With the recent success the Miami Dolphins had with their offensive line in 2016, it's easy to forget how inconsistent they were from 2009 to 2015 with their blockers. Despite selecting John Jerry (3rd round, 2010), Jonathan Martin (2nd round, 2012) and Ju'Wuan James (1st round, 2014) in the draft, the Dolphins struggled both on the ground and through the air far too frequently to win games on a consistent basis.
There is a reason why stability, on a team's coaching staff and in the front office, is so important to the success of an NFL franchise. With each regime change comes a different philosophy and offensive/defensive scheme. This is why players that no longer fit the mold on bad teams get cut or are allowed to leave when their contracts expire, only to become valuable pieces on another team's roster. Under Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells, Dolphins were exposed as a team of strongmen who could bench press the earth but were run ragged by New England's fast-paced offense. For one of the most blatant examples of this, see the Monday night contest in 2010 against the Pats.
Unfortunately, when we correct our approach and philosophy, we too often overcorrect, and like a driver who panics when his car begins to skid, we violently swing the wheel hard the other way and wind up in the ditch. That's exactly what happened to the Dolphins under Joe Philbin. Switching out a roster of strongmen for a troupe of tap dancing athletes, the team merely traded one set of problems for another and was even worse than before. This was particularly disastrous for the offensive line; you don't bring a knife to a gunfight and you don't implement a zone blocking scheme when three of the toughest, deepest defensive fronts in football happen to be in your division.
If you've been coming to this column for any length of time, you know that I'm not a fan of the ZBS, but even I have to admit that when used appropriately, it has its place in today's game. Many of the top offensive teams in the league employ the zone blocking system at various times. However, many teams which use the ZBS also employ a base, power blocking scheme when it's advantageous to do so, such as in bad weather or to close out games by running the ball.
The problem for the Dolphins under Joe Philbin was that the offensive line was all pirouette and no punch, all dash, and no smash. The double whammy of losing out on stud lineman Cordy Glenn in the 2012 draft, which resulted in the Dolphins drafting Jonathan Martin, and the ensuing 'BullyGate' scandal the following season, which cost the team stalwart guard Richie Incognito, sealed Miami's fate as a finesse team that couldn't compete against the imposing front sevens of the Bills, Jets and Patriots.
The zone blocking system can be an effective tool if you've got a really good OL coach running it, such as Alex Gibbs with the Denver Broncos in the late 90's, or Dante Scarnecchia with New England. The problem for the Dolphins was that former offensive line coach John Benton is no Alex Gibbs. He had a good run with the Houston Texans a few years ago, but that run now appears to have been an aberration. After being jettisoned with the rest of Joe Philbin's staff, he went to Jacksonville last season and is with San Francisco for 2017.
San Francisco is where current Dolphins OL coach Chris Foerster had some of his greatest success, overseeing the Forty Niners' power-blocking scheme under head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, advancing to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. After leaving San Francisco when Jim Harbaugh and the team parted ways, Foerster landed with the Redskins, where he proceeded to make former sixth-round pick Alfred Morris a household name and two-time Pro Bowler. Foerster brought that same toughness to South Florida when he was hired last offseason. Interestingly, he was actually the offensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2004, which led to their having the second overall pick in the draft in 2005, so suffice it to say that he's probably not an imminent threat to be hired away by another team to be their offensive coordinator. He knows how to coach blocking techniques, however, and that's what the Dolphins need from him now. The team took off when Gase and Co. switched to a slower paced, run-first style of play, and the drafting of Utah behemoth Isaac Asiata this year signals more of the same. That, in this writer's opinion, is very good news. It's an exciting time to be a Dolphin fan.