It has to be a tough moment when an NFL coach or personnel man has to defend that which cannot be defended. And yet that happens all around the league when teams are asked about players who are obvious weak links on their starting units.
It has happened to the Miami Dolphins.
It's Tony Sparano defending Chad Henne in 2011 when he knew after 2010 Henne wasn't an NFL starting QB.
It's Nick Saban defending Jason Allen, telling me in 2006 when it was obvious Allen was overmatched, that "Hey, Troy Polamalu wasn't great right away, either."
It's Cam Cameron insisting Trent Green didn't come to the team with concussion issues during 2007's training camp.
The sad truth is when an imperfect set of circumstances leaves a team with an imperfect solution at a position of need, coaches and personnel men feel the need to defend that player best they can so as to not tear down what tiny possibility that player has of performing.
I get it, it's a tough spot to be in.
And in that light I present to you today Joe Philbin and his thoughts on Dallas Thomas:
"I think when you really look closely, we've broken down how he plays at guard, how he plays at tackle," Philbin told me this week. "How many sacks at guard? How many sacks at tackle? He had some really good games, too. I think some guys they say, 'Oh but the Baltimore game, oh ah.' Well, we went out to Denver and he blocked a pretty good pass rusher all day and did pretty well. Consistency is one of the things we've been talking to him about, sure, but it's a big year for him."
Look, Philbin is a former offensive line coach. He is an expert on the subject. And there is nothing that convinces me that looking at Thomas at guard has any expert convinced this player will be anything short of a weak link at left guard for the Dolphins in 2015.
Put it this way: Monday was the first OTA session of the offseason with offensive players facing defensive players and vice versa. There were no pads. It was not a contact practice. And yet I saw Thomas crumble in a heap on a run play that got blown up by Earl Mitchell and Olivier Vernon as if he was a junior varsity kid competing in the NFL.
But then again, my agenda is not to mask the truth in the desperate hope that hiding it will keep a player's confidence from being wrecked.
My approach is to expose that truth so that, perhaps, the Dolphins do not settle into a false sense of security that this will somehow be alright. It will not be alright. It has not been alright. It will not be alright unless Thomas is suddenly a completely different dude between now and the start of July's training camp.
Another difference between what the Dolphins see and what I see: They see ability, potential. They are looking to see, as reader Andrew Manera pointed out, if Thomas has talent. I look at performance. I'm looking for results. They're looking at the possibility for results.
Dallas Thomas is a worthy backup. That is where he offers value. He should be kept behind glass which should be broken only in case of emergency -- like when your better starting left guard tweaks an ankle. He is not a 16-game starter.
(Peanut gallery: But Mando, you're just a journalist and not a very good one at that. You don't know football. You weren't even born in this country. Go cover futbol).
Thank you, gallery. Nice to see you still chime in every so often. I remind that when the Dolphins were saying Shelley Smith was an ascending offensive line prospect last year, I was telling you he was a journeyman at best and not the answer. I remind you when the Dolphins were saying Nate Garner could be a backup left tackle, I was saying, sorry, but no. When the Dolphins were saying Cortland Finnegan could be a good two-year bridge starting cornerback, I was telling you he was not a two-year answer or even a one-year answer. Daniel Thomas? I was saying let him go in 2013. Yeah, I miss it at times. Everyone does, right?
But we've seen two years of Dallas Thomas. I saw that knocked-on-his-rump moment in a non-contact practice.
As to that study Philbin is referencing: Thomas played right tackle in six games last season. Forget those. His days as a tackle are over. If he's playing tackle at any point in 2015, something went horribly awry.
He played guard in six other games in 2014. Those are the performances that matter because those are the ones the Dolphins apparently studied to see if they could get by (for now) with Thomas as the presumptive starter.
In those six games at guard (three at LG and three at RG) Thomas yielded no sacks, two quarterback hits, and 12 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He had a negative overall grade in five of the six games and the one in which he didn't have a negative grade was one he did not start but was used in a shuttle system with also-not-good-enough Shelley Smith.
According to PFF, Thomas was a better guard than tackle. And that is clear to anyone who has seen him play. He's better suited to play guard than tackle. But he nonetheless did not perform well as a guard. He is not a starter.
The Dolphins, of course, cannot say that now.