By: Jason Sarney
The elephant in the locker room for the 2019 Miami Dolphins was a dead-last overall offensive line. There is no way, or no reason to sugar coat this…it was bad and a major deterrent to the overall production of the offense, mainly the ground game.
The bad and the ugly of it was a tied for worst team in sacks allowed and leader in overall QB hits, in addition to sharing the lowest yards per carry average with the New York Jets at an abysmal 3.3 across their runners. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, as many know, led the Dolphins in rushing last season with 243 ground yards and four touchdowns. This is not a good thing.
The five offensive line spots from last season were an interchangeable rotation like a volleyball team, and no continuity was built, and a solidified team of blockers did not materialize. How did Miami fix this in the off-season?
Glad I asked.
Step one is philosophy, and that is new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, entering his 11th NFL season following three with the Jets most recently. Sure, the other last-place yards per carry unit was under Marshall’s watch, but he gets a chance to build a unit from scratch, and there could be a brand-new set of blockers on this line come September.
This leads into Step 2, which was free agency and the NFL Draft. As the off-season began, Miami made nice mini splashes on the offensive line with veteran guard/center Ted Karras from New England and guard Erik Flowers, who was a former 1st round pick for the New York Giants in 2015.
More importantly was the drafting of the next three Dolphins to meet with Miami media Saturday afternoon. The “Triple-Stack” of muscle and beef up front to help the ground game, rookies Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley. Those three mixed with Flower and Karras create a fab new five of a potential brand-new team within a team.
The “5 Guys” Offensive Line – a South Florida sun pre-cooked weight of nearly a metric ton, this group could deliver a huge improvement from 2019’s staff. Throw in a side of Michael Dieter and Jesse Davis, old staples that still have marketability, as well as an experimental summer item such as Donell Stanley and this menu could be very appetizing for hungry backs like Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. Different diets of course, but ultimately, all running backs in that room could be full of productivity thanks to their new offensive line sustenance.
The Triple-Stack of rookies, all individual in their personality as well as play, gave the Miami Dolphins 987 approximate pounds of beefed-up lean-line up front. Throw in another 317 with Stanley, and that is over a half ton of powerful additions to help move the chains and scales north, in a good way, from last seasons overall O-line ranks.
First rounder, Austin Jackson of USC, is a 6’5’’ 325 lbs. tackle who is just 21 years old. He was the 18th overall pick for Miami in the draft and should settle in at left tackle eventually. How fast could be based on his progress, of course, but so far he is up to the task.
On training and his strength and mobility this time of year compared to last year in college, Austin Jackson say, "Definitely. I am a year older, had a year of training. I am working with a great organization right now. It's getting better."
Jackson talked about the Brian Flores inspired physicality in practice, when he ripped fellow rookie Raekwon Davis' jersey off during a rep. Austin said, "you know it’s been fun. Coming out every day competing. We have great guys on both sides of the line." When asked if he said anything to him following the jersey rip, he said no.
When asked on training with veterans Shaq Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah and Kyle Van Noy, Jackson said, " They are all great rushers. They force me to bring out the best in me."
When asked about veteran leadership on the offensive line, specifically from Erik Flowers, Jackson said, "he has definitely been one to help us out." He adds, "I think across the board, we all work to make sure we are up to speed at the highest level."
Next up was forth rounder, Solomon Kindley from Georgia. Part of a nationally dominant collegiate line, Kindley has been seeing time at right guard, and this is not when he is saving lives as a former lifeguard.
A gifted swimmer, Kindley is now an insta-favorite and a contender for a Baywatch sequel. "You know, like you said, being a lifeguard, getting in that water, doing a lot of laps in the off-season, it helps a lot,” he said.
He added, “a lot of people don’t believe that I was a lifeguard.” He said that he "smoked everybody" in swimming races. He was also a basketball player & attributes his footwork to that aspect to his athleticism.
Kindley cites the veterans as well, saying they have been “teaching me the ropes of the game…teaching me how to play football on and off the field.”
He has a great head on his shoulders, and personality to match and said, "I'm blessed for the opportunity, anywhere my coaches put me to help the team win, that's what I am going to do." Solomon started the presser with a "Yes, Ma'am,” and a few "Yes, Sirs." He said, "I’m just blessed to be here."
He could be a massive key for running success as well as eventual blind side protection of a certain rookie lefty quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa. The former Bulldog will help protect the former fellow SEC’er and at 6’4’’ 339, it’s a safe bet Kindley could anchor that interior part of the right side for hopefully many years to come.
Finishing the lunch-time order of linemen was Second rounder, Robert Hunt, is perhaps the best rookie story of this team. He starred at Louisiana-Lafayette before becoming the 39th overall pick for Miami in April. At 6’6’’ and 323 pounds, Hunt is massive as much as he is athletic and could be a future Pro-Bowler for the Dolphins.
He has been getting reps at guard and tackle so there is still some debate on where he will play. He says, "I think I can play both. I will be able to play both well.”
He cites many are getting cross-training on the line, as they are “trying to figure this thing out.” He is aware this is a work in progress and stated, “nothing is ever easy, so trying to learn this game...get better at it.”
Jackson corroborated this, and said, “we are all coming in working day in and day out." "Offensive line is definitely a group that is tight-knit."
Kindley agrees, and is very happy to have his co-rookies with him in Miami…"God blessed us to be in this position that we are in."
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