Dolphins’ offensive line: regular season opener preview

Sept 1, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; A general view of Hard Rock Stadium prior to the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Sept 1, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; A general view of Hard Rock Stadium prior to the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

With training camp and preseason over, the Dolphins have made decisions regarding their offensive line for the start of the regular season. Here’s a look at the offensive line heading into the regular season opener at the Seattle Seahawks.

During training camp and the preseason, we saw the Miami Dolphins continuously experiment with the offensive line. That experimentation helped the Dolphins make decisions about who to start, who to maintain on the roster, who to cut, and who to add to the practice squad.

Beginning with the starters, three of the names listed first on the Dolphins’ offensive line depth chart did not change from last year: Branden Albert will start at left tackle, Ja’Wuan James will start at right tackle, and Mike Pouncey is listed first at center, though all signs are that Anthony Steen will take Pouncey’s place in the starting lineup against Seattle.

As for the new starters, after being selected by the Dolphins in the first round of this year’s draft, Laremy Tunsil will start at left guard. Clearly, Tunsil convinced the coaches that he is best prepared to take over this guard spot despite being a tackle in college. A similar scenario is taking place at the right guard spot, where Jermon Bushrod is converting to a guard from tackle. Again, Bushrod is taking the guard position after beating out competition for that spot.

In terms of backups who made the 53-man roster, Anthony Steen is presently the most important. Readers might recall that Steen won a national championship with Alabama, but he still went undrafted during the 2014 NFL Draft. The Arizona Cardinals signed Steen as a rookie free agent, and he spent the entire 2014 season and part of the 2015 season on the Cardinals’ practice squad. After Steen was released by the Cardinals, the Dolphins signed him to their practice squad for the remainder of the 2015 season. Now, Steen will substitute for Pouncey for as long as he is out with an injury and perhaps longer should Steen demonstrate that Pouncey would better serve the team at another position.

Other back-ups are more familiar to Dolphins fans. Dallas Thomas will serve as Laremy Tunsil’s backup at left guard, while Billy Turner will backup Jermon Bushrod at right tackle. The other lineman to make the roster is Kraig Urbik, originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and played for Buffalo for 5 seasons, who is listed third on the depth chart at center.

The most surprising change along the offensive line might involve Jamil Douglas, the Dolphins’ fourth round draft choice (114th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. After serving as an injury substitution for Pouncey at center last year, Douglas was cut and then signed to the practice squad. The other offensive lineman on the practice squad is Ulrick John, Jr. Fans might recall that the Dolphins signed John off the Colts’ practice squad on Halloween 2015, and John appeared in 2 games for Miami as a backup tackle last season.

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Other players who participated in training camp were neither maintained on the active roster nor signed to the practice squad. Ruben Carter had joined the Dolphins as a rookie free agent out of the University of Toledo. Jacques McClendon’s inconsistent tenure with the team came to a close after he failed to demonstrate that he was worthy of his one-year, $840,000 veteran contract. Vinston Painter will try to join another team after playing in only 2 games in his first 3 NFL seasons. Finally, despite contributing on special teams and at tackle, the Dolphins and Sam Young have parted ways.

The preseason demonstrated that the offensive line appeared to work well for pass protection. Success will also depend on that line (no matter who is in there) providing good run blocking for starter Arian Foster or whomever else is coming out of the backfield.