AFC East: Samson Satele
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.
Where would you like to start?
Offense? How about left tackle, right tackle, tight end and -- if there's a great one still on the draft board -- quarterback?
Defense? How about the line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety?
Special teams? OK, the Bills are fine there.
But kicker, punter and running back are about the only positions the Bills can draft third overall and not help themselves.
The most pressing needs, however, are tackle and outside linebacker. The Bills haven't drafted an offensive tackle earlier than the fifth round since taking Mike Williams in the first round in 2002, and their line play shows that. They have tried to coach up late draft picks (Demetrius Bell, Ed Wang) and rummaged through free agency (Cornell Green, Mansfield Wrotto, Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith) rather than acquire that prized blindside protector.
The Bills were so desperate at outside linebacker they plucked the injury-ravaged Shawne Merriman off waivers last year and then, even though he got hurt again minutes into his first workout, gave him a contract extension.
They can't bank on Merriman to anchor their pass rush. Yet even if he can contribute, they'll need more help. The Bills recorded 27 sacks last year. Only three teams had fewer.
The Dolphins probably will need a running back. They could stand to upgrade at quarterback if they can.
But they definitely need interior offensive linemen.
They recently re-signed left guard Richie Incognito to an extension, but they still have problems at center and right guard. Although they have two solid book-end tackles in Pro perennial Bowl left tackle Jake Long and veteran Vernon Carey, they've been a mess in between for the past three years.
The Dolphins need to upgrade their power running game. Despite having a capable and healthy backfield tandem in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams last season, the Dolphins ranked 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per carry and 29th in rushing touchdowns.
A stud running back certainly can help, and the Dolphins might have little choice but to take one with their 15th selection. Brown's and Williams' contracts are up. That's why so many draft analysts project the Dolphins will take Alabama running back Mark Ingram and then address the O-line later.
New England Patriots
Funny how things work for the Patriots when it comes to draft picks. The reigning AFC East champs might have the fewest needs but have the most draft picks at their disposal.
The Patriots went 14-2 last season and own two draft choices in each of the first three rounds. So the Patriots have the flexibility to go any number of directions.
The most obvious need is outside linebacker. The Patriots' entire outside linebacking corps mustered 13.5 sacks last year. Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake generated 14 sacks all by himself.
Offensive line is another concern because there are so many question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Left guard Logan Mankins is upset. Left tackle Matt Light isn't signed. Nick Kaczur is coming off serious back surgery. The timing is right to bring in some fresh O-line blood.
The Patriots had one of the NFL's most entertaining backfields last year, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for over 1,000 yards and Danny Woodhead making the Jets look foolish for cutting him. But each running back has his limitations, and the Patriots could be on the lookout for an all-purpose back adept at catching a pass and converting a third-and-short.
New York Jets
The Jets are in a weird spot. They finished the season as a team with talent at virtually every position.
But they have a crowded group of free agents and couldn't bring themselves to sign any (aside from giving inside linebacker David Harris the franchise tag) until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place. The Jets want to know what the new salary cap is before moving forward.
That leaves a lot of loose ends for the Jets heading into the draft. Will they need a receiver to replace Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards? A cornerback to replace Antonio Cromartie?
The needs we can bank on are outside linebacker and safety.
The Jets must generate a better pass rush and still need to recover from the Vernon Gholston pick that set them back. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is competent, but no star. He led the Jets with just six sacks. Calvin Pace had 5.5 sacks. The recently released Jason Taylor added five.
Safety is an area of emphasis because they could have stood to upgrade even before Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo became free agents. Jim Leonhard is a Rex Ryan favorite but recovering from a broken shin.
Just three years later, one keeper is a lousy return.
But consider how the rest of AFC East drafted in 2007.
Only six of 30 AFC East draftees from 2007 still are with the team that drafted them: two New York Jets, two Miami Dolphins, one New England Patriot and one Bill. (See chart below.)
The Patriots were the least efficient on nine picks, but they had only two selections inside the first four rounds. Their lone keeper was Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather in the first round.
The Dolphins made 10 selections in what was the final draft class for general manager Randy Mueller and the only one for rookie head coach Cam Cameron. They famously misfired on ninth overall pick Ted Ginn, who was traded for a fifth-round pick this offseason, and second-round quarterback John Beck. Still around are defensive tackle Paul Soliai and punter Brandon Fields.
