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NFL Owners Meetings Day 2: Philbin Excited About What's Ahead

Posted Mar 25, 2014

Dolphins Head Coach likes roster additions that have been made.

ORLANDO – There was no denying this morning the desire Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin has for turning the page on last season and moving forward onto 2014.

Philbin sat down bright and early for his third AFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL owners meetings and dove right into the hour-long question and answer session. He didn’t even grab a plate of food, opting to rely on just a hot cup of coffee to carry him through, and he was happy to weigh in on the new free agents signed by General Manager Dennis Hickey.

“I like the guys we’ve added so far,” said Philbin of the signings of left tackle Branden Albert, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, guard Shelly Smith, cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Louis Delmas. “I like the character of the guys, the talent and the ability level and we think they’re a good fit for what we’re doing.”

Albert had been a target of Philbin’s going back to last offseason when Miami explored the option of trading for him with the Kansas City Chiefs. The 6-foot-5, 316-pound Virginia grad went on to make his first Pro Bowl on a Chiefs squad that improved from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5, grabbing a playoff berth in Andy Reid’s first year as their head coach.

Combined with the return of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and the addition of free agent guard Shelley Smith, Philbin is pleased with how his offensive line is shaping up. The Dolphins are trying to replace four of five starters up front and being able to find an experienced anchor on the blind side of third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill this early in the offseason is seen as a definite positive.

“It’s an important position. We all know that and he’s a player that we’ve been studying for a couple of years,” Philbin said. “We’ve watched his tape closely and we feel like he’s a good fit schematically, we feel that he’ll be a good fit in the locker room. So it was an important thing.

“It made sense with where we’re at and when we looked at our roster and our depth chart we felt like it was a move that was good for him, good for the football team so we’re excited about having him. All the research we did showed that he’s a good person. He’s a good human being, his profession was important to him and he puts in a honest day’s work and he looks to make a valuable contribution to the ballclub.”

With a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor and a new offensive line coach in John Benton now in the fold, Philbin believes he has a shared vision on what needs to happen with the offensive line and the offense as a whole. All three are onboard with the zone-blocking scheme that the Dolphins like to run and Albert has the athleticism to flourish in that type of system.

The upcoming NFL Draft in May is still a place where the team can find more linemen that fit this system and there are still some players on the roster with position flexibility and a skill set necessary to execute in the run blocking and pass protection. Success in that area is key in Philbin’s opinion to allowing Tannehill to further progress and to be more effective on the deep ball, as well as the offense as a whole being able to put more points.

“I think we’re much closer. I think we’re definitely closer,” said Philbin on how much they have addressed the type of linemen needed. “I think if you look at Branden Albert, we studied the tape and there are some really good clips of him on the back side in Kansas City and on the front side doing things on outside zone plays that you want an offensive tackle to do. We thought that Shelley Smith’s a guy as we evaluated, we really liked his play speed on film.

“We liked his ability to pull and run and move. We liked him at the second level, so we’re excited about getting our hands on him and working with him. I think he’s schematically a good fit for what we do, so I think we’re closer. We still have some unsettled pieces that we’re not certain of, but as we move forward part of the thing as we draft is getting guys that fit what we want to do and I think that’s going to be a focus as we move forward.”

Defense was not immune to changes either since the end of the 2013 season, as the Dolphins bid farewell to cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Dimitri Patterson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai. They did bring back two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Randy Starks and Hickey added Finnegan, Mitchell and Delmas via free agency.

About a month before the free agency period began, Hickey managed to re-sign Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes to a contract extension and solidified one side of the secondary with that move. There will be quite the competition for that spot opposite Grimes and for the nickel and dime packages among Finnegan, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, the two rookie cornerbacks from last season, and Jimmy Wilson.

“We have to kind of get our hands on Cortland Finnegan. I think all of us have experience, myself coaching against him,” Philbin said. “Obviously, we studied the tape extensively and we like what we saw on film, but he’s going to have earn play time just like everybody else. The one thing he does give us is position flexibility. After watching the cut-ups from this year we thought Jimmy Wilson played well, so he played a big role in our nickel package last year. Finnegan has played some inside and he can play outside. Will Davis and Jamar Taylor; we’re going to give them opportunities so we expect to see progress there. So I think it’s going to be a competitive situation and it’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out.”

Philbin pointed to Delmas’ play speed and the fact the he saw him a couple of times a year when he was with the Green Bay Packers and Delmas was with the Detroit Lions. The veteran’s aggressiveness, knack for playing downhill and not to hesitate while bringing a level of intensity to the position of free safety are all assets that made the signing attractive.

>Mitchell’s addition to the defensive front is not necessarily meant to fill the void created by Soliai’s departure but rather as a positive combination with Starks and Jared Odrick on the interior. He excelled with the Houston Texans and brings a unique skill set that has Philbin excited about his potential in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s 4-3 defensive alignment.

“This guy’s a football player,” he said. “When you throw the film on he runs to the football every single snap and he plays hard. He’s been durable and available so I think this guy’s a football player.”

If there is one thing that has been consistent throughout Philbin’s tenure it’s been the emphasis he has put on his players being sound football players and possessing a strong work ethic. That seems to be what he and Hickey have managed to bring on so far this offseason and they continue to explore other options between now and the draft.
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