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Offensive Newcomers Have Hickey Excited

Posted May 15, 2014

General manager’s additions figure to help Ryan Tannehill as he heads into his third season in the NFL.

It’s been five days since the conclusion of the 2014 NFL draft, and Miami Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey remains as excited about his draft class as he did last weekend.

Actually, he might be even more excited now that he’s gotten a chance to see his new players up close.

“That’s the interesting part about moving the draft back two weeks is now you’re in the middle of Phase Two (of the offseason conditioning program), where actually the rookies can be out there with the vets,” Hickey said during his appearance on The Finsiders Thursday. “I believe on Monday or Tuesday, our rookies were out there with the vets practicing. Obviously, there’s no competition, it’s just on air without a defense or without an offense going against, but going through individual drills and doing those things, it was real exciting jumping our rookies in and they’ve looked great.”

The 2014 draft was Hickey’s first in his new role as Dolphins general manager, and the team ended up with eight selections after making three trades — moving down twice and moving up once — on the second of the draft’s three days.

After the draft concluded, the next order of business was signing undrafted free agents and the Dolphins brought in 20 more players that way, adding 18 on Monday and two more on Tuesday.

“We wanted guys that love football,” Hickey said. “That’s a common thread in our draft class as well, guys who are passionate about it. Professional football is a grind. Anybody who has been in it, you have to love it to be great at it and to push us to where we want to be as an organization, as a football team, you’ve got to have a passion for the game to fight through the rough times and to make plays in clutch situations.”

Two of the top three Dolphins selections in the 2014 draft were used on offensive linemen as the team continued its rebuilding project up front.

First-round pick Ja’Wuan James and third-round choice Billy Turner joined a group of newcomers along the offensive line that includes free agent acquisitions Branden Albert, Shelley Smith and Jason Fox.

“It certainly looks different,” Hickey said of the offensive line. “With Branden Albert, Shelley Smith, Jason Fox, and then with Billy Turner and Ja’Wuan James, it definitely looks different. It’s been exciting to see those guys interact and Branden Albert really taking a leadership role and bringing some of the young rookies under his wing, so to speak, and seeing them interact. The offensive line, to be successful, it has to be a cohesive unit, and that’s guys bonding, jelling together and our coaches are doing an outstanding job — Coach John Benton, Jack Bicknell — starting that jelling process. Obviously Mike Pouncey is doing a great job of leading the whole group. He’s been the guy that’s been here, so (he’s been) bringing those guys under his wing as well as leading the group.”

Given their draft status and the fact that Pouncey is the only returner from the offensive line that opened the 2013 regular season, the idea is that James and Turner very well could do battle for starting jobs as rookie.

While it’s too early to speculate on how everything will play out, Hickey says James and Turner have the necessary attributes to make a smooth transition to the NFL.

“They’re both talented players and one of the things that we liked about both of them, they’re really smart and really tough,” Hickey said. “Those are the traits that you’re looking for, for guys to be able to transition quickly. Obviously, playing the line as a rookie is always difficult and there’ll always be the growing pains with that, but both of these guys we felt had the make-up, the toughness, the smarts, to be able to do that.”

As for second-round pick Jarvis Landry, Hickey said the former LSU standout will make the wide receiver corps better.

“That’s part of our philosophy is bringing a competitive environment, and you do that by bringing quality players,” Hickey said. “Anybody who has watched the SEC has seen Jarvis Landry make plays, clutch plays, big plays, tough plays in traffic, his whole career. I’ve seen him play multiple times live and he always jumped out. This guy is a football player. Not only that, but he also brings other elements with his toughness, ability to play on special teams, even some abilities as a returner. All those things really added to his value and you’re talking about a leader. Whenever you talk to anybody at LSU, they always talked about, ‘This guy is the leader of that group.’ We’re real excited. He’s done great here and real excited to have him in our mix.”

All the newcomers on offense — Albert, Smith, Fox, Turner, Landry, James, running back Knowshon Moreno — figure to help Ryan Tannehill as he heads into his third season in the NFL.

Hickey is looking for big things from the Dolphins quarterback.

“Really excited about what he’s going to do,” Hickey said. “I think he’s going to really take the next step in a new offense. That’s been the adjustment for everybody. It’s going to be a lot of different things that we’re going to bring to the table under (new offensive coordinator) Bill Lazor’s offense. He’s done a great job so far and we’re really anxious and excited to see how he progresses.”

While the majority of the personnel work now has been completed after two months of free agency, the draft and the signing of undrafted rookies, Hickey says he’s always looking to improve the roster and he’ll always investigate whenever a player becomes available.

To help him do that, he has a new right-hand man after the Dolphins announced Thursday the hiring of Eric Stokes as assistant general manager.

“Obviously I worked with him in Tampa for a couple of years and before that we worked in the same area,” Hickey said. “I just had a lot of respect for him as an evaluator. He’s played the game. He’s very organized and detailed and really talented. And a great leader. He has a lot of great ideas and ways, big-picture thinking.”

Barring more player acquisitions, the next big date on the calendar for Hickey and the Dolphins is Friday, May 23 when the three-day rookie minnicamp begins.

It will be another chance for Hickey to see his draft picks and rookie free agent acquisitions in another setting.

“You love to see them out there being coached by your coaches, doing the things that they’re going to be asked to do in our offense and defensive schemes and special teams,” Hickey said. “Just seeing them out there competing, that’s the exciting thing. We feel like we have a great group of young players that are hungry, they’re passionate. They’ve been really competing just over the first couple of days and we’re excited to see that continue in rookie minicamp.”
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