The Miami Dolphins arrived at their newly christened practice facility Tuesday, with their best player present and accounted for and with the lofty expectations that typically tend to accompany teams coming off a 10-win season.
“Expectations for ourselves are high, higher than anybody has for us,” linebacker Jerome Baker said, seven months after his team barely missed the playoffs. “We are capable of a lot and we know that. Now it’s about proving it.”
But defensive lineman Christian Wilkins cautioned: “Just because we were a borderline playoff team and won 10 games doesn’t mean anything. Last year’s touchdowns or sacks aren’t going to do anything for us.”
As first day of training camps go, this was a particularly good one, largely because cornerback Xavien Howard — who skipped the offseason program in a contract dispute — reported to camp with all of his teammates, and partly because the new training facility - complete with a slide, 209 television sets, an indoor sauna and barber shop — has buoyed spirits.
That the Dolphins built this $135 million practice facility adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium shows “that our organization cares about us, that they want us to do well,” Baker said. “They’ve given us all the tools to do well and we appreciate that. It’s cool to say we have the newest facility in the NFL and the best one. It’s our job to actually do well.
“There’s a little bit more energy than usual [partly because of the new facility]. It helps you in camp because you need those little spurts of energy.”
The only unfortunate news Tuesday: Receiver Preston Williams, who sustained a season-ending foot injury on Nov. 9, was placed on the physically unable to perform list. The Dolphins had been hopeful he would be ready for the regular-season opener, but that remains to be seen.
The Dolphins have 14 receivers under contract after recently adding Isaiah Ford. They could keep six or even seven on the 53-man roster. Will Fuller will miss the first game because of an NFL suspension.
Tua Tagovailoa, the unquestioned starting quarterback entering his second NFL season, “has done a great job” in recent months, guard Jesse Davis said, and will resume working with his augmented set of weapons this week.
Looming over everything with the NFL — for the second season in a row — is the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dolphins are heartened by the fact that they have crossed the 85 percent vaccine threshold for players.
Brian Flores said he will “not... pressure anyone [to get vaccinated], am not going to judge anyone’s commitment to the team. Give them the information, allow them to make their choice.”
Some notes at several positions, with players set to practice for the first time Wednesday and fans invited to attend beginning Saturday:
▪ Cornerback: Howard’s decision to report to camp delighted Flores, who declined to say whether the Pro Bowl cornerback would get the pay hike that he is seeking following a 10-interception season. Howard is entering the second year of a five-year, $75.5 million extension signed in May 2019.
“He’s a great player,” Flores said. “I’m excited to work with him.”
By NFL rule, Howard would have been fined $50,000 a day if he didn’t report to training camp.
“We were all excited about X [reporting to camp],” Baker said. “He’s a key guy on our defense. Great guy to be around. Happy to see him back.”
UPDATE: Howard requested a trade on Tuesday evening. Here are details.
▪ Offensive line: Liam Eichenberg, who’s expected to be given a chance to win the right tackle job, became the last Dolphins’ draft pick to sign, agreeing to a four-year deal worth $8 million, which includes a $3.2 million signing bonus….
Davis, who is expected to compete at left guard and potentially elsewhere, made clear on Tuesday that “I want a starting spot — that’s for sure. But I will play any position they want to put me in.”
Davis is eager to see the growth of these young linemen; three or four starters on the line are expected to be first- or second-year players, provided they don’t stumble over the next six weeks.
“Liam is well rounded, coached well in college [at Notre Dame],” Davis said. “I think he will do just fine. Seeing Rob Hunt work at a new position [right guard] and seeing [left tackle Austin Jackson] come into Year 2, it’s going to be fun. Austin and Rob are really talented.”
▪ Linebacker: Baker, given a three-year, $39 million extension, said “I received more; now it’s time to give more [to charitable causes]. That’s how I was raised.”
His mother was thrilled with the contract but still told him to take out the trash on the day he signed the new deal.
Meanwhile, Baker said he will carefully study former Houston Texans Pro Bowler Benardrick McKinney — his new inside linebacker partner — after the two bonded off the field in recent weeks.
“Right now is when we get our chemistry to see how we work together,” Baker said. “He’s a great person.”
Baker raved about the physical conditioning of rookie linebacker Jaelan Phillips — “he’s definitely in shape.”
▪ Defensive line: Wilkins sees big potential for a line built around himself, Raekwon Davis, Emmanuel Ogbah, Zach Sieler and former Patriots end Adam Butler, a skilled pass rusher.
“We have a lot of good guys, a lot of guys who are versatile and can play a lot of positions on different fronts,” Wilkins said. “I like Adam. He’s great for our locker room and d-line. Really like his game.”
▪ Running back: The Dolphins showed their faith in Myles Gaskin by not using a high pick on a running back and not addressing the position in free agency beyond adding former Rams backup Malcolm Brown.
Gaskin — who was 10th in the league in average yards from scrimmage per game at 97.2 — hopes to reward that faith by staying healthy.
“I missed six games last year,” he said Tuesday. This offseason, he said he ate better, worked on his body and did more Pilates with the hope of being “more healthy and more available, more durable.”
Gaskin, the 23rd and final running back selected in the 2019 draft, was among the Dolphins’ most pleasant surprises last season.
“Expectations for him are very high,” Baker said. “Last year, it blew my mind. He was going hard literally on our day off. That shows who he is. I’m excited to see him coming into his own.”
Gaskin — a big fan of former NFL back LaDanian Tomlinson while growing up — said the addition of speedy receivers Fuller and Jaylen Waddle “definitely will open the box for us” in the run game.
Improving the running back is a high priority. The Dolphins’ 3.9 yards-per-carry average was fourth worst in the league last season, with Gaskin finishing above that at 4.1.