By: Chip Turner
As the 2021 Dolphins pre-season progresses, anticipation for the regular season is growing. Eye-popping plays on both sides of the ball are giving rise to hope under the South Florida sun, but everyone is watching one particular area of concern - the offensive line. Inconsistent play, regression, and uncertainty are all-too-familiar descriptors for Miami’s O-line, and the concern is that it will once again be an Achilles Heel for the Miami Dolphins.
But will it?
The simplest answer is: It’s too soon to tell, because so far all we have are reports that sound more like questions than answers. Austin Jackson looks like he regressed one day, then rebounded the next day. Solomon Kindley is third-string, or is he back on the first team now? Is Michael Dieter really NFL-ready as a starting center, or is he just the best option Miami has? Who’s going to play right tackle? And what the heck is going on with Liam Eichenberg?
Dolphins fans (and some of the media) have whipped themselves into a frenzy about the line nearly a month before the season starts, and all I can think of is a quote from the irreplaceable and legendary George Carlin: “Calm down…have some dip.” Here are a few thoughts and reasons for optimism regarding the line play headed into the 2021 season:
1) Coach Flores values versatility among his linemen - I wouldn't get too caught up in who's taking snaps where at this point. Does Eichenberg playing guard mean he's incapable of playing left or right tackle? No, it does not. Kindley playing with the third team line also wasn’t the end of the world; he and Matt Skura seemed to have plenty of success opening holes in the run game this past week. Coach Flores has repeatedly stated that the team is working toward putting the best five players on the field to start Week 1, and they’re not going to be able to determine which unit that is without mixing and matching different players at different positions.
2) This line is (once again) very young, and literally half of the Offensive Line is new to the team this year. Larnel Coleman, Liam Eichenberg, Jermaine Eluemonor, Robert Jones, Greg Little, Matt Skura and Cameron Tom were all playing elsewhere in 2020. Anyone familiar with line play will tell you that continuity and cohesiveness are absolutely essential. This takes time, and it certainly isn’t going to happen in three weeks of pre-season. Yes, the rookies and second-year players are going to get knocked on their butts sometimes. That doesn’t mean they won’t get better together.
3) Speaking of continuity, an area that simply hasn’t been addressed enough is continuity at the OL coach position. In the NFL, coaching changes happen frequently, but the turnstile of Offensive Line coaches in Miami has been ridiculous. Quick…do you know the last time the Miami Dolphins had the same OL Coach for more than two seasons in a row? I’ll save you the trouble – it was 2011. Here is your list of Offensive Line coaches since 2011:
2011: Dave DeGuglielmo
2012: Jim Turner
2013: Jim Turner
2014: John Benton
2015: John Benton
2016: Chris Foerster
2017: Dave DeGuglielmo
2018: Jeremiah Washburn
2019: Dave DeGuglielmo
2020: Steve Marshall
2021: Lemuel Jeanpierre
The Dolphins have simply not been able to fix their line under any coach; they even gave coach DeGuglielmo three tries under three different regimes. Now, I'm not going to pretend to know OL coaching better than anyone else, and the Dolphins have used a mix of man blocking and zone blocking (in their RPO) in the past. Zone blocking is more difficult than man blocking, but there have been multiple occasions under multiple OL coaches over the past few years when a lineman assigned to an area was simply walking forward and completely out of the play with his hands raised, blocking nobody. That's one of the more basic rules in a ZBS; don't chase air. Seeing that at the professional level, along with the OL's inability to handle simple stunts, is completely inexcusable...and that is 100% on coaching. If there's one specific thing to place blame on Grier/Flores for, it's their inability to get the right coach for the OL. This is their third try in three years; let's hope Coach Lem gets it right.
So what does all this mean? Does it mean that we should all just stop worrying about the line and start singing “Kumbaya” if Tua gets pressured on virtually every snap Saturday night against the Falcons? No. It’s just a suggestion to take a breath and have a little patience…once again. I’m well aware that patience with Miami’s O-line is in short supply, and if things don’t get better by the first few games of the season, I’ll revisit the torches and pitchforks crew.
Until then, just listen to my pal George: