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Dolphins’ Front Wall Vastly Improved, But Questions Remain

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Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Dolphins conducted a tear down of their roster in 2019, which included the blockbuster trade of former starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil a week before the season opener, thus ensuring that Miami’s line would be the absolute worst in football last year. After a nightmarish seven game stretch to start the season, the team in general, including the offensive line, found its footing and managed to win five of its final nine games. The front office knew, however, that the offensive line would have to be one of its top priorities this off-season, and accordingly, signed former Miami Hurricane and top ten draft pick Ereck Flowers in free agency, as well as former New England center Ted Karras. They then selected three more linemen in the first four rounds of the draft.

Moving forward, the most significant improvement of the line may well be the long awaited decision to go to a more power based, drive blocking scheme over the zone philosophy that has repeatedly failed the team since 2012, when Joe Philbin was brought in as head coach. Speed, finesse and athleticism can often beat strength and power once you get a few yards past the line of scrimmage, but in the trenches, while power can beat power and power can beat speed, speed rarely beats power, other than at outside pass rusher. This fundamental truth was far too often ignored by the team during both the Philbin and Gase regimes. It was only when Adam Gase went to a ball control, power running attack with Jay Ajayi in 2016 that the Dolphins became a playoff team after a seven year absence. Under Brian Flores, tip toeing tap dancers have been supplanted by maulers, brawlers and Maytag installers.

Although the signing of Ereck Flowers got a mostly lukewarm reception from much of the Dolphins fan base, I’m here to tell you that this was an absolutely Belichickean move, and I look for him to make more pancakes than an IHOP restaurant over the next few seasons. Although he wasn’t fast or athletic enough to make it at tackle, he’s the prototype left guard to play in the Dolphins’ new offense. On running plays to his side of the field, defensive players will scatter like he’s got bad breath. Although he’ll probably begin his career at right guard, rookie second rounder Robert Hunt should eventually make the transition to right tackle. If, like Flowers, his best position turns out be at guard, he’ll be a terror on the inside for opposing defenders. From what I understand, as was the case with Xavien Howard a few years ago, the Bears wanted him badly, but lacked the firepower to move up and get him. Assuming Hunt doesn’t start at right tackle this season, Jesse Davis figures to start there. Although he’s a long way from being a star, Davis can hold his own until the team determines who they want on the right side over the long term. Interestingly, Davis was born on September 15th, 1991 — thirty years to the day after Dan Marino.

First round pick Austin Jackson is the heir apparent at left tackle, and should become a quality starter there after he gets stronger and can acclimate to the pro game. His grandfather, Melvin Jackson, played at USC and for the Green Bay Packers in the 1970’s. If Jackson doesn’t start on opening day, Julien Davenport will probably get the start at left tackle. Davenport started 13 games there for the high powered Houston Texans offense in 2018, so he’s capable of holding down the position in the interim if need be. Either 2019 third rounder Michael Deiter or the aforementioned Ted Karras should start at center, and my money’s on Deiter. He’s younger, cheaper and has a higher draft pedigree than Karras, who has started only 19 of a possible 59 games in his NFL career. With a season under his belt and better players on either side of him, Deiter should show marked improvement over the underwhelming rookie season he turned in last year. On the other hand, Karras had a great grandfather and two great uncles who played in the NFL, so he could well claim one of the three interior spots if other players falter or become injured.

All in all, fans should be excited about the Dolphins’ new look offensive line, both in terms of talent and the more common sense based approach to the unit as a whole. Although we knew that it was going to take more than one off-season to rebuild the team, most of the heavy lifting has been done, which is remarkable when you consider how bad they were a season ago. And although it’s awfully hard to criticize the draft they put together, if there is one bone of contention, it would have to be their inability to land a bonafide right tackle. If you knew going in that you had your sights set on a left handed quarterback, and you got that quarterback with the fifth overall pick, it’s a little disappointing that they couldn’t find a way to solidity the right tackle position a bit more, although Robert Hunt should eventually be the starter there, in my opinion. Still, the line looks a lot better today than it did a couple of months ago, and the front office may well look to add a veteran between now and the start of the season. Although I’ve never been big on nicknames for position groups, I know that a lot of fans have been clamoring for a moniker for the Dolphins’ new line. So, how about ‘The Nasty Boys’? That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.