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On Porpoise 2-96: Draft PostView
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The time has come to write another issue of "On Porpoise", which I know just thrills the socks off of some of you. It certainly thrills me....

To be honest, though, I'm not sure that today is a good day to do this. This day has not started off well and anything I may try to do today is suspect.

Let me give you an example - this morning, in the shower, I got my soaps out of order. What I mean by that is that normally I pick up the soap and wash my body first. Then, I get the shampoo and wash my hair. Once I'm done with that, I take the shaving cream and shave.

Doing these things in order is very important, because with the brain not up to full speed at the time I step in the shower, it makes it much easier to get things accomplished if I don't have to think too much.

This morning, however, I picked up the shaving cream before I picked up the shampoo. Now, the shaving cream was in the right place, so I can't use the excuse that it had been moved. And it was the same can I always use, so changing brands is not the reason that I did what I did.

But you can see what's coming, right?

Despite the fact that I was holding the shaving cream, my brain was running on autopilot and I proceeded to the second stage of my morning shower ritual - I shampooed...

...with the shaving cream.

Now, you'd think that the consistency of the shaving cream would have tipped me off. I mean, it doesn't feel anything like shampoo and I certainly know the difference when I'm concious.

About the only saving grace to the whole silly incident is that I didn't then try and shave my head. Now, *that* would have been really scary.

But that's the kind of day it's been, so perhaps I should not be talking to you about the Dolphins draft choices on such a day.

And let's be honest here - any analysis of the results of the draft at this point in the season is very premature. I mean, how can any self-respecting football analyst give out a grade to each teams' draft before any of the draftees has played a down in this league?

All you have to do is to look at the results of past drafts to know how silly it is to try and figure out who is going to be a boom and who is going to be a bust at this stage of the game.

However, it probably is worthwhile to look at the results of the draft so far in order to get an idea of where the Dolphins are headed as a team and what JJ is trying to accomplish as a coach. The type of players selected will also give us some idea of what JJ's offensive and defensive strategies will be.

So let's start with a few facts: first of all, the Dolphins started the draft with 8 picks and their highest pick was the 20th overall in the first round. After that, the Dolphins were pretty evenly spread throughout the rest of the rounds, winding up with 2 picks in the 7th round.

In the past, the Dolphins would have been pretty content to have 8 picks, but JJ is well known as a wheeler-dealer on draft day and this draft was no exception. Through a series of trades with Dallas and Jacksonville, the Dolphins wound up with 12 picks overall.

Trading away the 2nd round pick ultimately gave the Dolphins an additional 4 picks that were distributed in the 3rd and later rounds. With all their picks, the Dolphins selected 3 cornerbacks, 3 running backs, 2 linebackers, 2 defensive linemen, 1 offensive lineman, and 1 wide receiver.

About the only thing that surprises me about this mix of picks is the number of running backs. It's significant, I think, that JJ decided not to take a running back until the 3rd round, but it's also significant that he took 3 of them.

But I'm getting ahead of myself - let's take a look at each group of draftees by position and see what we have. I should say before I start that I don't watch college football and have never seen any of the Dolphins' draftees play. So, when I talk about the various talents of the players, it's not because I've watched them. All I know is what I've read and what the stats tell me.

I also wanted to point out that it's a moot point as to whether or not JJ wanted to trade up or down and get this player or that player. It doesn't matter now what JJ would have liked to do - what's important is what he did do.

One of the weakest areas on the team in recent years has been at defensive back. With the loss of Troy Vincent, the Dolphins lost their best defensive back and their best cover corner. So, JJ did what he had to do by taking 3 cornerbacks in Dorian Brew, Kirk Pointer and Shawn Wooden to help shore up the defense.

The book on all three of these guys is about the same - they are smallish (5'10 & 5'11"), fast cover guys who are very good at man-to-man coverage and perhaps not so good at playing the run. JJ has said since the draft that they won't have to play the run so much under his defensive scheme. The word is that they'll be mainly asked to do what they do best - cover man-to-man on opposing receivers.

And you know what? That's good. And the reason that it's good is that man-to-man coverage is very simple. The only thing that a young cornerback has to think about in man-to-man coverage is staying with his man. He doesn't have to worry about complicated zones and who to cover and how far to drop back. All he has to do is to stick with his man.

Now, this may be very physically demanding and guys like Jerry Rice are going to fake out a young cornerback once in a while. But it is simple, which will make it that much easier for the young guys to learn the defense and their responsibilities in it.

