Mike Pouncey’s availability for Sunday — and beyond — is in doubt after he re-aggravated a hip injury that kept him out of the first four weeks of the season.
Any long-term issue would be a huge blow to the Dolphins, who will already be without Branden Albert on Sunday against the Rams. Albert underwent surgery on his dislocated left wrist on Tuesday, although the Dolphins do not believe the injury is season-ending.
As for the latest Pouncey ailment? It’s too early to tell much of anything, according to Dolphins coach Adam Gase. Pouncey pulled himself out of practice Wednesday and did not work at all Thursday.
“I don’t know if it’s been bothering him for a while,” Gase said. “He’s kind of one of those guys that grinds everything out, and you really don’t know anything, and then [Wednesday] he kind of pulled himself out. Said he didn’t feel right. Right now, we’re trying to get more information.”
Gase did not know if Pouncey would play Sunday against the Rams (although the tenor of the Dolphins’ public remarks would suggest the shot is long). Gase did not know if Pouncey would again need surgery (he had that same hip worked on late in training camp, causing him to miss the early part of the season).
If Pouncey cannot go, Anthony Steen would start at center and Kraig Urbik at guard, Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. Gase said his confidence level in Steen is “really high.”
Added Christensen: “It’s a curveball, but it’s the hand we’ve got.”
It’s been Pouncey’s hand for much of the past three seasons. The Pro Bowl center has had three surgeries on both hips since 2014. If he can’t play Sunday, it’ll be the ninth game he’s missed because of his hips in the past three seasons.
Gase suggested that Pouncey’s latest injury is not career-threatening.
Whatever the severity, the timing couldn’t be worse for the Dolphins, who rode their healthy offensive line to a four-game winning streak. The difference in quality when Pouncey, Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Jermon Bushrod and Ja’Wuan James are on the field together compared to when at least one sits out is staggering.
The quintet have started four games together this year. In those games, the Dolphins are undefeated and have averaged 180.3 rushing yards and 29 points per game.
But just two of those linemen — Bushrod and James — will start at their natural position against the Rams if Pouncey is out. Tunsil will slide from left guard to left tackle in place of Albert.
And that’s bad news. In the five games this year in which there were changes to the Dolphins’ line, Miami went 1-4, averaging 72.4 rushing yards and scoring just 17.6 points per game.
During their winning streak, Dolphins officials pointed to the offensive line’s health as the difference.
But on Thursday, with a new reality before him, Christensen had a different take.
“I don’t know that it was the offensive line as much,” he said.
“I just feel like we played some bad football early. It wasn’t just them. It was the whole unit. They were certainly a part of it, but they weren’t any worse than any of the other parts, any of the other little components of this thing. None of it was good early.”
That theory will be put to the test Sunday. The Rams have one of the best front fours in football in Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Williams Hayes and Michael Brockers. Quinn hasn’t practiced all week because of an illness that hospitalized him recently.
No matter the opponent Sunday, the Dolphins would now be dangerously thin on the offensive line. They have just six healthy linemen on their active roster. Jake Brendel and Terry Poole are on the Dolphins’ practice squad and could be elevated if Pouncey cannot play.
“We’re going to shuffle some things around,” Gase said. “We’re working with a couple of different lineups. Obviously, we have a very big challenge this week, and we have to figure out what the best lineup is for us this week.”