The Miami Dolphins added weapons for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill this offseason. They attempted to bolster a secondary through free agency and the draft that was dissected on a weekly basis in 2012. They used their first-round pick on Dion Jordan in hopes of fielding another pass rushing threat opposite Cameron Wake. They even remodeled an aging linebacker corps.
This is a Miami roster that has been improved on paper from nearly top to bottom. We can only say nearly, though, because there is one unit that clearly looks worse heading in to the 2013 season.
The Dolphins’ offensive line took a big hit when Jake Long bolted for St. Louis in March. When healthy, Long was one of the league’s top left tackles. And now that the Dolphins believe they have a franchise quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, providing consistent blindside protection will be more vital than ever.
Second-year lineman Jonathan Martin is expected to be the new starter at left tackle for the Dolphins. Martin struggled as a rookie at both right and left tackle, but he’s reportedly been bulking up this offseason and is naturally a better fit on the left side.
Martin’s development will be key in the overall success of the Dolphins’ offensive line, whose main priority will be keeping Tannehill on his feet. But their ability to open up holes for Lamar Miller and company in the running game will also be a measuring stick.
It will be the Dolphins’ second season in Joe Philbin’s zone-blocking scheme. And although they still lack the ideal personnel at some positions for the scheme, a quality starter emerging at right guard should help patch up some of their deficiencies from a year ago.
Let’s take a look at the state of the Miami Dolphins’ franchise along the offensive line.
Left Tackle: Jonathan Martin
Left Guard: Richie Incognito
Center: Mike Pouncey
Right Guard: John Jerry
Right Tackle: Tyson Clabo
Center and right tackle are the only starting positions set in stone. Yes, Jonathan Martin will most likely man left tackle, but if it becomes obvious that Ryan Tannehill is in danger with Martin protecting his blindside, the Dolphins will look to replace him either within the organization or by acquiring a veteran from elsewhere.
I have a difficult time envisioning a scenario where Richie Incognito does not start, but there is a small chance that the Dolphins could move him to right guard where he played the majority of his career before signing with Miami. But that would likely only become a possibility if third-round pick Dallas Thomas proves that he is ready to contribute right away, as the rookie will stay put on the left side according to Jeff Ireland.
If Incognito remains the Dolphins’ left guard, a battle between John Jerry and the newly signed Lance Louis for starting right guard will be intriguing to follow this summer.
Elites: Mike Pouncey C
Solid Starters: Tyson Clabo OT
League average: Richie Incognito OG, Jonathan Martin OT, John Jerry OG, Lance Louis OG
Backup material: Nate Garner OT, Dallas Thomas OT/OG (R), Will Yeatman OT, Josh Samuda C
Camp bodies: Chandler Burden OG, Jeff Adams OT, Andrew McDonald OT, Sam Brenner C (R), Chris Barker OG (R), Patrick Ward OT (R)
Mike Pouncey is the only elite player currently on the Dolphins’ offensive line. If the NFL Pro Bowl had any credibility remaining, it was lost last season when Pouncey wasn’t named the AFC’s starting center. He’s just been that good.
Tyson Clabo has actually been one of the league’s top right tackles, but he’s now 31 years old and there is always some uncertainty when a player joins a new team after spending virtually their entire career elsewhere.
The rest of the Dolphins’ starting offensive line is only league average. Miami hopes Jonathan Martin will make significant strides in his second season as a starter. They’re banking the success of their entire football team on it, honestly.
And while the right guard position is worrisome, there is potential for someone to step up and emerge as a solid starter if John Jerry can keep his weight down and Lance Louis can successfully recover from knee surgery.
(Scale: Super Bowl caliber, playoff caliber, middle of the road, below league average, poor)
Tackles: Below league average
I think the Dolphins made the right decision by not desperately trading away a second-round pick to Kansas City for left tackle Branden Albert. While Albert certainly would have been more of a proven commodity than Jonathan Martin, he wasn’t worth the draft selection the Dolphins would have given up or the long-term commitment he was seeking.
There isn’t a huge difference between having an elite tackle and a good tackle in this league. Jonathan Martin is probably never going to be an elite tackle. But there is hope he can develop into a good one. Nobody is saying he can’t. The uncertainty of whether or not he will is what has fans worried.
As for the newly signed Tyson Clabo, the Dolphins have a reliable veteran that hasn’t missed a game since 2007. Clabo was ranked 14th out of 80 guards by Pro Football Focus last season, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. But we’ll see how he adjusts to a new team and a new scheme.
Guards: Middle of the road
Richie Incognito may be slightly overrated. He’s a great leader for the Dolphins. He’s as strong it gets and plays with a nasty streak that has earned him league-wide notoriety.
But not being able to effectively pull has limited his impact in Miami. And he lacks the athleticism to excel in a zone-blocking scheme. Incognito’s toughness and strength go a long way, but I only see him as average or slightly above because of his limitations.
John Jerry has always had the potential to be a solid player, but struggling to keep his weight down has held him back. So the Dolphins went out and signed former Chicago Bears’ guard Lance Louis in March. Louis tore his ACL last season in Chicago but he’s more athletic than Jerry and is expected to push him for his starting job.
If nothing else, the Dolphins have improved their depth at guard this offseason with the additions of Louis and third-round pick Dallas Thomas.
Center: Super Bowl caliber
Mike Pouncey is as good as it gets at center. Given his age and athleticism, there isn’t another center in football I’d take over him if I were starting a team today.
He’ll be taking on a bit of a new role this season, though. With Jake Long out of town, Pouncey will be the unit’s new-found leader. He seems to be embracing that role and I expect him to continue to play at a superb level regardless of recognition.
The Dolphins also like their depth at the position, as second-year center Josh Samuda flashed some promise as a rookie.
Offensive Line: Below league average
Overall, the Dolphins’ offensive line just doesn’t grade out as a very impressive unit. Having one of the top centers in football certainly helps, but a huge question mark – Jonathan Martin – at the most important position along the line hurts. An underwhelming set of starting guards is also a deterrent.
This is not a line void of potential. But it is does lack assurance.