Dolphins Training Camp Preview — Offensive Line

The Miami Dolphins are a week away from the start of training camp on Friday, July 27th.  Much focus will be on the battle between Garrard, Moore, and Tannehill for the starting QB position.  Another focus will be on the battle for the starting positions at safety and wide receiver.  And yes … here we ago again … there will be focus on who will start along the offensive line.  This seems to have been a re-occurring theme over the last several years.

May 22, 2012; Davie, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long (77) during organized team activities at the Dolphins training facility. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

So, let’s take a Dolphins Training Camp Preview of the Offensive Line.  As the preview of the players in camp is detailed, keep in mind that the unit will be undergoing a change from last season.  The unit will be implementing a zone blocking scheme in an up-tempo offense that will not only stress the defense, but test the stamina of the offensive line unit.  The zone blocking scheme will place a heavy emphasis on mobility versus the power blocking of the past.

Please note that the Dolphins will likely carry eight (8) offensive linemen on the 53 man roster.  Therefore, the projected back-ups below reflect this number with an emphasis on position flexibility.  However, keep in mind the salary cap impact by each back-up player — the Dolphins would love to resign to longer contracts some of the big 2013 free agents like Jake Long, Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, and Sean Smith.

Center

Projected Starter:  Mike Pouncey
Projected Roster Back-up:  Ryan Cook
Others:  Terrance Brown (r)

The starting Center position is pretty much settled, barring any injury to Mike Pouncey.  Last year’s first round draft pick had a good, maybe even great, rookie season.  At 6’5″ and 303 lbs, Pouncey is strong, athletic, intelligent, and durable.  He should transition well into the zone blocking scheme and has some experience with an up-tempo offense (playing at Florida in college).

Ryan Cook will provide a serviceable back-up to Pouncey.  At 6’6″ and 328 lbs, Cook is in his seventh NFL season and capable of playing multiple positions on the line.  However, the fact that he is slightly on the heavy side for the zone blocking scheme and the fact that he is due to make $1 million in 2012 might make him subject to being let go at the end of training camp.  Keep in mind that both Richie Incognito and Nate Garner can also play the center position.

Guards

Projected Starters:  Richie Incognito (LG) and Artis Hicks (RG)
Projected Roster Back-up:  John Jerry or
Ray Feigna
Others:  Derick Dennis (r), Josh Samuda (r)

Richie Incognito seems to have the LG position locked up.  The 6’3″ and 328 lb veteran is in his eighth NFL season and has been a steady performer for the Dolphins over the last couple of years — pleasantly staying out of on-field troubles.  The key with Incognito will be his transition to the zone block scheme — he is more known for his power blocking than his mobility.

The RG position seems up for grabs.  Artis Hicks, the 6’4″ and 325 lb journeyman guard/tackle in his eleventh NFL season, is likely the leader at the position heading into training camp.  He seemed to pick up the zone blocking scheme quicker in OTAs and mini-camp than his challenger for the position, John Jerry.  Jerry, at 6’3″ and 328 lbs, is in his third NFL season.  Despite not being a free agent until 2014, Jerry may be in his make or break season.  More suited for a power blocking scheme, Jerry has been a disappointment since being drafted in the third round of 2010.  I think he actually might be trade bait before the end of training camp — he might fair better in new surroundings — although, he is only set to make $540,000 in 2012, which is relatively cheap in comparison to Cook, Murtha, and Garner.  Ray Feigna, at 6’4″ and 337 lbs, seems way too heavy for the zone blocking scheme.  If Jerry is traded and Feigna (also set to make $540,000 in 2012) is cut, then Garner provides a solid back-up guard, who can also play tackle.

Tackles

Projected Starters:  Jake Long (LT) and Jonathan Martin (RT)
Projected Roster Back-up:  Lydon Murtha or
Nate Garner
Others:  Will Barker, Andrew McDonald (r), Dustin Waldron (r)

The two tackle positions, in my opinion, are locked up entering into training camp and maybe for the first game of the regular season.  Jake Long, the 6’7″ and 317 lb former first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and four time Pro Bowler, will be the starting LT on opening day, barring any injuries.  Hopefully, Long is fully recovered from the nagging injuries that hindered him last year and will have another All Pro season in 2012.  Jonathan Martin, the 6’5″ and 304 lb rookie out of Stanford selected in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft, will likely be the starting RT on opening day, barring him completely falling flat on his face in the transition from college LT to NFL RT.  I think and truly hope that Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin will place Martin with the first team on Day 1 of training camp and let him sink or swim with the first team during the entirety training camp — let him develop synergy with the first team and be challenged every day by the pass rush of Cameron Wake.  I think he will swim well and wind up being selected for the 2012 NFL All Rookie Team upon the conclusion of the season.

Lydon Murtha and Nate Garner will be in the hunt to make the 53 man roster — they will not only battle each other, but also Jerry and Cook, all who can play multiple positions on the offensive line.  Lydon Murtha is 6’7″ and 315 lbs starting his 3rd NFL season.  Garner is 6’7″ and 325 lbs starting his fifth NFL season.  These two guys are relatively high priced back-ups and it will be difficult to keep both given the salary cap hit — Murtha is set to make $1.927 million in 2012 and Garner is set to make $1.4 million.  The one (of these two guys) who stays with the Dolphins may be the one who stays healthy — both have had their injury difficulties, but when healthy have shown good play.  Personally, I am going to keep my eye on Dustin Waldron.  Waldron is a 6’5″ and 305 lb undrafted free agent rookie out of Portland State, who actually participated in the 2012 NFL Combine and ran 5.34 seconds in the 40 yard dash, bench pressed 225 lbs 29 times, and ran the three cone drill in 7.93 seconds.  Waldron, who can also play guard, may wind up being a pleasant surprise.

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Conclusion

It will definitely be an interesting training camp for the offensive line.  The main focus will likely be on the RG position battle between Hicks and Jerry and maybe even someone else — who may not even be on the roster at this time, such as former Titans guard and current free agent Jake Scott.  When the time comes to pick the 53 man roster, it will certainly be interesting to see who is sent packing and become an “acorn” fallen from the Dolphins tree.

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What do you think?  Who will be the starting five on the Dolphins OL and who will be the three back-ups?

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Check back to PhinPhanatic.com for more Training Camp Previews between now and Friday July 27th.  And, as always, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Topics: Artis Hicks, Dustin Waldron, Jake Long, Jeff Ireland, Joe Philbin, John Jerry, Jonathan Martin, Lydon Murtha, Miami Dolphins, Mike Pouncey, Nate Garner, NFL, Ray Feinga, Richie Incognito, Ryan Cook

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