The Miami Dolphins have run for two yards per attempt this preseason and are ranked dead last in the league in rushing yards per game. This issue is undoubtedly the most troublesome and potentially detrimental problem this team currently faces and is the reason for the latest shake-up along the offensive line.
In the week following Dallas Thomas's mauling, courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers All-Pro DT Gerald McCoy, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin commented that neither of his guard position is set. While left guard Daryn Colledge may now be on a short leash, right guard Dallas Thomas was demoted.
With that the tweaking began and Shelley Smith, who had held the starting right guard position throughout OTA's before being experimented with at center, was plugged back into his former spot in place of the struggling Thomas.
Smith, a 2014 free agent signee, is renowned for his run blocking and his movement ability, which is key for linemen in the zone-blocking scheme. Smith will be a huge help, but it would have been nice to see him get a few snaps against the monster known as Gerald McCoy last week to see how he held up against one of the NFL's best defensive tackles.
Smith is also a questionable pass blocker, so protecting Tannehill adequately, on top of getting a push in the running game, will be key for Smith to hold onto the starting spot.
The Dolphins will also likely promote rookie Billy Turner to the first-team left guard spot for a few snaps this Saturday to see if he is ready to own the position permanently.
Turner is a mauler who was known for dominating opponents with his size in strength at North Dakota State, but Turner must play with better and more consistent technique (especially in regards to pass blocking) to earn a starting spot. One thing is for sure though-- Turner will move people in the running game.
Consistency and continuity are key for an offensive line, especially in the zone-blocking scheme, but the Dolphins cannot develop this cohesion until the correct mix of linemen, who can run block and pass block efficiently as a unit, is found.
The lack of a consistent running game will allow teams to play coverage to take away the Dolphins' strengths or tee off on Ryan Tannehill in a way similar to what we saw in 2013. However, it must be noted that Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's offense will reduce the affect of these consequences as the ball is usually out of Tannehill's hands quickly.
The Dolphins (and fans) true suffering regarding this deficiency will be felt when the team is attempting to hold a lead late in the fourth quarter of games.
If the Dolphins cannot find success running the ball when the defense doesn't know what's coming, they certainly won't be able to power forward for clock-killing first downs on the ground when the defense will be focusing on stopping the run.
It's also extremely tough to keep drives going and consistently score points when positive gains cannot be consistently had on the ground. Second and third-and-longs put offenses in unfavorable situations and Miami's offense saw far too many of these situations in 2013 due to lack of a consistent running game.
History shows that Lazor's offenses, which features plenty of play-action and rollouts, lean heavily on the run game. If his offensive line cannot execute blocks and create lanes to run through, he will be in hot water (and we would get a good look at his creativity as a coordinator).
Miami's running backs are not free of blame in this situation as they don't always pick the best lane to run through and haven't broken many tackles at the second level of opposing defenses.
Philbin, when asked why the performance of his running game was lackluster, said "I thought there was too much penetration (from the Bucs front seven). I think that was problem number one. I would say problem number two is we didn't break a lot of tackles, but I would say the first issue was the penetration from the front."
Center Mike Pouncey's targeted return from his late-June hip surgery in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders in London will bolster this unit as well as a good deal of run struggles can be blamed on current fill-in center Samson Satele, who is a bit of a liability in this area as he showed when attempting to double team McCoy with Thomas (though McCoy blew past Thomas so fast is was tough for Satele to help in time).
With all that being said, training camp is still in session and there is time to correct his potentially disastrous issue, so it's a bit premature for panic.
The Dolphins offense has potential to do great things this year, but a meager running game could put a damper on the dream of offensive success and a trip to the playoffs. The Dolphins were a top-10 scoring defense in 2013, so offensive production is key to 2014 success (and balance is key to offensive production).
Miami's coaching staff has time to experiment with the best combination of pass blocking and run blocking linemen, but it must be done with precise haste (if that makes sense).
Kickoff of the Dolphins home opener against the New England Patriots is only 16 days away!