Have a question for A.C.? Submit your questions to Andy Cohen on Twitter at @ACohenFins. Andy will answer questions every other Wednesday throughout the season.
Four times a week the Miami Dolphins open their practice facility locker room to the media. It is a different world in there, a smorgasbord of personalities and habits. For about 45 minutes each time, we get a chance to observe, to interact, to inquire and to probe.
There are smiles. There are laughs. There is music blaring. There are quiet, introspective moments. There are bright lights and tape recorders and some of the strangest questions you’ll ever hear. One reporter walks up to Mike Wallace. Then another. And another. And before you know it there is a cluster around him, throwing questions like footballs and hoping for answers that can make headlines.
Big offensive lineman Nate Garner has a locker right near Wallace. As the media swarms toward the speedy receiver, Garner rolls his eyes as if saying, “Can I have a little space here?” I ask him about it and he smiles: “Sometimes,” he said, “they do want to talk to me.”
It’s an interesting way to observe a football team, a valuable opportunity to learn what these players are all about. If the players resent this open locker room period, if they view it as an invasion of their most private domain, you wouldn’t know it. Most are eager to talk. Some go out of their way to be friendly. A few seem to actually care about you. I remember years ago when I felt like an unwanted visitor in this locker room, when I could hear a player grumble: “No, not them again.”
But not this group. Not this year. The leaders want to talk. The rookies want to listen. The team emphasizes cooperation. This is the age of social media where every opinion matters and so many players seem to realize the importance of exposure.
“Hey, I could get cut someday and I may need these guys on my side,” said massive tackle Paul Soliai about the media.
Of course, the interviews have to be conducted on the player’s terms.
“Got to go shower first, then I’ll talk,” said veteran guard Richie Incognito.
Yep, every man’s right: A hot shower before an interview. Ten minutes later, Incognito is sitting by his locker, all clean and fresh and ready to talk football. “What do you got for me today?” he asks. And the questions begin. What about the offensive line? What about this week’s game? Who’s the toughest guy you’ve faced.
Incognito doesn’t back down for a second: “Hey,” he said, “if I didn’t want to talk, I just wouldn’t come into the locker room.”
Since you can’t be there, since the locker room is only open for accredited members of the media, I thought I would spend a few minutes taking you inside. Please, though, no autographs, no high-fives and try to respect the privacy of the players. If they are texting – and most of them are – wait until they are finished. This is their home; we’re simply visiting.
• Over there, toward the back of the room, is rookie Dion Jordan. His locker, by design, is right between Cameron Wake and Incognito. Stop on by, he is usually smiling. Usually willing to talk in his calm, low-key manner. I mention his alma mater, Oregon, and how the Ducks are tearing apart the competition. “Tough to beat those guys,” Jordan says. “They really have it going.” Just bring up Oregon and the kid will always smile.
• In another corner of the locker room sits Jared Odrick. Everybody likes to talk to him. He is smart and witty. He’ll look you in the eye and answer your question in an analytical manner. He’ll keep on talking if you want until the questions dry up and the cameras move toward another player, another locker. Ask him about his Pee Wee Herman routine after a sack. He’ll give you a wide-eyed smile and say: “Something I really enjoy doing.” Love visiting Odrick’s locker.
• I walk up to Will Davis. He is a rookie cornerback who isn’t playing very much. He greets me with a sincere smile and a warm handshake. “I’m going to get my chance, and when I do…..” His voice trails off. He’s only a rookie so he doesn’t want to come off as a brash. Good kid. Smart kid. I think he’ll be ready for the spotlight when it shines.
• Over in the quarterback area of the room, Ryan Tannehill is slowly getting dressed. Nobody bothers him. Tannehill only speaks to the media one day a week in a press conference format. He doesn’t mind a quick hello and will throw you a nice jab if he hears a question he considers a little off base, like when I asked Caleb Sturgis about the last kick he missed in college. “Why do you have to ask him that?” said Tannehill with a wide-eyed grin.
• Dannell Ellerbe has a locker right near the exit door. He looks menacing by nature, but he’ll always take that extra question as long as you let him put on his cap and look extra nice for the cameras. Got to make those dreads look just right.
• And then there is Cam Wake. Probably takes longer to shower than anyone on the team so his locker-side media gathering usually tests the end of the 45-minute allotment. I am so impressed with Wake. He is thoughtful, analytical and well-versed. In many ways, he represents the pulse of this team. Want something put in perspective? Wake will gladly do it. Ask him about Penn State, his alma mater, and he’ll talk about Joe Paterno turning boys into men. Class act. Always ready for an interview.
I could go on and on, how the defensive backs pull little pranks on one another and how the offensive linemen, a carefully scrutinized group, never shy away from the tough questions. But it’s time to stop now. The 45-minutes have elapsed. The cameras are turned off and the media quickly exit the locker room. The players’ home away from home is all theirs once again.
On Thursday, AC in the AM takes his first look at the Patriots game.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.