We all know that the way to build a long term championship caliber team is to start from the inside out.
At least, after hearing it as the "Parcells Mantra" for the past three offseasons, we all certainly know it now, if we didn't before.
In my 30+ years as a Miami Dolphins fan (I don't think we need to get specific about HOW many years, exactly), I have never actually been through a re-building process until Bill Parcells got here. For decades, the team always had some facet that was solid - for a while it was the Passing Offense behind Dan Marino.... then it was Jimmy Johnson's Defense....
And as those parts began to gradually wear out, there was about a ten year gap in which the poor Front Office leadership and personnel decisions resulted in an attempt to "patch" the team through a host of free agents and traded draft picks.
So in comes the Big Tuna; and he bulldozes EVERYTHING, and starts by laying a brand new foundation. He started with the Offensive and Defensive lines.
And this is all common knowledge, right? Well I read something the other day that actually puts a value to this type of rebuilding. It actually starts to quantify the pieces needed for a championship team, based on a talent level analysis of the prior top playoff teams from the past few seasons.
According to Michael Lombardi, in a series of interesting posts (beginning with this one on July 18th about T.O., oddly enough) on NFL.com, all four conference title game participants from the last few seasons have had this particular thing in common:
"... that the best teams had to have very good offensive and defensive lines. How good? Well, in order to reach the championship game, teams must have at least a total of seven red or blue players among both lines."
He goes on to define "blue" and "red" players as:
"A blue player is championship caliber and rates among the top 10 at his position in the league. He is good enough to create mismatches vs. most opponents. He must also be one of the team's featured players and have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.
A red player is one that plays the game with no real weaknesses, is a solid starter and will be able to capitalize on certain opponents, but is never consistently dominant. He might not play as well against the league's very best, but shows up each week and has a high degree of competitiveness, ranking among the top 15 at his position."
He does mention two other requirements for a championship caliber team - they need to have an elite QB and of a top tier Head Coach. But that is a discussion for another time.
So a total of SEVEN players, a combination of red and blue quality, between all the linemen of both lines? My first question to this was, "Does that mean I have a better chance of getting to the magic number of 7 if I run a 4-3 Defense, rather than a 3-4?". You would get an extra guy to figure in to the process, right?
Well, even though I could not find a specific answer to this question, I assumed that he is talking about 7 out of 9, with a LB counting as the 4th man in a 3-4 D. But after looking at his evaluation results (AFC here; NFC here) for this year, out of the top four teams from last season; Jets, Colts, Saints, or Vikings, none of them had 7 linemen total ranked as blue/red. They had plenty of other blue/red players, but the most in terms of linemen was the Minnesota Vikings with 6. Even throwing LBs into the mix, the New Orleans Saints have 5. Adding LBs AND TEs to the count gets the New York Jets to 6 and the Indianapolis Colts to 5.
Now, I realize that there are a few "axioms" that will come into play no matter how you look at absolute numbers of red and blue players.
- First, the more true "blue" players you have, the less of a total of red AND blue players you need. Simply put, Blue players count for more.
- Second, there is a minimum number of combined red/blue players you can have and be successful. I don't know what that number is, but I know that 1 total is too little. You need a minimum talent level. From the playoff teams above, let's set that number at 5 for the linemen + TEs and LBs.
So here's the exercise:
Evaluate the Miami Dolphins Offensive and Defensive Linemen, Linebackers, and Tight Ends. Decide what you think we have in terms of Blue and Red players, on the roster right now, rookies excluded (we'll talk about them in a minute).
-Lombardi comes up with a total of 5 for Miami, 2 Blue - 3 Red: Jake Long, Karlos Dansby, Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, and Vernon Carey.
Now - still talking only about the linemen, LBs, and TEs - how many unproven players (either because of lack of playing time last season, injury history, disciplinary issues, or because they are rookies) do you think will BECOME Red or Blue players for the Dolphins this season? Not guys that will develop in a year or two - THIS SEASON.
I am not going to draw a specific conclusion here, but there is an attached poll, and I'll be curious to see what the overall consensus is among the fan base. But very generally, one thing that I am very impressed with is how this analysis highlights the fact that, talent-wise, we are much farther along than many people seem to realize.
If we have just a couple of guys from the "potential" group (Cameron Wake, Richie Incognito, Jake Grove, John Jerry, Donald Thomas, Nate Garner, Joe Berger, Koa Misi, Jared Odrick, A.J. Edds, Ryan Baker, Paul Soliai, etc.) take that next step and become Red or Blue players, we will have definitely made that transition from a "rebuilding" team, to a contender looking for those 1 or 2 final pieces.