Posted: 9:43 am Friday, January 28th, 2011
By Post Staff
We’re back from Alabama, after spending four long days scouting prospects, networking like crazy and stuffing our face with seafood.
So now it’s time to empty out the notebook. After speaking with several league sources — coaches, scouts, agents and financial advisers — here are 29 things we learned at the Senior Bowl:
1. A team source admitted that the Dolphins’ constant roster churning at the beginning of the 2010 season had a lot to do with the team’s poor performance on special teams. The Dolphins, who allowed two blocked punts, a tipped punt, two blocked field goals, a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown and 94-yard punt return touchdown this season, led the league in roster transactions in the first month of the season (16), almost four times the league average at that point in the year.
2. The Dolphins were really impressed by Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, the only QB in NCAA history to throw for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000. At 6-4, 225 pounds, he is like a bigger, more polished version of Pat White. Kaepernick also displayed a strong, accurate arm and was the best quarterback of the week, far out-performing Washington’s Jake Locker. He may have worked his way into the second round of the draft.
3. Jeff Ireland says the team still has plans for Chad Henne, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t. He’s due $550,000 next year, the last year of his contract, so if nothing else, he’s a cheap backup. The Dolphins are worse off at other offensive positions – interior offensive line, running back, speed receiver – than quarterback. I’d put the odds right now at 50-50 that Henne enters next season as the starter.
4. If Tony Sparano and Ireland still have relationship issues after what happened earlier this month with Jim Harbaugh, it didn’t show at the Senior Bowl. They sat next to each other, mostly by themselves, for three straight days of practices.
5. Don’t be shocked if the Dolphins trade down from the 15th pick to the bottom of the first round and also add a second-rounder, like they did last year.
6. Several people inside the Dolphins weren’t pleased that the team traded away Ted Ginn Jr., the team’s only legitimate speed threat and a solid kickoff returner, for a fifth-round pick. “We gave him away for nothing,” one team source said.
7. Running backs the Dolphins can target in the top two rounds: Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Mikel LeShoure, DeMarco Murray, Kendall Hunter, Roy Helu. Hunter, from Oklahoma State, might be the most complete back, as he is an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield. Helu, from Nebraska, had an excellent week, as well.
8. One player to watch for a speedy receiver/punt returner is Boise State’s Titus Young. He’s training with former Olympic gold medal sprinter Maurice Greene, and could be a great pick for the Dolphins in Round 3.
9. Remember the name Von Miller from Texas A&M. He’s a 3-4 outside linebacker type who had a great week and will probably go in the top 10 picks.
10. I have yet to find a person who thinks Sparano is off the hot seat for 2011, despite his two-year contract extension. Ireland, though, appears to be on safer ground.
11. Senior Bowl practices had a 90-minute time limit, and several scouts were upset with the Bills’ coaching staffs for spending so much time in stretching/warm-up drills before getting to 1-on-1 competition.
12. The city is pronounced “mo-BEEL,” not “MO-beel.” Get it right.
13. Eighty-eight of the 104 prospects were measured at less than their listed height. Dwayne Harris of East Carolina “shrunk” from 6-0 to 5-9 and 7/10ths.
14. The Panthers are praying that players and owners sign a new CBA before the draft, and that a rookie wage scale is instituted. If the No. 1 overall pick is no longer a major financial investment, the Panthers would be able to trade down and stockpile draft picks. If they are forced to use the pick, the bet here is Auburn’s Nick Fairley.
15. About half of the 32 NFL teams bring their coaching staff to the Senior Bowl. The Dolphins are not one of them. Multiple sources said that the Dolphins keep their coaches at home because they don’t want them networking and looking for other jobs.
16. FSU quarterback Christian Ponder drew comparisons to Chad Pennington all week – both for his accuracy and his lack of arm strength following shoulder and elbow injuries in college.
17. The Dolphins’ may not be done hiring coaches. Defensive backs/assistant head coach Todd Bowles was very impressive in his interview to become the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, and is a strong possibility to land the job. Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt has interest in Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler and secondary coach Ray Horton, according to the Arizona Republic, and may wait to interview them after the Super Bowl before making a hire.
18. Oregon State DT Stephen Paea suffered a meniscus injury in Monday’s practice, but vows to be ready to participate at the Combine in late February.
19. Must-visit restaurants: Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile, Dreamland BBQ (several locations in Alabama), Snapper’s in Biloxi, Miss.
20. The Senior Bowl is just as important for out-of-work coaches as it is for the prospects. Former Dolphins linebacker Chuck Bullough, fired as UCLA’s defensive coordinator after this past season, made it quite clear that he’s looking for work. He placed his resume under the windshield wiper of almost every car in the parking lot on Tuesday, and it was also taped up on the wall of every bathroom stall in the media hotel. One problem – he didn’t list any contact information.
21. Ireland says he still speaks with Bill Parcells on occasion about football decisions.
22. The Dolphins will focus mostly on offense during the draft, but “I’m not just closing my eyes on this defense, either,” Ireland said. Outside linebacker, defensive tackle and cornerback are the likely upgrades.
23. Lex Hilliard and Kory Sheets will definitely be back at running back. Hilliard may finally get a chance to prove himself after spending three years almost exclusively as a special teamer. One among Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams may return – I’d bet on Ricky. No mention was made of Patrick Cobbs, which I found interesting because he was a valuable special teams player and versatile member of the offense, and the coaching staff loves him.
24. I will be absolutely shocked if Tyler Thigpen returns next year. The team will consider Pennington, but wants to see how his long rehab turns out before committing to him.
25. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on the labor negotiations: “We certainly, unanimously want to get a deal done before we lose any play time. … We are so united as owners toward one goal, and that’s not missing any work.” So why are we talking about a lockout? The owners can prevent that. The players can’t.
26. It’s not a great year in the draft for elite prospects at receiver or running back, but there are several guys in the 3rd-6th round range who can help the Dolphins. It’s also not a great year for elite interior offensive linemen. FSU’s Rodney Hudson, Georgia’s Clint Boling, Penn State’s Stefen Wisniewski and Florida’s Mike Pouncey could be good options for the Dolphins in the 2nd-3rd round.
27. Don’t count on the Dolphins acquiring Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton or Kevin Kolb this offseason.
28. Florida safety Ahmad Black, who stands 5-9 and 183 pounds, drew several comparisons to Colts safety Bob Sanders. He has physical limitations, but looks great on tape and is always in the right position. I see him going in the 4th-5th round, after believing he would not get drafted last year.
29. Many scouts were glad to see the Senior Bowl return to normal after last year’s Tebow-fest.