Steven Ross has some decisions to make this off-season and if he looks closely at the Dolphin roster, the answer is clear. Schedules and draft position are designed to penalize good teams and allow lesser teams the opportunity to compete. Drafting below the top ten, puts a premium on the ability of NFL personnel directors to evaluate talent. The better evaluators can find gems outside the top ten; Jeff Ireland has not shown that aptitude.
Prior to the KC game, the Miami Dolphins struggled to make plays on both sides of the ball. The team has played hard, but the lack of big plays has allowed opponents to remain in striking distance and eventually, make the plays that led to victory. Chemistry is the mysterious component of a football team that evolves when leadership develops into an identity. Identity can usually be tied to a dominate player, a leader other players rally around and personify.
There is a great deal of parity in talent levels around the NFL, better teams have at least one impact player that gives the team an identity. Miami has no such player the team can identify with and therefore, has no personality. While the player personnel department has brought some talent to the football team, they have failed to select true impact players. When television networks announce the weekly match-ups, there is no face of the Dolphins.
Mike Nolan is a good coach but his defenses don’t carry the team because there is no identity on that side of the ball. Players like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher or even Darrelle Revis personify their defenses. Miami was supposed to be dominant on defensive this season, but no player such as, Carlos Dansby, Vontae Davis or Cameron Wake has blossomed into the impact player the Dolphins had envisioned. The defense played well against KC but only after the offense stepped up and showed the way.
The same situation exists on offensive, there is no franchise QB, Brandon Marshall or Reggie Bush have not made the impact to be the face of the offense. In game planning against the Dolphin offense, teams do not have to scheme around the talents of a special athlete. Miami’s offense is predictable because no player specifically alters game planning. Teams game plan based on keeping impact players in check, without such a player, Miami is easy to defend.
The slow starts during Tony Sparano’s tenure correlate directly to this inability to find an identity on either side of the ball. Most teams take on the personality of a dominate player. The Ravens personify Ray Lewis, while the Patriots are a product of Tom Brady’s success. The special player can be on either side of the ball and the entire will team feed off that identity. It doesn’t have to be a specific player, it could be a no-name defense but the identity is important and Miami struggles every year to figure out who they are.
Look at what has happened to the Colts to see how important this chemistry is. Built around the talents of Payton Manning, the team has floundered like a rudderless ship in his absence. On many teams, the QB is the face of the franchise but it doesn’t have to be the QB. Larry Czonka was once the face of the Dolphins, Lawrence Taylor was the face of the Giants. This where the GM has failed in Miami, he has not been able to recognize special players.
Bill Parcells knew the right words when he said the NFL is a talent acquisition business, but he was unable to evaluate talent well enough to select impact players. Steven Ross will have to make a decision on whether to keep Jeff Ireland after this season. That decision should take into account the impact players Ireland has not been able to recognize. Owning a team without an identity should give him an honest answer. Tony Sparano has never had a talent he needed to build around; the wildcat was a product of a team without a personality.
The chances of Sparano remaining the coach of the Dolphins following this season are remote, but Sparano is not the root of the problem in Miami. Jeff Ireland has clearly not recognized players with special talent. Some of it is luck, like Tom Brady, but luck will only land an occasional gem. The inability to select impact players over the course of years has kept Miami from rising to success. Four years is enough time to see Jeff Ireland is not a great talent evaluator.
In a recent interview, Jimmy Johnson echoed these words when he said Miami needed to find a talent evaluator before worrying about a coach. Surrounding a young hungry coach with talented players is his formula for success. His words were profound advice to Steven Ross. Ross must simply ask himself, who is the face of the Dolphins? When he cannot answer the question, he will know the root of his problem.
His name is Jeff Ireland…