Running back Ezekiel Elliott would be great for the Miami Dolphins if by some stroke of fate he fell to them in the first round, right?
Eli Apple, a 6-foot-1 cornerback, might work out just fine, too.
Then again, there’s the Ohio State problem.
Great program, fine school and all that. It’s just that two of Miami’s worst first-round picks ever were Buckeyes. No real explanation for it. No logical reason to expect that it would happen again. Still, there’s just no wiping this notion clean out of my mind.
Remember Eric Kumerow, a supposed monster of a pass rusher at 6-feet-7 and 246 pounds? The Dolphins took the Ohio State star 16th overall in 1988, and that was with a Hall of Fame talent, guard Randall McDaniel, still on the board. Kumerow lasted just three seasons, though, never starting a game and collecting just five sacks total.
And don’t even get me started on Ted Ginn, Jr., another Buckeye bust for Miami. Taking him ninth overall in 2007 is what got started one-year blunder Cam Cameron on a 1-15 season.
Most productive Ohio State player to come out of a Dolphins draft? Wide receiver Brian Hartline comes to mind, but he was in the middle rounds. Had to work a little harder to get his chance.
Paul Warfield, of course, is one of the Dolphins’ all-time greats and he came out of Ohio State. The Cleveland Browns took him first in 1964, though, before the Miami franchise existed.
Does any of this matter? Of course not, any more than making March Madness picks by team colors or nicknames should matter.
Weird, though, how those silly methods seem to turn out better than they should in most office pools.
So keep an open mind if the Dolphins spend some choice picks on players from Michigan (Jake Long and Jon Giesler were solid first-round selections) or Penn State (O.J. McDuffie and Jared Odrick) or Texas A&M (Richmond Webb and Ryan Tannehill). Through the years, those schools have earned a good reputation around here.
As for the Buckeyes and the great talent they offer in 2016, I’ll try to stay objective. Best player available, yada, yada, yada.
Not the best history, though, at least with the Dolphins.
Want a realistic look at where the Miami Dolphins stand right now and the general quality of players they can expect to get out of this weekend’s NFL draft?
Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons one year ago.
Admittedly, it’s not a perfect template. Such things don’t exist when every pool of talent varies so greatly in overall depth and specific strengths.
Consider the similarities, though.
When the 2015 draft came around, the Falcons were coming off a 6-10 season in which they got fed up the team’s slow progress and fired the coach. (Miami is coming off a 6-10 season now and said goodbye to Joe Philbin in October.)
Atlanta had the No. 8 overall pick in the draft and took outside linebacker Vic Beasley, a Clemson star who became an immediate starter and collected four sacks as a rookie. (Miami had the No. 8 overall pick but traded down to No. 13 in exchange for a couple of defensive starters from Philadelphia, cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso.)
The next three picks, incredibly, fall in exactly the same spots where Miami will be drafting in 2016.
With the 11th pick of the second round, Atlanta took a cornerback, Jalen Collins, who wound up starting two games with no interceptions. (Miami wants a corner wherever it can get one)
With the 10th pick in the third round, the Falcons took running back Tevin Coleman, who started three games as a rookie and scored one touchdown. (The Dolphins got a little less than that from rookie Jay Ajayi last year.)
With the ninth pick of the fourth round, Atlanta got wide receiver Justin Hardy, who did not score a touchdown and started one game. (That’s about what Miami or anybody else would expect from a fourth-rounder.)
Overall, the Falcons’ 2015 draft class was judged to be among the league’s best. In combination with a new head coach, Dan Quinn, who was prized for his defensive leadership of a Super Bowl title team in Seattle, the result was a one-year improvement from 6-10 to 8-8.
Not bad, but Atlanta is stuck in a tough division with Carolina, which almost ran the table in the regular season last year. It seems like a franchise still working on a slow and steady climb toward playoff contention but not much more at the moment.
I’ll apply that same description to Miami, stuck as always behind New England, especially if Executive VP Mike Tannenbaum sticks to his stated philosophy of “trying to build something long-term and sustainable.”
