MIAMI (AP) — South Floridians with a tour group visiting Kenya recently were pleased to encounter a young boy who emerged from a mud hut wearing a Miami Dolphins shirt, the only NFL apparel evident in his village.
Alas, while the Dolphins might rank No. 1 in at least one part of Africa, they’re bringing up the rear in preseason prognostications stateside.
One TV network places them 32nd and last. Another web site ranks their Super Bowl chances ahead of only the New York Jets. Oddsmakers put the over-under for victories at 6.5, which would be a slight improvement on last year’s 6-10 record.
“We’re not being talked about,” running back Kenyan Drake said. “If you look at our home schedule this year, we have all 1 o’clock games. That shows that the league doesn’t see us as a prime-time matchup for anybody.”
Low expectations are nothing new for a franchise that has played one postseason game since 2008.
Here are things to know about the once-again under-the-radar Dolphins:
THE QB: Ryan Tannehill returns after missing the past 20 games because of left knee issues, and keeping him healthy will be the No. 1 priority.
He’s fine with the notion the season hinges on him.
“I love feeling that responsibility, because I know that I can handle it,” Tannehill said. “We can do something special. Being able to captain that ship, so to speak, is a lot of fun.”
The offensive line could be the best Tannehill has played behind, which improves the chances the Dolphins can keep him in the lineup.
THE COACH: Adam Gase was considered a keeper after he led Miami’s overachieving 2016 team to 10 wins and the playoffs as a rookie NFL coach. The luster faded last year, when the Dolphins were inconsistent and undisciplined and lost eight of their final 10 games.
Gase remains supremely confident in his ability to lead the Dolphins to their first postseason win since 2000 — and more.
“It’s a new start,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this league. You never know what personality a team’s going to take on, what their characteristics are going to be, how they are going to handle adversity. You have those teams where nobody thinks they were going to do anything, and all of a sudden you’re talking about them in January.”
SHAKING IT UP: Under Gase, the Dolphins have committed more penalties than any other team in the past two seasons.
There were disciplinary issues off the field as well last year, which is partly why Miami bid adieu to three players with Pro Bowl resumes: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, receiver Jarvis Landry and center Mike Pouncey.
Gase brought in running back Frank Gore and receiver Danny Amendola, both veterans with reputations as leaders. The season will determine whether an improved culture can compensate for the loss of talent.
SHAKING IT UP II: Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will assume significant roles despite having no NFL experience. McMillan, Miami’s most promising rookie a year ago, is back after a knee injury in the first exhibition game ended his 2017 season.
Fitzpatrick is expected to make an immediate impact after being taken with the 11th overall pick in April.
Two other rookies, tight end Mike Gesicki and outside linebacker Jerome Baker, also made strong bids for starting jobs in training camp. Altogether the Dolphins could have 10 new starters.
STOPPING THE RUN: A winning season is unlikely unless Miami significantly improves a run defense that was awful the second half of last season, and early indications for 2018 are worrisome. In the second exhibition game, the Dolphins allowed 226 yards rushing to Carolina, including 71 on one play.
It was so bad Suh poked fun at his former team on Instagram.
“Lol,” he wrote.
The Dolphins will formulate their response beginning Sept. 9 against Tennessee.