Jeff Ireland on free agency, draft and more

BY foxsports • January 22, 2013

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland met with the media Tuesday while scouting at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. It didn't appear as if any topic was taboo.
Here's the complete Q&A with Ireland in its entirety courtesy Miami Dolphins media.
(On the Senior Bowl being his favorite time of the year and what he’s looking for there) – “Well, you know it is. It really is my favorite time of the year. It’s obviously the offseason. It’s what’s our life blood for personnel people and it’s really the last opportunity where we’re going to see the draft class be in pads and actually playing football. From this point on, it’s Olympics in shorts from that standpoint. It’s really one of your first opportunities to be in a meeting room with the players and get to know them personally a little bit. You’ve heard a lot about them and this opportunity gives us a great perspective of what’s going to be in the draft this year. So it’s an exciting time for us.”
(On how he would assess this year’s draft class) – “Well, we’re still assessing it to be honest with you. There’s some names on the junior class that I didn’t expect to see on there. We’re filtering through that, a lot of those things. We do a lot of junior work, but the draft class is what it is. We don’t sit around putting grades on the draft class. We evaluate them one-by-one and we’ll grind through it as efficiently as possible and look at the players that fit our system and fit our needs and fit the makeup that we’re looking for in the locker room.”
(On how much it benefits to have head coach Joe Philbin being there) – “It’s just more time that Joe and I get a chance to spend together. I that’s invaluable to the set the vision forward. Joe and I, we’re splitting a suite… so we’re spending a lot of time together talking about players. We’re watching free agents together and that’s important. The more time we get a chance to be with each other and talk football, the better off we’re going to be as a football team. So it’s great to have him here.”
(On what it feels like going into the draft with nine picks, especially all of the high ones) – “Yeah, it feels really good. You feel like you’re positioned well with draft picks. You have an opportunity to really do some good for the future of the franchise. I’m looking forward to it. We have five picks in the top three rounds and that’s important. It’s going to be a big day for us, big weekend.”
(On if he expects to stay at the 12th pick or if he’s open to moving) – “Yeah, we’re obviously open to anything. Today, you’re obviously you’re going to say you’re open to anything because you’re a couple months away from the draft, but we always go into it looking to move up and your scenarios to move up if the player that you’re looking for is there. And then you’re also looking to move back if you get shutout. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a position where I’ve had, if you’re at 10 or 12, then I’ve had 12 guys. It’s usually you feel like there’s, if you’re at 12, there’s 10 guys. If you’re at eight, there’s six guys. If you’re 22, there’s 18 guys. You always have to have a plan, a contingency plan to move up, move back and so it’d be good to have picks to be able to do that.”
(On changing his scouting philosophy in comparison to coach Philbin’s scheme) – “In some aspects, it is (different). Certainly, defensively it’s changed. Probably more defensively than offensively, but you have a scouting philosophy that you get into. I’m a big firm believer of prototypical sized players, regardless of what scheme you’re going to play. If you’re going to play a 3-4, I want prototypical players in the front seven. I like big corners. Offensively, schematic-wise, again, I’m going to be prototypical and maybe looking for a little different offensive line type, maybe a little bit more athletic. Again, the draft and scouting philosophy is going to be high character, intelligent, passionate, competitive guys. That mixed with Joe’s schematic standpoint, that has to marry and I think it’s going to marry very well.”
(On if he thinks the team had enough firepower last year and what the team’s primary needs are) – “Obviously, you finish the season 7-9 and no one’s satisfied with that. The object of going into a season is to win the division. I think there’s a gap between the one and two in our division. In terms of fire power, look, we had two guys that were over 60 catches. We’ve got to find guys that are scoring touchdowns and getting the ball in the end zone. We’ve got to find guys that are disrupting the passer on defense, disrupting the receiver getting into the route on defense as well. We’re not looking, going into this draft, that we’re looking at one primary area. We’re looking to upgrade in a lot of different areas.”
