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AC in the AM: So Important To Start Fast

Posted Sep 5, 2017

As promising as that journey was a season ago, as much as this organization embraced its first trip to the playoffs since 2008, it is important to also remember why the Dolphins played wild card weekend and why they had the unenviable assignment of opening the playoffs in Pittsburgh.

A 1-4 start.

That the Dolphins were able to overcome that, at one point winning six straight and nine out of 10, is a remarkable storyline that had so much to do with resiliency and a strong belief that consumed the fabric of this team.

But now with another regular season about to dawn, it is time to learn from last season’s mistakes, time to remember the deep hole that September produced and the importance of avoiding a similar fate this season.

Listen to Adam Gase: “I think that’s something we’ve been trying to focus on during training camp. That’s really where it starts for us, to do a good job coming out ready to go, right out of the gate, and that’s what we’re hoping transfers over to games early in the season.”

Start fast. Find some early season mojo. Don’t wait until October to establish an identity. Come out confident. Don’t waver from who you are. Feed off your strengths. That’s got to be the mindset as the Dolphins prepare to take on Tampa Bay Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.

“We made our jobs a little tougher last season with that start,” said veteran guard Jermon Bushrod. “We can’t go out and do that again.”

As I look at this team, as I evaluate what went wrong during that 1-4 start, I see several reasons, important reasons, why it shouldn’t happen again, why the ingredients are firmly in place for a better early season performance.

Let’s break it down a little further:

• Adam Gase in his second season: There was so much to learn last season, especially early on. A new system was being installed. A new mindset was being introduced. The coaches needed to learn about the players; the players needed to learn about the coaches. So much of that learning took place during that 1-4 start. But this season there is a real sense of comfort, clear indications day after day that these players are so much further along mentally than they were a year ago. Now it isn’t about learning a system as much as it is refining it.

Jay Ajayi will literally hit the ground running: We didn’t know what we had in Ajayi when last season began. If you recall, he didn’t even make the trip to Seattle. The Dolphins were alternating three or four different backs, trying to find the right answer, hoping to produce, at the very least, a balanced attack. So in his first four games, after missing the opener, Ajayi never carried the ball more than 13 times and never rushed for more than 42 yards.

Then, as if a giant light went on, everything changed. It is no coincidence that the six-game winning streak kicked in when Ajayi began his roll, when it became clear that he deserved to be the featured back. First, Ajayi gained 204 yards against the Steelers, then 214 against the Bills. He was on his way and so were the Dolphins. Now, a year later, his role and his importance is understood and clearly defined. That’s got to mean so much early on.

• A conviction about Cam Wake and Andre Branch: Neither of these two players were in the starting lineup when last season began, Branch because he was so new to the team and Wake because they were being cautious with a veteran coming off major Achilles surgery. But after that 1-4 start, the Dolphins changed things up and as soon as Wake and Branch entered the starting lineup together, things quickly improved. Is it a coincidence that the 6-game winning streak began the game Wake and Branch were elevated to the first team? Don’t think so. Needless to say, both will be in starting roles against Tampa Bay.

• Understanding the offense: This had so much to do with last year’s early struggles. Learning a new offense from scratch certainly has its challenges. Example: The Dolphins began last season playing a hurry-up offense, often going without a huddle. It took a while to realize that with this new system, the players needed the extra time. So about the time they started winning, they also started huddling up. This year they already have a feel for what’s best for this group, already know how they want to approach each situation. That Jay Cutler already knows the offense, having played for Gase in Chicago, puts him ahead of where Ryan Tannehill was at this time last year. It all points to an offense that shouldn’t need much time to get going.

Start fast. Make an early season statement. While there are no guarantees, I can tell you this with some certainty: The Dolphins are in a much better position now than they were a September ago.

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