a big mark.
Also, No. 84 is rookie receiver Patrick Turner from USC. He jumps out at you. Everyone knows Parcells likes big players. Ireland does, too. This player is 6-5, 220. That's a lot of receiver. Yet he keeps a low center of gravity. Talented. The Dolphins love that he has played on college football's biggest stage and yet he has stayed humble and smart. Very impressive morning practice.
But he is back.
He looks ready. This player is going to be a force in the 2009 season.
A convinced Sparano said: "The guy is a tremendous, tremendous pro. Very impressed with how he studies it, how curious he is to get better … having the passion to play this game when you've been doing it for 11, 12, 13 years says an awful lot to me. Any day the guy comes out here, I mean, he doesn't say boo, he works his tail off, goes a million miles an hour. I still see the tools out there; I'm seeing more and more each day."
"Sometimes when it's quiet, I like to start a little trouble." -- Sparano on how he tries to let his players know he can have fun and is not "just this complete football head."
You hear the Dolphins talk a lot about having the "right" 53 players, not the "best" 53. Among them, here are some players who have made an early impression in training camp:
» Receiver Brandon London was a role player last season, strong on special teams, but may be ready for more this year. The Dolphins are going to push to see.
» Rookie receiver Brian Hartline has impressed with his intelligence and emergence. The Dolphins say he was a top receiver as a junior at Ohio State, but became a lesser option with a new quarterback last year. The Dolphins think he can be the type of receiver he was as a junior in an offense that looks for him -- and they will.
» Offensive tackle Vernon Carey signed a 6-year, $42 million contract shortly after last season and the Dolphins wondered if it would change him. It has not. He is in great shape and having a strong camp and impacting the team's younger offensive linemen in positive ways.