The last man standing from Buffalo's seven-man 2007 draft class is second-round linebacker Paul Posluszny.
So that's a 20 percent retention rate for the AFC East on all draftees and a 40 percent rate for those selected in the top three rounds.
With help from ESPN researcher Keith Hawkins and the Elias Sports Bureau, I wanted to find out how those percentages compared leaguewide.
Poorly, it turns out.
Of the 225 players chosen in other divisions that year, 100 have remained with the teams that drafted them. That's 44.4 percent overall, more than twice the AFC East rate.
When narrowing the field to players taken within the first three rounds, 89 prospects were absorbed into other divisions, and 54 have stuck, a success rate of 60.7 percent.
A few notes turned up by the research:
- The Dolphins are the only team that has gotten rid of their top four picks.
- Twenty-six teams have parted ways with at least one of their picks from the first three rounds.
- Of the 19 teams that had at least one pick in each of the first three rounds, only the Pittsburgh Steelers retained all of them (Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth).
They have one of the game's best left tackles in Jake Long. Right tackle Vernon Carey is effective.
But all the clutter between those bookends makes me wonder how the Dolphins can be considered elite. In the three years since Bill Parcells assumed control of football operations and hired offensive-line coach Tony Sparano to run the show, the Dolphins have turned over their interior with alarming frequency.
The Dolphins on Thursday released center Jake Grove. The Dolphins identified him as a critical upgrade last year and signed him to a four-year, $29 million contract.
Now Grove is gone, just like their big free-agent signing from 2008, left guard Justin Smiley. The Dolphins signed Smiley for five years and $25 million. He lasted two seasons.
They'll use their third center over the past three opening days and have constantly changed guards.
No other unit in football depends on chemistry as much as an offensive line, but the Dolphins have been malcontents with their centers and guards.
Let's take a look at O-line personnel the Dolphins have rototilled since Parcells, Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland came aboard with emphasis on starters.
Hired offensive line coach Mike Maser in January 2008, fired him in January 2009.
Hired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo in January 2009.
Smiley started 12 games in 2008, 12 games in 2009 (released).
Andy Alleman started five games, including postseason, in 2008 (traded).
Nate Garner started four games in 2009 (injured reserve).
Richie Incognito projected 2010 starter.
Samson Satele started 16 games in 2008 (traded).
Al Johnson was 2008 backup (released).
Grove started 10 games in 2009 (released).
Joe Berger started six games in 2009, projected 2010 starter.
Donald Thomas opened 2008 season with job, started 12 games in 2009 (released).
Ikechuku Ndukwe started 15 games in 2008 (traded).
Garner started four games in 2009 (injured reserve).
John Jerry projected 2010 starter.
Guard Shawn Murphy, 2008 fourth-round draft pick deactivated all 22 games (released).
Center/guard Steve McKinney played zero games in 2008 (released).
Guard Evan Mathis played seven games in 2008 (released).
Guard Matt McChesney played one game in 2008 (injured reserve/released).
Guard Andrew Hartline played two games in 2009 (released, practice squad).
Guard Cory Procter signed, released last week and re-signed Thursday.
Tackle/guard Pat McQuistan acquired last week in a trade.
The Dolphins are entering their third season under Parcells and head coach Tony Sparano, whose professional foundation was built on the offensive line.
In a short time, the Dolphins are on their second O-line assistant coach, perhaps their third different starting center (Samson Satele to Jake Grove to Joe Berger) and maybe their sixth and seventh different starting guards.
Miami's interior line became even more unstable in the past few days.
Nate Garner, who started four games at left guard and four games at right guard last year, underwent foot surgery that reportedly will sideline him at least eight weeks. He had surgery on the same foot over the offseason.
Third-round draft choice John Jerry, the starter at right guard in Saturday night's preseason opener, also is hurt. He suffered a knee injury at the end of Monday's practice and was unable to participate Tuesday.
Richie Incognito and Donald Thomas are battling for the left guard spot, although Thomas can be switched to the right side if Jerry's injury becomes an issue. Thomas has started at right guard the past two opening days, but he's injury-prone. Cory Procter practiced at right guard Tuesday.
Thankfully for Miami fans, Jake Long and Vernon Carey comprise one of the NFL's best tackle sets.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins might be the best NFL team people don't notice.
They're often overlooked in the AFC East. The New England Patriots have at least tied for the division's best record in nine straight seasons, and the big-talking New York Jets, coming off an appearance in the conference title game, are a fashionable Super Bowl pick.
