This is going to sound strange to you. It feels weird for me to type: The Miami Dolphins are not worried about their 2016 offensive line. And, for the first time in years, the organization is right not to be worried.
Look at the Dolphins line that will start at Seattle on Sunday in the regular-season opener. It this group too young? No. Is it a group of over-the-hill vets? No. Are there high draft picks in the group? Yes. Are there Pro Bowl players in the group? Yes.
Is there a glaring problem with this unit that everyone on Earth except the Dolphins recognizes? Actually, unlike past years, no.
Has every single player in that group enjoyed NFL success at one point or another? Well, rookie first-round pick Laramy Tunsil has not. But, get this, he's a rookie. He's about to make his NFL debut Sunday. So asking him to show his NFL cred is kind of unfair. What Tunsil can show anyone who wonders is his work since the start of training camp in July. He won a job after being the team's second player on their draft board in April. He was not gifted that job. He won it.
"A lot of times you take that first pick – especially a high first pick – and you declare him the starter," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said Tuesday. "I think (Head) Coach (Adam) Gase was adamant right from the get-go that we’re going to play the best five. If he’s in that best five, great. If not, he can back up at left tackle.
"We could do a lot of different things. There were a lot of different scenarios. There were a lot of guys we looked at. We really gave them equal time, probably as long as you possibly could without (limiting) some folks and then being unfair to them. He kept improving. He’s not great yet, but he sure is a talented guy. He sure works hard. He keeps improving, and that’s all we’re looking for – keep playing hard and keep improving."
So Tunsil has come as billed so far and met expectations.
He's not a weak link.
Indeed, I look at the group and don't see a weak link. Well, center Anthony Steen is a rookie and an undrafted one at that. He might be starting Sunday because Mike Pouncey is fighting to get healthy after sustaining another hip injury in the preseason, he's had two surgeries on his hips, that has kept him out of the lineup the past couple of weeks.
But when Pouncey eventually gets healthy, he is part of the solution and not part of a problem.
So LT Branden Albert, LG Laremy Tunsil, C Mike Pouncey, RG Jermon Bushrod, and RT Ja'Wuan James have the makings of a solid NFL line. And even as the Dolphins prepare to play the ominous Seahawks defense, no one is saying Miami is seemingly overmatched up front.
Indeed, a legitimate question this game is whether the Seahawks' offensive line is overmatched up front, not Miami's.
“I feel pretty good about it," Gase said about his offensive line Tuesday. "I feel like they’re getting a good feel as far as the tempo of what we’re doing, how Ryan (Tannehill) is doing some things at the line of scrimmage and making changes and the way that we handle protections in the run game and things like that. The nice thing … Really, (Larmey) Tunsil is the guy that’s trying to get caught up the quickest. Obviously, the rest of those guys have been practicing a lot more than him. Bushrod being in the offense before, it’s just a different position for him not really necessarily terminology, not necessarily understanding why we do stuff. He knows that, it’s just at a different spot. As far as them knowing what to do, I feel really good about it."
I've heard all this before. I heard Joe Philbin say he felt good about a line that featured Dallas Thomas at left tackle and I remember thinking, 'You cannot be serious.' I remember Tony Sparano saying with a straight face that he'd watched the tape on Mark Colombo and that he'd be a great addition. And I thought, 'Love you coach, but you misfired on this one.'
When Gase talks about this line, my cynicism is not riled. My skepticism doesn't cause me to cackle as the coach is speaking. I don't see this line as the Titanic sailing into icy waters. I don't see obvious issues as long as the starters stay healthy and the unit remains intact. (Backups are another issue, but that's not what we're discussing here).
This Dolphins line must get better at run blocking. They cannot return Arian Foster (in the video) to prominence unless they step up their ability to get to the second level. This unit must also continue to protect Tannehill as it did in the preseason -- where he was sacked only once in three games. But mostly this line is in the "find-chemistry" mode now. It's not in the "find-talent" mode past Dolphins lines have spent seasons toiling in.
"It’s (about) playing off of each other and understanding when the center does something, the guard is going to be able to play off of them," Gase said. "Same thing with the tackles with the guards. There is something to say about chemistry amongst those guys up front. I’ve seen it change midseason, and it worked as well. The longer guys can play together, obviously, the better they’re going to do when they work together.”
Now, recognizing this is a Dolphins blog, I know you hate your lives because your team has mentally and spiritually abused you the past 15 years or so. So I know you are reading these last few paragraphs and think I've lost my everlovin' mind.
It is simply not possible for the Dolphins to have nice things. It is against some obscure NFL bylaw for this team to have a high-caliber offensive line. You know this.
And, yes, the Steen issue glows with uncertainty. I mean, the guy was a guard 47 seconds ago and now he might be starting against the Seattle Seahawks who are the pick of many pundits to win the Super Bowl and the World Cup and the medal count at the coming Winter Olympics they're so dominant.
But I have a feeling about Steen. He's ... plucky. Nothing's been handed to him. He's earned this chance should it happen Sunday. I don't think the stage will be too big for him.
“He has been great," Gase said. "He’s a sharp guy. He picked things up quick. For a guy that … When you get thrown in there and all of a sudden you’re the guy, that’s a lot on your plate. I haven’t seen him really change his demeanor from the day he arrived here, at least with us. He has been really good as far as dictating what we’re doing up front.”
I like this Miami Dolphins offensive line. I haven't typed that sentence in a long time.