Training Camp Preview Part 3: The Offensive Line
This is the group that determines the fate of the 2016 Dolphins more so than any other. The strides made from the revamped coaching staff will be apparent from day one, but the new and improved line may take some time to gel and find cohesion. Playing in synchrony is one thing, but we’re also only a couple of injuries (amidst an extremely injury prone group) away from the one thing that might be more terrifying than the thought of Joe Philbin roaming our sidelines again – Dallas Thomas.
The ‘Phins cannot afford to continue to let Ryan Tannehill get hit at his current rate. That will make it awfully difficult to expect him to make the necessary strides to justify that $20 million figure his contract jumps to next season. When the trio of Mike Pouncey, Ja’Wuan James and Branden Albert play together, this team is 6-1. The problem there is that we’ve had that trio on the roster for 32 games and a three headed monster is rather castrated when it’s only available 22 percent of the time.
The starting line-up I’m proposing features four first rounders and one third round pick.. It’s time they start playing like the highly regarded commodity they are.
Left Tackle: #76 Branden Albert –
Big Al has been an elite offensive lineman since his time at the University of Virginia. A first round draft pick of the Chiefs, he signed with the Dolphins in 2014 for nearly $50 million. He solidified the line for the first 10 games but a gruesome knee injury put him on the shelf and contributed largely to the collapse of the Dolphins’ season. Last year he was shaky at the start playing on a recovering knee but, as he regained strength, there were flashes of his previous form. He’s got a clean bill of health, for now, and all indications are that he can regain pro-bowl status.
Left Guard: #67 Laremy Tunsil –
Laremy Tunsil was slated to be the first pick in the draft for months prior to the ‘Bonghazi’ photo leak that showed the All-American smoking the ever dangerous (sarcasm) marijuana from a gas mask. Tunsil’s misfortune was the Dolphins’ big break. Touted as one of the top left tackle prospects to come out this decade, Tunsil has exceptional feet and sound technique. He was suspended for half of the 2015 season and the Ole Miss offense averaged 104 rushing yards, 411 total yards, and allowed three sacks per game. Those averages changed dramatically to 201 rushing yards, 514 total yards and just one sack per game upon his return. Tunsil can play left tackle if needed (and we will since our LT is made of Cheetos and Popsicle sticks) but he can have an immediate impact at guard.
Center: #51 Mike Pouncey –
He may not make the best choices off the field, but Mike Pouncey has never been a problem on the field. He is somewhat over-rated by Dolphins fans and the experiment at guard was a disaster. But he’s a quality center, a veteran leader and is well-respected in the locker room. He’s in year two of a five year contract so unless he takes over his buddy Aaron Hernandez’s former gang leader job, he’s going to be here for a while.
Right Guard: #77 Billy Turner –
Before you gather your pitchforks and form a mob, understand that Turner has been under the tutelage of some of the worst coaching the NFL has ever seen in his brief career. Position juggling, scheme change, lack of general idea of what the hell we’re trying to accomplish, Turner has certainly seen his fair share of instability. At North Dakota State, he was a quick slide step left tackle with the ability to get out in front of the run game down the field. The team needs to stick him at guard and keep him there. When Dan Campbell took over, Turner executed some gorgeous wham blocks that led to big plays. He also raced out in front of Jarvis Landry on that historic touchdown scamper against Houston hitting a key block down the field. He’s position diverse too, which plays into Coach Gase’s strategy of dressing only seven linemen for game day.
Right Tackle: #70 Ja’Wuan James –
Alopecia be damned, James stepped into what was known as a “bullying” atmosphere and handled his business from day one. He wasn’t without some minor faults as a rookie and, when he switched to left tackle, the wheels sort of fell off, but he’s a more than adequate right tackle. The team struggled immensely when he was lost for the year in 2015 and his return is going to be a sight for sore eyes.
Swing Tackle/Sixth Man: #74 Jermon Bushrod –
I’m sure he signed here with the intentions of being one of the first five, but Jermon Bushrod is exactly what the Dolphins have needed the past two years. A position versatile veteran with the ability to come off the bench and not get beaten into submission like the psyche of Jonathan Martin in an NFL locker room. Martin, Marc Colombo, Tyson Clabo, Jason Fox, this team has seen some atrocious right tackle play since James got here and with a pair of tackles that have missed a lot of games the last two years, having a quality swing tackle is vital. He was with Adam Gase last year in Chicago and is probably the first guard off the bench as well.
Top Interior Reserve: #75 Jamil Douglas –
Despite being a complete dumpster fire last year, Douglas fits into this role nicely. He’s a guard by nature starting 27 consecutive games inside for Arizona State before kicking outside to tackle. He played some center last year when Pouncey went down so, like everyone else, he’s position diverse. He’ll be the top center off the bench and the second call at the other four positions.
On The 53: #60 Kraig Urbik –
A veteran guard coming over from rival Buffalo, Urbik is in direct competition with Douglas. We should all hope that Douglas wins that jaunt but, if not, we’re in good hands with Urbik. He plays with a real mean streak and has 57 career starts along with 84 total appearances.
Practice Squad: #65 Anthony Steen –
A starter on back to back national champion Alabama teams in 2011 and 2012, Steen spent 2014 and 2015 with the Cardinals practice squad before being signed to Miami’s practice squad late last year. He fits the mold of an Adam Gase lineman and could develop down the line.
Camp Casualty: #63 Dallas Thomas –
I’m trying to do these in order in terms of who is closest to making the roster, but I needed to axe Thomas as quickly as possible. We’ve seen Thomas get beat by the bull rush, the speed rush and the phantom rush where Thomas kind of just fell in the hole and tripped the tailback. He may be the worst player the Dolphins have ever rostered and yet he still got playing time under Philbo the Clown.
Camp Casualty: #79 Sam Young –
Sam Young is certainly in the mix for that number eight lineman job with Kraig Urbik but his lack of versatility will be what does him in. He’s a lifelong Dolphins fan and a 29 year old veteran with special teams and starting tackle experience. He’s been bounced around from some bad offensive lines so I don’t expect any kind of light to suddenly turn on.
Camp Casualty: #68 Ulrick John –
The dyslexic ordering of his name is enough for me to want to cut him. Moniker aside, John was signed off the Colts practice squad last year on Halloween when the Miami line was in shambles.
Camp Casualty: #71 Vinston Painter –
His name sounds like a German trying to pronounce the name Winston and he’s on his fourth team in four years. Perhaps nobody likes a guy named Vinston.
Camp Casualty: #66 Jacques McClendon –
McClendon was supposed to be an “in case of emergency” guy last year but the only emergency was signing and waiving him four different times. Just put the guy out of his misery already.
Camp Casualty: #64 Ruben Carter –
Remember at the start of Hard Knocks in 2012 when the Phins cut the kid that showed up and didn’t even have a chance to unpack his bag into his locker? Carter might make it to lunchtime, so I hope he enjoys that meal.
Every team could say this about every position on the field, but injuries appear to be the only thing that could knock this line off the rails the way it was under Philbin. There are bonafide starters at every spot with quality depth behind them. It’s a good mixture of youth and experience that I think, ultimately, will be the voice of this team. These guys are going to love creating chances for that young skill set.
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