PHILADELPHIA -- Jesse Davis is the next big thing for the guard-needy Miami Dolphins.
You didn’t hear his name last year because he wasn’t on the practice squad until November. You didn’t hear his name this spring because he’s an offensive linemen and, frankly, OTAs and minicamps simply don’t measure offensive linemen very well.
Then the pads went on this training camp -- on some days, at least -- and you still didn’t hear much about Davis because the open left guard spot wasn’t really open. It belonged to Ted Larsen.
Larsen was the next big thing.
Then Larsen tore his right biceps.
And so Kraig Urbik was the next big thing.
Then Urbik injured a knee and had arthroscopic surgery and will likely be out through the regular-season opener.
So now Davis, who played right tackle all last week, is now the next big left guard thing.
And because he’s the next big thing, he must be awesome!
“I like Jesse,” center Mike Pouncey said. “Jesse’s a strong football player at the point. He’s a smart guy. He really plays the game at a speed you’re supposed to play and I think he’s done a lot of great things for offense to deserve those first team reps. We lost a big piece with Ted going down with the biceps injury; but I think Jesse is going to go in there and fill in that spot and do a really good job.”
Said coach Adam Gase: “We were actually talking about it probably about two weeks ago about how he has really improved in the weight room. His knowledge of the offense is as good as anybody else. It doesn’t seem too big for him. He gets in there and competes. I like the way he has been handling himself with a lot of the injuries that we’ve had and he has had to move around quite a bit.”
Gase sometimes jokes my default stance when player after player after player gets injured is that the sky is falling. Gase’s default stance is, “To heck with it, we’re still going undefeated, the Super Bowl game will be won easily and everybody’s playing in the Pro Bowl!”
Fine, he doesn’t really feel that way any more than I think the sky is falling. The truth for both of us is probably somewhere in the middle.
And tonight we find out some of that truth.
Tonight the Dolphins play the Philadelphia Eagles and Davis is probably going to start if his work with the first-team offense in practice this week is an indicator. Even if he doesn’t start, Davis is going to play a lot because the Dolphins want to see if he’s capable of being the starting left guard until Urbik comes back.
So tonight we find out if indeed there is good reason to worry that a third-team player has been elevated to starting left guard ...
Or whether the guard position is such a minor issue for Gase’s system that basically you can pull people off the back of the roster and no one will notice.
I have to say I’ve been thinking a lot about the Dolphins philosophy on guard play and I’m torn.
The Dolphins believe guard play is not a big issue. It’s nothing. There are some games guards basically have nothing to do in pass protection. It’s over-rated.
So I’m torn because I have a great amount of respect for Gase. He knows what he’s asking players to do. He knows what he needs to make his offense work. So he gets a major benefit of the doubt.
But that doesn’t mean we suspend reality.
The truth is the rest of the NFL this offseason seemed to put a high value on quality guards.
Luke Joekel got $8 million on a one-year deal from Seattle. Larry Warford got $8.5 million per year from New Orleans. Ronald Leary got $9 million per year from Denver. T.J. Lang got $9.5 million from Detroit. Kevin Zeitler got a ridiculous $12 million per year from Cleveland.
And, I get it, how smart are the Browns or Lions? What have they won?
But on the other hand, the Seahawks have won plenty. Denver has won plenty. The Saints won a Super Bowl a decade ago and the same folks are still in charge. (The Dolphins last won a Super Bowl in 1974).
The point is some smart people with records for winning have invested in guards.
And what I hear from the Dolphins is the New England Patriots don’t invest in guards.
That is absolutely true. The Patriots won the Super Bowl (again) last year spending approximately $1.54 million in salary cap space at the three interior linemen spots.
But the Patriots do expend draft resources on their guards. Starting left guard Joe Thuney was a third-round draft pick. Starting right guard Shaq Mason was a fourth-round draft pick.
The fact the Patriots don’t have to pay these starters huge contracts because they drafted them, hit on them, and are benefiting from that isn’t a sign the Patriots ignore their guard play. It’s actually a sign the Patriots are wise in how they address their needs at guard.
Also, the Patriots can get away with having younger, cheaper guards because they have Tom Brady. And while he’s not nimble and mobile at 40 years old, he knows where the ball is going faster than anyone. He usually gets rid of the football so quickly it mitigates any breakdown in the guard play.
One more thing on the Patriots: When their guard play breaks down badly, even Brady’s presence cannot overcome the problem. Witness their two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants. Witness their 2014 regular-season finale loss to the Dolphins and then their AFC Championship game loss to the Denver Broncos that included four sacks.
All those losses came because the New England offensive line could not protect Brady.
Back to the Dolphins. I have no idea whether Jesse Davis is a diamond in the rough or just a guy the team is talking up because it has few other options.
But I will say that before the team refined its message on the left guard situation and seemed to go all in on the Davis narrative we got a very honest look at the situation from Gase when he was asked who he turns to now to fill the starting job.
“Warm bodies,” Gase said. “Whoever is out there. Everybody.”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero