DAVIE, Fla. (July 28, 2007) -- Camp Cameron opened and the Miami Dolphins' new coach spent part of the first practice evaluating his team from 35 yards behind the line of scrimmage, with the nearest player 20 yards away.
In your face? Not Cam Cameron. He's the anti-Saban.
"It's more of a player-friendly, worker-friendly atmosphere," defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday said.
"He's a lot laid back," receiver Chris Chambers said.
"If you're being a pro, he won't have anything to say to you," guard Rex Hadnot said.
The Dolphins like their new coach, and one day into training camp, what's not to like? They're talking optimistically of ending a five-year playoff drought, longest in franchise history. After two seasons under the volatile Nick Saban, Cameron offers a clean slate and fresh approach.
The Cameron era began without the anticipation that accompanied the training camp debuts of Saban or Jimmy Johnson, and the grandstand was only half full for the first practice. On the field, the atmosphere was also subdued. Players fumbled, dropped passes and blew assignments, but the mistakes inspired no screaming fits by the head coach.
It was quite a change from Saban, who once launched a tirade that brought a defensive tackle to tears.
"There's not as much yelling and screaming on the field," Holliday said. "There's a sense of a little more relaxed atmosphere and going about business, and I think it's great. Some of the young players who last year were more worried about being yelled at can concentrate on alignments, assignments and making plays."
The workout was civil in other ways, too. The Dolphins practiced in helmets and shorts and engaged in almost no contact. Cameron had them off the field and out of the subtropical heat by 10:30 a.m.
"Cam is going to take care of us," said linebacker Joey Porter, the most prominent veteran newcomer. "He's not going to try to run us into the ground, because it's a long season. Training camp is not meant to be easy, but at the same time, you want to get out of it safe and have all your bodies going into the season."
At 3 1/2 minutes, Cameron's post-practice news conference was shorter than many Saban monologues. His brief remarks did include a reference to avoiding injuries.
"It was a positive practice," Cameron said. "If you can just stay healthy, to me that's where it all starts, and we were able to do that."
Not that Cameron plans to coddle his players. There will be physical drills and grinding practices, with the first workout in pads on July 29. But the focus at the outset will be on technique and fundamentals and learning assignments.
Cameron will also be learning in his first year as an NFL head coach, but he said he's comfortable in the new role because of his background. The stepson of a college coach, he became a college assistant in 1984, spent five years as head coach at Indiana and won raves for his success as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers the past five years.
"This is all I've known since growing up, starting as a ballboy," he said. "You love it. There's nothing like it. I'm blessed to be in the greatest profession in the world.
"I also understand it's a process. It's a lot of hard work. This morning was just the start to that."
Camp began with all 87 players under contract. The last to sign was first-round draft pick Ted Ginn Jr., who reached an agreement July 27. Nine other draft picks, Porter and quarterback Trent Green were among the other newcomers.
Also new was the remodeled locker room, with flat-screen televisions and leather couches and chairs.
"I like everything," said Hadnot, surveying the surroundings, "as long as we don't have any naked guys on the couch so you can stretch out if you want."
The cushy furniture wasn't a reward for work well done -- the Dolphins went 6-10 in 2006, their third losing season since 1969. Cameron is their fourth coach since 2004, and during that time they're 19-29.
The camp is the 12th for linebacker Zach Thomas, who has been with the Dolphins longer than any other player but has yet to participate in an AFC championship game.
He shrugged off any change in atmosphere under Cameron.
"I'm just glad to get back into a routine and get started," Thomas said. "That's where you find out where the players are. I've been through a lot of coaches. Hopefully we can get this thing turned around, and get back to winning and making it fun again."