Miami Dolphins rookie class of 2007 has mixed reviews
There's an ongoing push for real estate taking place inside the Dolphins' locker room.
Players aren't gobbling up property, they're jockeying for position in the locker room, where a player's locker is either in the "Manhattan" district, or the row in the back the Dolphins call "the projects," where two rookies typically share one locker.
"This ain't Manhattan! We're doubled up over here," rookie offensive lineman Julius Wilson says, pointing to the humble space he shares with fellow rookie linebacker Kelvin Smith. "He's got his stuff on one side, I get the other." Even though Wilson and Smith were elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster earlier this month, the promotion didn't get them relocated to the "Manhattan" borough, where a sea of spacious lockers inhabited by the team's veterans serve as the border between the rooms.
Sprinkled inside "Manhattan" are a few select rookies, such as Ted Ginn Jr., John Beck, Lorenzo Booker, Brandon Fields, Samson Satele, Edmond Miles, Reagan Mauia and Courtney Bryan, whose contributions allow them to hold down prime real estate.
All eight of these rookies have been regular contributors in some fashion this season for the Dolphins, and the team's hope is that the playing time invested in each will accelerate their overall development.
Dolphin rookies have contributed 35 starts this season. Satele has started every game at center, serving as the heartbeat of the offensive line. The second-round pick is by far the top performer of the 2007 draft class, which has had mixed success.
Ted Ginn Jr. became a starter once his mentor, Chris Chambers, was traded to San Diego in October. But the first-round pick hasn't established himself as the game-breaker the Dolphins expected as a receiver and returner.
Ten rookies have caught more passes than the 27 Ted Ginn Jr. has this season. Two of the 10 are running backs (Rams Brian Leonard and Broncos Selvin Young), and another two are tight ends (Chicago's Greg Olsen and Oakland's Zach Miller).
While Ted Ginn Jr. has contributed more kick return yards than any other rookie, he's 47th in the league when it comes to average per return.
"This game changes your mentality. The physical aspect, we've got that already. If you didn't have the speed and talent to be on this level they would have never picked you," said Ginn, who has scored two touchdowns, one on a reception and the other on a punt return. "The mental part of it is where you have to step up your game. We're playing with grown men that have grown-men issues."
Booker's on-field maturation prevented him from contributing right away, but the Dolphins' third-round pick has come on strong in the final four games, contributing 21 receptions for 183 yards, and averaging 4.4 yards on his 21 carries.
Then there's Beck, the Dolphins' other second-round pick. He had an opportunity to prove he's the Dolphins quarterback of the future, starting four games in the second half of the season, but his unsteady play led to his demotion.
"I have to take the experiences I had, good and bad, and learn from them," said Beck, who completed 54 percent of his passes for 424 yards, but failed to lead the offense to a touchdown and turned the ball over seven times.
According to coach Cam Cameron, there's nothing better than on-the-job training for young players because it accelerates their growth. One instance Beck said he has grown from took place in the 40-13 loss the Jets, his third start.
On film he picked up that there would be an opportunity to go deep if Jets safety Kerry Rhodes crept up, cheating to the line of scrimmage in a particular coverage. In the game, on first down, Beck saw it, and sensed it was the right opportunity to try a deep pass to Ginn.
But at the same time, Beck said the field position the Dolphins were in made him rationalize taking the positive yards, so he threw a dump off pass to a tailback.
In hindsight, he regrets not pulling the trigger on the long ball because Ted Ginn Jr. had a one-on-one match-up.
"There's nothing wrong with checking it down. It was a fine decision, but there might have been a better one," Beck said. "The next time I'll know that."
Not every rookie benefited from on-the-field training. Defensive lineman Paul Soliai has spent most of the season watching from the sideline, struggling with the transition from defensive tackle to nose guard.
Soliai, who has three tackles, admits he's frustrated.
Linebacker Abraham Wright and offensive guard Drew Mormino suffered season-ending injuries early. Smith, Wilson, safety Tuff Harris and receiver Kerry Reed have gone from being cut to bouncing on and off the practice squad and 53-man roster.
For all 17 of the Dolphins rookies, this season has been about learning how to conduct themselves like professionals, especially when challenged with adversity.
Wilson, an unsigned rookie free agent from Alabama-Birmingham, admits he has played on some college teams that struggled early, and by the midpoint quit, saying "forget this season."
"I haven't heard that once out of any guy's mouth here," Wilson said. "Each day guys come out working hard, and we saw that it eventually paid off."
The Dolphins hope the same can, and will, be said about the 2007 rookie class.
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