Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dolphins: Fish out of Water . . . and Time?

From: National Review Online

The Miami Dolphins are a franchise in a hurry — in more ways than one. Last season’s disappointing 7–9 record exposed the team’s lack of speed and athleticism on offense. Beyond that, the postseason pursuit of then–Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh showed how impatient Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was with the poor performance, especially the 1–7 home mark.

Head coach Tony Sparano (and general manager Jeff Ireland?) have one more chance to get the Dolphins back in the playoffs before Ross goes in the cliched “different direction.” Making matters more challenging is that they have a bunch of needs to fill and they gave up their second-round pick in the trade for Brandon Marshall. Just like last year, Miami is actively looking to regain that pick by trading back from #15 toward the end of the first round.

The Parcells rebuilding framework has been to draft from the inside out: rebuild your lines first, add skill positions later. And if there is a silver lining, it’s that the defensive needs are few: a backup nose tackle, a dime corner, and a backup safety who can become a core special teamer. All can be addressed via late-round picks or undrafted free agents — the latter being an area where Ireland has had success. Accordingly, Miami’s draft will tilt heavily toward the offense.

The Sparano/Ireland regime pinned its hopes that Chad Henne would make Miami fans forget about Dan Marino. Last season, he made us long for Jay Fiedler. Henne looks the part but plays like a robot. By contrast, backup Tyler Thigpen can win and lose games by himself. The Dolphins are doing their due-diligence on quarterbacks but will only use a high pick if it is a player they believe can come in and win games this year. Miami has met with Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett four times since the draft, but if they address this position through the draft instead of with a veteran, it’ll be on Friday.

Running back
Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are free agents and will be elsewhere this fall. As such, the Dolphins need two running backs. Most draft experts have Alabama’s Mark Ingram to Miami in the first round, but that’s not a good value pick for a committee situation — especially when Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas (big back) and Eastern Washington’s Taiwan Jones (4.30) will be on Friday’s board. I also expect Miami to sign Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams when veteran free agency begins.

Offensive line
The interior line was a hot mess all season, which hindered Miami’s running game. The Dolphins re-signed Richie Incognito and plan to use him at center, which means both guard spots need upgrades. Look for Miami to take two interior linemen in this draft. Do not be surprised if the Dolphins use their first-round pick on Florida guard Mike Pouncey or even a college tackle like Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, who will start off at right guard for a year or two and then move outside to tackle once Vernon Carey breaks down.

Wide receiver
The Dolphins have a dominant lead receiver (for now) in Brandon Marshall, an excellent slot receiver in Davone Bess, and a solid but unspectacular receiver in Brian Hartline. They desperately need a speed receiver who can threaten defenses deep. I expect this to be addressed early on Saturday, but that could be augmented with an earlier pick depending on what the team’s security investigator discovers before Thursday as to Mrs. Marshall’s motives for stabbing her husband.

Tight end
The Dolphins have an average starting tight end in Anthony Fasano, and a big pile of nothing and not-yets behind him. Expect the team to do as they did last year and fire another dart at the board in about Round 5, hoping to find a solid second tight end who exhibits the tenacity, character, and passion of Jim Mandich, the ex-player-turned-iconic-broadcaster who passed away on Tuesday night.

Look at the Dolphins’ roster of token celebrity own- . . . uh, that is . . . “partners,” and there is no mistaking that Ross is enamored of star power. You can’t survive in a notoriously fickle sports town against King James if you don’t have it. Sparano and Ireland have one more chance to put some sort of star power on the field at Sun Life Stadium. Otherwise, Ross is sure to have big-name coaches and football executives on speed dial.

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