Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins hope Mike Pouncey back for AFC East run — because they need him

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey rushes the field as the Miami Dolphins host the Tennessee Titans at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 9, 2016.
Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey rushes the field as the Miami Dolphins host the Tennessee Titans at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 9, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Mike Pouncey is frustrated. The Miami Dolphins center has missed seven of the team’s 12 games this season, including the past three, and as of this morning there is no certainty he won’t miss at least one more.

Pouncey hasn’t been practicing with the team the past three weeks so even if he returns to practice this afternoon, there will be no certainty he’ll be able to play against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. More worrisome, if he doesn’t at least get on the field today, there will be practically no chance he plays the next game.

[Update: Pouncey did not practice Wednesday suggesting his chances for playing Sunday are minimal.]

And that’s why Pouncey is frustrated. His injured hip simply has not responded like he thought. When he returned from seeing a specialist in New York three weeks ago, he and the Dolphins were expecting him to miss a couple of weeks.

Those couple of weeks have passed.

And Pouncey showed some of his frustration Sunday when reporters, who saw him for the first time in a locker room setting since his last hip injury, asked if he was intending to play again this year.

I don't know,” he said cryptically. “We’ll see how it goes.”

That answer made some folks in the Dolphins building cringe. Why?

Because they expect him to play again this year. Because they need him. And because Pouncey last year gave similar answers ... and never played after the team held a roster spot open for him the final two games of the season.

“Obviously, if we didn’t think he was going to come back, he wouldn’t be on the (53-man) roster; he’d be on IR,” coach Adam Gase said this week. “We feel like we have a chance. Knowing Mike, he’s one of those guys that, like he always says, ‘I’m a quick healer.’ We’ll see what happens.”

Last year we saw Pouncey suffered a foot injury in Week 15. And immediately he told the team he’d play the following week. He could not. Then he told the team he’d make it to the season-finale. And he could not.

So there is concern that now, even as Pouncey is working and straining to get back from his second hip injury this season -- an issue that also reared up a couple of years ago and required the first of two hip surgeries. Some NFL people admittedly not in the Dolphins organization are starting to wonder if Pouncey will actually be able to play again in 2016.

So what’s the big deal? Guy’s a center, right? A grunt, right? Anthony Steen is good enough, right?

Well, Steen has been fine. But Mike Pouncey is elite at his position.

(Pouncey is also a good person. He does tons of charitable work in the community, which is one reason he is this year’s Dolphins nominee for NFL Man of the Year. So there’s that.)

Gase has told people Pouncey is one of, if not the best offensive lineman he’s ever been around. Pouncey is the offensive line’s leader, it’s heartbeat. And when he is not in the lineup the void may not be obvious but it is tangible.

Consider:

The Dolphins this season have played seven games without Pouncey. In those games they average 80.8 rushing yards per game. They average 210 passing yards per game. They average 17.4 points per game without Pouncey.

The Dolphins have played five games that Pouncey started. In those games, Miami has averaged 164.4 rushing yards per game. The Dolphins have averaged 193.4 passing yards per game. They’ve averaged 21.2 points per game with Pouncey.

So the Dolphins have averaged over twice as many rushing yards per game with Pouncey as without. Indeed, when Pouncey has been out of the lineup, the Dolphins have eclipsed 100 yards rushing only once -- against Cleveland when they gained 115 rushing yards.

With Pouncey, the team has been over 100 yards rushing in every game except one (Cincinnati) and been over 200 yards rushing twice.

That does not even account for the confidence Pouncey instills in the huddle, particularly for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The point is not having Pouncey seems merely an inconvenience because we don’t track the center on every play. But his absence has been acutely felt.

The Dolphins are hopeful to have Pouncey for the final three games. Not coincidentally, those games will all be against AFC rivals.

At New York.

At Buffalo.

Against New England in the season finale.

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