The Miami Dolphins have some new faces to work with this off-season. Ryan Tannehill is the most talked about while second rounder Jonathan Martin is getting up to NFL speed working against Cameron Wake. Most Dolphins fans expect this years rookie pool to contribute in some way, shape, or form to make this team better. They are however still rookies. I instead, expect the 2011 Miami Dolphins draft class to have the most significant impact.
Rewinding the calendar to a year ago, the draft was over, and, well, the draft was over. The NFL lockout prevented the team from speaking with the incoming draft class on all matters. While Chad Henne and Jake Long organized team workouts, the reality was they served no upside to the incoming class of players. Last year at this time, then head coach Tony Sparano sat in his office going over game film. Organizing his training camp schedule with an “if and when” approach. The rookies had no money, no contract, and no coaches to team them.
As the NFL season began it was clear that the rookies of 2011 were not ready. Mike Pouncey struggled the least at center but didn’t start calling the line until later in the season. Daniel Thomas battled minor injuries that kept him on the sidelines or off the active roster entirely in the first month. Clyde Gates never got up to NFL speed at the WR position and due to the lack of practice time with special teams in TC, didn’t provide a stiff alternative in the return game.
Jimmy Wilson a seventh rounder made the roster which alone was an accomplishment and Charles Clay showed flashes throughout the season. This year however, it’s a lot different.
Those rookies now see the speed of the NFL, they know more of the nuances of the game through a season of film breakdown, game high-lights and low-lights, they have had the coaching sessions, and have felt the impact of an NFL hit. Yet last years missed off-season proves how critical it is to players during the season. On one hand, after training camp breaks, practices are no longer full contact outside of a handful. Conditioning sessions are reduced so players can use the practice time refining problem areas and so nicked up players can get healthy.
This year, it is expected that guys like Mike Pouncey will make a big jump. Daniel Thomas should improve considerably and Charles Clay should become a top target for whichever Dolphins QB lines up behind center. Why? The off-season. These guys are going through their first mini-camps and while it will help them physically overcome some of what they lacked early in the season last year, it will also help them understand the cerebral part of the game as well.
Some will point out that they will have to learn the Joe Philbin style of offense and defense but in reality they spent little time last year learning an NFL system. Most of the playbook was thrown at them in training camp with more implemented as the season wore on. By the time the players were actually handed the full book, the season, at least on paper was already over.
The lack of mini-camps, OTA’s, weight room operations, coaching interaction, and abbreviated training camp, kept the 2011 rookie class down. This year, it is fully expected that having the resources and the off-season coaching readily available should make them far better. It’s why I hold a higher degree of expectation for them going into the 2012 season. The funny thing is, like their 2012 rookie teammates, this is their first NFL off-season as well. It’s something to think about when you sit back and start to mentally grade last years class or even compare them to this years.