Maybe General Manager Chris Grier, conducting his first draft with the Dolphins, will do a little better with the draft picks available to him than Atlanta did last year selecting in the same spots. Another starter to add to Maxwell and Alonso, for instance, would mean three new impact players from the first round alone.
Maybe, too, Adam Gase will have a greater impact transforming his team than Quinn did as a rookie head coach with the Falcons.
There’s so much still to be determined, and an entire wacky draft cycle of picks and trades and waiver pickups to come. What’s more, offseason gains like Mario Williams must be measured against offseason losses like Brent Grimes.
At this point, it just makes sense to look to Atlanta, which got a sure starter out of the first round last year but otherwise could have gotten more out of what was generally graded as an A or A-minus draft class.
If I was making projections right now for the 2016 season, it would be 8-8 for Miami, right in range with the draft gains and extra wins that the Falcons earned from basically the same starting position.
Now we look to the draft to see if there’s reason to step it up a notch.
We make it a three-day carnival with wall-to-wall coverage on television and radio following weeks of preliminary analysis on the internet and elsewhere.
Jay Berwanger, the first player ever selected in the draft, had a different take on the thing. Figured it wasn’t worth worrying about, and that there certainly wasn’t enough money in pro football to change career plans over it.
Of course, a lot has changed since 1936. Berwanger, also the first winner of the Heisman Trophy, thought so little of that award that he used it as a doorstop. So when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and asked to sign he threw out an outrageous contract request – $1,000 per game – just to see what would happen.
Nothing happened, at least with the Eagles. They traded his rights to the Chicago Bears but George Halas couldn’t meet Berwanger’s demands, either, even though it would have been a promotional coup to have the University of Chicago star playing pro ball right there in town.
Was Berwanger crazy for passing on an opportunity for an NFL career to take a job as a foam-rubber salesman instead? Bear Bryant probably didn’t think so.
He, too, was selected in the original NFL draft, a low-key affair conducted at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Bryant went 31st overall to the Brooklyn Dodgers, a football operation that played its games at Ebbets Field. As a country boy from Alabama, it probably sounded a little foreign, not worth the trouble. Bryant took a job coaching football at tiny Union University in Tennessee instead.
Three decades later one of Bryant’s own players at Alabama, Joe Namath, benefitted from the beefing up of the draft process. He turned pro during the bidding war for college players between the NFL and the rival AFL and chose the New York Jets over the St. Louis Cardinals. His salary was $427,000 over three years, then a pro football record payout.
At the time Bryant himself was working on a long-term contract that was believed to be worth $17,500 a year.
None of this needs to make perfect sense. None of it ever will.
(In 1997, the Atlanta Braves’ final season of spring training in West Palm Beach, I wrote a story highlighting the team’s 35 years here.
There’s some pretty interesting stuff in here, particularly if you are new to the area and didn’t know there used to be a stadium where the Home Depot now sits at Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and Congress Avenue.
Even better, the Braves are hustling now under a deadline to find a new spring training home because their Disney World site no longer rings all the bells. They could have stayed in Palm Beach County, could have been part of the Roger Dean Stadium deal in Jupiter, could have done a lot of things.
Here, though, if you’re in the mood to do a little reminiscing, is what they actually did do here, back in the days when former Braves owner Ted Turner said “As long as I own the Braves, there is one thing I’ll never change and that’s spring training in West PalmBeach. We’ll always be here.”)
By Dave George
Palm Beach Post
Feb. 23, 1997
WEST PALM BEACH – The original contract called for a five-year relationship between the Milwaukee Braves and West PalmBeach back in 1963. With caution the two parties entered into a spring-training relationship. No one could see 35 years down the road.
Frankly, seeing into the outfield was difficult enough at the time, so thick was the cloud of construction-site sand blowing across the undeveloped plain.
Players draped their faces in towels as they huddled in the dugout that first spring, baseball bedouins in a strange land where snakes lurked just beyond the outfield fence and the aroma of popcorn was overpowered by that of fresh paint and freshly poured parking lot pavement.
