I’m not going to speculate on the disappointing reports that came out of yesterday's CBA negotiations. It depresses me and I’m just going to pretend that one day we’re all going to wake up and this nightmare is going to be over.
Instead, I’m in the mood to revisit the Dolphins’ draft class. Sitting here watching the NBA draft has me thinking about what Miami did in April and what our expectations should be for their picks.
Jeff Ireland certainty didn’t bolster his approval rating by any stretch of the imagination, taking a conservative approach by passing on a quarterback. But every selection was justifiable, and at the end of the day, you have to believe the Dolphins will field a more competitive offense in 2011 and in particular, a rejuvenated and rebuilt running game.
But a lot of that will fall squarely on the shoulders of these rookies. So what do each of the Dolphins’ picks have to do in year one to be labeled a smart selection by Ireland? What about in the long-term? Let’s take a look.
MIKE POUNCEY, CENTER
Pre-camp projected depth chart standing: Starter
First-year expectations: Centers aren’t usually worthy of being a top 15 pick, so when you take one that high he better be special. Not that the pressure surrounding Pouncey from the fan base will be as tangible as it would be for a skill player, but you better believe anything less than starting from day one and immediately upgrading the Dolphins’ interior offensive line, and in turn, their ability to run the football between the tackles, would be a disappointment. This regime is no longer building for the future. They must win now not only because it’s time by year four, but because their jobs are depending on it.
Mike Pouncey will play a huge role in getting the Dolphins over the hump, because the running game doesn’t rebound without him stepping in and having an immediate impact. Statistically, Pouncey will be judged by how much the running game improves. The Dolphins ranked 21st in the league in rushing last season, a year after finishing 4th. A return to the top ten should be the goal, but the Dolphins should settle for nothing less than top half of the league. Pouncey will play a crucial role in any drastic improvement.
Long-term expectations: Pouncey was a safe pick by the Dolphins. They believe he can not only improve their running game in the present, but they’re expecting him to provide consistency on the interior much like Jake Long has done at tackle. That means being a perennial Pro Bowl caliber center. But I think they would settle for Pouncey emerging as a solid starter, or a step below elite, for years to come.
Prediction: I’ve said all along that Pouncey’s value was elevated by the success of his brother Maurkice with the Steelers. I have my doubts he’ll ever be an elite center in this league. But I do think he’ll be very solid and will give the Dolphins some consistency inside for several years. I see the Dolphins’ running game improving significantly in 2011 and Mike Pouncey is going to do his part to make that possible.
Special Teams CAN be for the Dolphins too!! Football fans sometime forget the fact that there are 3 aspects to the game: Offense, Defense AND Special teams. To be a complete team in the NFL it is important to be successful in each of these aspects. In fact if you look at some teams around the league it is a strong special teams unit that put their teams over the top. Chicago and Seattle most likely would not have been playoff teams last year if it isn’t for their strong special teams play. Special teams and Miami are two things that did not get along very well last year. Aside from Chad Henne and Rex Ryan’s foot obsession, Miami’s special team last year might have been the most frustrating aspect of last season. Initially led by fired special teams coach John Bonamego Miami’s special teams unit ranked in the bottom half of the league all year.
Miami ranked 22nd in average kickoff return yards and 15th in average punt return yards. While those numbers aren’t AWFUL, it is important to note how the leaders in our division did. New England was 3rd in the league in average punt return yards and the Jets were 3rd in average kickoff return yards. Also note worthy is that New England had 3 return touchdowns, and those loud mouth Jets had 2, while Miami had 0. That being said special teams goes two ways, you got to be able to have exciting returns but it is just as important to be able to cover kicks. Miami allowed the 5th most kickoff return yards and 11th most punt return yards. The dreadful stats continue as the Dolphins also gave up 3 return touchdowns. Once again it is important to see how we faired compared to the other teams in our division. The Jets allowed the 3rd least amount of kickoff return yards in the league and New England allowed the 6th least amount of punt return yards in the league. Both teams also didn’t give up the big play very often. The Jets and Patriots combined to give up 1 return touchdown compared to Miami’s 3.
Now the sad thing is that I am not even done ripping our beloved team because unfortunately it gets worse. Not only do those stats show how far behind New England and New York we are, they also don’t tell the full story. Miami also had their fare share of issues with blocked punts and field goals. This was most obvious in the Monday Night disaster against New England. I would attach the video of Patrick Chung’s blocked punt for a touchdown against Miami but I think it might be too painful to watch. While I don’t think Fields or Dan Carpenter are the problem, this is an issue that needs to be dealt with.
