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Miami Dolphins: The Mystery of Michael Egnew

Michael Egnew was the top performing tight end at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine in five workouts, including the 40 yard dash, the vertical jump and the broad jump. Egnew has all the tools to be an NFL tight end, why haven't the lights flicked?

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012 NFL Draft, held at Radio City Music Hall in New York, was a time of new beginnings for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins had hired a new head coach, Joe Philbin, who in turn replaced nearly every member of the coaching staff.
A new franchise quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, was taken with the eighth overall pick in the draft and Jake Long's eventual replacement at left tackle was drafted in the second round (good ol' Jonathan Martin).
After using the first of his third round picks on defensive end Olivier Vernon, (now former) GM Jeff Ireland made the dreams of the Missouri tight end Michael Egnew become a reality when he took Egnew with the 78th overall pick in the draft.
Egnew was considered a raw prospect from a Mizzou program that mostly threw the ball and almost never used tight ends in the traditional sense. Egnew was a glorified wide receiver, a trend that had been gaining momentum in the NFL since the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski took the league by storm, and was seen as the new seam threat for Tannehill.
Because of his use as a receiver, Egnew's in-line blocking abilities, one of the main duties of the classic NFL tight end, were subpar to say the very least. This coupled with a slow adjustment to the speed of the NFL game earned Egnew a spot on the bench for nearly his entire rookie season. Egnew was active for only two games in what was basically a redshirt season in 2012.
In his second season as an NFL tight end, Egnew was active for all sixteen games, which was a step for this third-round pick who was quickly gaining bust status. Unfortunately, Egnew was only targeted 11 times in 2013.
Egnew is still a huge question mark heading into the 2014 season and his roster spot is up for grabs after the Dolphins drafted tight end Arthur Lynch in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.
Egnew has a great deal to prove in this year's training camp, but I think he will have much better opportunity to do so under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
Former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was part of the problem when it came to Egnew. Of course it all starts with Egnew's ability to adjust to the speed of the NFL, something he still hasn’t fully done, but Sherman could have put this former WR/TE hybrid player in a position to better take advantage of his skills in the NFL.
Instead, Sherman wanted to beat the act of blocking into Egnew's brain. Sherman didn’t want to play Egnew in any capacity because of his lack of blocking ability, even to create the mismatches that having a 6'5", 250 pound man in the slot would form.
Sherman was so determined to make Egnew a blocker that he even played Egnew at fullback at times last season. This shouldn't be a surprise though as we all know Sherman wasn't great at tailoring his offense to the strengths of his players.
Sherman wanted to turn an athletic pass-catching specialist into an in-line grunt of a tight end. You don't beat a horse until it thinks it's a cow.
However, in Sherman's defense, the offensive system called for two possible plays and for the QB to pick the more favorable one based on the look of the defense. This means that a called pass play which features Egnew running a seam route could turn into a running play where Egnew is a blocker, in which case he would become a liability.
It can't be ignored that last year's offensive line warranted a tight end to help block on most occasions. Sherman was handcuffed in many senses by Ireland's lack of ability to provide the right players (mainly at offensive line), but Sherman's lack of creativity in play calling and use of his offensive weapons didn't help the situation.
With all that said, let's look towards the future. Lazor is in town, which represents a fresh start in a new(ish) system for Egnew. We still don’t know much about Lazor, but we assume from his time in Philadelphia working with the offensive genius Chip Kelly that he learned a little something about using offensive weapons to their strengths.
Also, Lazor sent his tight ends on routes on a large percentage of passing plays when he was the offensive coordinator for the Virginia Cavaliers. If Dennis Hickey's offensive line rebuild is as successful as I predict it will be, Lazor will be able to reconstruct this use of the tight end in Miami and use Egnew the way he was drafted to play.
Egnew has improved his blocking and speed of play, but both areas could still use plenty of work. This training camp will be huge for Egnew. Will he turn into the seam threat tight end that he was drafted to be? Or will he take the final step into busthood?
The emergence of Charles Clay provides Egnew with an excellent chance to thrive as the number two tight end who experiences less coverage. Egnew, as previously stated, needs to work on his blocking and play speed to be effective, but having a new offensive coordinator, who hopefully has a different vision of how to use the former Missouri standout, will be a huge plus for Egnew.
We say all the time that this is the "put up or shut up" year for Tannehill. Well, that sentiment is doubled when reffering to Egnew. It's his last chance. Engew has all the tools, but will he finally be able to put it together on the field? Training camp will tell us; it’s now or never!
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