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September 11, 2009

Dolphins snap up former Tech center Grove in the offseason

By: Jimmy Robertson

Jake Grove spent five years in Oakland, but has changed addresses this summer, moving to Miami to play for the Dolphins.

Former Tech center Jake Grove may have spent the past five seasons in the NFL. He may have moved locales over the summer and signed a whopping new contract and celebrated his daughter’s first birthday.

But he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater – not by a long shot. And he offered some keen advice to the current crop of Hokies; some he hopes they will heed.

“My junior year, there was a lot of hype about our team, but we didn’t pan out,” Grove said, referring to the Hokies’ 8-5 2003 campaign that ended with a loss to Cal in the Insight Bowl. “We weren’t what people thought we’d be.

“You can’t worry about what people are saying. All you can control is going out and playing as hard as you can. If you take care of your business, then the rest will take care of itself.”

Grove, who won the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center following his senior season, hopes to get back to Blacksburg to watch the Hokies this season, but that depends on how the bye weeks fall with his new team, the Miami Dolphins.

Grove spent his first five seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him in the second round of the 2004 draft. But he signed a sweet free agent deal with the Bill Parcells-led Dolphins over the summer to the tune of $29.5 million over five years to be the starting center. The deal includes $14.5 million in guaranteed money.

Besides the money, Grove chose Miami for its stability. Parcells, the former Super Bowl winning coach with the New York Giants, runs the show down there as the executive vice president for football operations, along with general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano. Those three demand excellence and are fully committed to bringing the Dolphins back to prominence in the NFL.

“I like the stability here,” Grove said. “You get the sense that Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano are going to be here for a long time, and they have a proven track record. They know what they’re doing. It seemed every year I was in Oakland, we’d have a new coach or a new coordinator. But here, the staff is entrenched and I’m not going to have to learn a new offense every year.”

Grove admitted Parcells is a tough guy to say ‘no’ to as well, thus influencing his decision.

“Bill Parcells expressed an interest in me, and when a guy like that wants you, you don’t say no,” he said. “Once Miami showed an interest in me, I told my agent to focus on that and try to get a deal done.”

Jake Grove

Grove earned that contract by playing outstanding football for the Raiders last season. He started 14 of 16 games, missing two games with a calf injury, and he anchored the Raiders’ line.

Despite the good season, he couldn’t wait to get out of Oakland. The Raiders’ organization possesses a rich tradition, but has become a bit dysfunctional the past 5-10 years or so.

“I guess I can’t say too much because I got paid by them for five years,” Grove said. “It was tough. I enjoyed my time there, but there were a lot of ups and downs. I played well last year and that set me up for this new contract. I had a great year and that kind of put the icing on a cake that didn’t taste so well to me.”

In contrast, Grove moves to a team that made the playoffs last season in Sparano’s rookie campaign as a head coach. They finished with an 11-5 record and won the AFC East Division, but lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round.

In bringing in Grove, they have brought in someone to better handle some of the bigger nose tackles in the AFC – like New England’s Vince Wilfork and Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata.

“I’m excited,” Grove said. “I think we’re going to have a good team here. I don’t think many people are picking us to do anything even though the team did well last year, but that’s the way we want it. We just need to focus on winning each game each week. At the end of the year, we’ll count them up and see if we have enough.”

On the surface, Miami seems like an odd city for a country boy like Grove, who hails from outside of Lynchburg, Va. But so far, he, wife Kate and 1-year-old daughter Emma Whitney have enjoyed the city.

“Yeah, I like it here,” he said. “It’s interesting. You drive a few miles west and you’re in the swamps. You drive a few miles east and you’re on South Beach.

“We’re closer to home, though. It’s a two-hour flight from Miami as opposed to a cross-country flight. Fatherhood is going well. We celebrated her first birthday in June. She gives me that extra motivation to play for. We’re all looking forward to being here a while.”

Here is a list of former Tech players in the NFL (as of Sept. 6):

Baltimore Ravens

14 Justin Harper – Harper, a seventh-round pick of the Ravens in 2008, spent his rookie season on the practice squad. The Ravens cut him on Sept. 5, but signed him to their practice squad just a few days later and he’ll probably spend the season there again.

Buffalo Bills

93 Chris Ellis – Ellis, whom the Bills took in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, played as a backup at defensive end last season as a rookie, but only saw action in seven games. He missed the final four games of the season because of an ankle injury that resulted in him being placed on the injured reserve list. He finished with three tackles – all solo – on the season.

Carolina Panthers

50 James Anderson – Anderson, a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2006, enters his fourth season with the Panthers and hopes to get more playing time this season. He serves as a backup at the weakside linebacker spot, and a year ago, he played in the final six games and in eight games overall. He finished with three tackles (all solo) on the season.

47 Jeff King – King, like Anderson, enters his fourth season in the NFL, all with the Panthers, and serves as the starter at tight end. He played in 16 games a year ago and caught 21 catches for 195 yards, an average of 9.3 yards per catch, and a touchdown.

Chicago Bears

27 Kevin Jones – Jones’ season ended before it got started, as he tore a ligament in his ankle in the Bears’ final preseason game and will need surgery. He will miss this season.

Jones played sparingly last season while overcoming a torn ligament in his knee from the previous season. Jones, in his sixth season in the NFL and second with Chicago, spent his first four years in Detroit before signing with the Bears at the start of last season. He rushed for just 109 yards on 34 carries.

Cincinnati Bengals

17 Shayne Graham – Graham is entering his ninth season in the NFL and his seventh with the Cincinnati Bengals. The former Tech kicker started 14 of 16 games with the Bengals in 2008, missing two games because of a groin injury. He made 21 of his 24 field-goal attempts, with a long of 45 yards, and all of his 15 extra-point attempts.