Bottom line is if the Miami organization wants to start having dreams about the division and playoffs, it might be time to start spending a little more attention to Miami’s CLEAR issues with special teams.
Miami has to find a solution to their returning lulls, whether its Kory Sheets returning from injury, rookie Edmund Gates or signing a guy like Leon Washington, Darren Sproles or Norwood, Miami NEEDS to find an explosive guy who can be a factor in the return game. I hate to bring up the greatest WR in Dolphins history Ted Ginn (pause to laugh) but in ‘09 Ginn’s return performance alone was able to get us a win over the Jets. On the kick coverage side, Miami needs to let players like Tim Dobbins who was a special team captain in San Diego play the role he does best. I know Dobbins had to fill as Linebacker due to injury issues but with Edds back Dobbins needs to put his focus solely into special teams. Miami had a lot of roster churning and needs to make sure player roles are made clear before the season starts.
When I asked everybody’s favorite Dolphins beat writer Omar Kelly on twitter, how big of a weakness will special teams be for Dolphins? He responded, it won't be THAT big if they find a returner, stop churning the roster.
Miami needs to get their act together and take advantage of the special teams aspect of game because as you can see clearly New England and New York are. There is no easier way for the Dolphins to add a W or 2 to their count then by improving their special teams.
These are still incredibly uncertain times for the league, but with all of the positive feelings stemming from the owners meeting today in Chicago for internal negotiations, a new deal being reached in time to preserve the entire season seems almost imminent. Maybe that’s just because that’s what I want to believe, but nonetheless, it’s time to start gearing up for a free agency period that could be a couple weeks away.
My gut feeling is the new deal will be reached right before or shortly after the July 4th weekend. My gut feeling has betrayed me many times before so don’t hold onto to any hope by that prediction. If that optimistic outlook holds true, however, we’re in for a busy month of July as training camp draws near. The Dolphins still have plenty of work on their hands if they want to fill all of their needs before camp, so the sooner this deal gets done the better.
We know they will add a veteran quarterback to compete with Chad Henne, although everyone seems to have their own opinion of who that will be. And we know they will be adding a complimentary back for rookie Daniel Thomas, but to try to project who that will be is nothing more than a guessing game at this point. After that, the Dolphins will likely attempt to land a pass rusher to take some pressure off of Cameron Wake, but this year’s free agency class isn’t going to turn any heads.
Regardless, I see the Dolphins being one of the league’s major players once the lockout is over, whether or not they sign a big name or two in free agency or make a huge splash by trading for a veteran quarterback. That’s why I’m including those players that could be available via trade in my Dolphins’ free agency big board. The idea is derived from pre-draft rankings, which slot the best available players in the draft by taking into account team needs. There is plenty of room for debate here so have at it in the comments.
1. Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Even with Chris Collinsworth coming out and saying he feels as though the Bengals will deal Palmer despite their hardball stance on his “trade me or I’m retiring” demands, I still don’t think it’s a likely fit for Miami. The Bengals aren’t going to be in a huge hurry to trade him away, and the Dolphins aren’t going to sit around and wait for them to make up their minds. The Dolphins are going to want their competition for Henne to be in camp from day one.
I guess there’s always the chance the Bengals will rethink their stance, decide they don’t want any distractions heading into the year, and rid themselves of Palmer before things get ugly. In that event, Palmer should become priority number one for the Dolphins. He would instantly put them in the playoff discussion. He’s not the quarterback he once was, but he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and tossed 26 touchdown passes in 2010. That’s the type of production this offense is desperate for. That type of production to go along with a defense that appears ready to emerge as an elite unit and the Dolphins would have themselves a formula for playoff football in 2011.
2. Kyle Orton, QB, Denver Broncos: Orton’s numbers are far more impressive than people realize. Since being acquired by the Broncos in 2009, Orton has thrown for 41 touchdown passes, only 21 interceptions, and 7,455 yards. Frankly, I’m sort of shocked he’s even expected to be available at all. He’s definitely worth considering giving up as high as a second-round pick for, for a franchise consistent quarterback play away from seriously competing this season.
My biggest concern with Orton is whether or not he’ll be able to duplicate what he did in Denver in a new system. For all of Josh McDaniels’ faults, the guy was a quarterback guru. The same guy that developed Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in New England transformed Orton into a borderline Pro Bowl caliber quarterback upon arrival in Denver. It’s no coincidence that Orton struggled to even maintain his starting job in Chicago. But I still think Orton would be worth a roll of the dice for Miami if Denver is reasonable with their asking price.
3. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Free Agent: At 28 years old, Williams probably won’t be able to play at an elite level for several seasons, but he’s a back that could make the Dolphins’ running game special in 2011. When he’s healthy and on top of his game, you could probably count the runners you would rather have in your backfield on one hand.
There arguably wasn’t a better back in football in 2008, when DeAngelo rushed for over 1,500 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns. And keep in mind that we’re talking about a guy that averaged at least 5.0 yards-per-carry from 2007-09. Running back is one of the easiest positions to fill on a roster, though, and keeping in mind their shelf lives aren’t what they used to be, especially ones who are fast approaching 30, the Dolphins would be foolish to empty their wallets for Williams or any other free agent back.
We’re moving right along in our All-Time Miami Dolphins series, and now we’re ready to tackle the linebacking corps. Before we ignite the Nick Bouniconti versus Zach Thomas debate, let’s take a quick look at the top outside linebackers in team history. The Dolphins haven’t had any Hall of Fame caliber outside linebackers, but some very solid players nonetheless.
Keep in mind 4-3 outside linebackers aren’t the pass rushing dynamos that 3-4 studs like Cameron Wake are. Instead, 4-3 OLB’s are usually responsible for containing the edge and dropping back into coverage. These four players did that very well and more for the Dolphins’ defenses of the 70s and 80s.
1. A.J. Duhe (1977-1984): The Dolphins made Duhe the 13th overall pick in the 1977 draft, and he wasted no time making an impact. Duhe won the starting job from the get go and was named UPI AFC Rookie of Year by season’s end. In the same manner he made a grand entrance as a rookie, Duhe ended his career with a bang, earning a trip to the 1984 Pro Bowl.
He was one of the most versatile players in franchise history, as he was moved all of the field to create mismatches, spending time at both linebacker and defensive end. But it was what Duhe did in the 1982 AFC Championship Game for which he emerged as a Dolphins legend. In a game that became known as the Mud Bowl thanks to a torrential downpour before kickoff, Duhe picked off New York Jets’ quarterback Richard Todd three times in the second-half of the Dolphins’ 14-0 victory. Taking into account the significance of that game and who the opponent was, it’s easy to see why many fans consider it the greatest performance by a Dolphins’ defender in team history.
This month, next month, this week, next week, today, tomorrow! NO ONE and I mean NO ONE truly knows when free agency is going to begin. The lockout is a pure guessing game but with the recent optimism it’s looking like free agency might be only 2 weeks away. Seeing as there is no date set in stone as to when free agency will start I thought it was a little premature to try and put out a depth Free Agency preview, that being said for those fans curious who are the top guys out there, it’s our job here at phinsphocus.com to hook you up. Without any particular ranking, this list is here to inform Dolphins fans the players I think they should pursue as well as the top NFL free agents available. Now we don’t know what rules will be set on free agency, so this list is based on the fact that the 4 year rule will be in place.
Top 10 guys Miami Should Potentially Pursue *Note this list doesn’t include players that might become Free Agents; this list does not include players like Vince Young, Reggie Bush, and Carson Palmer who the Dolphins might pursue
1) DeAngelo Williams RB (Possible landing spots: Denver, Miami, Carolina)
2) Ahmad Bradshaw RB (Possible landing spots: New York Giants, Miami, Green Bay)
3) Ronnie Brown RB (Possible Landing spots: Miami, New England)
4) Manny Lawson OLB (Possible Landing spots: Miami, San Fran, NYG)
5) Matt Hasselbeck QB (Possible Landing spots: Seattle, Miami, SF, Arizona, Min)
6) Eric Weddle S (SD, Mia, Phi)
7) Peyton Manning QB- had to do it for fun! (Landing Spot: Indi)
8) Marc Bulger QB (Possible landing spots: Ari, Min, Miami)
Top NFL Free Agents on the Market
• Note: In no specific order
QB: Hasselbeck, Bulger
RB: Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Joseph Addai, DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, Cadillac Williams, Michael Bush, Darren Sproles
WR: Santonio Holmes, Vincent Jackson, Sidney Rice, Malcolm Floyd, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Braylon Edwards, Plax
OL: Matt Light
TE: Owen Daniels
Defense: Cullen Jenkins, Nnamdi Asomugha, Ike Taylor, Barrett Rudd, Chad Greenway, Antonio Cromartie