The Dolphins’ most scrutinized unit will take the field against the Washington Redskins on Sunday with a rookie fourth-round pick at right guard (Jamil Douglas) and a left guard (Dallas Thomas) determined to prove he’s better than the player who struggled mightily at times in the past.
And, oh yes, there’s also a left tackle coming off major knee surgery (Branden Albert), a center fresh off a season at guard (Mike Pouncey) and a right tackle (Ju’Wuan James) whose rookie season was disrupted by a need to fill in at left tackle.
None of this turnover and tumult seems particularly unsettling to the Dolphins’ starting offensive linemen.
“We are going to surprise people,” Albert said this week. “Everyone doubted us last year, and I think they’re doubting us again.”
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Said Thomas: “We want to prove to people we are not the weak link.”
So is there confidence or concern about this group?
“I think there are concerns when you have unknowns,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “I am hoping that we answered most of those. … I feel pretty confident we are going to have a good group out there.”
Albert, a two-time Pro Bowler, admitted he’s “nervous because I haven’t played football in 10 months. And I’ve never played against this defensive line.”
Coach Joe Philbin has remained a strong supporter of Thomas, even when he faltered last season in a fill-in role at offensive tackle.
Lazor said the faith in Thomas is based on the fact that he “is a very improved player from what he has been in the past. It has been pretty constant improvement.”
Douglas seized the right guard job by outplaying Billy Turner in preseason.
“His level of professionalism for a young player is really impressive,” Philbin said. “He doesn’t seem to get flustered, and he’s done a good job, really been solid.”
The Dolphins also want to see another step from James, the 2014 first-round pick.
Pro Football Focus rated James only 80th among 84 offensive tackles last season, but those numbers are skewed because they include James’ uneven work at left tackle, filling in for Albert.
The Dolphins believe James’ performance at right tackle was much better than those numbers suggest.
“I’ve seen improvement all the way around,” offensive line coach John Benton said. “His protection has improved. He’s a more consistent player. Maybe a little more physical.”
James said he studied each of his 1,069 rookie snaps on tape this offseason.
“Each week, I would watch a game and really pick my bad ones first so I could build off them and what I wanted to focus on coming into the OTAs,” he said. “I would look at it before workouts. I would say, ‘My footwork was bad there’ and then work on it.”
James assessed his rookie season thusly: “I feel you can’t really put a good or very good on it. I have got to be more consistent in my technique and everything.
“On the right side, I was getting to a level I was comfortable. Then I moved to the left, had some struggles. I’m hard on myself.”
Pouncey, meanwhile, is thrilled to return to center. Rewarded with a five-year, $52 million extension this past offseason, Pouncey selflessly offered to play guard last season when he returned from injury in the fifth game, because Samson Satele was thriving at center.
“It’s where I’m comfortable,” Pouncey said of playing center. “It’s like the back of my hand. I want to be the best center in the NFL.”
Feeling they needed a big back as depth to replace injured Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins promoted former Patriots running back Jonas Gray and guard/center Sam Brenner from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and released quarterback Logan Thomas and guard/center Jacques McClendon.
The Dolphins might sign Thomas to the practice squad. The deadline to guarantee veterans’ salaries for the season is 4 p.m. Saturday, so cutting McClendon saves the Dolphins from paying his $745,000 base salary.
Ajayi, on short-term injured reserve, is eligible to return in Miami’s eighth game.
The Dolphins listed tackle Jason Fox (concussion) as doubtful for Sunday.
Albert (knee), wide receiver DeVante Parker (foot), cornerback Jamar Taylor (thigh) and running back LaMike James (shoulder) are probable and expected to play.