Af­ter an ex­haust­ing

Af­ter an ex­haust­ing week deal­ing with Irma, Dol­phins get their sea­son opener to­day in L.A.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Perkins Staff Writer

week deal­ing with Hur­ri­cane Irma, the Dol­phins fi­nally get their sea­son opener to­day in L.A. against the Charg­ers.

LOS AN­GE­LES – Some­times the bot­tom-line truth gets the job done. For ex­am­ple, con­sider this: The Mi­ami Dol­phins play their 2017 sea­son opener at 4 p.m. to­day against the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers at StubHub Sta­dium. It’s a sim­ple state­ment, but af­ter en­dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma, and all she brought be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter blow­ing through South Florida, say­ing the Dol­phins will play a game to­day is all that’s re­quired to get ev­ery­body fired up.

“[I’m] anx­ious, ex­cited,” de­fen­sive end Cameron Wake said. “I’m ac­tu­ally look­ing for­ward to go­ing out and see­ing what we’re made of, re­ally.”

The Dol­phins will take the field to­day for the first time since a wild-card play­off game against Pitts­burgh in Jan­uary with eight of­fen­sive starters and six de­fen­sive starters from that 30-12 loss. That means they’ll have eight new starters, a sig­nif­i­cant amount, in-

clud­ing quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler, who has only been with the team five weeks.

The Charg­ers (0-1), who were 5-11 last year and aren’t pro­jected to make the play­offs this year, should give the Dol­phins a good idea of where they stand. Led by quar­ter­back Philip Rivers, who some think is headed for the Hall of Fame af­ter he re­tires, and dan­ger­ous de­fen­sive ends Joey Bosa, the for­mer St. Thomas Aquinas High stand­out, and Melvin In­gram, the Charg­ers are tal­ented in spots, but not nec­es­sar­ily good as a team.

Of course, the Dol­phins have is­sues, too.

One of the big mys­ter­ies en­ter­ing this game is Mi­ami’s mind­set.

Train­ing camp was try­ing with sea­son-ending in­juries to quar­ter­back Ryan Tan­nehill (knee), line­backer Raek­won McMil­lan (knee) and cor­ner­back Tony Lip­pett (Achilles).

But that was only the open­ing act. Hur­ri­cane Irma brought a dif­fer­ent level of dis­ar­ray.

Af­ter an ex­haust­ing and ad­ven­tur­ous week that in­cluded hav­ing their orig­i­nal sea­son opener against Tampa Bay post­poned be­cause of Irma, and then fly­ing to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to es­cape the storm, the Dol­phins are look­ing for NFL nor­malcy.

It ap­pears that’s on the way.

“We’ve pre­pared for a week and we’re ready to go for the game,” coach Adam Gase said. “You know last week it was we were pre­par­ing and then it wasn’t there.

“It will be ex­cit­ing for our guys to just fi­nally stop prac­tic­ing and play a game.”

On the field, Mi­ami, which says it will em­ploy a no-hud­dle, up-tempo of­fense at times to­day, must do two things pri­mar­ily — run the ball and stop the run.

The Dol­phins were 8-0 last sea­son when Pro Bowl run­ning back Jay Ajayi had 18 or more car­ries. He sets a phys­i­cal tone that has a rip­ple ef­fect on the en­tire of­fense. The Charg­ers al­lowed Den­ver 140 yards rush­ing on Mon­day, so there might be a big op­por­tu­nity for the ground game.

Af­ter that, look for Mi­ami’s down­field pass­ing game to be a sta­ple of an of­fense led by the ag­gres­sive, strong-armed Cut­ler. He’ll likely make wide re­ceiver De­Vante Parker his fa­vorite tar­get but fel­low wide re­ceivers Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry are also sure to get down­field op­por­tu­ni­ties.

De­fen­sively, the Dol­phins were 30th last sea­son against the run and they used lots of re­sources to ac­quire play­ers such as strong­side line­backer Lawrence Tim­mons, de­fen­sive end Wil­liam Hayes and de­fen­sive tack­les Davon God­chaux and Vin­cent Tay­lor. Im­prove­ment over last year is a ne­ces­sity.

The Charg­ers, led by coach An­thony Lynn, who came up as a run­ning backs coach, want to get run­ning back Melvin Gor­don (54 yards on 18 car­ries last week) go­ing, and if that hap­pens it prob­a­bly means bad things for the Dol­phins’ de­fense.

What­ever hap­pens to­day, the Dol­phins are glad it’s putting them back on the road to nor­malcy, and no one could use that more than Cut­ler.

Here’s a guy who re­tired in May, took an NFL an­a­lyst job with FOX, then came out of re­tire­ment three months later to become the Dol­phins’ start­ing quar­ter­back, only to have the sea­son opener post­poned by a hur­ri­cane that forced the team to flee to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Cut­ler said.

WINSLOW TOWNSON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dol­phins quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler leads his team against the Charg­ers in L.A. to­day. “It’s been a wild ride,’’ he says.

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