The future in Miami wears No. 17.
(Cue Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E.")
Helllllllllllllooooooooooo Phinsiderland! Did you guys miss me? If you're nodding "yes," you're very kind ... and an absolute liar, to boot. And while I certainly missed interacting and shooting the breeze with several of you guys during my time away from the site, I really needed an extended sabbatical following the draft last April (the point at which I achieved full-on football overload--the very same thing that inspired Van Gogh to cut off his ear, and caused Bobby Brown to slip into a perpetual state of bat-s*** crazy). However, I am happy to report that I am currently feeling refreshed, vibrant, creative and ready to contribute a smorgasbord of borderline unreadable, banal trite for your reading pleasure.
All of that said, I'd like to kick off my return column with a peek at one of my summer/fall column ideas: the top five reasons why you should feel a certain way about a specific thing (catchy and economically minded, am I right?).Five reasons why Dolphins fans should love Jeff Ireland's 2012 draft
Has anyone had a more topsy-turvy year, thus far, than general manager Jeff Ireland? After four solid months of "FIreland," planes sporting messages requesting that Stephen Ross cut ties with Ireland, the mess that was 2012 free agency and the subsequent Davie boycott, Ireland stepped into the Dolphins' war room in late April and proceeded to rope a slew of extra-base hits throughout draft weekend. Granted, Ireland still comes off as a total (and I mean total) jag during interviews (something I don't expect HBO to exploit at all during Hardknocks later this summer ...), but if you're going to criticize the man, you also have to give him credit where credit is due. Ireland deserves said credit for what he did during the 2012 NFL Draft, and here are five reasons why:
1. The Dolphins broke their "play it safe" trend on draft day and nabbed a franchise-caliber quarterback with gargantuan upside (and a smoldering-hot wife)
Instead of buying into the crappy drafting-a-quarterback wisdom offered by suited goons like Jim Irsay and Bill Polian (Hey Jeff, why draft a quarterback at No. 8 when you can trade up unnecessarily and get him at No. 3? Flush that value down the toilet; plunge if necessary), Ireland stuck to his guns and waited his turn before bringing Ryan Tannehill to South Florida with the eighth overall selection. Franchise-caliber quarterback attained. And while Tannehill's no lock to become a perennial Pro Bowl signal caller, his skill development, learning curve and maturation process will be exponentially shorter in Miami, where Tannehill's college head coach, Mike Sherman, is now the offensive coordinator.
Tannehill would've been a reach for any other team in the top 15. For the Dolphins, however, he was a no-brainer selection. Add in the factor that Tannehill's wife, Lauren, could be featured on the cover of Maxim every month for three years and no male in this country would have a problem with it, and you're talking about a draft pick that benefits everyone. Great display of selflessness there, Jeff Ireland ...
2. The Dolphins demonstrated their commitment to the zone-block scheme by selecting Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin
Remember when several mock drafts last spring had the Dolphins taking Jonathan Martin at No. 8 overall? Well, they had the correct player going to Miami, just not with the correct selection. After snagging the team's quarterback of the future in the first round, Ireland addressed arguably the Dolphins' biggest need last season (yes, quarterback is the most important position in the game, but Matt Moore is a capable starter who has shown the ability to make quality throws and win games. Contrarily, there wasn't a "capable starter" at right tackle in Miami. Not even close) and brought in Martin, Andrew Luck's former bodyguard at Stanford. Martin is expected to become the guy for Miami at right tackle, but his selection has prompted many people to question the Dolphins' intentions regarding their best player: left tackle Jake Long. Long represents the old guard in Miami--an offensive line that depended on size and strength to win in the trenches. Now that Joe Philbin is calling the shots in Miami, zone blocking--a scheme that favors athleticism, intelligence and communication over caveman strength--is the style of choice. However, Long wouldn't be a lame duck in the zone-blocking set. He's an outstanding athlete for someone who measures 6'7", 315, and he's an absolute powerhouse blocker while on the move. Unfortunately, Long is also f'n expensive, and will almost certainly want the kind of money Cleveland gave to Joe Thomas (seven years, $84 million, with $44 million guaranteed) last August. Honestly, that kind of money shouldn't be spent on anyone in a zone-block group, so it will be mighty difficult to justify forking over Thomas-like loot to Long, even though he's arguably better than Thomas (they're about even in the pass-block department, but no one is going to trump Long when it comes to run blocking).
Enter Martin, an eventual left-tackle candidate at a fraction of Long's price, and currently grades out as a right tackle who should bring a load of athleticism, intelligence and run-block technique (sound like a familiar skill set?) to Miami. Add in second-year standout center Mike Pouncey--an elite talent tailor made for zone-block assignment--and the Dolphins have some very young, talented and inexpensive pieces to work with on the offensive line.
Full disclosure: I loved, loved, LOVED the Dolphins decision to select Mizzou tight end Michael Egnew in the third round last April. The guy is a far cry from your typical in-line tight end (you didn't see Egnew do much blocking for the Tigers), but he's fast, can catch almost anything thrown his way, and presents a huge target in the passing game. And If Joe Philbin learned anything during his time in Green Bay, it's this: game-changing tight ends can almost always be had in the third round of the draft (see: Jermichael Finley, 2008). Maybe Philbin's experience in the tight end department was what coaxed Ireland to pull the trigger on Egnew late in day two ... or maybe it was the fact that Indianapolis yanked an elite-caliber tight end (the second of two TE selections for the Colts that night) off the board at the beginning of round three. Regardless of what inspired Ireland to nab a pass-catching tight end, it was a move that will likely pay dividends as the Dolphins continue to morph into a West Coast offense.
4. Ireland and the Dolphins heard the public outcry for more speed on offense, and then they moved up for University of Miami speed merchant Lamar Miller
For general managers, a big part of successful drafting is knowing when to knuckle up and get ballsy in your pursuit of a certain player. And while there was plenty to like about Miami's backfield in 2011, it's unlikely that Reggie Bush is going to smash it up between the tackles year in and year out from this point forward without sustaining an injury or two (or even 50 for that matter). First-year workhorse Daniel Thomas had some impressive runs and also some struggles--albeit without a proper rookie camp or OTAs--but he isn't a speedster, and certainly isn't about to tear off any home-run-caliber runs. Therefore, the Dolphins could use the presence of a young, slash-and-dash speedster in the backfield, and that's why Ireland was right to move up early in round four and snare Lamar Miller, speed-back extraordinaire (and a running back who could've easily landed in the first round of the draft). Miller is a lethal prospect at running back, and his exceptional ability as a receiver means he has the versatility Philbin and Sherman crave on offense. Ultimately, the Dolphins' search for an explosiveness in the backfield led them to a prospect who was arguably the best home-run-threat running back in the 2012 draft. Need + insane value = great success.
5. Once again, the Dolphins may have found some serious late-round/undrafted talent
The one area where Ireland has been rock solid is in the "hidden gems" department--finding small-school prospects and talented players wrought with character concerns, and turning them into starters and quality contributors. This year's crop of back-end picks looks to be no different, and includes sleeper wideouts B.J. Cunningham and Rishard Matthews, Texas defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller (Tannehill's go-to wideout while at College Station). Time will tell whether or not these players become contributors on the level of Davone Bess, Charles Clay or Jimmy Wilson, but you have to like the odds with this current group.