As the grounds crew gathered to chalk the lines of the batter’s boxes for the opening exhibition game, somebody noticed that home plate had been planted in the ground backwards.
Of course, that would never happen at DisneyWorld, where the Braves will train beginning next year, but there the franchise will never be more than a corporate partner. In West PalmBeach the team of Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro and Dale Murphy and yes, even Biff Pocoroba, was almost like part of the family. We observed each other up close, warts and all, and shared every emotion from hilarity to grief. PalmBeach County isn’t being robbed of spring training, not with the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals scheduled to open a new Jupiter facility next year. But the annual visit of the Braves, at various times through the years the best and worst team in baseball, will be missed. Before they were America’s team, or even Atlanta’s, they belonged to West PalmBeach.
And to think it all began with a box of alligators.
The late Ray Behm wasn’t just a city commissioner in 1963. He also was owner and operator of Uncle Bim’s hardware store in West PalmBeach, where customers went for everything from rain gutters to pet reptiles.
Therefore when Behm accompanied West PalmBeach Mayor C. Ben Holleman on a goodwill visit to Milwaukee, he decided against the overused gift of a crate of oranges. Baby alligators would be more fun, Behm figured, and would ensure that West PalmBeach stood out in the minds of Braves officials as they shopped around for a place to transfer their training camp from Bradenton.
“They brought all of us small alligators in cardboard containters,” said Palm City’s John McHale, then the Braves‘ president. “The problem was what to do with them. It was 5 below zero when they got up there.”
The zoo is open
After that introduction, it should have come as no surprise to the Braves that the first few weeks in West PalmBeach were a zoo.
The West PalmBeach Auditorium and PalmBeach Mall weren’t even in the planning stages back then and the residential developments of Lou Perini, former Braves owner, were yet to come. Municipal Stadium, in other words, was an oasis of civilization in the midst of a vast palmetto patch that ran west to the horizon.
Veteran pitchers Lew Burdette and Warren Spahn delighted in catching snakes on the stadium property and dumping them among teammates on the clubhouse floor. Rookie Len Gabrielson, a 6-foot-4 outfielder, made the mistake of screaming out his phobia about snakes and running for safety, which guaranteed a daily discovery of the animals in his locker.
Such adventures could have been avoided had the Braves simply moved into ancient Connie Mack Field in downtown West PalmBeach. The team wanted a new stadium, however, and Perini, whose original plans called for the Boston Red Sox to join Milwaukee here, wanted a centerpiece for his real estate venture.
The Kansas City Athletics trained in West PalmBeach for 17 years prior to Milwaukee’s arrival, but city officials were eager to rid themselves of Charlie Finley, the cantankerous owner of the A’s and the man who introduced the designated hitter and night World Series games to baseball. Upset at being “treated like a second-class citizen” by city officials, Finley took his team to the Braves‘ old facility in Bradenton. Ironically, however, the A’s were back in 1963 to provide the opposition for Milwaukee at Municipal Stadium’s opening game.
Working in the dark
There was no roof on the stadium that day, nor would there be until 1964. What’s more, Jim Fanning had to spend the night at the stadium guarding opening-day tickets with a shotgun because there was no lock on the box-office door. Fanning, who went on to become manager and general manager of the Montreal Expos, also worked by flashlight with Braves spring training coordinator Pete Skorput bolting seats into the grandstands at the last possible moment.
Expos manager Felipe Alou arrived in West PalmBeach in 1964 following a trade from the San Francisco Giants and made quick use of the new PalmBeach Lakes Golf Club across the street from Municipal Stadium. Snakes no longer were a problem, but hooks were. Alou broke the window of a passing car with an errant drive.
“It only cost me $42 to fix it,” Alou said. “I wonder what that would cost today?”
No telling, but here is what it cost to watch a Braves exhibition game when they first arrived at Municipal Stadium. One dollar for general admission and $2.50 for a field-level box seat.
Spahn, Burdette and Eddie Mathews once toured the PalmBeach estate of Joseph Kennedy, presenting the father of the sitting president with an autographed baseball and a season pass.