(On the team has to have more explosive players to get into the playoffs next season) – “I think this is the year that you’ve got to do something. We’re looking for playmakers on offense. That’s what we need to do and the players have to be available for you to, you can’t make that up. They’ve got to be available to you and they’ve got to be available in free agency and in trade situations and certainly the draft. All of those avenues are going to be available to us from a cap stand point and a draft pick stand point. We’ll take every single opportunity and avenue that we can to procure some better players on the football team.”
(On if it’s better for the team to find a veteran receiver for Ryan Tannehill because of the learning curve with young receivers) – “There’s a method to that madness for sure, but also, he’s a young player and part of our philosophy is going to build the bulk of the roster through the draft. I think 31 other GMs would say the same thing, but that’s going to be our philosophy is the bulk of our team’s going to be built through the draft. I think we have one of the youngest football teams in the National Football League and that’s all certainly by design. With nine draft picks, it’s going to be a young team next year. Again, we’re in a position, a very good position, to utilize some of our cap space to bring some veteran players on our football team and then we’re in a very good position to bring some young players on our team from the draft stand point. That’s got to be a good mix and we plan to mix it.”
(On the production of this past year’s rookie class) – “Yeah, I feel very good about the whole class. You sit back and you’re after the season and you wish you would have gotten some more play time out of this guy and some more reps out of this guy. But for the most part, they all got good reps obviously. I put a lot of onus on practice reps and participation in practice and for the most part we stayed healthy. I’m very optimistic about the draft class. I’m very optimistic about the 2011 draft class, some of those guys that have participated and played well. We’ve got some good young players that are really ascending fast, so I’m very optimistic about our young team.”
(On if he wishes Michael Egnew played more) – “You know, sure. Certainly, I wish he would have been out there more. Players develop in certain stages of a career. Some guys they skyrocket fast and some guys it takes them a little bit more time. We had some really good players at that position. I think (Anthony) Fasano’s a great pro. (Jeron) Mastrud does what he does. He’s very efficient at what he does. (Charles) Clay, you’re trying to get Clay reps too. Never really had an injury. We claimed another guy (Kyle Miller). So we had some flexibility in situations where we couldn’t get Michael active. But absolutely and I think the last part of his season, he was moving around really good. I’ve got a high regard for him. He’s going to have a good season this year. I feel real confident about.”
(On how he feels about the tight ends and if it’s as important to find a playmaker at that position as wide receiver) – “I like the tight end position, but we need playmakers on the football team, regardless of where we get them – at the tight end position, running back position, receiver position. We just need playmakers. That’s kind of the plan and it’s a clear vision of… At least Joe and I have a clear vision of what we need to do for this football team and whether it’s, again, tight end, receiver, slot receiver, outside receiver, running back, tight end. We feel like if we can get some more playmakers at those spots, we’ll be good.”
(On the team’s current free agents and if the franchise tag is possible for any of them) – “It’s one of those avenues that we have there available to us. To negotiate in the media right now, I’m not going to give you my plans and what I plan to do from a franchise stand point, but it’s certainly available to us and we’ll use those avenues to make those decisions moving forward. But to say who I’m bringing back and who we’re not bringing back, I would say this in a blanket statement that all of those guys have contributed to this football team in various of ways. A lot of those guys I’ve drafted, some of them(I) traded for, some we’ve signed off the street or signed as free agents. It’s a great group of character guys in the locker room. I wish you could have them all back, but we’ve got some tough decisions to make here moving forward and they’re not easy and you wish you could have them all back. We’ve got a clear vision of what we want to do (and) a good plan. We’re starting here quickly on trying to get some of those guys back on the team. So we’ll have to see how those things go.”
(On putting together a roster given the team’s lack of success in the last four seasons) – “You don’t look back. You look forward. With a new football coach, you have a very young team, you look back and you’re trying to build. You look at where your youth is and where your veterans are and you look at where your offense is and where your defense is. I think we have a great scheme on all three sides. I just think you just have to take it one step at a time. You have a building block with a couple of different pieces and you’re trying to keep some of the foundational pieces as you’ve had that have helped you have some success. But we’re going to move forward on a day-by-day basis and build this football team from the inside-out and go from there.”
