Eric Steinbach’s retirement leads to changing of the guard for Miami Dolphins

Guard Eric Steinbach’s reunion with coach Joe Philbin was short-lived after the eight-year veteran announced his retirement Wednesday, leaving a hole in the offensive line.

08/23/2012 12:01 AM

08/23/2012 1:11 AM

When guard Eric Steinbach was brought in as a late signee for the Dolphins on the eve of training camp, it was a feel-good reunion between player and coach.

Fourteen years ago, Steinbach was a former tight end who was struggling to adapt as an offensive guard at Iowa. His offensive line coach, meanwhile, was in the midst of making the jump from the Ivy League to the Big Ten.

Steinbach went on to be an eight-year starter in the NFL, while Steinbach’s former offensive line coach, Joe Philbin, is now with Miami, starting his first year as an NFL head coach.

Unfortunately for Steinbach, the reunion was short-lived, as Philbin announced on Wednesday afternoon that Steinbach was retiring.

“I think a lot of him,” Philbin said. “I remember when he was 18 years old and we had to pull his teeth out to get him to move from tight end to offensive guard. … He should have no regrets. He’s had an excellent career.”

Steinbach, the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year with Iowa in 2002, missed only three games in his first eight NFL seasons with Cincinnati and Cleveland. He was drafted in the second round by the Bengals in 2003.

Steinbach missed the entire 2011 season with the Browns after undergoing back surgery and had been absent from practice this week while struggling with a knee injury. On Tuesday night’s episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks, Steinbach was shown pondering his future. He said the word “retirement” but quickly dismissed it.

Sometime after that footage was recorded Steinbach must have changed his mind.

Steinbach’s agent did not return a request for comment.

Steinbach was expected to compete for a starting spot at right guard, but with his departure and an undisclosed injury to Artis Hicks, the Dolphins must now address a lack of depth at the guard position. For now, the coaching staff seems to have put its faith in John Jerry, a third-round draft pick by Miami in 2010 who started three games last season.

Jerry was a focus of Tuesday’s episode of Hard Knocks, which showed him struggling with his weight and the rigors of training camp last week. Jerry was captured on film vomiting on the sidelines during one indoor practice. In another scene, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman described Jerry as “a player descending fast.”

Recently, though, Jerry might be turning things around. He impressed his coaches during last week’s game at Carolina, and he said he has been making progress on losing some weight. Jerry is listed at 345 pounds but started training camp at 360 pounds.

“It’s a job,” Jerry said when asked whether he was hurt by the criticism that was aired on the show. “They’re supposed to be hard on you. … They expect more out of me. That pretty much says it all. When the coaches tell you they expect more out of you, you pretty much get it from there.”

Philbin gave Jerry some praise, but it was rather lukewarm.

“He’s in better condition than he was when he first came back,” Philbin said. “He’s moving better, finishing blocks better. He played relatively well in the game the other night. … We just need to know what we’re going to get on a weekly basis. Right now, I’m not sure we’re exactly sure.”

Other backups who could fill the spots left by Hicks and Steinbach include Nate Garner and rookie Chandler Burden.

If Jerry or one of the other backups does not prove to be the answer, the Dolphins might have to look to the free agent market again.

Before training camp started, the Dolphins twice brought in unsigned eight-year veteran Jake Scott to meet with coaches.

Scott has started every game over the past seven years and is currently an unsigned free agent.

Scott’s agent, Ken Staninger, said that he had not had any inquiries from the Dolphins recently and was not sure whether Scott should expect a call.

“I actually expected to hear from them last month,” Staninger said. “Jake was in for two visits with the Dolphins earlier this summer. For whatever reason, they decided to go their separate ways. Maybe it was a salary issue, I don’t know.”

Another offensive lineman who had been in contact with is Kyle Kosier. The Dolphins spoke with Kosier shortly after the 2002 draft pick was cut by the Cowboys in March.

Kosier’s agent did not respond to an inquiry about the guard’s status.

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