Barry Jackson

Here’s what the Dolphins know and don’t know about their young linemen on both sides

When the Dolphins offseason started — which seems like ages ago — the goal was to solidify the offensive and defensive lines in the first year of a rebuild.

Call it mission unaccomplished, in part because Houston overwhelmed Miami in trade talks for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and in part because of other circumstances, such as Denver outbidding the Dolphins for free agent right tackle Ja’Wuan James; no preferred defensive end falling to Miami in the draft and the Dolphins determining that Vincent Taylor — solid in his first two seasons — did not fit the Dolphins’ scheme.

The result?

This could be the worst combination of lines in modern Dolphins history.

And the question for the rest of the season is exactly who — beyond Christian Wilkins and perhaps Jesse Davis and Michael Deiter — are good enough to be key pieces of these lines when Miami is competitive again.

Examining where things stand with both lines:

OFFENSIVE LINE

By next season, there likely will be three or four new starters on a unit that is largely responsible for allowing 13 sacks (tied for third most in the league) and at least partially accountable for a sputtering running game that’s averaging 2.6 yards per carry, which is third worst.

The Dolphins believe Davis, signed to a three-year, $15 million extension, is good enough to be a starter somewhere when the team is competitive — either at guard (where he played last year) or tackle, where he started this year before an upper arm injury forced him out of the Dallas game after 20 of Miami’s 72 snaps. Coach Brian Flores indicated Davis’ injury isn’t serious, and he’s “upbeat” about playing this week. Davis said Monday the arm “is not as sore I thought it would be.”

Among the tackles, the Dolphins view Ohio State rookie sixth-rounder Isaiah Prince (who has been inactive the first three games) as a project, and he cannot be projected for any significant role down the line. Nor, obviously, can veteran journeyman J’Marcus Webb.

And projecting Julien Davenport — now on injured reserve — for any significant long-term role is unrealistic, considering how poorly he played for the Texans last season. So the likelihood is Miami goes shopping for two starting tackles this offseason, with Davis a possibility for right tackle if he excels at left tackle.

At guard, Miami believes it might have one long-term answer in rookie third-round pick Deiter, and the Dolphins have been pleased so far, especially how he played when he moved to left tackle after Davis’ injury.

Pro Football Focus said Deiter graded out pretty well — 27th overall among all guards — in his first two weeks as a guard but said he struggled badly against Dallas after moving to tackle during the game, allowing six pressures and a sack overall Sunday and posting the worst PFF grade of any Dolphins offensive player.

But Flores said: “He performed well. Not perfect. He’s a tough kid, smart. He had some tough matchups for sure.”

Danny Isidora, who was being given an extended chance to make his case at the other guard spot, left with a foot injury after 30 snaps, and Flores said like Davis, Isidora also is “upbeat” about playing this week. With Deiter shifted to tackle to replace Davis, undrafted rookie Shaq Calhoun (42 snaps) and former Colts/Arizona fill-in starter Evan Boehm (52) got substantial guard work Sunday.

If any of the three emerges as a long-term starter, it will be a surprise, though each has a chance to make a case to be on the team in 2020. Among all guards, PFF rates Isidora 62nd of 74 players this season.

Pro Football Focus rates Daniel Kilgore 30th among 32 centers through three weeks, and he’s under contract next season for a reasonable $3.1 million with a $3.6 million cap hit. There’s no dead money on the 2020 cap if the Dolphins cut him, but he still could stick around next season for the final year of his deal, depending on how he plays.

DEFENSIVE LINE/EDGE RUSHERS

The early returns have been mixed for rookie first-rounder Wilkins. PFF says he was pushed aside repeatedly in the opener and that he wasn’t very good against Dallas— which averaged 6.9 per rush Sunday -though he did make five tackles, including a couple for short gains. PFF ranks him 94th of 116 defensive tackles.

Christian Wilkins
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (97) eyes Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) during a preseason game. Wilkins has had mixed results so far in his rookie season. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Beyond Wilkins, who else is part of this defensive tackle rotation long-term? The Dolphins believe Davon Godchaux could be, and he was playing decently before struggling at times Sunday. Through three weeks, PFF rates him 33rd among defensive tackles.

John Jenkins, 30, played well against New England but logged 17 largely unimpactful snaps Sunday, and this is his fifth team in a nomadic career.

Perhaps the Dolphins can develop former UM standout tackle Gerald Willis (re-signed to the practice squad Monday) or tackle Robert Nkemdiche, the former first-rounder who had 4.5 sacks in 10 games for Arizona last season but remains out at least two more games — potentially longer — while recovering from last December’s knee surgery and getting himself into shape.

What Nkemdiche gives Miami in November and December — if anything — combined with Godchaux’s play will determine whether defensive tackle needs to be a high priority this offseason or a secondary one.

FINS0923TACOCTJ.JPG
Miami Dolphins defensive end Taco Charlton (96) rushes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Day Prescott (4) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, September, 22, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

As far as edge rushers and defensive ends, the Dolphins have been cycling through nearly a dozen young players, Taco Charlton the latest. The former Cowboys first-round pick had a sack and two pressures in 30 snaps against his former team Sunday, and Flores said “he played hard, did an OK job with his assignments, lost contain on one play in particular.”

FINS082390CTJ.JPG
Miami Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris (90) puts pressure on Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Mishew (15) in the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Thursday, August, 22, 2019. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

And Charles Harris — now listed as a linebacker — continues to produce modestly. He has no sacks and just four pressures in 89 pass rushing opportunities this season.

The Dolphins have been taking a long look at former Giants fifth-round pick Avery Moss, who played 47 snaps against Baltimore, 51 against New England and 39 against Dallas. Those 39 snaps Sunday weren’t much less than Wilkins’ 45 and Godchaux’s 42

The results for Moss so far: 10 tackles (none for loss) and a PFF ranking of 86th among 98 defensive ends.

Moss started two games as a rookie in 2017 for the Giants but spent last year on the practice squad after offseason hip surgery. Giants coach Pat Shurmur “liked my physicality and how I set the edge,” he said. Flores said last week that Moss “has done a good job — played tough and smart and given us good snaps.”

After missing the first two games with a foot injury, linebacker/defensive end Trent Harris made his Dolphins debut Sunday and played 17 snaps, twice getting pressure on the quarterback.

Harris had 8.5 sacks for UM in 2017, went undrafted in 2018 and spent the season on the Patriots practice squad before being released last month. Flores saw enough to like with Harris to give him a chance here, and said he showed some “rust” Sunday but had a “good start.”

The Dolphins eventually will get a look at edge-rushing rookie linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who’s on injured reserve, and see potential in practice squad end Dewayne Hendrix, who flashed in preseason.

But whether there’s a single edge rusher on the roster who’s worthy of being here in a couple years remains an unanswered question.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments