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Dolphins still face vital draft decisions after signing of top pick

DAVIE, Fla. -- Despite being the top pick in the NFL Draft, Jake Long has a few flaws in his game.

He's not much of a tackler, he's too big to play cornerback and he doesn't throw or catch passes. It all means the Miami Dolphins still need a lot of help in the draft.

Long, a 315-pound tackle from Michigan, signed a five-year contract with $30 million guaranteed and worth up to $57.75 million Tuesday with Miami and will be the first pick. That takes the national spotlight off the Dolphins on Saturday, but they still face plenty of decisions that will help determine how quickly the new regime led by Bill Parcells can rebuild after last year's 1-15 fiasco.

"When you are 1-15, you have a bunch of needs," coach Tony Sparano says. "We're going to try to fill as many holes as we possibly can. We need linebackers, we need secondary players, we need receivers, we need linemen. We need a bunch of things right now."

General manager Jeff Ireland lists the core positions in the NFL as quarterback, left tackle, pressure defender, nose tackle, cornerback and No. 1 receiver.

"We don't have a whole lot of those core positions right now, to be honest with you," Ireland says.

Ireland and Parcells say they want to rebuild through the draft, and including the pick for Long, they have nine picks and four of the first 64.

The Dolphins' No. 2 selection starts the second round and is No. 32 overall -- the pick usually taken by the Super Bowl champions. Miami moved up one spot when New England was stripped of its first-round choice because of questions surround the team's videotaping operations.

The Dolphins signed Long after unsuccessfully shopping their No. 1 pick for multiple lower picks. But while they wanted to trade down in the first round, Ireland says trading up with the second pick is a possibility.

"It is something that will be explored," he says. "It will depend if the right player is there, whether we move back up in there and go after the player."

Such a deal might include the Dolphins' dancing defensive end, Jason Taylor. He has been the subject of trade rumors all offseason, even though Parcells last month said Taylor would not be traded.

Sparano, clearly an optimist, sees a silver lining in the thin roster he inherited. Draft decisions are simpler because so many positions need an upgrade, he says.

"It makes it a little bit easier for us," Sparano says. "We have so many needs right now, depending on which way the wind blows in the draft and where we feel like we should go, we're not landlocked into one thing. We don't have to have one player particularly."

For the second year in a row, Miami might use a first-day pick on a quarterback. In 2007 the Dolphins selected John Beck in the second round -- the highest they had taken a quarterback since Dan Marino in 1983.

Beck and recently acquired veteran Josh McCown are the top quarterbacks on the roster.

"We haven't played any games since I got here, so I haven't really seen these guys," Ireland says. "The bullets haven't been flying. We brought in a good veteran to compete for the job. They drafted a kid last year, Beck, who I've seen throw.

"There is a comfort level there, but anything can happen in the draft."

One possible choice is Long's college teammate, Chad Henne, projected as a second-round pick.

"He's a great quarterback, a great leader, and he did a lot of great things at Michigan," Long says.

Ireland estimates that nearly a dozen rookie quarterbacks will make NFL rosters this season. That could include San Diego's Josh Johnson, a likely second-day pick who threw for 43 touchdowns with only one interception last season.

The Dolphins can focus on such lesser prospects now that their No. 1 pick has been selected and signed.

"It is absolutely an advantage, because now we can work on what we are doing at No. 32 and what we are doing in regard to any trades," Ireland says. "We don't have to worry about anything else other than what we are doing from the second pick on."

Long will watch it unfold from New York, where he'll attend the draft free of the uncertainty the other top prospects face.

"It won't be that stressful, I guess," he says. "I can just relax and at least know where I'm going. So that will be nice."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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