When Tony Sparano was named the eighth head coach in Miami Dolphins history, he was a well regarded offensive line coach. In Dallas, Sparano was so good at his job that he also from time to time called plays. His offensive line was bought and paid for by Jerry Jones, Bill Parcells, and even Jeff Ireland. His arrival to Miami was thought to pay immediate dividends to a line that was in need of an upgrade.
Four years later and the Dolphins are still waiting for that Oline to develop.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is or who is to blame. Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland made Jake Long their first overall selection with their first draft. They signed bruising guard Justin Smiley away from San Francisco mere minutes into the start of their first free agent summer and appeared to have stolen a prize when they drafted Donald Thomas late in their first draft.
Now, Thomas is gone, Smiley spent a considerable amount of time in Miami injured and the offensive line still has yet to fully resemble what Tony Sparano was supposed to be great at.
Perhaps it is the questionable moves they have made and the risks they have taken to fix the offensive line that has the unit in such disarray that the focus of season success is being laid squarely on the units shoulders. The list of missed draft picks and eye-opening signings are worth examining. Swinging and missing once or twice is expected, but striking out to use a baseball analogy isn’t going to get you kudos.
The Dolphins need to find a plan and execute it, especially when you look at the draft picture from the last four years.
Sure the Miami Dolphins have tried. In 2008 they drafted Long at one. A great solid draft pick that has made the Pro-Bowl in every season. Then, they drafted Shawn Murphy in round four. Murphy was a surprise pick for the Dolphins and many tabbed him as a 6th rounder at best. The Dolphins felt they could shape into their kind of guy. They were wrong. Murphy lasted a season. In the 6th round they took Donald Thomas.
Thomas looked to be the stead of the Dolphins draft but an early season foot injury landed him on IR and the next year his failure to grasp the offense ended with his release.
When 2009 rolled around. Fans were still jacked up regarding the immediate one year turn around that saw Miami land atop the division and go to the playoffs. The Dolphins offensive line was listed as one of the best in the NFL heading into the season. The success of the Wild Cat a year before was not something that would propel the team into the playoffs in year two.
The Phins spent their 2009 draft picks in a wild and crazy manner. A 2nd round pick for Pat White, a third rounder on WR Patrick Turner, and a fifth on TE John Nalbone. All drafted at least a rounder earlier than predicted, and all three now out of Miami…two are out of the league entirely. The lone offensive lineman? Tackle Andrew Gardner in the 6th round. Gardner is no longer with the team.
2010 didn’t fair much better but not for a lack of effort. Jeff Ireland made Guard John Jerry his lone offensive line selection. A third rounder that today is struggling to grip the basic offense and may not be around when final cuts are made. This past April, the Dolphins added C/G Mike Pouncey to the unit as their 16th overall selection. While Pouncey is starting, it’s too early to dive into his future as an NFL player. The Dolphins failed to add another Olineman from this draft.
In four years of drafting, the Dolphins have had 32 selections of which 6 were offensive lineman. Of those six on three remain on the roster with John Jerry possibly on his way out. If the drafting wasn’t evidence enough as to why the team is in the predicament they are in currently with the unit, free agency has been almost as bad, if not worse.
There is no real reason to filter through the myriad of names that have come through the doors of the Miami Dolphins training facility. It’s easier to simply list some of them. Of those names that have rotated in and out of the Dolphins organization in the last four years, Jake Grove is likely the biggest name. Grove replaced Samson Satele at center when Satele was traded to the Raiders following the 2010 season.
Grove lasted through the 2009 and 2010 season before he left Miami. Richie Incognito who is still with the team and starting was signed prior to the 2010 season. Justin Smiley, mentioned earlier, was the first FA pick-up for the Bill Parcells era. His play was solid, his injury history continued. The list of free agent pick-ups for the Miami Dolphins offensive line, with moderate or better success…ends there.
The Dolphins have added players like Joe Berger, a former Cowboy and Dolphin who is a solid back-up but not a solid starter, Nate Garner who has all the tools to be very good but can’t stay healthy, and the list goes downhill from there.
Any Alleman, Ikechuku Ndukwe, Dan Heerspink, Brandon Frye, Mark Lewis, SirVincent Rogers, Andrew Hartline, Rey Feinga, Pat McQuistan, Jermey Purnell, Matt Kopka, Allen Barbre, Ray Willis, Marc Columbo, and Lydon Murtha. A few are still on the team, but considering the offensive line struggles, they are part of this rotating line that has no identity and can’t seem to play with any degree of continuity. Then there are those who didn’t last long or were waived/cut before stepping on the field.
The truth it the Dolphins powers that be, Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells hit on Jake Long. They may hit again with Mike Pouncey. But the rest of their moves have not played to expectations. Yes so far Richie Incognito is playing well and Justin Smiley did too while he was here. The issue lies with this simple fact…there is no stability on the offensive line.
Consider the shear number of retreads, never were’s, and long gone’s. What the Dolphins brass failed to do, are still failing to do, is add the offensive lineman that will enter through the turnstile instead of rotating with it. They have failed to add long term solutions to the problem and instead went for the inexpensive risk or the short term solution. Consider this season they passed on a G/C from the Giants, Shaun O’hara who was released for cap reasons and signed Columbo because of the familiarity they had with him in Dallas. Familiarity only buys you so much.
Now four years later, the offense is still a question mark. The right tackle spot is a question mark from someone who is actually playing worse than Vernon Carey, the right guard spot is being held down by Vernon Carey, and the center spot is being held by a rookie still earning his stripes. At least the left side will have Jake Long back when the season begins. Until then, it may be time for Jeff Ireland to bring some more unknowns into the rotating gate.