The Dolphins have taken an outside-the-box approach to address their perennial offensive line problems.
If, as expected, former Alabama guard Anthony Steen starts at center in place of injured Mike Pouncey on Thursday against Atlanta, and if offensive-tackles-by-trade Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod again start at guard, that means that three of the five positions will be manned by players who never in their lives played a single snap at those positions in a game before this month.
When the Dolphins asked Steen about playing center earlier this year, he said he thought the team was joking.
“I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know,’” Steen said with a laugh. “And then they started giving me reps I thought it was more of just seeing what I could do. I didn’t actually think I would be playing center, but it’s a good thing.”
Pouncey is out at least two weeks with a hip injury.
As for left guard, Tunsil appears on track to start Sept. 11 at Seattle. But coach Adam Gase said right guard might not be resolved until just before the opener.
The Dolphins could have signed a traditional guard in free agency in March, but bowed out when the prices rose to uncomfortably high levels for veterans who were of interest to them, such as JR Sweezy, who got five years and $32.5 million to sign with Tampa.
Instead, they opted for a low-money one-year deal with Bushrod, believing the longtime left tackle could make a smooth transition to right guard.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be the easiest physically or mentally,” he said. “I have to get over the mental battles. Hopefully I’ll put it together.”
Bushrod – who is competing with Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas at right guard – played 20 snaps on Friday and allowed a sack that foiled Miami’s first possession. How did he play otherwise?
“There are some things I would like to clean up in the run game and be consistent,” he said. “At times, I feel good. At times, I feel awkward.”
Does he regret signing with a team that changed his side and position? No, he said. “Once you are here, you are all in,” he said.
▪ Running back Isaiah Pead said when he worked out for the Dolphins March 31, “I thought it was one of my lesser workouts. Dropped a couple balls. It was bad. I told my agent, ‘I blew this one.’”
Yet the Dolphins signed him two hours later and he has thoroughly impressed, averaging seven yards per carry in preseason. “Every time he touches the ball, something good happens for us,” Gase said.
Pead was out of the league last season, after knee surgery, and said he considered starting a trucking business in Columbus, Ohio. He said he is playing on all special teams, which should help his chances of sticking.
▪ Quarterback Matt Moore remains out indefinitely with a concussion. “I’m not going to say he’s doing OK,” Gase said. “It was a pretty vicious hit. Still has a sore neck.”
▪ Besides Pouncey and Moore, also missing practice with injuries were running back Kenyan Drake, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, linebacker Zach Vigil, cornerback Chris Culliver and defensive linemen Earl Mitchell and Dion Jordan.
▪ Gase said cornerback Xavien Howard, back from knee surgery, was able to do “a little” work in team drills for the first time… Defensive end Chris McCain was held out of practice, but Gase indicated it’s nothing serious.... Safety Reshad Jones left practice to have his lower leg examined, but he seemed to be OK.
▪ Receiver Jakeem Grant got only one offensive snap Friday, and Gase was vague when asked whether they didn’t want to show other teams how they plan to use him on offense. “Any time I had a returner that was a specialist - you want to find ways to get him on the field but don’t want to overdo it,” Gase said.
▪ Regarding tight end Jordan Cameron, Gase said: “We have to figure out the right way to use him.”