The Dolphins are using training camp to try lineman at different spots along the line. Here’s a look at what happened on the offensive line during the second week of camp.
In last week’s article (click here), we saw that Dolphins’ offensive line coach Chris Foerster was experimenting with the offensive line, saying: “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.” Here are some highlights from the second week of training camp.
At the start of the week, per NFL requirements, the Dolphins released their first depth chart (see Brian Miller’s article). On the offensive line, the initial depth chart was as follows: left tackle (Branden Albert, Vinston Painter); left guard (Dallas Thomas, Laremy Tunsil, Jacques McClendon); center (Mike Pouncey, Anthony Steen, Jamil Douglas); right guard (Billy Turner, Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik, Ruben Carter); and right tackle (Ja’Wuan James, Ulrick John, Sam Young). We can infer a few things about the line from this chart and the second week of camp.
First, the Dolphins do not intend to replace Branden Albert with Laremy Tunsil, at least not this season. When Albert takes his days of rest, Tunsil indeed practices as the starting left tackle, his natural position. However, Tunsil’s primary work has been at left guard, where he is currently listed second behind Dallas Thomas. Dolphins’ fans might recall that, last season, Thomas played 1,053 snaps but was the worst rated Dolphins’ lineman of 2015 according to ProFootballFocus rankings. However, this is a new season and a new coaching staff, and reports so far have been that Thomas is having a good start to camp, with some credit for that going to head strength and conditioning coach Dave Puloka. However, if Thomas returns to his previous performance level and Tunsil learns the guard position, expect Tunsil to take over the starting spot.
Second, as expected and barring injury, the Dolphins’ starters appear to be set at three positions: left tackle (Branden Albert), center (Mike Pouncey), and right tackle (Ja’Wuan James). Interestingly, Jamil Douglas was listed as the third string center, a position where he played poorly when forced into action last year, rather than competing at guard, his natural position.
Third, the right guard position is the most wide open competition, where four players are currently slotted. Billy Turner, the Dolphins’ third round selection in the 2013 draft, is currently listed as the starter. In 2015 at right guard, Turner saw 787 offensive snaps, was below average in pass blocking, and was particularly bad against the run. Jermon Bushrod is likely Turner’s greatest competition, although, just like Tunsil on the left side, Bushrod is a tackle trying to learn and compete for a guard position. If Turner remains at his previous performance level and Bushrod learns the guard position, expect Bushrod to take over the starting spot.
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In the first preseason game against the New York Giants, the Dolphins followed the depth chart on the offensive line. The results were not great for the starters. Although one running play to the right side gained 6 yards, the starting offense had two possessions, two three-and-outs, little running room, and constant pressure on Tannehill. In other words, no difference from last season. The results did not improve when the next line came in, as the offense did not even get a first down until 7 minutes were remaining in the second quarter. Overall and despite the 27-10 win, the performance of the offense generally and the offensive line specifically was subpar and needs to improve quickly.
With the Dolphins breaking training camp next week, the battles on the offensive line will likely continue throughout the preseason. That competition should make the players better, and the hope is for a healthy and vastly improved offensive line both at the start of, and throughout, the upcoming season.