The Miami Dolphins have struggled to consistently protect their quarterback and make running lanes for running backs for the past several seasons, and the same concerns were there as training camp went on and the Miami pass rush seemed to dominate each and every session of practice.
But when the Dolphins offensive line - both starters and reserves - took the field against a different team for the first time on Thursday night, it held up a lot better than anyone could have expected, especially considering they were facing the likes of All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
"Protection was awesome." said QB Ryan Tannehill. "The guys up front did an awesome job, not only in the passing game but in the running game, as well. It was that third down, third-and-11 I believe, and we ran a draw and they did a great job of getting up on the linebackers and giving us a chance for Kenyan (Drake) to get to the second level and got us to fourth-and-1. So the offensive line did a great job for us. I’m happy how we started."
The play in question - as showcased byLocked On Dolphins' Travis Wingfield - shows center Daniel Kilgore making a hard push that kept the drive going for the starters. This sort of cohesiveness on the offensive line is something that has been missing for quite some time.
The reserve linemen came in after the starters got their ten total snaps, and while there were a few moments where they struggled against the Buccaneers defenders, they too held strong, with second-year guard Isaac Asiata in particular showing tremendous improvement after spending his rookie year struggling to even see the field.
Sam Young, another reserve player who has been solid in the past couple of seasons, expressed his thoughts on what it was like to finally play against players other than his own teammates.
"It's nice to get new competition," he said. "It's more of a game environment where they're studying your film and you're studying their film, you haven't gone against them. You're going against your guys every day and they know your moves inside out, but that's why we have the training camp, we're sharpening their skills and they're sharpening ours ... I think from a competitive aspect, it's nice to just be in that game environment."
That environment that Young mentioned naturally comes with a few changes as opposed to practice, changes that require the offensive line to focus even more on making sure they execute in all phases of the game.
"There's repercussions," he said. "In practice, quarterback doesn't get hit. Here he does. So you have to strain that extra little bit, you have to finish your blocks, it's great preparation for the season."
The Dolphins only allowed a total of two sacks against the Buccaneers, and one of them was against the aforementioned Gerald McCoy, who is still regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in the entire NFL. If the offensive line - long known as one of Miami's weakness - can suddenly become a strength, then regardless of the final results of the preseason game, there is still plenty of hope for the season.
Games are won in the trenches, and so far the offensive side of those trenches are looking good for the Dolphins.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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