Dan Pompei's Read Option: New Dolphins GM Believes Team Has 'Strong Foundation'

Dan PompeiNFL ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

Dennis Hickey, new general manager for the Miami Dolphins football team, left, listens as team owner Stephen Ross speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

It is debatable if any man could be completely prepared to take a seat in the general manager's chair of the Miami Dolphins. At least Dennis Hickey has a wide breadth of experience to draw from after 18 years in the league.   

He came to the Dolphins from just up Interstate 75, where he served the Bucs in various scouting capacities. He was part of a general manager incubator in Tampa unlike any in the history of the league. He is the seventh man from his first Bucs' staff to be hired as a general manager (Rich McKay was hired by the Falcons; Jerry Angelo by the Bears; Tim Ruskell by the Seahawks; Mark Dominik by the Bucs; Ruston Webster by the Titans and John Idzik by the Jets).

Hickey said he has learned from all of them, as well as a number of others he has worked with, including Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin, Raheem Morris and Bruce Allen.

"I've been around some great people who brought a lot of different things to the table, some great football minds," Hickey told Bleacher Report. "Learning from guys who have different strengths helps you stretch yourself and fill in some gaps that maybe aren't your strong suit. I think it's important to be who you are, have my personality and my way of doing things, and also to learn from others."

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Hickey has seen hornets' nests before. And he has come to appreciate the value of listening, observing and soaking things in before acting. He has familiarized himself with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin affair methodically.

"Every crisis is new," he said. "I was privy to a number of them with the Bucs. What I've learned is you have to be measured. Do your due diligence, go through the facts, don't panic. Stick to your core philosophies and communicate openly."

Hickey wants to be careful about judging the Dolphins' locker room with an outsider's perspective. Until he goes through OTAs, training camp and a season with his new team, he won't know his players as well as he wants to. But based on what he has been told by Dolphins players and staff members, he thinks the locker room might be different from what the public perceives it to be.

"Being in the building and talking with the players about a lot of different things, I like our locker room," he said. "I think there is a strong foundation. I honestly believe we will be a stronger team, stronger locker room, stronger front office and stronger coaches as a result of the past year. We've learned from things and will move on."

Asked if he was concerned that no players stepped up to rein in Incognito, Hickey said, "I wasn't here. I know there are a lot of things out there that are not consistent with the impressions I've gotten from here. So I'm not going to comment on it."

Hickey said he believes there are solid "emerging leaders" in the Dolphins locker room. He mentioned Cameron Wake, Ryan Tannehill and Mike Pouncey, who was cited in the Wells report for joining Incognito in harassing Martin.

He also wants to add more leaders to the mix. "At the end of the day you still are looking for good teammates and good people who can help you win championships," he said. "We want guys we can be proud of on and off the field."

Sept. 30, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) and Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey (51) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

It sounds like the Dolphins will be retooled but not rebuilt. Hickey said he likes the foundation of talent in the locker room, and he said he is excited about the pieces that are already in place. The most important piece undoubtedly is Tannehill.

"I like Tannehill," he said. "I like his progression. I like his skill set. I'm excited about [new offensive coordinator] Bill Lazor coming over and working with Ryan. I think the third year is an important year for a young quarterback."

Hickey wants to surround Tannehill with players who can help bring out the best in him. He plans on doing that in a variety of ways. Hickey considers himself a "college guy" first, so he wants to build through the draft. "To sustain championship-caliber teams, you have to build the foundation with the draft," he said. "That's what I grew up with and that's what I believe."

That is not to say he will minimize other means of player acquisition. He said he plans to be very aggressive in signing undrafted players, scanning the waiver wires, raiding other teams' practice squad players and looking at other avenues.

Hickey is a traditionalist when it comes to the draft, but that doesn't mean he wants to approach his job like a general manager from the 1970s might have. He plans on considering different ways of team building, including using analytics and technology such as a digital draft board.

Given where the Dolphins are and have been, a new and varied approach that draws from many different styles may be just what is called for.

NFL Confidential

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

• One of the reasons the Browns were sniffing around on Jim Harbaugh is Harbaugh and the 49ers have been unable to come to terms on a contract extension. People familiar with the negotiations believe Harbaugh is seeking a $6.5 million annual salary, and the 49ers are willing to pay him that much only if he achieves certain incentives. In fact, that is a new trend in the NFL, as numerous teams have tried to tie coaches' salaries to victories, playoff appearances and playoff progressions. As a result, Harbaugh might not be the only head coach in the league who balks at his team's extension offer.

