Already without Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey for a large chunk of the season, the Dolphins’ outlook at center became more worrisome Tuesday when backup Sam Brenner was carted off with a lower leg injury, and new center Shelley Smith had two more botched exchanges with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“Obviously, I’m concerned,” offensive line coach John Benton said. “We’ve got to find a way to be good at that position.”
Is it clear to Benton if Smith (a guard by trade) is capable of playing center well in an NFL game?
“It’s unclear in the sense there’s a lot unclear until you get to that first game,” he said. “We’ll know a lot after that first preseason game. I’m optimistic. To say confident is probably a little stretch.”
Nate Garner took second-team snaps at center after Brenner’s injury. The Dolphins auditioned Samson Satele, the best remaining free agent center, in late June and gave him positive feedback but opted to sign guard Daryn Colledge instead.
There have been at least four errant exchanges between Smith and Tannehill in four practices. Coach Joe Philbin said he’s concerned about it.
“We’ve got to refine our shotgun snaps,” said Benton, who spent the past eight seasons as the Houston Texans’ offensive line coach.
Benton said he has never worked with a team that had five new offensive line starters. He said he wants a starting unit solidified before the third preseason game.
“We’ve got to get to the five, six, seven guys that are going to be involved on game days as quickly as we can,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got the talent. It’s how fast we come together. There really is something to the gel thing, communication, knowing what the other guy is going to do.”
Is it possible to be gelled by the Sept. 7 opener against New England? “It’s got to happen,” he said.
Benton addressed other issues:• On rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James: “I’ve been really impressed. He has some obvious rookie growing pains or learning curve. But talk about a great attitude, a great work ethic and a very talented individual! He’s done very well up to [now]. Very optimistic with Ja’Wuan.”
• On why Dallas Thomas is ahead of Billy Turner at right guard: “Somebody has to go ahead of somebody. It’s still a competition. Dallas has shown some good things. Billy has shown some good things. They both have to be more consistent.”
• He said he is not concerned about the right side of the line (Thomas, James) being inexperienced.
“Not really because we’re all learning this offense together,” he said. “A veteran is going to have a couple tricks up his sleeve. The rookies might not. Daryn Colledge and Branden Albert have spent all their time and are most comfortable on the left. I’m not going to mess that up to try to help something else.”• On Albert: “The situation we’re in, you’re looking for one situation you can say we’re pretty good [there]. Obviously, we’re pretty good with Albert at left tackle.”
• Benton said he watched all of the Dolphins’ offensive plays last season but did not ask for the 58 sacks to be compiled on one tape because the team has a new offensive system and several new players.
• Unlike his predecessor, Turner, who was fired for his role in the team’s locker-room scandal, Benton said he is “not a yeller. I told them I will get upset over effort and repeated errors. Other than that, if guys are working hard, I don’t have a problem.”
• The Dolphins added five new players in the past two days: offensive tackles Tony Hills and Steven Baker, tight end Brett Brackett, quarterback Seth Lobato (an undrafted rookie from Northern Colorado) and defensive end D’Aundre Reed.
Baker got work as the second-team left tackle on Tuesday. Hills (11 NFL games) and Reed (six with Minnesota) have the most NFL experience of the five.
To make room, the Dolphins released quarterback Brock Jensen, offensive linemen Davonte Wallace and Michael Philipp, linebacker Derrell Johnson and receiver Gerald Ford.• Wide receiver Mike Wallace skipped part of practice with a sore hamstring.
• Philbin, asked how he has improved, said: “I have a better rapport, chemistry with the players. I’ve spent more time communicating with them one-on-one and in team meetings. I’ve been doing the bed check every night at the hotel, knocking on their doors, making sure they’re OK and busting their chops a little bit if they’re awake. I’ve done a better job outlining the expectations.”