Miami shouldn't be discounted.
Head coach Tony Sparano, who dropped 55 pounds in the offseason, wants his players to be hungry. The theme of training camp is "Feed the Wolf," a slogan he put on T-shirts in response to the Dolphins sliding from 11-5 and a division championship to a losing record last year.
"I had a meeting with the group and kind of got into them a little bit during practice about 7-9 not being good enough and how this football team shouldn’t be fat," Sparano explained. "They should be starving.
"One of the things that we talk about is feeding the wolf with little successes every day. ... We feed the wolf when we do something good, and that's what our guys understand. Small successes will lead to bigger successes down the way."
So when it comes to the AFC East race, dare we call Miami a sheep in wolf's silk-screened clothing?
THREE HOT ISSUES
Last year, the Dolphins ranked fourth in run offense and 20th in pass offense. Henne threw the fewest touchdown passes of any quarterback with at least 400 attempts. Just five of those touchdowns went to wide receivers.
Marshall's arrival can change that dramatically. While the Dolphins will continue to rely on their ground game, Henne now has a go-to target on third-and-critical or in the red zone. Marshall's amazing talents are on display every day at camp. He has sensational hands, outleaps helpless defenders and can snatch any ball remotely in his area.
Don't expect Marshall to extend his streak to four seasons of at least 100 receptions, but his presence gives Henne the kind of target who opens up all sorts of possibilities the Dolphins haven't had in years.
2. Will unproven outside linebackers provide enough of a pass rush with Joey Porter and Jason Taylor out the door? The Dolphins' 44 sacks last season tied for third in the NFL. But four of their top six contributors, totaling 28 sacks, either are no longer on the team (Porter and Taylor), playing a new position (Randy Starks) or out for year (Phillip Merling).
The Dolphins are counting on Cameron Wake and rookie Koa Misi, a pair of tantalizing-but-unverified pass-rushers, to handle most of the workload. Starks has the most sacks of any returning player with seven. But he has been moved to nose tackle, a position where Pro Bowlers record one or two sacks a year.
Wake's 5.5 sacks were next on the list. By the looks of his performances in camp, he'll be a force on passing downs even if he can't stop the run as effectively as the Dolphins would prefer. Misi, a second-round draft choice, has handled first-team reps with aplomb.
The Dolphins have had trouble settling on a center. Two years ago, they signed free agent Jake Grove and traded away Samson Satele. Now Grove is alternating first-team reps with Joe Berger for a spot that's up for grabs.
At guard, incumbent Donald Thomas, third-round draft choice John Jerry and free-agent signee Richie Incognito are fighting -- in Incognito's case, literally -- for jobs.
Sparano, an O-line aficionado at his core, wants his center and guards to be more than maulers in the run game. They must be better pass protectors.
"People think the left tackle's the only guy that [pass blocks on an island]," Sparano said. "But that's not true when you're turning the protection away from one of them. So to identify who can really handle those one-on-one battles is going to be important for us. That to me is what has to get better."
Ikaika Alama-Francis wasn't good enough to stick with the 0-16 Detroit Lions. He was their second-round draft choice in 2007, but they cut the young defensive end after two seasons. He was on the street for two months before the Dolphins signed him in November. Alama-Francis was a healthy scratch for all six games he was on the roster and an afterthought heading into the offseason.
But with three workouts left until the Dolphins broke for the summer, they switched him to outside linebacker. Alama-Francis weighed 290 when he joined the Dolphins in November. He's an explosive 275 now.
"He looks like a linebacker out there, moving around right now," Sparano said. "He's a handful in the rush. He sets the edge of the defense pretty well, strong guy and very, very smart. I like what he's done."
Quarterback Pat White hasn't shown any obvious signs of development to contradict the general belief Miami wasted a second-round draft pick on him last year. White missed the first day of training camp because of unexplained personal reasons. One report, quoting a family member, suggested White wouldn't play this year. He arrived the next day, but he hasn't shown much.
White has gotten limited reps, buried behind Henne, Chad Pennington and Tyler Thigpen. When given the opportunity, White's passes are scattershot, albeit more accurate than last year.
Merling would have been the easy choice here had he made it to training camp. Before he could get there, he was charged with felony assault of his pregnant girlfriend and suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.
