Welcome back, sportsfans, to the continuing story of the Dolphins off-season of 1999. It's a story of intrigue - of suspense - of mystery ... almost (but not quite) as exciting as the opening of "The Phantom Menace". In fact, it's so exciting that I ....
... am having trouble staying awake this month. Despite the promise of the new season, I'm having an unusually difficult time just trying to read the news every day. Last year, at least, the team had a number of extra quarterback camps to prepare themselves for the new offense.
This year, not only is JJ having fewer camps, he is going easier on the veterans. That is so un-JJ-like that it's hard to convince myself sometimes that it's the same JJ we've always known.
Perhaps he fell asleep next to a pod sometime in January.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of interesting activity, there are plenty of things to talk about. And in today's issue of "On Porpoise", I want to continue to talk about the free agents that JJ has acquired this spring, because these guys could make as big a difference for the team as any group of veterans have for the Dolphins since JJ took over.
But before I get on with my thoughts on the rest of the free agents, I have a quick quiz for all you fans out there. This quiz will take a little bit of digging to figure out the answer, but it's an interesting question and I think it bears directly on one of the least known free agents the Dolphins acquired this spring.
And the question of the day is: of the starting members of the 1998 Dolphins offense, who had the second worst percentage of dropped passes?
I'll eliminate one possibility for you - Karim Abdul-Jabbar led the Dolphins in percentage of passes dropped last year, losing 9 of 31 passes tossed his way. This works out to a 29% drop rate - which is appallingly bad.
But who was the second worst starter on the team in terms of dropping passes? Well, I'll tell you ... later. I don't think you'll be too surprised at who it was, but you may be surprised at what I think will happen as a result.
To digress for a moment, in the last issue of "On Porpoise", I only talked about two of the free agents the Dolphins picked up this spring - Tony Martin and Tyrone Wheatley. Yes, I know that Wheatley was not a free agent, but he's a veteran acquisition and that's what counts.
The other veteran trade acquisition that the Dolphins made this off-season will be the first player I talk about in this issue - offensive guard Kevin Gogan.
Gogan is one of two former JJ players signed this off-season and has been described as "the dirtiest player in football". The Dolphins acquired him from San Francisco for a 5th round draft this year. For a 3 time Pro-Bowl player, he came at a bargain price, which is just the way JJ likes them.
Gogan is huge, strong and nasty and is being penciled in as the starting left guard. He and Donnalley will make a terrific pair surrounding Tim Ruddy and should be able to help that short yardage game that gave the Dolphins so much trouble last year.
The 49ers traded Gogan away because he doesn't fit in with their offensive philosophy, now that Bill Walsh is back with the team as general manager. He is not the agile, quick blocker that Walsh likes to have on his line.
Personally, I think that Walsh made a serious mistake in letting Gogan get away and it will come back to haunt him. With the NFL rule changes this spring outlawing a lot of the cut-blocking that offensive linemen have done in the past (and that the 49ers specialized in), smaller offensive linemen are going to have it much tougher this year.
And larger offensive linemen (like Gogan) are going to become more important, despite his relative lack of mobility.
Of course, size isn't everything - but Gogan also has experience. He is entering his 13th year in the league.
And oh, by the way, he hasn't missed a start since 1992.
So I think that Gogan will start this year for the Dolphins at left guard, with Mark Dixon backing him up. Dixon is a great long term prospect and don't count him out as the starter just yet - but questions about his neck and Gogan's experience and attitude will almost certainly keep Gogan as the starter.
Of course, there are worse things that can happen to the team than to have Dixon as the number one backup on the offensive line - especially when you consider what happened at the end of last season to the line when the injury bug bit.
But the bottom line is that Gogan is a valuable addition to the team, both on and off the field.
Moving right along, I think it's time for an answer to my little quiz from above. The player who dropped the highest percentage of passes last season (after Karim, of course) was Troy Drayton. Out of 49 passes thrown his way, he dropped 4 of them, which is an 8.2% drop rate.
Now, when you compare that to Karim Abdul-Jabbar, 8.2% is pretty insignificant. But when compared to the rest of the starting receivers, it's not so good.
The reason I bring this up when talking about free agent acquisitions is that JJ went to a lot of trouble to sign restricted free agent tight end Hunter Goodwin away from the Minnesota Vikings this spring. Since JJ does not have a habit of spending over $2 million (and a draft pick) on a player unless he thinks that that player has the potential to start for him, I think you have to consider the possibility that Goodwin could pose a real threat to Drayton's starting job.
Realistically, there's no reason to get excited about Goodwin ... yet. In his 3 years in the league, he's started only 11 of his 40 games and caught just 11 passes. But JJ (and Dave Wannestedt) have seen something in this kid that caused them to go to a lot of trouble to acquire him.
I should also point out, at this point, that Wannestedt coached against the Vikings twice a year as the head coach of the Bears and so he has had ample opportunity to see Goodwin in action.
Original reports stated that they picked him up to be an extra blocker - and I think that there's some truth to that. But when reports surfaced out of mini-camp and quarterback school this spring that Goodwin was running routes and catching passes much better than expected, I began to develop a feeling that Goodwin could end up being much more than Drayton's backup.
It's just a hunch, of course, but when you add up all the factors, I think that Drayton's future as the starter could very well be in doubt - especially if he keeps dropping passes. Last summer, I remember him dropping several during training camp that I saw and that's not something he can afford to continue doing, especially if Goodwin is catching the ball well.
And of course, if there's one thing that JJ hates worse than dropped passes, it's a bad attitude. Now, if Drayton truly had a bad attitude, he would already have been fired. Still, I can't help but remember some of Drayton's comments to the press over the last few years about how he felt he should be getting the ball more - which is pretty ironic when you consider his dropped passes.
It may not mean anything, but if you compare those comments with the reports that JJ was laughing and joking with Goodwin during the first mini-camp, it just makes the case for Goodwin that much stronger.
Now, like I said - it's just a hunch. But I really think that Hunter Goodwin could turn out to be a very important acquisition this year.
Well, as usual, I've carried on much longer than I expected about much less than I expected. I've still got 6 free agents to talk about, as well as the draftees. But hey - it's the off-season, so what else have I got to do?
But before I end this column, I think I should tell you who I think is going to start for the Dolphins on opening day at running back. Barring injuries (which I think could make the most difference in who is going to start - but which are impossible to predict), I believe that Cecil Collins will be the starter.
I've now watched several hours of tape of Collins and James Johnson and while both are excellent runners, it's pretty clear that Collins has a very rare gift of talent. His speed, elusiveness, power and vision really make him the most talented running back on the team right now.
And that will carry him to the starting job.
In the next issue of "On Porpoise", I'll try to be a little more succinct as I finish up talking about the free agents that the team has acquired. None of the remaining free agents is likely to be as important as the ones I've already covered, but they certainly could help the team and so I'll let you know what I think about them ...
... On Porpoise, of course.