The Miami Dolphins have struggled along the offensive line for the last several years, with both talent and injuries leading to allowed sack after allowed sack. The Dolphins have drafted players and signed free agents. They have traded for players and grown their own. And yet, they have had turnstiles, and players quit, and players sustain injuries. It has been rough for the Dolphins’ offensive line, but it is something they expect to finally have fixed this year.
Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who missed the end of the season with a foot injury and underwent hip surgery in the offseason, is one of those players who has been hit with the injury bug, but he is back and taking part in the team’s Organized Team Activities over the past three weeks. Pouncey spoke to the media this past week, discussing the offensive line, the tempo of the offense, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen.
“I do think we’re going to have a really good (offensive) line, but obviously, we got a lot of work ahead of us,” Pouncey told the media after Wednesday’s OTA practice. “We still have to go out there and play games, still have to play good. I think we got a lot of talent across the board, but obviously, we have a long way to go.”
“Well, we’ll see,” Pouncey replied when asked what makes him believe the Dolphins offensive line will be better this year. “Obviously we got a long way to go. We still got a training camp to go through, we got preseason games to be played; but we just like the attitude that the coaches have brought forward. We love the playbook, the play calling. It’s been great so far. We’ll see how it goes as the season gets along.”
The Dolphins’ biggest offensive line addition this year was the selection of Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil with the 13th overall pick. “We like Tunsil a lot,” Pouncey said of the first-round pick. “Obviously, his feet are really good. We think he was the best player in this year’s draft. We’re lucky to have a guy like that. We’re excited to see what he can do. Obviously, everyone looks good without pads on. We’ll put on the pads, but we’re sure that he’s going to come in and do what we expect him to do.”
He continued talking about Tunsil, and how the rookie can earn the respect of the veterans on the offensive, which includes Pro Bowlers in Pouncey and left tackle Branden Albert, along with third-year promising right tackle Ja’Wuan James. “(He’s) definitely got to still earn it, but we’re bringing him along as fast as possible. We know we need the guy. Obviously our biggest thing right now is making sure he knows the plays – the playbook in and out –so that he can play at the potential we think he has. We’re excited to work with him, though. He’s a good player. Good guy too.”
Tunsil was the biggest addition for the offensive line, but the biggest addition to the team as a whole was new head coach Adam Gase and his coaching staff, replacing the regime of Joe Philbin, who was fired after the fourth game of the 2015 season. Gase hired Clyde Christensen, who was serving as the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterbacks coach after a stint as the team’s offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011, to be Miami’s new offensive coordinator. Of Christensen, who also worked as the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001, as well as a college offensive coordinator at Clemson, Holy Cross, and East Carolina, Pouncey said, “He’s great. We love him. He’s been great so far. We think he’s a really smart coach. We’re excited to have him on our staff and he brings it at practice every day. When a guy’s not feeling it, he makes sure the guys are ready to go.”
Miami added Chris Foerster as the team’s offensive line coach this year, after Foerster served in the same role for the San Francisco 49ers (2015), the Washington Redskins (2010-2014), the 49ers (2008-2009), the Baltimore Ravens (2005-2007), the Dolphins (2004), the Buccaneers (1996-2001), the Minnesota Vikings (1992), and at Colorado State University (1983-19887). He has also worked as a tight ends coach (Indianapolis Colts and Vikings) at the NFL level. “Techniques are different,” Pouncey said, comparing Foerster to former offensive line coach John Benton. "They’re different personalities. We really like Chris a lot. We liked Coach Benton a lot, too, but we’ve moved on from that. We’re glad to have Chris here. We think that he’s going to really help us out going forward, and we’re excited to work with him.”
The Dolphins also hired Chris Kuper to serve as the team’s offensive quality control coach this year, Kuper’s first coaching position. Prior to moving into coaching, Kuper was a guard for the Denver Broncos from 2006 to 2013, earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2011. Pouncey commented on Kuper's ability to assist with the line, “He’s great to have on our line. (As) a guy that’s played in this league, he understands how tough it is. We talk to him, pick his brain about what he used while he was playing. I’m excited to have him in our offensive line group.”
All of the coaching changes has also meant the team is learning a new offensive system this year, one that will be put together by Christensen, but will have plays called by Gase during games. It is also an offense that is looking to use tempo to their advantage. Pouncey explained the speed of the offense and the impacts it will have on the linemen, “Well the tempo that we want to have, obviously our offensive line has to be in really good shape. But to our advantage, when we go up there sometimes we’re going to snap it fast (and) sometimes we’re not. That gives us the advantage on the offensive line. That means the defense is going to be playing on their toes, ready to jump off the ball. We should get a lot of offside penalties from the defense and keep the chains moving. We’re excited about this offense. We feel like our offensive line is going to be in great shape by the time the season gets here. Obviously we still have a long way to go but we like standing on the ball and putting the defense on their toes and kind of putting them on their heels when we get a chance.”
The Dolphins have, the last few years under Joe Philbin, with offensive coordinators Mike Sherman and Bill Lazor, preached up-tempo, but it never materialized on game day. Pouncey sees this year’s Dolphins, under Gase, actually bringing the tempo to Sundays, “I think with this offense that up-tempo is really going to be there. Before in past seasons, we tried to run up-tempo but we huddled first and it’s kind of hard to go in the huddle, rush to the line and be up-tempo. I think with us just being on their line of scrimmage the whole time and pushing the pace like that, it’s going to get the ball snapped a lot faster instead of wasting those seconds inside the huddle and then trying to get up there and do a fast tempo.”
Asked if the Dolphins offense has the personnel to create mismatches to exploit a defense with a high-tempo offense, Pouncey replied, “At the end of the day, we can have the best players on the roster in the whole league; but if we don’t play together then it (isn’t) going to work. So I feel like we got to go out there and prove ourselves during training camp. I think we have to have a great preseason to go out there and prove to ourselves that we can do it, and then we’ll see how the season goes.”
One of the players who will receive the most scrutiny this year is quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is entering his fifth year, and no one really knows who he is as a quarterback yet. Tannehill has had to play behind the offensive line with turnstiles, player defections, and injuries, all while trying to direct an offense in which the coaches refused to allow audibles and would often give up on the run in the second half of games. Will Tannehill be better this year? Pouncey has seen some changes in the team’s 2012 first-round pick, “I think he’s been a lot more vocal this year as a leader. Obviously, he’s a good football player on the football field and he’s always been a leader on this team; but this year I feel like he’s bringing more – more to the table. More than he ever has before as far as pushing guys and getting guys ready to go. We’re just glad that he’s our quarterback, honestly. He’s a guy that comes in every day (and) busts his butt every day. He’s the first one in the building (and the) last one out and that’s something you got to appreciate from a guy that’s at that position.”
Pouncey was then asked if Tannehill can handle the “increased responsibility” of the offense this year, including being given the opportunity to truly audible into better plays than the one originally called. “Oh, yeah,” Pouncey stated. “Heck yeah. He’s a smart kid. He’s very intelligent. I think this is what he’s been waiting for his whole career, is to go out there and be the guy to kind of call the show. We’ll see how it goes but we think he’s going to do really, really (well) here.”
The Dolphins completed their 10 days of organized team activities, spread over three weeks, on Thursday. The team will hold their mandatory veteran minicamp next week, then break until the end of July, when training camp begins.