Although Miami Dolphins' coach Tony Sparano always wears dark glasses because of sensitivity to light, he can still tell how different his team looks this offseason compared to last.
"Without being arrogant ... as a staff we talked about it the other day. It's like night and day," Sparano said during last weekend's final minicamp of the offseason. "Last year at this time -- minicamp, OTAs -- you were watching the film and sometimes it didn't really look much like football out there. A little bit of rugby, a little bit of other things going on in there, but not a whole lot like football all the time.
"Now that got better and better. ... Just a year later they understand what it is that we're looking for as coaches. They know the system better. There's fewer mental errors. Guys are able to react a lot faster, sooner. And the quarterbacks [know] what they can do out there."
However, Sparano clearly wasn't ready to predict another AFC East title and he was unhappy about the recent war of words between linebacker Channing Crowder and new Jets' coach Rex Ryan. So to keep his players' egos in check he cited a statistical study that he did in which just 48.6 percent of the division winners over the last 10 years made the playoffs the following season.
"When you start to look at some of those kind of numbers, it is hard to get overconfident about anything," Sparano said. "I won't let that happen."
Sparano knows the Dolphins have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL and that they and their Wildcat offense will no longer take teams by surprise, even with the addition of versatile rookie quarterback Pat White.
Last year Sparano was a rookie head coach riding the credibility tail of vice president of football operations Bill Parcells. That is no longer the case. After an 11-5 turnaround, Sparano commands respect and runs the team on and off the field, while Parcells assists general manager Jeff Ireland in the procurement of players.
The Dolphins have bolstered their depth at every position except nose tackle where an aging, yet still effective Jason Ferguson is holding down the fort.
They brought back hybrid linebacker Jason Taylor to assist Joey Porter on the pass rush and behind them are potential sack masters in Cameron Wake, Erik Walden and Charlie Anderson. The secondary is deeper than ever with the addition of safety Gibril Wilson and cornerback Eric Green, as well as the re-signing of safety Yeremiah Bell and the two rookie cornerback draft picks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.
That said, even Taylor knows that titles aren't won in June.
"We look good in pajamas," he said. "I have seen so many guys get crowned All-Pros in OTAs and they kind of disappear. I don't want to sound pessimistic or anything. For what we're doing now we're doing a good job and we are all learning. ... When we put the pads on we will get a better look."