With expectations soaring in Miami, the offensive line must do its part to protect Ryan Tannehill
The Miami Dolphins have been in training camp for almost a week and there have been a number of takeaways. One of the biggest areas of concern has been the play of the team's offensive line.
The Dolphins’ offensive linemen have struggled to keep players like Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh from getting pressure on the quarterback during drills and practices. Because of the performance of the offensive line, fans have been urging the team to sign free-agent guard Evan Mathis. Miami's offensive coordinator Bill Lazor refused to comment if Mathis would be an upgrade, but he did talk about the guards on the Dolphins’ current roster.
“I’m excited about the competition we have going as we go forward, it’s always better for the players to stay in the spot they’re in, moving in one spot, Lazor said. “Now that we’ve had three days with pads I think it’s heating up. I think we’ve got to do things as coaches, moving guys around at times to create ever more competition. That’s how we’re going to get better and it’s hard for me to focus on anything but the guys I’m watching every day.”
The competition Lazor is talking about is between Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas. Thomas has the most experience of the three, but he hasn’t been good during his first two seasons in the league. In 2014, Thomas started six games at guard — three on the right side and three on the left and was graded by Pro Football Focus as No. 58 out of 78 guards.
Turner only played in two games last season and Douglas is in his rookie season, so both lack NFL game experience. While all three guys are competing for the two starting guard spots, Lazor believes Thomas has stood out.
“I think Dallas Thomas is a much-improved player from what we saw last year,” Lazor said. “Again we were talking about staying in one position. That’s one thing Dallas wasn’t able to do last year, but I think it is showing us he’s in one spot right now. I think he’s playing well. I think Jamil Douglas has impressed as a rookie. I think Billy Turner has come a long, long way from what he was as a rookie last year. You talk about a guy who was injured in camp and missed some preseason games and I think that probably set him back. As a football coach you want every protection to be perfect, but when you go up, get a shower, eat lunch and as you watch the film, it’s also kind of fun to watch them.”
And things may only get better depending on how quickly left tackle Branden Albert is able to return from a serious knee injury. In the Dolphins’ first eight games prior to Albert’s injury, the team gave up 17 sacks. After Albert went down, so did quarterback Ryan Tannehill, to the tune of 29 sacks over the final eight games.
“Well I’m always gonna feel better with Branden (Albert),” Lazor said. “I mean that’s an easy part of the question. I think we’re improving.”
If Albert can return to the same Pro Bowl level that he was prior to his ACL and MCL injury last season, the domino effect along the line should be apparent, including at both guard spots. Yes getting an All-Pro-caliber guard like Mathis would instantly be an upgrade, but that would potentially put Miami in a terrible cap situation years down the road.
It appears Lazor and head coach Joe Philbin would much rather develop the young guards instead of spending a lot of money for Mathis.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.