I doubt that any of these guys has a chance at starting, at least not this year. They'll have to step up and displace Buckley, Brown or Calvin Jackson and I don't think that they'll be likely to do that - although stranger things have happened.

The latest news on the defensive backs that the Dolphins drafted is that Shawn Wooden has been moved to free safety. I don't think that this is a good sign, considering that Wooden was a cornerback at Notre Dame and the Dolphins have a fairly strong group of safeties, but he may work out well there.

Also, JJ was fairly liberal with his praise of Brew and Pointer after the mini-camp. However, there didn't seem to be a similar mention of Wooden anywhere that I could find.

By the way, one of the reasons that Wooden was drafted was that he covered Terry Glenn while he was at Notre Dame and Glenn didn't catch a pass against him. Glenn, for those who don't know, was the Patriots' first draft choice.

Another area that needed improvement was at linebacker. In that area, JJ chose two smaller linebackers with huge hearts - Zach Thomas and LaCurtis Jones. Thomas was a finalist for the Butkus award as the best college linebacker in the country last year and Jones was in on 239 tackles as a senior. For those who are counting, that's about 20 per game.

I think it's fair to say that JJ is looking for both these guys to play over their heads - so to speak. He's going to be asking them to attack the ball carrier and make tackles after the defensive linemen have disrupted the opposing offenses' blocking schemes. Unlike Don Shula, he won't be asking his linebackers to take on offensive guards at the point of attack.

I also think that one or both of these guys could turn out to be the steals of the draft. Both of them are such intense competitors and were not picked up by other teams only because of their size. I doubt either will start this year, but both should see a lot of action, especially on special teams.

I admit that, at first, I wasn't crazy about either Jones or Thomas, but the more I read about both, the better I like them. Jones, in particular, is an amazing character. During his sophmore year, Jones broke a bone in his arm during a game. He went on to make 7 tackles with the broken arm before trainers forced him to sit.

During the recent mini-camp, Johnson said that Jones and Thomas were head and shoulders about his other linebackers in pass coverage.

On the defensive line, the Dolphins took their biggest gamble of the draft by taking defensive tackle/end Daryl Gardener with the 20th pick in the first round. As Dave Wanstadt said to Jimmy Johnson "You're the only guy in this league who's not afraid to take him".

And why is that? Because the dig against Gardener and the reason that he was available when the Dolphins picked him at #20, is that he is not supposed to be motivated and doesn't play hard all the time - which, by the way, Gardener himself admits.

At least partly, this is the result of poor aerobic conditioning. Gardener says that he loves to pump iron, but hates to run.

So why did the Dolphins pick him? Because, at 6'6" and 320 lbs, Gardener can run a 4.8 in the 40 and bench press 225 lbs about 30 times. With physical abilities like that, Gardener has all the tools to become an amazing defensive lineman.

And let's face it - a defensive lineman can, singlehandedly, do more to disrupt and destroy an opposing offense than almost any other player on the defense. Only an outside linebacker like LT can do as much to get in an opponents backfield, destroy his timing and ruin his who day as an intimidating defensive linemen. Remember when Tim Bowens stopped a Jets drive on three successive plays back in 94?

And Gardener has the potential to be even better than that - if only he'll play with intensity and fire all of the time. We'll see if JJ can motivate him to play to his potential. If JJ can't do that, then it probably can't be done, so by that metric, Gardener has come to the right team.

But we'll all be holding our breath come September to see if Gardener lives up to his promise.

Gardener is the only draftee on the defense that I believe has a good chance to start this fall. Unless something bizarre happens, I believe that he'll win the starting right defensive end job. Of course, in a JJ designed defense, with it's frequent rotation of linemen, that means even less than it did for the Dolphins last year. JJ is talking about rotating 7 or 8 defensive linemen throughout the course of the game.

The Dolphins did draft another defensive lineman - Shane Burton from Tennessee. Burton is another huge guy - 6'5" and 300 lbs, who can get in quarterbacks' face and knock the ball away. There has been some talk that he may get a chance at the offensive line and he does face a lot of competition for a roster spot, so it's hard to know if he'll be on the defensive line in September.

After looking at the seven defensive players drafted, I think it's pretty clear what form a JJ defense will take:

JJ wants his big defensive linemen to take on on the opponent's offensive line and break down their blocking schemes. They also need to be able to get into an opponent's backfield and disrupt the passing game, either through direct pressure or by getting in a quarterbacks' face and knocking the ball down.

