For the first week of training camp, beleaguered veteran Dallas Thomas has opened practice as the starting left guard, ahead of first-round pick Laremy Tunsil, with Tunsil always getting some first-team work at left guard later in practice.
But why aren’t the Dolphins letting their ballyhooed first-round pick take the majority of snaps with the starters? Offensive line coach Chris Foerster on Thursday cited Thomas’ experience and knowledge, the staff’s desire to give Tunsil some snaps at left tackle, and other factors.
Foerster, asked about using Thomas over Tunsil, cited “guys that have been here, guys that are doing better in drill work, guys that understand the offense better…. Dallas has been here and understands it a little better. But not that much better.
“Obviously, there’s a learning curve for everybody. At this point, we are letting Dallas roll, although Tunsil is taking some. A lot of it has to do with how we’re trying to get Laremy reps in other positions… If it’s a day we’re trying to get Tunsil more at left tackle, that affects everybody in the rotation.”
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Foerster said Tunsil, who was a tackle at Mississippi, “is really doing a great job. Couldn’t be happier with his progress.”
And what impresses Foerster about Thomas? “He’s a very athletic guy. He did a really nice job all offseason and has done a good job again.”
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said he doesn’t know if Tunsil will start the Sept. 11 opener at Seattle. “He’s going to be a really fine left tackle at whatever point, but there is a learning curve for him at guard,” Christensen said.
As for right guard, Foerster praised Billy Turner but declined to establish Turner — or anyone — as the frontrunner, though Turner has consistently received the most first-team work, ahead of Jermon Bushrod, who is transitioning from tackle to guard for the first time in his career.
“Billy is doing a great job,” Foerster said. “Jermon is going through the same thing as Tunsil is — moving inside. Bushrod is going to have to go through that little awkward stage of what’s going on, on the right side.”
Foerster said he has no sense of how long it will take chemistry to develop on his line.
If no clear-cut starter emerges at guard, there’s another option: Foerster said he often has rotated players at a position, where one takes “two series, another takes one until somebody establishes themselves. Sometimes that means neither guy is doing real well. Other times it means both guys are doing well.”
Foerster was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator in 2004, which he recalled Tuesday as a “real catastrophic year. It was awful. All the hurricanes hit the state. I was in this building more when the power was off than when it was on that year. It was crazy with the hurricanes and the season with [Dave] Wannstedt in the middle of the season being [fired].”
Quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree, who followed Gase from Denver to Chicago and now to Miami, said one emphasis with Ryan Tannehill has been getting the ball out more quickly.
“You loved the way he could drive the football,” Hardegree said. “The way this system is built, you should be able to take three steps and a quick hitch or no hitch and you should have the ball out. There are quick answers across the field.”
From an accuracy standpoint, is Tannehill where the Dolphins want him? “Yeah,” Hardegree said, “but the three things we teach are accuracy, timing and decision making. The last one would be leadership.” He said the quarterbacks give themselves letter grades for their throws.
• Besides receiver DeVante Parker (hamstring), running backs Jay Ajayi (knee) and Isaiah Pead (hamstring) also sat out practice, along with linebacker Zach Vigil (back) and defensive ends Dion Jordan (knee) and Farrington Huguenin (ankle).
• Coach Adam Gase said he is impressed with running back Kenyan Drake’s speed and “his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run routes.” But playing time could be based partly on “how much can he handle in his first year.” Running backs coach Danny Barrett said Drake will be a “special teams demon.”