Not always, however, has the community interaction been so positive.
`Beeg boy still hit’
In 1968, for instance, Braves third baseman Clete Boyer and catching coach Bob Uecker were involved in a wild brawl at the Cock and Bull, a downtown bar. Uecker had a beer bottle broken over his head and reported to camp the next day with a turban-like bandage under his cap. Paul Richards, the Braves general manager, fired Uecker, clearing the way for an announcing career far more successful than anything the clubhouse clown ever achieved in baseball.
That same spring outfielder Rico Carty found himself feeling run down in the final days of training camp, even though he was leading the team in exhibition RBI at the time and batting .316. A physical exam revealed the Dominican star had tuberculosis and would miss the 1968 season.
“That was scary,” Alou said. “Luckily nobody else caught it but the whole camp – players, coaches, reporters, everybody – had to ride down to the doctor’s to get tested. What a tumult.”
Carty received treatment at the Southeast Florida Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Lantana for several months, then returned to Municipal Stadium in the spring of 1969 to rejoin the team. The first batting practice pitch that was delivered to him Carty pounded over the left-field fence.
“Beeg boy still hit,” Carty said with a laugh, as all around the batting cage joined in. “Beeg boy always hit.”
Montreal joined the National League as an expansion franchise in 1969 and the Expos were invited by the city to share Municipal Stadium with the Braves. Atlanta kept the main diamond for workouts, however, which caused a few disputes.
Once Expos manager Gene Mauch had to be chased off the main field by Skorput. Mauch had laid claim to his team’s use of the diamond by arriving early in the morning. Skorput found the manager sitting on a bucket by the pitcher’s mound and reading a newspaper.
Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record was the story of spring training 1974. The Hammer stayed at a condo across the street from the stadium and was escorted by security guards everywhere but home plate.
`We’ll always be here’
Ted Turner blew into town in 1976, a 37-year-old communications executive and yachtsman who bought the Braves for $12 million. “As long as I own the Braves,” Turner told city commissioners, “there is one thing I’ll never change and that’s spring training in West PalmBeach. We’ll always be here.”
Nothing, however, lasts forever, not even the blessing of Dale Murphy in a baseball uniform. Like so many other stars, he broke into the major leagues at a West PalmBeach training camp. What’s easily forgotten are the times he was sent back down, a 6-4 catcher who couldn’t get the ball down to second base with any accuracy. Once, after a particularly wild workout, Dale’s dad, Chuck Murphy, was overheard saying, “Don’t worry Dale, if that guy had been stealing center field, you would have had him pegged.”
There have been tragedies, too, during the Braves‘ stay in West PalmBeach. New York Mets manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack at Good Samaritan Hospital in 1968 after playing 18 holes at PalmBeach Lakes. John Mullen, a Braves vice president who had been with the organization for more than 30 years, also suffered a fatal heart attack in his PalmBeach Gardens hotel room in the spring of 1991. Then, two springs ago, replacement pitcher Dave Shotkowski was murdered while walking along Australian Avenue.
This story overflows, however, with smiles, and not all of them have to do with the official spring training period.
The Braves‘ minor-league offices were destroyed on a summer night in 1984 by a rampaging bull that had escaped from its parking lot pen at the auditorium. The animal, part of a traveling rodeo show, crashed through the plate-glass doors of the Braves‘ complex and smashed everything in sight once inside the building.
For a couple of summers in the late 1970s, the city allowed a motocross promoter to haul thousands of tons of dirt onto the stadium infield for a series of motorcyle races. This displeased the Braves mightily, but there was nothing in their lease to prevent it. The respect of a World Series participant wasn’t always due the team, particularly when Atlanta was consistently finishing in last place.
“I can remember walking from the parking lot to the clubhouse with no one saying a word to me,” Mark Lemke said. “A couple of times I had to convince one of the guards of who I was. He wasn’t going to let me in.”
And now the Braves are preparing to get out. So eager is the team to get to Orlando that an exhibition game is scheduled this spring at the new DisneyWorld facility. When they go, so will the celebrity sightings on a spring afternoon. The Harlem Globetrotters yukked their way through a couple of workouts in Braves uniforms 20 years ago. John Goodman was here in 1994 filming a movie about Babe Ruth and taking a few pinstriped cuts in the cage. Christie Brinkley dropped by last spring to wow players with her prowess as a photographer.
Come March 26, the final home exhibition game, the Braves‘ long-running West PalmBeach show will be shut down for the final time. But the scrapbook, it stays open forever.
Sometimes it seems that NFL organizations, with all the technology and psychology and physical data at their disposal, make it more complicated that it needs to be.
Remember Little League? The biggest, most athletic kid pitched and batted cleanup and played shortstop when he wasn’t pitching. It wasn’t exactly rocket science. The coach put his best player where he needed him most. Period.
Doesn’t that make sense? If 6-foot-9 Magic Johnson is fully capable of bringing the ball up the court, why not let him do it?
All of this came to me the other day while reading an old interview I did with Paul Warfield, the Hall of Fame wide receiver with Cleveland and Miami who is pictured at left. Paul was a sensational athlete, a star at both running back and defensive back for Ohio State, but in the old-school NFL that didn’t seal any kind of deal.
Get a load of what happened on his first day of training camp as a pro.
“The Browns originally drafted me as a cornerback,” Warfield said. “That decision changed very quickly.
“As soon as I got to training camp and took my luggage out of my automobile to the dormitory where I would be staying, one of the assistants came by my room to say that coach (Blanton) Collier wanted to see me.
“I knocked on the head coach’s door and waiting inside were Collier and Ray Renfro, one of our top receivers, who had just retired. Coach said, ‘We have made the decision that you are going to play wide receiver and that (flanker) Ray Renfro is going to be your mentor for the next several weeks.’ ”
There was a lot of that going around back then.
Charley Taylor, like Warfield, was taken in the first round of the 1964 draft. The Washington Redskins took him third overall and were thrilled to see the former Arizona State running back rank sixth in the league in rushing as a rookie.
Two years later, however, a new Redskins coach, Otto Graham, took a new look at things. He moved Taylor to wide receiver and another Hall of Fame career was born. When Taylor retired in 1978, he was the NFL’s all-time receptions leader, and all at a position he never considered in college.
So moving tall and talented athletes to wide receiver seems like the most obvious move, huh? Consider Herb Adderley, a first-rounder from 1961 who starred at Michigan State as a running back and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
The following season Vince Lombardi got painted into a corner due to injuries and tried Adderley at cornerback on Thanksgiving Day against Detroit. No pressure, kid.
Worked out pretty good, though. Adderley excelled as a 6-foot corner, one of the best in league history at the position. He, too, was voted into the Hall of Fame after playing on five NFL championship teams.
“When I think of what Adderley means to our defense,” Lombardi once said, “it scares me to think of how I almost mishandled him.”
There are plenty more examples, more modern and more local.
Dolphins wide receiver Nat Moore was a running back at Florida. Devin Hester from Suncoast High School and the University of Miami was drafted by Chicago as cornerback. He excelled, however, as a kick returner and eventually played wide receiver, too.
Then there’s Tony Lippett, a fifth-round draft pick by Miami in 2015. He was All-Big Ten as a wide receiver at Michigan State but got switched to cornerback by the Dolphins last year. The experiment is ongoing but well worth the effort considering the team’s needs at the position.
As for Ryan Tannehill, would the Dolphins had ever considered him at quarterback if his former coaches at Texas A&M hadn’t switched him from wide receiver midway through his college career?
Now new Dolphins coach Adam Gase is building his offense around Tannehill and looking to find a cornerback in the draft.
Is Gase bold enough to try somebody else back there, a free agent or even a regular who doesn’t see himself as a cornerback but might have the skills to do it?
Much simpler to think of fitting a certain star-shaped rookie into a certain star-shaped hole.
How does a team like the Miami Dolphins get its hands on an NFL-ready cornerback?
