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The urgency surrounding this football team as it begins its second week of training camp is clearly punctuated by an early season schedule that is downright imposing.
Look at the first five games. Look hard. Then swallow hard. You’ve got three playoff teams from a year ago. You’ve got the Super Bowl champions. You’ve got an Atlanta team that has the look of something special. You’ve got Drew Brees on Monday night football in New Orleans. You’ve got the first two games on the road.
Yes, you’ve got a major early-season headache.
If the Dolphins are going to be good – and I truly believe they will be – they had better be good in a hurry.
Ask the players about the ridiculous road they must travel through September and early October, and they’ll undoubtedly answer with that “one game at a time” cliché. They’ll tell you they can’t worry about the schedule, that injuries could change things anyway and that right now all of their attention is on Sept. 8th in Cleveland. All completely valid.
But part of my job as your morning columnist is to look at the big picture and what that five-game stretch tells me is that this football team better leave training camp with a polished product, or at least very close to it.
That is the underlying theme of this camp. Put the pieces together. Feel good about the progress. Get better every day. Build to a point where those five preseason games can get you ready for a wild early-season ride. Nobody likes to talk about the schedule. But it is there right in front of us, as imposing a challenge as any team in this league will face through the early weeks of the season.
Here’s a sneak preview to ponder:
Opener at Cleveland: The Browns are in a clear rebuilding mode and this sets up as a game the Dolphins, even on the road, should have an excellent chance of winning. But when you throw this game into the big mix, when you consider who is waiting down the road, getting off a 1-0 start becomes that much more important.
Indy for seconds: Two straight road games is never the desired way to start a season, but the Dolphins must figure out a way to overcome this. The Colts present an imposing challenge, especially for a revamped Dolphins secondary going up against Andrew Luck. The Colts are a solid, up-and-coming team. But so are the Dolphins. I fully expect one of those down-to-the-wire games.
Home opener against Atlanta: So the 1966 Packers weren’t available? Instead, the Dolphins get a perennial playoff team, a team with seemingly all of its pieces firmly in place. The Falcons are loaded. They are the real deal. Find an obvious weakness. You really can’t. The Dolphins can certainly pull off the upset. But it will take one of those complete efforts you hear so much about.
Monday night in New Orleans: Does someone with the NFL have a Dolphins doll with little needles poked in it? I mean: this is almost cruel. Is there a tougher place to play than New Orleans on a Monday night? Those fans. That atmosphere. How Brees never seems to play poorly in that wild environment. This could prove to be the most imposing test of the season.
Unless it’s the next Sunday against Baltimore at Sun Life Stadium: That’s right, the Dolphins follow the Saints on a Monday night six days later with the defending Super Bowl champions. Are you kidding me? What, the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t book a flight?
So let’s review: After opening with two games on the road, the Dolphins must face the Falcons, Saints and Ravens in consecutive games. The bottom line here is this: We’re going to learn a lot about the 2013 Dolphins long before we hit midseason. We’re going to see how much Ryan Tannehill really has progressed, if the young running backs can step up, if the improved pass rush can make a difference and if the secondary can hold up to the challenge of facing some of the top passing teams in the league.
Right now the only thing the players and coaches are talking about is a scrimmage tonight at Sun Life Stadium followed six days later by the preseason opener in the Hall of Fame game against Dallas. The focus is taking a step forward every day, to find answers in the areas that troubled this team a season ago like the red zone offense and securing takeaways on defense.
There is no talk about that five-game gauntlet, no talk about such a defining run of games so early in the season. And that’s the way it should be. September, after all, still seems like a long way off. But, in truth, everything that happens this summer should be directly linked to a team that must find its mojo in a hurry.
So what happens after this brutal five-game stretch? The Dolphins get their bye week. Guess we should all be grateful for small favors.[poll id=”323″]
Check back Tuesday at 6 a.m. as A.C. In the A.M. looks at tonight’s scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium.
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.
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