The Miami Dolphins lost more than a football game on Thursday night they lost Ja’Wuan James as well. James will miss at least a month with a toe injury that took him out of the game midway through the first half against the Patriots. Jason Fox filled in and the offensive line didn’t look the same. Now Miami faces a tough stretch without one of their best blockers.
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The Dolphins lost more than James as DeVante Parker hurt his foot and didn’t return to practice today and of course they lost Cameron Wake for the season with an Achilles injury. Wake will be missed but the Dolphins have depth at defensive end. Parker hasn’t made an impact this season. James however hurts an offensive line that has struggled with James in the game.
Miami’s offensive line struggles are well documented. Branden Albert’s absence showcased the lack of depth and now James’ absence will do the same. James isn’t a mauler and may be inconsistent at times but he is getting better each game and that is important for the teams development. The question now is can Jason Fox step up and succeed where he was unable to at left tackle?
The Dolphins can’t afford a dip in production on the offensive line because frankly anything less than what they have been doing now is unacceptable. They border on that now. The Dolphins have to find a way to not only protect Ryan Tannehill but open running lanes for Lamar Miller. It’s too late for this to be a coaching issue. The Dolphins simply lack the personnel to play solidly along the line with any degree of game to game consistency. The truth is each and every week questions about the offensive line play is made.
So far what has worked is the presence of Billy Turner who is playing much better than he has in the past. Turner is a physical player and now that Dan Campbell has asked his players to play with more physicality Turner is stepping up. It’s expected that he has bad games after all he has only played in a handful thus far in his career. Perhaps some of that is because he has been bookended by Mike Pouncey and James. Now he will have Fox on his right.
Fox has said that he has a “next man up” mentality but he needs to play far better than he has since he arrived in Miami last season. It’s obvious that his struggles are more than schemes. He simply hasn’t elevated his game to match what the Dolphins need. Let’s face it, the line doesn’t need to do much given the style of play they have on the offense. Yet he hasn’t shown enough to be adequate and on Thursday he didn’t have a good game in place of James.
The loss of James won’t be all season but if the Dolphins can’t get the line to block in his absence it won’t matter when he comes back because if the losses continue Miami won’t be playing anything more than a spoiler role down the stretch.
Miami needs James to get healthy and the target date appears to be the New York Jets four weeks from now. In the meantime Fox has to be more than the “next man up”. He needs to be the right tackle and take ownership of it.