• NFL teams say the name of Danny Amendola has been floated in trade talks. The Patriots signed the wide receiver to a five-year, $28.5 million contract last offseason, but Amendola struggled to stay healthy and did not have the kind of impact the team envisioned him having. Amendola caught 54 passes for 633 yards with Tom Brady throwing to him. He had two better seasons when he played in St. Louis with Sam Bradford throwing to him. There has been speculation the Patriots could cut Amendola if a deal cannot be worked out.

• The NFL competition committee is meeting in Naples, Fla., starting this weekend and one of the items the committee is likely to act on is toughening up defensive holding rules. Sources say the committee already has discussed defensive holding, and many people in the league are not happy with how lax enforcement of the rule has become. It is possible the committee will not change the rules but recommend making defensive holding a point of emphasis. The thinking is not enough calls are made, so teams like the Seahawks keep pushing the envelope.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

• Seahawks general manager John Schneider isn't sweating the fact that his front office has less time to prepare for the offseason as a result of the Seahawks' involvement in the postseason. In fact, he is giving his personnel men a week off between now and the draft. The Seahawks are of the mindset that too much preparation sometimes leads to "paralysis by over-analysis" and rather would have fresh minds going into the draft.

Scout Talk

In the days after the combine, NFL front-office men typically head back to the office and do more tape work on players whose combine performances did not necessarily match up with their on-field performances. I asked five talent evaluators which players they wanted to re-watch or watch more of post-combine. They mentioned these players.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Jace Amaro, Texas Tech TE: A college scouting director said in Amaro's position drills, he was "batting down passes like he was playing badminton." But the director said Amaro showed good hands during the football season. As a result, closer inspection is called for.

Anthony Barr, UCLA LB: He did not have a terrible workout, but he did not meet the expectations of three front-office men. One noted that Barr stumbled a couple times in his positional workout. "On tape you'd say he was a freak athlete, rare in terms of movement, burst and flexibility," a personnel director said. "I didn't see that at the combine." NFL teams were looking for confirmation of Barr's athleticism. They did not get it.

Chris Borland, Wisconsin LB: The combination of his height—5'11"—and his speed—4.83 in the 40-yard dash—concerned one high-ranking exec. "He was a really good college player, but because he measured short and didn't run well, you have to question how he fits at our level," he said.

Blake Bortles, Central Florida QB: "His arm looked better at the combine than it did on tape," an area scout said. "I want to see him throw again at his pro day and look at some late tape of him again." Another scout said he thought Bortles was the most impressive quarterback at the combine.

Martavis Bryant, Clemson WR: He was Jace Amaro in reverse. "He dropped too many balls in college but caught it really well at the combine," the area scout said. "Now I'm starting to think it's just a matter of concentration with him."

Kony Ealy, Missouri DE: Based on the tape, the high-ranking exec said he thought he would see some "sizzle" from Ealy at the combine. "I didn't see any," he said.

Jeremy Hill, LSU RB: He ran a 4.66 40-yard dash. "I thought he was faster than that," the area scout said. "I might need to go back and look again."

Phillip Gaines, Rice CB: His 4.38 40-yard dash at combine created a stir, because Gaines had not been that highly regarded. "He is faster than anyone thought," the personnel director said. "Plus he was smooth and fluid in position drills. I want to see more of him."

Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama OT: He had a subpar workout, leading scouts to question if he was rated so highly because he was part of an outstanding system.

Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern RB: NFL teams were reserved in their grades on McKinnon because he is a converted quarterback, he played against a lower level of competition for the most part and he was not used in a conventional offense. But his workout was as impressive as any. For many teams, more evaluation and discussion of McKinnon is in the offing.

Kevin Norwood, Alabama WR: "On tape he did everything well except run fast," one scout said. "Then he ran a [4.48]." If NFL teams believe Norwood could be coached to play faster, he could move up considerably.

Calvin Pryor, Louisville S: There were varying opinions on Pryor, but the high-ranking exec said Pryor's average workout told him he might be a box safety only, which would limit his draft value.

Hot Reads

• Players who have proven without a doubt that they will do whatever it takes to succeed do not necessarily have to participate in every drill at the combine. The problem with Jadeveon Clowney is he apparently thinks he is one of those players.

• Snoop Dogg now is advising the Raiders on personnel moves. And he might be more qualified to do so than many of those who have been advising the team for years.

• And Raiders owner Mark Davis said "there are no built-in excuses" (via the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur) for his team this year. What he meant was his first round of front-office and coaching hires will be at a point in their contracts after the 2014 season where cleaning house will not be cost prohibitive.

• Russell Wilson said he wants to own an NFL team someday (via The Seattle Times Bob Condotta). Considering he already owned the Broncos, isn't he being kind of greedy?

• Police say Richie Incognito took a baseball bat to his Ferrari (via TMZ). The stupid car apparently would not pay for Incognito's trip to Vegas.

Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.