Squint hard, and at times you’d almost think Jake Long never left the Dolphins’ huddle.
There’s still a starting tackle with his body size (around 6-6 and 315 pounds) wearing the familiar No. 77.
Of course, that illusion ends when the offensive line gets into its stance. Long is a left tackle. Tyson Clabo, his de facto replacement, sets up on the right side.
Clabo, signed to a one-year deal this spring after Long signed with St. Louis, probably would get compared to his predecessor even if he played with his jersey inside out.
But the fact that Clabo has assumed Long’s old number (which, in fairness, Clabo wore in Atlanta, too) all but ensures the two will be linked for as long as he remains in Miami.
“He’s a very talented football player,” Clabo said of Long, almost reverently, after a training camp practice earlier this week. “From what I understand, he’s very well-liked, a good locker-room guy.
“Obviously, I’m not trying to take his place or replace him or anything,” Clabo added. “I’m just trying to come in and find my own spot and fill the void at my job, right tackle. Just try to help this team.”
If he plays at the level he did in 2012, Clabo most certainly will. According to the scouting service Pro Football Focus, he was actually better than the guy he succeeds.
‘A STEADY TROLLEY’
Clabo ranked 14th among all NFL tackles to take at least half their team’s snaps; Long was 46th.
Furthermore, Clabo allowed just five sacks all season — and none after Week 4. And the Falcons had greater success running behind the right side of the line last year than the left, averaging more than 5 yards per carry when Clabo led the way.
“He can get it done on a high level week in and week out,” said Richie Incognito, the Dolphins’ Pro Bowl left guard. “He’s a steady trolley. He keeps charging along. He’s been deep in the playoffs with a high-caliber team. That’s something we don’t have in the room.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin praised Clabo’s consistency and efficiency, saying the 31-year-old Wake Forest product has played enough football to know what works for him and what does not.
Added John Jerry, who for now starts alongside Clabo on the right side: “You know he’s a veteran. He sees things before I even see it. He makes it a lot easier on me. Clabo is a leader already, a guy we highly respect in our room.”
Clabo played eight seasons with the Falcons, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2010. When first he arrived in South Florida, there was a culture shock to his new surroundings, but Clabo said he’s now starting to feel at home.
The on-field adjustment, however, hasn’t been quite so quick.
It was a rough first two days in pads for the offensive line, particularly against the first-string defense. The few running lanes that existed were wafer thin, and pass protection regularly broke down both on the edges and up the middle.
It’s common for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this stage in camp, because the latter relies more on timing and the former is more read-and-react.
But there’s something to be said about chemistry, and the Dolphins have new starters at both tackles; Jonathan Martin moves over to the left side after playing predominantly on the right his rookie season.
And in Long, they’re losing a former No. 1 draft pick who started 74 games in his five years with the Dolphins.
“I think O-lines come together, gel in camp a lot,” Clabo said. “I don’t think it’s unusual for some new pieces that you put in place have to come together as a unit. If we just get to work together in practice, we’ll be fine.
“I’m not a big believer in just showing up and saying, ‘Hey, follow me!’ Being a leader is something you have to earn. If guys feel like that’s something they want to place on me, then I’ll accept it.”
They return to practice at 8 a.m. Friday. It is open to the public.