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Lots To Reflect On For 2011 Dolphins

Posted Jan 2, 2012

Getaway day at the end of the NFL season is always tough and emotional on the players, but the uncertainty surrounding the head coaching position for the Miami Dolphins made today a little more unique.

Immediately following the exit physicals the team gathered in the auditorium for its final meeting with interim Head Coach Todd Bowles leading it. Everyone in that meeting was charged with balancing the positives that came out of Miami’s strong finish with the lessons learned from the rough start.

So as each player went back into the locker room with his boxes and large trash bags preparing to clean out his locker, he continued to reflect on 2011. There was the lockout that led to the cancellation of offseason minicamps and the promising 3-1 preseason followed by a frustrating 0-7 beginning to the regular season. And then there was the three-game winning streak, four out of five and a 6-3 finish to end with a 6-10 record, tied for the best finish of an 0-7 team in league history.

“The message from this morning’s meeting was to take some of the good from the end of the season and carry that same kind of intensity and winning and playmaking into next season and do that for a full season,” said wide receiver Brian Hartline, who finished with 35 catches for 548 yards, one touchdown and a team-high 15.7 yards-per-catch average. “That was kind of the main message. We knew that there are same changes that are going to happen and we’re prepared for that, so at this point we’re going to take some time off, start this non-voluntary working out by ourselves and get ready for April.”

From a personal standpoint, Hartline wants to produce the way he did down the stretch for an entire 16-game season. The Ohio native plans to head back to Columbus initially to allow his body to heal and reunite with friends and family before jumping back into his offseason workout regimen.

Over on the defensive side of the ball, second-year defensive end Jared Odrick was still soaking in the experience he had of playing with Jason Taylor and sitting next to him in the locker room at the practice facility. Since he missed all but one game of his rookie season in 2010, Odrick approached this season as if it was his first, and the fact that he racked up six sacks was a highlight for him.

“In a way I treated it as my rookie season … well, it’s not like I treated it as that but it kind of felt like that just being able to play whole season and 16 games,” Odrick said. “I was content with my performance. Like I’ve been saying for the past few days, this year was a steppingstone for what’s to come for my career. So I believe there’s a whole lot more out there for me to accomplish and for me to do and I expect a whole lot more out of myself and I think all of you should, too.”

Running back Reggie Bush probably had the biggest microscope on him at the start of training camp after he came over from the New Orleans Saints in a trade. He made it clear he wanted to prove that he could be an every-down back and the Dolphins were intent on giving him that chance in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense.

By season’s end, Bush had put together the first 1,000-yard season of his career and finished with 1,086 yards and six touchdowns on 216 carries. His 5.0 yards per carry were tops in the league for backs with at least 200 carries and he did it in 15 games, missing Sunday’s 19-17 win over the New York Jets with a knee injury.

“I would say this has been the most productive year for me,” Bush said. “I guess you could say (that he silenced critics) but that wasn’t my main focus at all. My focus was to come here and be productive for this team and run for four yards every time I touched the ball and just continue to be that productive player week in and week out consistently on the offense. It was really tough watching from the sideline yesterday and it’s always tough as a competitor knowing you could be out there helping your team, but the most important thing is that we got the win and we were able to send JT out the right way.”

Bush has one year left on his contract and he expressed his desire to stay with the Dolphins beyond that, acknowledging the fact that who the new coach ends up being and other roster moves will impact that decision. For now he is content on healing his body in the offseason and diving back into the workout program as soon as he can, but before all of that he will step in front of the camera next Monday as a co-host with Kelly Ripa on “Live With Kelly” on ABC Television.

This year’s rookie class is still reeling from the roller-coaster season, so it’s only appropriate that the leader of that class get the final word. Rookie center Mike Pouncey was the 15th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft last April and blossomed into a Pro Bowl alternate by season’s end. “It went by fast,” said Pouncey, whose twin brother, Maurkice, is the starting center for the AFC from the Pittsburgh Steelers. “At first it was slow and when you’re losing everything’s bad. You’re tense about everything, you’re aggravated because you’re losing but when you start winning the season goes by much faster. My rookie season went by so fast I can’t even remember it, but I enjoyed it. This season happened for a reason, so we’ve got some stuff to look forward to next year and I can’t wait to get back on the field.”

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