Most of this off-seasons changes have been concentrated on the coaching and stadium renovations but with OTA’s wrapping up focus is starting to shift to the players who ultimately will decide what happens in the win/loss column.
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A major change is expected on the offensive line this year and if those changes turn out close to the very early expectations the Dolphins offensive line could be great. A huge change over the past six years.
Make no mistake, coaching will have a huge impact on this unit but the players that have been added and/or are now healthy will make the biggest impact. It’s hard not to look at first round pick Laremy Tunsil and immediately label the offensive line improved. He is however only one part of that line.
Tunsil is expected to start at guard for the Dolphins on the left side. Branden Albert will man the left side tackle position. Albert is a major key to the Dolphins success. He had a very good season last year that ended with his 2nd Pro-Bowl appearance. He says that he is in the best shape since arriving in Miami.
With the left side considered fixed and Mike Pouncey returning at center after a Pro-Bowl season in 2015, focus is shifting to the right side where guard is still a concern and right tackle success will depend on Ja’Wuan James’ recovery from his toe injury that sidelined him most of last season.
James has a lot of potential and with good coaching, he should be able to reach that potential. 2016 will be his third in the NFL and it’s time that he turns the corner from serviceable to good or excellent.
The only position right now that is a concern not including questions with health is right guard. The Dolphins expect Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas, and Jamil Douglas to compete for the starting role. Miami also added to their roster this off-season.
Jermon Bushrod was on the verge of calling it a career after injuries led to him losing his job with the Lions last season. Bushrod is in Miami on a short deal but he could easily challenge for playing time at the right guard position if not for the starting job given the questions at the position.
Bushrod is versatile and can play up and down the offensive line making him a viable back-up option. He wasn’t the only addition who will make the biggest change at the offensive line however. The Dolphins have consistently lacked quality depth all over the line but players like Bushrod should give Miami quality players behind their starters.
Kraig Urbik is a guard/center who will provide depth at both guard positions and behind Pouncey and Sam Young will provide very good depth at the tackle positions. Urbik has 8 years of experience and Young has six. The Dolphins have bargain shopped for back-ups in the past but these three are a little different. They have talent and are not necessarily playing to reach retirement or were simply taken off the “what’s left trash bin”.
Overall there is reason to be optimistic. With solid starters at four of the five positions and back-ups with starting resumes, Miami will have some flexibility on the line for the first time since Tony Sparano coached his first season with Miami.
The onus of production inevitably lies on the shoulders of the players but coaching and preparation is important to get them ready and to get the right pieces in the right places. That will be something important to watch in training camp at the end of July.
Over the past five years including the final years of Sparano, the Dolphins have practiced more of a rotation of players across the line which led to continuity and consistency issues. It’s too early to tell if this coaching staff will do the same or let the line grow together as a unit but with expectations being higher in 2016, my guess would be the latter.