In the summer of 1996, I remember a conversation with then-defensive end Trace Armstrong that applies to some Dolphins players today.
Armstrong came to the Dolphins in 1995 because Don Shula was eager to improve the team's pass rush. But then Shula blitzed toward retirement after '95 and Jimmy Johnson was hired within the span of two weeks.
And Jimmy Johnson brought his guys with him. Johnson signed defensive end Dan Stubbs, drafted Shane Burton and even made initial plans to use Daryl Gardener as a defensive end on some passing downs. Armstrong, Shula's hire, realized he was suddenly an endangered species -- the last coach's player.
"Things have changed around here for guys like me," Armstrong said of himself and other Shula holdovers. "And not for the better. We've got to be better than the new guy's boys just to stay even."
Armstrong did more than stay even. He led the team in sacks in 1996, and '97, and '98, and 2000. But his point about survival on a new coach's roster is relevant today, even as the players not drafted or signed by Big Tuna Bill Parcells and Tuna Helper Jeff Ireland continue to dwindle in numbers.
A couple of days ago the Dolphins released quarterback John Beck, the sixth player from Randy Mueller's 2007 draft class that was either cut or traded by the new regime. The
survivors remaining players from that class are first-rounder Ted Ginn Jr., fourth-rounder Paul Soliai and punter Brandon Fields, a seventh-rounder.
The 2005 and 2006 draft classes, authored by Nick Saban, have been similarly decimated. Cameron banished Fred Evans and Kevin Vickerson, while the current regime has cut or traded Travis Daniels, Derek Hagan, Anthony Alabi, and Joe Toledo. The
survivors remaining players from those classes are Ronnie Brown, Matt Roth, Channing Crowder, Jason Allen and Rodrique Wright.
All those players, with the possible exception of Channing Crowder, are endangered in one regard or another.
I would tell you the guy who should be most worried about his spot on the roster between now and the start of training camp is Jason Allen. This coaching staff appreciates his special teams work -- some anyway.
But as a cornerback? Not so much. And as a safety? Not at all.
The Dolphins 2006 first-round draft pick has frustrated Miami coaches in that he is tutored and coached and told how to do things. And then in time of crisis and pressure, when he needs the techniques taught to him the most, he reverts to instincts and techniques he learned years ago. And those things do not serve him well, aside from the fact they frustrate the current regime.
Allen should notice the Dolphins drafted two cornerbacks -- Vontae Davis and Sean Smith -- last weekend. They also signed Eric Green before that. Those three are this regime's guys. Allen is not. He has a bull's eye on his back. He is endangered on this roster.
Matt Roth? The Dolphins signed Cameron Wake this offseason and are currently negotiating with Jason Taylor, as are at least two other teams. (Yes, that is breaking news but we kind of assumed that would be the case anyway). The point is Roth's job as a strongside OLB is not secure in the least.
Ronnie Brown? The Dolphins entertained trade talks for the running back prior to the draft. His wildcat package role will likely go to Pat White because White is expected to be a more accomplished thrower and the fact is teams stuffed the Wildcat last year with constant blitzes, which can only be stopped with passes over the top of the defense that forces the D to respect the back end. Brown will be on the team this year -- I expect -- but he's on notice he has to play well to be on the team beyond that.
Ted Ginn Jr.? It should not escape his attention the Dolphins counted wide receiver a need position this offseason and drafted two receivers that, if plans work out, will be in the mix for red zone snaps, because of their size and quickness (both of which Ginn lacks). Yes, he's fast, but I don't believe anyone would argue he's either big or quick. The point is 2009 must be Ginn's breakout year. If he doesn't do it in 2009, under the same offensive system, playing with a veteran quarterback he knows, and given the staff's creativity, he'll have no excuse for not succeeding.
Brandon Fields? Bill Parcells thought him to be a core player before last season. But then Fields was only middle-of-the-road in gross average at 43.9 yards and his net average of 35.5 was 25th of 32 -- which is, frankly, not good. So the Dolphins signed an Australian tryout Jy Bond, who has never played in any college. Fields has to watch his Ps and Qs and win a punting competition this summer whereas last summer the Dolphins had no punter in camp competing with him.
Paul Soliai? Size is this guy's saving grace. He is bigger and stronger than commercial refrigerators. But he must hold off the challenge of offseason acquisitions Tony McDaniel and Joe Cohen. His spot is not guaranteed by any means. He has to grow up and produce or, or, well, or else.
Rodrigue Wright? He had so much potential coming out of Texas. It has not yet translated to the NFL and Lionel Dotson, who the current regime drafted last year in the seventh round, has already passed him even before minicamps begin.
So you tell me ... of all these endangered players, which is most likely to become extinct in Miami?
[BLOG NOTE: I want to thank all of you who shared time with me on the live blogs Saturday and Sunday. This blog had 141,108 page views for those two days. You guys rock! Thank you.]