The Dolphins have come a loooong way in addressing the obvious and urgent needs of their offensive line. This post will, in effect, show you how far the personnel department has come in that regard.
That's because we're going to discuss some offensive line depth issues today.
No, I'm not concerned about the starting left tackle. No, I'm not worried about the starting right tackle or center. I'm not even worried about the budding competition at the guard positions ... yet.
I do cringe every time I think of the depth at tackle and center.
And that's what this post is about.
Although the Dolphins are set with Branden Albert as their starting left tackle, the moment the second-team lined up during a recent OTA, it became obvious how tenuous Miami's offensive line situation remains.
The backup left tackle was Nate Garner.
Now, Garner is a solid player. He is a jack-of-all-trades type. He has played well when he's been given chances at either guard position and the right tackle spot. He even spotted in and played well at center earlier in his career and last year.
But he's not a left tackle. Indeed, left tackle is the only offensive line position he has been a disaster playing.
Perhaps general manager Dennis Hickey doesn't know this because he wasn't here. Perhaps coach Joe Philbin doesn't know this because he wasn't here (although he should have seen the tape in 2012).
But the last time Garner played left tackle was for a couple of quarters in 2011 against Philadelphia. He came into the game because Jake Long went out with a knee injury. And then the flood gates opened.
The Dolphins gave up nine sacks that day against the Eagles. Garner gave up three of them. Amazingly, he also yielded seven quarterback hurries that game.
That was the only time in memory that Garner played left tackle in a game. And it was his worst game as a professional.
The Dolphins as a result turned to John Jerry as their left tackle the final two games that year when Long was eventually ruled done for the year.
This is not a knock on Garner. He's a valuable backup. He's got good position flexibility.
But left tackle is not one of the positions he's flexible in. It just isn't.
Yet, he's the backup left tackle now.
What's worse, this mistake will not show itself 1. unless Hickey or Philbin read this post and go back to that 2011 tape of the Philly game or 2. until the Dolphins actually start hitting either in practice or the preseason, which is two months away.
And by then the best chance to address the issue might have passed.
You will think me crazy, but I would have a talk with Bryant McKinnie. I'd bring him in and ask him if he's willing at this stage in his career to be a minimum salary insurance policy backup. He would have to take a one-year $955,000 deal with no guarantees. He'd have to get in shape in what remains of the offseason and come to camp and compete.
And he'd have to know he's not beating out Branden Albert.
But if he wants to serve as that insurance policy, he could make that near-million dollars in 2014, which beats unemployment.
I'd think of McKinnie as my closer in case my ace pitcher tires. I'd think of McKinnie because Nate Garner is not a closer at left tackle.
The Dolphins have a curious situation there as well.
Mike Pouncey is the starter and that is not going to change. But the possibility of the NFL sanctioning (read suspending) Pouncey for some portion, however large or small, of 2014 still exists. Moreoever, Pouncey last year missed some games so it's not like the guy is indestructable.
So what is the answer at center if Pouncey has to sit?
Well, it should be Nate Garner. He started in Pouncey's place twice last year and performed well enough.
So Garner should be getting second-team reps at center.
Except he's not because he's getting second-team reps at left tackle!
So let me get this right: The Dolphins need to guard against the unthinkable at left tackle and center, the two most important offensive line positions. So they are giving the guy who showed he cannot play left tackle second-team reps at left tackle and in so doing cannot give him second-team reps at center, a position he's proven he can play.
Call Bryant McKinnie, Dolphins.
Yes, he's 34. No, he's not starter quality anymore. And he needs to get in shape.
But last year he started 10 games at left tackle for Miami. And he didn't have a game in which he allowed three sacks and seven hurries.