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It may be the offseason, and the regular season is still five long months away, but the Miami Dolphins are already taking their game to another level.
The level we are talking about has to do with technology, with creating an environment where information can be evaluated far faster and with greater efficiency than ever before, where a simple touch of a screen can provide the type of information that can be crucial when the words “The Dolphins Are on the Clock” vibrate through the airwaves.
Let me take you, as I was taken Monday afternoon, into Dennis Hickey’s second floor office at the Dolphins training complex. There used to be a big magnetic board in this office where players were rated and, as their rating rose or fell, those magnets were moved accordingly.
Today, that big board has been replaced by a huge screen mounted on Hickey’s wall. He calls it a Smart Board. I call it a General Manager’s best friend. It is probably 80 inches in diameter and looks a lot like a Smart TV. But this baby is programmed for football, for scouting, for ranking players at each position and for giving the Dolphins the ability to change directions and to re-think their intentions far quicker than ever before.
“We wanted to push the envelope,” Hickey said. “We wanted to reach another level.”
As Hickey speaks, he calls up a list of draft rankings to demonstrate how easy it is to swap one player with another and how quickly he can access information. The Tampa Bay Bucs, Hickey’s old employer, installed this system a couple of years ago. The day Hickey was hired by the Dolphins, he began the process of bringing it here. There is already a Smart Board in Joe Philbin’s office. There will be two on the draft room wall, one for offense, the other for defense. It’s safe to say there isn’t a magnet left in the facility.
This is all part of Dennis Hickey’s master plan. If there is an advantage, Hickey wants to find it. If there is a more efficient way to do something, Hickey wants to explore it. If speed is an essential element in coming up with the most important decisions, Hickey wants to utilize the most up-to-date technology.
But it doesn’t stop there. Hickey is also creating an Analytics Department where numbers will be crunched like never before, where you can compare statistics and trends and all sorts of numerical oddities. It seems to me just like a scene out of Moneyball. That’s probably still a couple of months away, but you can hear the excitement in his voice when he talks about it.
“I’ve always been a number’s guy,” he said. “Having an analytics department will allow us to test conventional wisdom and have data and numbers work for you.”
I interrupted Hickey for a second. “There is nothing old guard about you, is there Dennis?” I asked.
He smiled: “Not really. The only thing old guard about me is scouting. It still comes down to boots on the ground, watching tape and looking into a player’s eyes. As valuable as these tools here are, they can never replace that.”
I remember when I first started covering the Dolphins back in 1980, Don Shula had a big board with an eraser and statistics written with black marker all over it. That was his computer. That was his technology. That was the only way he knew.
And now, 34 years later, the landscape is different; the technology is so much more advanced. Dennis Hickey would love nothing more than to duplicate the success Shula enjoyed; he simply has different tools now and some very neat things at his disposal.
Hickey is cutting edge. He is about speed and efficiency and making sense of thousands and thousands of pieces of information that are now hidden in the depths of that Smart Board on his wall.
“It all comes down to how we collect the information and how we access it,” he said. “We’re not doing technology for technology sake. We’re doing it to be quicker and more efficient.”
Hickey isn’t sure how many other teams have implemented a similar system. These are things that teams just don’t share with one another. His only concern these days are what the Dolphins are doing and how they are doing it.
Which is why he brought in the Smart Board. I can easily see it as a huge advantage on draft day when there are so many factors to process as the seconds grow short and the pressure builds. But this isn’t only about the draft. It can help in free agency, in evaluating your own roster, in evaluating opponents and in just about every other part of the scouting operation.
“This is still in the infancy stages for us,” said Hickey, standing in front of that big colorful screen on his wall. “There is so much we can still do with it.”
And then he summed it all up perfectly with one sentence. “It all comes down to wanting to be the best that we can be.”
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