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Miami Dolphins Rookie Guard Billy Turner Battling Turf Toe Injury

Turner is trying to play through the injury, but it may be cited as one of the reasons why he's not a starter for the first half of the season

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

A few months ago, the Dolphins traded away a fourth round pick just to move up a few spots in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft to select North Dakota State University left tackle Billy Turner. Turner was a player who had spent most of his college career at left tackle, but the Dolphins had previously addressed offensive tackle with the signing of free agent Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and the drafting of Tennessee's experienced right tackle Ja'Wuan James in round 1. Billy Turner was dominant in college, but he generally faced lower tier competition, which led some to wonder whether the Dolphins would trust him to make the jump from starter at North Dakota State to starter in the NFL immediately.

However, the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reported during rookie minicamp that the Dolphins had Turner work exclusively at guard, and Jackson also said the front office had hoped Turner could become a starter this season. Turner was projected to be a good run blocker from the start due to his combination of athleticism and physicality. However, he has a few technique issues that raise concern about his ability to block NFL-caliber defenders, with head coach Joe Philbin citing Turner's occasional over-aggressiveness and inconsistent commitment to playing with leverage. Nonetheless, the Dolphins were hoping that 1 offseason of prep work with new Dolphins offensive line coach John Benton could turn him into a competent rookie starter. He's been moved around a bit as part of the offensive line shuffling this offseason, but he's been a mainstay at either left or right guard for the entire offseason. He has most recently been working as the second team left guard, but his chances of beating out veteran Daryn Colledge early in the season took a huge hit due to an under-the-radar injury.

The Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly reports that Turner is battling "turf toe," which is a metatarsophalangeal joint sprain. In other words, Turner has suffered a sprain of the joint connecting his foot to his big toe. The nickname for the ailment comes from the fact that the injury is commonly associated with playing sports on artificial turf. The most common scenario causing the injury is hyper-extension of the big toe due to one player falling on top of the outstretched leg of another player whose knee and toes are planted on the ground. Putting 200+ pounds of weight on the calf with the toes planted on the ground causes the toes to hyper-extend (bend upward if you're looking down at your feet), and the joint is overstretched to the point that the connection between the foot and the toe is damaged. The big toe is important in allowing athletes to plant their foot and both change directions and make explosive movements. For now, Turner is fully practicing despite the injury, suggesting his sprain has been judged as not too serious. However, it does add another variable to the question of who the Dolphins' starting guards should be.

According to a more recent report from the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, the Dolphins still see Turner as a player who will be a starter by the end of the 2014 season - the only question is when he should get his first start. He could either be picked to start in week 1, or he could be used as a backup for now before being promoted later in the season after getting a couple months of additional practice reps to improve. The foot injury though raises the bar for Turner. Turner likely would only win a starting job right now if he plays extremely well against the Dallas Cowboys tonight, which would prove his injury isn't significant. If Turner plays poorly or merely "okay" against a relatively weak defensive line, then that performance combined with this injury would lead the coaches to favor sidelining Turner for the early portion of the regular season rather than rushing him into a starting role. That way, he could heal up without risking further damage to the joint, with Daryn Colledge providing solid if unspectacular play at left guard in the meantime.