The job of the linebackers will be to get to the ball carrier and take him down, not to tangle with opposing offensive linemen. And defensive backs will only be asked cover opponents' wide receivers, not be part of the run defense. This will make the defensive player's job simpler and make it easier for a rookie to make the team.

Overall, most of the defensive players drafted have a good chance to make the team. Between the new defensive scheme and the loss of some of the old starters, these new guys have a great shot at playing for the Dolphins in September.

On offense, the situation is more muddied because of the depth of experience and the fact that the offense will not change schemes like the defense has. However, the biggest surprise that I found on draft day was that JJ selected 3 running backs. This was surprising to me because of the depth of running backs already on the team.

However, I don't think that JJ initially intended to take 3 running backs - I think that Karim Abdul-Jabbar in particular was as much of a surprise to JJ as he was to any of us. I doubt that anyone expected him to be available in the third round when he was taken.

And, of course, when someone who was originally slated to be taken in the first or second round falls to the third, a lot of teams begin to wonder whether or not there's something wrong with him. This will keep a player on the board who probably should have been drafted earlier.

The Dolphins didn't take Abdul-Jabbar in the first round because he was considered to be too slow and JJ had more pressing needs on defense. When he fell into the third round, however, he became a bargain and was grabbed in a hurry.

The other two backs - Stanley Pritchett and Jerris McPhail - are very different and will fill two different roles. Pritchett is obviously a potential replacement for Keith Byars with his pass catching ability and his tough running. McPhail is a speedster (4.37 in the 40), who can run away from people and who may also be used as a slot receiver.

But how do we interpret what the drafting of 3 running backs means to the offense? Is this a sign that JJ is not happy with his current trio of Kirby, Parmalee and Spikes?

Well, I'm not so sure of that. I think that Abdul-Jabbar was an unexpected surprise that JJ didn't anticipate being able to get. And since neither Pritchett nor McPhail can really be expected to be a featured every-down running back, I believe that JJ didn't really set out to draft a feature back at all. I think that he had planned to go with either Kirby, Parmalee or Spikes during the regular season as his starter.

Still, Abdul-Jabbar may just push the veterans for a starting spot. This would only be for the good of the team, but it probably does mean that at least one of the veterans will not be on the team in September. Who will stay and who will go is tough to say, but even though he started last year, Parmalee may have trouble coming back from his injury enough to be kept by the team.

The last two draft picks on offense were offensive lineman Jeff Buckey from Stanford and wide receiver Brice Hunter from Georgia. Buckey is an all-around performer who can (and has) played all of the positions on the offensive line. He can also long-snap the ball, which may save him a roster spot in the end. However, there are a lot of veterans in front of him.

Hunter set career reception and touchdown records at Georgia and had a strong showing in the Senior Bowl, but dropped one too many passes during his senior year. He is big and strong, but has a weight problem and is going up against a good crop of veteran receivers on the team now. Unless he has an amazing training camp, I would be surprised to see him on the roster in September.

Overall, this draft was difficult for me to evaluate. At first, I was disappointed at the few linebackers that were taken and I was somewhat skeptical of some of the other picks. However, after I've had time to reflect and learn more about each player, I've become more optimistic.

Still, at this point, how can you give the draft any grade other than "incomplete"? Until we look back in January of next year to see who made the team and determine how well each of these rookies has played, we can't really give a grade. And, in truth, we may not know how this draft turned out for 3 or 4 years.

For the time being, JJ did address the areas on the team that are most in need of help - defensive line, defensive backs and linebackers (heck, the entire defense). JJ himself has said that on draft day, he expected that 6 or 7 of his picks would eventually make the team. After the mini-camp was over, however, he stated that he could see as many as 10 of them being on the team this fall.

Going with JJ's evaluation, I'd have to guess that Hunter and Wooden are the ones who most need an outstanding training camp to be kept. I think that Burton and Buckey are also in precarious situations, because of the number of competitors on both the offensive and defensive lines.

But you can bet that JJ didn't make these picks frivolously. He undoubtedly spent countless hours evaluating and examining the talent of all the players concerned and then picking the very best he could find. As they say, drafts are really made or broken in the later rounds, when the Dolphins had the majority of their picks.

Nope, JJ did his very best and each and every one of the Dolphins' draft picks this year was undoubtedly made....

... On Porpoise.


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Curt Fennell
DOLFAN in New England