When training camp opens up in just over two weeks, one of the most intriguing story lines will center around the big men up front. While we all know the Dolphins are set at both the starting left and right tackle spot, the interior offensive line is very much up in the air. But for the first time in years, the interior isn't in flux because of a dearth of talent. Instead, the Dolphins have set themselves up with outstanding depth at the center and guard positions.
This means two things. One - the Dolphins wouldn't have to scramble around as much as some other teams out there if they were unfortunate enough to suffer an injury or two along the interior line. And two - we will have some very entertaining competitions for starting jobs.
If you like watching the battle in the trenches, then you will love the 2010 preseason - as well as training camp if you are lucky enough to attend some practices.
I'd be crazy to sit here and attempt to figuring out how these competitions will play out. But here is what you need to know when the hitting goes live in a couple weeks.
As far as we can tell from OTAs and mini-camp, the right guard position will be a battle between Donald Thomas and newcomer Richie Incognito. Two years ago, Thomas was considered a "God-send" as a late-round pick who won the starting job out of training camp. But his rookie season ended early with a foot injury in week one. Thomas then played in all 16 games in 2009 but started only 12 before losing some snaps. He's considered one of the physically strongest linemen on the team. Now entering his third year, it's time for Donald to take his game to the next level if he wants to hold off the veteran who comes to Miami via St. Louis and Buffalo.
I'm talking about Incognito, of course. The talented - but troubled - veteran is here in Miami on a one year deal with a chance to prove that he's finally gotten his anger issues under control. It's been those issues that have cost him throughout his five year career. His talent is really unquestioned. He's big, strong, and plays with the kind of nasty streak Tony Sparano loves. If he can harness his impulsive on-field actions and resist the temptation to take dumb penalties, Incognito is a great fit for this team and is probably the favorite to win the starting job.
On the other side, there have been two guys who have been rotating to win the starting spot once held by Justin Smiley. Rookie John Jerry has been rotating with free acquisition Cory Procter this offseason as the starting left guard. Jerry, a third round pick, is a very big guy who projects as a mauling run-blocker. The question about Jerry is how quickly he can get acclimated to the speed of the game at this level.
Procter, meanwhile, comes to Miami after spending his first five seasons in Dallas - which means he has obvious ties to this coaching staff, especially Tony Sparano. He's got the versatility this regime likes, though he's spent all of his time in Miami at guard. He was an 11 game starter in '08 before working strictly as a backup in '09. He was highly sought after in free agency, with the Patriots and Broncos hosting him on visits before he arrived in Miami and signed a contract. I'm very curious to see him play with my own eyes this preseason. Until then, I'm not too sure what the Dolphins have in Cory.
At center, the Dolphins will have an open competition between Jake Grove and Joe Berger. Grove was signed last offseason and played exceptionally well in the first ten games before he fell victim to what he has always struggled with - injuries. Berger, who was with Sparano in Dallas before joining Miami, started at center over the last six weeks of 2009. While he didn't perform poorly by any means, he wasn't nearly as effective as Grove - especially against the bigger nose tackles. That's probably part of the reason why the Dolphins saw a significant drop off in rush yards per game once Grove was replaced by Berger.
These two have been alternating with the first team offense all offseason. So it'll be interesting to see how this battle shapes up.
The "X Factor"
One of the most unheralded members of this team is the versatile Nate Garner. Garner has been a forgotten man during the offseason since he had to miss all of the offseason recovering from foot surgery. But this coaching staff is a big fan of his. He's got the size this staff loves (6'7, 325) and is as versatile as an offensive lineman can be. Last year, Garner worked at both guard spots, center, and even right tackle (and he did so all in one game). He's best suited for one of the two guard spots. And if he's healthy for the start of camp, he could very much be in the mix to start.