Armando Salguero

How Miami Dolphins hope to keep ‘best center in football’ on the field

Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier talks free agency at combine

Dolphins general manager Chris Grier discusses Kenny Stills' contract, Ryan Tannehill's knee and more at the NFL Scouting Combine.
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Dolphins general manager Chris Grier discusses Kenny Stills' contract, Ryan Tannehill's knee and more at the NFL Scouting Combine.

PHOENIX -- After the 2016 season ended, coach Adam Gase had his offensive coaching staff study every player, grade each player’s performance during the season, then rate the players in order. The No. 1 offensive lineman on the team?

Rookie Laremy Tunsil? No.

Veteran left tackle Branden Albert? No.

Ja’Wuan James? No, and obviously not after he was benched at least once during the year and struggled during other games.

Mike Pouncey.

The Miami Dolphins No. 1 offensive lineman. Their best offensive lineman and perhaps one of their best players.

So can we stipulate that Pouncey is really good? That’s not the issue with him. That has never been the issue.

The issue is making sure this excellent player is excellent throughout a 16-game season, something that has been a challenge the past few years. Last year, Pouncey played only five games before a chronic hip injury forced him onto the injured reserve list.

Pouncey has had both his left and right hip surgically repaired the past three years and indeed has had three hip surgeries altogether. So what confidence do the Dolphins have in Pouncey having not just great ability but great durability?

"I'm going to have a lot of confidence because of who it is,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Tuesday. “I'm not going to turn my back on, I think, the best center in football.

“I'll roll the dice with him for as long I can because that's how good he is and that's how much he means to our organization.”

That means something. It means the Dolphins are not going to cut ties with a 27-year-old player who is very good and still very young. That means the Dolphins are not going to look to move Pouncey to guard because it might be a less stressful position for his hips..

But the Dolphins will have contingencies in case, well, you know.

“We're always going to have good contingency plans if something were to happen,” Gase said. “But no one is ever going to be as good as him. It's just a fact. He's that good and he makes a big difference for us. But if he's not out there, we do make a couple of moves as far as what we do as far as that spot -- whether it's one of the guys who is going to be on that second tier of linemen bumping up to his spot, or one of the starting linemen bumping a guy over from guard to center.”

Translation: The Dolphins might consider moving newly acquired Ted Larsen from his staring left guard spot to center and playing Kraig Urbik or Anthony Steen or perhaps a draft pick at guard. Or the team might keep Larsen at the starting left guard spot and play Urbik or Steen or a draft pick at center.

“We'll have plans,” Gase said. “[Offensive line coach] Chris [Foerster] did a good job getting multiple guys ready last year. Hopefully we'll get more guys ready this year.”

But the contingency plans also include managing the wear on Pouncey during training camp, the preseason, and in-season practice weeks. That means less practice reps so the team can milk more game reps out of the player.

“I'm going to do everything I can to make sure Mike is out there for 16-plus games from here on out,” Gase said. “That's the only thing I'm going to talk to him about. I'm not going to talk to him about missing games. And it’s not going to come from a negative light from me. I'm going to talk about 16-plus games next year."

By the way, the contingency currently does not include former New York Jets center Nick Mangold. Firstly, Mangold would like an opportunity to start. Secondly, Gase said the replacement -- if necessary -- would come from someone already on the roster now or someone Miami adds in the draft.

“Mike doesn't need a lot of practice reps. We're going to do what we need to do to make sure he's ready,” Gase said. “After that, I'm going to find out how many snaps we need him to take -- if any. My goal is get him out there on Sunday."

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, returns for his first game after an injury and Tunsil and Albert are injured. The line's performance resulted in quarterback Ryan Tannehill being sacked several times as they were defeated by the Tennessee Titan


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