Welcome back, sportsfans, to the continuing story of the
Dolphins off-season of 1999. It's a story of intrigue - of suspense -
of mystery ... almost (but not quite) as exciting as the opening of
"The Phantom Menace". In fact, it's so exciting that I ....
... am having trouble staying awake this month. Despite the
promise of the new season, I'm having an unusually difficult time just
trying to read the news every day. Last year, at least, the team had
a number of extra quarterback camps to prepare themselves for the new
This year, not only is JJ having fewer camps, he is going
easier on the veterans. That is so un-JJ-like that it's hard to
convince myself sometimes that it's the same JJ we've always known.
Perhaps he fell asleep next to a pod sometime in January.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of interesting activity, there
are plenty of things to talk about. And in today's issue of "On
Porpoise", I want to continue to talk about the free agents that JJ
has acquired this spring, because these guys could make as big a
difference for the team as any group of veterans have for the Dolphins
since JJ took over.
But before I get on with my thoughts on the rest of the free
agents, I have a quick quiz for all you fans out there. This quiz will
take a little bit of digging to figure out the answer, but it's an
interesting question and I think it bears directly on one of the least
known free agents the Dolphins acquired this spring.
And the question of the day is: of the starting members of the
1998 Dolphins offense, who had the second worst percentage of dropped
I'll eliminate one possibility for you - Karim Abdul-Jabbar
led the Dolphins in percentage of passes dropped last year, losing 9
of 31 passes tossed his way. This works out to a 29% drop rate -
which is appallingly bad.
But who was the second worst starter on the team in terms of
dropping passes? Well, I'll tell you ... later. I don't think you'll
be too surprised at who it was, but you may be surprised at what I
think will happen as a result.
To digress for a moment, in the last issue of "On Porpoise", I
only talked about two of the free agents the Dolphins picked up this
spring - Tony Martin and Tyrone Wheatley. Yes, I know that Wheatley
was not a free agent, but he's a veteran acquisition and that's what
The other veteran trade acquisition that the Dolphins made
this off-season will be the first player I talk about in this issue -
offensive guard Kevin Gogan.
Gogan is one of two former JJ players signed this off-season
and has been described as "the dirtiest player in football". The
Dolphins acquired him from San Francisco for a 5th round draft this
year. For a 3 time Pro-Bowl player, he came at a bargain price, which
is just the way JJ likes them.
Gogan is huge, strong and nasty and is being penciled in as
the starting left guard. He and Donnalley will make a terrific pair
surrounding Tim Ruddy and should be able to help that short yardage
game that gave the Dolphins so much trouble last year.
The 49ers traded Gogan away because he doesn't fit in with
their offensive philosophy, now that Bill Walsh is back with the team
as general manager. He is not the agile, quick blocker that Walsh
likes to have on his line.
Personally, I think that Walsh made a serious mistake in
letting Gogan get away and it will come back to haunt him. With the
NFL rule changes this spring outlawing a lot of the cut-blocking that
offensive linemen have done in the past (and that the 49ers
specialized in), smaller offensive linemen are going to have it much
tougher this year.
And larger offensive linemen (like Gogan) are going to become
more important, despite his relative lack of mobility.
Of course, size isn't everything - but Gogan also has
experience. He is entering his 13th year in the league.
And oh, by the way, he hasn't missed a start since 1992.
So I think that Gogan will start this year for the Dolphins at
left guard, with Mark Dixon backing him up. Dixon is a great long
term prospect and don't count him out as the starter just yet - but
questions about his neck and Gogan's experience and attitude will
almost certainly keep Gogan as the starter.
Of course, there are worse things that can happen to the team
than to have Dixon as the number one backup on the offensive line -
especially when you consider what happened at the end of last season
to the line when the injury bug bit.
But the bottom line is that Gogan is a valuable addition to
the team, both on and off the field.
Moving right along, I think it's time for an answer to my
little quiz from above. The player who dropped the highest percentage
of passes last season (after Karim, of course) was Troy Drayton. Out
of 49 passes thrown his way, he dropped 4 of them, which is an 8.2%
Now, when you compare that to Karim Abdul-Jabbar, 8.2% is
pretty insignificant. But when compared to the rest of the starting
receivers, it's not so good.
The reason I bring this up when talking about free agent
acquisitions is that JJ went to a lot of trouble to sign restricted
free agent tight end Hunter Goodwin away from the Minnesota Vikings
this spring. Since JJ does not have a habit of spending over $2
million (and a draft pick) on a player unless he thinks that that
player has the potential to start for him, I think you have to
consider the possibility that Goodwin could pose a real threat to
Drayton's starting job.
Realistically, there's no reason to get excited about Goodwin
... yet. In his 3 years in the league, he's started only 11 of his 40
games and caught just 11 passes. But JJ (and Dave Wannestedt) have
seen something in this kid that caused them to go to a lot of trouble
to acquire him.
I should also point out, at this point, that Wannestedt
coached against the Vikings twice a year as the head coach of the
Bears and so he has had ample opportunity to see Goodwin in action.
Original reports stated that they picked him up to be an extra
blocker - and I think that there's some truth to that. But when
reports surfaced out of mini-camp and quarterback school this spring
that Goodwin was running routes and catching passes much better than
expected, I began to develop a feeling that Goodwin could end up being
much more than Drayton's backup.
It's just a hunch, of course, but when you add up all the
factors, I think that Drayton's future as the starter could very well
be in doubt - especially if he keeps dropping passes. Last summer, I
remember him dropping several during training camp that I saw and
that's not something he can afford to continue doing, especially if
Goodwin is catching the ball well.
And of course, if there's one thing that JJ hates worse than
dropped passes, it's a bad attitude. Now, if Drayton truly had a bad
attitude, he would already have been fired. Still, I can't help but
remember some of Drayton's comments to the press over the last few
years about how he felt he should be getting the ball more - which is
pretty ironic when you consider his dropped passes.
It may not mean anything, but if you compare those comments
with the reports that JJ was laughing and joking with Goodwin during
the first mini-camp, it just makes the case for Goodwin that much
Now, like I said - it's just a hunch. But I really think that
Hunter Goodwin could turn out to be a very important acquisition this
Well, as usual, I've carried on much longer than I expected
about much less than I expected. I've still got 6 free agents to talk
about, as well as the draftees. But hey - it's the off-season, so
what else have I got to do?
But before I end this column, I think I should tell you who I
think is going to start for the Dolphins on opening day at running
back. Barring injuries (which I think could make the most difference
in who is going to start - but which are impossible to predict), I
believe that Cecil Collins will be the starter.
I've now watched several hours of tape of Collins and James
Johnson and while both are excellent runners, it's pretty clear that
Collins has a very rare gift of talent. His speed, elusiveness, power
and vision really make him the most talented running back on the team
And that will carry him to the starting job.
In the next issue of "On Porpoise", I'll try to be a little
more succinct as I finish up talking about the free agents that the
team has acquired. None of the remaining free agents is likely to be
as important as the ones I've already covered, but they certainly
could help the team and so I'll let you know what I think about them
... On Porpoise, of course.
DOLFAN in New Rochelle