Ten months ago, Miami Dolphins starting left tackle Branden Albert lay on the turf of Ford Field in Detroit, having just torn the ACL and MCL in his right knee, ending a season in which he appeared to be on course for his second Pro Bowl appearance. As a cart took him off the field, Albert did not know what the future held, whether he would be able to return to the game. His 2014 replacement became rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who jumped to the left side of the offensive line, a position he did not play in college, but would have to play the rest of the season.
Coming into the 2015 season, Albert's health was still a question mark, but it was one of many surrounding the offensive line. The Dolphins moves James back to right tackle, with Jason Fox taking over at left tackle while Albert continued to rehabilitate his knee. Mike Pouncey, the Pro Bowl center who moved to guard last year after dealing with an injury himself, and ultimately earned himself another Pro Bowl appearance, returns to center for this season, with the team looking toward Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, and rookie Jamil Douglas to fill the guard spots. Thomas claimed the left guard position and Douglas the right guard spot, but the question mark around left tackle only got bigger as Fox sustained a concussion in the Preseason.
Week 1 of the 2015 season is finally here, and Albert is ready to make his return. He is ready to answer the questions about his health and the offensive line. "It was my main focus for the last nine months," Albert told the Miami Herald's Adam Beasley recently. " ‘How am I going to get better to play football again?' "
The Dolphins need Albert to be better, to be able to play football again. The 2013 Pro Bowl selection during his last year with the Kansas City Chiefs was brought to Miami to protect the blind side of the team's young quarterback and to solidify a young offensive line. A year later, and a surgically repaired knee later, he will now be asked to do the exact same thing. Thomas next to him will need assistance at times. Douglas on the other side of the line will need Albert's leadership. The line as a whole will need to rely on Albert and Pouncey to make sure they can give quarterback Ryan Tannehill the time he needs to continue to make decisions like he has during the Preseason. The Dolphins will only go as far as Tannehill can lead them, and he will only be able to lead them if he is not laying on his back.
The Washington Redskins, Miami's Week 1 opponent later today, come into the game with the strength of their defense being their front seven, and specifically their defensive line. The Dolphins will be challenged, both in keeping Tannehill upright and in finding running lanes for Lamar Miller. Terrance Knighton in the middle of the line will be a challenge for both guards, as he lines up over Pouncey but will require either Douglas or Thomas to assist on nearly every play. Stephen Paea and Jason Hatcher will cause problems on the outside, and the outside linebackers for Washington will come flying at Albert and James. This is not an easy, take some time to shake off the rust, type of game, and Albert will be challenged early.
Miami will hope Albert is up to that challenge. Albert seems confident that he will be ready. Later today, we will see if that confidence turns into success.