The success of this year’s offense depends greatly upon the performance of the offensive line. Let’s look at what happened on the offensive line during the first week of training camp.
Heading into training camp, the starting offensive line hopes to remain healthy and a number of players hope to make the roster and provide the Dolphins with quality depth. The first week of training camp provided just a glimpse into whether those goals will be met.
With injuries sidelining or hobbling the starting lineman at one point or another last season, the first question is whether those injured starters would come back healthy. Center Mike Pouncey declined an invitation to the Pro Bowl in order to undergo surgery and begin his recovery, and his camp performance so far has demonstrated that this was a prudent strategy. Similarly, Branden Albert entered camp hoping to be fully healed from his 2014 knee injury and 2015 hamstring injury, and results so far have been promising. Still, Coach Gase plans a cautious and proactive approach with Albert (and other players), giving him two days of rest so far. Training, conditioning, and coaching appear to be off to a good start for the offensive line.
Branden Albert has also taken on another vital role on the line – mentoring rookie Laremy Tunsil (see, for example, http://www.miamidolphins.com/news/article-4/AC-In-The-AM-Albert-Clearing-A-Nice-Path-For-Tunsil/63510c27-9202-41f7-84c7-92f6c356b036). Remembering how veteran guard Brian Water mentored Albert when he was a rookie, Albert views it as his role to teach Tunsil the right way of doing things, both on the field and in the team rooms. While focusing on thoroughly knowing the Dolphins’ playbook, the players also talk about life, past mistakes, and moving forward. The Dolphins are fortunate to have both of these players on the field and working together.
As for Tunsil, the rookie has so far impressed Albert. Besides saying that Tunsil is “a more freakish athlete than I ever was,” Albert described Tunsil as dominant and able to make the Pro Bowl this year. His toughness and attitude were evident during the August 1 practice, when Tunsil tussled with defensive end Chris McCain during a practice drill. Tunsil has been working primarily at left guard, sometimes right next to Albert. It is not expected that Tunsil will unseat Albert as starting right tackle, his natural position, this year. Still, when Albert took his day of rest, Tunsil practiced as the starting tackle.
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That is not to say that Tunsil has earned a starting position yet. Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster made clear that the depth chart has not been set. Instead, the Dolphins are using training camp to try lineman at different spots along the line. As Foerster said: “This is the first year in the offense. We’re mixing and matching the positions right now trying to give everybody a chance to compete and see what our best lineup is. It will be going on the whole season.”
Hopefully this experimentation is the biggest explanation for the struggles the offensive has seemingly had against the defensive line. Regardless, it is still early in camp, and the offensive line has plenty of work (and optimism) ahead.