DAVIE, Fla. — Hall of Famer and NFL analyst James Lofton isn’t sure Jonathan Martin can do the job at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins.
And Lofton, like Martin, is a Stanford graduate.
Hall of Famer Larry Little calls Martin one of the biggest question marks on the team.
And Little is a former offensive lineman for the Dolphins and a big fan of the team.
Even Miami coach Joe Philbin, who routinely praises players, admitted Friday Martin is having some problems with consistency.
While much of the focus in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio, will be on skill-position players, the most important thing for the Dolphins might be how Martin looks.
Martin has the unenviable task this season of having to replace Jake Long, a four-time Pro Bowler who bolted as a free agent to the St. Louis Rams. Suffice to say, Martin so far hasn’t exactly torn up training camp.
Martin had a holding call Friday on rookie defensive end Dion Jordan that nullified a downfield completion. That came a day after he was beaten badly twice by defensive end Olivier Vernon for sacks.
“(Vernon) got him a couple of times, once outside, once inside on a run-action pass,” Philbin said. “I think (Martin has) done a good job in drop back. I think his sets have been good. The thing an offensive lineman consistently has to work on is the timing of the punch, kind of like a boxer. It’s more like a jab, and so that consistency with the punch is one thing we need him to continue to work on.”
Vernon has had a very good camp, so some of it might have as much to do with his emergence as with Martin struggling. Philbin said he’s “very anxious to see” if Vernon can do to offensive linemen on other teams what he’s been doing to Martin.
The Dolphins didn’t want to pay big bucks to Long, who has had injury problems. So they’ve turned one of the most important positions on the team over to Martin, a 2012 second-round pick who had just an average season as a rookie at right tackle.
“I don’t think about that stuff,” Martin said about talk he might not be ready to be the guy protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. “I don’t think about outside noise.”
Come Sunday, at least Martin can start trying to shut it off.
Meanwhile, some other Miami players will be trying to create another kind of noise. It could mark the Dolphins debut of wide receiver Mike Wallace, the NFL’s most coveted free-agent signee last spring.
But Philbin said he’s “not sure” if Wallace even will play after being hampered during the week by a groin problem. So Wallace hooking up with Tannehill, which didn’t happen when Wallace sat out last Monday’s scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium, might continue to be on hold for game-type situations.
“I feel really good and really comfortable, confident that we’re going to be right where we need to be Game 1 (of the regular season), and that’s my focus, honesty,” said Wallace, a fifth-year man. “I want to go out in the preseason, run around, make some plays, hopefully. But I’ve been playing for a long time now. These games don’t count.”
So a speedy Wallace might not be running around. Still, one of the key things Philbin is focusing on most for Sunday is “play speed.” He also would love to see some forced turnovers and is hoping cornerback Brent Grimes can contribute in that area.
While with Atlanta, Grimes was lost for the season in last year’s opener due to a torn Achilles tendon. So he’ll be playing in a game Sunday for the first time since then.
“It’s cool,” said Grimes, who signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Dolphins last spring as a free agent. “It’s going to be fun. Even though it will be brief, probably, it will be a lot of fun to get back on the field.”
Philbin wouldn’t say how much his starters will play against the Cowboys, although it won’t be a lot. But since the starting job at running back isn’t decided, there could be some drama there throughout the game.
Second-year man Lamar Miller is expected to start Sunday, but he’s being pushed by third-year pro Daniel Thomas. Even Mike Gillislee, a rookie from Florida who has had some good moments in practice, can’t be ruled out. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Gillislee has a strong showing Sunday.
“It’s great,” Gillislee said of playing in his first NFL game. “It’s something that I always dreamed about.”
While the battle at running back could keep fans awake long after starters have left the game, so could competition at kicker. Incumbent Dan Carpenter had a shaky scrimmage last Monday and is being seriously pushed by Caleb Sturgis, also a rookie from Florida, who had a strong week of practice after recovering from a groin injury.
Still, the most intriguing rookie to watch Sunday will be Jordan, drafted No. 3 out of Oregon. He claims he’s mostly healed from shoulder surgery that kept him out of rookie minicamp in May and the first two days of training camp, although he was in no mood Friday to offer what percentage of the way he is back.
“I really haven’t put a percentage on myself,” Jordan said. “I’m not a battery.”
Nevertheless, Jordan often has looked energized going against Martin. Like the case with Vernon, does that mean Jordan is really good or Martin is nothing special?
The Dolphins sure hope it’s the former. Many observers, though, wonder if it’s a lot more of the latter.