Just think how desperate Miami’s offensive line would be this Sunday if the team hadn’t traded for Bryant McKinnie.
The most tangible result of the Dolphins’ strange and sudden locker room implosion has been the loss of two starting offensive linemen to a unit that has given up 35 sacks through the first seven games of the season.
With guard Richie Incognito suspended indefinitely from the team and tackle Jonathan Martin away as well seeking treatment, the Dolphins must adapt quickly for a game against Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football. That means starting one player who was already benched earlier this season and plugging another hole with a backup.
But, again, at least McKinnie will be holding down left tackle. The big offensive lineman could only shake his head Monday when asked about the strife that has engulfed his team.
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“I didn’t see this blowing up like this,” McKinnie said.
McKinnie was talking about the locker room, but he could just as easily been referring to the offensive line. First, Martin walked away from the team before last Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. On Sunday, Incognito was suspended for allegedly harassing Martin.
“Those guys aren’t here right now, so we can’t really keep dwelling on that, and we don’t want it to become a distraction,” McKinnie said. “We have Tampa Bay next, and that’s what we need to be focused on.”
With about 100 members of the media inside the Dolphins’ training facility on Monday asking about bullying and leadership, it’s safe to say the loss of Incognito and Martin already has become a distraction.
Moving past this bizarre saga — or at least blocking it out — now becomes the goal. With a record of 4-4, the Dolphins’ season was already on the brink. Now, left guard Nate Garner and right tackle Tyson Clabo might be all that stand in the way of Miami being pushed off the cliff.
Sunday will be Garner’s first start of the season. Clabo returned to the starting lineup for the victory over the Bengals.
“We have players here that maybe no one thought could do it for us and hopefully they can do it,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.
That’s not exactly a strong vote of confidence. And Monday, McKinnie didn’t seem ready to fill the leadership void left by Incognito.
“It’s totally up to the new guys who are stepping in and are filling those positions and making sure they stay focused and block everything out and focus on their assignments,” McKinnie said.
With Incognito gone, center Mike Pouncey is now the emotional leader of the offensive line, but Pouncey, who is dealing with his own personal issues, didn’t make himself available to the media on Monday.
Pouncey recently was served with a grand jury subpoena, reportedly to testify against former University of Florida teammate Aaron Hernandez, who faces first-degree murder and weapons charges related to the homicide of his friend.
McKinnie is a veteran, but he said he isn’t sure whether this is right time to assert himself as a leader.
“I’m new here, so I’m trying to get a feel for who are the leaders and the main people,” McKinnie said. “I don’t want to over step my bounds by me being the new guy even though I’m probably the oldest on the team. I still got to get a feel for everyone in the locker room, and they got to get a feel for me, too.”
On the apparent issues between Incognito and Martin, the entire scandal caught McKinnie by surprise.
“I always thought they were friends, so it went way left for me,” McKinnie said. “I know Richie brought a lot of leadership, and I know a lot of the guys here respected him and things like that and he was a great player, so losing great players kind of hurts.
“But at the same time, this is someone else’s opportunity to step up and show that they, too, are a good player.”
The Dolphins released receiver Ryan Spadola on Monday and brought back receiver Marlon Moore. Moore played the first eight weeks of the season with the San Francisco 49ers. He appeared in six games and had one reception for 6 yards.