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2 posts from September 5, 2013

September 05, 2013

Whole must be better than parts for Dolphins OL

I'm talking with a Dolphins person earlier this week and this person tells me there's only one area on the team to worry about because it can wreck the season.

Tight end, I guess because Dustin Keller's injury really, really hurt this team.

Nope

The secondary, I guess because I'm not sure about Dimitri Patterson, the rookies (Will Davis and Jamar Taylor are injured) and Nolan Carroll is, well, Nolan Carroll.

Nope.

The running game, I guess because Lamar Miller is mostly an unknown, Daniel Thomas is average on good days, and the offensive line is still coming together.

You're close.

The offensive line.

And then I hear how the line is still an issue and if it remains an issue, there goes the running game, there goes the deep passes to Mike Wallace, and there goes Ryan Tannehill.

One unit affecting everything on offense.

And not in a positive manner.

So that got me thinking -- which is rare and never good. What is it about this offensive line? Is it truly an issue? Is it a team weakness? Is it bound to be the reason the Dolphins offense struggles?

There is evidence that suggests there's reason for concern.

First there's what offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said this week:

"I still think it is a work in progress," he said of the line. "John (Jerry) is coming off of an injury. Getting him back into the fold is going to be huge. He’s been out for a little bit, but I’m excited about having him back. We certainly needed him back. I’m anxious for him to get more comfortable in there with the other guys and get more used to what we are doing."

Think about this. We are three days from the regular-season opener and the offensive line is still a work in progress? Pardon me for being old school, but the preseason and training camp was the alloted time for doing the work and progressing.

The regular season is here. It's time to roll.

Also this: John Jerry is the saviour of this line?

John Jerry is an average NFL guard. He's not Larry Allen. The fact the Dolphins are seriously counting on him to be healthy, well-conditioned, and then play at a high level without many missed assignments tells me there's a lot of wishful thinking going on.

Jerry is not in great shape yet. Yes, Sherman said Jerry inexplicably lost weight during his five weeks of knee rehab, but I don't imagine him being slimmer is the reason coaches identified him as the only starter on the entire team that needed to play in the fifth and final preseason game.

So what is it about this offensive line that worries?

Well, it's simple. This line today seems to have solid parts (assuming Jerry gets up to speed). The individuals are good. But as a line has to play as a unit -- with one heartbeat and soul and purpose -- the Dolphins offensive line seems lacking because the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

And what you need is for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Consider that, again, the parts range from excellent to solid.

At left tackle Jonathan Martin has come miles from the first eight days of training camp when he struggled as Miami's new fulltime left tackle. He was beaten like a drum by Olivier Vernon that first week. Since then, he's played very well in preseason and been a non-issue. He may not be the beast Jake Long was when healthy. But he's good. Solid.

At left guard, Richie Incognito is a snarling bulldog that can push bigger men backward with his initial punch. That is great. He's smart. He knows all the tricks. He moves better than he's given credit for. Not an issue.

At center, Mike Pouncey is not quite elite yet. But he's darn close. He's excellent. He's smart. He studies the opposition. He moves very well. He's cleaned up his shotgun snaps. I'd say 90 percent of NFL would take him as their starting center.

At right guard, John Jerry is the saviour. Having him is "huge," Sherman said. I kid, obviously. But the truth is last year was a good season for Jerry. He emerged. So he has the talent to be solid.

At right tackle, Tyson Clabo is a consummate professional. He typically knows his assignments. He knows his opponents. He uses good technique. And with his experience and all the other factors, he can usually overcome what physical deficiencies he might have. It can be argued the Dolphins upgraded at right tackle to start this season over last season when they had Martin starting as a rookie.

So that's the rundown of the individuals. All good.

Yet as a group, there's still something missing. Something is still not quite right. It's still "a work in progress."

Last season, the Dolphins had a new starting right tackle, a new starting right guard and Jake Long was working to get his knee 100 percent during the latter stages of training camp. And the group played very well early in the season, anyway. The Dolphins had the NFL's second-ranked running game after two weeks in the regular season.

But here's the bad news: They got worse as the season wore on.

The running game went to No. 4 in Week 3 ...

No. 5 in Week 4 ...

No. 8 in Week 5 ...

No. 11 by Week 8 ...

No. 13 one week later ...

Then it jumped around in the upper teens until finishing the season at No. 17.

The line was getting worse results even as Long was still in the lineup and Martin and Jerry on the right side worked together longer.

The worse results also affected the passing game because the protection for Tannehill got worse. The Dolphins gave up 16 sacks the first half of the season -- only three the first three games. And 21 sacks the second half of the season, including 10 in the final three games.

None of this means the Miami line will get worse this year. I believe these individuals should be good enough to provide the offense with a good running game. I believe these individuals should be good enough to protect Ryan Tannehill and give the passing game a chance to succeed.

