In five drafts with the Dolphins, General Manager Jeff Ireland has spent more high picks on offensive linemen than most fans would prefer, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do it again this year.
“If I get another (Mike) Pouncey and another Jake Long, I would do it every draft,” Ireland said Thursday, two weeks before Round 1. “I wish I had a whole team full of Mike Pounceys and Jake Longs, to be honest with you. I know what I’m getting every single day with those guys.”
And now that Long, a left tackle, has signed with St. Louis, the offensive line is the area the Dolphins most need to address.
Ireland said he plans to upgrade the line “as a whole,” but stopped short of saying he needs to use one of his first two picks on a tackle. The Dolphins have the 12th pick in the first round and two picks in Round 2.
This year’s draft has three supposed “elite” left tackle prospects in Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, but Ireland said that the versatility of second-year player Jonathan Martin gives the Dolphins many options.
Martin could stay at right tackle, where he started 12 games last year, and the Dolphins could use one of their early picks on a left tackle or they could try to trade for Kansas City’s Branden Albert, who is on the market.
Or the Dolphins could move Martin to the left side, where he started four games last year and 37 games at Stanford, and draft a right tackle in the middle rounds or sign a veteran such as Eric Winston (most recently with Kansas City) or Tyson Clabo (Atlanta).
The Dolphins also have an intriguing developmental player in Will Yeatman, a former college lacrosse player and tight end who spent last year putting on weight and learning how to play tackle. Nate Garner can play tackle but was re-signed to be a versatile backup.
A team source said the Dolphins prefer to play Martin at left tackle, where he is more comfortable, but Ireland said the final decision rests with coach Joe Philbin and his staff.
The website Pro Football Focus ranked Martin as the 76th-best offensive tackle out of 80 last year, and his 47 quarterback hurries allowed were the most at the position. Ireland said Martin (6-foot-5, 312 pounds) needs to improve his strength but should develop into a solid starter regardless of the side he plays on.
“Skill set is not a problem. This guy’s got great feet, he’s big enough,” Ireland said. “He just needs to be more consistent. … He’s probably going up against the best athlete on the field. You’ve got to be on your game when you’re playing left in this league.”
Meeting with Te’o: Ireland met with former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o on Wednesday night and Thursday morning during an official draft visit in part because they met for only 15 minutes at the scouting combine in February.
“I wanted to spend some time with him, kind of get to know a little bit more about the whole process he’s been through, how he’s handled it and how he’s moving forward with it,” Ireland said.
Ireland also said there is no pattern as to how he chooses the 30 players he summons to the facility for official draft visits.
“Some guys I have a lot of interest, and some guys I don’t have much interest in at all,” he said.
• The Dolphins have 11 picks overall, including five among the top 82, giving Ireland a lot of flexibility. “I’ve got enough ammunition to get to the first pick if I wanted to, but I don’t see myself doing that, personally,” he said.
• Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes, signed to a one-year contract to replace Sean Smith, could participate in offseason workouts after tearing an Achilles tendon in Week 1 last year with Atlanta. “I know he’s doing really well and he’s almost to the point, in his mind, where he’s ready to participate in the offseason program,” Ireland said.
• Ireland and his staff won’t finalize their draft board for another week or so, but he said, “I have a pretty good idea of three or four guys that I’m looking at” in the first round. He said his goal is “picking the best player we feel like marries a need and not having to reach for anybody.”