Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins’ Olivier Vernon making Jonathan Martin look bad?

08/04/2013 12:01 AM

08/04/2013 6:38 PM

Jonathan Martin had a good day the last time the Dolphins practiced. No, really.

He didn’t find himself watching a young defensive end blow by him time and again. He didn’t get photographed in any compromising positions — like on his back or off balance. Martin didn’t even give up a sack.

Yes, he had a penalty that cost the offense 5 yards, but, overall, it was a good day for Jonathan Martin.

And that ray of light in what has otherwise been a murky start to this training camp gives hope that maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins indeed have their answer at left tackle and all that offseason spending on other free agents was not in vain.

It also gives hope that maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins have a budding star in defensive end Olivier Vernon.

Vernon has pretty much dominated Martin so far this training camp. It has been eye-popping to see the extent of the domination because we’re not talking about a sack some days but not others. We’re talking sack followed by sack followed by other sacks.

In the last week alone, Martin allowed two sacks to Vernon in the same practice and then yielded another sack to someone else. He gave up two sacks to rookie Dion Jordan only one day before.

The action was so obvious, not even a coaching staff that is careful not to criticize its players publicly could deny what was happening.

“You guys were here, O.V. got him a couple of times — once outside and once inside on a run-action pass,” coach Joe Philbin said of the Martin matchup with Vernon. “I think [Martin has] done a good job in drop-back. I think his sets have been good. The thing an offensive lineman consistently has to work on is the timing of the punch, kind of like a boxer. It’s more like a jab.

“That consistency in the punch is something we have to have him continue to work on.”

He has no choice

Martin needs the work because his hand placement is admittedly inconsistent. And when a left tackle either doesn’t get his hands on the defensive player, or gets them too high or too low, the lack of technique often results in a bad moment for the quarterback.

And if Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill starts to suffer too many of those moments, it might not matter how many talented receivers the Dolphins have put around him if he doesn’t have time to throw the ball.

So Martin has to be good.

He has to be good because the Branden Albert interest that Miami had during the offseason is no longer an option. Albert, Kansas City’s left tackle the past few seasons, had declined to sign his franchise tender with the Chiefs when the Dolphins considered trading for him.

But he has since signed that document and a deadline has passed for him getting a long-term contract, meaning neither the Chiefs nor any other team can sign him to a multiyear deal this season. And the Dolphins aren’t going to trade for a player that is signed for only one year and can bolt in free agency next year.

So unless the Dolphins can find some other accomplished left tackle on the trade market (not likely) or unless rookie Dallas Thomas suddenly and quickly blossoms into a fine player, Martin is Miami’s left tackle.

So Martin has to be good.

The good news for the Dolphins is there is still a question whether he’s good or not.

The question going around the team’s camp has been whether Vernon is looking so good against Martin because the defensive player is on the verge of a great season or if Vernon is looking so good because Martin is struggling.

The Dolphins obviously are hoping for the former.

‘Both playing well’

Vernon, a second-year player, suggests it might be the former.

“You know, one thing about me and Jonathan Martin, we go at it every day,” he said. “It’s never easy. We’re both playing well and getting better.”

Martin also seems to think his struggles have more to do with the quality of the opponent than his shortcomings.

“I think it’s been going pretty well,” he said. “I’ve had some good days and some bad days. It’s been challenging but I like that. I like going against the best.”

The undeniable truth about Martin, however, is coming soon. Starting Sunday when he plays opponents not named Olivier Vernon, everyone will see if the first two weeks of training camp were merely a mirage or a horrible vision of things to come.

If Martin plays well the next few weeks, then the Dolphins can have more confidence he will be fine and that it is Vernon who is on the verge of something big.

If, however, Martin continues to struggle, then the team will know it has more of a problem in Martin and less of a solution in Vernon.

“Very anxious to see it,” Philbin said.

So is everyone else.

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