Dolphins enter draft looking for a quarterback

Searching for a keeper at quarterback, the Miami Dolphins have
tried Fiedler and Feeley. They’ve tried Green, Lemon and Sage.
They’ve even tried two Chads.

But it has been 28 years since they’ve tried taking a QB in the
first round of the NFL draft.

The Dolphins might do it Thursday. Then again, they might use
the No. 15 pick on a running back, an offensive lineman or even a
defensive player.

No one can be sure, not even general manager Jeff Ireland, who
will make the decision.

”I have a fairly good sense,” he says. ”It can come down to
two or three guys.”

The decision depends on what the teams drafting ahead of Miami
do, but when the Dolphins’ turn comes, several promising
quarterbacks are certain to remain on the board. The list could
include Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, Jake Locker of Washington,
Christian Ponder of Florida State and Colin Kaepernick of
Nevada.

”There’s good depth there,” Ireland said. ”I think you can
find a good player. I don’t have a crystal ball about what kind of
players they’re going to be in this league. There are a lot of
things that go into play, but I think it’s a good depth group.
There are starters to be had.”

A solid starter at quarterback is what the Dolphins need most.
They’ve finished 7-9 the past two years with Chad Henne, who
briefly lost his job last season and is increasingly viewed as a
second-round washout. Chad Pennington is no longer an option as he
recovers from yet another shoulder operation. And the NFL lockout
indefinitely delays free agency as the source of an upgrade.

So perhaps the Dolphins will use their first-round pick on a
passer. They last did that in 1983, with the 27th overall choice:
Dan Marino.

Since then, Miami has used six first-round picks on running
backs, four on receivers and even four on tackles. In the meantime,
QB has become a revolving door, with 15 starters in the 12 seasons
since Marino retired.

They include Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feeley, Trent Green, Cleo Lemon,
Sage Rosenfels … The list is tougher to remember than the date of
the Dolphins’ most recent playoff victory (Dec. 30, 2000).

While Mallett, Locker, Ponder or Kaepernick could join that
list, some draft analysts project all four being taken in the
second round or later. And after picking 15th, Miami doesn’t have
another choice until No. 79 overall midway through the third
round.

What’s Ireland looking for in evaluating quarterbacks?

”You’re looking for all of it,” he said. ”You’re looking for
Peyton Manning. You’re looking for Tom Brady. You’re looking for
arm strength, accuracy, a quick release, good footwork,
intangibles, smarts, mental toughness.”

Mallett’s selection seems the most difficult to project. He’s
6-foot-7 with a strong arm and poor mobility. Ireland was
sufficiently intrigued to host the big Razorback for a two-day
visit.

”I have spent a lot of time with him, not going to deny that,”
Ireland said. ”He’s a nice young man, very talented kid, got a
bright future.”

The question is whether his future is with the Dolphins, who
finished next-to-last in the AFC in scoring last year. Henne was
widely viewed as part of the problem, and Ireland and coach Tony
Sparano have sent out mixed signals this offseason about his
status, mixing praise with faint praise.

Sparano said Henne improved last year with his movement in the
pocket and accuracy on intermediate passes, but needs to be better
on deep throws.

”All you have to do is go back through the 900-something snaps
that this guy has played and say, `Did he show progress? Did he get
better in different areas?’ And yes, he did,” Sparano said.

So the Dolphins might decide none of the available quarterbacks
are worth the No. 15 pick. If so, they have plenty of other needs
to address.

Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both become free
agents this offseason, and it’s possible neither will rejoin the
Dolphins, which makes the selection of Alabama’s Mark Ingram a
possibility.

”Everybody says you can find running backs later in the
draft,” Ireland said. ”I think if you look at the top running
backs in this league over time, they’re going to be first- and
second-round picks.”

On the other hand, the Dolphins have holes in the offensive
line, and one might be plugged by Florida center Mike Pouncey. Or
they could opt for defense, which they did with seven of their
eight draft picks last year.

Seeking a solution at quarterback may wait. After all, the
Dolphins haven’t used a top-15 pick on a passer since 1967, when
they selected Bob Griese.

Such history probably won’t influence the Dolphins’ decision
Thursday, but maybe it should: The last two times they took a QB in
the first round, he went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.