Jeff Ireland, tan and trim, faced the media for his annual predraft news conference Thursday, and that defensive guy who was afraid to answer questions directly or really say much of anything that we saw years ago was missing.
Ireland didn’t divulge any state secrets, and at one point he said he didn’t want to “pigeon my hole,” into picking an offensive lineman — whatever that means.
But this Ireland was comfortable. He was in command. He was even refreshingly candid at times, admitting without shame that the same offensive line that has been addressed so often by Miami in the past will be addressed somehow in this draft.
Ireland basically gave the impression he is capable of facing this coming draft — the one in which he has five picks in the first three rounds and 11 picks overall — and deliver enough hits to give the Dolphins a chance to finally stop losing next season.
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I left the 27-minute news conference without issues.
Well, maybe one issue.
At one point in the session, Ireland was asked if he’s more interested in adding quality talent or quantity talent to the Miami roster.
“Both,” he responded after a taking a moment to think about it. “We’d like to have a bunch of good players. That’s what you’d like to come out with.”
The Dolphins have good players. Most NFL teams have good players. And the Dolphins have enough of them to be more or less mediocre.
So we don’t need more of the same. Spare me the priority free agent walk-ons that surprise and inspire because Vince Papale never took the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship.
What the team lacks, what so many drafts have failed to deliver, is elite players. Miami has not drafted one in a long time, and getting just one of those should be the goal glowing in neon this draft.
The Dolphins have drafted only one Pro Bowl player since 2008, when Ireland joined the team under Bill Parcells and with coach Tony Sparano.
In the five drafts, and through 41 players Ireland has had a role selecting, only Jake Long ever went to the Pro Bowl. And Long, diminished and perhaps declining, didn’t make the postseason all-star game last season and isn’t on the team anymore.
So five drafts and the Dolphins today have no Pro Bowl player to show for the trouble.
That’s not all. The truth is the franchise’s struggle to draft a difference-maker of significance stretches well before Ireland ever came on the scene.
The last truly great, great pick the Dolphins made in the draft came in 1997 when Jimmy Johnson nabbed Jason Taylor in the third round with the 73rd overall selection.
And while a lot of players have come and gone in the 16 years since Taylor showed up all tall and skinny and full of game-changing plays, the Dolphins have drafted a lot of good ones, some busts and even a couple of Pro Bowl guys.
But no one else who was truly great.
No one else whose name comes up in a Hall of Fame conversation.
How much longer does the franchise have to wait before that happens again?
None of this suggests Ireland has been incapable of adding Pro Bowl players and game-changers by other means.
Cameron Wake, signed as a free agent after playing in the CFL, has been a defense-saver. The signing of Richie Incognito delivered Pro Bowl returns last season. The hope is the recent free agent addition of Mike Wallace will pay dividends, too.
But the draft?
It has been a wasteland to anyone looking for Dolphins greatness.
Obviously, finding greatness in the draft involves luck. The Patriots found Tom Brady in the sixth round. The Jets found Darrelle Revis in the middle of the first round. No one on either team stood up on draft day and said, “We’ve filled our Hall of Fame quota today.”
But why is it the Dolphins — once so capable of plucking greats such as Dan Marino and Mark Clayton and John Offerdahl and Dwight Stephenson and Richmond Webb and Troy Vincent — have hit such a long dry spell?
It’s not all about a lack of luck. Trust me, it’s not. There has been a good amount of institutional failure introduced into the process, and that resulted in Miami picking Vernon Carey over Vince Wilfork or John Jerry over Jimmy Graham or, yes, Long over Matt Ryan.
But this year, Ireland has a new and grand opportunity. Because he has so many picks and other teams are so willing to trade, he can basically maneuver into any spot he wants to get any player he wants.
“I have enough ammunition to get to the first pick, if I wanted to,” Ireland said. “But I don’t see myself doing that, personally. I don’t know. It depends on what’s there.”
The first pick isn’t always the best. And unlike last year, when the first two picks offered two franchise-defining players, this draft doesn’t have an obvious sure-fire star among the top prospects.
But just like last year, this draft has hidden treasure. Somewhere. It’s inevitable. There’s a Russell Wilson lurking. Somewhere another Jared Allen, picked in the fourth round, or another Elvis Dumervil, another fourth-round pick from a draft since forgotten, will be available to the Dolphins.
If that guy is defensive end Ezekial Ansah, then Ireland should trade up to get him. If that’s tight end Tyler Eifert or cornerback Desmond Trufant or safety Kenny Vaccaro, then he can stay at No. 12 in the first round or drop some and still get his man.
If it’s Texas defensive end Alex Okafor in the third round, then the Dolphins will have two chances to get him.
“The fact we do have 11 draft picks and five in the top three rounds, that’s important,” Ireland said. “It doesn’t come around very often that you have that kind of clout in the draft. We need to take advantage of it. It’s very important.”
It is truly important — because the Dolphins sure could use a difference-maker or even a Pro Bowl player coming from this draft.