With the NFL preseason about to start, I spent midday Wednesday out at Dolphins camp, peering through the haze of humidity trying to see if I saw a playoff team. The Las Vegas betting over/under on Miami victories is eight — not a playoff number — but I keep hearing vague local references to high expectations, as if the franchise is destined to bust free of its 7-9 purgatory and finally matter again.
I tire of hearing the Dolphins’ fortunes tethered to the Patriots, as if the good times can’t roll here again until Bill Belichick retires or Tom Brady turns old. I looked up the rules: Two teams from the same division are allowed to both be good at the same time.
The question is how close Miami is to being good. The answer is very. I see the Dolphins as improved, capable of postseason contention. But I also see something rather important missing, or rather someONE missing. Looked around for him Wednesday but he wasn’t here. He was elsewhere …
I looked for the familiar, towering figure of left tackle Jake Long, but he’s in St. Louis now. Miami could have re-signed the fixture of its offensive line, the guy who made four Pro Bowls in five years here. All it would have taken was a little more money or maybe more so a little more love. But they let him go.
I looked around for left tackle Branden Albert, but he’s still in Kansas City. He would have been such a nice, logical replacement for Long that Miami tried to trade for him during the offseason, but wouldn’t up its offer. And the Chiefs wouldn’t blink.
I looked next for the rookie Lane Johnson, but he’s in Philadelphia. After failing to hold on to Long or trade for Albert, Miami had a chance to make amends in a tackle-rich draft. When it traded up to the third pick, most experts were sure it was to get Johnson. Instead, the mouths of Dolphins pundits fell agape (well, figuratively speaking) as Miami chose defensive end Dion Jordan. Johnson went next to the Eagles.
Albert, no deal.
Those three strikes have left Miami with left tackle looking like the biggest hole anywhere on its starting lineup, and a significant hole that could be.
The Dolphins also made a spring offer to free agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the ex-Cane, but it wasn’t good enough for him.
What’s troubling is that Miami’s actions — the pursuit of Albert, the interest in McKinnie — verified it knew left tackle was a crucial position that needed immediate help, but that need went unresolved.
The path general manager Jeff Ireland chose might prove smart if current left tackle Jonathan Martin surprises doubters by quickly playing up to that key role, or if Jordan turns out to be a prolific sacker for a lot of years.
Right now, though, that path is wrought with risk.
Short term, the Dolphins leaving left tackle to chance is ripe for second-guessing — even as I admit Aug. 1 is beating the rush on second-guessing.
(Let me also second-guess Miami possibly using top pick Jordan on special teams. That’s a 2-for-1 Early Bird Special on second-guesses!)
The Dolphins defense should be very good this season and would be even if Jordan hadn’t been drafted. Not nearly as sure the offense will be as good with left tackle pulsing as a weakness.
The Dolphins are relying on a second-year quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and a second-year running back in Lamar Miller to make huge strides this season. A premier left tackle sure would have aided the process.