(On Ryan Tannehill’s season and if he compares him to anyone) – “You’ve got to look at how he affects this football team. I try not to compare him to RGIII or Russell Wilson or Andrew (Luck) because we’re in a different place from a football team stand point. I was pleased with his progress. I think, right now, you can say, I think he’s played 35 or 36 games in his career now and I think that’s where those guys start to really make a big jump in their ascension of development. So I’m exciting about his development. He’s got a long way to go. He would be the first person to tell you that, but I think he showed some signs of promise and hope that he’s going to be a very good player in this league.”
(On what the next step is for Tannehill) – “It’s consistency. I think he can certainly… You can look at a lot of different things and say he can take a step better in accuracy, in ball placement, getting the ball out faster, tempo. There’s a lot of things that he can get better at, but he showed signs of moving the football team and getting the team in the end zone. We’re excited about his progress, but again, he’s got a long way to go. He’s got to keep working at it.”
(On the position strengths on this draft) – “Again, I don’t get into grading draft classes. I really don’t. I look at the positions that we’re looking at, where we need to upgrade our football team and we attack that. Scouts take it one player at time and putting the draft board together. The draft board right now has a bunch of names on it. Until you get to April and you really start carving that down to just what we want and what we need and what fits us, I don’t really put a value on draft classes and it’s hard to say that right now because we’ve got probably 250 more names on the board that won’t be there in April.”
(On how much he gets accomplished in pairing down the draft board between this week and the Combine) – “The pairing down comes really in March to be honest with you. We’re just gathering information. We’re still in such a heavy information gathering process and, again, this is really some of the first time you get a chance to talk some of these kids and so sometimes you have a preconceived notion of who they are and what they’re made up (of) until you really get a chance to visit with them and kind of break them down a little bit and see what their football knowledge is and their personality and their character. All of that information’s coming in and we’re not at a carving aspect with that stuff.”
(On how tough it is to evaluate Tyrann Mathieu) – “You’ve just got to gather it all in and, at the end of the day, you’re going to ask yourself, ‘Is he what you want on your football team or is he not what you want on your football team?’ That’s going to be a collective decision between really Joe and I and our staff. You have to keep an open mind. You’re going to gather the information. You’re going to talk to the young man and you’re going to find out there’s two different sides of the story. As you guys know, I don’t know if you know, that the media sometimes might elaborate certain things. So we’re going to sit down with every individual that we feel like has a great football talent and we’re going to try to find out what that kid’s made of.”
(On the depth of the wide receiver position) – “I like some of the… We haven’t seen some of them. There’s going to be some juniors that we haven’t really broken down yet. I’ve seen a lot of the junior receivers that are in the class, but there’s actually a few that I haven’t seen. I think it’s a good class. Again, you guys put a lot of stock into the grade of a position, but I don’t know what that means to be honest with you because sometimes I’m looking for a position that has great depth in the fourth, fifth and sixth round. I’m sure you guys are talking about the first rounder’s and I think there’s certainly some guys that belong in that round and we’ll see if they fit what we’re looking for.”
(On the traits that he is looking for in a wide receiver in the West Coast offense) – “Well number one, you are looking for guys that catch it. You laugh, but that’s the number one critical factor of the wide receiver position in my opinion; guys that can catch the ball consistently and have a big range of catching radius. Speed is obviously a big aspect of that and in this business they pay the other guy covering them, so there is going to be some contact opportunities and you want guys that can catch in traffic and catch with contact. I think the fourth aspect, not in any order, would be run after the catch. We’re looking for guys that can make plays.”
(On how far away he thinks that Dolphins are from competing for a conference championship) – “Well you know there is a gap and we’ve got a long way to go. I mean I look at our division and I look at it like I am obsessed with our division. I don’t really look outside of our division right now. You know the New England Patriots had twelve wins and we had seven, so there is a five (win) gap difference between first and second place right now. So we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re going to do everything in our power to improve that football team. To put a timeline on that, I can’t do that right this second.”
(On the criticism that he has been conservative in his tenure as Dolphins GM) – “I don’t look at the criticism. You guys can criticize all you want, but I feel like I have been aggressive where I need to be aggressive. (As far as) conservative, I think there have been some decisions that have been smart, so I don’t really look at it that way to be honest with you. But they pay you guys to make those decisions. I think we’ve done a good job in what we’ve been asked to do and good job in making good decisions, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do this year. I think the decisions that we’ve made up to this point to get us where we’re at in terms of our cap space, in terms of our draft picks, that’s all by design. We’ve got a clear vision of how we are going to help this football team moving forward.”
