Guess now we know that Tony Sparano still has Jeff Ireland's ear.
The pick of Florida center Mike Pouncey at No. 15 overall in Thursday's draft showed that Sparano, the Dolphins' head coach and noted offensive line guru, got his way as he sat in the draft room next to Ireland, his general manager and longtime friend.
In picking Pouncey, the Dolphins hope they will be able to fix the interior line that kept breaking down in front of Chad Henne last season. They also hope Pouncey will have the same sort of immediate impact his brother Maurkice had last year with the Steelers, for whom he started at center from Day 1 as a rookie.
Maurkice went 18th overall, so Mike has the upper hand in terms of the draft.
"This was the first team I had on the radar," Mike Pouncey said, "and it's a perfect fit for me. I'm a physical player and I love football."
It appears to be the perfect fit for the Dolphins, too, especially with concerns over an extended work stoppage leaving teams uncertain if there will be enough time to prepare a rookie quarterback to take over.
By going with Pouncey, 6-5 and 311 pounds, the Dolphins opted not to trade down as they did a year ago, when they moved from No. 12 to 28th and took Penn State defensive end Jared Odrick.
While most observers believed the Dolphins wanted to do just that, no interested suitors were willing to give up the second-round pick Miami was looking for to replace the one Ireland sent to the Broncos in the 2010 Brandon Marshall trade.
The Dolphins also chose to pass on sexier picks such as Alabama running back Mark Ingram or quarterbacks Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Andy Dalton (Texas Christian) or Colin Kaepernick (Nevada). There remained a chance Ireland would find a way to sneak into the second round and pick one of those quarterbacks on Day 2, but it wasn't going to be easy.
Pouncey, who can also play guard, should be able to be out journeyman Joe Berger for a starting job. Richie Incognito, who re-signed as a free agent, could start at center or left guard, with Pouncey slated to take the other spot.
John Jerry, a third-round pick last year out of Ole Miss, is the returning starter at right guard.
Pouncey grew up in Lakeland, Fla., as a Tampa Bay Bucs fan but said he's fine with playing for the Dolphins.
"I'm glad to stay in the state of Florida," he said.
The Dolphins spent comparatively little time with Pouncey during the draft run-up, other than a conversation at the Scouting Combine.
"They were trying to hide it from other teams that they were interested in me," Pouncey said.
Interestingly, there has been talk among draftniks that Pouncey isn't that comfortable snapping out of the shotgun. Incognito, predominantly a guard during his NFL career, had the same problems when he took over at center during an emergency against the Bears last year and again in Game 15 against the Lions.
This marks the third time in four years with the Dolphins that this regime has taken a lineman first.
--Give Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano credit for this much: Faced with widespread questions about their job security beyond 2011, the Dolphins' general manager and head coach drafted with a clear eye on the long-term future and not just their immediate issues.
Yes, the Dolphins found ways to fill four gaping holes on their offense. Or at least hope they have. But they stuck to their draft board and never went away from their philosophy of factoring in a player's ceiling along with his present-day ability.
That's how they managed to avoid drafting any of the eight members of a flawed but intriguing quarterback class. The one they'll be reminded about for years is Ryan Mallett, especially if he turns into Tom Brady's eventual successor in New England.
Center-guard Mike Pouncey: His versatility was viewed as a big plus as the Dolphins try to figure out how best to deploy veteran Richie Incognito, re-signed to a three-year deal after seeing time at both left guard and center last year. Pouncey views himself as a center, however, despite playing the position for only one year at Florida. He will probably get a chance to fail there first before the Dolphins would ask him to move.
Wide receiver Edmond Gates: The Dolphins look at the raw, late-blooming Gates and see another potential Mike Wallace, the Steelers' rookie receiver who made such an impact last year. Gates has a 40-inch vertical and blazing speed (4.21 seconds in the 40-yard dash, he claims), so he will be counted on to knock the top off all those deep zones the Dolphins faced last season.
A closer look at the Dolphins' picks:
Round 1/15 - Mike Pouncey, C/G, 6-5, 303, Florida
The similarities to twin brother Maurkice, a Pro-Bowl center as a rookie last year for the Steelers, were too much for the Dolphins to ignore as they seek to fix their interior offensive line.
Round 2/62 - Daniel Thomas, RB, 6-1, 228, Kansas State
Doesn't have breakaway speed, but his big body and two-year production in the Big 12 were enough to prompt a trade up from the third round.
Round 4/111 - Edmond Gates, WR, 6-0, 192, Abilene Christian
Late-blooming speedster didn't play high school football, a first for Jeff Ireland draftees. But Gates' 40-inch vertical, strong hands and kick return ability should give the Dolphins their replacement for Ted Ginn Jr.
Round 6/174 - Charles Clay, FB/TE, 6-3, 235, Tulsa
Versatility and mobility make Clay an intriguing value pick this late in the draft. The Dolphins hope to move him around a la David Martin, circa 2008, as they seek a reliable running mate for starter Anthony Fasano.
Round 7/231 - Frank Kearse, DT, 6-4, 311, Alabama A&M
Physically gifted pile pusher is a longshot but could add to an already deep group of defensive linemen. Likely replacement for free agent Tony McDaniel.
Round 7/235 - Jimmy Wilson, CB, 5-11, 185, Montana
Continuing a recent preference for Grizzlies - kicker Dan Carpenter, running back Lex Hilliard - the Dolphins grabbed a star-crossed talent who spent two years in jail on charges (since dropped) of murdering his aunt's boyfriend. Was out of college football for three seasons due to the 2007 murder case.
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