It’s a desperate question in this time of specific need. With the 13th overall pick in the draft, the Dolphins really ought to be looking at corner first, but it’s a quirky position.
Four cornerbacks were drafted in the first round last year. The first one taken, Trae Waynes at No. 11 overall, started just one game as a rookie for Minnesota. He may be good in time.
Two others, Kevin Johnson (No. 16 overall to Houston) and Byron Jones (No. 27 to Dallas) started 11 games each and did just fine in on-the-job training at a very scary spot on the field.
The best of them all, however, was the one with the most red flags.
Marcus Peters, drafted 18th overall by Kansas City, picked up an interception on the first snap of his first NFL regular-season game. In his second game he picked off a Peyton Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown. And so it continued all season long.
Peters intercepted eight passes, tying Reggie Nelson for the league lead, and returned two of them for scores. His reward was a trip to the Pro Bowl as the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Who knew to expect all of that from a guy who got kicked off his college team at Washington for repeatedly clashing with coaches? In a pre-draft scouting report on NFL.com, one unidentified NFC personnel director was quoted as saying “I wouldn’t take him inside the first two rounds. He’s good, but he’s not that good that I would be willing to deal with his emotional issues.”
Hey, sometimes they get it wrong. The point is, cornerback is a very nervous place to be spending your first-round pick, even when it is absolutely necessary.
The Dolphins got immediate starters out of first-round corners Don McNeal (1980), Troy Vincent (1992) and Vontae Davis (2009) and earned a real bonus by taking Sean Smith in the second round of that same 2009 draft.
Jamar Fletcher is the flip side of the coin from 2001, but that’s when the Dolphins were good and picked near the end of the first round. The more certain stuff is usually gobbled up by then.
The Big Three, a championship concept, came and went in Miami.
The Trusted Two, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, remain.
This is the 10th anniversary season of the Heat’s original NBA title team. Dwyane and Udonis were there.
Young and tough and fearless, they helped to lift the franchise to the top of the league, the place where Pat Riley had been trying to get the Heat throughout a decade of wheeling and dealing and coaching and cajoling.
Old and tough and fearless, Dwyane and Udonis are back at it again, working to remind a fresh set of teammates what it will take to get past Charlotte in the first round, and trying to remind them that every night won’t be as easy as that Game 1 blowout on Sunday.
It would pay to listen to anything these guys have to say, and to mimic any kind of postseason mood they present. You can be certain that coach Erik Spoelstra does.
In 2006, Spo was 35, an assistant, a rapid climber in hopes of running his own team one day. He couldn’t have known that Riley soon would step away from coaching, or that LeBron James would be coming his way, or that 10 years could whistle past as quickly as these have.
Looking back, however, at that original Heat championship roster, the signs are all there, and they are fading fast.
Other than Wade and Haslem, the 2006 Heat player who stayed the longest in the league was Jason Kapono. He logged all of two minutes across that entire postseason and played his last NBA season in 2012 with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Shaquille O’Neal, a new Hall of Famer, made it to 2011 and played with three teams after Miami.
Alonzo Mourning and Antoine Walker finished up in 2008, which was one season longer than Gary Payton.
To many Heat fans in their 20’s, kids who grew up on the Big Three era, it might not be easy to remember that breakthrough 2006 Miami team at all. Why, even Justise Winslow, the 20-year-old rookie who played 27 minutes in his first NBA playoff game Sunday night, is probably pretty fuzzy on the details.
It happened, though, and it’s still happening for The Trusted Two, Wade as a starter and Haslem as a whatever-you-need-whenever-you-need-it.
Consequently, I’ll always appreciate their contributions just a little bit more, and the same goes for Stan Van Gundy, who started out coaching that 2006 Miami team before Riley stepped in and took over.
Stan is still grinding away in the NBA playoffs as coach of the Detroit Pistons. He’ll make LeBron and the Cavs work and in their opening-round series and it figures he’ll still be coaching for somebody somewhere another 10 years from now.
