Lockout Ending Puts Miami Dolphins Draft In Perspective


The lockout is said to be ending this week.  No, that’s not talk from the owners side but rumors coming from the side of the players.  Yesterdays’ “major” progress in the final stages of negotiation has the experts saying that the players will recommend the acceptance of the new CBA on Monday.  A vote will likely occur and on Wednesday teams will be able to start work with their players on the 2011 season.

As this lockout comes to a close, teams will scramble to sign their own free agents, street free agents, un-drafted rookie free agents, and their drafted rookies.  NFL Network reported earlier that up to 20 un-drafted free agents could be signed per team in order to get their rosters to the 90 player requirement for this years training camps.

Sometime in the next seven to ten days a feeding frenzy unlike anything the NFL has ever seen will occur.  With player movement expected to be high and contracts expected to be higher.  Regardless of who goes where and gets what, the one certainty is that NFL teams will have a narrow window to get their teams ready for the start of the 2011 season, and an even narrower window to actually have those players practice.

It’s why the Miami Dolphins draft, looking back to three months ago, seems solid.

Miami Dolphins fans wanted a powerful arm.  A gunslinger who could throw 60 yards or a cerebral QB who could learn quick and make smart decisions.  Instead, the team opted to go with an offensive lineman.  Mike Pouncey has not snapped one ball as a professional football player.  He has had no meetings with coaches, no time with the teams trainers, and has not lifted one single weight at the Dolphins Davie training facility.  Yet he has more potential for success than any of the QB’s taken in this years draft.

Why?  Simple, he isn’t a QB.

It’s very rare for a rookie QB to succeed.  This year, it’s unprecedented territory.  No rookies have had the benefit of an off-season of rookie camps and mini-camps.  No coach dropping by the weight room to explain this or that.  They will enter the 2011 season like a college freshman who has never visited the campus before.  They will be lost and more importantly in many situations, will find the tutelage of veterans to be tempered at best because like the rookies, the window for them to continue working just got smaller as well.

For the Dolphins, looking back to last April, the selection of Mike Pouncey did more than simply fill a need with a bright NFL prospect.  It outlined an off-season plan to integrate those rookies into a new system with little practice time.  From Pouncey down to Jimmy Wilson the Dolphins selected positions that need little acclimation time.

Pouncey should find himself penciled in as the starter by week 1 of the regular season.  His position is an easier one to learn than most others.  It will come down to lane assignments, blocking roll outs, pulls, and whether or not the coaches want him to learn both guard and center.  Daniel Thomas taken with Miami’s second pick will carry the running games load and traditionally the hardest part of a rookie runners job is the blocking schemes.

Thomas will be able to adjust on the fly and it shouldn’t take him long to learn the speed of the NFL game.  The off-season work that he has put in with the veterans will help him gain advantage with those blocking schemes and the playbook terminology.  And if all else fails, the QB simply can say, “you go there”.  Edmond Gates is the speed guy deep threat that the Dolphins have been looking for.  While it’s difficult for receivers to make a year one impact, Gates wasn’t drafted to play an integral part in this years offense.

Gates is a burner and he will be used to stretch the field and take pressure off Brandon Marshall.  His ability to read and react to defensive coverage isn’t an issue at this point in his career and regardless of whether there was an off-season program or not, Gates wasn’t being looked at as the number 2 WR but instead someone who could work in the return game and streak down the field on offense.  No crossing patterns, no hooks, just get off the line and go.

When you view the Dolphins 2011 draft as a whole, perhaps the player who will find it the hardest to adjust may be the teams 4th selection, 6th round FB/TE Charles Clay.  Clay is going to have to learn more than lining up and running the ball.  He is a fullback that will be used more as a flex back/ TE hybrid.  He will need to learn passing routes, blocking assignments, audible signals as they relate to blocking schemes, and likely motion schemes.  The Dolphins view Clay as more than a simple FB who can gain the tough yards between the tackles.  And that will put added pressure on Clay to make an impact this year.

In reality, Clay will have some learning to do and his duties won’t be as easy as what will be asked of the three men taking before him.  If the Dolphins keep it simple, he may just start making an impact by month two of the season.  Following Clay in round 7 are two defensive players who will add depth to unit.  DT Frank Kearse and CB Jimmy Wilson.  Both players will need time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, the techniques, and for Wilson the schemes of a pro secondary.  While it’s not likely they succeed in their first year, the lockout really has little impact on their ability to make strides in 2011 as they were drafted for depth instead of as starters.

All in all, when you compare the Miami Dolphins draft to teams who spent high round picks on tougher transition positions, like WR and QB, the Dolphins seem to be doing pretty good with what production they should get out of their rookie class.  They may not have gone flashy and they may not have addressed the one position that fans were yelling for, but it’s very unlikely that any QB drafted this year will make a positive impression for any team that drafted him.

It’s simply too difficult to learn this level of play without an off-season to help.  The Dolphins didn’t have a crystal ball when they made their picks last April.  Jeff Ireland couldn’t have known that the NFL league year wouldn’t start until a week from the start of his teams training camp.  He may not have looked at the lockout then as a catalyst to who he should choose over someone else as it related to how quickly they could get acclimated to the NFL.  In hindsight, he may want to say that he did.  Especially if the players he took at the top, impact early in the season.