- You can't comprehend the size of some players until you see them in person. Marshall and Karlos Dansby are two of those guys. We can lose perspective when we're inundated with athlete heights and weights that are often fudged, but Marshall (6-4, 230) and Dansby (6-4, 250) are monstrous for their positions.
- Starks' transition from defensive end to nose tackle has been interesting. He's small for the job at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, but his speed and athleticism have created problems for the Dolphins' O-line.
- Second-year receiver Patrick Turner is having an erratic summer. When I first laid eyes on him at rookie camp in 2009, I immediately was struck with how great his hands were. Turner made catching a football seem so effortless. He has been plagued by drops throughout this training camp, and when he does make a catch his teammates sound overly encouraging -- "Way to go, Pat!" -- to keep his confidence up. Turner was inactive for 14 games last year because he has no special-teams value. If the Dolphins can't trust him as a receiver, he'll have a hard time getting on the field.
- Free safety Chris Clemons, a fifth-round draft choice last year, has looked like he belongs. The position was viewed as a question mark when the Dolphins axed Gibril Wilson, but Clemons has had some bright moments.
- I'd be shocked if any star has signed more autographs in training camp than Marshall. After every open session, he slowly walks along the fence and puts his signature on every piece of memorabilia or scrap of paper thrust in front of him. Maybe he's doing his penance for past misdeeds, but Dolfans have no reason but to love him so far.
- Tough break for running back Kory Sheets, who suffered a season-ending right Achilles injury while returning a kickoff Wednesday. He had a nice shot to make the roster and made one of the most eye-popping plays I saw during my stay. On Monday night, he exploded through the offensive line and got into the second level with such speed, his teammates reflexively screamed "Whooooo!"
- Veteran cornerback Will Allen, rebounding from a knee injury, has been the team's nickelback. The Dolphins want sophomores Vontae Davis and Sean Smith to stay on the field. Although Allen would be a quality contributor, his contract could put him on the bubble. He has two years left on his contract with base salaries that total $10.7 million.
- Two years ago, Greg Camarillo was the Dolphins' best receiver. Now he looks like the fourth receiver behind Marshall, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. That's a nice problem for Miami to have.
- Like the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins aren't fooling around with extra legs in camp. They know Dan Carpenter will be their kicker and Brandon Fields will be their punter and aren't bothering to push them.
- Just talking out loud here because I realize frustrating receiver Ted Ginn had to go, but what if the Dolphins still had his speed to stretch the field with Marshall? That would have been a challenge for opposing defenses.
"Vince has really played all across the line for us," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game. "He's a pretty versatile player. He's very flexible. He did a good job. He embraced the move all week, and I think -- we'll see how the film looked -- but it looked like he did a pretty good job on Long."
Since then, however, Miami's offensive line has gotten raggedy. Belichick's thoughts on the matchups likely will be different.
Nate Garner has taken over for Justin Smiley at left guard, and center Jake Grove has been battling an ankle injury that forced him to miss Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills. Joe Berger made his first NFL start in Grove's place.
Grove, who missed practice Wednesday, was considered a high-priority offseason acquisition for the Dolphins. They didn't like the way former center Samson Satele handled the AFC East's behemoth defensive tackles: Wilfork, Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets and Marcus Stroud of the Bills.
On the NFL Network's "GameDay Morning" show Sunday, former defensive tackle Warren Sapp made Wilfork his pick for toughest player in the league.
Where will the Patriots put Wilfork? They might have all sorts of options, and whoever draws the assignment won't be thrilled.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano wants his team to stay hungry.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Stands to reason they also are prohibitive favorites to take the AFC East crown.
But don't expect Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to cause a ruckus over a perceived oversight. He's quietly embracing it. Sparano doesn't want his team to act as if it has accomplished anything.
"What I don't want to do is to think we are good by any stretch of the imagination," Sparano said this past week during a break at training camp. "I think that we need to make sure this team stays hungry and continues to want to do the hunting out there."
Who will emerge as Chad Pennington's top target?
Analysts listed receiver as an area of grave need. The Dolphins' front office obviously didn't agree. They didn't sign any free-agent help and waited until the second day of the draft to select any receivers.
Miami wide receivers caught only five touchdown passes last year and managed only 11 receptions of 25 yards or more. The top three averaged 11.9 yards per catch.
