All Julien Davenport could do for the past two months was watch. The Miami Dolphins’ 24-year-old offensive lineman and starting right tackle to open the season has been on injured reserve with an injured knee and fractured tibia following the season-opening loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
His injury, though, was just the first of a slew of changes that has come to the Dolphins’ offensive line this season.
Since Davenport’s injury, starting right guard Danny Isidora went on IR with a season-ending foot injury and starting center Daniel Kilgore has missed three games with a knee injury. Evan Boehm, who initially started at right guard in place of Isidora, has since taken over at center for Kilgore. Rookies Shaq Calhoun and Keaton Sutherland have started at right guard over the last three weeks. Jesse Davis is now at right tackle after opening the season at left tackle with J’Marcus Webb is at left tackle.
All told, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo already used six different starting combinations through the first eight games. Eleven offensive linemen have notched at least one start this year.
“There’ll be a seventh. I promise you,” DeGuglielmo said. “Maybe more than that down the road.”
That latest combination could come as early as Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Boehm and Kilgore have both been limited at practice this week, and there’s a chance — but no guarantee — that Davenport returns to the active roster if he’s cleared.
A positive despite all the constant shuffling: He’s starting to see more stability out of his group as of late. That, in turn, has helped the Dolphins’ offense become more productive.
“It’s giving us an edge,” said left guard Michael Deiter, the only Dolphins offensive lineman to start every game this season.
Case in point: The Dolphins’ two best weeks on offense have come in the past three weeks.
They put up 316 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per play on Sunday in their 24-16 win against the New York Jets. They gave up a season-low five quarterback hits in the win.
Two weeks earlier, in a 31-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins put up season best numbers in yards (381) and yards per play (5.8) against a Buffalo team that ranks third in yards allowed per game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked once in the loss. The Dolphins had given up at least three in every other game this season.
“I don’t know if it’s coming together nicely or they just happen to do what they’re told for a change,” DeGuglielmo said with a laugh. ”To me, they’re starting to get the principles of how we’re asking them to perform. There are some basic things that coach (Brian Flores) believes in, that I believe in — staying on double teams, being in-sync with one another with our footwork and our hand placement, things like that — and it’s just finally coming to where no matter who we have in there, we’re getting what looks like offensive line play. ... We’re just trying to find the right combination”
That sort of progression takes time, DeGuglielmo said.
Especially with a young group, most of whom came into the season with less than a full year of starting experience.
And especially with a group that seems to be ever-changing each week.
But Davenport, from a distance, has seen the growth from his teammates. He hopes to join them soon and add another layer to the competition, the search to find the right starting combination. He began practicing with the team again last week and is eligible to come off his IR stint as early as this weekend.
“The boys have been playing their butts off,” Davenport said. “They’ve been showing improvement each and every week. I’ve felt like I’ve been a cheerleader the last couple week. It’s probably going to get a little worse now that I’m back in the mix.”