As promised, here’s Part 2 of my interview with Phins Phocus blogger Cody Strahm:
Bills Gab: 7 of Miami’s 8 draft selection were made on the defensive side of the ball, and the Dolphins went particularly linebacker heavy bringing in 4 linebacking prospects, 5 if you count Tim Dobbins who was acquired in a draft day trade with San Diego. With the losses to Joey Porter, Jason Taylor and Akin Ayodele at linebacker, how important was it for Miami to walk away from the 2010 draft shoring up a pass rush that didn’t pack much of a punch in 2009?
PHINS PHOCUS: I would go as far as to say it was necessary for the Dolphins to go linebacker early and often in this year’s draft. Especially sense they let Jason Taylor sign with the Jets, something I was strongly against. They had major question marks at both outside linebacker positions, and could have really used some depth at inside linebacker as well. A lot is riding on Misi’s ability to step in and start from day one, and Cameron Wake’s ability to develop the run stuffing and pass coverage skills to be an every down option. If both struggle, it could be a long year for this Dolphins defense once again, but if both can develop into quality starters, this defense appears to be miles ahead of where they were a year ago.
Bills Gab: My favorite pick of Miami’s draft was Ole Miss OG John Jerry, who ironically was their only offensive draft choice. He’s extremely physical and he’s nasty to deal with. His ideal strength is run blocking, plus he brings experience blocking in the Wildcat scheme. Are incumbent starter Justin Smiley’s days numbered as the starting left guard?
PHINS PHOCUS: I would be surprised if Justin Smiley is still on this roster come September and it’s very likely he won’t be with Miami by the time training camp opens up. The Dolphins had him on the trading block leading up to the draft, but couldn’t strike up a deal. Parcells and company aren’t comfortable with all the injuries he has sustained over the years, and that’s a big reason why they drafted Jerry. Drafting Jerry that high, despite having a huge need at free safety that could have been addressed, likely means that the Dolphins envision him as an eventual starter, if not the guy this season.
Bills Gab: Just from a glance, it seems as if the NFL did Miami zero favors with their 2010 schedule. They’ll play 6 playoff teams in their first 9 games in 2010, not to mention the first half of the schedule appears brutal: in the first 10 weeks of the season, Miami has roadtrips against Minnesota, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Buffalo. Mixed in are home contests with New England, NY Jets, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. What were you initial thoughts on Miami’s 2010 schedule? Can Miami survive the first 9 games and put themselves in position to make a playoff push in the final 7 or 8 weeks of the season?
PHINS PHOCUS: The Dolphins have dug themselves into some big holes to start the season the last two years, starting 2-4 in 08’, and 0-3 in 09’. They were able to dig themselves out in 08’, winning the AFC East, but fell short in 09’. This division is getting better and better, and if the Dolphins want to compete for the title, they need to hit the ground running and can’t afford to fall behind again. I look at those first four games before the bye as the most important. Three out of four games against division opponents and the other in Minnesota against the Vikings. Going up to Buffalo is always tough, and getting both the Jets and Pats at home on prime time will also be a challenge, but a great opportunity. If the Dolphins can start fast in those first four games, and can keep pace in the division throughout those first nine games, they will have the opportunity to pull away down the stretch of the season, as the schedule softens up a bit.
Bills Gab: A big piece of Miami’s 3-4 defense will be missing through the first 8 weeks of the season, as starting DT Jason Ferguson serves his suspension for violating the league’s performing enhancing drug program. 3-4 end Randy Starks now vacates Ferguson’s NT spot with rookie DT/DE Jared Odrick potentially manning the end spot. How do you think Miami’s defense will perform without Ferguson? Do you think Starks is capable of holding the fort down? Should we keep a watch on Miami possibly looking to acquire help at nose tackle as we get into training camp, or even after training camp?
PHINS PHOCUS: It was a huge surprise to many, including me, when the Dolphins drafted Odrick with the 28th overall pick, simply because they were already set at defensive end. But when news came of their impending move of Randy Starks to nose tackle, things started to make sense. Not only do I expect Starks to hold down fort, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the entire season, even when Ferguson returns. Some may consider Starks undersized for a nose tackle, but at 6’3, 305 lbs., he is only five pounds lighter than Ferguson and two pounds heavier than Jay Ratliff, who this regime developed into a nose tackle in their previous tenure in Dallas. So Parcells and company know a thing or two about nose tackles, and because Ireland was so adamant about Starks being the starter, I really don’t anticipate them making a move to acquire another before camp. If Starks isn’t quite transitioning like they anticipate, then they may entertain the possibility, but would more likely return starting duties to Paul Soliai for the first eight games of the season.
Bills Gab: Miami rid themselves of FS Gibril Wilson and elected to draft Georgia FS Reshad Jones who projected to go in the 2nd or 3rd round but ended up falling into Miami’s lap in Round 5. Jones could end up being a real steal and a fine player in Miami. Do you think he’ll have a chance to become a starter in Miami’s secondary, considering their need for help at safety?
PHINS PHOCUS: Free safety is the position I am still most concerned about on this football team. Reshad Jones was a great pick that late in the draft, but I am not completely sold on his ability to play free safety. I hope I’m wrong, but I think he may be better suited as Yeremiah Bell’s eventual successor at strong safety, because I’m not sure he possesses the speed or coverage abilities to start alongside him. He will likely get the opportunity to compete with Tyrone Culver and Chris Clemons for that vacancy however, but after seeing how detrimental a strong safety playing free safety can be, with Gibril Wilson being lost in coverage all season long, I’m just a little skeptical on Jones being the answer. If he can emerge as the guy though, the Dolphins may have solidified their secondary and solved this roster’s final pressing void.