Posted: 11:52 pm Thursday, April 28th, 2011
By Post Staff
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland didn’t want to use the word to describe his newest first-round draft pick, center/guard Mike Pouncey, but he couldn’t help himself.
“I don’t want to use the word safe, but since I already used it, I’ll use it. I think it’s a good, safe pick,” Ireland said late Thursday night, about two hours after making Pouncey the 15th pick in the NFL Draft.
Ireland could’ve taken Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett or any number of other players still available. But he settled on Pouncey, the top-rated interior lineman in the draft.
“I think I know exactly what I’m getting with Pouncey, and that makes me feel pretty good that we’ve solidified an offensive line here,” Ireland said.
Pouncey, a native of Lakeland and a star at the University of Florida, became the NFL’s highest-drafted interior offensive lineman since the Cardinals took guard Anthony Davis No. 2 overall in 2001. Ireland said he wanted to trade down from 15 to re-acquire the second-round pick he gave up in the trade for Brandon Marshall, but didn’t have any takers.
“It was a quiet day. The phones were not ringing,” Ireland said. “He was a player I had targeted. I’m always interested in going back or forth, but the phones just weren’t ringing, so we took the pick.”
“When the phone doesn’t ring, you kind of lose your leverage.”
Ireland said Pouncey will likely play center for the Dolphins, who have cycled through three different starters in Ireland’s first three years (Samson Satele, Jake Grove and Joe Berger). But Pouncey could also play guard. He started 28 games at guard at UF, 13 games at center as a senior, and four games at defensive tackle as a freshman. Dolphins guard Richie Incognito played center for several seasons in St. Louis and could play the position again if need be.
The Dolphins now have three first-round picks on the offensive line: Pouncey, left tackle Jake Long (2008) and right tackle Vernon Carey (2004). Incognito will likely play left guard, and right guard will be a competition between John Jerry, Nate Garner and Berger.
Pouncey fills a major need for the Dolphins, who were flimsy on their interior offensive line in 2010. They ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt (3.7).
“I think he really helps solidify, to be really a top offensive line for the future,” Ireland said.
Pouncey said he is thrilled to get to work with Tony Sparano, a former offensive line coach who reminds him of his college position coach, former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who like Sparano is a native of Connecticut.
“They’re good friends and they coach just like each other,” Pouncey said. “I think we’re going to gel real well. Can’t wait to get down there and meet him, but I thought he was a hell of a guy when I met him.”
Pouncey only met Sparano and Ireland once, though, at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. The Dolphins sent several scouts to Florida’s Pro Day in March, but never visited with him privately except at the Combine, and never brought him to Davie for a private interview.
Ireland said it wasn’t so much about disguising their interest in Pouncey.
“We thought maybe he was coming out as a junior last year, so we did some work on him then,” Ireland said. “Didn’t feel like I needed to bring him down. I just kinda knew the player that well.”
Pouncey switched to center before his senior year, and had initially had trouble snapping the ball. In the Gators’ season-opener against Miami (Ohio), Pouncey flubbed 13 snaps for a total of minus-55 yards. But he improved tremendously throughout the season, Ireland said.
“They’re doing a lot of things with their center that most centers don’t do,” Ireland said of the Gators. “They pull him a lot. When he’s trying to pull out in space, he’s getting out so quick that he’s doing something with the ball. I don’t know that we would do as much of that with him as maybe Florida did, but he improved over the season.”
Ireland said Pouncey is “big, he’s tough, he’s disciplined, he’s smart, he’s very athletic” and said he was impressed with Pouncey’s display of intelligence and mental toughness during their meeting at the Combine.
“We put him through the ringer a little bit in our Combine meeting,” Ireland said. “He’s very bright, obviously he’s a great leader, but the mental toughness, to handle what he went through at the combine, the rapid-fire questions he was getting really impressed me about the kid.”
Pouncey achieved his goal of being drafted higher than his twin brother, Maurkice, who went 18th to Pittsburgh last year and was selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
“He brought me through every step of the process, from the Combine now to the draft,” Pouncey said of his brother. “Obviously I feel like we’re the same player, so I got some big shoes to fill. But I think I can fill those shoes.”
The Dolphins currently have seven picks remaining in the draft: One each in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, and three in the seventh. The NFL Draft resumes Friday night with Rounds 2-3, with Rounds 4-7 occurring on Saturday.