DAVIE, Fla. (AP) The Miami Dolphins’ revamped offensive line has been a concern since the start of training camp, when the first snap of the first practice landed on the ground.
Poor exchanges with the quarterback have been a persistent problem, and blocking is an even bigger worry. The Dolphins will have five new starters in the season opener, and one week into camp, two positions remain up for grabs.
Miami’s set at tackle with veteran newcomer Braden Albert on the left side and first-round draft pick Ja’Wuan James on the right. Daryn Colledge, a ninth-year veteran who signed in June, has plugged the hole at left guard. But the Dolphins have tried three centers with the first team and done even more shuffling at right guard, with spotty results.
The biggest test yet will come when the team scrimmages Saturday at the Dolphins’ stadium.
”Tomorrow is going to be important,” coach Joe Philbin said Friday. ”There will be no coaches on the field, so the players will have to figure it out. They have to make the calls. We’ll see how those guys sort things out for themselves.”
The offensive line was the Dolphins’ downfall last year. Ryan Tannehill endured a franchise-record 58 sacks, and Lamar Miller scored two touchdowns, the lowest total for a player leading the Dolphins in rushing since 1980. To compound matters, a troubled relationship between two starters – both now departed – mushroomed into a bullying scandal.
The blocking might not be any better this year, but at least chemistry has improved.
”All of us are gelling together,” Albert said. ”Even the backups are gelling together. It’s part of this team that has to come together at some point, and we will.”
Albert, who signed a $47 million, four-year contract in March, has quickly become the anchor in the line with the absence of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who is expected to miss at least a couple of games recovering from hip surgery.
Newcomer Shelley Smith, a reserve guard for most of his career, fared poorly in a tryout at center. Another option, Sam Brenner, missed several practices with a leg injury. Nate Garner, a utilityman for Miami since 2009, lined up with the first team Friday.
The right guard situation is also muddled, with Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, Brenner, Smith, Garner and David Arkin all possibilities. Thomas saw little action as a rookie last year, while Turner is a third-round pick who played tackle in college.
Much of the shuffling of personnel was planned before camp.
”We knew we wanted to get guys in different spots,” Philbin said. ”This is the period where we wanted to do most of our experimenting. We may do a little less next week.”
Smith said he and his fellow linemen don’t mind practicing at multiple positions, figuring it will give the Dolphins more flexibility and better depth.
”We have to be ready to hop in at different places,” Smith said. ”It’s part of being an o-lineman – you’ve got to be a smart guy and know what’s going on around you. It’s just part of the game.”
Philbin and his staff are trying to sort out personnel options while installing a new offense that emphasizes a faster tempo. But the first week of practice was marred by repeated breakdowns up front, including about a dozen botched snaps.
”You can’t win with the ball on the ground,” said Philbin, well aware the snaps will soon start to count.
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