The Dolphins ended their offseason program Wednesday with more questions than answers at guard, a position where they have plenty of bodies but little clarity.
With training camp six weeks away, a few things are becoming apparent:
▪ The Dolphins remain interested in adding free agent Evan Mathis, but they aren’t in position to engage in a high-end bidding war for the Pro Bowl player.
ESPN’s John Clayton said the Dolphins, Colts, Chiefs and 49ers are the top contenders to sign him. But the Indianapolis Star reported the Colts won’t pursue Mathis, and the Chiefs are up against the salary cap.
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▪ The Dolphins front office conveyed earlier this season that they projected Billy Turner, their third-round pick in 2014, to be a starter this season. Though that may eventually be the case, it was veteran Jeff Linkenbach who lined up at first-team right guard to start practice the past two days.
Though Turner received some first-team snaps Tuesday and Wednesday, Linkenbach appeared to get more of them.
Linkenbach, 28, has started 36 games in five seasons, including 16 for the Colts in 2011 but just three for the Chiefs last season.
▪ The battle to start at left guard is neck-and-neck between Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas, with both receiving first-team snaps this week. Thomas again lined up with the starters to start Wednesday’s session.
But Mathis would take that job if he signs with the Dolphins; Pro Football Focus rated him the NFL’s best guard in 2012 and 2013 and second-best last season.
Coach Joe Philbin insisted that he’s pleased with the internal options.
“I like what I see so far but it’s early,” Philbin said. “I like the guys we have. There’s no question in my mind they will be capable of doing the job. They just need experience. … repetition, exposure. They need to work with [Mike Pouncey] next to them and get it figured out.
“It may not be as pretty as we want day one of training camp, but … you have to have some patience.”
Pouncey said in February he would love for the Dolphins to sign a veteran guard but answered diplomatically this week when asked if he wants Miami to sign Mathis.
“Evan is a really good football player; had an opportunity to meet him at the Pro Bowl,” Pouncey said. “It would be great if he signed here but if not, we got to roll with the punches with the guy we’ve got. The guys we have inside this building will do a great job for us.”
Though Thomas allowed seven sacks last season, all came during his snaps at tackle. He didn’t give up any sacks in 362 snaps at guard.
“I’m so comfortable out there now,” Thomas said. “I’m understanding concepts of the plays. You can know the plays, but until you understand it, it won’t be easy for you.”
Thomas said he played on the left side at Tennessee and is happy to be back there: “I am settled in. It’s been going good for me. I haven’t had problems there. I played there in college. I came here, they put me at right, but now I’m back home.”
Offensive line coach John Benton has said Thomas is much improved. But how so?
“It’s knowing the playbook way better,” he said. “I was out there thinking a lot. And when you’re thinking a lot on the field, you play a little slower.”
He said he noticed his “set” was a problem in last December’s Baltimore game, when he struggled, and “this whole offseason, that’s what I’ve been working on. My work is starting to pay off.”
Thomas said he “would be disappointed” if he isn’t a starter.
Pouncey said Thomas “came in this year with a whole different mindset. He’s playing great. He’s gaining all my trust with the way he’s practicing on the field and being attentive inside meetings.”
As for Douglas, the rookie fourth-round pick “doesn’t look like a rookie,” Pouncey said.
“He’s playing at a really high level. We won’t really know what he can do until he puts the pads on but he’s impressed a lot of the coaches. He’s got the eye of a lot of veteran guys in the offensive line room.”
Turner, who appeared in just two games last season, “is a very physical, explosive type player,” Benton said last month, adding he needed to improve playing “with balance and under control.”