Selecting Mississippi defensive tackle Tim Bowens with the No. 20 overall pick was the biggest gamble of the first two rounds of the NFL Draft on Sunday for a team that has a history of losing in these situations.
It also was a risk that might be second-guessed for quite some time because it marked the first time in Shula's 25 years with the Dolphins that he had traded down in the first round. This trade-down was tough because the Dolphins could have taken Notre Dame guard Aaron Taylor with the No. 16 pick.
Instead, Green Bay gave up a third-round pick to move up and the Dolphins gave up a player with a much better resume than Bowens. Taylor was the Lombardi Award winner as the nation's top interior lineman last season and someone who many NFL scouts believe can play right away.
In the second round, the Dolphins followed through on the effort to build the defensive front by taking Oklahoma linebacker Aubrey Beavers, whom the Dolphins projected as a possible first-round pick. The Dolphins traded with Arizona for the final pick of the second round. Miami sent its third-round pick and two of its three fourth-rounders to the Cardinals and used the pick to select Notre Dame center Tim Ruddy.
The remaining five rounds will be completed today.
Bowens (6-4, 325) is someone who has played only nine games at the NCAA Division I level after transferring from a junior college, who is overweight, who missed two games last season because of academic problems and who wasn't academically eligible to return to Mississippi for his senior season.
"We decided to take the risk in spite of the background because we hoped that we could get the kind of football player that's going to upgrade us up front," Shula said.
Bowens is missing three toes on his left foot because of a lawnmower accident four years ago, before his senior year of high school in Okolona, Miss. That hasn't affected his ability. He played his senior season. But it is another question.
Even over the past week, the Dolphins, who gambled and lost on the likes of defensive linemen Eric Kumerow and John Bosa, had plenty of doubts. They sent defensive line coach Joe Greene and defense coach Tom Olivadotti on separate trips to interview Bowens before making the decision.
"I was concerned with how well he was going to learn football, and we were satisfied with how he answered," Olivadotti said. "I went through a game plan with him and went over a game film to see how he would respond. I also asked him some very pointed questions that I'm not going to get into."
As for the toes, Olivadotti wasn't concerned.
"He's got seven more."
For his part, Bowens didn't get into much. His glib interview with the South Florida media featured numerous monosyllabic responses. Given the surprise of the pick, it only added to the questions about him.
"I expected to get picked, but I never thought it would be Miami, so I'll take it from there," Bowens said.
Who did he think would take him?
Not too many folks in South Florida thought the Dolphins would take such a gamble. But the Dolphins were rebuffed in their efforts to trade up and lost all hope of getting Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts when Indianapolis traded up for the No.5 overall pick to get him.
"We couldn't get that high," Dolphins Director of College Scouting Tom Braatz said. "We took what we had and tried to get up there, and it didn't happen."
But as the draft unfolded, several quality offensive linemen were available in the middle of the first round. At No.14, Philadelphia took tackle Bernard Williams, assuring the Dolphins of Auburn's Wayne Gandy or Taylor.
The Los Angeles Rams took Gandy. That left Taylor, who was graded higher than Bowens by the Dolphins. Green Bay had called early in the draft and the attractiveness of a third-round pick for a team that didn't have one was too much. Last season, the Dolphins traded away this year's third-rounder in the deal for wide receiver Irving Fryar.
Taylor also would have been a good bet to play right away. Starting guard Bert Weidner is unsigned, but the Dolphins expect to get him under contract soon.
"It was tempting," Braatz said of Taylor. "He's an awfully good player."
Bowens is a lot of player and his selection was reminiscent of 1992 second-round pick Eddie Blake, who was taken as a defensive lineman, then moved to offensive line.
Bowens is the Dolphins' heaviest defender and will be expected to contribute right away. The Dolphins want him to get down to about 315 pounds by the time camp starts in July.
"He'll play as much as he can physically handle," said Olivadotti, who said at the end of last season that the Dolphins' top need was an interior pass rusher.
Bowens had six sacks last season. In two seasons at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., he had 13 sacks and 28 quarterback pressures.
Beavers, an 6-2, 235-pound outside linebacker, had 20 1/2 sacks over the past two seasons and also showed the ability to drop into coverage. However, his career at Oklahoma was marred by a scandal. The NCAA determined that Beavers had someone take his SAT for him and declared his a retroactive Prop 48, forcing him to sit out the 1991 season.