As Miami calms, Ireland aims to improve offense

Posted Jan. 26, 2011 @ 9:36 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Jeff Ireland, in sunglasses and a Dolphins cap, cracked a smile in the bleachers at Ladd-Peebles Stadium when a reporter asked him about how much normalcy he's been able to enjoy lately.

"It's normal when you get to the house," he joked. "It's not normal when I've been to the office."

The Dolphins' general manager is in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, and he spent Tuesday's practice sitting with head coach Tony Sparano, the man he seemed to be willing to part ways with if Miami could sign Jim Harbuagh, leading to chaos within the organization. But Ireland was very relaxed as things have calmed down in South Beach.

"The job's a grind sometimes. I enjoy everyday of it. Some days in the last two weeks haven't really been fun, but I'm glad to be here watching football, and things are getting back to normal," he said.

Adding to the drama in the front office, this is Ireland's first Senior Bowl and lead-up to the draft without mentor Bill Parcells with the organization.

"My workload doesn't change. The dynamic changes a little bit because I don't have that mentor on the other side of the building. I have a great guy to bounce things off of in Tony Sparano," said Ireland. "I can always pick up the phone and call Bill if I need to. He's left me in charge and gave me a great vote of confidence to continue doing what I do, which is find football players."

Parcells seemed to get out at the right time, as the Dolphins were a disappointing 7-9 in 2010, including 1-7 at home — a record so dismal that Ross and Ireland considered hiring Harbaugh. When the bizarre events ended, Sparano got a two-year extension, and Ireland got his this past weekend.

"(The contract extension) is terrific. It's obviously a vote of confidence from the owner, the guy you got to make happy. We have unfinished business here."

The extensions provided the club with stability as they went on the search for an offensive coordinator to improve their 30th-ranked scoring offense.

"Everybody wants to go somewhere where they feel confident, and knowing where the direction is going and that it's not going to change in a year," Ireland said.

That new coordinator, former Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, has a lot of work to do with the potential of an entirely new backfield in 2011. Both RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free agents, but Ireland didn't rule out the possibility of bringing one back.

"There's a chance we bring one of those guys back, for sure. There's a long way to go to get that accomplished," he said.

As Ireland scouts potential seniors this week with an added focus on the offensive side for the ball, he emphasized the Dolphins' need for speed.

"We've got to increase team speed. We need more speed on defense and in the return game, and we have to have that dynamic at the skill positions."

But what everyone wants to know is what is the future at quarterback. Daboll didn't necessarily give Chad Henne a vote of confidence last week, saying, "Chad is on our roster," before going into Chad's potential (as opposed to saying "Chad is our starter").

Ross made it clear he wants this new offense, that not only brings in Daboll but a host of new assistants that Ireland said will be finalized within a few days, to be an offense that is creative and aggressive. But is Henne the guy who can make the Dolphins put points on the board the way Ross wants?

"He's shown some aggressive tendencies, some exciting throws," Ireland responded. "Chad has all the abilities in the world. We've got to put a plan together and an offensive philosophy that fits Chad Henne."

Last time Ireland needed to revamp an area of the team, it was last offseason. He brought in Mike Nolan, who brought the league's 22nd-ranked defense up to sixth in just one season.

"Once you see the offensive staff that we've put together — it's going to be exciting, it's going to have a lot energy to it, it's going to have a lot of wisdom to it," Ireland said. "We hope the results mirror the defensive production that we had from Mike Nolan and his staff and the players on the field."

Ireland has the blueprint on the other side of the ball to show the change can happen, but it's a lot different and going to be a lot harder with uncertainty at running back, and especially quarterback.