Cleveland Browns

27 Nick Sorensen – Sorensen is starting his ninth season in the NFL and his third with the Cleveland Browns. He participated mostly on special teams for the Browns a year ago, while also serving as a backup at the safety spots. He played in all 16 games and had 26 tackles (20 solo) and a half of a sack.

Denver Broncos

19 Eddie Royal – Royal set the bar high for himself after having one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. He caught 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns, with his 91 receptions ranking as the second most by a rookie in NFL history behind Arizona Cardinals’ wideout Anquan Boldin (101). Royal started 15 games, missing one game with an ankle injury.

Green Bay Packers

37 Aaron Rouse – Rouse, now in his third season in the NFL, started six games and played in 14 overall for the Packers a year ago, missing two games because of injuries. A third-round pick in 2007, he recorded 53 tackles (39 solo) and two interceptions last season, one of which he returned 99 yards for a touchdown.

Houston Texans

11 André Davis – Davis, now in his eighth NFL season and third with the Houston Texans, figures to play a prominent role as a third receiver. A year ago, he played in 12 of the Texans’ 16 games – he missed four games because of an injured finger. He caught 13 passes for 213 yards and returned 43 kickoffs for 993 yards, an average of 23.1 yards per return.

76 Duane Brown – Brown went to the Texans in the first round of 2008 NFL Draft and started every game at left tackle for the team as a rookie. He’ll start at tackle again for the Texans this season.

52 Xavier Adibi – Adibi got off to a slow start for the Texans last season, his first in the NFL. But the former fourth-round pick worked his way into the starting lineup before missing the final two games of the season with a groin injury. He played in seven games, tallying 35 tackles (27 solo) on the year – 15 coming in a game against Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

17 Ernest Wilford Wilford’s career has stalled a bit of late following a solid season with Jacksonville in 2007 (career-high 45 catches). The former Tech receiver signed a free-agent deal with Miami after that season, but played sparingly in 2008 and the Dolphins ultimately moved him to tight end before this season in hopes that he could help them at that position. They later cut him and he re-signed with Jacksonville, the team that originally drafted him in the fourth round in 2004.

Kansas City Chiefs

24 Brandon Flowers – Flowers enjoyed a fine rookie season a year ago and figures to be the starter for the Chiefs this season. He started 12 games for Kansas City and played in 14 as a rookie, missing two games with a hamstring injury. The 2008 second-round pick ranked fifth on the team with 68 tackles (61 solo) on the season and two interceptions.

Miami Dolphins

64 Jake Grove – The former Tech center struck it rich in the offseason, inking a five-year deal worth $30 million with Miami after spending his first five years in the NFL in Oakland. While with the Raiders, he played in 54 games, starting 46 of them. Last season, he started 12 of 16 games, missing four games with an injured calf. He’ll be the starter for the Dolphins at center this season.

New Orleans Saints

31 Pierson Prioleau – Prioleau is now the longest-tenured former Hokie in the NFL, entering his 11th season of football. The former fourth-round pick in 1999 will be playing for his fifth NFL team, as he signed a free-agent deal this summer with the New Orleans Saints after spending last season with Jacksonville. The former Tech safety played in every game last season for the Jaguars, starting one of those, and had 26 tackles (25 solo) on the season.

New York Jets

87 David Clowney – Now in his third season in the NFL, Clowney spent last year with the New York Jets and goes into this season hoping to earn a prominent role at receiver. A year ago, he played in just two games with New York, catching one pass for 26 yards.

Philadelphia Eagles

7 Michael Vick – Vick heads back to the field following a two-year hiatus in which he served time for an off-the-field issue. He spent his first six years in the NFL as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, but signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he will be a backup quarterback and see time in special formations.

35 Macho Harris – Harris has taken his talents to the Philadelphia Eagles organization, which drafted him in the fifth round of this past April’s NFL Draft. Harris figures to be a third or fourth corner on a deep team until he better learns the Eagles’ schemes.

San Francisco 49ers

84 Josh Morgan – Morgan, a 2008 sixth-round pick, figures to have a big role for the 49ers this season after starting one game and playing in 12 overall as a rookie (he missed four games with a groin injury). He caught 20 passes for 319 yards (16 ypc) and three touchdowns. He also played on special teams, finishing with four tackles, including three solo ones.

Seattle Seahawks

55 Darryl Tapp – Tapp enters his fourth season in the NFL – all with the Seahawks – and is looking to build upon last season in which he recorded a personal-best 54 tackles. Tapp, who started the final 11 games for the Seahawks, added 5.5 sacks as well.

Tennessee Titans

22 Vincent Fuller – Fuller has gradually gotten better each year for Tennessee since joining the team as a fourth-round draft choice in 2005 and signed a three-year extension with the team back in February. He’s played in every game the past three years, including every one last season, and finished the year with 47 tackles, including 37 solo stops. He also recovered a fumble and forced a fumble.

Washington Redskins

DeAngelo Hall
23 DeAngelo Hall – Hall, like Grove, secured a financial windfall in the offseason, signing a six-year deal worth $54 million with the Redskins. He started last season with the Oakland Raiders, but the Raiders cut him on Nov. 5 and he signed a one-year, $429,000 deal with the Redskins just two days later.

Hall played in seven games for the Redskins, starting two of those. He registered 25 tackles (20 solo) and two interceptions. For the season, he recorded 73 tackles (63 solo) and five interceptions.

63 Will Montgomery – Montgomery has bounced around since entering the NFL in 2006 with the Carolina Panthers, but hopes to make a name for himself with the Redskins. He started last season with the Jets, but the Jets cut him on Oct. 14 and the former Tech center signed with the Redskins on Dec. 9. He has not played an NFL game since he played for the Jets in 2007.