The Miami Dolphins adjusted their offensive line this offseason, trading left tackle Branden Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars and moving second-year lineman Laremy Tunsil, the 2016 NFL Draft’s 13th overall pick, from left guard out to replace Albert. Tunsil was widely considered an elite prospect heading into the draft for his play as a left tackle at Ole Miss, with the Dolphins jumping to select him after his unexpected fall in the Draft. With Albert, a 2015 Pro Bowl selection, already in place for the 2016 season, Tunsil was kicked inside to guard, filling a need for Miami despite playing out of position.
Now, as the Dolphins work their way through the offseason training program, including last week’s first three days of Organized Team Activities, Tunsil is back at left tackle and enjoying it. “It feels good to be at the natural spot I was drafted here for,” he said on Thursday.” Playing left guard, I learned a lot. It was a different position, different everything. I’m glad I got the opportunity to play (guard) so I could learn the game inside and out.”
“Athletically, I’d put him up against any left tackle that’s in this league,” veteran defensive end Andre Branch said of Tunsil’s growth from his rookie season. Branch, as the primary right pass rusher for Miami, is head-to-head against Tunsil for most of the reps in practice. “He’s willing to learn. Every time we get a rep together, he’s always asking questions. So he’s a student of the game. He’s played guard. He’s played tackle. So he knows exactly the ins and outs of everything. I don’t look at him as a second-year player. He’s a vet in my eyes. That’s how we treat each other.”
Tunsil looked comfortable at the position during the one OTA practice that was open to the media. South-Florida Sun Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly described his movement, writing, “Laremy Tunsil’s kick-step was so smooth it looked like he was doing the ‘Electric Slide’ out of his left tackle stance.” The Dolphins believe they have a franchise left tackle to protect the blind-side of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is coming off the first major injury of his career, having sprained ligaments in his left knee late last season and missing three regular season games, and the team’s playoff game, the first games he did not start after being selected in the 2012 Draft.
“I am playing the blind side, so it does mean a lot,” Tunsil said of the responsibility of protecting Tannehill as the team’s left tackle. “I can’t let that get to me. I’m always hard on myself because I’m always trying to perfect every craft that I have.”
He added, “I always kind of put pressure on myself to get better and always find something new to perfect. I put a lot of pressure on myself just to be that guy, just to help everybody. I want to help everybody. I want to have that knowledge just to help everybody and help the rookies out.”
Before he was traded, Albert, a two-time Pro Bowl selection heading into his tenth year in the league, had high praise for Tunsil, telling the Sun Sentinel, “If Laremy Tunsil stays healthy and becomes an all-around left tackle, not just skill-wise, I think he is one of the most gifted athletes I’ve seen. And it’s hard for me to say that, because I am a competitor and I feel like I’m one of the most gifted athletes. I haven’t seen a young talent like that, so equipped and so ready to play. It’s a full spectrum, it’s a responsibility, as a left tackle to be that guy, to be a leader. And, he has that quality, because people respect him because of how he plays. If he becomes a full-fledged, all-around left tackle, I believe he will be one of the best left tackles to play the game of football.”
“He’s impressive,” free agent addition Ted Larsen, who has been playing next to Tunsil as one option for the team at left guard early in the offseason, said of Miami’s left tackle this week. “He’s super athletic, really strong and as far as his head, he knows the scheme inside and out. He’s been super impressive.”
Tunsil and Albert have continued to talk following the trade, with Tunsil explaining, “I actually have [talked to Albert]. I’ve been keeping up with him. We’ve been back and forth, texting back and forth...He really didn’t tell me a message. It’s the same thing as playing left guard. The only thing he told me is ‘Hey man, be yourself. Be you.’”
“I think so. I think so,” incumbent right guard Jermon Bushrod said on Tuesday when asked if Tunsil is ready to become a leader of the left side of the offensive line. “I know the kid is strong. He’s tough. He wants to learn. He loves to be successful. I’m excited about his future. I’m excited to see him grow at that position. Last year he was definitely playing out of position, but he did a great job. So if he can get better at a position that he’s not used to playing, and you go back and you stick him in his natural position every single day, every single week, every rep, he’s going to get a little bit better – find a way to get better. I’m excited to see Laremy at left tackle.”
“The confidence level is extremely high that he can excel at tackle,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said earlier this month when asked about Tunsil’s move. “It’s his natural position. I think it’ll be a much quicker learn for him than last year at this time. Now he has the benefit of going back to his natural position – his most experienced position – and whatever you learned inside, which does teach you some skills you can’t learn outside, where guys are a little tighter on you in the run blocking and bigger guys, etc. So, I think all those combined will put Laremy way ahead. It gives us a lot of confidence in him and I think he’ll have a lot of confidence going into the thing. It doesn’t make it an easy position or an easy job. It still is a tough job out there and you still catch the best pass rusher and you’re still on the edge and all those things. But I do think his comfort level going into it will be really good, really high.”
The Dolphins are clearly betting on Tunsil turning into the player who was ranked as the top offensive lineman in the 2016 draft, despite two other tackles being selected ahead of him, and one of the top three overall prospects last year. Early in the offseason, it appears Tunsil could be on his way to reaching - and maybe exceeding - that lofty goal. After not allowing a sack as a guard last year (and allowing only one sack all season after having to move to left tackle to replace an injured Albert), Tunsil will be back at his natural position and he sounds like he is ready for the challenge and responsibility.