Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, the Dolphins’ only returning starter on an offensive line that was overhauled in the offseason, underwent hip surgery Monday and is expected to miss at least three months, meaning he likely will be sidelined for at least the first two games of the regular season and potentially more.
Under the most optimistic of projected recovery timetables, Pouncey could return for the Kansas City game Sept. 21 or against Oakland on Sept. 28 in London, which will be followed by a bye week. But recovery could take as long as four months.
If the Dolphins do not believe he will be back before the bye, they might place him on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would sideline him for the first six games.
Pouncey sustained the torn labrum during the team’s offseason program, but neither Pouncey nor the Dolphins initially believed the injury was serious. He participated in the team’s final two offseason practices last week after missing the first.
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The Pouncey injury wasn’t the Dolphins’ only bad news Monday. Running back Knowshon Moreno has been scheduled to undergo athroscopic surgery on his left knee and is out four to five weeks.
He could be back practicing before the Dolphins’ preseason opener Aug. 8, though the team could proceed cautiously and keep him out of initial exhibition games.
Pouncey was in good spirits after Monday’s two-hour procedure and is already talking about how soon he can get back on the field, according to a close associate.
The Dolphins have several options to fill in for him, but none are close to the quality of Pouncey, who made the Pro Bowl last season. In the past two seasons, Pro Football Focus has rated Pouncey eighth and 13th among all starting centers.
Sam Brenner — who started four games at guard last season but graded out poorly according to PFF — took first-team snaps at center during the practice that Pouncey missed last week.
Another option is veteran Nate Garner, who started two games at center last season when Pouncey was sidelined by an illness. Right guard Shelley Smith also has taken practice snaps at center, and undrafted Utah State rookie Tyler Larsen is a natural center who is trying to make the team.
There are about a dozen veteran free agent centers still available, including Samson Satele, David Baas, Mike Gibson, Andre Gurode, Dan Koppen, Brad Meester, Fernando Velasco and Kyle Cook.
It has been a difficult offseason for Pouncey, who was implicated in Ted Wells’ report for the NFL in the Dolphins’ bullying scandal.
The NFL has not ruled out a suspension for Pouncey, and commissioner Roger Goodell said he would be required to undergo psychological testing before Goodell determined whether Pouncey would be disciplined for his role in the harassment of Jonathan Martin.
Pouncey said recently that he doesn’t believe he needs psychological testing.
Pouncey was adjusting to playing alongside two new potential starters at guard: Smith and second-year player Dallas Thomas. The Dolphins also have two new starting tackles: free agent acquisition Branden Albert and rookie first-round pick Ja’Wuan James.
As for Moreno, soreness in his left knee sidelined him during the team’s minicamp last week. He sustained a torn ACL in his right knee during the 2011 season, but this issue with the left knee isn’t nearly as serious.
Moreno signed a one-year, $3 million contract during the offseason, with the expectation that he would become the Dolphins’ starter. But with Moreno sidelined during minicamp, incumbent starter Lamar Miller took many of the first-team snaps.