This marks the second in a series of Dolphins In Depth posts explaining why the Miami Dolphins must address various positions during the upcoming April 27-29 draft. Today: Guard.
“When are the Miami Dolphins going to finally, finally!, fix that dang offensive line?”
You ask yourself this question all the time. You mutter the question under your breath. You go to sports bars looking for folks to talk to about it.
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You’re one of those people.
And those people seemed pretty smart for about five games last year when the Dolphins offensive line was intact and rolling and led the charge as the team recovered from a 1-4 start. But alas, it didn’t last.
Mike Pouncey got hurt and missed the rest of the season. Branden Albert got hurt and missed four games. There was shuffling in the interior.
All of which made those people more certain that the Dolphins have to finally, finally! fix that dang offensive line. And what better time than in the coming in NFL draft, right?
Well, those people, I hear you. And I was with you last year. And the year before. And definitely the year before. And the year before that.
But now we’re at a crossroads and I don’t see the Dolphins addressing the guard position -- which was a major need at the start of this offseason -- early in the coming draft. Sorry.
The reason is the Dolphins are shifting focus away from paying big money or spending early picks on grunts. Grunts don’t score touchdowns. Grunts don’t define games. Grunts get taken on the third day of the draft, as the New England Patriots have often done. And they win Super Bowls.
The Dolphins, for your information, are not about the high-priced or highly drafted grunts anymore.
(Yes, Laremy Tunsil was the first round pick in 2016 and he played left guard most of the year. But Tunsil was selected to inherit the vital and elite left tackle spot from Albert. He will do exactly that in 2017.)
So left tackle is a key position. Guard not as much.
And as the Dolphins have a left tackle that was picked in the first round, and a right tackle that was picked in the first round, and a center that was picked in the first round, they are not thinking a grunt guard in the first round of the 2017 draft unless something significantly unexpected -- like an extraterrestrial event -- happens.
(By the way, that previous paragraph kind of shoots down the notion from those people that the Dolphins don’t invest in their offensive line.)
From the Dolphins perspective so does this: When the league year began, Miami had no starting guards on the roster. They needed two. And ... they signed two.
The team signed Ted Larsen to a very modest three-year, $5.65 million contract. And for his average annual salary of $1.8 million, the Dolphins expect Larsen to be the starting left guard.
“It was interesting when we started looking at him playing in Chicago,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “He’s played in this offense before because basically we’re mirror images of each other. They started doing some more outside-zone scheme and we were able to see what he looked like doing that. We’ve had some guys that actually have coached him with some other teams before that said a lot of good things about him. We felt like he fit what we were looking for and I’m interested to see just kind of how ... You don’t know a guy until you really get into training camp and the competitive situations.
“From everything I’ve heard, he’s our type of guy. I’m just excited to get that group going and seeing what we can make out of it this year.”
That group wasn’t expecting a Jermon Bushrod return for 2017. The day the 2016 season ended, the Dolphins hoped to upgrade from Bushrod. But then coaches started watching tape of the season and they saw that things they had sometimes blamed on Bushrod actually were caused when Ja’Wuan James sometimes left his line mate in a bind.
And then the Dolphins saw the price of free agent guards skyrocket.
And then practically all the good guards were gone.
And then Bushrod, who started all 16 games , suddenly looked pretty good again.
“He rated out second-highest on our offensive line,” Gase said of Bushrod. “He played pretty good for us. For a guy that it’s the first time he ever played right guard because he played left tackle his whole career ... I thought he did a pretty good job.
“We’re looking to get better from last year because he’s coming in knowing what to do. We can actually treat him like a veteran player. He had to take a lot of reps last year (to learn the position). For a guy that was 32 years old, he was averaging about three or four less reps a day than Tunsil, who is 10 years younger. He was taking a lot of reps.
“This year, hopefully the fact that he’s played that position is going to help us because now we’ll be able to get him into the game to where he’ll be able to take less reps during the week and know what to do mentally. That’s the hardest thing. When you move from the left side to the right side, it really does mess with your head a little bit because it’s a completely different vantage point. I think this is going to be a chance for us to get better at that position.”
So, dear those people, based on what you’ve just read, do you think the Dolphins pick a guard in the first round?
Sounds like Larsen is set for the left guard spot and Bushrod returns to right guard if perhaps for the final time in 2017.
And Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp, which every one of those people loves, looks so much less likely as a result.
Lamp is believed to be the draft’s best guard. He’s tough. He’s quick enough that he played left tackle in college. He can even play center, some scouts say.
You know what? This isn’t the “why the Dolphins should draft a center” post but I’d almost argue a player that can be either a starting guard or center, and especially a starting center, would be more valuable than a true guard. The reason is Mike Pouncey has had chronic hip problems the past few years and is three hip surgeries into his career. He missed nine games because of the hip last year. And the Dolphins could use a Plan B for the spot even though Gase has said they’re not worried about Pouncey’s availability.
(Cough, not worried about Pouncey’s hip, cough.)
Anyway, there are scouts who argue Lamp was more a product of combine buzz and the quality of opponents at Western Kentucky is a red flag.
That’s why there’s Indiana’s Dan Feeney, Ohio State’s Pat Effein, Pitt’s Dorian Johnson, and LSU’s Ethan Pocic -- a guy I would love in the third round.
There are some Temple and Kutztown and Western Michigan guys the scouts mention and I roll eyes and start thinking pleasant thoughts of my wife or dinner or a nap. Not interested unless the guy is the second coming of Larry Allen.
Look, I get that the Dolphins offensive line gives no feeling of security or certainty.
Pouncey’s hips are a concern. Tunsil is going to be an NFL left tackle for the first time. The Dolphins hope but aren’t absolutely sure Larsen is any good. Bushrod isn’t the freak athlete he was 10 years ago and is probably playing his final season with the team. James has to step it up this year and will get a lot of pressure from coaches to do so because he does have great potential although not always great roduction.
So, yes, there are questions.
And, yes, picking a Lamp could potentially address as many as two of those issues -- starting guard longterm and possibly center if Pouncey continues to have hip issues.
But with a defense that is in desperate need of upgrade and teams like the Patriots winning championships by addressing guards later in the draft, it’s hard to imagine a first-day guard in the offing for the Dolphins.
That will likely make those people unhappy.
Wednesday: Defensive ends.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter @ArmandoSalguero