Are Stephen Ross’ Expectations Realistic?

If you haven’t heard by now, Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross made some interesting comments this weekend, speaking publicly at Miami Beach High. Ross’ expectations for this football team couldn’t be any higher, as he confidently had the following to say: “I think in February we’re going to be playing in the Super Bowl. Let’s put it this way: (Tony Sparano) thinks that, too. So does every player on that team. So I don’t think there’s any pressure. You just got to go out and do it.”

Ross didn’t stop there. When talking about quarterback Chad Henne, he didn’t settle for any politically correct statement. “I’m sure that I’m hoping, as is everyone else, that he goes down as the greatest quarterback in Miami Dolphins history — and you know what that will mean,” Ross said.

“Chad Henne can handle pressure, that I can tell you,” Ross continued. “He started at the University of Michigan as a true freshman, playing in front of 110,000 people and leading them to the Big Ten championship as a true freshman. I think the Miami Dolphins have a great quarterback for the future and I think everybody in South Florida is excited about what Chad Henne brings to this team.”

Considering the Dolphins have already seen one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, in Dan Marino, suit up in the aqua and orange, Ross’ expectations couldn’t be any higher for his franchises’ starting quarterback.

The question I pose though is this: are these lofty expectations a realistic possibility for the Dolphins?

Many experts, outside of ESPN of course, are buying into the Dolphins as a legitimate contender. Anytime you go out and bring in one of the best receivers in the league, a playmaking inside linebacker, and let’s not forget, a genius defensive coordinator, to a team who has achieved more with less talent, than many teams in the league, people are going to, and should, take notice.

There is no doubt about it, the Dolphins have the right men running this football team. The moment the Trifecta took over the one-win 07′ team, a major culture change took place. Nobody was comfortable, and that’s the way it should be. With, admittedly, one of the least talented rosters in the entire league, the Dolphins defied logic, and won the AFC East.

Last year, injuries eventually got the best of Miami, but no one can argue the potential was there. Sure they only went 7-9, but looking back at their season, they were in the midst of a heated playoff race up until the last week, had one of the more difficult schedules in football, beat the Jets, who made it to the AFC Championship Game, twice, had the AFC representative Colts beat until late in the fourth quarter, and blew a commanding 24-3 lead against the world champion Saints.

Obviously, close doesn’t cut it in this league, but week in and week out, the Dolphins put themselves in position to win ball games. And now that talent is no longer an issue, are the Dolphins on the verge of making a serious run at the big game, this year?

Well, like I have said on many occasions, much is riding on if Chad Henne can take that next step as a quarterback. If Ronnie and Ricky can stay healthy for the duration of the season, then we know he should continue to have one of the better running attacks in football, and now, with the addition of Brandon Marshall, he has a true go-to threat, to go along with a nice complementary group of weapons.

So with this offense, and Henne’s upside, he has every opportunity to develop into a franchise quarterback. If he does, there is no telling how good this offense can be. Dare I say great?

However, I think we all know how the old saying goes. Offense may sell tickets, but defense wins championships. Well actually, if you look at the Saints a year ago, that isn’t always the case. But by and large, teams with better defenses fare better late in the season.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, there is uncertainty all over the field on that side of the ball. Where will the pass rush come from? Can Randy Starks really play nose tackle, and does him moving to the interior of the defensive line, severely downgrade the defensive end position? Is Chris Clemons (or Reshad Jones, if he can beat him out) the answer at free safety? Will Vontae Davis and Sean Smith make significant strides in their sophomore season? What about Karlos Dansby? Will he really perform like the highest paid player at his position?

As you can see, there are many, but legitament, questions surrounding this young, but talented Dolphins defense. How they will be answered will go a long way in defining Miami as either a contender or pretender.

No one though, should underestimate the impact Mike Nolan could have on this defense. Under Nolan, the Broncos defense made a remarkable turnaround in 09′. A season removed from finishing the season as the 29th overall defense, Denver improved to 7th last season with Nolan’s scheme.

If he can have the same impact in Miami, remains to be seen. But playcalling should no longer be an issue for the Dolphins, and despite question marks at key positions, moderate improvement, at least, should be expected.

Expectations for the 2010 Miami Dolphins are probably higher than they have been in years. And while they are not at the level yet, where we know they will be one of the league’s best, like the Colts have been year in and year out, and like the Patriots were in past seasons, the potential to be great, and possibly play for a Super Bowl is finally there. Anyone else ready for some football?

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