More than 15 months after Jeff Ireland handled his first draft without Bill Parcells alongside, the Dolphins know they have a quality long-term starting center in Mike Pouncey and a versatile, skilled receiving weapon in Charles Clay, who has a chance to be Miami’s best sixth-round pick since Yeremiah Bell in 2003.
But there are still more questions than answers about that 2011 draft.
Will Clyde Gates, battling for a roster spot, develop into the dangerous deep threat that Ireland expected when he selected him 111th overall?
Is Daniel Thomas closer to the explosive runner who averaged 5.2 yards per carry for Kansas State or the injury-plagued one who averaged what he considered a “very disappointing” 3.5 as a rookie?
And will Jimmy Wilson become a capable No. 3 safety after moving from cornerback?
Thomas missed three games last season with a lingering hamstring problem. His knee also bothered him at times. “The injuries affected me a lot,” he said. “They messed my mind up. I lost confidence.”
Drafted 62nd overall, Thomas ran for 107 and 95 yards in his first two games but 379 in 11 others and averaged 1.9 yards after contact. That puzzled the Dolphins because he was considered a physical runner in college. “I was stopped on first contact, and that’s not me,” he said.
He has run forcefully so far in camp, and said his skills are ideally suited to Miami’s zone blocking scheme: “That’s what I did at Kansas State.” He said he also must improve his pass-blocking.
Thomas pleasantly surprised last year’s staff with his pass-catching ability, but he dropped several easy passes this offseason, including at least one in camp. So far he has held off Steve Slaton and Lamar Miller for the No. 2 job behind Reggie Bush.
“He was a little hampered by injuries last year,” Philbin said. “Those have been rectified.”
Gates played only 155 snaps in 2011 and caught just two of the 10 passes thrown to him, with one drop and 19 receiving yards. Ireland was “discouraged” Gates didn’t get more playing time last season and predicted this offseason that Gates has a “great future.”
The Dolphins were encouraged how Gates looked in practice this past weekend, including his improvement route-running. He got open on several passes, including two that David Garrard underthrew. But he missed Monday’s session with a sore hamstring.
Though Gates is Miami’s fastest receiver, with 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, he has struggled somewhat with the mental aspect of the game. Gates insisted this week he has improved in that area.
“I’m learning real fast, picking up the speed of the game,” he said. “I’m a way better player than I was a year ago as far as knowing the concepts, knowing what I’m doing, being able to not do too much thinking as I’m running, which would slow me down.”
He acknowledged “speed can take you only so far. You can be fast, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Gates — in fierce competition with Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt and others for potentially two roster spots — said, “I don’t think about the worst-case scenario in this situation. The pressure brings out the best in me. I love the competition.”
Wilson, who played safety at Montana, was pleased by the move from cornerback because he believes it takes advantage of his playmaking skills. In 216 snaps last season, he allowed completions on nine of the 16 passes thrown against him for 138 yards and three touchdowns, according to profootballfocus.com.
He entered camp as the No. 3 safety, moved up to the first team Saturday while Chris Clemons sat with a knee injury, then remained with the starters when Clemons returned Monday. He did nothing especially notable, good or bad.
“I think he’s adjusted well,” Philbin said. “He has a chance to be a good player. He’s a physical guy, has good instincts, did a good job in run support last year. If you put a guy in the middle of the field [at safety] as opposed to on the perimeter, you give him an opportunity to show up a little more often.”
The Dolphins are very high on Pouncey (who has dropped 8percent in body fat after hiring a chef and changing his diet) and Clay, whose skills are ideally suited for this West Coast offense. “We thought Pouncey had a very, very good rookie year,” Philbin said.