Greg Camarillo was Pennington's obvious go-to guy last year, grabbing 55 passes through the first 11 games. But a torn knee ligament sidelined him for the final five games and puts a dubious spin on his projected role.
Davone Bess, who possesses a similar skill-set to Camarillo's, had 54 receptions last year. Ted Ginn finished with a team-high 56 catches for 790 yards, uninspiring numbers for the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft.
Seven of tight end Anthony Fasano's 34 receptions were touchdowns.
But when the Dolphins need to convert a critical third-and-8 play, whom will defenses worry about?
Third-round draft picks Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline have had decent camps so far. Turner is tall and catches anything he gets his hands on, while Hartline is more of a possession receiver. Maybe one of them can emerge, but it's too soon to count on either of them.
Can a rookie win the starting right cornerback job?
|Joel Auerbach/US Presswire|
|Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis is expected to compete for the starting spot.|
Earning a coach's trust is difficult for a rookie, especially at a position as pressure-drenched as cornerback. Smith has been convincing.
He's 6-foot-4, and the Dolphins drafted him to compete with the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson and the other big receivers they'll face this year. But to overtake a higher draft pick and a veteran so early in camp is an encouraging development.
Will new center Jake Grove and new assistant Dave DeGuglielmo transform the offensive line's personality?
Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells and Sparano didn't like what they saw out of their offensive line last year. One of the first offseason moves was to fire veteran O-line coach Mike Maser and hire DeGuglielmo, a New York Giants assistant.
One of their chief personnel priorities -- maybe the biggest -- was to find a run-blocking center.
The Dolphins wanted better success between the tackles. It didn't help that both of their opening-day starting guards were lost along the way. But they identified the main problem was second-year center Samson Satele, who started all 32 games of his career.
They signed Grove, an Oakland Raiders free agent, and then traded Satele to the Raiders for a sixth-round draft pick and a swap of fourth-round picks.
Newcomer to watch
Sure, Taylor still can be an impact pass-rusher. But he will be playing a new role and a different position from the one where he amassed almost all of his 120.5 career sacks.
Porter is the weakside outside linebacker. Taylor, a fixture all those years with his hand on the ground as Miami's right defensive end, will be the strongside outside linebacker. That means Taylor usually will line up on the left side in a two-point stance.
The Dolphins brought him back to be more of a situational pass-rusher, not to play every down. He should split snaps with incumbent Matt Roth (a run-stopper with limited coverage skills) and Cameron Wake (a Canadian Football League phenom who recorded 39 sacks in two seasons).
A mysterious situation has kept Roth sidelined through the first two weeks of camp. His agent claimed he had a groin injury. The Dolphins claimed he was ill and out of shape. Either way, that has allowed Taylor to get more reps so far.
"Teddy is going into his third year, and I think it's time for him to really show what he was drafted here to do," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said prior to the draft.
Ronnie Brown, who got off to a slow start in training camp last year because he was coming off knee surgery and a wrist injury, has looked sharp. His quickness and maneuverability stands out next to the other backs, including Ricky Williams, who doesn't look as explosive as he did a year ago. ... Williams is 32 years old and starting to show it. ... Rookie quarterback Pat White better be able to contribute from the Wildcat formation because he has been lousy as a quarterback. What makes White a threat is his ability to pass and run out of the formation, but his arm has been scattershot since he arrived. Defenses should force him to throw it. ... Kickers always have been expendable on a Parcells team. The Dolphins unearthed a gem last year with undrafted rookie Dan Carpenter, allowing them to save money by cutting Jay Feely. But Carpenter might have lost his footing. The club signed free agent Connor Barth to push him. Carpenter hasn't responded as well to the competition as the front office hoped. ... Rookie receivers Turner and Hartline, both third-round draft choices, have looked impressive. Turner is a tall target with soft hands who could turn into a third-down and red zone weapon. ... Sparano seems to be gaining confidence in third-year defensive tackle Paul Soliai, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. Soliai is listed at 6-foot-4, 355 pounds. He twice was suspended for one game last year for weight issues. "A year ago I questioned how important this whole thing was maybe to Paul. ... From a professional standpoint, I think this guy is starting to get it. He is starting to figure out that this isn't only a hobby," Sparano said.
A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:
Who's in: Langston Walker, left tackle
Outlook: The Bills couldn't cope with the prospect of another prolonged Peters holdout, so they traded away the headache -- even though he's one of the best in the business -- for some draft picks.