But these individuals must come together quickly. They must play better as a group.

The whole must be better than the sum of the parts.  

 

 

The NFL's starting QBs ranked No. 1-32

Ryan Tannehill is four days from starting his second NFL season. And while we still cannot be certain what he will become, we know he must be better than he's been if he's to earn the trust placed on him as the face of the Dolphins franchise.

Tannehill knows Dolphins fans want, indeed, expect him to be very good this year. The team has surrounded him with a fine receivers corps. The defense is playoff caliber. This is his year to be much better.

He knows this. He hears it when people say he'll be the next great quarterback in Dolphins history.

“It’s nice but, it doesn’t matter, I still have to go out and play," Tannehill said Wednesday. "I have to go out and do the things that I want to do, that we want to do as a team.  We have high expectations for ourselves as a team.  As an offense, we want to be able to put points up.  We brought in a lot of weapons this year, and now it’s time to finally go out and play."

The Dolphins need Tannehill to become outstanding if not elite. That might happen this year. But that's not how he starts the year.

No, as we get ready to kick off the 2013 NFL season, the Dolphins have an unproven quarterback (still) that is not considered upper echelon in the NFL. Indeed, Tannehill is still among the lower third of NFL quarterbacks compared to others around the league. 

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, he's really good. He has all the tools. Ryan's awesome, man. He's got a great arm. He's a captain. He's on the leadership council. He's the man!)

Thank you, gallery. But none of that means squat. Tannehill is one of 32 NFL starting quarterbacks. That makes him special. But if there were a quarterback draft to start the 2013 season, Tannehill would not be picked early.

He probably wouldn't be picked in the middle of the pack, either.

That tells you where Tannehill begins the year in a quarterback-centric league.

I'm not making this up. Consider the Salguero rankings of the NFL's best quarterbacks 1-32. I understand that most of the readers of this blog are Dolphins fans and thus are biased. But try to put your pom-poms aside for a sec and think about what you would do if you were an NFL general manager.

Tell me what spots you would rate the QBs. Tell me where you disagree with the rankings:

1. Aaron Rogers, Green Bay  .... Great arm, smart, mobile, fine athlete, won a Super Bowl.

2. Tom Brady, New England ... Great accurate arm, burning passion to win, won three Super Bowls.

3. Peyton Manning, Denver .... Accurate, manipulates secondaries, makes all the throws, won a SB.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans ... Height schmeight, fine deep thrower, leader, won a SB.

5. Eli Manning, NYG .... Excellent arm, has innate ability to play big at big moments, won two SBs.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore ... Perhaps strongest arm in NFL, blossoming, won Super Bowl in 2012-13.

7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh ... Behemoth, great improvisation, bazooka arm, won 2 SBs.

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta ... Smart, uses all his weapons, led team to conference title game.

9. Tony Romo, Dallas ... Great athlete, very good arm, still looking for playoff success cred.

10. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis ... The next superstar. Period.

11. Robert Griffin III, Washington .... Smart, courageous, great accuracy, runs like a deer.

12. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco .... See RG3 only bigger, stronger.

13. Matt Schaub, Houston .... Pocket passer, plays up to surrounding talent.

14. Russell Wilson, Seattle ... More intangibles than just about any of them. Good arm. Winner.

15. Cam Newton, Carolina ... Adonis in a football uniform, gifted arm, runs well, good, getting better.

16. Jay Cutler, Chicago ... Amazing arm, gunslinger who takes risks, high risk and high reward.

17. Michael Vick, Philadelphia ... When healthy still elite running and passing, under-rated passer.

18. Phillip Rivers, San Diego ... Considered elite 2-3 years ago, has fallen off but still scares people.

19. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati ... More passer than thrower, average arm but gets results.

20. Carson Palmer, Arizona ... Once great, declining but still excellent in right system.

21. Matthew Stafford, Detroit ... Inconsistent but excellent when hot. 80 TDs and only 25 years old.

22. Sam Bradford, St. Louis ... Finally has talent around him at WR, OL. Accurate, strong arm.

23. Ryan Tannehill, Miami ... All the tools, good learner, hard worker, but still work in progress at 25.

24. Alex Smith, Kansas City ... Perhaps best game-manager in the NFL. That's good. And bad.

25. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay ... Roller-coaster career, roller-coaster accuracy, inconsistent.

26. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland ... Same as Tannehill only five years older and surrounded by less talent.

27. Christian Ponder, Minnesota ... Smart, knows how to win, but not physically gifted like others.

28. Jake Locker, Tennessee ... Inaccurate, inconsistent, on the hot seat.

Tie 29. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo ... Unknown.

Tie 29. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville ... Mostly unknown, seems to play scared at times.

Tie 29. Geno Smith, NYJ ... Not ready. Just not ready.

Tie 29. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland ... Brings a spark to the huddle. But great QBs do that and pass great, too.