Plenty of attention this offseason has been paid to the offensive line. And that's to be expected when your team makes the first overall pick of the draft an offensive tackle. Jake Long is certainly going to be the center of attention along that line. And then there's also new guard, Justin Smiley, who is expected to come in and start right away. Oh, and there's also a starting competition going on for the remaining guard spot that features some inexperienced young players battling it out.
Meanwhile, one thing that might be getting overlooked a little bit is our new starting right tackle...who happens to be the same as the old starting right tackle.
The selection of Jake Long first overall quickly sent a message to Vernon Carey. It was something along the lines of: "Thank you for playing surprisingly well at left tackle in '07. Now get back to the right side."
And that's exactly what Vernon is doing. While he's said in the past that he's more comfortable playing on the right side (remember, he spent his college career at RT as well as his first 3 NFL seasons), he admits that there is an adjustment period in converting back to RT:
"It was a little shaky at the beginning. I go out and I try to watch film every day and evaluate that. I won't say I'm [comfortable] yet, but it's going to be there."
I've read in a few places that some fans wonder why we are moving Carey back to the right side, saying that if he has to readjust, he might potentially lose confidence in himself. But that's really not giving Vernon enough credit. Carey is mentally tough and is really better suited to play the right side. Says Tony Sparano:
"If you can play left tackle in our league, you can play right tackle in our league. With Vernon, he's a big, strong guy and the right tackle is a more powerful position. I think that's an easier transition, certainly, for him."
Offensive line coach Mike Maser agrees:
"He's a big guy and you'd like your right tackle to be a big, thick guy like Vernon. I kind of think he naturally fits into that mold."
And that's exactly the point. Carey, while he was an above average left tackle in 2007, can easily be a Pro-Bowl right tackle for many years to come. The main difference between the two is, of course, pass-blocking. On the left side, you will usually face each team's best pass rusher week in and week out. Carey lacks the speed needed to deal with some of these pass rushers. Says former offensive lineman Ross Tucker:
Though right tackles go up against top-flight rushers like the Seahawks' Patrick Kerney and the Packers' Aaron Kampman, there is not the same consistency in terms of quality of opponent as there is for the left tackle. Right tackles also are more likely to receive help from a running back in the form of a "chip." Finally, the likelihood that their mistake will cause a game-altering turnover is somewhat lessened since the rusher is usually in the quarterback's line of sight.
Where Carey really excels on the field is as a mauling run-blocker. And that's exactly what the right tackle has to specialize in. In 2007, the Dolphins averaged 5.05 yards per carry running behind Vernon Carey, according to the Football Outsiders. That was good enough for 4th best in the league among all left tackles. In 2006, when Carey played right tackle, the Dolphins averaged 4.76 yards per carry behind Vernon. That's good enough for 2nd best that season.
And that's just it. Vernon is really going to thrive as a RT in this particular offense that Dan Henning plans on running. If Jake Long can become the great left tackle that most think he can become, then the Dolphins have two potential Pro-Bowlers as their bookends along the offensive line for years to come. There aren't many teams in the league that can say that.