Miami likely to use patchwork offensive line again this week
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 14, 2016, file photo, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey walks off the field after the NFL football teams minicamp at the Dolphins training facility in Davie, Fla. With three starters hurt, the Miami Dolphins will likely have a patchwork offensive line when they try for their sixth consecutive win Sunday against the 49ers. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Miami Dolphins practice began Wednesday with center Mike Pouncey ailing and absent, left tackle Branden Albert working on the side under a trainer's supervision, and left guard Laremy Tunsil shaking out the kinks in a sore shoulder that forced him out of last week's game.
The Dolphins have had a hard time keeping their best blockers on the field together, and they probably won't be there Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
''It's very worrisome,'' Albert said. ''When things are going good, you want to keep them going good.''
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A healthy offensive line was a catalyst for Miami's turnaround, helping Jay Ajayi rush for 529 yards during a three-week stretch. That was part of the current five-game winning streak that has propelled the Dolphins (6-4) into the playoff hunt.
But with Albert and Pouncey out last Sunday, and Tunsil missing the second half, Miami failed to convert its first 10 third-down chances and was shut out for 55 minutes before rallying past the Los Angeles Rams 14-10.
Miami's left tackle in the second half was Sam Young, who replaced Tunsil, who had replaced Albert. Anthony Steen started for Pouncey, and Kraig Urbik started at left guard. The replacements might all be in the lineup again this week.
''It affects everyone, because you want consistency there,'' Ajayi said. ''But it's next man up. We'll play with who's in there.''
Albert, Pouncey and Tunsil have started only four games together, and Miami won them all. Their run blocking helped the Dolphins control the clock, keeping the defense fresher and more effective while easing the burden on quarterback Ryan Tannehill , who has committed only one turnover during the winning streak.
San Francisco is 1-9 and ranked last in the NFL in defense, so the Dolphins might be able to get back for another week with backup blockers.
Among the three who are ailing, Tunsil is the most likely to return Sunday. The rookie first-round draft pick was limited in practice Wednesday and afterward declined to discuss his status.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen estimated Tunsil's chances of playing this week at 50-50, but said preparations will be made to go without all three first-teamers.
''I hope they're all healthy,'' Christensen said. ''I hope they all make a miraculous recovery. But you've got to make your plan. You've just kind of got to go with the knowledge you've got today, because otherwise you get your heart broken and you get projecting and making mistakes on the game plan.''
Albert is recovering from a dislocated left wrist that required five people to snap back into place. He has switched from a cast to a brace and said he'll play Sunday if he has enough strength in his hand.
''It's coming along day by day,'' he said. ''I wouldn't rule me out. I'll be back sooner rather than later.''
Pouncey's absence will likely be the longest. The Dolphins hope he can return before the end of the season, but he's nursing a recurring hip injury that also sidelined him for first four games of the year.
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