Two days after Dallas Thomas was overwhelmed by Tampa Bay All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Dolphins tinkered with their offensive line on Monday, giving another look to the veteran free agent addition they originally expected would emerge as a starter.
Shelley Smith replaced Thomas with the starters at right guard during Monday’s practice, returning to the position he held throughout May and June practices.
But coach Joe Philbin said afterward that Smith has not been anointed the starter, the job remains an open competition, and he does not know who will start at right guard in Saturday’s third exhibition game against Dallas at Sun Life Stadium.
“We don’t have a first-team right guard right now,” Philbin said.
Philbin said left guard also remains open and he doesn’t know who will start at that spot, either. Daryn Colledge has started at left guard for the first two exhibition games and played most of the first-team snaps at practice.
“We don’t have clarity at those two positions yet,” Philbin said. “We are going to have a good week of practice and make the determination of who that’s going to be. Just because that person starts, he may start the next week, may not.”
There is also some measure of uncertainty at center, where a timetable on Mike Pouncey’s return from hip surgery remains undetermined. Pouncey, who hasn’t been cleared for practice, said Monday he hopes to return by the fourth game of the season, Sept. 28 against Oakland in London, a game that is followed by a bye week.
One thing is clear: The Dolphins need much better blocking in the running game. The Dolphins, who averaged 4.1 yards per rush last season, averaged 2.5 yards per carry in their preseason opener at Atlanta and 1.8 in the Tampa game.
“There was too much penetration,” Philbin said. “That was problem number one. Problem two is we didn’t break a lot of tackles.”
The Dolphins had entrusted Thomas with first-team right guard duties before Saturday’s disaster, when he allowed a strip/sack, a quarterback pressure, committed two penalties and also was beaten on two negative running plays.
On Monday, Thomas took snaps at backup right guard. Rookie third-round pick Billy Turner, who had been the backup right guard, played behind Colledge at left guard.
Smith, signed to a two-year, $5.5 million contract in March, was the Dolphins’ first-team right guard throughout offseason workouts. He began training camp at center, filling in for Pouncey, but he had several errant snaps.
After the Dolphins signed Samson Satele, Smith was shifted to second-team left guard. That finally changed Monday.
“Shelley is going to be a heck of a player for us,” Pouncey said. “He does a heck of a job in the zone scheme, gets underneath the defenders.”
Asked Monday if he was pleased to be with the starters again, Smith said: “You never know what’s going to happen. I’m ready to go wherever needed. We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Smith played left and right guard in his three seasons in St. Louis, which included eight starts.
“It will take some reps to get back in the swing of things on the right side, but I feel comfortable there,” he said.
As for Pouncey, he said Monday he’s “just praying that they don’t put me” on the physically unable to perform list to start the regular season, which would require sitting out the first six games and also would prohibit him from practicing during that time. He said he’s not sure when he will be cleared for practice.
“In my head, right now I feel I can [practice] because I’m a competitor,” he said. “But they’re taking the safe route and [making] sure I won’t have any relapses when I come back.”
The Dolphins’ kicking situation has become more interesting than anyone expected, to the point that Philbin said Monday he’s not sure who will be his kicker for the regular-season opener against New England.
Caleb Sturgis, who had been out with a groin injury earlier in camp, re-aggravated the injury before Saturday’s game and will miss multiple practices. John Potter remains in contention to win the job after hitting 48- and 51-yard field goals against Tampa.