Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins needed a tackle and Ja’Wuan James makes sense

05/09/2014 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 7:17 PM

Maybe you’re not happy with Ja’Wuan James.

Get over it.

How can you not be happy with a right tackle when the Dolphins needed a right tackle in the worst way?

How can you not be happy with a player who had whopping 49 opportunities to start at the University of Tennessee, in the Southeastern Conference mind you, and started all 49 of those games?

How can you not be happy with giving quarterback Ryan Tannehill, sacked a franchise record 58 times in 2013, some more time to throw the football this coming season?

“That’s very important,” James said by phone late Thursday as he was celebrating with family in Atlanta. “We got to keep him up. I’m going to do my job to help keep him up.”

How can you not be happy that a running game that was No. 26 in the NFL last season as it offered up a paltry 90 yards per game, will get a chance to improve because this zone-blocking player is expected to be an upgrade?

“He was the best player for us,” Dolphins general Dennis Hickey insisted when the idea that the Dolphins might have reached for James peeked through the line of questions for him.

Fine.

Everyone in the Dolphins brain trust gets it. Most fans had not heard of James before his name was called. Most fans were way more familiar with Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan.

Some fans might have even been thrilled had the Dolphins taken Johnny Manziel, available at the time, as a buzz-creating pick to fill seats.

And even though the idea of trading up was probably a long shot, certainly the Dolphins might have traded down, stocked up on an extra third-round pick and still gotten James later.

That seems a legitimate gripe.

Hickey did, after all, say he fielded some phone calls about the pick and Arizona did exactly that trade down move one pick after the Dolphins by swapping spots with New Orleans and getting that extra third-rounder.

So maybe Hickey had a chance to be a bit more of a gambler and passed for the certain thing.

But, honestly, if James is a starter this coming season and a solid player on an offensive line that is no longer a giant turnstile in coming years, are we really going to hit him over the head about a trade that wasn’t made?

Hickey insisted James was his guy from the start. He spent an hour with James after his Pro Day. When James visited the Dolphins facility, the player basically grabbed the general manager and begged to be taken by Miami.

“We have to go through the process first,” Hickey told him.

So even while some experts say James was a second-round talent, the Dolphins believed him to be a first-rounder the whole time. At least that’s what they are saying.

And what everyone else is saying really doesn’t matter. The important thing now is that James better be good. He has to be good.

He’s the third offensive lineman, joining Jake Long and Mike Pouncey, the team has drafted in the first round in the past seven seasons. Add a second-round pick (Jonathan Martin) invested in the offensive line and a couple of third rounders (John Jerry and Dallas Thomas) and one would think the Dolphins would be fielding a stellar front wall by now.

They haven’t been. Despite the liberal use of resources by the Dolphins, the offensive line was not only a team weakness but the epicenter of the humiliating bully scandal last year.

The Dolphins, so long a team that prided itself on great offensive line play, a team that once went 19 games without allowing a sack and has three offensive lineman — Larry Little, Jim Langer and Dwight Stephenson — in the Hall of Fame, needs to return to great offensive line play.

Ja’Wuan James joining the team as a first-round pick and now the other bookend tackle joining big money free agent signing Branden Albert has to help lead the charge back to that greatness.

Asking a lot?

Well, the Dolphins might have gotten away with saying James could simply come in and compete with veteran Jason Fox for the starting job if they’d gotten the player in the second round with their No. 50 overall selection.

But at No. 19 there can be no excuses. This 6-6 and 311-pounder must be a player. Immediately.

And talking to James, he obviously believes he’s capable of doing exactly that.

“I’m a tough, smart offensive lineman,” he said. “I pride myself on being smart and not making many mistakes. I bring athleticism to the table. I bring strength, and a lot of experience, too, playing that many games in the conference I did.”

Sounds good to me.

About Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero

@ArmandoSalguero

Armando Salguero has covered South Florida sports since 1982. He's covered the Dolphins since 1990. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and annually votes on the Associated Press All-Pro team. He has worked nationally for ESPN and also writes general sports columns for the Miami Herald.

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