MIAMI GARDENS. While the media and fans are making predictions about the legitimacy of the Dolphins this season—some say Miami is a Super Bowl contender, others say they’re not—guard Jalen Ramsey just lives his life and keeps working.
The rest of the team would be wise to follow suit.
Ramsey, a Pro Bowl cornerback acquired by the Dolphins in the offseason, experienced sky-high preseason hype and anticipation, first with Jacksonville in 2018, the season after the Jaguars’ painful 24-20 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game, and again with the all-star Los Angeles Rams a few years ago.
As the Dolphins prepare to open Wednesday’s training camp, Ramsey sticks to his game plan. He’s not overly concerned with outsiders’ seasonal expectations, good or bad.
Ask him how to handle high expectations, especially with him and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on board now, and he’ll frankly tell you it doesn’t matter.
“Work comes first,” he said. “When you get the job done, you don’t worry about any of that. You don’t really care about what other people say. You know what you’ve done to prepare and you’re just standing there.”
Ask him what the difference is between a good defense and a great defense: “You have to have pieces… but then, I keep repeating this, we have to put in the effort.”
Yes, he listens to external noise. Helps.
Ramsey said in June that heightened expectations and public doubt were motivating factors.
“I think you accept all of this,” he said. “Whether it was high expectations or they thought we weren’t going to do anything at all, I think you embrace it all. And that’s how you just store it, and then when you grind it, if you need a little extra boost, think about something sometimes.
“Whether you’ve proven people right or proven them wrong, it’s just a motivating factor.”
Ramsey never shied away from the limelight and the high-profile life. In 2019, he arrived at the Jaguars’ training camp in an armored truck that they use to transport money to banks. It was a symbol that Ramsey wanted more money, you could say a truckload of money.
He appeared at his Dolphins opening press conference wearing an iced-out diamond necklace and almost head-to-toe Gucci.
“Me and Gucci teamed up last year, so we do a lot of stuff,” Ramsey said in March, “and every time I have something special going on, they want to make sure they ‘fit me and everything.’
There’s plenty of optimism for the Dolphins, who finished last season 9-8 before limping in their wild card playoff game at Buffalo and losing 34-31 to a hearty but injury-riddled team.
On offense, the optimism begins with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, wide receivers Tyreke Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and coach Mike McDaniel, the architect.
The Dolphins’ renewed defensive hope lies with Fangio, who has arguably done enough in this league to earn the guru title.
On Tuesday, Pro Bowl defenseman Xavien Howard was asked about Fangio, who said he experimented with some new defensive ideas last season, taking a year out of the league. He said that Fangio introduced a small amount of the secret sauce, but not much.
“We don’t know what Vic is up to,” Howard said, “but he’s going to use us as a defense.”
The Dolphins’ defense is also boosted by the presence of Ramsey and Howard in the back and wingers Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips in the front. Oh, and there’s defensive lineman Christian Wilkins and safety Jevon Holland, two young men who may have a Pro Bowl in the future.
However, there is a lot of work to be done in many areas and everyone seems to know it.
The reality is that this Dolphins team has a lot to overcome.
They finished last season losing six of their last seven games. In at least two of those games (San Francisco and Los Angeles Chargers) they were not coached. Tagovailoa started and finished the first four games of those seven finals 0–4. Overall, the Dolphins were 2-3 against playoff teams in games that Tagovailoa started and finished, and 2-6 overall against playoff teams.
In addition, they were undisciplined. Last season, the Dolphins were tied for fourth in penalties (111) and fifth in penalties (881). The Dolphins finished first in total flags (144), including compensatory penalties and rejected penalties.
However, there are many reasons to be optimistic and many reasons to believe in this hype.
And the reason for the faith starts in the dressing room, where the players seem to be coping with sky-high expectations in a grown-up way.
“I can feel you feel the energy when you walk into this dressing room,” Howard said. “And I feel like guys are walking around here like they have something to do. I don’t feel like anyone is comfortable here or where they are right now. I feel like you should have it.
As for the feeling of pressure to live up to expectations, that pressure comes from within as players look around the dressing room and note the talent they have accumulated.
“There are a lot of great guys on this team,” Howard said. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure coming from there.”
But as Ramsey says, if they’re doing their job, they have nothing to worry about.