Pouncey, Thomas And Co. Rookies No Longer by Stephen Cohen
Carrying teammates’ pads, picking up food and getting ridiculous haircuts are just some examples of the chores that rookies have to endure in the NFL. This form of “welcoming” is an amusing way for the veterans to put the rookies in their place while they learn the league. However, that is just the “off-the-field” part of being a rookie. The learning curve for them on field is far greater. The speed of the game, the complex offensive and defensive schemes and the grueling 16-game regular season can all be tough on a rookie. For Mike Pouncey, Daniel Thomas and the rest of the 2011 Dolphins rookie class, it’s year two and these players have learned the ropes of the NFL and know what to expect every Sunday. In 2011, the Dolphins tended to their needs by strategically drafting players who the scouts and coaches believed could make a long-term impact. Here’s a closer look at the 2011 Dolphins rookies as they look to make even bigger contributions in 2012:
The Dolphins selected center Mike Pouncey from the University of Florida with their 15th overall pick and filled one of their biggest needs with a player they knew could make an immediate impact. Pouncey started all 16 games and was named as a first-team all-rookie selection by Pro Football Weekly. Pouncey is eager to make a bigger impact on the field in 2012.
“I learned how to understand the game,” Pouncey said. “When I came in as a rookie, I didn’t understand anything, as far as the complications of the playbook or even what the snap count was. So I learned to be a professional athlete this year. I give all the praise to the guys in the locker room and our coaching staff from last year. I think the biggest thing I learned this year was how to be a professional athlete.”
Former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Keith Sims believes Pouncey can have a breakout season and potentially make the Pro Bowl in 2012. “Going into this year, I think the game will really slow down for him, so I expect big things for him,” Sims said. “He won’t be out there learning. He’ll be reacting. He’ll be able to use his athleticism in the new offense, getting out there with the zone blocking scheme.”
The Dolphins selected running back Daniel Thomas with the 62 overall pick in the second round. Thomas was another player who was expected to make an immediate impact. While backing up Reggie Bush, Thomas started two games in 2011 and gained 581 rushing yards, 72 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. Thomas will look for a bigger role in 2012 in the new offensive system under head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
Thomas already believes the new coaching staff has made a positive impact on the team’s progress. “We’ve got a great relationship with them already,” Thomas said. “You can tell they’re good coaches. They’ve got a good plan for us. You can tell there’s a sense of excitement in the building right now.”
Clyde Gates was drafted in the fourth round and played in mainly special teams situations. He gained 843 kick return yards including a 77-yard return. Gates will face a battle to earn a roster spot in 2012 as a lot of talented receivers are competing for only a few spots. However, the fact that he can make an impact on special teams indicates he is very much in competition for a spot on the roster.
Gates believes he has learned a lot from his rookie season and credits veteran teammates for helping him along the way. “My first year, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into as far as developing myself to be a receiver,” Gates said. “I didn’t really know what it takes to be an every-down receiver or even a receiver period, but I tip my hat off to the veteran guys–Davone Bess and (Brian) Hartline–those guys helped me out a lot last year. There wasn’t any animosity or anything. It was more of them helping me out and helping me get to know the defenses and sitting me down and really helping me out a lot. I really appreciate those guys.”
Tight end Charles Clay was selected in the sixth round was able to make an immediate impact, starting nine games and gaining 233 receiving yards with three touchdowns. Clay looks to have a bigger role in the spread offense in 2012.
Finally, seventh round pick Jimmy Wilson started one game in 2011 and recorded an interception. Wilson’s biggest impact in 2011 came on special teams where he was a key contributor on a weekly basis. Wilson could potentially see increased playing time as he shifts over to the safety position, following the departure of Yeremiah Bell, who signed with the New York Jets.
The 2011 Miami Dolphins draft class represents a group of young, talented players who are a part of a long-term plan. Pouncey looks to avoid the “sophomore slump”, while taking the next step in his game and earning a Pro Bowl spot. Meanwhile Thomas, Gates, Clay and Wilson look to build on their rookie seasons and make a larger impact on the team this fall. The 2012 campaign looks to be a big season for the 2011 Dolphins draft class.
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