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  Sparano Not Yet Sold on Beck, Tough Choices Await
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins head coach, finally made himself available to the press at the NFL Annual Meeting in Palm Beach, FL. He took questions for a little more than an hour during breakfast on Tuesday.


Sparano touched on a wide variety of subjects, including the Dolphins’ quarterback situation, his projected starters on the offensive line, Jason Taylor, and the NFL Draft.


On the QB situation, the biggest issue to be addressed this offseason, Sparano said the Dolphins helped themselves with the Josh McCown signing. The coach was more than willing to look past the fact that the guy has been ditched by three teams and hasn’t been able to get his passer rating north of 75 in a six year career.


"Josh has some great characteristics you don't always see when you're out there just watching through the naked eye," Sparano said.


Fair enough. Just know that when a team believes they’ve helped themselves by signing a quarterback of McCown’s caliber, well, it doesn’t speak highly of the overall state of things at the position.


Sparano was quite complimentary of John Beck’s first-in, last-out work ethic. The guy seems to be doing everything he can to prove his worth. To try and help him along, Sparano disclosed that quarterback coach David Lee has been trying to cure Beck of some bad habits, such as a low release point which led to many of his passes being knocked down. They were also trying to find a way to “slow the game down” for Beck.


Changing a quarterback’s throwing motion is always a tricky thing, with the impact on accuracy uncertain. As for slowing the game down for Beck, I’m not exactly sure what this means. Last September, did Beck confess to me that the biggest adjustment he is trying to make as a pro is learning to read defenses at NFL speed.


Understanding that Beck is still a work in process, it doesn’t appear that Sparano is sold on him yet as the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future. And while Sparano is content in allowing McCown and Beck to compete, he must know that few would seriously consider McCown to be a legitimate starter in the NFL, one that you would build a young team around.


This puts the Dolphins in a very difficult spot leading up to the April 26 NFL Draft. They’d like to address other needs without having to burn another high pick on a quarterback, especially with other premier players available at positions of need. Yet it seems they may not have a choice.


See, Bill Parcells and pals know they have to get their quarterback situation fixed for any of the rebuilding to matter. There is no higher priority, they know they won’t win until they solve this problem, and they know this is their best chance to fix it.


They also know that the draft is their best option, and Sparano did share two things that were very interesting.


The first was that he, Parcells, and GM Jeff Ireland all agree that they must get an impact player with their first round pick (#1 overall). This sounds like a no-brainer, but would seem to disqualify anyone who couldn’t come in and be a full time starter right away.


The second was that he felt there were some quarterbacks in the draft that were capable of starting in the NFL as a rookie, and that with a young team this was not necessarily a bad thing.


“I think there are some guys that have the ability to come in and start," Sparano said. "Certainly in our situation, when you're a young team, putting a young quarterback out there is not a bad thing in those situations. You get some questions answered early, one way or the other."


Add to this comment Sparano’s take on the current, brutal state of his offensive line and you begin to get a fuller sense of the dilemma the Dolphins are facing.


Sparano ticked off the names of the players who are currently slotted in as starters along the offensive line. Vernon Carey is, for now, slotted in at LT (but could be moved back to RT). Drew Mormino, who spent all of 2007 on injured reserve, is at LG. Rookie sensation Samson Satele is at Center, with the newly signed Justin Smiley at RG. Sparano didn’t have anyone slotted at RT, a “hole” he confessed they haven’t yet solved.


So, what to do? The Dolphins could approach this question in one of three ways.


First, they could draft a quarterback with their first overall pick (Boston College’s Matt Ryan) and use one of their two second round picks on a next-tier OT in what is a tackle-deep draft.


Second, they could draft Michigan OT Jake Long first overall and take a quarterback with their first pick in the second round (32nd overall). Michigan’s Chad Henne, Delaware’s Joe Flacco, and Louisville’s Brian Brohm are options after Ryan who seem most ready to play right away.


Thirdly, they could begin negotiations with Ryan, Jake Long, and Virginia DE Chris Long, the third possibility for the top overall pick. Lowest contract gets the brass ring.


Chris Long is still the safest play, a move that would make sense in many ways. But Sparano’s comments about Jason Taylor and other free agent signings on the defensive line leave one to wonder whether or not drafting Chris Long is as high a need at this time.


Sparano firmly sees Taylor as being a Dolphin in 2008. The Dolphins plan to line him up at OLB, and employ him in much the same way that Nick Saban did when Taylor earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.


It makes sense for the Dolphins to keep him if the best offer is reportedly a third rounder because Taylor would be worth more to the Dolphins as a Dolphin. This could be true even through the final year of his contract in 2009 ($8 million base salary, not exactly the kind of money someone leaves on the table to pursue a career in show business a year early).


So which way will the Dolphins go?


As I’ve said in past years, predicting the draft is like predicting the weather. You think it is going to be sunny and warm and, suddenly, it ends up being rainy and cold.


Given Sparano’s comments, one could conclude that the biggest bang for the buck, literally, would be Jake Long. He’d start from Day One and, with Carey, would give the Dolphins their best tackle tandem since Richmond Webb and Ron Heller (1995).


That’s a pretty good outcome that everyone would feel good about. Again, the rub is that this is a tackle-deep draft. If the Dolphins are comfortable with a next tier OT, their strategy can change. Matt Ryan could be the top overall pick if they believe he would be better than Beck. Otherwise, it seems likely that it’s a Long all the way.


For those of you who favor trading down, don’t hold your breath. Dolphins Managing Partner Wayne Huizenga all but declared this option dead. Simply put, no one’s interested.


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