So have the Dolphins, as season tickets went on sale yesterday.
Thanks to some careful planning and foresight on Ireland’s behalf, Miami is positioned like it hasn’t been in quite some time to make a splash on both fronts. He has nine draft picks to play with, including five in the first three rounds, and a considerable amount of money under the salary cap to use in free agency and help continue to get Head Coach Joe Philbin the pieces he needs to succeed.
“This did not happen by accident. There was some planning obviously in place,” said Ireland during an exclusive interview with The Finsiders on Monday afternoon. “After a year with Joe and his staff and the culture that he’s building we’ve tried to set ourselves up moving forward with ammunition to build through the draft and also have some cap space to do some things in the offseason as well.”
This will be Ireland’s sixth draft with the Dolphins and second with Philbin as his coach. He now has a better idea of the offensive and defensive schemes Philbin likes to run and has been able to find a balance between his draft philosophy and what works for Philbin.
The NFL Scouting Combine is a little more than two weeks away, so that will be the next chance for Ireland and Philbin to marry their philosophies and get a closer look at the incoming class of rookies. So that is the priority starting now.
“We just started pre-Combine draft meetings so this was the first time that Joe will have a chance to sit down with the scouts and see the players that he’ll be watching in the Combine,” Ireland said. “We start at 7:30 in the morning and we’ll go until maybe 9 at night and eat three square meals here. It’s a long process. We’re watching a lot of video, we’re going through each player and how they fit from a character standpoint and from an offensive and defensive schematic standpoint.
“We’re not watching a ton of tape on individual players because we’ve already watched a lot of them at this point and now we’re just getting different views from different scouts that have seen them. So by this time we’ll have three or four different looks at a particular player, including my own and Brian Gaine and Chris Grier.”
By now all fans are familiar with the big draft board every team puts together prior to April’s NFL Draft, but Ireland also revealed that he and his staff put together a similar board for free agents. That board fluctuates constantly between now and the start of the free agency period on March 12 as some players re-sign with their teams or are slapped with the franchise tag by their teams.
At the same time, Ireland has his own unrestricted free agents to consider and is continuing negotiations with them and their agents. Chemistry and familiarity are also keys to a successful team, but Ireland knows that change is inevitable each year. He hopes to have all nine of his draft picks and any undrafted free agents make an impact in 2013.
“We’ve got five draft picks in the top 82, one in the fourth, one in the fifth and two in the seventh so we’re looking forward to hitting on those,” Ireland said. “We’ll have another young team next year and that was all by design.”
Last season the Dolphins fielded the second youngest team in the league and started a rookie at quarterback for the first time in franchise history. Tannehill managed to start all 16 games and led Miami to a 7-9 record. He completed 282-of-484 passes for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a 76.1 passer rating and showed plenty of promise going forward, validating the decision to take him in the first round with the eighth overall pick.
“I think he did a great job this year and he’s got 35 starts underneath his belt to this day and that’s huge,” Ireland said. “I think the axiom that you go by in scouting is you like to see a quarterback have 30 starts under his belt before he’s ready to play and we kind of violated our principal and axiom by drafting a player that didn’t have those starts under his belt but now he does. I think we’re better for it. I think this team’s better for it, I think Ryan’s better for it, so now we’re going to hopefully see a big jump in his development.
“We’re not satisfied with where he’s at right now. He’s got a along way to go, he knows that and we know that. But we think if we can surround him with some things, not only from a protection standpoint but with some playmakers down the field he’s only going to get better, better and better, along with his attitude, his makeup and his drive.”
Tannehill’s poise and maturity helped convince Ireland to break from his philosophy of not taking a quarterback with less than 30 starts to his credit so early in the draft. He liked the physical tools that Tannehill possessed – his height and athleticism – as well as his background and the fact that his head coach in college, Mike Sherman, was already onboard as the offensive coordinator.
The Dolphins also got strong contributions from a host of other rookies last season, including starting right tackle
There are two schools of thought when it comes to that type of development for young players. Some are expected to make an immediate impact and others tend to blossom one or two years down the line, like safety
“I think Lamar really showed some great signs of really some explosive play opportunity,” he said. “He kind of shoots out of a cannon when he hits the hole. He’s got very good hands and I thought he did a very good job in his pass protection, which keeps him on the field for all three downs and I thought Rishard Matthews came on the scene late last year.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Olivier Vernon or Jonathan Martin from that standpoint, as both of them are young and came out at juniors. They’re young in their development from a bulk standpoint and a strength standpoint and just from an experience standpoint. I think all of those guys are going to get much, much better.”
Ireland also reiterated what he looks for in a wide receiver, which is first and foremost the ability to catch the ball and then being able to create separation and get open. He also likes to see the ability to run after the catch and make explosive plays, while also being able to handle contact at the line and down the field from opposing cornerbacks while competing for the ball.
There will be lots of time spent breaking down more film and notes for Ireland, Philbin and the rest of the scouts and coaches between now and the last week of April. They will be looking at free agents and draft eligible players that meet those criteria for receiver and the criteria being set at the other positions of need.
So while the rest of America takes a break following the Super Bowl and focuses on other sports, the candles will be burning at both ends in Davie at the Dolphins’ training facility.