The Bills opted not to draft any tackles or sign any through free agency. Instead, they are slopping Walker from the right side and shifting right guard Brad Butler to right tackle.
Walker will be a drop-off from Peters. Scouts are skeptical the 6-foot-8 Walker will be mobile enough to handle some of the best pass-rushers in the game. The Bills will face several who finished among the top 10 in sacks last year.
Who's in: Jake Grove, center
Outlook: The Dolphins identified their biggest problem on the offensive line last year was their center. They didn't think Satele, who has been a starter since he stepped foot in the league, was physical enough against top 3-4 nose tackles.
Miami targeted Grove in free agency because he grades highly in run blocking and plays with a mean streak. Dolphins defenders say they notice a much more aggressive tone in the trenches since Grove arrived. He has been injury prone, but if he stays healthy he'll improve the run game.
Who's in: Pierre Woods, outside linebacker
Outlook: The most noticeable void on New England's depth chart is the one left by Vrabel's trade to Kansas City. His numbers regressed from his Pro Bowl season in 2007, but he still was a player opponents worried about.
The Patriots still could bring in another veteran before the season begins, but for now it looks like Woods will be the replacement. Woods seems to have Bill Belichick's trust, starting three games last year when Adalius Thomas went down.
Woods, an undrafted fourth-year pro, is decent against the run but hasn't demonstrated pass-rushing skills in a game yet. Barring any developments before training camp, it looks like the job is his to lose.
Who's out: Ty Law, right cornerback (free agent)
Who's in: Lito Sheppard, right cornerback
Outlook: The Jets plucked Law off the street in November when they decided rookie Dwight Lowery wasn't good enough to man the position opposite lockdown left cornerback Darrelle Revis. They didn't re-sign Law after the 2008 season and acquired Sheppard from the Eagles.
Sheppard is a playmaker because he attacks the ball. If he comes up with it, look out; he can go the distance. His coverage skills, however, are suspect. He couldn't retain his starting job in Philly, but the belief is that with Revis on the other side, the Jets can roll help to Sheppard's side.
|Kevin Terrell/Getty Images|
|Center Jake Grove says he's looking forward to a fresh start with the Dolphins.|
They're not the Oakland Raiders.
"I'm excited for a fresh start here," Grove replied when I asked him how much difference there was between the clubs.
Grove then paused and thought before adding, "I would just say the offensive minds that we have here, the coordinator and the coaches and the ability Chad Pennington has to run the offense, that's what I'm most excited about."
In Grove's five seasons with the Raiders, they went through four head coaches and three offensive coordinators.
Quarterbacks? Oh, Grove saw a few of those in his time there. Rich Gannon, Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter, Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown and JaMarcus Russell all started.
"There's just so much turnover in Oakland," Grove said. "The stability that I feel here, I'm real excited about that."
Grove was Miami's top offseason acquisition. Football operations boss Bill Parcells and head coach Tony Sparano considered their previous center, Samson Satele, a liability in the run game and not physical enough against 3-4 nose tackles.
Football analyst KC Joyner graded Satele at a pedestrian 79.5 percent success rate on point-of-attack run blocks last year. It was the worst rate of any Dolphins regular. Joyner determined Grove's success rate was 90.6 percent.
"I like his aggressiveness," running back Ricky Williams told the Palm Beach Post reporter Edgar Thompson. "He jumps those nose guards. It's nice because that's where everything starts."
The Dolphins loved what they saw of Grove on film. Although he didn't play against them, AFC West teams played their AFC East counterparts last year. He did well against 3-4 defenses.
"I think he is a tough, physical competitor," Sparano said. "He displays outstanding first-step quickness and the ability to play at the second level very, very well. With centers I think that is an important quality to have, playing at the second level and being able to get their hat on some of these mike linebackers in this league."
Grove has missed 26 games since he was a second-round draft pick in 2004. Early in his second season he suffered a right knee injury. He underwent surgery, but the knee kept troubling him. He opted for microfracture surgery after starting two games in 2007.
But the Dolphins gave Grove a five-year, $29 million contract. He knows that's a lot to live up to.
"When I was a younger guy in Oakland," said Grove, "I always said 'It doesn't matter what guys get paid. This guy could be making $100 million. He could be making $200,000. Anybody can make you look bad. Anybody can beat you on any play.'
"It doesn't matter what people think about you in this league. You have to bring it every single day."
