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Mike Pouncey expected to make preseason debut on Thursday

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins may see a big piece of their offensive puzzle make his first appearance in this year’s preseason schedule on Thursday as center Mike Pouncey is expected to make his debut. The coaching staff has been reticent to use Pouncey much this summer, initially holding him out of all drills, then slowly introducing him to individual and team drills, in an effort to ensure his hip issues do not return this season. The current schedule for Pouncey is day-on, day-off work in practices, with his most recent participation in practice on Monday during the first of the team’s joint workouts with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Miami plays at Philadelphia on Thursday, a game that will be televised live on NFL Network (broadcast locally in Miami on CBS).

“We’ll play it by ear a little bit,” Miami head coach Adam Gase explained on Tuesday of Pouncey’s playing time Thursday. “It’s going to be a lot of communication between me and him. Right now, we’re going to start the game with him and see how it goes. I just wanted to make sure I got my last confirmation from him that he’s ready to go and wanted to play in a preseason game. We’ll play it by ear. I’ll go by gut a little bit.”

When Pouncey was asked about the “bubble wrap” that has been used to protect him this summer, rather than rushing him back into practice and game experience, he laughed, answering, “It’s starting to run out of wrap. I won’t lie to you. We’ll see. If Thursday I play, then the bubble wrap is officially gone.”

He added, “I feel great. I feel really good. (I feel) better than what I expected at this point, obviously, because of the extent of the injury; but it feels great to be back out there playing football.”

The Dolphins are anticipating getting the full starting offensive line on the field for the first time this season, with Pouncey the biggest step forward for the unit. The team is also expected to see right tackle Ja’Wuan James return to action as he continues to recovery from a shoulder injury.

“I think so unless we have any kind of setback,” Gase said of James’ availability for Thursday. “I think we’ve got a shot to have closer to having our first unit out there. But I just don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I’ve still got to talk to him, make sure that he feels good, and then we’ll get through tomorrow, which is only a walkthrough. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself after some of my experiences last year.”

Miami’s first unit offensive line is likely Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, Jesse Davis at left guard, Pouncey at center, Jermon Bushrod at right guard, and James at right tackle. Davis, a 2015 undrafted free agent of the Seattle Seahawks who also spent time with the New York Jets in 2016, appears to be the leader to assume the opening day starter role following an injury to veteran Ted Larsen earlier in training camp. The Dolphins also could be without Kraig Urbik, their top backup center for Pouncey, for the first game of the regular season with a knee issue.

“I think he has just put his head down and kept working,” Gase said of Davis. “We were actually talking about it probably about two weeks ago about how he has really improved in the weight room. His knowledge of the offense is as good as anybody else. It doesn’t seem too big for him. He gets in there and competes. I like the way he has been handling himself with a lot of the injuries that we’ve had and he has had to move around quite a bit. Last week he practiced at right tackle the whole week and we thought we were going to go with (Anthony) Steen at left guard and (Jake) Brendel at center, and then we kind of made a switch when (Kraig) Urbik went out. We didn’t want to have both our centers there playing together in that first group, so Jesse got thrown in there at left guard. He battled and knew what to do. It was very short notice for him.”

“Yes, I don’t know,” Davis said of Gase discussing the possibility of David being the opening day starter. “He hasn’t said anything to me about it. I just keep grinding out here. The preseason is still a long ways away (from being) over, so (I) just keep doing what I’ve been coached to do. I’ve just been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play.”

He added, “I’m big and I can move kind of well, so that’s probably what I’ve got going for me right now.”

“I like Jesse,” Pouncey said of Davis on Tuesday. “Jesse’s a strong football player at the point. He’s a smart guy. He really plays the game at a speed you’re supposed to play and I think he’s done a lot of great things for offense to deserve those first team reps. We lost a big piece with Ted (Larsen) going down with the biceps injury; but I think Jesse is going to go in there and fill in that spot and do a really good job.”

Miami needs to get at least some experience this summer with the offensive line all playing. The coaches are not worried about Pouncey, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, being able to plug back into the line, but for pass protection and run blocking, the more experience the line can get working together, the better the Dolphins will be when the season starts.

The Dolphins and Eagles kick off at 7pm ET Thursday night.