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There really is no such thing as an offseason in the National Football League, but that notion holds even more weight when it comes to the equipment staff of the Miami Dolphins.
Just one look at equipment manager Joe Cimino’s home away from home adjacent to the team’s locker room at Doctors Hospital Training Facility in Davie provides a glimpse into this hidden but valuable world. Cimino oversees a virtual non-stop workshop of 10 people including himself, full-time assistants Steven Guida, Jon Swede and Charlie Theile, and staff assistants Kiel Fechtelcotter, Joseph Galioto, Ernest Leal, Dan Matthiesen, Alex Kurowski and Khoeny Dolisca. That crew's motor heightens in intensity the closer it gets to training camp.
“Just in this last week or two weeks, while everyone was kind of away we’ve been kind of like Santa’s elves in here,” said Cimino, who is in his 20th season with the organization and seventh in his current role. “We’ve been getting everything done and everything rolled out so when everyone comes back it’s like nothing even happened.”
In fact, so much has to happen before the players’ lockers are outfitted with all of the necessary clothing and gear for those hot July and August days that it intertwines with the prior regular season. Cimino had to place his orders to Nike for the following year’s uniforms back on November 1st, 2012, just a few days after Miami’s seventh game at the New York Jets.
Throw in a logo and uniform change, which came on the heels of the NFL switching last year from Reebok to Nike, and the process took on a higher level of difficulty. The intricacies of differing sizes, looks and even materials has to be factored into the orders, as well as planning for a change in player personnel via the draft and free agency.
“If we were in a non-logo change or a non-Reebok-to-Nike deal you take an inventory and based on what we issue every year we look at our trends of large, extra large, etc. and what we go through,” Cimino said. “When we went Reebok to Nike we had to throw it all out and refurbish it as it went along and now we had to do that again. But now we know we’re settled in for five years at least because that’s the NFL rules, once you switch you have to be in it for five years, so now we can order a little bit more while also understanding it’s a fluid situation based on if we have more receivers or more linemen in a particular year.”
One luxury that Cimino and his staff has over some other teams is knowing Miami’s location for training camp doesn’t change and therefore his base of operations doesn’t have to move. The Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, to name a few, leave their headquarters and hold training camp in different cities, so their equipment staffs have to pack up enough gear for six weeks and prepare for the transportation to and from those locations.
The Dolphins in the past have held joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Orlando and Tampa and the Atlanta Falcons in Suwanee, Ga., but only for a matter of days, and have hosted joint practices with the Bucs and the San Diego Chargers. That task wasn’t quite as imposing as if the entire six-week training camp was held elsewhere, with the closest the team has come to replicating that having come back in 2004 during the regular season when back-to-back road games in Seattle and San Francisco forced Miami to stay on the West Coast for two weeks.
“I can tell you that after talking to equipment guys around the league, we’re very fortunate that we’ve always been here,” said Cimino, who began his tenure in Davie the year the facility opened in 1993. “The teams that go away, it’s a big deal, especially at this point because if we were away getting ready and stuff is shipped here it creates a logistical nightmare for us.
“But this year between the logo and uniform change and the fact that 90 players are in camp is providing more than enough of a challenge.
“We still had stuff coming in this week that needed to be organized and set out in the locker room, like the new practice jerseys,” Cimino said. “When we practice, you’re going to notice offense is in aqua, defense is in white and that’s dictated because the first game we’re wearing aqua. So we want Ryan (Tannehill) and the offense getting used to seeing aqua when they’re throwing and white from the defense and consequently we want the defense seeing dark. When we go to Jacksonville we’ll be in white, but we have that transition already done.
“It’s like if you had a test on Monday, ideally you’re pretty much prepped Friday and Saturday and Sunday you’re tweaking. So I would like to have been done June 1st and tweaking at this time, but I’ve been doing a little more cramming than tweaking. This will settle down a little bit once we get past this year, but we’ve got a year’s experience doing this.”
Beyond the uniforms and making sure each player has at two white and two blue practice jerseys and at least four pairs of shoes (field cleats, turf cleats, running shoes and shower shoes), the staff has to prepare and upkeep the helmets and pads. The league has mandated the use of kneepads and thigh pads by all players, whereas in the past it was optional, so that’s one change the staff is dealing with.
Of course, every player has his own special needs, like Pro Bowl left guard
All of this goes on behind the scenes, but where Cimino’s staff truly gets a workout is during practice setting up the tackling sleds, cones, goalposts and other pieces of apparatus being utilized. Head Coach Joe Philbin likes to run a fast-paced practice, and with this big of a training camp roster he uses both outdoor practice fields simultaneously.
“Coach Philbin and I go over practice daily and what you see at practice is not by chance,” Cimino said. “We’re not over here just for a reason or they’re over there for a reason. Everything is designed and works together for a purpose and he wants the team to play upbeat so we have to practice fast as well. Once they’re done with their stretch it’s like a symphony with the players going from one station to another and we’re running around with them.”