I asked Grove if it was flattering to be courted by Parcells and Sparano, a couple of grunts who treasure offensive linemen like car aficionados behold Corvettes.
"Funny you should word the use flattery," Grove deadpanned on a 90-degree Sunday afternoon. "After the first warm-up of the first practice when I was out here in this heat I was, like, 'Man, this honeymoon is over. It's time to work.'"
Adam Caplan of Scout.com reports Thomas suffered a torn pectoral muscle while lifting weights and is "expected to miss most if not all of training camp." The report states Thomas should be healthy by the start of the season, but all of that missed prep time will hamper his return.
Thomas was projected as the starter after spending almost his entire rookie season on injured reserve. He surprisingly won the job out of training camp, but broke his left foot in the 2008 season opener.
The Dolphins were disappointed in their center and guard play last year. They signed free-agent center Jake Grove and traded center Samson Satele to the Oakland Raiders. Left guard Justin Smiley played well last year but is returning from a mangled leg.
Thomas was the feel-good story of last year's camp. The sixth-round pick was considered a project, maybe even a practice-squad player for a year.
A University of Connecticut football coach discovered Thomas during a pickup basketball game on campus and convinced him to play as a walk-on. Thomas didn't start until his senior year.
The Miami Dolphins were decent when it came to run blocking last year. They had two capable backs in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, finishing 11th in the NFL in average per carry but 22nd in average yards per game.
KC Joyner's film-room research, which will be included in his upcoming book, "Scientific Football 2009," shows the Dolphins were pretty good --- not great.
The chart here breaks down a lineman's performance by net point-of-attack attempts (plays in which he was at the point of attack plus penalties committed and drawn), yards gained on these plays and his blocking success rate.
Joyner considers an 80 percent POA success rate borderline acceptable.
The Dolphins had four who met that baseline. But two linemen didn't, and nobody graded out at 89 percent or higher. Every other AFC East team had at least one 90 percent grade.
That illustrates why head coach Tony Sparano, an offensive line coach at his core, fired line coach Mike Maser after the season.
Satele led the AFC East with 20 lost blocks, even though eight linemen had more POA attempts than his 130. But he did have the most POA attempts on the team and was involved in gaining the most yardage when blocking at the point of attack.
In Joyner's behind-the-chart numbers, left guard Justin Smiley was pushed into the backfield a team-high three times, but that's a respectable number. Right guard Ikechuku Ndukwe allowed a team-high five defenders to get into the backfield and make contact with the ball carrier.
Rookie left tackle Jake Long was defeated only five times at the point of attack, was pushed into the backfield only once and allowed two backfield penetrations.
When I linked to KC Joyner's blog about the Buffalo Bills' point-of-attack blocking percentages Thursday morning, readers craved more. They wanted to know details about individual performances and wondered how other AFC East clubs fared.
I reached out to Joyner to see if he would be willing to share more information earmarked for his book, Scientific Football, which is scheduled to be shipped in August.
Those who pre-order his book are granted advance access to Joyner's research as it becomes available, but he was gracious enough to send some of his analysis my way for the purpose of sharing it with AFC East blog visitors.
Throughout the afternoon I will post last year's run-blocking numbers for each of the division's offensive lines.
The chart breaks down a lineman's performance by net point-of-attack attempts (plays in which he was at the point of attack plus penalties committed and drawn), yards gained on these plays and his blocking success rate.
Joyner explains that an 80 percent POA success rate is considered the low end of acceptability.
With that in mind, the Bills didn't fare so well. As run-blocking metrics for the other three AFC East teams are posted Friday, the Bills' will look even worse by comparison.
Two Bills linemen eclipsed the 80 percent threshold, and neither of them is on the roster anymore.
Jason Peters, who at 90.9 percent led all tackles in a division that has some good ones, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles before the draft. The Bills previously cut left guard Derrick Dockery, who won 81.4 percent of his POA blocks.
Joyner breaks down each play in such detail that he tallies the number of times a lineman gets stuffed, pushed into the backfield or strung out, or allows a defender to make contact with a ball carrier in the backfield.
The other AFC East centers combined were pushed back only six times, half of Buffalo's total. New England Patriots center Dan Koppen was pushed back six times, while Nick Mangold of the New York Jets and Samson Satele of the Miami Dolphins weren't pushed back at all.
