Miami Dolphins’ offensive line is new; time will tell if it’s improved

The Dolphins’ offensive line, which allowed 58 sacks last season, will have four new starters – and center Mike Pouncey could be out until October. ‘We’ve got a lot of work,’ new left tackle Branden Albert said.

07/24/2014 5:01 PM

07/25/2014 3:38 PM

The last time the Dolphins made the playoffs, Ja’Wuan James was a junior at North Gwinnett High School.

When Miami’s oldest pro sports franchise last won a playoff game, Branden Albert wasn’t even a football player.

As for the team’s most recent Super Bowl appearance? Only three current players were alive for it – including offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, who has been with the club for less than a month.

But as yet another steamy training camp gets underway Friday, those aforementioned blockers will go a long way in determining if this is a new era in Miami, or the same old Dolphins.

And none has ever played a down for the team.

The first practice starts at 8 a.m. Friday at Nova Southeastern. For players and fans, all is new and possible.

And yet, the story remains the same.

The Dolphins have been trying to assemble a solid offensive line for the better part of a decade, but 2013 was rock bottom. A franchise-record 58 sacks. A rushing attack that was better than just six teams. And an ugly bullying scandal that hijacked the narrative.

They blew it up, the line that is. James and Albert were added as bookends. Collegde is one of three new interior linemen.

But what no one will truly know for some time: Did all of those moves make Miami’s offensive line a better overall unit, or just a better collection of names?

“We’ve got a lot of work,” Albert, the team’s top free agent target, said last month. “We’ve got some young guys. I’m still learning. I tell people I’m not perfect. I’m trying to figure out stuff, so the more I figure it out the more I can help Mr. James and all of the other young guys.”

Working against them: 1. It usually takes more than one offseason for offensive lines to jell; 2. The unit’s best player probably won’t see the field until October.

Mike Pouncey will begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He’s still weeks, if not months, away from seeing the field after major offseason hip surgery.

Nonetheless, the No. 1 question coaches must sort out this preseason is who will take Pouncey’s place at center when the season opens at home Sept. 7 against New England.

Colledge, a steady veteran signed shortly after Pouncey’s surgery, might be an option. The Dolphins see him more as a guard, but if someone from the group of Nate Garner-Sam Brenner-Shelley Smith doesn’t stand out at center, Colledge could get a shot.

That audition begins in earnest early next week, when the team can practice in pads for the first time since December.

Other pressing issues to monitor over the next three weeks:

•  Will Ryan Tannehill progress or plateau? Twenty thirteen was an incremental step forward for the team’s starting quarterback, but he’s still on the wrong side of .500 for his career (15-17) and has just six more touchdown passes than interceptions.
•  Can the defense earn its keep? Miami has handed out more than $100 million in guarantees on the defensive side of the ball in the past 18 months. And yet, the group is coming off its worst statistical season since 1988. High-priced linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler must player better.
•  What’s the next shoe to drop? It’s never dull in Davie, and the Dolphins this summer already have dealt with Dion Jordan’s suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and had to deal with questions about another Pouncey birthday party. Can they finally get back to making headlines for the right reasons?
•  When will Knowshon Moreno see the field? The former Broncos running back, like Pouncey, begins camp on the PUP list. Moreno underwent minor knee surgery in the offseason but is not expected to miss much time.
•  Must Joe Philbin make the playoffs to keep his job? Probably. Only two Dolphins coaches have ever been asked back after missing the postseason in three straight seasons. The first was George Wilson, who coached the expansion Dolphins. The other was Don Shula.