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Senior NFL Columnist

Dolphins camp report: Philbin right man to get Miami back on track

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Pete Prisco says the Dolphins would be smart to name Ryan Tannehill their starting quarterback. (US Presswire)  
Pete Prisco says the Dolphins would be smart to name Ryan Tannehill their starting quarterback. (US Presswire)  

DAVIE, Fla. -- It's the name. Or lack of one.

Joe Philbin?

The Miami Dolphins could have had Jeff Fisher and they ended up with Joe Philbin?

If you had a stone crab for every time that sentence was said or written, you'd probably be sick of the sea's tastiest delight, which is pretty damn hard to do.

But here's what I say to that: Good for the Dolphins.

It's not meant to dismiss Fisher. I think he's been a good coach -- not a great one -- in his career. But the reality is Fisher had six winning seasons in 17 with the Oilers-Titans and his winning percentage was .542. He had five 8-8 seasons.

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Perception might be more glowing than the reality.

So giving new blood a try is good.

Fisher is also an old-school coach who loves the running game. Philbin is the new breed, a coach who loves an up-tempo, passing-oriented offense that is the way of the modern game.

Watching his team practice last week, I came away thoroughly impressed with the pace of practice. I also loved the offensive flow. It was fast, fun and far from predictable.

Some critics in South Florida are already saying Philbin, who seems dry in front of the cameras, is the next coming of Cam Cameron, who was considered a top offensive mind only to have a 1-15 record as head coach of the Dolphins.

I don't see that at all. After watching Philbin coach for two days and spending some time with him, I came away with the impression that he isn't awed by the job.

He's been a long-time assistant coach on a lot of levels, so the doubters will be there.

But like he said: It is just football.

"I don't want to oversimplify football because we get paid an awful lot of money and everybody thinks it's a complex game," Philbin said. "Everybody said for 19 years, 'Joe, you can't coach in the NFL, it's too complicated.' Really, I don't think the game's going to be that much different. How many coverages do people play? Zone or man. I mean that's two. But there are combinations. And there is three-deep. I get all that. I understand. That's not to disrespect defensive coaches. There are some great defensive coaches in this league, but it's not that hard of a game."

You block and tackle and throw it and catch it and run it.

It's how you teach it that matters. And how you manage your locker room. Philbin's quick move on sending Chad Johnson packing after his arrest for allegedly heat-butting his wife last week sent a swift and loud message to the locker room: He won't tolerate off-field crap.

"It's not about one person flexing his muscles and saying, 'We're doing this,'" Philbin said. "It was time to move on. It is what it is. Again, it wasn't done to send a message. It was done because it just didn't feel right. That's why it was done."

Philbin will likely make the decision to start rookie Ryan Tannehill at quarterback this season. That will mean a year of learning and growing for his team.

There's no "win now" pressure, which is good.

But Philbin, even if he might seem to lack the presence some would expect in a coach, seems to be off to a good start with the Dolphins -- especially after the way he handled the Johnson situation.

I like his candor. I like his offensive mind. I like the way he isn't afraid of the passing game.

No, he's not Jeff Fisher. In the long run, Miami might be glad he's not.

Team Objectives

  Pick a quarterback. And that should be Tannehill. This Dolphins team isn't pushing for a division title. So by not playing Tannehill, they would just be delaying the inevitable. Tannehill wants to play. "Of course I do," he said. "But I want what is best for the team." That's playing you, Ryan. I was really impressed with how he threw the football the days I watched him practice. I know he didn't have a great showing in his first preseason start Friday, but he also was pressured the entire night. During practices he was sure of himself, accurate and understood where to go with the football. He put on a clinic in a two-minute drill during one practice. David Garrard, who suffered a knee injury that has him sidelined, and Matt Moore are backup types. Tannehill can be the Dolphins' first franchise passer since Dan Marino retired in 1999. I say he wins the job, but if he doesn't the Dolphins will be making a huge mistake.

  Make a comfortable switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 front. The new staff prefers a 4-3, which means outside linebacker Cameron Wake is now a down end. He's played that position before -- mostly in Canada -- so it's a bit of a transition. It's a risk playing him with his hand down at right end after he had so much success as a 3-4 outside rusher. Wake had a car accident last week and didn't play in Friday's game against Carolina, but it's not believed to be serious. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is considered a rising star in the coaching profession, so they are in good hands.

  Find some receivers to help the young quarterback. With Chad Johnson gone and Brian Hartline sitting out as he battles a calf issue, the Dolphins are thin at receiver. They need young receivers like Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace to step up and do more.

Davone Bess is the team's top receiver right now. Look for some moves here as teams make their cuts.

Camp Battles

Starting receivers: With Johnson gone -- I didn't think he'd start anyway -- the Dolphins are left with a bunch of guys who have spent the summer dropping footballs. Bess should be one starter, and veteran Legedu Naanee has the inside track on the other job. Moore and Wallace are also in the mix. Clyde Gates, who has a ton of speed, hasn't flashed much this summer. It's not a great group, that's for sure.

Projected winners: Naanee and Bess. If Hartline can get back soon, he will be on the field somewhere.

Starting corner: It looked like Vontae Davis and Sean Smith would be the starters. But Davis has been in the doghouse early in camp and has been working with the second team. Richard Marshall, signed as a free agent from the Cardinals, is working with the first team. I see that changing soon. Davis, despite his flaws, is a talented player who can play at an elite level when he's focused. That's too valuable.

Projected winner: Davis. Marshall will become the team's nickel corner, giving the Dolphins a nice trio of cover players.

Right guard: This is the weak spot on the Dolphins' line, especially with rookie Jon Martin settling in nicely at right tackle. Artis Hicks has been running with the first team much of camp, and is expected to be the starter. Veteran Eric Steinbach is also in the competition, but he is dinged up. John Jerry was expected to be in the battle, but he has been overweight this summer and hasn't won over the coaches.

Projected winner: Hicks -- by default.

Somebody to Watch

Reggie Bush is coming off a good season for the Dolphins in 2011 -- the best of his career. Bush rushed for a career-high 1,086 yards with a 5.0 per-rush average. He also caught 43 passes. In his final four games -- he missed Week 17 -- he had four games of 100 yards or more, including a 203-yard game against the Bills. Bush has talked about leading the league in rushing this year, which is doubtful with the move to more of a passing offense, but I expect he will be even more explosive in the passing game. Bush is a weapon and showed last season he can run between the tackles after all.

Injury Roundup

  Garrard. He was running with the first team until he suffered a knee injury while playing with his kid. He is expected to miss 2-4 weeks after surgery.

  Hartline. The calf injury has forced him to miss all of camp.

  LB Karlos Dansby. He has an undisclosed injury that has kept him out of practice for a few days.

  DT Tony McDaniel has not practiced for a few days, but the team would not say why.

  Wake. His back is sore from the accident.

  LB Kevin Burnett. He was held out of Friday night's game with back issues.

The Last Word

As you can tell, I like the hiring of Philbin, a no-nonsense coach. And I think Tannehill has what it takes to be a good long-term player for the Dolphins.

But it will take time. The Dolphins have to understand that they aren't being built for the now, but rather for a year or two down the road.

Patience is important. There were a lot of holes on this roster when Philbin took the job and he can't fix them all at once. Now that it looks like the quarterback situation is remedied, they can build around Tannehill and grow with him.

If this team gets to six victories, it will be a good season. If Tannehill is better than expected, it might be even more.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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