Right guard Brad Butler, who could be moving out to right tackle this year, was pushed into the backfield six times, most among non-centers and tied with Koppen for second-worst. But Koppen had 197 net POA attempts, while Butler had 112.
Bills right tackle Langston Walker allowed seven defenders to
make contact with a runner in the backfield. That also led the division. Peters gave up one such play.
The Dolphins have given up on a decorated college quarterback the previous front office drafted with the 40th overall selection a mere 24 months ago. Beck was supposed to be the quarterback of the future.
Monday's move underscores what the Dolphins emphasized after they drafted West Virginia's Pat White: They consider him a quarterback who also will play some receiver, not a ballhandler who can throw a little.
But what stands out to me is how abysmal Miami's 2007 draft class turned out to be. Conventional wisdom states a draft class should be evaluated after three years. This one has been gutted after two years.
That was former general manager Randy Mueller's last year and the only draft head coach Cam Cameron participated in before Wayne Huizenga hired Bill Parcells to handle football operations. Parcells fired Mueller and Cameron.
Of the 10 players Miami drafted in 2007, only three remain on the roster: a receiver, a punter and a reserve defensive tackle.
- Ted Ginn, Ohio State receiver: Still on the roster ... A sometimes-flashy receiver and return man but has done little to prove the Dolphins didn't reach by taking him ninth overall.
- John Beck, Brigham Young quarterback: Released on Monday.
- Samson Satele, Hawaii center: Traded to Oakland Raiders in March for a sixth-round draft choice and flopped fourth-round picks.
- Lorenzo Booker, Florida State running back: Traded to Philadelphia Eagles at last year's draft for a fourth-round pick.
- Paul Soliai, Utah defensive tackle: Still on the roster ... Zero career starts ... Dolphins gave him two one-game suspensions for undisclosed reasons.
- Reagan Mauia, Hawaii fullback: Failed to make the team out of training camp last year.
- Drew Mormino, Central Michigan offensive lineman: Failed his physical and was waived in May 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
With the draft four days away, I thought it would be a good time to repost the draft inventory for each AFC East club.
Here are the picks as they stand after the Buffalo Bills acquired two selections from the Philadelphia Eagles for left tackle Jason Peters.
The Bills could end up with as many selections as the stockpiling New England Patriots. The Bills have been shopping slot receiver and return specialist Roscoe Parrish and reportedly are dangling defensive end Chris Kelsay.
The Buffalo Bills hold nine picks:
- 28th (from Philadelphia in Peters trade)
- 121st (from Philadelphia in Peters trade)
The Miami Dolphins own nine picks:
- 44th (from Washington Redskins in Jason Taylor trade)
- 108th (from Oakland Raiders in Samson Satele trade)
- 181st (from Oakland in Satele trade)
- 214th (from Cleveland Browns for Travis Daniels)
- 237th (from Carolina Panthers for Josh McCown)
The New England Patriots have 11 picks:
- 34th (from Kansas City Chiefs for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel)
- 47th (from San Diego Chargers at last year's draft)
- 97th (compensatory)
- 170th (compensatory)
- 207th (compensatory)
The New York Jets have six picks:
Two weeks ago, I posted an entry on the beauty of KC Joyner's work.
The Football Scientist concocts formulas to help explain otherwise unquantifiable performances. You can't judge how well a particular offensive lineman performed by glancing at a box score.
That's where Joyner comes in. He breaks down film to grade offensive lineman and cover corners and nose tackles.
In his latest entry on the New York Times' football blog "The Fifth Down," Joyner provides an informative look at decisions the Miami Dolphins made at center.
Joyner views the switch as a distinct upgrade for the Dolphins even though they parted with Satele, who started all 32 of his NFL games after being drafted with the second-round pick acquired when the Dolphins trades Wes Welker to the New England Patriots.
Joyner determined Satele won 79.5 percent of his point-of-attack blocks, a respectable figure. But his numbers plummeted against big 3-4 nose tackles.
The Dolphins face behemoths Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets and Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots twice a year. Marcus Stroud, a defensive tackle in the Buffalo Bills' 4-3 defense, is no slouch either.
Joyner points out the Dolphins averaged 5.4 rushing yards per attempt, but he computed numbers against Jenkins and Wilfork that halved that output.
Grove, on the other hand, won 90.6 percent of his point-of-attack blocks.
I don't want to keep people from checking out Joyner's blog by printing all of his calculations, so please check it out to view his math.