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Starting offensive line for 2009 is complete

Remember these names and in this order:

Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, Donald Thomas, Vernon Carey.

That is the look of the Dolphins 2009 offensive line now that Grove has signed a five-year deal worth $29 million with $14 million in guarantees. That is the look of the offensive line since the Dolphins retained Carey with a deal that is reportedly worth up to $42 million with $14 million in guarantees.

(By the way, Carey's six-year deal pays him a $12 million signing bonus, a $2 million roster bonus, $200,000 in workout bonuses and $800,000 in 2009 base salary. So Carey will make $15 million in 2009, making him the highest paid right tackle in the NFL. His base salaries beyond this season are scheduled as $950,000 in 2010, $4.15 million in 2011, $5.05 million in 2012, $5.65 million in 2013 and $4.95 million in 2014.)

But I digress.

That is the look of an offensive line with Smiley (leg, ankle, shoulder) and Thomas (foot) coming back from injuries. I am told neither player has suffered any setbacks in his rehabilitation following their injuries and surgeries so both are penciled in as starters, although Thomas will have to beat out recently acquired Joe Berger and Samson Satele.

That is the look of the offensive line with a Pro Bowl left tackle that is one year wiser, more experienced, further along in his blocking technique, and ready to challenge as one of the better left tackles in the game -- we hope.

And if you don't think that is good enough consider that depth is much improved from a season ago. Consider that Berger is an upgrade from either Andy Alleman or Ikechuku Ndukwe, who started when injuries befell Thomas and Smiley. How do I know Berger is an upgrade over Alleman and Ndukwe?

I've watched Alleman and Ndukwe play. I've watched them all practice going back to when Berger was with the Dolphins. Berger is an upgrade. But even then, Alleman and Ndukwe should get better in 2009 because they have more experience now, they are going to be in the workout program this offseason, and they will go through training camp. So they are by no means discards. They have good value.

Also consider that Satele, the starting center the past two years, now becomes a swing guy, someone who can play either guard or center. He will compete for a starting job, no doubt about it. But I don't see him beating out a healthy Grove. He has a better chance of winning a starting job at right guard. And if he doesn't, he's still a valuable depth guy with a lot of game experience.

So step back and look at the entire panaroma that is the Miami offensive line. It has well-paid players at right tackle, left tackle, left guard and center. It has competition at right guard that includes a former starting center in Satele, a new acquisition in Berger, and a budding prospect in Thomas that coaches love. 

And it has depth along the interior of the line that will include three players with starting experience. It is an impressive picture.

I grant you the Dolphins could use some quality depth at the tackle spots. But in the salary cap age, you have to make concessions somewhere. I can tell you there will be competition for the backup tackle spots that might include Nate Garner and Brandon Frye.

But overall the picture is quite good. Quite good indeed. 

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