It is 7:45 in the morning on a warm, overcast Sunday. The practice fields are eerily quiet. But you can smell football in the air. You can almost taste it. One by one the players walk out of the training facility and toward the bubble for 45 minutes of stretching and running. A few fans are there already, standing along the bleachers as the players walk by.
There’s quarterback Ryan Tannehill, an undeniable bounce in his step.
“Hey, Ryan,” shouted a large man in a Dolphins cap. “This is our year.”
Tannehill looked at the man and smiled and, for good measure, gave him a quick thumbs up. The fan high-fived a friend.
Welcome to Training Camp 2013. An exciting time for a franchise that did so much to get better over the long offseason months.
It is 9 a.m. now and the stands are packed. I mean, at least by my memory, more packed than any opening day practice since Jimmy Johnson’s first season. The players are on the field and with each Tannehill completion, with each Lamar Miller burst through the middle, with each Mike Wallace catch, there is a buzz that grows louder and louder.
The big news from Day One? Top-pick Dion Jordan won’t practice until his shoulder improves. And, oh yes, the sun never came out. That’s about it for the headlines. See, if anything is clear as this marathon begins, it is that this team is currently void of controversy. How nice a change is that?
I may just call it Team Tranquil. All the draft picks are signed. The coach is comfortable in his own skin. There is no quarterback controversy. Even General Manager Jeff Ireland wore a peaceful expression, reminiscing about a three-week vacation in Australia as he eagerly looks forward to the challenges that await.
Yes, training camp began Sunday with a long, impressive list of new players and with a sense of urgency underlined by the fact that the first of five preseason games is only two weeks away. The Dolphins have to get better in a hurry and that, in a nutshell, is what this training camp is all about.
“We have a long way to go,” said Joe Philbin. “This is just the beginning.”
But you’ve to start somewhere and some of the images that remain vivid from this first morning practice are things we will see all summer long.
• There was Tannehill, seemingly so confident running the offense, no longer looking like a wide-eyed rookie with less than 20 college starts. That’s what 1,000 or so snaps in his rookie season will do for you.
• There was Wallace catching a short pass over the middle – zip he is gone – and then taking a handoff from Tannehill and rapidly turning the corner as the crowd oohs and ahhs.
• There was Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall, lining up on this day as the first-team cornerbacks, both so eager to bring stability to one of the most important positions on the field. For a smallish guy, Grimes plays awfully big.
• There was new left tackle Jonathan Martin, looking so much bigger and stronger than he did a year ago, and ready to seize an opportunity that could prove to be career-defining.
• Then there are the long shots, trying to get someone’s attention, a player like wide receiver Marvin McNutt who had a few real nice down-the-field catches and who knows that one good practice is nice, but it is consistency the coaches are looking for.
• And, of course, there is Philbin, standing in the middle of it all, wearing his white cap and gray shirt and his eyes trying to soak in everything happening on two different fields, sometimes four separate drills going on simultaneously.
This was the start of my 33rd training camp covering this team. Somehow it is hard to separate one from the other. O.J. McDuffie asks me if I ever remember so many positive changes in one offseason. The years race by in my mind, but I really can’t answer McDuffie’s question without thinking it through.
Jimmy Cefalo is standing nearby; this is 35 years for him since showing up as a rookie out of Penn State. “You know,” he said. “it was early in my career when Don Shula finally allowed water on the practice field.”
I thought about today’s players. No water? There would be a mass mutiny.
It is about 10:30 in the morning now and practice is over. The fans are lining the field for autographs and many of the players are obliging. Philbin is answering questions off to the side and gray skies are still blocking out any semblance of that harsh sun.
“I told some of the younger guys,” said cornerback Richard Marshall “to wait until the sun comes out. Then they’ll find out what hot is all about.”
All in all, it was a successful day. The first step of a long, challenging road. A day that began with a thumbs up from Tannehill and ended with more meetings and film sessions.
Can hardly wait to see what Day Two has to offer.
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