The Miami Dolphins offensive line has been a work in progress for over ten years. In that time the Dolphins have thrown money at the problem with high priced free agents; they’ve used high draft picks on offensive linemen; they’ve even taken some chances on some players.
However, most of these attempts to fix the line were largely unsuccessful. And even as we approach the 2015 season the Dolphins still have question marks on the line.
Things started to go downhill during the 2004 season. Dave Wannstedt resigned after starting 1-8 and Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates finished the season at 4-12 (the team drafted Vernon Carey in the first round that year).
For the next three years the Dolphins fielded patchwork offensive lines through draft picks and free agency. In 2008 they started over with a new regime after a nightmare 1-15 season and took offensive tackle Jake Long with the first overall pick instead of quarterback Matt Ryan. Bill Parcells was calling the shots and the Dolphins were going to build the team from the inside out.
The next year the overhaul continued with the team overspending for center Jake Grove and guard Justin Smiley. Grove was signed for $30 million and Smiley for $25 million. Grove was in a battle for the starting center position his second year with the team and Smiley never fully recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered in 2007. He was on his way out by the next season. Not wise spending to say the least.
In 2010 the Dolphins took a chance on NFL bad boy Richie Incognito and drafted loafer John Jerry. The risk on Incognito seemed to be paying off until allegations of racial slurs and bullying rocked the team’s locker room. It just so happens that the accuser was the Dolphins 2012 second round pick guard Jonathan Martin; another offensive lineman.
Incognito, Martin, and Jerry were subsequently jettisoned because of the fiasco. 2011 first round pick center Mike Pouncey was also implicated but was never really in danger of being cut. Did you catch that? That’s right. The Dolphins took another offensive lineman with their pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft and yet another one with the second pick in the 2012 draft.
2013 brought in another regime. Offensive line coach turned Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator now had his chance to fix the line. The Dolphins took guard Dallas Thomas in the third round and has been considered more a liability than an asset. Oh yeah, and then there was turnstile free agent right tackle Tyson Clabo.
This is the same year as the aforementioned bullying scandal. Offensive line coach Jim Turner was fired for his involvement. The Dolphins led the league in sacks that year with 58. The Dolphins have averaged over 40 sacks a year since 2004.
Here we are. 2015 training camp is about a week away and the Dolphins still aren’t settled at either of the two guard positions. Second year player Billy Turner has yet to cement himself as the starter but is considered the favorite. Rookie guard Jamil Douglas created some buzz late during OTAs with his confidence and intent to start. Free agent Jeff Linkenbach’s name has been thrown around there too.
The Dolphins are set at the tackle position. The team is confident that their big money free agent left tackle from 2014 Branden Albert will fully recover from a knee injury and 2014 first round pick Ja’Wuan James is the real deal at right tackle. Did you catch it this time? Yup, another high draft pick on an offensive lineman.
So why have the Dolphins failed so miserably in fielding a solid, cohesive, consistent unit on the offensive line? There’s no one answer to this question. It’s a series of hits and misses; mostly misses. It’s regime change; from ownership to GM to head coach, all the way to position coach.
You could also argue that it’s quarterback play (the Dolphins went 11-5 with Chad Pennington at QB with a sub-par offensive line). The bottom line is that the Dolphins’ success in 2015, once again, is going to be tied to how well the offensive line plays. If they can keep Tannehill on his feet we just might see him be elevated to top ten status. If not, the Dolphins could be watching the playoffs from home once again.
This column was written by Carlos Hernandez. Follow him on Twitter: @LosDez
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