SBNation.com blogger Matt Miller recently sat down with Miami Dolphins GM Matt Infante. The two discussed the state of the AFC East, the 2008 rookie class and just what can Ted Ginn, Jr. do in his sophomore season.
Matt Miller: As General Manager of the Dolphins, you have changed the face of the team this off-season. How important are Jake Long and Chad Henne to the future of your team?
Matt Infante: Both are immensely important to the future of this team. Jake was taken #1 overall to be the stabilizing force of this offensive line for the next 10-15 years. And considering the money that is dished out to these top draft picks, one bad investment in a player could cripple your team for years.
As for Henne, you can never have enough quality depth at the QB position. Just ask the Chargers, who had both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. I think Henne’s development will be a key for this team because we really don’t know what we have in John Beck. I think Beck will develop into a good player, but if not, it would be good to know that Henne is behind him waiting for his shot.
MM: How is the quarterback competition shaking out, and what is the status of the depth chart there as we head into training camp?
Matt Infante: It’s really too early to tell. At this point, while Chad Henne will get the occasional 1st team reps, the battle is really between John Beck and Josh McCown. Some might say that it makes more sense for Beck to start because we really don’t know what kind of player he might turn into. But the bottom line here is that we aren’t about to hand anyone the job. Whoever wins it will have had to earn it. Right now, heading into camp, I’d say that John has a slight edge.
MM: How does Ricky Williams play into your plans for the team this fall?
Matt Infante: Ricky’s going to be a key player for us. He’s come in this offseason and has worked his tail off day in and day out. Physically, he looks as good as he ever has since 2003. And mentally, he’s focused and seems more mature and at ease with himself. I expect Ricky to share the load with Ronnie and to make solid contributions to this team week in and week out.
MM: What should we expect from the defense?
Matt Infante: Expect the defense to be improved. I think last season’s performance, especially against the run, was just a combination of different negative elements. We’ve made some changes and brought in some players who should be improvements over last year’s personnel. We got a new scheme that I think the players will like and will buy into. And I think we got a group of hungry defenders who all feel like they have something to prove. So I’d be shocked if we weren’t better on the defensive side of the ball.
MM: Many would consider wide receiver a position of weakness for the team. How will you address this position as the season draws near?
Matt Infante: I wouldn’t say it’s a position of weakness. Ted Ginn has worked hard this offseason and the coaching staff is sure that he can become a #1 receiver. Derek Hagan has been like a man on a mission this offseason and I expect to see much better play out of him. He’s worked hard on reducing the number of drops and I think you’ll see a different Derek in 2008. The acquisition of Ernest Wilford is going to make a big impact. He’s big, strong, and has reliable hands.
Sure, after those 3, we have a lot of young, inexperienced guys. But we like what we see out of them. David Kircus has been making plays in practice. Davone Bess has this coaching staff excited with what he’s shown. So while I’ll never say we aren’t going to watch the cuts closely, I’m not sure that we are definitely going to make any additions to this group as the season draws near.
MM: The team has many new names and faces this summer. Who are a few new players you expect big contributions from?
Matt Infante: I think there are a number of new players who we expect big things from this year. Justin Smiley should be an upgrade at guard. Jason Ferguson will be that experienced veteran nose tackle that will go a long way towards improving the rush defense. I mentioned Ernest Wilford above. He’s going to be involved a lot in what we want to do. Randy Starks is a guy we really like because of how versatile he is. He can play either nose tackle or defensive end.
MM: From where you stand, what is the strength of this team? What would you consider your weakness?
Matt Infante: I don’t really know, to be honest. It’s hard to label positions as strengths or weaknesses until we see these guys perform with pads on in training camp. But I’m encouraged by what I see out of the defensive line. I like our running backs, assuming they can stay healthy all year. But, again, it’s too early to throw around labels right now.
Matt Infante: Well I think the first thing that has to be done is a culture change. And we’ve don’t that by bringing in executives like Bill Parcells and coaches like Tony Sparano, Paul Pasqualoni, and Todd Bowles. The mentality of this team had to change, and I think it did.
Beyond that, you just got to bring in the right players. You have to find guys who fit what you’re trying to do and have the mentality that you want from the players in your locker room.
Improving is a process, make no mistake. But we’re happy with where we are in that process as of today. The next step will not begin in a few weeks.
Matt Infante: Well I think you need to look at some of the young guys. Samson Satele, our 2nd year center who started from day one as a rookie, will only be better in 2008. Guys like Keith Davis and Boomer Grigsby will go a long way towards improving the special teams play. I think Will Allen is one of the most underrated corners in the league and he’s had a great offseason despite some off-the-field distractions. I’d also say that a guy like Charlie Anderson or Quentin Moses, pass-rushers who can fill in if needed, will be important to the success of this team.
MM: What are your realistic expectations for the 2008 Miami Dolphins?
Matt Infante: I want to win. That is my expectation. And any coach or GM that says anything different is lying to you. That’s the goal and that’s what we expect. And if anyone on this staff or in this front office doesn’t tell you the same thing, then you better let me know because they won’t be here much longer. Winning is the ultimate goal and that’s what I expect. Period.