MOBILE, Ala. – Now that they have a year under their belts together as General Manager and Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins, Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin have a better understanding of how to work together.
This week at the Senior Bowl they are taking that to the next level.
Ireland had to handle the evaluation and interview process with these elite college football players last January along with his scouts while Philbin was back in South Florida assembling his staff. Their working relationship was in its infancy stage, so Ireland had a basic knowledge of they type of offensive and defensive systems Philbin was planning to bring to the field.
This time around, with Philbin on site and taking notes on the sidelines or from the bleachers at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Ireland can comfortably address the future direction of the franchise. Their conversations as the team begins to build its draft board are critical this week and in the coming months. But it all starts right here on the shores of Mobile Bay.
“It’s just more time that Joe and I get to spend together and I think that’s invaluable to set the vision forward,” Ireland said following this morning’s North Team practice. “We’re spending a lot of time together talking about players, we’re watching free agents together and that’s important. The more time we get a chance to be with each other and talk football the better off we’re going to be as a football team, so it’s great to have him here.”
Both men are well aware not only of how important this offseason is to further closing the gap between the Dolphins and the New England Patriots in the AFC East, but also the excellent opportunities available in the draft with nine picks and in free agency with lots of cap room. As young as Philbin’s squad was in 2012, his philosophy of building through the draft takes on even more importance now and at the NFL Scouting Combine next month in Indianapolis.
Five of Miami’s draft picks in April are in the first three rounds and among the top 100 picks, so the ability to find more playmakers and add more depth to the roster certainly is there for the taking. That is why what Ireland and Philbin can gather from this week’s practices and individual interviews with players is so important and why he is excited about the possibilities.
“It feels really good because you feel like you’re positioned well with draft picks and you have an opportunity to really do some good for the future of the franchise,” Ireland said. “I’m looking forward to it. We have five picks in the top three rounds and that’s important. It’s going to be a big weekend for us.”
The end result of Ireland’s and Philbin’s collaboration last year was a 7-9 season sprinkled with plenty of positive performances in all three phases. Rookie quarterback
Ireland was very pleased with the production he got out of his rookie class and also of the production he got out of the 2011 rookie class. He saw a shift in on-the-field philosophy on both sides of the ball that will impact how he goes about shaping the roster compared to how he approached it in previous years.
“You have a scouting philosophy that you get into to and I’m a big, firm believer in prototypical size players regardless of what scheme you’re going to play,” Ireland explained. “I like big corners and offensively, schematic wise again I’m going to be prototypical. I may be looking for a little different offensive line type, maybe a little bit more athletic, but again the draft and scouting philosophy is going to be high character, intelligent, passionate and competitive guys. That mixed with Joe’s schematic standpoint, that has to marry and I think it’s going to marry very well.”
To that end, Ireland did not hesitate to ensure that his priority is to continue to make upgrades on the offensive side of the ball and to find pieces to help Tannehill and the entire unit. Even though Miami finished second in the division, reaching the playoffs did not come to fruition for the fourth straight season.
There are some talented and speedy wide receivers at the Senior Bowl this week as well as among the 73 underclassmen declaring for the draft. In addition, some of the veteran free agent wide receivers on the market will be appealing once the free agency period begins in March.
“I think this is the year that you’ve got to do something,” Ireland said. “We’re looking for playmakers on offense so that’s what we need to do. The players gave to be available to you and you can’t make that up. They’ve got to be available in free agency and trade situations and certainly the draft. All those avenues are going to be available to us from a cap standpoint and a draft pick standpoint, so we’ll take every single avenue that we can to procure some better players for this football team.”
So the key for Ireland as he laid it out during his 32-minute media availability is to not look backwards but set his sights on the future. That means organizing his notes from the scouting trips he and his staff took during the season and matching them up with what everyone puts together this week and continue to formulate a strategy.
Ireland conceded that he has gotten frustrated with not being able to get the team into the playoffs since 2008 and that he addresses those frustrations by getting on the treadmill early in the morning and running real hard. At the same time, based on what he saw out of his players last season and how they fought in close games, Ireland feels good about the direction the team is heading.
“When you look back and you’re trying to build you look at where your youth is and where your veterans are and you look at where your offense is and where your defense is,” he said. “I think we have a great scheme on all three sides and I think you just have to take one step at a time. You have a building block with a couple of different pieces and you’re trying to keep some of the foundational pieces that you’ve had that have helped you have some success.
“You can’t change the past, you can only move forward and from that standpoint that’s our objective, is to pick up where we left off and get better and drive towards winning a division and making this team better in all aspects. … We want to be where the Patriots have been the last 10 years, so I’m satisfied right now with where we’re at. We’re in a good position from a cap standpoint and from a draft choice standpoint and we have a lot of ammunition to go out there and do some things that can change the complexion of this team moving forward, so I’m excited.”