Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Dolphins’ pick of Jordan Phillips a big gamble

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips of the Oklahoma Sooners looks on before a game against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30, 2014 in Norman, Oklahoma.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips of the Oklahoma Sooners looks on before a game against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30, 2014 in Norman, Oklahoma. Getty Images

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross walked into his team’s practice facility with a confident Vince McMahon strut and big smile Friday afternoon. He walked up to general manager Dennis Hickey, shook his hand and asked, “You ready to get wild tonight?”

Without missing a beat, Hickey looked his boss in the eyes and said: “We’re ready.”

Then Ross turned to me and said: “We’re going to try some things.”

And the Dolphins lived up to Boss Ross’s expectation.

They tried things.

They started the evening with a second-round pick but no third-rounder. So they traded down from the 47th overall pick to 52nd in the second round and added a couple of fifth-round picks in the process.

No, the additional picks didn’t get them back into the third round. But they tried. They definitely tried.

With that lower second-round pick, the Dolphins then went the safe route.

No. Wrong.

The Dolphins went about as far outside the margins of safe as they have gone in a while — perhaps since picking Pat White in the second round in 2009 — when they drafted behemoth defensive tackle Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma.

The pick is as big a gamble as Phillips’ 6-6 and 334 pound body.

There is a phrase for this kind of pick: Boom or bust.

So, yes, the Dolphins were a little wild as Ross predicted. They tried things — unconventional things — as Ross predicted.

Why?

This pick is said to be a reach at greatness because Phillips is an athletic freak. He can do back flips in his uniform. Sometimes when he tackles he throws the ball carriers around as if they were 10-gallon garbage bags.

“We took him and we almost had an earthquake up there, the defensive coaches trying to break down the wall, they were so excited,” Hickey said.

Sounds great. But that is also the sound of optimism. That is the sound of a man who is seeing Phillips’ sizable belly half full.

The problem is there is a significant chance Jordan Phillips, a man with first-round talent but late-round production and other significant eyebrow-raising issues, could be a flop if things don’t go exactly right.

Consider that Phillips had surgery in October 2013 to repair a chronic back problem he had for years.

Yeah, men that size don’t ever have recurring problems with chronic back problems after surgery.

Consider that Phillips really wasn’t productive at Oklahoma despite his gifts. He had all of 32 tackles in 2014. Hickey said that was because the Sooners asked him to do little more than take on blockers.

Consider that Phillips gained a reputation for playing in spurts and, yes, taking some plays off.

“You see the talent, you see the flashes,” Hickey said. “Our job is to get him to do it on a consistent basis.”

So Phillips will suddenly learn to want it more and be a consistent competitor?

When Dolphins defensive line coach Terrell Williams met with Phillips at the NFL Scotuing Combine, he came away from the meeting unimpressed.

“He was honest with me, and I was just really excited and thought that I was going to get a chance to work with him,” Phillips said. “He just said from the combine he didn’t think he would want to draft me pretty much.”

After Phillips visited the team in March, something changed for the Dolphins.

This did not change: Every team asked about his inconsistent motor. They asked about his conditioning. They asked why his production didn’t match his potential.

“That’s come up a lot, and I think that was just the system that I was in,” Phillips said. “You’ll see a lot more plays out of me coming up soon.”

It’s curious the Dolphins picked a defensive tackle in a year they also signed Ndamukong Suh to a $114 million free agency contract. That and a second-round draft pick represents a significant expenditure of resources spent on the interior line.

And, yes, the Dolphins needed to improve the front seven because they were 24th in the NFL against the run in 2014.

But they haven’t exactly filled needs at cornerback or guard or linebacker.

Maybe that comes Saturday. Maybe more “wild” things happen before this draft is over.

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