One last thought for the Heat marketing department. With all those White Hot 2016 playoff banners and T-shirts, might it be possible to slip in a few 10th-anniversary Heat championship references? Those guys were the first, and no major achievement ever means more than the first.
The Miami Dolphins have a long way to go from 6-10 to the playoffs.
Accordingly they’re back in the weight room a little early. They’ve got a new head coach in Adam Gase. Now, if only the NFL draft brings them a ton of new talent, they’ve got a fighting chance, right?
Funny thing about that. As much attention is paid to evaluating and drafting college players, and as entertaining as it is to follow along with the process, the whole crazy carnival doesn’t always do as much quick fixing for a team as it seems.
Consider the Miami team that made the progress in franchise history from one season to the next. The 2008 Dolphins also started over with a new coach that year (Tony Sparano) and a mission to rid the place of the stench of that 1-15 Cam Cameron disaster from the previous season.
Well, it worked. With improvements all around and with the coincidental loss of New England quarterback Tom Brady to injury, the Dolphins won the AFC East at 11-5. Here, though, is the part that the draft played in all of that.
Left tackle Jake Long came to Miami with the first overall pick and became an instant Pro Bowler. Hugely important.
Kendall Langford stepped right into the starting lineup at defensive end and stayed there for four seasons. Important.
Second-round pick Phillip Merling, a defensive end, started two games as a rookie and never became a regular in four Miami seasons.
Chad Henne eventually was forced into the lineup but not until his second season, and with a 13-18 record as a starter he provided no long-term answers.
Guard Shawn Murphy and running back Jalen Parmalee never played a down for the Dolphins.
Donald Thomas became a starter at guard but not until his second season and he didn’t last long.
Late-round draft picks Lex Hilliard and Lionel Dotson made the team but contributed primarily on special teams.
That’s it. Two immediate starters from the 2008 draft, which almost comes out as a wash, since the Dolphins also got rid of two of their all-time greats that offseason, releasing Zach Thomas and trading Jason Taylor.
Turns out the most important addition in the transformation of that team didn’t come until three weeks before the regular season opener, when the New York Jets cut quarterback Chad Pennington and the Dolphins picked him up.
The point is, remaking an entire organization involves so much more than the drafting of rookie players. The Dolphins even traded away draft picks in 2008 to add veteran starters Jason Ferguson at nose tackle and Anthony Fasano at tight end.
Just for kicks, I checked to see what Washington did to improve last year from 4-12 to a 9-7 playoff team.
The 2015 draft brought them an instant starter in guard Brandon Scherff and a promising potential starter in running back Matt Jones but the other rookies from the draft combined for just a dozen starts. Most of this stuff is about development down the road, as in the case of quarterback Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick of the Redskins in 2012 and last year came suddenly came into his own.
Not saying that the draft is a drag or that it won’t be important for Gase and chief executive Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier to hit a home run on that high-profile weekend in April. So much important work has already been down, however, like the maneuvers to add veteran starter Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxell, and there will be other vital evaluation and acquisition moves to come, also, right until the season opener.
The NFL draft just seems to be the part we all latch onto the tightest, as if getting a whiz kid like Dion Jordan is going to work out every time.
Anything could happen with the Miami Heat in the playoffs. Franchise history suggests, however, that not much will.
I know, I know, you don’t want to hear this right now, not with the Southeast Division championship banner soon to be hung from the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, and not with home-court advantage against Charlotte in the opening round.
A 48-34 record is pretty great, right, considering the Heat did it without Chris Bosh for a huge chunk of the regular season? That’s an 11-game improvement over last year. Dwyane Wade got through it, too, without missing many games which means he won’t be limping into the playoffs this time.
The problem is, Miami teams with 50 or fewer wins haven’t previously shown themselves as strong enough to make any real noise in the postseason. One series victory and seven first-round losses, that’s the hard truth of it for Heat playoff teams in that category.
In other words, that showdown with LeBron and the Cavs that everybody wants is far from guaranteed.
Every season is different, of course. Every annual lineup of Eastern playoff teams is different based on their relative strengths and the overall depth of the conference.