(On whether this team is looking to make the playoffs next year) – “Well you hope so. That’s our goal; win the division, and ultimately put us in the playoffs. That’s our goal every year, that’s going to be our goal going into next season, is win the division. Again, we’ve got a gap to close, but I think a good offseason can certainly do that. Absolutely.”
(On what guys from smaller schools need to do in order to catch the eyes of NFL scouts and be drafted) – “Just belong. The players that have not consistently gone against the Michigan’s, the Alabama’s, the LSU’s, and you get a guy that’s from Missouri Southern, there is a kid out there, is to belong. Compete your butt off and belong in this group. This is the best group of seniors in college football, so when you belong, you start catching the eyes of personnel decision makers. That’s the first thing that you need to do, and then be consistent.”
(On his image among Miami Dolphins fans, and what his one message to them would be) – “Polarizing is a good word. The message is that Joe and I and this organization have a clear vision of how we need to help this football team. We are positioned with an opportunity to help this football team moving forward. This is a big offseason for us, we understand that. We plan to active in every aspect of the avenues that are available to us. We look forward to making some exciting news here before too long.”
(On whether he views the offseason mission as getting Ryan Tannehill help or just bringing in offensive players) – “We talked about playmakers, and I think that is important that we have playmakers. You know Ryan is one eleventh of the offense. He is a big piece of it, there is no doubt about it, but we are a team. Ryan is, like I said, one eleventh of the offense, but we’ve got to get some offensive players that can help him. Being the quarterback, and let’s not be naïve to the fact that he is the quarterback, so we’ve got get him help. Maybe it’s offensive line help, but who knows. We’ve got to get some offensive playmakers that can help us score touchdowns, because what we didn’t do a good enough job of this year was score touchdowns.”
(On whether he feels comfortable with Pat Devlin as his backup or whether he would want to draft another quarterback to backup Tannehill) – “You know anything is possible. I think Pat Devlin has done an outstanding job. He is highly, highly intelligent. His development since we have gotten him has skyrocketed. He is great in the locker room, he is great in the room with Ryan and Matt (Moore). So anything is possible for sure. I think Pat is capable of being that. To say that he is ready right now, I’m not going to lend my hand and say whether he is the two or we are going to re-sign Matt or anything like that or draft a guy, but anything is possible. They’ve got decisions to make too.”
(On how having four players going to the Pro Bowl reflects on the season that the team had) – “It’s a team game, and I think that all four of the guys that were able to go would say it is a team game.  I’m glad that the guys are able to go. Certainly Cam (Wake) and Richie (Incognito), John (Denney) and now Randy (Starks) are all really good players. They deserve to be there. We’re proud of them, and I know they are going to represent the Miami Dolphins logo and the fan base with a lot of class and hopefully have a lot of fun too.”
(On how he finds players on defense that can help force turnovers) – “You know it’s the same thing on offense as it is on defense; you need playmakers. You need guys, and on defense a lot of things…it’s a team game like I said. A lot of things like disrupting the passer, create turnovers. Disrupting the timing of the receiver getting into the route creates turnovers. Coaching helps turnovers and taking advantage of opportunities that you have whether catching the ball or jumping on a fumble. I mean, I think we coach it pretty good, and I think there were some times where we were unlucky where the ball was on the ground for what seems like eternity, and we didn’t have the opportunity to jump on it, or we jump on it and it slides out the backside, or whatever reason. But I think it’s the same thing; you’re looking for playmakers. You’re looking for guys that can disrupt the play.”
(On whether this team needs another pass rusher opposite of Cam Wake) – “You never have enough of them. You never have enough of them. Again, disrupting the passer is a key element in your building of a defense. You need guys that disrupt the passer, you need guys that disrupt the timing of the receiver in their route. When you can do those two things, you’re going to play pretty good defense.”
