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AC In The AM: Identity Of This Dolphins Team Is Emerging

With a second straight victory still fresh in our minds, with the Buffalo Bills coming to Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday and with so many reasons to be encouraged, we offer our weekly dose of Tuesday morning perspective.

  • This team is likeable and this team is fun. Likeable because there are no massive egos, no selfish demands and no annoying locker room distractions, just a bunch of good guys with something to prove. Fun because you just never know what to expect and because this coaching staff will try just about anything and because, perhaps most importantly, these players come at you full throttle every Sunday.
  • Yes, they are still a team with some major limitations. But somehow they are able to overcome those, accentuating their strengths and playing with the poise, purpose and passion that you just don't expect from one of the youngest teams in the league.
  • Give Brian Flores and his staff plenty of credit for this. That this team has come together over the past two weeks and that so many different players are contributing is a credit to the work of this staff. They have put these players in positions to succeed. They have kept them believing. They have taken a group of strangers — at last count 11 players claimed off waivers — and turned them into one. Considering where this team was when the season began and where it is now, the evolution borders on remarkable.
  • After nine games the identity of this team has clearly taken hold. It is about a 36-year-old quarterback who is as blue-collar as you'll find, a player in Ryan Fitzpatrick who leads with his words, but more so with his actions. In so many ways, these players have taken on the tough-minded mentality of their quarterback. But this team is now also about a defense filled with young, hungry players who have bought into the system and who seem to be adjusting and growing with each game. We had the No-Name defense here in the 70's. This is the: What's Their Names defense.
  • Nobody reflects this long shot mentality, at least at this moment, better than defensive back Nik Needham. He went undrafted out of UTEP. He was given little chance of making this roster. In fact, at one point was released. But look at him now. Getting major playing time. Intercepting a fourth quarter pass against the Colts that set up the go-ahead field goal. Making a fourth down tackle on tight end Eric Ebron that sealed the win. Could he be a part of the long-term nucleus of this team? He's certainly making a strong case for it.
  • So on Monday, Flores stood before the media, clearly encouraged by the events of the past two Sundays, but more concerned about the next game Sunday against the Bills at Hard Rock Stadium. That's the way he does business. Enjoy the moment and then quickly move on. As for the here and now he simply says, "We're moving in the right direction. There is a trust and a belief in the process."
  • By the way, anybody check out the animated version of Flores on the sideline late in Sunday's game? The hands clapping. The fists pumping. The raw emotion of a first-year head coach getting his second straight victory. Special stuff.
  • For those who were concerned about placekicker Jason Sanders and some early season misses, guess you can relax now after he nailed a 47-yard field goal and a pair of 48-yarders against the Colts. When I say nailed, I mean dead center. For a team that figures to play a lot of close games moving forward, Sanders can be a huge difference-maker.
  • My biggest concern right now? Undoubtedly the running game. The Dolphins beat the Colts without any semblance of balance on offense. Kalen Ballage was the leading rusher with 43 yards on 20 carries, his longest run netting just seven yards. In fact the second leading rusher was Fitzpatrick and he had the long run of the day covering 11 yards. This can't continue. I understand it's not only on the running backs, but more production, perhaps from rookies Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin, is essential moving forward.
  • How did the Dolphins make up for the loss of receiver Preston Williams to a season-ending knee injury? Nine different players caught passes against the Colts. That's a start.
  • Veteran defensive tackle John Jenkins is quietly have a nice season, rotating in and out with starters Christian Wilkins and Davon Godchaux to give this team a formidable trio in the middle of the defense. Jenkins had a big stop against the Colts, tackling Marlon Mack for a 3-yard loss. He brings seven years of experience to this defense.
  • Did you notice that former No. 1 pick Charles Harris had his second straight game with a tackle for loss? It's nice to see some improvement there.
  • The more I watch cornerback Jomal Wiltz the more I like him.
  • You can't minimize the fact that this team is among the least penalized in the league. This isn't by chance; it's by design. It has been stressed since the first day of training camp. Bottom line: It's so much easier to win games when you don't beat yourself.
  • And now we turn our thoughts to a Sunday rematch against the Bills and a chance, as amazing as it now sounds, for a third straight victory.

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