Tannehill a project? Sherman connection a head start

The Sports Xchange
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This could be Jeff Ireland's last draft as the Miami Dolphins' general manager.

That's why Ireland's second draft without former team czar Bill Parcells as the primary decision-maker needs to be a hit. Ireland realizes his haul - which features a first-round quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, a potential starting offensive tackle in Jonathan Martin, a pressure player in Miami's Olivier Vernon, a seam threat tight end in Michael Egnew, and a home-run hitting tailback in Miami's Lamar Miller - must produce.

In fact, a few of these early draftees need to blossom into impact players.

"It's extremely important," Ireland said. "We're trying to win championships and I believe that (the draft) is the best way to build a team. It's extremely important for this franchise that we hit on a lot of these players."

The Dolphins have annually found three starters in every draft Ireland's been involved with. Some within the organization believes this draft class might have five by 2013 because of Miller's late addition on Saturday.

"He's got as natural running skills as I've seen. I thought he was one of the better backs in this year's draft," Ireland said of Miller, who the Dolphins traded up to get. "We felt like he was too good a value to pass up."

Ireland admits receiver was an area of need because of the trade that sent Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall to Chicago. But the Dolphins waited to the later rounds to address the position, using a sixth-round pick on Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham and a seventh-round pick on Nevada's Rishard Matthews.

Will that be enough?

"We weren't going to reach. That's not my philosophy," Ireland said. "The board speaks to me when I'm drafting and I wasn't going to reach. I'm going to let the board speak to me."

The same will likely be said about his resume, which Ireland hopes will be highlighted by the production of the 2012 draft class. If not, he could find himself looking for work.

BEST PICK

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill: According to coach Joe Philbin it only took the team's first-round pick three hours to grasp the Dolphins playbook. There's a good reason for that considering Tannehill used it the past two seasons playing for Mike Sherman as the Aggies starting quarterback. Sherman is now the Dolphins offensive coordinator.

COULD SURPRISE

Defensive end Olivier Vernon: His production at Miami is underwhelming considering he only contributed 82 career tackles and nine sacks before declaring for the draft after his suspension-shortened junior season. But his athleticism, strength and speed measurables were off the charts, and won Ireland and his scouts over during a workout. The Dolphins envision Vernon immediately filling Jason Taylor's old role as a situational pass rusher in the nickel package.

A closer look at the Dolphins' picks:

Round 1/8 - Ryan Tannehill, QB, 6-4, 221, Texas A&M

The Dolphins felt his athleticism, footwork and accuracy made him the ideal fit for the west coast offense.

Round 2/42 - Jonathan Martin, OT, 6-5, 312, Stanford

The Dolphins hoped to fortify the offensive line in this draft and took this three-year starter at left tackle in the second round to do so. The Dolphins will ask him to move to the right side, where he'll compete with Lydon Murtha for the starting right tackle spot.

Round 3/72 - Olivier Vernon, DE, 6-2, 261, Miami

This well-built, quick twitch edge pass rusher reminded the scouts a lot of Cameron Wake, whom the Dolphins discovered in the CFL. He had an average career from a production standout, but the film showed he's a solid player. Ireland specifically liked the way he set the edge on running plays.

Round 3/78 - Michael Egnew, TE, 6-5, 252, Missouri

He's been a productive seam threat tight end during his career at Missouri, catching 147 passes for 1,332 yards and scoring eight touchdowns, most of which came in his two seasons as a starter. But fellow Tigers tight ends like Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman have fallen short of matching their college productivity.

Round 4/97 - Lamar Miller, RB, 5-10, 212, Miami

Miller's 4.3 speed should add an electrifying element to Miami's offense in time. The Dolphins liked this tailback, who starred in their own backyard so much they traded up in the fourth round to select the top-50 rated prospect, giving up a sixth-round pick in 2012 and one in 2013 to get him.

Round 5/155 - Josh Kaddu, LB, 6-3, 235, Oregon

He's an athletic, rangy player who has experience playing in a 3-4 scheme. The Dolphins envision he'll perform well enough to land one of the spots on the 53-man roster and become a core special teams player.

Round 6/183 - B.J. Cunningham, WR, 6-1, 211, Michigan State

West Coast "Z" receiver, who finished his Michigan State career as the school's all-time leader in receptions (218) and receiving yards (3,086) after starting 42 of 51 career games.

Round 7/215 - Kheeston Randall, DT, 6-4, 307, Texas

Ireland said Randall caught his eye at the Senior Bowl, and the Dolphins like his versatility considering this college nose tackle, who is nicknamed "Big Money" has the potential to play every spot on the defensive line.

Round 7/227 - Rishard Matthews, WR, 6-0, 217, Nevada

He's a well-built, fluid receiver who is competitive and plays with football smarts. During his two seasons at Nevada he caught 147 passes for 2,243 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He also has the skill set to serve as a returner.

--Four years ago Mike Sherman called Ryan Tannehill into his office and asked the promising dual threat quarterback to move to receiver after the freshman lost a battle for the Aggies' starting quarterback job.

Tannehill agreed to do it, but warned Sherman he was making a huge mistake.

"I told him I was the best quarterback he had on the roster," said Tannehill, who lost the camp battle to Jerrod Johnson, whom he backed up for two and a half seasons while starting at receiver.

"He'll always remember that moment," said Tannehill, who threw for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns in the 13 games he started last season. "He says it is one of the funniest moments, and the best moments he had with me."

Not only was Tannehill right, but considering the Miami Dolphins selected Tannehill with the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft the irony of his reunion with Sherman is overflowing.

Sherman is presently the offensive coordinator for the Dolphins, and now Tannehill's the young, promising rookie trying to unseat Matt Moore and David Garrard to become Miami's starting quarterback. The difference this time is he has a head start on these NFL veterans because Tannehill already knows Sherman's West Coast offense, and its language.

"I didn't take him at the eighth pick in the draft to be a backup quarterback," general manager Jeff Ireland said when asked about Tannehill's ceiling. "I'm going to let the coaches decide when he's ready to compete. He's going to be competing with the three quarterbacks we have. He's obviously got a head start."

Last season Tannehill completed 327 of 531 passes. He posted six 300-yard plus passing games, including his second career 400-yard game. He also gained 306 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns on his 58 carries.

But Tannehill threw 15 interceptions last season and 21 in his 19 college starts. He also lost a number of fourth quarter games. But the Aggies' struggles had more to do with Texas A&M's poor defense, and inconsistent receivers than Tannehill's ability.

"I leaned on him a lot. Why wouldn't I," Ireland said about Sherman's influence on the selection. "I had Mike in my office a couple of times to ask Mike about the competitor (Tannehill) is."

Ireland said Tannehill was a factor in the team's offseason plans at quarterback, which featured the Dolphins making a strong push for Peyton Manning, and a lukewarm effort to sign Matt Flynn, who ended up in Seattle.

No matter which quarterback was added, owner Steve Ross said the goal was to add a young quarterback to be developed for the long haul.

"All along (Ireland) felt Tannehill was someone he really saw talent in," said Ross, who hopes that Tannehill is able to sit and learn like Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay playing for Joe Philbin. "Just because he feels that way it doesn't mean he's going to do it right away."

With the quarterback position addressed, the Dolphins will likely use the team's three picks - No. 42, 72 and 73 - in the second day to address the receiver, offensive line and pressure player needs.

It's also possible the Dolphins could package those picks to move up in the second round. However, with a rebuilding roster, Miami would likely try to keep all of their available resources.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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