Armando Salguero: Focus shifts to Miami Dolphins’ Joe Philbin, Ryan Tannehill

04/28/2013 12:37 AM

09/12/2014 7:28 PM

The names the Miami Dolphins added in the draft this weekend start to blur after a while because general manager Jeff Ireland did a fine job of gathering a lot of picks for this draft and then filled his needs as well as desires over three exhilarating days.

Ireland isn’t done.

The roster will be tweaked in the coming weeks, he promises. He says he’s got some irons in the fire to solve the left tackle position that continues to feel unsolved. He says the back end of unrestricted free agency will be a field he can still explore.

But his toughest work is probably done now.

The responsibility for making the Dolphins at least relevant and perhaps a winner in 2013 now falls to other people. And as an NFL team’s success is decided primarily by three people — the general manager, the coach and the quarterback — it shouldn’t surprise that the spotlight that has been trained on Ireland this offseason now shines on two other men:

Ryan Tannehill.

Joe Philbin.

Tannehill is the Dolphins’ quarterback. He is the man this team had not one thought about replacing this offseason. That’s a milestone, because the last time the Dolphins spent an offseason without even thinking of replacing the starting quarterback was in the late 1990s before Dan Marino began to decline.

Tannehill is the man for the Dolphins. If he plays well in 2013, the roster moves this offseason will be worthwhile and make sense somehow. But if he plays poorly, there are no roster moves significant enough to save this franchise.

It’s not all on Tannehill. But it’s primarily on Tannehill.

“It’s a quarterback league,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said Saturday as he waited for the draft’s final round to kick off. “We know that.”

The Dolphins are optimistic and, indeed, confident Tannehill is on the cusp of being a good quarterback. Philbin has said so. Ireland has said so.

And Ross believes so as well.

“We think he’s going to be better,” Ross said. “You want me to predict a Super Bowl because we think he’s going to be great. I’m not going to do that. But I do want to win a Super Bowl. That’s what you always shoot for. Everyone wants to. And you need a good quarterback to do that.

“We think he’s going to be a good quarterback.”

Time will decide that. In the interim, the Dolphins need great work from Philbin.

The coach’s job is to develop the players Ireland just gifted him. He’s said on more than one occasion recently that he needs to get his hands on these players. One supposes it’s so he can mold them to fit his vision of this team.

Well, Philbin has much work and much developing of players to do. He’s going to have a team with at least nine new starters, and possibly more, on offense and defense.

The Dolphins, among the youngest NFL teams before the draft, just got younger. Now, Philbin has less than six months to get them ready for early season games against veteran teams such New Orleans, Atlanta and, yes, the Super Bowl champion Ravens.

“Transition is a thing that all 32 teams deal with some more than others, some years more than others,” Philbin said. “We’re excited about coaching these guys. Life in the NFL is transition. We have to do a great job of getting them up to speed both from a schematic standpoint and the way we do here in Miami.”

Some of the work Philbin has to do?

He has to figure out what job first-round pick Dion Jordan will have on the Miami defense. Will he be a full-time defensive end taking Jared Odrick’s starting job (not a likelihood right away)? Will he be a hybrid player the coaching staff moves all around the field? Or will Jordan simply be a part-time pass-rusher who will need time to grow into the speed and demands of the NFL game?

Philbin also has to identify a starting left tackle. Yes, Ireland has plans. But as the Branden Albert negotiations prove, plans sometimes get delayed or outright denied. So the coach has to at least figure out a Plan B.

Philbin has been careful not to commit to Jonathan Martin as his starter during the past couple of months even before the Dolphins began considering other players. Even as this was happening, Martin was back at Stanford, where he went to school, trying to get ready to win the job.

“He has worked extremely hard, he has gotten stronger,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of Martin on the NFL Network. “He has worked a lot on his technique. [When I talked to him] he had his mind-set on playing left tackle. He was thought to be drafted to play right tackle, but he can really play both. He is ready, he is up for the challenge, [and] he wants to play left tackle.”

So does Philbin commit to Martin now? And can the former offensive line coach help Martin make a seamless transition to the left side?

Philbin and his staff have to prove they can develop young players at running back and cornerback. They have to prove they can integrate new players signed at linebacker, tight end and receiver.

That’s a lot of players to develop and mold. And yet those guys aren’t the most important players Philbin must help.

The most important player? It goes back to Tannehill.

No wonder the spotlight is now on the coach and the quarterback.

About Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero

@ArmandoSalguero

Armando Salguero has covered South Florida sports since 1982. He's covered the Dolphins since 1990. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and annually votes on the Associated Press All-Pro team. He has worked nationally for ESPN and also writes general sports columns for the Miami Herald.

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