(On whether philosophies have changed in the NFL from having elite tackles to having elite centers and guards) – “I think in some divisions, again I am a big proponent of playing to win the division, and defensive personnel in certain divisions and certain teams have put a heavy emphasis on pressure up the middle. The Justin Smiths of the world who can really pressure up the middle, you’ve got to have some good guards to lock that down and keep the depth of the pocket long. So, certain philosophies would look at that. I know our philosophy is we want to protect the pocket, we want to protect the blind side, and you just need to protect that guy however you can. So when you find a good guard, you should go after that guy, because it’s an important piece.”
(On how he would assess John Jerry’s play at guard this season and whether Jerry is athletic enough to stay there long term) – “I was proud of John. I think John actually played more plays than any offensive lineman this year. John can improve; he is still a young player in my opinion. He is certainly athletic enough. John didn’t have a great training camp, and so he was kind of working to catch up a little bit. If John comes back in good shape and I think start where he left off, he's got a real good opportunity. So I think John still has a big arrow and the arrow is up on his future.”
(On whether Jake Long is still an elite left tackle) – “I think Jake can still play in this league for sure.”
(On being able to play and him being elite are two different things) – “Well I’m not going to tell you whether I think he is elite because I’m still in a contract negotiation. We certainly view Jake, and I’ve had a good conversation with Jake when he exited the building, in fact I’ve talked to him a lot because he has been in the training room, but Jake has a decision to make and we have a decision to make. It’s a very, very difficult decision and it’s a very complicated negotiation, so we’ll have to see how things go.”
(On how tough it is for a GM letting go of good players because they do not fit a new scheme offensively or defensively) – “Well that’s difficult because, again like I said earlier, you have guys that you drafted that you believe in when you draft them, you signed them, you traded for them, but scheme’s do change. Personalities change. (When) you go from Tony Sparano to Joe Philbin, there is not only a schematic difference, but there is a personality difference. So I am marrying my philosophy to Joe’s philosophy, and those are difficult decisions. But it comes down to a draft philosophy and the draft and certainly a collective philosophy from a free agency standpoint. You wish you could keep them all, and we’ve got some tough decisions to make, but I thank all my guys that are free agents. I had a chance to talk to all of them as they exited the building and tried to be as transparent as I could with them in terms of where their future was. We’ll have to see how things go.”
(On his frustrations over having four consecutive losing seasons) – “Well I am frustrated only by the fact that I am directly responsible for the future of the franchise. We haven’t made the playoffs, so that is frustrating. I’m not satisfied, and so from a frustration standpoint and a not satisfied standpoint, it drives me even further. That’s just my makeup. I’m a pretty highly competitive guy, so that frustration turns to competitive spirit and drive to make this thing what we want to make it. So that’s where that’s at.”
(On how he expresses his emotions and how he deals with everything) – “I usually get on the treadmill at 4:30 (a.m.) and just run the heck out of it. Do I get (mad)? Sure. I get (mad) at a lot of things. I’m a pretty mild mannered guy, but I’ve got my moments, sure.” 
(On his satisfaction with where the team is headed) – “I think that I’m very satisfied from that stand point, moving forward and where we are right now. You can’t change the past. You can only move forward. From that stand point, that’s our objective is to pick up where we left off and get better and drive towards winning a division and making this team better from all aspects. We’re looking at several different areas that we need to get better at. We need to coach better. We need to play better. We need scout better. All of those things. Those are all clichés, but we all believe that in this franchise. I think it would start with owner. He wants to be best in class and we want to be where the Patriots have been in the last 10 years and that’s just where we want to be. I’m satisfied right now where we’re at. We’re in a good position from a cap stand point. We’re in a good position from a draft choice stand point. We’ve got a lot of ammunition to go out there and do some things that can change the complexion of this football team moving forward. So I’m excited.”
(On if he expects the coaching staff to return intact) – “I expect our staff to be, for the most part, intact. I think there’s going to be a couple of different changes, but not wholesale changes. It’s one or two and it’s because someone has a greater opportunity and Joe has a great perspective of how he handles those things and he certainly is a developmental type person and when a young guy has an opportunity to develop his career, he’s going to let them do that and so I think you might see some of those things.”

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