The Miami Dolphins 2014 season and possibly their coaches future hangs on the shoulders, outstretched arms, and planted legs of the teams offensive lineman. Mike Pouncey will anchor the center once again, provided he doesn’t do or say something stupid between now and September. The question of how the Dolphins spread out from his position has been debated. This weekends rookie mini-camp may shed some light on what the Dolphins are hoping to see and the success of the Oline will come down to how well the rookies can handle their first NFL season.
The Dolphins are using Ja’Wuan James at right tackle. We knew that coming out of the draft. Third round pick Billy Turner was supposed to compete for the RG spot but it appears that the Dolphins are doing the smart thing. For a change. Turner is getting exclusive work at LG and will slot in between LT Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey. It’s a good spot for him given his style of play and physicality. Having Turner supported by two very good veteran lineman is a smart way to get your rookie up to speed.
Of course the veterans are not on the field at this camp with the players. Last years starting LG Sam Brenner who took over for Richie Incognito will have something to say about Turner starting the season. Turner and Brenner share similar qualities. Attitude and drive. This should build a very good competition come training camp and should make both players better which in turn makes the line better on the left side. Turner is still raw so the edge would have to go to Brenner at this point but Turner is going to push the 2nd year un-drafted lineman.
On the other side of the line the Dolphins are being equally intelligent as they are reportedly going to line up veteran Shelley Smith to play inside of James. The move would give James, a rookie, veteran support. Smith will face a challenge from last years draft pick Dallas Thomas but Thomas is not likely to push Smith out of a job anytime soon. Smith can be a mauler at times with solid run support blocking but more consistency would have elevated his free agent status. Regardless he will help shore a huge hole on the right side.
The Dolphins had one of the worst offensive lines last season, something I am sure you do not need to be reminded of. This year real competition will take place, something that could not be said for last year when Jonathan Martin lined up on the left next to Incognito, Pouncey was at center, John Jerry was at RG, and Tyson Clabo manned the RT spot. Going in to the 2013 season the line was set. Although questions regarding durability and in the case of Martin, the position, were questioned, there was no doubt who was going to start.
That is not the case this year for at least two positions and possibly three. Both guard positions will be up from grabs and a legit competition should be a focus of training camp. While Ja’Wuan James is the penciled starter as the teams first round pick, he won’t simply be handed the job as veterans Jason Fox and Nate Garner will both fight for playing time and that starting position. As they say, competition can only make you better and stronger.
The Dolphins for the first time have a real offensive line camp battle ahead of them. Promising young rookies from this years draft and a couple sophomore’s will vie for position. What was one of the weakest positions last year could be a strong one this year. Still it’s far too early to tell who will step up and who will fall behind and yes every year someone impresses and someone regresses. There is no guarantee that either of the rookies will have the impact that on paper seem to be a sure thing. The good news is that they simply will not be handed the job as so many have been in years past.
Consider this, John Jerry never lived up to his potential in Miami for whatever reasons. Richie Incognito was always a serviceable veteran. Despite his one Pro-Bowl, he was never seen as a long term solution but only the best solution the team had. Jonathan Martin was a better RT than he ever was a LT but the Dolphins put themselves in a position to rely on Martin being able to play the left side. Only Mike Pouncey has been the inline staple for the team. Behind all of that, nothing really materialized in terms of competition. The closest competition for playing time came yearly from Nate Garner.
Garner has been very solid for the Dolphins but injury history really kept him from becoming more. Able to play all of the line positions, Garner found his niche’ by giving the Dolphins a reliable off the bench lineman who could step in and play on a moments notice. He could start a few games when needed but again, he was never a long term solution. Outside of Garner the Dolphins simply had no competition. That will not be the case in 2014 when the team could very well have starting caliber offensive lineman on the 2nd team.
Whatever happens in 2014 however will surely rest on how well the rookies from this class and the youngsters from 2013 can acclimate to a physical and fast NFL.
For a very good read on Billy Turner, click here.