As we all know, the offensive line was the weakest link of the Miami Dolphins' team in 2013 and rebuilding it was the main priority of the 2014 offseason. No matter how you feel about how well the rebuild was executed, there's no denying that Mike Pouncey's injury threw a wrench into the plans and forced Head Coach Joe Philbin to make untimely adjustments.
After another day of shaky snaps from Shelley Smith, who slid over from right guard to fill-in for Pouncey at the center position while Pouncey recovers from a recent hip surgery, the Dolphins center position, and offensive line as a whole, is becoming very worrisome.
I said in an article the other day, half-jokingly, that whoever could put the ball into Ryan Tannehill's chest consistently would win the center job. Well, it seems that may actually be the reality of the situation.
If Smith continues to struggle with snaps, a mistake that could easily cost the Dolphins a win in real games, then it would warrant a switch back to right guard for Smith and prompt a reinvigorated search for a starting center. So if Smith isn't the answer (which is still to be determined, but hope is dwindling), who will step in? Sam Brenner, who had been working as the second team center in camp, was carted off the field on Tuesday after suffering an injury.
That leaves Nate Garner as the only other back-up plan at center left on the roster who has played a down in the NFL, but the team values him as a utility man who has the ability to step in at nearly every offensive line (besides left tackle) position if a starter goes down.
So, who's out there on the free agent market that the Dolphins could kick the tires on to see if they could hold down the increasingly unstable center position?
This former Dolphin has been suggested by many for months to be on a comeback trail to Miami (before Pouncey's injury as a guard, after as a center). Satele, a former second round pick of the Dolphins, spent the last two season with the Indianapolis Colts. My praise of Colts' QB Andrew Luck stems from his ability to evade the constant pressure he is under, which doesn't reflect well on Satele or the rest of the line. Nonetheless, Satele, who was originally traded from Tony Sparano's Dolphins due to his lack of physicality, could thrive in the Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme which would allow him to rely more on his athleticism and movement ability. Satele could find his phone ringing very soon, but Satele, who has started a full 16-game season only twice in his career, both in Miami, comes with his fair share of risks and warts (putting it lightly).
Gurode reached out to the Dolphins after Pouncey's injury, and it may be time for the Dolphins to call him back. Gurode is most famous for being stepped on by Ndamukong Suh while playing with the Dallas Cowboys, but the 35-year old may be able to provide some solidity to the Dolphins' center position if he proves he can still play the game on a physical and mental level and, most importantly, move well laterally in the Dolphins' zone-blocking scheme.
Cook, who was a member of the Dolphins very briefly in 2011 before being traded for a seventh round pick, is another free agent who the Dolphins could give a tryout too. Cook is a former second round pick of the Minnesota Vikings and spent two years as the starter before losing his position. Cook is a large man at 6'6", 330 pounds so his movement skills will need to be proven before he is signed. Cook, who has started a full 16-game season only once in his career, finished the 2013 season on injured reserve with the Cowboys after suffering a back injury in training camp, so the Dolphins would likely put him through a rigorous physical before signing him.
This former Cincinnati Bengals center used to be a very good center and a part of solid offensive lines in Cincinnati. Cook, who started 66 of the 73 games he has played in, was the leader of an offensive line that paved the for the comeback of RB Cedric Benson, a line that paved the way for the Bengals to be top five in rushing yards (2009) and a line that was top six in sacks allowed in 2010 and 2011. Cook has started all 16 games in four of his six NFL seasons with the only exceptions being his rookie season and 2012, which he spent most of on injured reserve after a preseason injury. Cook played more snaps than any other center listed in 2013.
If any of these centers are signed it will be after a tryout as signing any of the men named without first testing to see what level of ability and durability they still possess (as all besides Satele are on the wrong side of 30) would be reckless.
The Dolphins need answers when it comes to the offensive line, but for that to happen the Dolphins might need to review a few more options and ask a few more questions. There will likely be many phone calls in the next couple of days doing just that.