Positional Breakdown: Miami Dolphins 2015 Offensive Line
For about 3 seasons after Miami picked Jake Long first overall, the team had problems finding a quarterback to put behind their elite offensive line. Fast forward to 2015 and the concern has shifted to the men tasked with protecting the team’s franchise quarterback. While Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey are elite NFL linemen, questions linger about who will play the guard position for the Dolphins this season. In this article The Deep End will assess who the team’s options are heading into training camp, and which players could run away with the starting job by Week 1.
There are very few questions about Albert’s ability on the field. Outside of his medical issues, he has been one of the NFL’s best left tackles since he entered the league. Albert is elite in pass protection, and is also a very good run blocker. He possesses the strength to drive back even the largest defensive linemen, and can stonewall edge rushers. His 6’5 310lb frame makes him more agile than some larger tackles and serves him well in his footwork. Albert is easily a top 10 (possibly top 5) left tackle in the league when he is on the field.
Even our sure things are question marks. Miami left tackle Branden Albert was brought in as an experienced veteran to protect Ryan Tannehill’s blindside. The ex-Chief went down against the Detroit Lions with a torn Achilles, prematurely ending his season. Now, questions have risen as to whether or not Albert will be ready for the Dolphins’ season opener against the Redskins. If Albert is not ready at the start of the season, the Dolphins are in serious trouble. On an already thin offensive line, the presence of a Pro Bowl caliber tackle cannot be overstated. If Albert is able to suit up, it will be a huge boost for the Dolphins. Miami played very well when he was healthy in 2014, and Tannehill appeared more comfortable in the pocket. Branden Albert’s health will be a huge determinant in Miami’s ability to score and protect Tannehill this season.
It doesn’t get much better than Pouncey. Mike and his twin brother Maurkice are two of the best centers in the league, and have been since they joined the Dolphins and Steelers respectively. Both have the strength to drive back defensive tackles and the agility to navigate the pocket. Mike Pouncey has been a godsend for the Dolphins and has made his presence felt on the team in each of his 5 seasons.
Pouncey was the picture of health in his first years with Miami, but faced issues with his hip last season. Pouncey’s hip injury prompted the team to acquire Samson Satele to fill his spot at center, and when Pouncey returned he slid out to guard. I believe that the team should have retained Satele and left Pouncey at guard, but according to the team he will move back to his original position in 2015.
Pouncey was given a raise for a reason- he anchors the Dolphins’ line. He has an existing relationship with Tannehill and the two have developed a good rapport through their time together. Pouncey has been rehabbing this offseason, and as long as he is healthy in 2015, it will be business as usual for the Pro Bowl guard.
Ja’Wuan James was one of the top rookie right tackles last season, and looked to be the answer at the position early last year. After he was forced out of position by injuries to other players last season, James struggled and seemed to hit the rookie wall. This offseason he should continue to develop and hone his skills at his native position of right tackle.
James is a strong pass blocker, but struggles with his footwork against the run. If he can work on his technique, his run blocking will improve immeasurably. James also has to add upper body strength if he wants to avoid being thrown around as a second-year player. Ja’Wuan James has probably never been told in his life that he needs to add strength, but there’s a first time for everything.
This is an easy one: James will play right tackle. He is penned in at the position, and will spend his second season working specifically to improve at that spot on the line. James’ agility and quickness make him a good fit for Lazor’s zone blocking system, and he holds one of the three positions on the Dolphins’ line that are set in stone (barring injuries). The other two? Not so much.
The Revolving Door Formerly Known as Dallas Thomas-
Some Dolphins fans would be quick to jump out of their seats here and scream “NONE”. But Dallas Thomas does possess good agility, and was seen as a good mobile lineman coming out of Tennessee. As Miami fans saw, Thomas leaves much to be desired in terms of strength and technique. While he does serve a purpose as a pulling lineman, it is hard to peg Thomas’ skill set due to his lack of position. He has never really been able to settle into one place, and was swapped around on the line due to injuries. But the GIF posted above summarizes his last season, and shows why Miami fans are experiencing night sweats from nightmares about Thomas starting at guard in 2015.
Dallas Thomas has not performed well for Miami. This could be the understatement of the century, but it’s all there is to say. If Tannehill was sacked last season, chances are Dallas Thomas had just been knocked on his back. His quickness makes him a good fit in the zone blocking system, but he clearly struggled with his strength and lack of technique. In all fairness, the man never really had a position to develop his skills at. He moved around outside, inside, left side, right side, front side, back side, north side, south side, and every other side you could imagine. While it is still possible that Thomas could improve when placed consistently in one spot on the line, Miami fans should hope that he is replaced before the season begins.
I have already done a full breakdown on Jamil Douglas that you can view here, but I’ll reiterate the main points. Douglas needs to improve his motor and consistency if he wants to succeed in the NFL. While he has the physical tools to succeed, he can’t take plays off like he did at Arizona State. This is the classic tale of a player with all of the ability in the world who just has to be pushed in the right direction.
Barring the acquisition of free agent guard Evan Mathis, Miami has two unresolved spots on the line. Neither guard position has a clear frontrunner to start, so Jamil Douglas becomes the wildcard. If he can impress in training camp, there is a chance that he starts for the team in 2015.
Douglas is well suited for the left guard position, as he is more of an agile guard. Douglas is obviously a great fit in a zone blocking scheme, and I’m sure that everyone in the organization would love to see him pull away and win the starting job. The plan is definitely to have Douglas start at some point, the only question remains is if that can be sooner rather than later.
Billy Turner was an interesting draft choice for Miami last offseason out of NDSU. He dominated at the lower collegiate level, and displayed great potential at the Senior Bowl. Turner has good strength initially but needs to work on his ability to leverage and push with his lower body. However, he gets caught up with poor footwork and technique at times. Luckily for Miami, Turner has all of the intangibles, having come from an NFL family, and having graduated from college with high academic standing.
Rule of thumb: small school players need to take 1-2 years to develop and learn before they can be ready to start in the NFL. A player like Turner who played at the DI-AA level cannot possibly make the jump instantly to the pros. Unfortunately, the team’s issues at guard could force Billy Turner to learn fast and contribute as a second year player for Miami (Turner is also learning a new position, switching to guard after 4 years at LT in college). The good news is that Turner fits Joe Philbin’s profile for young players: 4-year starter with a high motor. Physical ability is not prioritized as highly as work ethic and a strong drive to compete. Philbin has demonstrated a general dislike for playing young players heavily, but Turner could see extended time on the offensive line due to the team’s lack of depth heading into next season.
WHO THE HELL KNOWS-
The moral of this entire story is as follows: pray. Pray that someone comes out of the woodwork. Pray that one of these mystery players can rise to the occasion. I’m talking to you Jeff Linkenbach. You too JD Walton. I hope Sam Brenner and Jason Fox are listening too. It is impossible to say which of these players could contribute for Miami this season on the offensive line. But the optimal scenario for the team is that one of these projected role players can rise up and help protect Ryan Tannehill in the pivotal 2015 season.