When the Dolphins took Jonathan Martin with the 42nd overall pick this past April, the idea wasn’t to have the guy who protected Andrew Luck’s blind side at Stanford do the same job for David Garrard, Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill.
Not with Jake Long still around.
The idea was to have the 6-5, 304-pound Martin slide over to the right side of one of the worst offensive lines in the league last season and help patch up a spot that often resembled a swinging gate for pass rushers. Two weeks after completing his college finals and six practices into his new gig, Martin, 22, remains a work in progress.
And he is learning quickly that it’s about as much fun to line up across from Cameron Wake every day as it is to work in the heat and humidity of South Florida.
“It’s definitely still going fast for me,” said Martin, who gave up a sack and a forced fumble to Wake during 11-on-11 drills inside the team’s practice bubble in Davie on Wednesday.
“I’m only in my second week. But I’m trying to make progress every day. I remember hearing a quote from [Saints quarterback] Drew Brees. He said, ‘You want to increase your talent and your ability by 1 percent every day.’ And that’s what I’m trying to do, try to get better every day.”
After participating in the Dolphins’ rookie minicamp in May — where he worked at right tackle for the first time since high school — Martin missed two weeks of voluntary organized team activities because he had to return to Stanford to take finals.
Since his return to Miami last week, the Dolphins have put him in overdrive, getting him a ton of reps while working him mostly with the first team. Veterans Richie Incognito and Long, meanwhile, have taken Martin under their collective wings.
“Jake Long is one of the best tackles in football, if not the best,” Martin said. “So if he sees me doing something bad, he gets in my ear and says, ‘Yo, keep your hands higher, keep your weight more on that leg,’ I do it. It’s the little tips that help a lot.”
Although Long had arguably his worst season as a pro last year, the former first overall pick wasn’t the biggest reason the Dolphins finished with 52 sacks allowed, third-most in the league. It was mostly what happened on the right side of the Dolphins line — where retired tackle Marc Colombo and free agent Vernon Carey started — that hurt the team most.
Colombo played 1,037 snaps and graded out 69th worst out of 76 tackles in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus.com. He was credited with giving up nine sacks and 35 quarterback hurries. Carey wasn’t as dreadful at right guard, but he still graded out negatively, ranking 44th among 77 offensive guards — eight spots behind Incognito.
Although 6-7, 315-pound Lydon Murtha (four career starts, all in 2010) has taken snaps at right tackle and 11-year veteran Artie Hicks (6-4, 325, 71 starts) and former third-round pick John Jerry (6-5, 328, 13 starts) have rotated at right guard, the only sure bet at the moment is that the Dolphins are still searching for an answer.
“We’re kind of fiddling around I guess is the best way to put it,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday. “We’ve rolled some guys in there. I don’t know if we’re done with that process. I think we still need to get a look at some different people and see how they respond in game-like situations and see who can still be the most effective, consistent player for us and execute the best. I don’t know if we have a great answer. That’s OK. We’ve looked at some different combinations, and I don’t know that we’re done looking yet.”
One option that remains out there for the Dolphins is free agent Jake Scott, who ranked seventh among guards with a 13.3 overall rating, according to PFF last season. The 31-year-old has met twice with team officials, including last week. He gave up just two sacks and 11 quarterback hurries in 1,045 snaps last season and has made 117 starts in his eight-year career.
As for Martin, he said he sees it as an advantage for him that there are a lot of similarities between the Dolphins’ new West Coast offense and the one he played in at Stanford.
“The calls are a little bit different, but it’s the same basic ideas,” he said.
If there is an adjustment, he said, it’s learning to push off his other leg again.
“I think we have to take into consideration Jonathan Martin’s got 3,400 snaps as a left tackle, and he’s got 197 with the Miami Dolphins,” Philbin said. “There’s a difference. There’s an adjustment period, and I think that’s probably what he’s going through today. Does he look as smooth at right tackle as he does at left, where we’ve used him a little bit? No. Do I believe he can make the transition there? Yes.”
“You have to be able to keep your poise and play,” he said. “It’s great to be tough. It’s great to be physical … but you have to be smart.”