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Friday, August 15, 2008

Ted Ginn Jr. Get His Chance to Shine in 08

If you're a Miami Dolphins fan, you probably have at least a little disdain for Ted Ginn Jr. It's nothing personal, mind you, but it's there, brought on by the draft of 2007.
Most fans wanted quarterback Brady Quinn in that draft, but somehow the previous regime opted to take a wide receiver with great speed who wasn't even 6-feet tall -- with a top-10 pick, no less.
They loudly booed the pick on draft day, and the video of then-coach Cam Cameron announcing the pick to the fans made its way across the country. It was a move that helped lead to the firing of the previous staff, general manager and Cameron and fueled the South Florida sports-talk shows.
Quinn, the fans thought, would finally end that elusive search to replace Dan Marino, a futile exercise that has led to a parade of ill-equipped passers through South Florida this entire decade. Ginn? What good is speed when there is nobody to get that speed the football?
That kind of talk, and there was plenty of it in South Florida last year, sure doesn't appear to bother Ginn.
"I don't pay attention to what the fans and the media has to say," Ginn said during a break this week from the Dolphins' training camp. "I just have to do what I know I can do."
"I am looking for an improved team in all areas. I would love to see this team go 10-6. As many people don't believe it. I think it could happen."
What he has to do is show that he can be a No. 1 receiver, a go-to guy and a playmaker for a team that doesn't have any. Ginn set a rookie record in 2007 with 2,086 combined yards, but nobody seemed to care. Playing for a 1-15 team, with an offense that struggled to complete passes, let alone have big plays, Ginn was a poster child for what was wrong with the Dolphins.
Did they really take a 5-11 receiver over the quarterback of the future? Do we have to watch this wretched passing game? Please.
Ginn caught 34 passes for 420 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged 22.7 yards per kickoff return and 12.4 per return on punts, including two for touchdowns. One of those was an 87-yard beauty.
It just wasn't enough. This is an era of instant gratification. The fans paid no mind to the history of receivers struggling early in the NFL. They wanted it now.
"I can't worry about people saying things because of where I was picked," Ginn said. "It didn't bother me. I just have to do the things I know I need to do to get better."
Like run faster.
That might seem surprising considering Ginn has track speed, clocking a 10.5 in the 100 meters in high school, but that's exactly what the Dolphins want from him in his second season.
Ginn has run fast his entire life, sprinting past opposing players, winning track meets, even covering the other team's fastest receiver at times, speed that the Dolphins loved when they picked him.
Out of Nowhere Man
Sixth-round pick, running back Jalen Parmele out of Toledo, has flashed in camp. With Ronnie Brown not all the way back, Parmele has been given a chance to show his stuff and has done well. New coach Tony Sparano is eager to see Parmele in preseason games.
Who is your Out of Nowhere Man?
New coach Tony Sparano, who replaced Cameron, hasn't always seen it from Ginn. When he watched tapes of last season, something was wrong. When he watched Ginn during the team's offseason work, something was off.
Sparano knows his receiver has track speed, which is why he couldn't quite understand how Ginn didn't seem to be playing as fast. A closer study showed after the catch, he was good, but Sparano said the problems came before he caught the football.
Positives: The coaches have given him rave reviews in camp, and the guy is in the best football shape since his surprise retirement in 2004. He'll play and could see a 50-50 split of touches to begin the season. The last time he played regularly while at a size close to where he's at now was in 2005, when he averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Negatives: As soon as Ronnie Brown is healthy and shows he's capable of taking on a full workload, Williams' days of being an integral part of Miami's offense are over, and that might be a quick change during the '08 season. Williams is also injury prone (see last year's torn pectoral in his first game back), and let's face it, he's never been Mr. Reliable to show up to work every day with a smile on his face. It also doesn't help that the Dolphins are considered one of the worst teams in the league and are expected to be behind in most of their games this season, eliminating the running game in parts of the second half of most contests.
Outlook: There are so many factors surrounding Williams that it's hard to find a consensus opinion on him. Some people remember his glory years and think he'll have the chance to play a lot and rack up a lot of yards. Other people remember his abrupt retirement, failed drug tests and overall flaky nature and don't want anything to do with him. The best plan of attack is to not invest a significant draft choice in him -- think of him as a middle- to late-round pick so that if he flames out, your investment is slim, and if he blows up, your risky pick becomes a solid reward. Seven-hundred total yards and three touchdowns seems about right for him so long as he's splitting time with Brown.

Dolphins draft averages
RB: Ronnie Brown (48th overall)
QB: None drafted
WR: Ted Ginn, Jr. (151st overall)
TE: None drafted

"Teddy," Sparano said to him in the spring. "You're not playing fast before the catch. You have to play as fast before the catch as after the catch. That's what the great ones do."
The problem that hurts all young NFL receivers, making it a tough position for transitioning from the college game, got to Ginn. Thinking while he ran routes made him slow down, his head racing faster than his feet.
"That's what it was," Ginn. said. "Now I'm more comfortable with the offense. I'm not thinking as much. And I am playing faster."
Ginn must become the Dolphins' go-to receiver. Coming out of Ohio State, where he wowed scouts with speed, the questions about Ginn were more about size. Could he hold up to the physical beating of corners in the NFL at 5-11, 175 pounds? He proved he could last year, but he never got that extra gear going.
That should change now, which is a scary proposition for opposing corners.
"It's coming together for me," Ginn said. "That's allowing me to be more explosive and faster in my routes."
In an era of me-first, talkative receivers, Ginn isn't one of them. He's humble, quiet and quite frankly doesn't really like talking. I was warned by some of the local media that he wasn't great talking up his skills, and he wasn't. After three questions, he tried walking away but I somehow kept him there.
He didn't get away from my jam.
"That just isn't me," Ginn said. "I'm not cocky. I'm a humble guy. I don't like talking my game up. My father was my high school coach. He told me never to get a big head. I just want to go out and keep getting better. I don't like to make enemies. For what? Guys start targeting you. I want them to target me for what I do on the field, not what I say with my mouth."
During the Dolphins' afternoon practice Monday, Ginn showed his ability during an 11-on-11 drill. Lined up left, he ran a skinny post and Chad Henne fired a bullet that hit him between the 1 and 9 on his jersey. Ginn gathered in the football, turned on the burst, and raced through the defense.
If Ginn can do more of that, the fans will come to love him. Corners will come to hate him.
"I've seen him make a lot of improvement out here during this camp," Sparano said.
Just moments before talking with me, Sparano was locked in his office watching the day's practice. Ginn caught his eye.
"He jumped out at me a couple of times in one-on-one drills," Sparano said. "He's playing so much faster, so much more confident, because he knows what he's doing. Young receivers are thinking about their release. They're thinking about the coverage. Until all of those things start to happen quicker for them, they do play slow. This guy is playing pretty fast right now and he hasn't had mental errors, which is tremendous."
Ginn isn't sure what he can do this season. The quarterback issues that hurt the offense last year are still there. Three players are competing for one spot, although Henne, a rookie from Michigan, has looked the best. But calling it an uncertain position might be kind.
What Ginn does know about himself if that no matter who's throwing he will keep working to get better. He has added five pounds of muscle to his frame, and he looks stronger.
"So you dropped some body-fat, too," I asked him.
"I never had any body fat," he said.
OK, so he's bigger. That will come in handy as he battles corners who want to jam him at the line.
"Guys are scared of me," Ginn said. "If they jam me and miss me, it can hurt them."
If the Dolphins see more of that, maybe he'll win over those fans who cringe at the mere mention of his name. You know who you are, just admit it.

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