2005: Good day for Saban -- No surprises
He's shown conviction. He's shown gamesmanship. He's shown straightforward thinking in taking Ronnie Brown, the ability to play poker in trading Patrick Surtain and to ignore the People's Vote of trading down in the draft, anywhere, and take a couple of players, any of them.
"We always felt this was our guy," he said of Brown, the Auburn running back.
He showed his Louisiana State insight.
"[Brown] put half our defensive team in the training room every time we played him," he said.
Saban even showed a flash of anger when asked again whether he was just another defensive-minded coach showing his running-game conservatism in taking Brown.
"I don't know why anybody would say that," he said. "I've never been that. Look at all our LSU teams."
Brown may be the story today. But, as you see, Saban is the column. This was the first big-day glimpse of how he operates, and it's telling that this first draft day was different than most recent Dolphin ones. Sure, it's different picking No. 2. You can plan better, think straighter.
But it's telling that no one left Saturday wondering whether Saban got snookered (last year's trade with Minnesota to get Vernon Carey), scratching their heads (the year before in taking Eddie Moore), wondering why oh why (2001 with Jamar Fletcher) or whether this running back grades high (John Avery in 1998 and J.J. Johnson in 1999).
He wasn't loose with brain cells or draft picks the way Dave Wannstedt and Rick Spielman frequently were at the helm. In fact, this entire Saturday was spent sweeping up the debris from Dave, Rick and, of course, Ricky.
Ricky Williams, for quitting. Spielman, for overspending a second-round pick on A.J. Feeley and desperately using a third-round pick for running back Lamar Gordon. Wannstedt, too, for being part of it all.
Will Brown play second-overall worthy? Who knows? But you can't fault the thinking considering there's no proven running back and, as Ricky showed, a great one instantly upgrades the line, quarterback and receivers. All of which need upgrading.
Besides, this will be an easy pick to grade, considering three running backs were among the first five picks. So the big question for Saban was why, with these three backs bunched like this, he didn't maneuver to get one of the others for an additional pick.
This gets to gamesmanship. Saban let dangle the idea he may take receiver Braylon Edwards to flush out trade possibilities. Obviously, nothing tantalizing came. He knew what the historical cost of dealing the pick was, just as he knew Surtain should merit the second-round pick he waited out from Kansas City.
That leads to conviction. Saban thought Brown was a cut above the other backs. That's his job. Study. Evaluate. And have a conviction on someone. That's his job. Saban scoffed at the "ESPN gurus" who packaged the backs in a run-on sentence.
He said Brown's "versatility" separated him from Auburn teammate Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and Texas' Cedric Benson. Brown is bigger (233 pounds to Williams' 215) and as speedy. He evidently has much better hands, as Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville explained in clearing up the other matter of why Brown played behind Williams at Auburn. Tuberville gave the game plan against Tennessee.
"We wanted to get the ball to Ronnie out of the backfield, whether it was short passes or deep passes, and then of course we ran the ball with him," Tuberville said. "That is the reason Ronnie was not the starter. Carnell was more of the run guy on first down, and then if we needed to run or throw it, Ronnie Brown was in there on second or third down because we could do so many more things with him."
Saban explained he took Brown over Edwards after studying over the past decade that only six of 58 receivers who were top picks produced 1,000-yard seasons their rookie years.
"There's evidence receivers were a lot more risk to take than running backs were," he said.
Thing is, you can bend numbers any which way. Think it's great to take a running back with a top-five pick? There's LaDainian Tomlinson (fifth in 2001), Jamal Lewis (fifth in 2000) and Edgerrin James (fourth in 1999).
Think it's dumb? There's Priest Holmes (undrafted), Curtis Martin (third-rounder), Terrell Davis (sixth-rounder), Ahman Green (third), Rudi Johnson (fourth), Dominick Davis (fourth) and Stephen Davis (fourth).
The last running back bust as a top-five pick? Curtis Enis by Chicago in 1998. But Wannstedt was the Bears coach. So we're talking in circles.
Running back is the most cursed of Dolphins positions going back to when they took Jim Grabowski with the franchise-first overall pick in 1966 and couldn't sign him. But any draft spells a new day and this one did more than most. Brown showed this. Saban did even more.