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22 posts from May 2008

May 13, 2008

How's Randy Mueller looking to you now?

Last season, amid the storm of discontent over the Dolphins 1-15 season, fans raged against Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller.

Cameron, the head coach, was clearly over his head. He was the worst head coach I have ever covered and I covered Dave Wannstedt. It is possible Cameron might have learned to be better with more experience and his play-calling was fine. But he came into the job certain he was smarter than everyone else and struggled to figure out he really wasn't.

Mueller, the general manager, was clearly not over his head. I remember him telling me toward the end of 2006 that he believed the Dolphins to be one of the top four or five franchises in the NFL and that, with just a little time and patience, things could become very, very, very good in Miami.

Mueller was afforded neither the time nor patience and was swept out by new Dolphins czar Bill Parcells even before Cameron was.

But while Cameron left a legacy of often curious and sometimes comical mistakes, Mueller leaves behind a pretty good body of work.

Think about this: Two of the three quarterbacks on the Dolphins roster today are here because of Mueller moves. He drafted John Beck. Everyone knows that. But few people recognize the fact he traded Chris Chambers to San Diego and that second-round pick is the one Parcells used to draft Chad Henne this year.

So if either Beck or Henne turn out to be Miami franchise quarterbacks, some of the credit for that has to go to Mueller.

Mueller was ripped for trading Wes Welker for a second and a seventh-round selection. I believe that trade will eventually be seen as a trade that helped both teams and perhaps the Dolphins more than the Pats.

Welker is a great addition to any team. He's a fierce competitor, a great example of work ethic, a solid leader, and when he's got Tom Brady throwing the ball, he's a supremely productive receiver. But Tom Brady doesn't play for Miami so forget what Welker did for the Patriots last year. He didn't and wouldn't have done it for Miami.

I talked to Welker at the last Super Bowl and asked him if he could have tied for the NFL lead in catches (112) for Miami as he did in New England. "No," he said. Why, I asked? "Tom Brady," he answered.

No doubt Welker blossomed in New England. But he also became a better player by being around better players.

So what did Miami get in return for Welker? Samson Satele. He started every game at center as a rookie last year. He is slotted as the starting center again this year and perhaps the next 10 years. Remember that players typically make their greatest leap in performance between their rookie and second years. I believe Satele will be outstanding in 2008.

Mueller once told me he has "Pro Bowl written all over him if he works hard." And Satele will be good regardless of what quarterback the Dolphins have, regardless of whether Miami is a running or throwing team. The point is Miami traded a player that depends on other players to be good, for one that doesn't. That is a good trade.

Remember I wrote around Super Bowl time that a long-time NFL man who often speaks with Parcells told me Parcells was complaining about the lack of talent in Miami? Parcells told that NFL man that he had only three or four players on the roster he could build with for the future.

"I talked to him a week or two ago and he was telling me he has only three or four players down there," the NFL told me a couple of days before the Super Bowl. "He believes he's got a punter [Brandon Fields], he's got a center [Samson Satele], he's got Ted Ginn, and maybe he's got a running back if Ronnie Brown gets back to being the guy he was early last year. But even Brown he's not really counting on."

So at the time, Parcells mentioned four players. Three of them -- Satele, Ginn and Fields -- were drafted by Mueller in the same draft, the one draft he got to run for the Dolphins.

I know the proverbial jury is out on Ted Ginn Jr. And I still wish the Dolphins had picked quarterback Brady Quinn.

But I believe Ginn will be a very good player in the NFL. I think he catches the ball cleanly, I think his speed is a great asset. I think he WANTS to get better. Those are foundational points for a good receiver. Yes, he has to learn to run crisp routes. Yes, he has to learn to find the open areas in a defense as well as learn his own offense better.

But those latter things will come with experience if he applies himself. He has great tools. And again, a player typically makes his greatest leap in production in his second NFL season.

So even without mentioning fullback Reagan Mauia, the Dolphins have a handful of core players that Mueller is responsible for bringing to the team. Yes, Mueller might have missed on a couple of guys such as Paul Soliai. Yes, he might have overpaid for Joey Porter.

But ultimately his one season with the Dolphins will seem a lot more productive than the three or four years that preceded him. And in hindsight, that should be viewed quite favorably.

May 12, 2008

The difference between this program and others

I wrote a column about Bill Parcells and his devotion and belief in his offseason program in today's Herald.

It is a subject I've written about a handful of times already this offseason between the blog and the newspaper's pages. The reason for my coverage is that the program is IMPORTANT. As I wrote, Parcells believes one way to make the Dolphins better in the Fall is to have them get in shape in the Spring.

He is a strong proponent in free weights, as the column says. In fact, he has had a bunch of the machine weights removed from the Miami weight room and the dropping of free weights to the floor now echoes throughout the Dolphins training facility. Someone told me it's like working in a train station.

When I wrote about the topic before, a skeptic (read smart ass) suggested I was building up the conditioning program after tearing down the way Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson and then Dave Wannstedt worked their teams early before they collapsed in December.

The skeptic (read smart ass) said I was against hard work then but seem to be for it now.

Wrong.

The difference now is Parcells is working his team on conditioning and -- strictly conditioning. They're working hard at it. They're getting in shape. Football work will come later.

The previous coaches didn't work their teams as hard this time of year, but then turned it on during training camp to get in shape. They would go in pads twice a day in July and August. They would hit in camp almost every practice. And they would often continue hitting well into the season, even in November and December.

So what you had was a team that wasn't in as good a shape, getting in shape by hitting in training camp and into the season. What you'll have now is a team that is going to be in good shape hitting in training camp, but not as often and not as long. I doubt the Dolphins will be hitting during practice going into November and December.

I believe training camp and so much regular-season practice contact sucked the life out of some of those Shula-Johnson-Wannstedt teams. Sure, they started fast because they were razor sharp at the season's start. But the players' bodies could endure only so much contact and hitting before wilting. And so you had those forgettable December swoons.