The Miami Dolphins were handed a gift during the 2016 NFL Draft, landing a player who was considered a possible first-overall pick when the team came on the clock with the 13th selection. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who fell down draft boards when a video of him appearing to smoke marijuana from a bong attached to a gas mask was posted to his Twitter account, could be the answer to Miami’s long search for solving the problem that has long plagued the offense - pass protection that does not protect and run blocking that does not block.
Miami has had pieces, but never been able to put together an entire five-man unit. Center Mike Pouncey has made the last three Pro Bowls, left tackle Branden Albert, signed as a free agent before the 2014 season, has made one Pro Bowl, and 2014 first-round pick Ja’Wuan James has started to settle in at right tackle and is becoming a solid player. Yet, even with that talent, Miami has allowed a league-high 184 sacks over the last four seasons.
Last year, the weak part of Miami’s offensive line were the guard positions. Tunsil, despite having played tackle at Ole Miss and being the clear heir apparent for Albert whenever the veteran retires, is expected to take one of those two interior positions this season, though he has been working primarily with the second team during the first few days of training camp.
“Reps,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said of his plan for the progression of Tunsil. “Getting to see as much as possible. When you’re getting to go against our defensive line, whether it be the first team or their second team – I mean the way those guys come off the ball – you’re getting a quick lesson on what the NFL’s really about. And the way those guys are coached between T (Defensive Line Coach Terrell Williams) and (Senior Defensive Assistant/Pass Rush Specialist) Jim (Washburn), I don’t think a lot of teams are getting to go through what our offensive line is going through right now.”
“I’m just trying to learn both positions,” Tunsil explained when asked if he is more comfortable playing guard or tackle. “I have a lot to learn. I’m going to stay in the meeting room and learn from the vets as much as I can.”
“A lot of things are much faster at the guard position,” Tunsil explained about the differences between the two positions when it comes to the running game. “You’ve got your hand down and they (the defense) are close to you. I’m going to get into the meeting room and I’m going to rep it every day so it’ll be fine.”
“Are you talking about the old man right there?” Tunsil laughed as spoke about his relationship with Albert. “He’s a good dude. He’s a good person to look up to as far as a veteran. He’s been in the game nine years so he knows a lot. That’s a good dude to look up to and get advice from. (I) work on a lot of things with him because he knows a lot of stuff. He’s been in the league for a while.”
Monday’s practice featured Tunsil getting in a shoving match with defensive end Chris McCain. Asked about the scuffle, Tunsil explained, “That’s all it is – competition. It’s all love for all of my teammates. We’re just competing. Like I said, we’re just competing. It’s all love for my teammates – the d-line, offensive line, receivers, anything.
“(When we) put the pads on, we go a little bit faster, we can hit (and) linebackers are coming downhill,” Tunsil said of Monday’s practice, the first day of practicing in pads this year. “There are some things I need to work on: continuing to get in the meeting room (and) continuing to listen to vets – (Mike) Pouncey, ‘B.A.’ (Branden Albert) – continue to listen to them, let them coach me up and be coachable to the coaches.”
The pads coming on also means Tunsil will have to match up against those defenders mentioned by Gase, including defensive ends Cameron Wake and Mario Williams and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. First asked about blocking Suh, Tunsil laughed, “Suh’s a man now. He’s a man. That’s a good person to go against. He’s one of the best in the game so if you continue to go against him, you’re going to be one of the best in the game also. Suh is one of the best in the game so going against him is a real honor because he’s been in the league for a long time and he knows his stuff. So going against him is real good work.”
Adding Wake and Williams to the conversation, Tunsil continued, “They are some good vets to go against. They know their stuff. They’ve been in the league for a while. There’s a reason why they’re in the league. They’re one of the best and going against them is good.”
Tunsil was also asked if he believes the defensive line, who came alive on Monday and disrupted quarterbacks throughout the practice, was looking forward to pads coming on and hitting to ramp up. “Yes, they were waiting on that,” Tunsil stated matter-of-factly. It’s good competition against each other. It’s something that we were looking forward to and it was good work.”
Tunsil reflected on his personal performance in his first padded practice as a professional, “(It was) good work. (There’s) a lot of competition out there. There’s a lot of stuff that I need to get better on but good competition.”
Will he be ready for the start of the season, and will he be ready to play guard? “I don’t see any issue,” Gase answered when asked that question. “Right now, for him, it’s mental. We just got to keep bringing him along. Obviously when you go against veteran players – the defensive line – those guys do a great job of setting things up. So when you haven’t seen certain things, they start picking on you when you’re a guy with little experience. They start playing these little games with you where you start playing pick games and you don’t see it coming and all of a sudden you get blindsided by somebody. And then you kind of put your … whoever it is – the tackle or guard – have problems because you don’t know what’s going on.”
“It’s fine,” Tunsil said of his conversion to guard. “I’m just going to take it one day at a time. It’s football. You’ve got to love football so playing guard is nothing new.”
The Dolphins have practice on Tuesday at 6pm ET before a day off on Wednesday. Tuesday’s practice is open to invited season ticket holders.