The Miami Dolphins have been searching for the right players to man their interior offensive line for a long time.
That’s because John Jerry wasn’t the answer, moving Vernon Carey from tackle wasn’t the answer, Donald Thomas wasn’t the answer, neither were Pat McQuistan, Justin Smiley, Ikechuku Ndukwe (thankfully, says the guy who writes on deadline), Rex Hadnot, Chris Liwienski, Cory Lekkerkerker (see Ndukwe note), L.J. Shelton, or Geno James.
And although there’s hope current candidates Daryn Colledge, Shelley Smith, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner can be long-term anchors at guard, circumstances of one sort or another are standing in the way of that optimism like a palace guard in front of Buckingham.
(The Dolphins, you should know, are going to London soon.)
And that’s where Mike Pouncey is coyly raising his hand to solve the problem.
Pouncey is the Dolphins’ outstanding Pro Bowl center when he’s healthy.
Unfortunately for the team, Pouncey hasn’t been fully healthy and able to play or practice since undergoing hip surgery in June. He missed training camp, the preseason and the season’s first two games. He also is not playing Sunday against Kansas City.
But Pouncey returned to practice last week on a limited basis and his workload is expected to increase next week in the lead-up to the Dolphins’ game against the Oakland Raiders in the United Kingdom.
Pouncey says he’d like to play in that game and believes he can.
But more importantly, he says if the Dolphins need him to play guard as a solution to the team’s epic problems at the position, he would do that.
“I would do it if I have to,” Pouncey said when I asked about the possibility. “I would do whatever the team needs to help us win.”
Pouncey is not pushing to be a guard. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber center and has been all his professional career — with the exception of time he spent years ago working at guard in practice.
But Pouncey played guard full-time a couple of seasons when he was at the University of Florida and, most importantly, he’s at least open to the switch.
“I am a Pro Bowl center,” he said. “I’d be a Pro Bowl guard, too.”
So the Dolphins might not have the definitive answer to their guard issues. But they certainly have an option.
The team could keep Samson Satele as the starting center and put a willing Pouncey at right guard with Colledge continuing to man the left guard spot.
Suddenly, the Miami line that has been getting very good play from its offensive tackles but not so good from its guards would seem more stable.
The move would put Miami’s five best linemen on the field at positions where they can excel. Moving Satele to guard is also an option but not the best one because he really has never played the spot.
Plus, Satele, signed out of desperation in August, has been playing well enough at center to suggest he could remain there.
He was outstanding against the Patriots, particularly in his run blocking. And although he was unspectacular last week against the Buffalo Bills, he wasn’t a disaster. His run blocking was uninspiring and his pass blocking was adequate.
The beauty of keeping Satele at center and playing Pouncey at guard is it solves multiple problems immediately.
It upgrades the guard position, it makes the absence of Smith, who is injured, of little consequence, it puts Thomas back on the bench where he fits best, and it doesn’t tempt the Dolphins to play Turner, a rookie, before he’s fully ready to succeed.
Finally, if it doesn’t work, Pouncey can always go back to center and likely pick up where he left off last season when he was selected to the Pro Bowl. Yes, that would put Satele on the bench, but at least the Dolphins tried.
So what’s the problem with all this fanciful shuffling?
It is unlikely the Dolphins will give it a serious try.
The team on some levels believes Pouncey is a fine center and that’s where he should stay because being as strong as possible and perhaps even elite at that position is something NFL coaches and general managers highly value.
“Centers, with everything we ask them to do these days, are becoming a much more valuable position along with the tackles,” one NFL scout said this week. “Guards you can find. Tackles and centers you can’t just get by for too long.”
But barring a meltdown against the Chiefs, the Dolphins so far are doing better than merely getting by at center with Satele. And although they tried to find guards, the search needs to continue because good answers have not been obvious.
Pouncey is close to being ready to play again.
Maybe the right answer is becoming available.