There are no super teams in the East this time around, though, and that includes the Cavs. The No. 8 seed, Detroit, finished six games above .500. It’s a tight pack overall, which suggests a tough slog for the Heat or any of their rivals, from the opening series on.
Look at the meat of the order, the No. 3 through No. 6 seeds in the East. All four teams finished with the same 48-34 record. As for Miami’s opening assignment, the Heat the the Hornets split four games during the regular season. If there’s an edge here, it’s tiebreaker-thin.
Putting a more positive spin on the thing, nobody’s going to care about regular-season records once the playoffs begin. It will be a matter of which teams get hot at the right time, and which stars come up with big buckets or big stops in the closing seconds of numerous tight games.
Open the net a bit wider and there’s a 52-30 Heat team, roughly as successful as this one in the regular season, that went on to the NBA title. That was 10 years ago, with Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and with mighty Alonzo Mourning coming off the bench, and it changed the way the world looked at this franchise forever.
That group was locked up 2-2 with Chicago in the opening round and in danger of flaming out like so many others. It’s a fine line, all right, when all the lousy teams have already been eliminated and all the easy wins removed from the schedule.
So take this for what it’s worth. Miami is due for a scrap in the opening round. Appreciate the opportunity. Try not to look ahead. Even if this goes well and the Heat earn a later meeting with LeBron, there’s a long and potentially frustrating fight between here and there.
Nobody wants to say that out loud, but you can beat that Wade and Udonis Haslem will begin to shout it in the locker room now that the long hard push for home-court advantage in the first round is completed.
Results of Miami playoff teams with 50 or fewer regular-season wins
Yr Record Coach Result
2010 47-35 Spoelstra Lost 1st rd (Boston in 5)
2009 43-39 Spoelstra Lost 1st rd (Atlanta in 7)
2007 44-38 Riley Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)
2004 42-20 Van Gundy Lost 2nd rd (Pacers in 6)
2001 50-32 Riley Lost 1st rd (Swept by Charlotte)
1996 42-40 Riley Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)
1994 42-40 Loughery Lost 1st rd (Atlanta in 5)
1992 38-44 Loughery Lost 1st rd (Swept by Chicago)
(Note – The NBA champion Miami team of 2011-12 Heat won 46 regular-season games in a scheduled shortened by a lockout)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – While everybody was watching Friday to see if Tom Watson might have a shot at making the cut in his final Masters, Boca Raton’s own senior star was quietly putting himself into contention to win the tournament.
OK, there’s really not much of a chance that Bernard Langer will take his third green jacket at the age of 58, but try this contrast on for size.
Former Masters champion Ian Woosnam, also 58, announced Friday that he won’t play the tournament again after shooting rounds of 82 and 81 to miss the cut by a mile.
Langer, meanwhile, carefully worked his way around Augusta National in one-over 73. Add that to his opening 72 and the sturdy German has assured himself of making the Masters cut for the third time in the last four years.
When he walked off the course Friday, Langer was tied for 19th place, seven shots behind leader Jordan Spieth, who was playing the front nine. Oh, and he’s tied with World No. 1 Jason Day at the tournament’s halfway point, too.
Is it possible to do more at the age of 58? Only if you’re somebody like Jack Nicklaus, who tied for sixth here in 1998.
Nicklaus was playing very little competitive golf back then, however, while Langer is the reigning star of the Champions Tour. He has 26 victories on the senior circuit, third all-time behind Hale Irwin and Lee Trevino. He won out there with the anchor putter and he’s won already since it was banned.
The guy just always seems to be there. Check out the photos from Jack’s epic comeback Masters win in 1986, for instance. That’s Bernhard slipping the green jacket onto Nicklaus’ shoulders as the previous year’s champion.
Langer’s two Masters wins, as a matter of fact, give him two more than Day and Rory McIroy and Rickie Fowler, and one more, at the moment, than Spieth.
There is much more to say about Langer, but we’ll stop here. Might be better to save some of this stuff for the weekend if he starts quietly climbing up the leaderboard again.