No one was more surprised that Jordan Mills was starting at left tackle for the Dolphins Thursday than Jordan Mills.
Brian Flores broke the news to him not long before kickoff, electing to give Laremy Tunsil the night off.
“Coach came up to me right before we went out to the field telling me I’d be at left tackle and ‘you’ve got to be ready for the next-man-up mentality,’’ Mills said. “When he told me, I was like, ‘Let’s go.’”
Give Mills, who last lined up at left tackle in a game when he was a freshman at Louisiana Tech a decade ago, points for effort and enthusiasm.
But deduct them all for execution.
It was a slog for him all night. Mills, signed by the Dolphins in May, looked like a guy playing out of position.
Mills, on the field for 38 out of a possible 74 offensive snaps, allowed multiple pressures, at least one sack and committed two holding penalties.
Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick had little time to throw all night, and Mills protecting their blindside didn’t help.
Mills, the former Buffalo Bill, acknowledged he had to knock off “a little bit” of rust, “but that comes with the territory. Everything like that, not playing it for a while, but you’ve got to be ready for anything.
“It felt good to be out there, get to hit somebody else, a different color jersey,” he added. “I got a few things to work on, but it was pretty good.”
Post-game, when a reporter asked Rosen what his approach is when one of his linemen is struggling like Mills did Thursday night, the Dolphins quarterback replied:
“I don’t know. Support him? I threw the pick in a completely clean pocket. So football is football. You’re never going to have a completely clean pocket all of the time. When you get it, you’ve got to take advantage of it and when you don’t, you can’t make stupid mistakes by trying to play hero ball.”
It would be comforting for Dolphins fans to think that this was just a result of playing without Tunsil, and that the protection will get much better when Mills moves back to his natural right tackle spot, or out of the lineup altogether.
But the issues were far more pervasive Thursday. In general, the offensive line play was putrid. The Dolphins’ line allowed two sacks, 7 quarterback hits and 7 tackles for loss, committed five penalties and averaged a scant 3 yards per carry.
And two weeks into training camp, the Dolphins still don’t seem to have a good answer at guard. Rookies Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun started, but neither was good.
“We’ve come a long way, and like you said we have a ton more to do,” Deiter said. “Especially me and Shaq being rookies — there’s a lot that we can clean up. We were not perfect at all and, we’ve got to get there.”
Flores said Deiter and Calhoun struggled at first with the speed of the game, but improved as they went along. And with the more experience they get, the slower the game should become for them.
But that’s no excuse for Mills, who has been in the league since 2013.
And assuming Tunsil is back for the second preseason game, he better figure things out — and fast. Despite being listed as the starting right tackle on the depth chart, Mills has in recent weeks apparently lost the job to Jesse Davis.
If he doesn’t pick up his play over the next three weeks, he might be out of a job — period. Ex-Dolphin Sam Young is still available, and might be one of several options for the Dolphins around cut-down day, should they want to make a change.
“Coach Flo expects us to know every position,” Mills said. “You can’t just focus on one position. You have to know what everybody does. It’s going to be difficult. We play a difficult sport. When lights turn on, you’ve got to be ready.”
He added: “You’re not guaranteed nothing in this league. Every day, you’ve got to come out and compete. I’m not really worried about that. I’m just worried about my teammates.”