Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt showed just how serious he is about improving his team's rushing game in Saturday's NFL Draft.
The Dolphins selected Mississippi's Todd Wade -- a monstrous right tackle noted for his run-blocking ability -- with their first pick in the draft, which was the 53rd overall selection in the second round.
Ben Kelly -- who also was an excellent punt and kick returner in college -- was chosen in the third round with the 84th overall selection.
"I think it was pretty obvious around here from day one that we've been talking about bettering ourselves in the running game and strengthening the offensive line," said Wannstedt, who is conducting his first draft as the Dolphins' head coach. "This is one of the positions that we had targeted that, if we could, we wanted to address in the draft.
"We didn't want to just talk about doing something about our running game. I think this emphasizes that we are committed to doing what it takes to better ourselves in this area. We're awfully excited about getting a big, tough competitive guy like this."
At 6-feet-7, the 325-pound Wade is the tallest lineman among this year's top offensive line prospects. Wannstedt said that Wade will be given the chance to challenge incumbent James Brown for the starting right tackle spot.
"I don't feel any added pressure," Wade said via telephone from his home in Jackson, Miss. "Run-blocking is definitely one of my positives. It's the main reason why they drafted me."
With the Dolphins finishing 22nd in the NFL in rushing last season along with the uncertainty at quarterback after the retirement of Dan Marino, Wannstedt has spent much of the offseason trying to bolster his ground game. The Dolphins re-signed left tackle Richmond Webb and center Tim Ruddy, signed free-agent guard Heath Irwin and added two running backs (Thurman Thomas and Lamar Smith) to push J.J. Johnson for the starting spot.
With Brown coming off a disappointing season, the Dolphins tried to address right tackle in free agency by signing free agent Ryan Tucker to an offer sheet. St. Louis, though, matched the Dolphins' three-year, $8.25-million offer.
Wannstedt said the Dolphins had considered trading down in the second round, but opted against it because of concerns about whether the other tackle prospects could immediately compete for a starting spot.
"He's an old-fashioned offensive lineman," Mississippi offensive line coach John Latina said of Wade. "He's just a big kid. He's physical. He works hard, lines up and beats you up.
"To me, his leverage is the most amazing thing.''
Draft analysts projected Wade any where from a late first-round pick to a second-round selection. In a mock draft by Pro Football Weekly's Joel Buschbaum, Wade was slated for the No. 23 selection by Carolina -- the team that acquired this year's first-round pick from the Dolphins in a 1998 trade for the chance to draft cornerback Patrick Surtain.
"Certain teams have different needs," said Wade, the eighth tackle selected in the draft. "I'm glad to be where I am."
A third-generation player at Mississippi, Wade became a starter in the second game of his sophomore season in 1997. Last season, Wade allowed only one sack while earning All-SEC first-team honors.
Wade's draft stock rose even more during postseason workouts. Dolphins director of college scouting Tom Braatz said he believed Wade is as athletic as Philadelphia right tackle Jon Runyan, who was given a five-year, $30-million contract this offseason to leave Tennessee.
Wade, though, may have slipped in the draft because he suffers from attention deficit disorder, which can cause inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Buschbaum wrote that Wade "must take medication or else he will have a problem staying focused."
Wade said he has stopped taking his medication without suffering any ADD-related problems. Wade said the Dolphins never asked him about his ADD, but Wannstedt said the team was aware before drafting him and it was not a concern.
"My junior year in high school, my mom thought I wasn't paying enough attention in class," said Wade. "So she went to get me prescribed to Ritalin. I took it then. It did wonders for me in school. Ever since then, I've really almost gotten off [the medication].''
Wade becomes the Dolphins' highest-drafted offensive lineman since Billy Milner (first round) and Andrew Greene (second) were selected in 1995. Wannstedt said the arrival of Wade will allow him to move Brent Smith to left tackle to compete against Webb.
"I think if you look back over the Dolphins history, when Jimmy [Johnson] was here and even going back farther than that, for some reason we've had a tough time of infusing young players into the offensive line," Wannstedt said. "This was an opportunity to do it and we feel real good about it."
Kelly decided to turn pro after a junior season in which he intercepted five passes and scored twice on kickoff returns. With ex-starting cornerback Terrell Buckley unlikely to return next season, Wannstedt expects Kelly to vie for time at nickelback.
"I felt I did as much as I could on the college level development-wise," said Kelly, an All-Big 12 Conference selection the past two seasons. "I was ready to challenge myself more.''
Kelly was arrested this spring for an outstanding traffic warrant and driving with a suspended license after being pulled over for an illegal U-turn. Wannstedt said Kelly, who claims to have straightened out his legal problem, was not considered a character risk.