Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins current success a product of personnel departments — both present and past

Dennis Hickey hit on some draft picks during his tenure as Miami Dolphins general manager.
Dennis Hickey hit on some draft picks during his tenure as Miami Dolphins general manager.

Branden Albert was walking around the exclusive resort the Miami Dolphins are calling home this week when he happened upon team owner Stephen Ross. And Ross, curious how his mega-dollar left tackle was doing, pulled Albert aside and asked what was going on with his injured left wrist.

And after Albert explained for about two minutes -- a talk that obviously included news the player is about to miss game(s) following the dislocation and looming repair of his wrist, Ross, visibly shaken, freaked the frick out! Understandable because the owner who has playoff hopes for his streaking Dolphins saw those hopes go down the dislocated wrist tubes.

Pause ...

So Ross did not really freak the frick out. He just kind of nodded. Then he gave Albert a pat on the back. And then he went on with his business.

That’s what the Dolphins are doing without Branden Albert. They are going about their business.

The concern, you see, is not replacing Albert at left tackle. That’s going to get handled. The Dolphins are simply going to move left guard Laremy Tunsil over one spot and he’ll play left tackle — and probably do it about as well as Albert does.

“Yes for him it’s ... he has no concern,” coach Adam Gase said of the Tunsil move. “We feel comfortable with him out there. Obviously, that’s a position he’s very comfortable with. I think the transition of playing left guard compared to tackle for him is a lot harder, as far as just being comfortable. But he’s done a great job as far as what he’s accomplished and what he’s done throughout the season. I know when he bumps out to left tackle, that’s like riding a bike for him.”

The concern is left guard. Kraig Urbik will start at left guard this week for the Dolphins. At least that was the plan Wednesday. And changing that plan would have required Urbik basically soiling himself in practice Wednesday — looking so terrible as to cause coaches to question their plan. I doubt that happened.

So Urbik to left guard versus great Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. And Tunsil to left tackle. No worries.

“I have confidence in those guys,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.

That’s good. It is Tannehill’s relative health that will be in the hands of Tunsil and Urbik and others this weekend.

“I think Tunsil has already played a game for us at left tackle,” Tannehill continued. “It’s a position he has got a lot of experience at in college and high school as well. Practice will be good for him this week to get back into that groove a little bit, and Urbik is stepping in. He stepped in a couple of times throughout the year for us, and we have a lot of confidence in him as well.”

And this is where this post take a sharp right turn to focus attention on the Dolphins personnel department.

(Don’t worry Mike, Chris. All good. You done really good so far. Read on).

Remember a couple of weeks ago when Jets receiver Brandon Marshall said the Dolphins made a bad trade with the Eagles when they got Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso more or less in exchange for moving down four draft slots in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft?

Well, Alonso won the game for the Dolphins on Sunday with an interception return for a touchdown. He’s played more snaps than any other defensive player on the team this year. Alonso has played 634 of 635 defensive snaps the Dolphins have played this season. In the one game he didn’t play every down — against Buffalo — he played 56 of 57 snaps. But in that game he played one snap on special teams. So ... yeah the guy has been ballin’.

Kiko Alonso has been an excellent get in trade so far.

Maxwell is a starter. He struggled early in the year. He’s been better lately, partly because he understands the defense better now, per defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. So he has been a solid if not good get in trade so far.

And then there’s Tunsil. The Dolphins traded down and got the second-highest graded player on their board. Now, I’m not going to try to sell you on the idea the addition of Tunsil was some ingenious plan that involved trading down and being ready to pounce when the Mississippi tackle dropped like a lead plug in water on draft day. But the point is moving back those spots didn’t hurt the Dolphins.

Laremy Tunsil came to them. There were questions on draft day why the Dolphins needed another left tackle when they already had one. There were questions why they didn’t opt to fill one of their other needs. And yet, that choice filled the left guard spot. And now is filling the left tackle spot with confidence.

Good personnel work.

And by the way, Urbik, a solid backup type, is filling his role just as planned. He’s filling in for the starting left guard. Indeed, he can also play right guard. He’s doing what the personnel department expected.

So this personnel department should be in the spotlight now because those moves are paying dividends. The Dolphins are South Florida’s best team again today. They are enjoying success again. And the personnel department is as much the reason as anything else.

And now this post takes another quick right turn ...

It has been the habit of many an NFL journalist to always applaud that which is before us and scoff at that which has departed.

Don Shula got pushed aside, Jimmy Johnson got hired. We love Jimmy!

Dave Wannstedt got fired, Nick Saban got hired. We love Nick!

Tony Sparano got booted, Joe Philbin came aboard ... Um, never mind.

You get the idea. The recent thing is the nice shiny object to admire. That has applied to the personnel department as well.

Yippie, Bill Parcells is in charge because he’s constructed Super Bowl teams!

Alright, Jeff Ireland is in charge because Parcells was too old and he picked Pat White and Chad Henne.

Awesome, Dennis Hickey is in charge because fans hated Ireland so much they actually protested outside the facility one time!

At last, Chris Grier gets his chance after 15 years because Hickey picked all those small school guys.


I want to remind you that everyone screws up. Personnel departments all across the NFL are as much measured by who screws up less than by who gets it right most. Everybody gets it wrong a lot. Ted Thompson does. Bill Polian did. Ozzie Newsome does. Parcells. Jimmy Johnson. Bill Satan, I mean, Belichick. They all miss.

Ireland missed it. A lot. And yet he drafted Ryan Tannehill, who like it or not, stopped the bleeding of Dolphins quarterbacks after Dan Marino left. Miami personnel departments went through 16 QBs from 2000 to 2012 before Tannehill got the reins of the offense. Ireland picked him. And picked Mike Pouncey. And Reshad Jones. And signed Cameron Wake.

Hickey is something of a forgotten man now because he was in charge only two years and one of those he and Mike Tannenbaum pushed and pulled on personnel decisions. And Hickey got things wrong, too. He missed on two guards. He had the small school guys I mentioned previously.

He also drafted Jay Ajayi. And Jarvis Landry. And Ja’Wuan James. And Jordan Phillips. And Tony Lippett. And he and Tannenbaum traded for Kenny Stills. So Dennis Hickey brought to Miami 78 percent of the Dolphins rushing yards this season. He brought 81 percent of the Dolphins receiving yards this season. He brought 81 percent of the team’s rushing touchdowns and 80 percent of the teams receiving touchdowns to town.

He surrounded Tannehill with young weapons.

The 2016 Miami Dolphins are Adam Gase’s team. This Dolphins organization is now a coach-centric, coach-driven model. And everyone loves Gase primarily because he’s not like the last guy. You should appreciate that.

You should also appreciate the work of this personnel department because it has given Gase tools to work with. Tools to succeed with.

But you shouldn’t love this personnel department because it single-handedly stocked the Dolphins talent pantry. The last couple of personnel guys had a lot to do with that as well.

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