2018 is rapidly shaping up as a year that will test the mettle of the Miami Dolphins’ organization from top to bottom. Having jettisoned several high profile players in Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry, and Mike Pouncey, Miami has retrenched with cheaper, less heralded players in an attempt to form a more cohesive unit.
When former Cowboys coach/GM Jimmy Johnson arrived in 1996, he had to make similar adjustments to the team’s roster, to trim the payroll and cut away the festering decay that had permeated the franchise prior to his arrival. One of Johnson’s first moves was cutting former Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green, and he later waived several other highly paid, underachieving players, including offensive guard Keith Sims and others. The Dolphins now find themselves in the same type of situation today, only without a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Dan Marino to help take up some of the slack. After two pretty good drafts, third year GM Chris Grier must now find several more difference makers this offseason.
Grier, son of longtime NFL executive Bobby Grier, got his start as an intern with New England in 1994 and came over to the Dolphins in 2000. After three years as an area scout, he was promoted to director of college scouting in 2007, a post he held for nine years, before succeeding Dennis Hickey as GM in 2016. Although the team appears to have done a credible job in filling some of the holes in its roster in free agency, Grier nonetheless has a formidable task ahead of him in next month’s draft; the team still has a crying need at both linebacker and free safety and could really use a power running back who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. As always, the Dolphins are still in the market for an all around, do everything tight end, but that’s been the case for over a decade now.
One of Miami’s problems on offense the past few seasons has been the lack of versatile players. When the team lines up with a tight end who is a good receiver but can’t run block, or a back who can run, but not catch, this tips off opposing defensive coordinators, who then know what plays the Dolphins are likely to run out of a given formation. Head coach Adam Gase wants his players to be more interchangeable, which will enable the offense to run more plays from the same formations and give the defense more options to have to defend. Former Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and his staff had wanted to do the same thing but were never really successful in doing so.
Having started only 24 games over the course of his four-year career with the Chiefs, the jury is still somewhat out on WR Albert Wilson. But the other three players Miami added to its offense, center Daniel Kilgore, guard Josh Sitton and WR Danny Amendola, appear to be very coachable, assignment sound players. As the Dolphins continue their quest to return to respectability, this is a recurring theme that I’m going to be emphasizing here: well-coached players on offense, stud athletes on defense. That’s not to say that I expect all of our high picks to be used on defense; I’ve slowly had to accept that Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson is one heck of a football player. I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if Miami could somehow land him on draft day. He’s been projected to go as high as number two overall to the Giants, although I expect Buffalo to ultimately end up picking second.
As the draft moves past the marquee early rounds and into the mid to late stages, a good GM, in any sport, will often apply the ‘One Thing Well’ rule; perhaps a receiver or defensive back in the fifth or sixth round doesn’t have a forty time that impresses anyone, but he has great hands or is an outstanding tackler. If a player does one thing really well, that gives your coaching staff something to build on to try and make him a capable contributor to your team. As former Jets and Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards once said, late round draft picks are really like the jewels of your football team, because you have so many more of them than you do first and second rounders.
Of course, drafting and acquiring players is only half the battle; you still have to develop those players into eventual starters or quality backups. After the Dolphins ranked second in the NFL in penalties a year ago, including a ridiculous twelve unnecessary roughness, sixteen defensive holding, and twenty-two false start calls, Gase decided that the entire coaching staff needed a shakeup, hence the arrival of new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and OL coach Jeremiah Washburn, among others. Miami faces some stiff challenges this year, as they try to keep pace with the other teams in their division and the rest of the AFC. As the offseason continues, let’s hope that both the scouting department and the coaching staff are up to the task.