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1995: Dolphins toe line -- twice
Dolphins director of college scouting Tom Braatz wore his favorite Texas tie, a light blue hoedown shirt and striking cowboy boots. The Dolphins were looking for an offensive lineman who can do the pass-block two-step and think they found one in the Lone Star State.
The Dolphins took University of Houston offensive tackle Billy Milner with their first pick, the No. 25 overall, on Saturday in the 60th annual NFL Draft. The team had the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Milner targeted for some time because he has the footwork the coaching staff loves.
In the second round, the Dolphins selected Indiana guard Andrew Greene, completing their plan to "repeat 1990," the year they took Pro Bowlers Richmond Webb, a tackle, and Keith Sims, a guard, in the first two rounds. Greene, who is 6-3, 304 pounds and will be 26 in September, is another lineman with quick feet.
The difference between 1990 and this draft is that neither Milner nor Greene is expected to play right away.
The Dolphins picked Milner after making a play to move up in the draft to get Ohio State's Korey Stringer, who was taken the pick before at No. 24, and thinking about trading down. Getting Stringer, whom the Dolphins put in a group of three exceptionally talented tackles, wasn't in the cards.
Instead, it was Milner, a player the team had targeted as early as September.
"We just felt with the offensive linemen that were taken before Milner, that we had a conviction on Milner and we didn't want to lose that," coach Don Shula said.
Milner was an All-America right tackle for the Cougars and is expected to serve a one-year apprenticeship before taking over for right tackle Ron Heller in 1996. Heller, who will be 33 this season, is entering the final year of his contract and the Dolphins were looking for a backup for him and Webb for this season.
Milner wasn't shy about his own ability, saying he thought he could start right away.
"I think I'm one of the quickest, best athletic tackles in America and I think that showed in my workouts," said Milner, who ran a 5.08 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. "I think I'm very versatile. I can play any of the four spots on the line. I've never played center, but I can even try that."
"We just thought Milner was the better pass blocker of all [the remaining offensive tackles)," Braatz said. "He has better feet, better recovery quickness for an offensive tackle."
The Dolphins were impressed by numerous elements of Milner's game, particularly his pass blocking. He allowed only one sack during his senior year and he received a glowing report from Houston coach Kim Helton. Helton's word was enough for the Shula, who hired Helton in January 1993 to be the offensive line coach. Helton left after less than four months to take the Houston job.
"I thought he was exceptional in his ability to recover," Dolphins offensive line coach Monte Clark said. "His footwork, his hand technique. If he ever did get in any awkward position, he had the quickness and ability to recover, which is so important for an offensive tackle. And he had that as good as any lineman in the draft."
The only question about Milner is that he has a congenital condition known as stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that could make him susceptible to a serious neck injury.
Milner's agent, Jimmy Sexton, said two or three teams decided not to go after Milner because of the condition. The condition was discovered when Milner attended the NFL scouting combine in February. It is a common condition and the Dolphins' doctors were not concerned enough to take Milner off the board.
Sexton had Milner visit Dr. Bob Watkins, a specialist at the Jobe-Kerlan Clinic in Los Angeles. Watkins said there was no reason for concern. Nor is Milner concerned.
"I played four years of college football," said Milner, a junior-college transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College. "Due to injury I've missed one play and that was when I twisted my ankle against Michigan and went back into the game the next play."
Helton's word meant much to the team.
"We felt Kim really knew our personnel and also knows the potential of Milner," Shula said.
"I don't think I really had to sell Billy, Billy sold himself to the Dolphins," Helton said. "He's in that class with Richmond Webb and Keith Sims and Steve Wisniewski."
"I feel that football is a very serious matter to Billy."
In Greene, the Dolphins went after the top player remaining on their board with the No. 53 pick. The Dolphins also looked at a defensive lineman, linebacker and another offensive lineman at that spot, but Greene was graded much higher than the other three. They even considered his age a positive, as Clark raved about him.
"I think his age is an advantage as opposed to a disadvantage," Clark said. "He's a little more mature coming in. I think it's going to be helpful to him. ... I was pleased to get him because I thought he had a real special knack for coverage. How he gets in and gets his feet up out of the hole. I thought he did that better than anybody else that I saw."
"I'm a pretty good run blocker," Greene said. "In Indiana, we did a lot more run blocking than we do pass blocking. So obviously it shows that I'm a lot better at run-blocking than I am at pass-blocking because that's what you see. But I'm also a very good pass blocker, too."
Greene was born in Jamaica and moved to Canada with his mother when he was 12. He was placed back a grade in the Canadian school system, a system that also requires an extra year of high school.
Greene played five years of high school ball and played semipro ball as a senior before going to Indiana. He then redshirted his freshman year of college.
The Dolphins are hoping Greene can compete with Chris Gray for time at right guard, but expect him to be a backup this season. He is insurance in case the team can't re-sign Sims, who will be a free agent after this season.